thousand days (sample)

storyville

niki gregory & sakaash

Gareth - fret board wizzard

I got my first guitar, an electric plus amp when I was 14 yrs old and I was a real dedicated rock devotee! The energy and intensity of the rock concert atmosphere blew me away - I wanted to do that! I wanted to be one of those guys on stage, taken out of the norm and rocketed into some incredibly energized state.

There were no guitar lessons, just a self taught improvised journey. One of my first bands with some friends was called The John Merrick Experience. For about 9 years I got tunnel vision for rock, like it was my religion. We even got a record deal with an underground heavy metal label but then it all fell apart - half way through the album the kit was stolen and with the usual symptoms and hazards of the ego, the dream was over. This left me pretty down and adrift.

Now I see what happened as a real blessing in disguise, it released me to explore more diverse music, becoming immersed in other cultural sounds. And I got a sense of community by doing the Prince’s Trust, which is when I realized I could make a positive contribution to the world. As my interest in other cultural music grew, so did my exposure to Buddhism, Hinduism and Shamanism, the latter which felt like a sense of home. The Shaman utilized drama, music, dance and ritual for the purpose of healing to benefit people and the world. This is when I realized the power of creativity to make a difference, that this is what music really meant to me. Those old days of rock seemed a long time ago now. It was around this time that I met Jayne, Niki and Alvin and we started jamming.

After going to the Birmingham Conservatoire to develop my musical knowledge, I went on to do an MA in music exploring Shamanism. Through this course I met master drummers from Africa; Tibetan monks; expert sitar players and for a short time was privileged to receive sitar lessons with a master teacher. My primary instrument has been the acoustic guitar on which I’ve come to enjoy an eclectic range of styles from ragas to reggae.

I left Birmingham and went up to Scotland to help out in a therapeutic community and from hereon my work and life has continued to fuse creativity, music and healing. I now work as a counsellor for Mind, helping kids and young people discover their voice through the wonders of music. Oh, and I re-discovered that old part of me that still, in some corner of myself, had never quite let go of those rock days!

Through these years my path has always interwoven with Niki in friendship and musicianship. I remember riding the waves of transition when Bob Lamb signed her for management. We had some fun times, but what we shared really took on its truer meaning after those days. It’s been quite an organic, flexible arrangement, playing with Niki when I can, contributing to most gigs and really enjoying things on a production level. I love the creative process, the production of music, how it comes together and the many possibilities. I often compose my own music and lyrics.

What motivates you to play?

“To play together in whatever tongue or ritual is the most tender union of hope and sympathy that we can contract in this life”.

I think that’s the current aspiration now isn’t it? That shared space of both creativity and receptivity is at its best a prayer; a sending out, a wishing out of wellness.

What does playing mean to you?

It used to be so important, as if the playing of music was ‘it’. But now the ‘it’ is much bigger and the playing is just an expression of ‘It’. The tinnitus from my rock days threw a spanner in the works and was actually a mixed blessing. I used to let rip and let go into it, but the tinnitus put a halt to that. I began to wake up and realize there’s so much more beautiful sound in the world that I don’t want to miss, the bird song, wind in the trees, peoples’ voices. I was missing it before but now I was tuning into those more refined and subtle sounds. Now I realize how precious my hearing is and how much more there is to appreciate.

What does it mean to share your music with the world?

If I’m honest, our friendship means a lot to me and I’d say that’s much more important than the music. But I really appreciate the music is a big part of the pathway we’ve travelled. It’s a real pleasure to tell people I’m meeting up with my friend Niki and that we not only share such a great space together as friends but also that this music has been so intrinsically woven into our journey.

Also, there’s something really cool about when we play in spaces dedicated to world peace and healing, the music is so conducive. It’s great to contribute through our art to an atmosphere of transformation. I’d like to see more places and events like that in the world, perhaps in every town. Then we could really do the tour we want to!

What do you feel when you are creating this music?

At my best when I’m free of anxieties, it feels like a prayer. There is something almost blissful about being immersed in a creative process that’s about something deep inside yourself and then being able to share it.

What do you like about playing Niki’s compositions and style?

Say the song ‘Lord’, it’s about honouring, connecting with, and appreciating God. Whatever that might mean to someone - that Something Greater Than, something about Grace, Healing, the Divine – to tap into that connection inside and share that, can be really blissful. It’s a true blessing.

Niki’s music draws on most of my guitar skills and music production skills enabling me to use pure acoustic, from the simple to electronic effects, crossing cultural divides. I have a lot of respect for the other musicians and their skills. Alvin’s fantastic, I have massive respect for his versatility. And in Jayne there is a very solid player, the quality that she brings is warm. It’s more about her presence than a set of skills.

How do you feel about having been a part of this musical family for so long?

I’m really grateful for the friendships and the sense of connection. As much as I love the music, where I sit now it that this is much more about the people involved. Niki’s written some really good songs, the messages have been really positive. It’s good that they go out there into the world. If I’m honest, once upon a time it was a lot more about the music, but now the music feels secondary. It kind of sits on top of our friendship - we share in silence as much as we share the music.

Where would you like the music to go?

To the temples, the gurdwara, the meditation halls and quiet places; Quaker meeting houses; and I’d like to stream some stuff live through the internet. I’d also be interested in doing further recordings. Get on the radio and well, I’m open.

What do you think has kept this musical family going?

