BREVIEW: Tom Harrison & Cleveland Watkiss present ‘Ellington’ @ The Red Lion UAB 03.03.17



Words by Anna Whittaker / Pics courtesy of Tom Harrison & Cleveland Watkiss

Jazzlines at The Red Lion in the Jewellery Quarter; it becomes clear this is a place for the jazz regulars of Birmingham. I arrive bang on time to find nearly every seat taken, and myself to fit somewhere in between the hipsters and middle-aged aficionados.

(My last jazz gig was in a tiny standing room only dive in Copenhagen. Before that it was the complete opposite, Maria Schneider orchestra at Symphony hall, massive, seated, multiple instruments – and that’s just per musician. A real queen bee set-up).

Tonight is the first night of the Tom Harrison and Cleveland Watkiss‘ tour, their ‘Ellington Project’. My plus one and I thought it would be a quintet but there is no pianist. No matter, as Cleveland Watkiss can do things with his mouth that go so far beyond beat boxing; he’s practically a walking orchestra and vocalist wrapped up in one – that explains the awards.

If you’re not an ardent jazz fan you may find this weird to the point of funny, but if you love jazz you will stare at Watkiss in disbelief as he takes scat singing to a whole new level, then slides back effortlessly into vocals blending easily with Tom Harrison‘s twirls on his faded alto sax. Harrison might look straight out of school, with the addition of stubble, belt, and braces, but clearly has the lung capacity of a blue whale and makes the thing sing.

With the accompanying drums and double bass, Harrison and Watkiss’s ‘Ellington Project’ is a showcase of some fantastic pieces from the Duke himself. Tonight kicks off with ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’, with accompanying train brakes sounds from Watkiss. Percy Pursglove and David Lyttle are the double bass and drums, respectively.

Continuing the legends of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, next up was ‘My Little Brown Book’ by Strayhorn. The piece finely illustrates how Tom Harrison has put a great collection of musicians together for this project and is proper familiar improv jazz (if improv can be familiar) around the theme of well known and lesser known jazz classics.

Yes, we’re admiring the skill, yes, we’re tapping our feet and fingers, and then just as we think we know how this is going to go, the musicians do something more experimental on the drums or Cleveland Watkiss kicks into the bass solo with whatever instrument he is feeling right then. This project is not to simply play covers, but their own interpretation of historical jazz foundations, as Harrison echoes and ping pongs with Watkiss‘ vocals.

Song three is a bit more up tempo (you could dance to this, if there was room, or a dance floor) moving smoothly into swing from more mellow jazz, with similar adaptability to that shown by Ellington throughout his 50yr career.  At this stage we’re treated to a bit of audience participation, led confidently by Tom Harrison‘s Mum and a team of the regulars. We are graciously given a few chances to get it right but “basically it needed sorting out”, as Cleveland Watkiss tells us. Both effort and laughter ensue and we almost get it, until the complicated bits where we all remember why this is not our day job.

As the set continues we find ourselves holding our breath and wondering when Tom Harrison will breathe, as the bass and the venue hots up. Tonight’s gig is, after all, upstairs in an old pub and looks like a larger version of your great auntie’s lounge without the lingering smell of cigs. Were this venue bigger you could argue out a bit of a wooden dance floor and a regular to take you round swing-style in his brogues.

Next up ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’ (written by Duke Ellington’s son Mercer) and what Tom Harrison says rings true, “the more well known it is the more creative you have to be”. Duet vocals and sax turns to trio with the trumpet and soft brush additions with Lyttle on the cymbals. Cleveland Watkiss takes over as the double bass (with his mouth of course) so Percy Pursglove can get his hands on the trumpet, but I imagine they could also do vice versa.  So what we have now is basically four blokes playing, or sounding like, about eight instruments.

I think whatever set up Tom Harrison put together would be good, but this ensemble bring that bit more experimentation and fun to your usual dive pub jazz gig (no offence to The Red Lion – I love a proper traditional dive pub).

