Humankind have made the wind a subject of artistic expression for millenia. Many cultures, through the literary devices of their writers, haven given character to the various wind systems, imbued them with meaning and mythologised the events they can appear to herald. Chip Wickham’s latest record is named after the Shamal Wind. There are multiple reasons why Shamals are significant to Wickham and he was gracious enough to explain them in this sincere interview, ahead of his show at Band on the Wall on 24th June.
Whether wielding the hefty baritone sax or lighter silver flute, Wickham is a masterful wind player. Artephis take the support slot and DJ Matt Halsall of Gondwana Records, spins tunes throughout the night. Without further ado, our interview with Chip:
You recorded Shamal Wind at Brazil Studios in Madrid, favouring old school equipment and recording techniques. Was the working method something you had in mind before the sessions began, or something that developed during the process?
‘I chose the studio very carefully to reflect the sound I was trying to achieve as well as the type of recording process to get that sound. Tape for me, has a beautiful quality to it that can add a great deal to the final production sound. Obviously a lot of what I like and listen to regularly was recorded in analogue studios to tape, so when Lovemonk said what studio do you want to record in, it was obvious to me. Brazil Studios has that sound and is run by an amazing guy called Javier Ortiz, who is one of the best engineers I have ever worked with…..and I have worked with hundreds over the years!
Also, by recording to tape you have to decide if a take is the take! You can’t just keep recording and keeping lots of takes because the tape is very expensive. This adds a fantastic element to the sessions. We record in the moment and concentrate on getting it there and then and not later with editing. You can hear this in the record. There is an energy and concentration that is amazing. Tape bring lots of great thing to a record! I wanted that in my record.’
The record is a triumph made all the more admirable by your circumstances prior to its recording. Can you tell us a little about the effect of your illness on your playing and what overcoming it has spurred you on to achieve musically?
‘A Shamal Wind is an appropriate metaphor for the change that has blown through my life. The wind has great destructive force that is beautiful and dangerous and brings with it great destructive force and renewal. That is what happened to me following a battle with throat cancer that I was lucky to survive. Recovery has been slow and difficult to re learn to play the saxophone, following major surgery on my throat. But with this destruction has come a love for life and a creative burst that this album represents. A joyous rebirth following the storm! Life is good and I’m making music. I have learned some important lessons in life. Anyone who has survived cancer knows the first five years are the key to long term health and that is why I wanted to release 5 albums in 5 years. I liked the symbolism!’
Matt Halsall makes a guest appearance on the record and will of course be spinning tunes in Manchester as well. When did you relationship with Matt form and what are your thoughts on his Gondwana label and how that has progressed over the past decade?
‘We go way back! I played on his breakthrough album Sending My Love and was part of his whole scene with Gondwana Records that launched so many great artists: such as GoGo Penguin and Nat Birchall. Although moving onto Madrid from Manchester soon after the album, I kept in touch and have performed with him regularly over the years. He is fantastic at seeing potential in people and is always pushing those around him to achieve what they are capable of. He is a very wise soul and I love the way he has built his label up and the way he has grown himself as an artist. A very impressive character and one of those key people in the UK Jazz scene.
I was so pleased when he said he would do a track on the album. I wrote The Mirage with him in mind. I knew he would sound great and he does! He has a very distinctive sound and style and I have long wanted to do a track with he playing trumpet and I on alto flute. It’s a beautiful combination of sounds and I really love this track on the album. I’m really please that Matthew is also providing DJ support for the Manchester show.’
Is it right that you teach music as well as playing? If you had to instruct a young musician to study a single jazz musician, who might that be and why?
‘That’s a very tough one! I guess I would say Miles Davis. He was about creating a band sound and a musical style to fit. Great songs and constantly changing and innovating music and its styles. That’s so important. Don’t get stuck in the land of technique! Use your skills to create good music, put the music first. Put it ahead of your playing! That’s what Miles did, over and over again. He had the band and the sound and he wrote amazing songs and was able to combine certain musicians to get results.’
Beyond your touring commitments, what does the rest of this year have in store for you, do you plan to hit the studio once more?
‘I love to record in the summer! I get to Madrid and just want to get in the studio to make the next record. That’s my plan for the next 5 years, at least! Then I get down to mixing in the autumn ready for release the following year. That is my rhythm at the moment!
I have the shows across Europe this summer with shows in Madrid, Barcelona, London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. I will also be touring with Matthew Halsall in October and November to mark the 10th anniversary of Gondwana Records. Busy busy!’