We performed at Mountain's Country House last week. It's a venue with a lot of character and charm, and seems to be becoming more and more popular in recent years. This is the fourth time we have been asked to play there and we set up outside under the gazebo and performed for an hour during the reception drinks before the wedding breakfast. Luckily the weather was dry for us.
The gazebo is a really nice spot to set up in. The bride and groom were to be married at a church before coming back to the venue so that meant we had it all to ourselves. However, at many of the weddings here the couples do choose to get married at the venue itself, you can see how nicely they lay out the chairs on their website here. There's still normally room for us to set up outside if required and up to 120 guests can be present during the ceremony. If the weather isn't so good they also have a hall which means they can move proceedings indoors.
In the past we have also set up in the huge marquee to play during the evening. They do have some restrictions on having live musicians after a certain time due to neighbours, but we have performed an hour set before the DJ as we aren't as noisy as a full band (or disco of course!).
As usual, everything ran incredibly well and was on time. The management team at the wedding venue know exactly how to make the day go smoothly which is always reassuring, especially as we also had an evening booking to get to! We're already looking forward to performing there again soon!
One of the nice things about this job is that you get to be part of the best day in people's lives. And most people want to spend the best day in their life somewhere pretty amazing, so you get to visit very beautiful places indeed, and The High Rocks in Tunbridge Wells, Kent is no exception!
Its a slightly unusual venue as there are a series of large rocks, or 'high rocks' opposite it and it has been declared a "Site of Special Scientific Interest".
The last time my duo performed here was in 2010, so some time ago. This time we set up in The Halt, which is a large hall at ground level. The weather was on our side, but it did get a little too warm at times having to carry our equipment down the steps to the hall! We did get lots of room in front of the DJ booth to set up which was nice as we are quite often squeezed into much smaller areas.
The bride and groom had asked for some Dire Straits songs, so before the booking we learnt Latest Trick and So Far Away which seemed to go down well! I have linked to some YouTube videos there, that's not us playing of course! ;) We were also asked to play the following songs:
Fields of Gold - Sting
Home - Michael Buble
Out Of Reach – Gabrielle
Your Song - Elton John
Songbird - Kenny G (Sax Instrumental)
Heartbeats - Jose Gonzalez
These Are The Days - Jamie Cullum
Careless Whisper - George Michael
Angels - Robbie Williams
Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty
Every Breath You Take – Sting
My Girl - The Temptations
Human Nature - Michael Jackson
Hey Jude - The Beatles
Ocean Drive - The Lighthouse Family
Stand By Me - Ben E. King
Valerie - Amy Winehouse
Wild Wood - Paul Weller
We've been booked back at The High Rocks in August but on this occasion we will be performing in their other room The Great Hall Barn.
If Kent is considered to be the Garden of England, perhaps Turkey Mill's grounds could be considered the Garden of Kent? The river Len runs through the nine acre gardens of the venue's stunning surroundings. There's a rather charming bridge which the bride and groom cross once all the guests have arrived and plenty of places for guests to explore.
We performed outside at this lovely venue in Maidstone yesterday. The wedding party couldn't have hoped for better weather. The sun was shining, but it was a comfortable temperature so the guests were able to enjoy the warm sunshine and gentle breeze without overheating! If you could book this kind of weather for a wedding, I think everyone would, it was perfect!
Turkey Mill was a finalist in the Kent Wedding Awards last year, and you can see why when you visit; they're clearly working hard to make this one of the more popular venues in Kent. For musicians it's nice to arrive at a venue and find the staff and management relaxed, as usually if they're not stressed you know that everything will be running to schedule and there won't be any unwelcome surprises! For this particular booking the manager, Caroline, had even phoned us personally beforehand to make sure we had everything we need and knew what we'd be doing. When we arrived the staff were organised and relaxed and took everything in their stride. Its an nice atmosphere working alongside fellow professionals who know how an event should run and understand how to make sure everything runs smoothly!
Due to the nice weather we set up outside The Orangery under the large green gazebo where we had access to a power supply. People often forget, but when the weather is sunny we still need cover to keep us and our equipment cool during the performance.
We had been booked to perform as a duo during the photos before the wedding breakfast with myself on saxophone and vocals, and Anthony Herridge on vocals and guitar). This is becoming an increasingly popular option for wedding couples, as there often tends to be a bit of a lull in proceedings for the guests at this point of the day as the photographer rushes to take photos before the guests go in for their afternoon meal. Musicians at this time can make the atmosphere a little more special.
We had a number of requests from the bride to sing and play certain songs. We started off with Your Song by Elton John, and then performed Somewhere from West Side Story (saxophone instrumental) and Mr Bojangles followed by When I Fall In Love, Let There Be Love and Fly Me To The Moon. We finished off with Careless Whisper by George Michael, and finally Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street which always seems to leave a favourable impression due to the famous saxophone solo!