Then ‘A Flower is a Lovesome Thing’ gives a nice bonus beyond Harrison‘s latest album – Unfolding in Tempo, should you wish to part with your tenner  (I did. I’m listening to it now on my plus one’s surprisingly good sound system, with a rather nice Tempranillo. And yes, it’s worth it).

David Lyttle makes his cymbals sing like a harmonic on the violin (I checked this later and Lyttle agreed a harmonic is the closest description) or a piccolo’s highest note, bringing another orchestral section to this version of a classic – leaving Watkiss to sing the melody with moody echoes from Harrison to compliment. “An acquired taste”, says my plus one. Jazz in general or this particular interpretation? Jazz apparently, but by the end of the first set he concedes “they are rather good”.

Set two, after we refurbish with moderate amounts of alcohol, rolls straight into ‘There May Be Trouble Ahead’ – one I like to comedy sing at any appropriate moment. Watkiss astounds us again with three sounds at once that honestly make you check if he’s using a sampler. You can’t do that naturally… yep, he is, it’s on the mic stand.

Moving to the slightly less well known with ‘Upper Manhattan Medical Group’, another Billy Strayhorn which to me epitomises the sound of New York streets.  On the aside, I doubt there will be many who haven’t heard of Duke Ellington, but Billy Strayhorn..? His long term (and apparently unpaid) collaborator maybe less so, but Strayhorn is the composer of many of these great tracks and tonight’s ensemble delivers them with a whole bunch of tricks.

Duke Ellington’s ‘Solitude’ follows and possibly draws a tear from some of the audience – I’m not admitting to anything. Tom Harrison displays considerable humility given his palpable talent and hands over to David Lyttle for a drum led, ‘The Intimacy of The Blues’. Harrison plays mini tambourine that looks like your mother’s old icing sugar sieve, then back on the sax, as joint vocals and sax in unison carry the main melody.

My plus one likes this, it’s a bit tidier. We get our missing pianist after all as Watkiss briefly takes to the keys, which may be the only instrument he can’t impersonate.  Then there’s a flourish of a double bass finish from Percy Pursglove, whose calluses must be large enough to have their own names.

If you want traditional jazz in the style it has been played in for decades, the ‘Ellington Project’ may not be for you. But if you’re happy to let your imagination run loose then Harrison, Watkiss, Lyttle and Pursglove will transform classics – perhaps in a way you’d only find in a little room, in a proper pub,  featuring your great auntie’s carpet.  And for afters… silk sheets style sax and double bass encore. Serious but friendly, and enough fun to make you smile whether you’re a scat singing newbie or an old jazz hand.


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BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Reviewfor-the-full-flickr-of-pics-click-here-sfwfollow-birmingham-review-on-300x26facebook-f-square-rounded-with-colour-5cm-hightwitter-t-square-rounded-with-colour-5cm-highinstagram-logo-webcolours-rgb



Words by Ed King / Pics by Michelle Martin

I am unfashionably late. It’s a Friday, at the sharp end of January, and Emulsion has brought its fifth annual showcase to mac in Birmingham. It’s also five minutes to six and I’ve missed the first event – a curiously nondescript ‘panel discussion’.BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

But with White Rabbit enthusiasm I am throwing myself down (what’s left and what’s explained of) this half day programme – chocked to the Conservatoire gills with both ‘Pop Ups’ and staged performances.

Even as I arrive I hear music, eventually finding it nestled in the alcove between the Arena Bar and mac’s downstairs gallery; a small man plucks a double bass, accompanied by a tall blonde operatic singer. Unamplified and confident. We are immediately surrounded by music. Plus I warm to anything that makes me feel like I’m in a David Lynch film.

The Hans Koller Quartet is playing in… two and half minutes, oh my ears and whiskers, and I make my way into an emptier mac Theatre than I’d have hoped. (I’ve promoted events since I was seventeen and I know the difficulties in dragging out a Birmingham audience. But with Emulsion’s strong tie to Birmingham Conservatoire I would have expected a few more scholarly bums on seats.)

