Hometown: Alfreton, Darbyshire, England
Taking bass lessons since: 2005
When not playing the bass, Nick works as a Rotating Systems Engineer (gas turbines), involving travel assignments of several weeks or months.
How long have you been playing the bass?
– Electric since age 14, with no training.
And then how did you get started with double bass?
– I had a trophy girlfriend. She was very nice, but she cost an arm and a leg. We fell out. I was playing with [a jump blues band], trying to imitate the sound of the upright on electric by playing with the thumb. Then I had the idea to buy an upright, at a guitar shop. A Czech plywood. I put a pickup on it, but at the gig, it sounded a little thin and lifeless. So, being an engineer, I immediately took it to the luthier, who said there was nothing really wrong with the bass, and handed me a list of teachers. The nearest one by zip code was Frank Murry, and it was a good fit. The next thing I was buying a bow, and about six weeks after I’d started, I was attending a master class with Francois (Rabbath). I got George (Vance)’s books, and have had ten years of stop and start.
What’s your prior musical history?
– Clarinet, though reading wasn’t strong. My teacher was third clarinetist on the Queen Mary, but he was killed when he fell off a bus and was run over. We played charts together, along with the school’s trumpet teacher. I went into orchestra class on clarinet just once – the Britten piece was all accidentals!
I played percussion in the orchestra.
What’s your primary style?
– Orchestral is the target, so I’ve got to get sight reading. [Nick notes he finds it hard to retain progress he makes in learning to sight read]. 90% of my playing now is on my orchestra bass.
Why I play the bass?
– Arvell Shore (I got to play his bass at Kolstein). He was a giant of a man, basketball team material. It was a Prescott, a huge one that had never been cut down.
– Ray Brown, of course.
How long have you been a member of ISB?
– Since 2005. [ed note: Nick joined the ISB right away when he started double bass!]
How many conventions have you attended?
– Four. [ed note: Nick has also attended many, many bass workshops, including George Vance’s and others in Houston and Kansas City]
You’ve been in a [small group bass technique] class with young students at times. How do you feel your learning process differs from theirs?
– They pick up quicker – they only have to be told once.
– They are in orchestra class regularly, so reading, and the rehearsal routine, are second nature to them.
– They don’t have the same fear of failure
– By the time we’re adults, we’re all strange shapes. The standard technique doesn’t work for everyone. The combination of different-shaped people and different-shaped basses…[we discuss the physical aspect of playing. Nick notes that his recent transition to sitting to play has increased his rate of progress, as it helped to get the bass in a good position. He’s also been working very hard at fitness, which helps get the bass closer to his trunk. I’m mentioning it as it’s a significant issue for adults who have changed shape since they studied as youngsters, so they may also benefit from changing their playing position from the way they were originally taught. Nick mentions the DDP Yoga DVDs have been very helpful in gaining upper-body flexibility].
You’ve been intensively studying technique for a long time – can you name some things this level of detail has done for you?
– [Bass] ensemble playing works, because of the commitment. If I have an ensemble part, I’ll go home and shed it.
– Bowing, in particular. Recognizing how to relax into the string. Sitting has made it easier.
On the opposite side, have there been any drawbacks to the available local classes being focussed intensively on technique?
– I think we hit the right balance when we did about 65% technique and the rest working on [a piece]. If the class were all adults, it would be better if it were 50/50.
What are some of your goals in regards to technique?
– Working on the David Moore material: low thumb position. [It was helpful when, in class, we’d work on the technique, then] we’d take a piece of music where we could use it.
– Strokin’, bowing curves
What (if anything apart from what you’re doing now) would you like to be doing as a bassist? What sorts of performances?
– Community orchestra. There are lots more community orchestras in England, many of which don’t expect to perform publicly – they just get together every week and play. [Nick notes there are fewer such opportunities here in the States].
– Being able to play an entire [orchestral] bass part
What are some of your bass-playing accomplishments of which you are especially proud?
– I’m glad to be holding down my gig.
– Everything in the last Vance book is a challenge. Just getting through those is satisfying enough.
– I have a lot of nice gear.
Can you remark on how the musician part of your life interleaves with your life as a whole?
– The music thing has been a stress-reliever for me. After ten minutes of scales, the problems go away. My body loosens up, the sound gets better, and three, there is a sense of deep relaxation, and you’re concentrating on one thing only. The downside is life gets in the way of practicing.
– I have a perspective in my personal life where I work to the best of my ability, but then if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I expect that would be quite different if music were my job.
You seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s going on in the bass world: you know what’s in every issue of the magazine, the basses for sale in all the shops worldwide, who all the players are. You attend all the concerts and recitals in town. You’re much more in touch with the bass world as a whole than most full-time bassists, and are an important source of information and a relay point for the other musicians you’re in contact with. I wonder if you knew that, and why you think that may be?
– When I’m offshore, when my shift is over, there’s not much to do but read. We carry backpacks with 30 lbs. of safety gear throughout our shifts, so I don’t much feel like going to the gym when I’m off. I read everything new on talkbass every day, and listen to Jason Heath’s podcasts. I picked up a lot about basses by playing every bass displayed at ISB conventions, and from talking with several makers, such as Christian Laborie, Trevor Davis and Seth Kimmel. I don’t mean to leave any of the really good ones out – there are many. I remember talking after hours at the last conference with the Cincinnati guys, Dan Hachez, and Paul Hart…
Tips and learning tools Nick recommends:
“I always travel with an IPad, a digital audio player (plays hi res music files), and a decent set of earphones or headphones. Difficult to pick out the bass lines in a symphony with low res files and ear buds. I can then listen to recordings while I am away, and have access to the apps.”
– ReadRhythm app (on the plane, better than watching mindless movies!)
– EarMaster – sight singing & music theory
– Sight-reading app – gives a couple of bars, shows your accuracy, then moves on to a new segment
– iRealPro for learning jazz tunes
– DDP yoga
– The CDs with the Vance books as a primary learning tool!
Things that would be great to have:
– Instruction for the bass that doesn’t require reading!
– The entirety of the ISB Magazine online