We had a bit of a surprise as one of the duty managers in charge on the day at Turkey Mill was a landlord from a pub we used to play at called The Walnut Tree in East Farleigh many years ago. It was lovely to see Dom after all these years.
Last night my duo The Innocent Bystanders performed for a third time at Lympne Castle in Kent. Its a truly spectacular 13th century Grade 1 listed building. It has incredible views across Romney Marshes, which apparently inspired Paul McCartney to record an album there in 1979 (I would have been just 1 at the time but some 34 years on, the beauty and inspiring surroundings are not lost on me!).
Our performance was a surprise for the bride which is quite unusual. Normally the bride will be the one very much in charge of booking a band/duo, but the chap who booked us wanted to surprise his new wife with a romantic gesture to sing the first dance - Always by Bon Jovi. This isn't a number we'd normally do, so we had to rehearse it beforehand especially for the booking. We set up in The Great Hall, and worked alongside the DJ who was very considerate and allowed us to set up in his normal area so we could clear our gear at the end of the booking when he took over to play music into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
I was also able to try out my new lights - two Mega Par Profile LED par cans from American DJ. I was quite pleased with the look, as you can see they lit up the stage area quite nicely:
As always, the staff at Lympne Castle were helpful and everything seemed to be run very smoothly. We're hoping to be booked back there again soon as its such a lovely venue to play! Thank you to Matthew and Rosie, we wish you both a very happy future together!
My first booking at Cooling Castle Barn in Kent was in 2003, almost ten years ago! I set up on the Minstrel's Gallery in The Tithe Barn. My presence during the wedding breakfast was a surprise for the bride (I don't mean I just turned up on her wedding day with my saxophone of course...!) I had in fact had several covert emails and letters from the groom who wanted to surprise her with a singer and saxophonist. When I arrived to set up I remember being struck by the beauty of the place, and the surroundings. It also had a peaceful and calming atmosphere. I could instantly see the appeal for couples walking through the door as it feels very welcoming straight away.
In the last few years they have invested and built new accommodation for people (which is good as the bride and groom and their families can stay at the venue, and they also have somewhere to retreat to if they need a moment or two to relax!) Its no surprise to me that today they have a long waiting list (especially for weekends) and despite the economic downturn they are busier than ever!
After my first booking I was lucky enough to be spotted by the manager on duty at the time, and they passed on my details to the owners. I wasn't sure if anything would come of it, but I got a call a few weeks later asking me if I would like to attend their annual Open Day as a supplier. Prior to this I had relied on recommendations and word of mouth and had not advertised my services (apart from having a small website). However, I decided I had nothing to lose so I gave it a go armed with a few flyers and some business cards! I was asked to set up on the Pavillion which is a large wooden structure where they hold outdoor ceremonies (see picture below). It was lovely to play from there on a summer's day as guests chatted after the ceremony during the photos.
The Open Day was a success and they very kindly added me to their recommended suppliers list. This meant a lot to me as being recommended by Cooling Castle Barn isn't something they do lightly. You have to meet their professional standards and be very reliable, so I feel honoured that they continue to recommend me ten years on! They recently stopped all singers from performing outside due to the noise, so nowadays I am usually booked to play inside during the wedding breakfast in The Tithe Barn from The Minstrel's Gallery or during the photos in The Heritage Barn. This in fact works a lot better than outside, as I am able to play background music whilst people chat and no one has to worry about the weather! I am also sometimes booked as a duo for the afternoon or in the evening to work alongside their excellent DJ Dan Potter. (see my blog on working with DJs)
I have now performed at Cooling Castle Barn more times than I can remember, and hand on heart, everything always runs like clockwork. Its one of my favourite venues to play!
I'm often asked what songs work best for a first dance at a wedding. It is of course a very personal decision. Its best to choose a song which the bride and groom will attach a deep meaning to, since it will be a song that is fondly remembered for many years to come. You'd think that every couple has "their song" and by default that should be their first dance.
However, recently many couples I speak to want something a bit different. Of course I don't mean that they all want to produce a YouTube viral phenomenon that's viewed by 200 million people, but it's becoming increasingly common for couples to want to make the moment a little more unique. In fact some couples I have played for have gone to the extent of taking dance classes to learn a dance together for the first dance. There's even dance class packages for wedding couples at dance schools in Kent including The Medway School of Dance.
I also have a videographer friend who had an unusual first dance a while back. It started off looking very much like the normal romantic dance we've all come to expect, but turned out to be quite different, see the video below!
Whilst I haven't experienced a first dance quite like this one first hand, I do think its indicative of the way couples now want to make things a little more memorable. If you're after something different (but perhaps a little less quirky) a live singer, duo or band sing the song live is one way to make things a bit more interesting. Here's some of my favourite songs to play:
My Top 20 First Dance Songs:
Ones to avoid...
