Here is a feature piece I wrote for The Birmingham Post – it was in their edition of 16-22 March:
Composer and band-leader Sid Peacock is presenting the first of a new kind of arts festival. It’s called Surge In Spring and happens at the mac, Birmingham, on April 8. He spoke to Peter Bacon.
Sometimes things just work out. Composer Sid Peacock, who has been teaching creative music making to children and adults in Birmingham as well as leading his own ever-expanding Surge Orchestra, already had a plan to bring together the friends and musical styles that have meant so much to him… and that represent key aspects of Birmingham’s cultural strengths.
Then he met Nick Gebhardt, Professor of Jazz and Popular Music Studies at Birmingham City University, who is keen to develop the culture of the city through the activism of its citizens in a festival concept called Grow Your Own,
And so Surge In Spring is the result, the first Grow Your Own festival in Birmingham. It will take place on Saturday, April 8, at the mac in Birmingham.
Sid, its curator, explained what it was all about.
“What I have done is I’ve taken three elements that for me have been prominent things in Birmingham, since I came here, and people that I have worked with, scenes I have been connected to. But not just me – musicians who have been in Surge, too.”
Surge is the orchestra that Sid has created as a vehicle for his compositions over the last decade. It draws together elements of jazz, folk music and other less specific styles of music into a sound and atmosphere which reflects Sid’s ideas and interests as well as showcasing the considerable talents of this ever-growing band. It could be a 16-piece group, it could be even bigger.
The Surge Orchestra will play the final formal evening concert of the day in the mac Theatre but there will be a lot happening from lunchtime onwards, in the main Theatre, in the smaller Hexagon and more informally in the bar and foyer areas of the mac.
First up will be the Gospel Revisited Project. Sid has worked closely with drummer Ray Prince in education projects around the city.
“Ray and I have done lots of things together,” Sid reminds me. “You probably remember them – big sessions in the CBSO Centre – improvised music with school kids.
“And there were times when his brothers all came down and we did one in the mac – conducting and improvising, but with the Gospel guys as the backing band.”
Sid feels that building on the community music scenes in the city can reap rich cultural rewards.
“When you go into the schools a lot of the best musicians are kids from the Gospel scene. And I just think that there must be some way to fast-track those kids or make use of that knowledge, because whatever is happening in that community is working. Maybe we can replicate it – learn from that?”
If Gospel music is a vital component of the city’s musical heritage so is Free Jazz Improv, and Surge In Spring will be honouring its contribution with a line-up of heavyweights including guest musicians from Derby and New York. The band will feature saxophonists Paul Dunmall and John O’Gallagher with Corey Mwamba on vibraphone, all joined by Surge Orchestra members Steve Tromans on piano, Mark Sanders on drums and Simon King on guitar.
The third major contribution to the Birmingham scene that Sid wishes to acknowledge is that of the composer John Mayer, the pioneer of Indo-Jazz Fusion who died in 2004.
“You know when I came to the Conservatoire John Mayer was there, and Surge’s pianist Steve Tromans was in his band,” Sid recalled.
“I never got to study with John but I know so many musicians who did, and so many people in Birmingham who are majorly influenced by him. He was a prominent character but not really celebrated in the British jazz world quite as much as he should have been.”
He adds: “He really appeals to me, coming from the classical world and coming from his background as well, from Calcutta.”
This very welcome revival of the music of Mayer’s ground-breaking band Indo-Jazz Fusions will be led by Steve Tromans, with John’s son, Jonathan on sitar.
Steve said: “In this current political and cultural climate of 2017, it seems to my senses to be vital that Mayer’s Indo-Jazz experiments be rekindled and rebooted for a new generation of musicians and music fans. As John himself said in 1996, concerning his feelings on the fusions he helped pioneer: ‘There’s not the isolation that there was before – there is a closeness … which is so nice’. We can all learn more than a little from such sentiments.”
In addition to these performances, Sid is also particularly excited about the smaller groups playing elsewhere in the mac during the day.
“I’ve tried to find a good mix for that as well,” he said. “There was a danger it could turn into duelling saxophones all day long… but I’ve avoided that! There are some musicians from Birmingham Conservatoire, some kora (African harp) music, trumpeter Aaron Diaz has a new project with clarinet, an accordion player and a harpist… then Suzie Perkis is doing improvising with electronics…Xhosa Cole’s CharCole Collective is playing… so are the Holyhead School Band and the Jazzlines Ensemble.”
I suggested that there was clearly a strong community element to the festival.
“Very much so – wouldn’t have met the gospel guys without the community work, and I wouldn’t have met Xhosa without the educational work.
“I don’t see the community work as a ‘worthy’ thing to do; it’s essential. To meet musicians coming from different angles, different backgrounds. If you want people to be interested in contemporary music you have to make it feel like it’s their music. And I think contemporary music can be so much more – to use on of those buzzwords – diverse. It can have so much more variety to it when it is freshened up by bringing in different influences, different stories.
Surge In Spring is froom 1pm through till late evening at the mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham on Saturday, April 8. Tickets range from £7.50 (on the door) and £6 (in advance) for the four individual Theatre performances to £25 (on the day) or £20 (advance) for a Day Ticket.
GROW YOUR OWN
Grow Your Own is an initiative of the Cultural Heritage and Improvised Music in European Festivals (CHIME) research project, which involves academics and cultural organisations from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The project focuses on, among other things, cultural identity, sustainable urban development, community practice and a collective understanding of heritage.
The idea for this festival is that it provides an open space of collaboration within which artists and audiences can experience different approaches to improvisation, and engage with the communities and traditions from which they have taken shape.