“Specifically the music that I have written is very quiet, compared to a usual jazz band. It’s more like a slow burner, thoughtful and quiet.” – Angus Bayley
Michael J Edwards: Greetings Angus, it’s a pleasure to meet with you here at The Stables, Milton Keynes. As an introduction to the wider public, why the name Scrapbook?
Angus Bayley: The reason that the band is called Scrapbook is that I spent a lot of time working on my compositions and music before I actually put a band together. In a way, I delayed putting the band together because I really wanted the music to be at a point where I could not fault it in any way; which in a way was a little naive of me – not that that’s had any real repercussions, but I think one of the main reasons for that is that I was quite obsessed with the idea that it should be really quite perfect. So I put off putting a band together with this music for a while.
And when I had decided that I wanted to put a band together, it had been a long-time coming, and clearly then at a stage where I should have already kick-started the band. After all, the music was pretty much ready. But I thought there were a few things in the music which actually seemed to be imperfections, but in fact I managed to reason with myself that actually they were only things that I could see because I’d been looking at this music for a really long time. This is the typical thing the composers go through… You’re your own worst critic in a way. So, in homage to that process, came the name ‘Scrapbook’, as if it was an ‘incomplete’ thing. Not that it is reflective of the actual project itself; it’s kind of tongue in cheek.
Michael J Edwards: I understand that you trained as a scientist; to use an extreme comparison, was it a case of Bruce Banner versus The Hulk with regards to which one of your personalities succeeded?
Angus Bayley: I don’t think that actually one personality has won out; I think that these things are actually very related. In fact I’m not the first person to say that, a lot of people have drawn parallels between the way you think when you approach something like Physics, and the way you approach more sophisticated types of music like Jazz. There are plenty of precedents for people who have actually done both and done both quite well. I wouldn’t say anything that’s not along the lines of people who reasoned that way before. So I think that actually me training as a scientist/engineer has it’s own very genuine interest. I think that you can do really creative things with science and engineering which can have really amazing results, both in a practically very useful sense, but also in the beautiful because of the creativity involved sense. The latter part of that is pretty much the entire point of music. So I don’t think it’s a case of two conflicting personalities.
Michael J Edwards: I must commend you on your debut album and the compositions therein, which seem to envelope the listener from the first note to the last in a warm and secure musical comfort blanket. Was it an enjoyable writing process?
Angus Bayley: I would say that the writing process is a mix of moments of quite a lot of difficulty and then moments of sheer joy. For some songs like the song ‘Wrioter’ which is the slowest tune on the album, that was an example of the latter. It’s like a very organic simple and quick writing process which just came together in a very natural way. And then other songs have taken quite a long time to get to the point where I thought that they were ready for this project. I should probably say that every song on this album has its own strict bar as to what the music should be for it to have made it onto the final album. Over the years – it’s about an eight-year writing process for this album – I’ve come up with a bunch of songs, many more that are on this album and plenty of which didn’t make the cut. I think that each song should be fundamentally original in a kind of theoretical way but then maintaining a dedication to the fact that music should be really beautiful.
Michael J Edwards: The album has a freshness and optimism to it; which is not only testament to your writing but also to the interpretation and understanding of your compositions by the musicians who have played together for an extended period of time. Has Scrapbook had the same line up since its inception in 2013?
Angus Bayley: No it has not. It should be noted that the very first inkling of what Scrapbook became happened in 2011, it was like a chance meeting of a few of us who are now in a band on like a college big-band trip to Poland. And then it was only in 2013 when I got all of my music together and performed one single set of only my music with a band that I put together, which was the first official version of Scrapbook. But yeah, there’s been a bunch of personnel changes since 2013; most notably there used to be saxophone players in the band. It used to be a traditional jazz septet line-up, but I actually think that didn’t quite suit the music.
There’s quite a lot of precedent for a jazz septet of that type and lended itself to play music in a way which I don’t think it’s what I had in mind. Specifically the music that I have written is very quiet, compared to a usual jazz band. It’s more like a slow burner, thoughtful and quiet. I think that having strings in the line-up; which is a change that was made at the beginning of last year, was made specifically to emphasise those properties in the music. One thing about having strings are that they are quieter, so all the other musicians in order to get to the correct balance of the music have to play quieter. So it’s a nice reminder for everyone, myself included, of what the dynamics of it should be. And then the second thing is that strings just sound really beautiful for this kind of chordal, rich, harmonic music; so that was like an important change. The main change being the switch from extra saxophone to strings.