There are a few songs which are best avoided for a first dance. Although each song will have a different meaning for each couple, regardless of what the songwriter intended, the back story to the song can on occasion be a touch inappropriate. For example, Every Breath You Take by Sting & The Police on first listening sounds like a perfect song for a wedding couple. However, in interviews Sting has said that this song is actually about a stalker watching his victim's every move. Not ideal!
As a wedding singer and musician I'm often asked to work alongside a DJ especially when booked for evening entertainment. Its a bit of a mixed bag of course. Most professionals are very considerate and want to work together to create the best evening possible for the bride and groom. However, at times it can become an uneasy relationship as egos can take over and it can quickly become a battle of who can play loudest, or take up the most room on stage!
I have had many experiences around Kent, London and the South East over the last fifteen years. Around 8 years ago I was lucky enough to receive a booking at the Rochester Corn Exchange. To those who are unfamiliar with the venue, it's a huge hall with an impressively high ceiling and large glass windows all around. I was to perform a one hour live set before the DJ took over. I had heard about the venue (having played most of the pubs along Rochester, Gillingham and Chatham throughout what I fondly like to call my 'musician's apprenticeship'!) and was excited to have an opportunity to perform there.
The stage was approximately 12 metres wide and 1 metre high at the far end of the hall. When I arrived I had a little surprise. The DJ had already taken his place spreading his sub woofers, lighting rig and heavy duty speaker equipment across the entire stage area. He'd been told to expect me, but had made a judgement call that I wouldn't require much room and used all the stage space available. Now, you may perhaps say this is partly my fault as we should have communicated beforehand, but this booking was given to me just one day before the date. Most DJs I had worked with previously had always assumed I'd need a little space for myself so I felt fairly confident that such a large venue could accommodate us both on the gargantuan stage. I ended up setting up on the floor in front of the stage area, and my act thankfully went down very well! Perhaps the DJ was right (if a little unfriendly!) after all?
On another occasion I was performing alongside a DJ in Canterbury and the venue's manager asked him to turn his volume down on several occasions. He seemed to take their requests as a criticism rather than genuine and honest feedback, and refused. After an hour or so, and more warnings than I can remember, the manager calmly strolled over and physically pulled his electrical plug out! Not great for his equipment, but I do understand the manager's point of view!
Thinking about it, volume can be a little like road-rage. Once a person is in control of a sound system (whether a musician, singer or DJ) they can on occasion behave a bit differently. Perhaps it's the feeling of being in control of a powerful machine, or maybe it's that voice in their head that tells them everyone should like the music they like. The more professional of us try to put our feelings and egos to one side and focus on what the audience need, and strive to create an atmosphere where everyone can enjoy themselves.
In 2004 I was asked to perform at Cooling Castle Barn's Christmas celebration evenings. These Christmas parties are held each weekend throughout December every year. I was to perform in two rooms simultaneously... not an easy task since there's only one of me! A month before the bookings I was contacted by Dan Potter, a DJ from Sounds Impressive who introduced himself and explained exactly how the sound system worked and how I could feed my signal into both rooms. He also told me what cables I would need and when to set up. I was struck by his professional attitude and how focused he was on making everything run smoothly to ensure all the celebrations were a success. And a success they were! Dan even turned up early to help me set up my cables (knowing that performing in two rooms would be tricky!)
In more recent years by coincidence Dan and I were also booked to work together at a wedding at Nettlestead Place in Kent. On this occasion he phoned me beforehand to ask what PA system I would be taking with me. I explained which I would be using, and he arranged to scale down his system so it matched mine. This way when I finished playing my set and took a break, his disco would be a similar volume to me, so when I went back on stage it wouldn't suddenly sound quieter! He also asked to see my set list so he could avoid playing songs that I was due to play that evening.
It's this kind of consideration between musicians and DJs that can make all the difference at a wedding or party. Working together rather than against one another means everyone benefits... including us!
I have worked with Dan and Sounds Impressive DJs on many more occasions since then, and I highly recommend them to all wedding couples that are looking for a DJ. Not only are they considerate to musicians and singers, they play music that the audience want to hear and have a natural understanding of what songs will work well for a particular event. Not forgetting Dan has some mean beat-matching skills which still amaze me to this day!
A few weeks ago I took delivery of my new Korg Krome 61 Keyboard. I was a little apprehensive before ordering as a couple of years ago I had ordered a Korg TR61 and the keys had very sharp edges. The thought of losing a finger half way through a glissando meant after a little soul searching I decided to return it! When the Krome arrived I was happy to find that whilst its not perfect the build quality was much better than the terrible TR!