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham ReviewJoe Wright sits at the front right of a busy yet empty stage, in front of an infantry of mic and music sheet stands. Wright is alone and playing his sax across his lap, distorted though a maze of wires and speakers I don’t fully understand. Again it’s a brave exploration – a creative use of a player’s well known instrument, with Wright firmly engrossed in teasing out the sounds and masked melodies through a variety of techniques and intrusions. But beyond that I’m a little lost. As are both the children to my left and the older man I talk to in the Arena Bar afterwards.

A simple introduction to Wright’s performance (which would continue before the second show) might have helped ‘different audiences’ find this ‘exciting not daunting.’ And I don’t buy the premise that it’s weak to say I don’t understand, or that as the audience are mostly from Birmingham Conservatoire why should the organisers try to engage with anyone else – as someone suggested. The emperor is just a rich fool with his knob out and I’m too old for bullies, no matter how they throw their punches.

(I would later catch up with Joe Wright; a kindly human who would elaborate on his aim to “not just play the instrument, but to be part of something it plays through me”. He was clear and effusive. I am paraphrasing and a sucker for context. I think I see a way out of this…)BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Eventually Fiona Talkington and Trish Clowes take to the stage, giving thanks to Joe Wright, the audience and a litany of funders/partners that have helped Emulsion become a reality. Boxes get ticked as if there was an election brewing.

Set up by Trish Clowes back in 2012, and now run along with Tom Harrison, Emulsion has to date generated several new commissions and held annual showcase events each year since inception. It’s a formidable vehicle, championing the diversity and power of contemporary classical and jazz composers and musicians; a cross section of genres Birmingham is blessed with. Plus this year’s event, Emulsion V, is being broadcast across BBC 3’s Late Junction, Hear & Now and Jazz Now programmes – hence Fiona Talkington. This is a significant score, in media terms, and generates an almost garrulous excitement about where this event could go next. But in a word, kudos.

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham ReviewTrish Clowes introduces the Hans Koller Quartet, with John O’Gallagher taking both the literal and figurative centre stage. Percy Pursglove picks up his first instrument of the day, a double bass, as Jeff Williams slides in behind his drum kit – shoulders, wrists and brushes at the ready. The eponymous band leader sits behind a beautiful Bösendorfer concert grand piano, as I try to think of a Thomas Crown caper that could get the beast into my living room. I’m also a sucker for ivory.

Playing “three arrangements by John” then three pieces from the quartet itself, the alto saxophonist takes an almost immediate lead – ushered along with firm bass, brushed percussion and soft keys. A moderate piano walks us out of the first movement, as the sax take our other hand and pulls us excitedly into the second. The ensemble reaches a crescendo then steps back as Williams sends soft rolls falling like rain on sloping glass, whilst Hans and his hot footed spiders dance forward to take us into the third movement.

The Quartet originals follow a similar play, with the baton being passed between Koller and O’Gallagher, as Pursglove and Williams keep it moving like a John Travolta strut or a James Bond tuxedo. It’s all excellent, but I could watch the double bass and drums for the rest of the day; as the third and final piece steps up the pace we get a Williams solo that makes me want to laugh with pleasure.BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Back into the bar, as an absurdly long and well mannered queue discuss the events of the day. So far. It’s a short turnaround until the next performance – a showcase of Trish Clowes’ new album, My Iris, by the event organiser herself. More Birmingham Conservatoire students are playing, both in the Arena Bar and the aforementioned alcove, but little is done to send us their way. It feels a touch awkward and ancillary, with most polite chatter finding somewhere out of earshot to stand.

The bell rings. Round Two. Trish Clowes, on saxophone, is joined by Chris Montague on guitar, Ross Stanley on piano/Hammond organ and James Maddren on drums. The stage is set for the Birmingham showcase of My Iris, which the ensemble has been touring since its launch at Pizza Express on Dean Street earlier in the month. Ah, Dean Street… with all your parallel and perpendicular wonders. Moseley doesn’t stand a chance.

Opening with ‘One Hour’, a salute to the “extra dreaming time” you get when the clocks go back, an ambient cloud breaks with Clowes’ (I think…) soprano sax, before a guitar fueled jazz rhythm makes it across stage to the frenetic fingers at the Bösendorfer. Immediate and engaging. Next up is ‘Blue Calm’, which opens with a playful sax and brushed percussion, before dropping back into a small ivory dream and, finally, a clearer sax led state of mind.