I think it’s down to some mysterious organizing process that some people might call the Divine!

Sketch of my experiences:

Various rock bands from aged 14 to 23 years old.
Session work between around 23 and 30 years old with various genres such as bangra bands and West African pop and traditional groups.
From around 30 years old I played in folk bands in Scotland as a percussionist.
Had the pleasure of working with Jon Cotton, Artisan Studios, my contributions having been used in sound tracks around the world for documentaries etc..
My work has evolved more into the caring profession as a counselor in the voluntary sector and currently with Mind. I’m hoping one day to transition into private practice and continue the music with Niki.

Cottage

Alvin - saxman

My first day in senior school I walked into a music lesson and there was this cupboard wide open and I was like "Wow! all those instruments!", then the teacher gave everyone a blower. It was a boy’s only class and I was the one who blew the loudest best note on a cornet! From then on I was hooked. I was real lucky cuz I went on to have a lesson every week. A few months afterwards I joined the school brass band and became first cornet!

When I received music homework I found it fascinating. I’d try to pick up stuff from records that my brother brought home who was a DJ. They were mainly reggae and soul – Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye etc.. I’d sift through his collection and find the trumpet bits and start copying. Not bad for 12 years old eh! My parents were really tolerant! They never said ‘stop that racket!” They just listened and encouraged me. When I got to college I joined a band called ‘Arizon’ and the group persuaded me to try the saxophone. I was 18 years old and thanks to Mum’s support I got one and never looked back. We did some amazing gigs – my first gig was at Handsworth Festival and we had great reviews. We’re still friends now.

Shortly after the band split I began working for the Probation Cultural Centre teaching saxophone to guys who were on day-release from prison. Quite a challenging experience to keep their attention for a whole day! But this wet my appetite for one-to-one tutoring later on in life. I also found a passion for playing the flute.

As time went on I guess I started to get a reputation and picked up work with different people and genres from Asian Bhangra, Calypso, Reggae, soul and dance bands (with mature folks doing the Foxtrot and Rumba!) We covered the country playing in all kinds of venues from social clubs to retro places to hotels and festivals like Glastonbury and Womad. Had the pleasure of sessioning for artists like Edwin Star, Jackie Graham, Nigel Kennedy, Caleb Clarke and many more and under management got to number 3 in the contemporary jazz charts in California. That was an experience! After signing a deal with FM records, we achieved a 9 track album in one month. It was then released in America followed by a tour - it was a real whirlwind experience!

In 1993 I was asked to add some saxophone to a Radio 5 live gig of Gillie Nicholls and this is where I met Niki, whom I‘ve been playing with as and when we can ever since. Generally I consider myself to have been real fortunate to have made a comfortable living out of doing what I love and within a variety of contexts, doing session work for some great artists and creating and recording material of my own, having now achieved 5 albums. I really love the recording process, the production and mixing etc... on my own stuff of course, but also on others, especially Niki's albums.

What motivates you to play?

Oh man, just the sound of the instrument. It’s something that you have to hear. If I don’t hear that sound for a while I get withdrawal symptoms. But because I’m doing it for a job, to just pick up the instrument and play can kinda take bit more motivation. I love it more when it’s just about pleasure and not pressure.

What does playing mean to you?

It’s everything to me. It’s my everything. If I couldn’t play anymore I’m not sure what type of person I’d be. Would I be a happy person? You get different vibes from different people when you play with them.

To be able to relate through music, without other restrictions of life like language, you can have some amazing connections that transcend other stuff. I think music is so important to us as human beings, especially now.

What does it mean to share your music with the world?

That’s really special, that somebody, that people get off on what you’re doing – there’s so much pleasure I take from that. I think that’s what’s kept me going with it all. Giving people pleasure and having pleasure yourself. Seeing the smile on peoples’ faces.

What do you feel when you are creating this music?

Work with Niki has been quite an interesting journey. She’s dug into my soul because she challenges me and gets some of the best performances out of me. When I listen to the album there’s some phenomenal moments in there.

What do you like about playing Niki’s compositions and style?

I think Niki’s style is quite compatible with my style. I’ve always liked hearing the saxophone without all the production behind it, very free. I enjoy playing on this eloquent music and Niki’s mellow voice goes well with the sax and my style of play, it’s a special combination. We always come out with something fantastic. And I’ve been able to explore all my instruments on Niki’s material including Indian and normal flute, trumpet –open and with mute, alto and soprano sax and use my vocals.

How do you feel about being part of this musical family for so long?

That’s exactly what it is, it’s a family. You rarely turn your back on your family. You know whatever happens we’ll always get together and jam some great stuff. It’s really nice to know we’re all there. I wish we could do it more.

Where would you like the music to go?

Big! That’s where I’d like it to go. Man, the world is the oyster. It hasn’t heard what we do yet. It’s exiting to know this music could go all around, exotic locations, peoples’ front rooms and ipods! I’d like it to be discovered.

What do you think has kept this musical family going?

Friendship. The fact that we liked each other and it comes down to respect. When we do play together there’s an automatic connection there, as if we go way back. We’re all on the same kind of wavelength, similar outlooks.

Sketch of my experiences

Alvin

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John - Bassman, shape-shifter

World tours with innovative band 'Laika', supporting the great
PJ Harvey. A very experienced, seasoned, out-of-the-box player who bows to no rules. Also a bloody lovely soul!

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