EP: What instruments do you play? Are you mostly self-taught?
CJ: Properly speaking, I only really play guitar and mandolin. When I say ‘properly’, I guess I mean an instrument that I would be prepared go up on stage with all on my own. However, like many other musicians, I also tamper with varying degrees of knowhow with a number of other instruments. These I’ll experiment with more as sound-making devices, objects that can add tone or colour to pieces.
I am mostly self-taught. I had music lessons as a child – piano because it’s the standard, trombone because as a young ‘un I really liked Dexy’s Midnight Runners and The Specials and trad jazz. Still do, actually. I guess these gave me a reasonable musical grounding at the time, but I can’t read sheet music anymore. It also made me recognise that, for me at least, there was greater satisfaction in pursuing one’s own musical daydreams than in acquiring the uniform set of skills and attributes expected of formal musicians, useful though they are. I suspect that many children get put off music because the lessons commonly involve labouring away at music that holds little emotional appeal for your average 12-year old. I was fortunate because, before giving up the piano completely, I was introduced to a new teacher, a joyful Canadian woman called Connie, who had a real love both of music and of teaching it and could coax that same enthusiasm out of her pupils. It was that which saw me through to my mid-teens, when I suddenly wanted to play guitar.
EP: How big a part does intuition / improvisation play in what you do?
CJ: I am massively interested in improvised music of all sorts, and without realising it, I guess I’ve always liked it. But I was introduced to free improv a few years ago by a friend of a friend who’d been sending through cassettes of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Antony Braxton and all, folks I’d never heard of at the time. Turned out the friend of a friend was Rhodri Davies the harpist, who’s now one of the leading free improvisers in that European school.
But in terms of my own music improvising is something I approach with great wariness…
Remainder of interview published in The Sound Projector 18th issue.