Michael J Edwards: Please give us some background on each of the band members?
Angus Bayley: So back in the very beginning we had Zoot Warren on drums, who is not in the band right now – he’s a great drummer who is the son of the well-known Welsh pianist Huw Warren. We had two saxophone players from the Trinity College of music, Max Johnson and Michael Underwood who are really gifted musicians. And then over time the line-up changed to have Dave Hamblett on the drums; and then in place of those saxophone players it has Daisy Watkins on viola and Nick Sigsworth on violin. Then we’ve got Kieran McLeod on trombone, Alaric Taylor is on trumpet. Paul Trippet, who was actually with us right at the beginning back in 2011, on the bass and then myself playing piano.
I’ve met those people over the years, the majority of which I’ve just come across at gigs and gone and introduced myself to. Alaric Taylor is an unusual one because I actually met him at Imperial College where I studied science; so he actually studied science too! We played together for quite a long time before that band came together.
Michael J Edwards: The whole band represented on this album offering from the horn section right through to the welcome addition of live strings, all threaded together with your engaging piano playing. Was there a spirit you were trying to capture with the album or did it just unfold organically?
Angus Bayley: There’s a certain spirit yeah. I think there’s probably a combination of both of those things; there is definitely a bunch of unplanned things that happened by combining these musicians together, who had not played together as a group before this band. But I think that probably we’re trying to capture a spirit more than put a bunch of people together in a line-up that hadn’t been tried before and see what would happen. So I’d say that the spirit is a mix of the various influences I’ve had over my life for music.
I’d say for this band the most important things for that are influences that come from British jazz in the last few years, people like Tom Cawley and Kit Downes, who I’ve spent a really long time listening to, digesting their music and understanding how it works, mixed with an appreciation for quite cinematic music and rich textures that comes with full orchestral music. But if there’s an example of the spirit I’m trying to capture it would probably be Kit Downes. There’s certain compositions of his which have a very romantic and pretty quality to them, which if you want to say is the single most prevalent spirit that has gone into this it is probably that.
Michael J Edwards: That partly answers my next question of influences on your compositions thus far?
Angus Bayley: Yeah, I would say that. Both of those i.e Tom Cawley and Kit Downes that I mentioned. And I’d also point out that Richard Fairhurst, who was my piano teacher for a long time and an unbelievably big influence when I was a lot younger; I used to listen to his music and transcribe it and work out how the chords worked and that was a hugely formative experience. But then I should definitely mention some of the American pianist as well, like Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock that I’ve put a lot of time into listening to.
Michael J Edwards: The best praise I can give this selection of songs is that on each I fall in love with a different track; be it the inviting opener ‘Alex’s Song’ through to passive meditational ‘Tides’. What tracks from the album do you have a particular affinity towards?
Angus Bayley: Yeah, that’s a good question, so I think that the first two are the ones that are like the most shouty about their character. ‘Alex’s Song’ has got a very clear melody, it’s got like this rift which is probably the most catchy part of the album and ‘Henna’ also is like very loud, with a very clear stated melody and theme and a very clear stated character to it…I particularly like the song ‘Steam’ toward the back-end of the album and one that we don’t make too much fuss about. That’s based around an idea which I think is pretty unusual, but I think it’s probably one of the most original things that we’ve got there. It’s set on a completely new series of chords that I’ve never heard anywhere else before and a melody which is pretty original to me…I’d love to hear people listening to that and saying they love that one.
Michael J Edwards: Have you been composing since you started playing piano?
Angus Bayley: Yeah, pretty much. I think it was age nine that I started playing the piano and I did like the traditional syllabus stuff to begin with, but all the while I was trying to transcribe pop music that I listened to and try to mess around with that. So yeah, pretty much from the start.
Michael J Edwards: You’re playing here tonight at The Stables, Milton Keynes; Are you equally at home engaging with a live audience as you are in a recording in a studio?
Angus Bayley: I think so yeah, I do very much like playing for a live audience and I think we all do. It’s really nice to actually be able to talk to people and ask them about what they thought of the music…. I really like that.
Michael J Edwards: What next for Scrapbook. Any plans to tour Europe after the remainder of your UK dates?
Angus Bayley: There are no specific plans to do that but I would really like to do that – it just takes a bit of work to make that happen, but I’m very interested yeah.
Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time Angus; looking forward to your set this evening.
Angus Bayley: Thank you very much.
Essential Album: Scrapbook (Sept 1st 2016, Spark Label) – UK Vibe review here