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review‘I Can’t Find My Other Brush’ opens with a punchy staccato, whilst ‘In Between the Moss & Ivy’ follows with a stripped back, softer pace, before squeezing out a cadenza from the soprano sax, a guitar led lullaby, then giving away completely to the concert piano. All eyes, on stage and off, turn to Ross Stanley. The set pretty much mirrors the My Iris track list, with only ‘A Cat Called Behemoth’ getting nudged – allowing the remaining two album tracks to be played later by the Emulsion Sinfonietta.

By the close of the set I am in creative awe. It’s simply that good. Trish Clowes is ambitious, composed, multi-talented and magnanimous – with her fourth album being showcased in front of me. An eclectic with unflinching vision; in both her music and her patter, Clowes is arguably the embodiment of the principles Emulsion was formed to uphold. Which, in less purple prose, is probably why she set it up.

More coffee, a thick chocolate slab, and even a beer – for (by my watch) it was a respectable time to start drinking at the end of the first performance. The Arena Bar and mac foyer is a bustle of enthusiasm, with music again being played at one end or another. I don’t know who’s on or where, but I’m irritated at myself for not spending more time in front of the Birmingham Conservatoire students who have been providing the ‘Pop-Ups’. Peter Bell has been walking around with the threat of performance in his eyes and he’s always worth checking out.BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Review

Back in for the last hurrah, as the Emulsion Sinfonietta cradles the front of the stage in a proud semi circle. The army advances. Roll Call: Trish Clowes (saxophones), Chris Montague (guitar), Ross Stanley (piano/Hammond organ), Calum Gorlay (bass), Rachel Lander (cello), James Maddren (drums), Percy Pursglove (trumpet), Hans Koller (euphonium), Anna Olsson (violin), Melinda Maxwell (oboe/cor anglais), Max Wellford (clarinets).

The Sinfonietta is the ‘happy byproduct of several Emulsion festivals’ and includes ‘a colouful line up’ of previous performers, collaborators or peers. Tonight they are performing a selection of pieces from guest composers, including Iain Ballamy, Hans Koller, Percy Pursglove, Anna Olsson, Bobbie Gardner, Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian and Joe Cutler – opening with ‘Beamish’, where Chris Montague’s relentless guitar underpins a beautiful cello lead from Rachel Lander.

BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham ReviewNext is an original composition from violinist, Anna Olsson – a recent Birmingham Conservatoire graduate and cake maker. Even amidst my fervent note taking I miss the title of this piece, but its small frenetic pockets, blanketed by a lullaby of stings and keys, is one of the most beautiful moments of the evening. I am not classically trained. I am not a musician. I was brought into this world by Erik Satie, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. But I have a head and a heart, alongside a deep rooted love for the right combination of ivory and bow. And I simply stopped writing.

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian presents ‘Muted Lines’ next, a new commission from the London Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence. Exploring the themes of migration and forced exile, a topic with absurd pertinence, the piece was also constructed to help Trish Clowes progress her vocals – as she sings, at one point a capella, during the performance. ‘Muted Lines’ is well comprised, restrained, yet unabashed and melodic; even to a lay person you can feel confidence of the composition, caressed by saxophone and cradled by percussion.

Bobbie Gardner, another Conservatoire post graduate, has her work performed next – delivered in partnerships of staccato and dissonance, like half an orchestra falling down a spiral staircase. Before Joe Cutler presents his award BREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17 / Michelle Martin © Birmingham Reviewwinning composition – ‘Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder’. Percy Pursglove’s despondently titled ‘He Whose Dreams Will Never Unfold’ sets up the final triptych, followed by Han Koller’s ‘Happy Mountain’ and a piece from Iain Ballamy.

