How did the new album A Handful of Memories come about?
The lack of touring and travelling during the pandemic meant I had time to think about all the amazing trips I had done up to this point in my career, and the album basically came from an appreciation of that. Each piece on the album is inspired by a place I’ve been to and has a story attached to it in the album sleeve, along with a photo memory.
Tell us a bit about the piano and the recording process.
A Handful of Memories was recorded at Stowe School in their Ugland Auditorium on a Model D Steinway. I wanted it to be just myself and the piano, so it had to be recorded on a grand piano in a great sounding auditorium. Stowe was the obvious choice. An added advantage was that it is only 5 miles from my house, so the commute was pretty quick.
You recorded several classical piano albums with Rick Wakeman in the 90s. Why did it take so long to record one yourself?
Touring has always been such a huge part of my career, and time is always a premium when I’m back home. Damian Wilson and I have a great friendship & partnership. We have recorded several acoustic style albums on piano, acoustic guitar and vocals, which has been prioritised for a while. During this period of reflection, when the world seemed to pause, it gave me time to rekindle my relationship with the piano and the classical style I started out playing on those early albums with my father.
Do you think being known for playing with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath influences the way you are perceived as a classical piano player?
Well, I guess we’ll find out! I’ve learned over the years that most people have pretty eclectic music tastes. Some people who like heavy rock also love jazz; some who love classical music also like blues and hip hop. All I know is that I love playing and writing music in lots of genres, and if people enjoy it and get some pleasure out of listening, then my job is done. I’m too old nowadays to worry about how people perceive me. As long as I approach what I do with sincerity and genuinely, then I can hold my hands up and say, “I’m proud of that”, then that’s enough for me.
You released the Jazz Sabbath album last year, which received much praise from jazz critics. How did that come about, and how did you experience playing jazz piano?
It took six years from the original idea to be released as an album. It all started on a Black Sabbath tour. I met the band’s security guard for some food (and a few beers) one evening on a day off, and we ended up having a nightcap in the bar of the hotel in Berlin. It was empty, and they had a Yamaha grand in the corner, so I sat down and had a play. The security guard Didier said, “Can you play a Sabbath song on piano?” So I played the opening chords to Iron Man as Major 7 chords instead of the original 5ths, and it followed from there in a jazzy style. When I went to my room, I started devising the idea of a fictional character — Milton Keanes, who claimed he wrote all the songs of Black Sabbath in the late ’60s and has spent the last 50 years trying to prove his case as the original songwriter. I wanted to make a comedy documentary to coincide with the album release, and I love the fact that some thought it was a genuine story. I wanted to get the blessing from Sharon and Ozzy first before I went ahead and did it, and fortunately, they have a similar British sense of humour and loved the idea.
I was very nervous about the actual recording once I’d arranged the pieces as I’m not a ‘jazz’ player in my mind. Once I started recording in my studio, on my own on my Kawai K300, I started to really enjoy myself, and I hope that is what comes across on the recording. Ultimately, there’s no point trying to play in a style I’m not comfortable in, so I just played in a way I felt comfortable. The style is, I think, a mix and interpretation of jazz that stems from my classical training.
|Full Interview: “During This Period of Reflection, When the World Seemed to Pause, It Gave Me Time to Rekindle My Relationship With the Piano and the Classical Style I Started Out Playing on Those Early Albums With My Father”|