Nothing But the Blues

So in eager anticipation of Malcolm Earl-Smith’s project, Nothing But The Blues, I am going to share 4 reasons why I love the blues and how it has informed so much of my music making over the last 40 years

  1. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Rocky Mountain Blues

My Granny came back from holiday in Spain with a classical guitar, I picked out E from a chord book and then I put on my Dad’s recording of Rocky Mountain by Lightnin’ Hopkins and got to work out what he was doing. This was my first encounter with the blues and was a giant step from the only other thing that I played on guitar to that point: Froggie Went a Courting in D.

Listening to Lightnin’s voice singing about, “Rocky Mountain, J.C. that’s the place I want to be” reminded me of that pre teenage desolation that I used to feel staring out of a suburban bedroom in Beckenham, South east London. The gentle but insistent groove providing a bed for Sonny Terry’s harp playing which nothing short of musical perfection, placing hollers and soulful responses to the mournful words sung as clear as a bell.

The song builds beautifully and Lightnin’ turns up the gas subtly as we are challenged to “Stop by Arizona Town” He then sings about how it was impossible for Indians to get a drink, thereby highlighting prejudice against non-blacks in America.

  1. Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lighnin’

The Mick Jagger effect is the term I use to describe for happens at a party when somebody everyone idolises walks in the door. The music gets turned up to 11 and everyone starts dancing around like they are also the wildest party animals you can imagine and they groove like this all the time. I have had the honour of witnessing this on three occasions with the great man himself.

Jagger however, is the most consistent lover of the blues that I have ever encountered. Once, I was playing at a private party with my trio at his Chateau on the Loire that had been built for Marie Antoinette, he came over and asked me firstly, do I like the fireworks? Yes they were great, especially as they flashed over the new lake that he’d just had put in and the second question, “what do I think of this record?” it was a rare edition of the London Sessions, well what can you say? His knowledge of the blues runs both wide and deep.

  1. Bessie Smith – Backwater Blues

As a teenager brought up by a single parent father, I used to spend hours playing the guitar and looking out of the bedroom window dreaming of escape and a different life. Bessie Smith says it all here in the classic Backwater Blues. “It rained five days and the sky turned black as night”.

Bessie Smith is the Queen of the Blues.

  1. Rev Gary Davis – Death Don’t have no Mercy

I learnt to play some of his guitar instrumentals as a teenager. He had a raw approach to fingerpicking ragtime guitar that I suited my homespun style.

“Death comes into the room and he don’t stay long” He knew what loss was all about being the only one of eight brothers and sisters to make it to adulthood. He later became a preacher and some of his sermons are really worth listening to.

The Colab Blues project will be performing on the night of the final CoLab Party. 20 Feb 19.00h at Blackheath Halls.

CoLab – An International Festival of creative learning

CoLab 2015 is only a month away.

Trinity Laban is truly an international institution with many students and staff coming from the four corners of the world. This year sees an amazing line-up of projects to look forward to and the two weeks is rapidly developing into an international arts festival. With its focus on process and learning this makes it the only one of its type in the world alongside Banff in Canada and Cal Arts.

In Colab 2015 we will be welcoming artists from overseas to add to the talent at Trinity Laban.

CoLab Horizons – South Korea

We are proud to welcome ten students from Ewha Womans University in South Korea to explore traditional music and contemporary composition in a collaboration with students and faculty.

Ewah Womens University

Letizia Michielon – Italy

Pianist and international expert in Ligeti’s music will be mentoring and performing at Beyond The Keys on Mon 16 Feb in the Laban Theatre.

Letizia Michielon

Hiroaki Takenouchi – Japan

He will introduce Boucourechliev’s Archipel series offers a unique experience in creating perfectly unrepeatable performances. Hiroaki will be performing as part of Beyond The Keys on Mon 16 Feb in the Laban Theatre.


Park Stickney – USA

The world’s leading jazz harp player returns to CoLab to explore the music of Charlie Harpker!


Michael Kliën – Austria

Kliën is a leading voice in contemporary choreography. His artistic practice encompasses interdisciplinary thinking, critical writing, curatorial projects, and centrally, choreographic works.


