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Tim, he’s that composer fellow

TIM Garland still has a home in London – half a house in Wembley, is how he puts it – but you get the distinct impression he is sinking a few roots in the North-East.

Have sax will travel has been Tim Garland’s motto. But now he’s bringing the music home, as David Whetstone explains.

Tim Garland

TIM Garland still has a home in London – half a house in Wembley, is how he puts it – but you get the distinct impression he is sinking a few roots in the North-East. The acclaimed jazz saxophonist, arranger and composer moved here with his wife and two children four years ago and now lives in Whitley Bay. The kids, aged eight and 10, he says proudly, are picking up the accent.

Tim was composer-in-residence at Newcastle University for a fruitful period.

“They asked me to stay on. They obviously liked me. Now they call me a composer fellow (that’s fellow in the academic sense of the word). I’m running a jazz module there which is great fun.”

With The Sage Gateshead attracting so many world class musicians from outside the region, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is plenty of world class talent resident here. Tim certainly fits that billing, as you will know if you have read reviews of past performances and recordings. If you haven’t, you can see him in action with his Northern Underground Orchestra in Hexham tomorrow or at The Sage Gateshead in December.

These are the remaining dates on a national tour which began at Arc, Stockton, on October 6. The gig at London’s South Bank Centre on November 21 will be part of the 2007 London Jazz Festival but the final, climactic gig will be the one in Gateshead when the orchestra will share billing with Jambone, The Sage’s resident youth jazz ensemble.

Tim has collaborated recently with drummer Bill Bruford and piano legend Chick Corea. Indeed, he appeared on stage at The Sage Gateshead not so long ago when Corea was the star turn.

Tim explains: “The Northern Underground Orchestra is an expanded version of a band I ran in London, The Underground Orchestra, which had a residency at Ronnie Scott’s. This band is expanded from nine up to 13 and sometimes 14 musicians and it’s a new repertoire band.

“I’ve been able to commission new works so it’s not just my own music but music by people associated with the North. We have got a fantastic singer touring with us, Hannah Jones, who has a wonderful gospel/soul voice. She used to sing backing vocals for groups such as Heaven 17 and did a lot of work with Boy George.

“We used to work with her at Ronnie Scott’s but after we moved to the North-East we found she had relocated here, too. She’s married to a guy from the North-East.”

The Northern Underground Orchestra features a core of musicians who have always worked closely with Tim.

They include Gwilym Simcock on keyboards and Asaf Sirkis on drums (although it will be Ian Thomas beating out the rhythms in the North-East).

North-East soloists will also include Mike Outram (guitar), Richard Iles (trumpet), Andy Schofield (alto sax) and Paul Booth (sax).

“For the last 10 years, most of my work has been international, touring the world with Chick Corea and with Bill Bruford’s band, and it has been really nice to do something which is celebrating the region,” says Tim.

“Even though The Underground Orchestra was very London-centric, the fact is more than half the musicians were from the North originally. I thought, hey, let’s see if we can reverse the process. I knew there were a lot of excellent musicians living in the region.”

The result is the Northern Underground Orchestra with musicians from Tyneside, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds. “It’s a coming home after so many years abroad to celebrate some top talent,” says Tim. Many of the new numbers you will hear at the North-East gigs will be from the new album Due North. They have names like Angel of the North, Tynemouth Spray, Cragside and Toon Tune. The album was recorded in Darlington, mixed in London and mastered in New York, so it is truly North-East and international.

In addition to all this activity, Tim has been running a competition for composers and arrangers under the age of 30.

“The brief was to write something in the style of Steely Dan (the American jazz-rock group). We thought everyone knows what Steely Dan sounds like and they are not unlike the band we’ve got.

“People came up with some really interesting arrangements. We perform two or three of them at every gig.”

Tim says he realises the word jazz is off-putting to some people (the same could be said of all musical genres) but reckons many young audience members have had any preconceptions blown away when they have heard The Northern Underground Orchestra play. Having spent years working with young people on campus, he speaks with authority on this.

Tomorrow’s gig at the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, starts at 7.30pm. For tickets, tel (01434) 652477.

The concert at The Sage Gateshead is in Hall Two on December 8 at 8pm. Tel (0191) 443-4661 for tickets.

The album Due North will be on sale at both venues and is also available from www.jazzcds.co.uk

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