Emulsion V ends as it was presented, without fanfare or fuss and quickly to the bar. It has been an exceptional evening, with challenges and comfort zones thrown around a programme of rich talent and diversity. Trish Clowes’ original endeavour – namely a cross genre celebration and a place to nurture new work – was alive and well on stage tonight, flying past so simply that Derren Brown may have been working the lights. Five hours has seldom seemed so short.

My one gripe is that not more people were there to see it. Birmingham has a lustrous bed of talent, with home spun composers working to evolve an exciting musical landscape, and showcases need to be seen. Emulsion isn’t the only one, there are other events – independently organised or institute affiliated. But us, the audience, the ticket buying public, it takes all of us to make this wheel turn fully.

Oh, and all that stuff about introducing Joe Wright…. Left alone to fend for his creative honour with nothing but feedback and blank faces. Poor bastard. Still, he seemed happy enough. And I guess heated discussions have to start somewhere.

For more on Emulsion Festival, visit


For more from Trish Clowes, visit

For more from Tom Harrison, visit

For more from mac, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit





BPREVIEW: Emulsion Festival V @ mac 27.01.17

BPREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17




Words by Ed King / Pic by Dannie Price

On Friday 27th January, Emulsion Festival comes to Birmingham – hosting its fifth event at mac, taking over the art centre’s Theatre and various public spaces.Birmingham Preview

Events start at 4:30pm with a free to attend panel discussion in mac’s Arena Bar. Emulsion Festival V will further present a series of live music and ensemble shows, some free and some ticketed, with the last performance from the Emulsion Sinfonietta held in the mac Theatre between 9-10pm.

A full festival pass will cost £15 (with concessions available) and can be bought via the mac booking office. For direct venue information and online ticket sales, click here.

Representing more than just an annual event, Emulsion was formed by saxophonist, Trish Clowes, back in 2012. A place to celebrate musicians from both the contemporary Jazz and contemporary Classical genres, this new creative nest aimed to nurture ideas, support projects, explore platforms for performance and bring ‘together different audiences’ to ‘challenge one’s expectations’ and show them first hand ‘how exploring and listening to new music is exciting not daunting.’

Holding its first ‘mini festival’ in May 2012, at London’s listening Vortex Jazz Club, Emulsion I premiered four new compositions from Iain Ballamy (The Man Who Knew Just Enough), Luke Styles (Chasing the Nose), Rory Simmons (Charcoal Fingers and Rusty Tongues) and founder, Trish Clowes (A moment).

BPREVIEW: Emulsion Festival @ mac 27.01.17In the subsequent years Emulsion would evolve into wider showcases, workshops and even a four day residency at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2015. New commissions have also been ‘central to Emulsion projects’, with the organisation seeing a series of new compositions become a reality across its five year tenure. For a wider list on new commissions from Emulsion, click here.

Now in 2017, Emulsion hosts its first festival event in Birmingham – bringing a day long showcase to mac, with free pop up performances from Birmingham Conservatoire students alongside ticketed events from some of today’s well respected musicians and composers.

Recipient of the 2016 BASCA British Composer Award for Contemporary Jazz Composition, Joe Cutler, will be showcasing his winning composition – Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder. Whilst two nominees for the 2017 Arts Foundation Award for Jazz Composition appear heavily on the bill, Percy Pursglove and Chris Montague, as well as new work from renowned UK composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian – the inaugural composer-in-residence for the National Trust/London Symphony Orchestra’s Khadambi’s House initiative.

There will be further new work premiered from two celebrated Birmingham Conservatoire graduates, Anna Maria Olsson and Bobbie Gardener – both performed with the Emulsion Sinfonietta. Emulsion founder, Trish Clowes, will also be performing the Birmingham debut of her new album, My Iris, as part of the event.

Emulsion Festival V will be hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter Fiona Talkington, to be nationally broadcast on the station’s Hear & Now and Jazz Now programmes.

Emulsion Sinonietta – extracts

Emulsion Festival V comes to mac on Friday 27th January – running from 4:30 to 10pm. For direct event info and online tickets sales, click here.

For more on Emulsion Festival, visit www.emulsionmusic.orgmac-birmingham


For more from Trish Clowes, visit

For more from Tom Harrison, visit

For more from mac, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit