Music: Features

Sax Mania

Last month saw a dozen sax players doing gigs in Scarborough. What is this great local tradition about? We asked the big daddy of them all, Baz Hampshire, what gets him in the groove.

Life's one big hoot

Last month saw more than a dozen sax players doing gigs in Scarborough. What is this great local tradition about? We asked the big daddy of them all, Baz Hampshire, what gets him in the groove.

He's such an innocent. 'What's a gig?' he asked the legendary Les Pickup, leader of a fifties dance band. He soon found out. Baz Hampshire ended up playing six nights a week, as well as holding down a full time job.

It had all started when he was an apprentice printer, and a colleague got him to join a marching band where he learnt tenor horn. Those brass bands are still a training ground for some of the best musicians, and many go on to become pros.

But this was the 1950s and Baz had other ideas. He had heard the electrifying Little Richard on the radio and he wanted a piece of that sound. Off he went to Kitchens in Leeds to buy a sax.

Dances were all the rage and there was plenty of work with the likes of Roger Dean and Mike Lancaster forming bands. One audition in front of the fearsome Fred Percival proved unexpected: 'He gave me some music to play and it was all on one note - bottom D. So I did that and I was in.'

Typically, Baz insists it was just Percival's need for a sax player that got him the job. Despite being revered by every other player his constant line goes: 'Well, I didn't know that but somebody showed me, I busked it...'

Being the planet's wildest and most versatile instrument, sax is always in style. In 1964 the modest man got another break when his son announced there were 'two Beatles at the door'.

This time it was rock 'n' roll at last with Chow's Men and of course Baz insists that he had to be shown how to play the riffs. Don't believe a word of it: Baz was in demand right through the decade.

When tastes changed again around 1970 Baz took his next step into singing. He took his debut doing Simon and Garfunkel at the Golden Gloves club in Bridlington, owned by boxer Mike Tighe.

Then it was on to the cool of the blues at the Candlelight on Scarborough's Foreshore.

Finally in 1989 he got together with singer Dave Magson - 'a voice like the inside of a whiskey barrel' - to form current band Hamps Tramps. The lineup has changed over the years but the good time New Orleans sound is still there.

And Baz's greatest triumph? Certainly an unexpected one. All those years ago listening to Little Richard and Fats Domino, he didn't know the horn player kicking up a storm in the background was one Lee Allen.

But years later collaborating with Charles White on Richard's biography the two flew to New York and met that same hornmeister. For once Baz is lost for words. 'We went and saw him playing. It was ...Lee Allen...!'

Hot horns: four who cut their teeth with Hamps Tramps

Lisa Pinkney
10 years with the band, now playing in her brother Nick's band Halibut. Baz says: 'Every gig was a joy.'

Dirk Zodiac
Still with Hamps, after playing with Back Door at the Blakey. 'He's fancy and I'm rock and roll - great contrast of styles.'

Dave Kemp
'I've known Dave since he was 14 and he was totally uninhibited even then. He could stand with anybody.'

Julia Wray
'She came to my door and said she wanted to play in the band. She fitted right in.' Now playing jazz.

Catch Hamps and the gang at the Newcastle Packet on 22 Dec or the Tap and Spile at 4pm on 24 Dec.

Scarborough Goes Digital

Digital Scarborough, the annual event to promote digital industries, has moved into the heart of town for 2006, centring on the Stephen Joseph Theatre and St Nicholas Hotel. For a stunning demo of digital technology’s visual possibilities, look out for HIVE, creators of virtual 3-D environments. Fly over Scarborough, journey through a monkey’s skull and see how architects create a virtual shopping centre.

In the midst of all this technical wizardry we wanted to know more about digital art – what is it, and how do the artists who work in digital media see their work.  There is a series of fringe events surrounding Digital Scarborough, but the artistic centrepiece is performance of the Silicon Beach Experiment by a group of artists called 5-Meo-DMT.

We asked Joe Gilmore, one of the three artists involved (the others are Jim Brouwer and George Rogers) to tell us more. For one part of the show, local classical musicians will give a live performance; and the digital sound artists will use computers to transform, synthesise and mix the sound in real time. The musicians will also respond to the sounds being created. This gives the immediacy and surprise of a live performance, but with a vast range of sounds at their disposal.

The other work will be the creation, through computers, of a live soundtrack to film footage shot in Scarborough in the 1960s. Jim said: ‘We have re-edited this film using similar processes that we use to create the sound, such as looping and layering, to create an entirely new work. We are interested in the contrast between analog and digital and also how to bridge this gap, or merge the two.’

The artists are keen to stress that this is a performance not a ready-made installation: ‘It is an audiovisual performance and our music is improvised. We might decide on a style or loose overall structure or divide the performance into sections but apart from that the music is mixed and transformed in real time. Every sound is played in response to the whole as it develops.’

This sounds daunting for the artists, but they seem to relish it; ‘It is much more exciting than knowing exactly what is going to happen. There's an element of surprise, and the performers hear the music with the audience as it is created.’

The group have, in the past, connected sound and vision in live performance.

Information about the sounds they are producing can be used to control visual data in real time, so that sound affects the moving image. The technical aspects of their work can seem mind-boggling but, if other artists who have shown in Scarborough are anything to go by, the work of digital artists can be extraordinarily beautiful and moving.

The Silicon Beach Experiment featuring 5-Meo-DMT
McCarthy cinema, SJT, 7:00 pm, 13 October

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