Megumi Masaki – Canada

Great artists are great storytellers. The starting point of her project will be Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (Zodiac), that represents the signs of the Zodiac. Megumi will also be performing in Beyond The Keys on Mon 16 Feb in the Laban Theatre.

Megumi Masaki

Gábor Tarkövi – Hungary

The principal trumpet from the Berlin Philharmonic will be mentoring ‘too many trumpets’ and ‘brass power’.

Gábor Tarkövi

Baudime Jam – France

The leader of the Prima Vista String Quartet will work with students developing the music for silent movies.

Baudime Jam Prima Vista

Rivka Golani – World Premieres

Rivka Golani is mentoring a contemporary strings project in which there will be no less than 5 world premieres of pieces form composers from Georgia, the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom.


For further details on CoLab projects and performances as they unfold, visit:

Collaboration: stepping forward and stepping back

CoLab 2014

Just before Christmas I took part in a week long dance intensive exploring collaboration at Independent dance. There were around twenty six of us led by Alice Chauchat examining what it means to be an individual among others. We danced and discussed together.

This week made me confront the habits I have around how I like to be collaborative. I was increasingly aware of my intuitive responses as either stepping forward to contribute in an assertively full way or alternatively, when it was important for others as well as myself, stepping back to participate fully by making space.

And so I humbly present some of the ideas that were relevant to me through my week of being a collaborator. I do so in the hope that it might give an indication of the experience I had in navigating the complexity of working with others. At the same time I ask you to remain sceptical of anything which appears to offer you a list of rules!

  1. Be present.

There is nowhere to hide in a small group most certainly not from yourself.

  1. Do not be a victim.

As a collaborator you have the possibility to move away from any situation in which you feel stuck. You can subvert, you can challenge in light and playful ways. Take liberties with the boundaries and avoid being too earnest.

  1. Collaboration acknowledges individuality.

There are often many different ways of approaching or working with any idea. These differences do not need to be moulded or diffused into some agreed compromise (this may not be realistic). Such differences might be held in such a way as to be productive so that agitation is constructive. Remember the grit and oyster metaphor.

  1. Be yourself deliberately.

Generosity, and not politeness, is conducive to being creative. Take the risk of saying what you think and how you are experiencing what you are doing. Be honest about how things appear to you so that those with you might do the same. Not saying what you really think can quash the questions which are vital to a vibrant process.

  1. Find ways to be accountable.

It is important to take ownership of the process you are part of and rather than being a passenger. Try to find ways to get stuck in and make this thing something in which you can recognise your contribution. Remember you do not have to like it all.

  1. Find something that is interesting for you.

When the urge to be playful has all dried up it is necessary to find ways of connecting to something which kick starts to motor of curiosity. Deborah Hay (the dance pioneer) calls this “tricking the mind to be interested”. For me it is about trusting that the activity will eventually reveal something to me if I give it a chance. Often it will be something I had not anticipated which expands my vision.

  1. Check your privilege.

This was suggested as a key to preventing ourselves from falling into cultural habits which reinforce stereotypes none of us would want to perpetuate. For example, some individual members of the group dominating discussion time simply because they enjoyed sharing their ideas or felt comfortable taking a forward role. This then is about humbly stepping back to redress the balance. We are all responsible for generating the culture we wish to live by.

  1. Be enriched.

Ensure that you feel satisfied and nourished by what you are involved in. I often need to remind myself to not take the process of exploring so seriously. Being less earnest and finding pleasure in the moment is its own fun.

  1. Get on with it.

Don’t spend longer discussing stuff than necessary. Actually trying things out will give you more information to build on. We can all get too comfortable spending time deciding on the best plan of action. There is no such thing as a perfect starting place. Get stuck in and the way forward will only really present itself.

  1. Go lightly.

Don’t get bogged down by needing to be good, right, better, serious, a happy camper, artistically significant, the best collaborator. Pushing too hard to make things happen just seems to get in the way.

written by Jamieson Dryburgh