Until now I had been using an old Korg N5 which was starting to struggle after 12 years of gigging around Kent and London. The pitch bend wheel had been knocked a few times which meant I had to carefully tune it up before each booking like a guitarist tunes a guitar! The aftertouch had also stopped working and the buttons all needed a hard press each time they were used which was problematic when I needed to change a sound quickly half way through a song. So this was a much needed upgrade!
There were a few things I had on my criteria whilst researching. Firstly, it needed to be a similar size and weight to the N5 (under 10kg) as I didn't want to be lugging around a huge keyboard to gigs along with my saxophones and PA system. Secondly, the piano, electric piano, strings and organ sounds had to be good. Lastly, the keybed and build quality had to be of a reasonable quality, feel nice to play and hold up to many more years on the road.
Korg Krome Build Quality
My first impressions were very positive. The quality looked good, with nicer polymer plastics used and an aluminium fascia surrounding the top panel. The joystick (replacing the pitch bend wheel for real time modulation and pitch bend adjustments) felt nice and solid and is coated in a rubber feel plastic, which makes it feel more comfortable to use. Some might say it has a plain design but I quite like this understated look. I also have to mention the weight. At 7kg its fantastic for transporting to and from gigs and carrying up flights of stairs, especially if like me you have several instruments to transport and a PA system!
Unfortunately, the power button is not very solid. It feels slightly loose and moves about up and down, left and right by a millimetre or so in each direction. It has no "click" to indicate you have pushed it on or off which feels a bit disconcerting. I checked with Korg that this was normal and they said yes. My old N5 had a larger button that stayed in when the power was on, and stayed out when it was off - you know, like most power buttons!
The Krome uses an external power supply with a small DC power socket. It would be much nicer to have a standard IEC lead input but I guess they have to cut costs somewhere. The power brick is small and light, but the power socket where the adaptor plugs into the keyboard feels a little fragile and wobbles about in the socket. I imagine I will have to be very careful with it longer term as it feels much less sturdy than the one on my N5.
It always confuses me when manufacturers design and build a new product so well using nice quality materials and then they use a very flimsy power connector. I had the same problem with a Soundcraft Spirit FX8 mixing desk. The whole unit was made out of 1.5mm steel, it was built like a tank, but the power socket was very flimsy plastic! I'd love to meet the people in charge of making these decisions and ask them what they were thinking. I'd wager that they're not gigging musicians using the equipment day in and day out!
On the back there's two stereo L/R unbalanced jack outputs, along with jacks inputs for damper, switch and pedal plus midi in/out connectors. There's also an SD card slot to import and save song data to and a B-type USB port so you can use the Krome editor to edit sounds on your computer, or use the Krome as a controller.
The large seven inch TouchView screen dominates the front panel. It seems to be resistive rather than capacitive but its still very responsive and easy to use, plus it has a generous 800 x 480 pixel resolution, so its easy on the eyes. Its very intuitive and everything seems to be in the right place. The default brightness setting was too high for me, especially for evening gigs so I turned it down from 10 to 3 and found that to be just right. You have to save this in Global settings for it to remember after you have turned it off, otherwise it reverts back to the default setting.
The sounds are light years ahead of my old N5. The N5's sounds totalled 12Mb, and the Krome has 4Gb (so 4096Mb)! Of course ROM isn't the only factor in creating beautiful sounds, but having that amount of freedom does mean that the Krome is able to have piano samples that are not looped, and can be sampled at 8 different velocities for each note. On my N5 the samples were looped, and one sample might cover up to 5 or 6 notes, the Krome has a sample for each note. 2.8Gb of the ROM is dedicated to the piano sounds, and you can hear some of this depth in the intro of the demo below:
The Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer patches also sound great, and the same can be said for the strings and organ sounds. Each sound has a drum track, and this can be changed to different patterns and adjusted via the tempo knob on the right. Essentially this is like a built in drum machine, although there's no option for fills or ending as you might find on an arranger keyboard. Its a nice feature and I'm sure it will come in useful in live situations when we play songs acoustically without backing tracks. There is also an arpeggiator for each sound which would also be useful, especially for people who want to do sequencing.
Feel, Responsiveness & Playability
The Krome is available in 61, 73, and 88 key versions, all without aftertouch. The 88 version has a different keybed to the 61 & 73, so I can't comment on that. On the 61 key version the keys have metal underneath each one to give them some weight, so it seems quite promising, but they are acoustically quite noisy and a little creaky as they are pressed.
They do have some slightly sharp edges on the near side (although this is nowhere near as bad as on the horrible TR keybed). My N5 has much nicer keys, which are smooth and rounded. Plus they're quiet and feel more natural and responsive to play. The omission of aftertouch is missed too, since it is useful for adding modulation on organ and strings sounds without taking your left hand off the keyboard.
The keybed is not a deal breaker for me, as the other features make this a great keyboard for the price, but I wish Korg would offer a keyboard with all the features of the Krome and retain its light weight whilst adding a high quality keybed with aftertouch. You might say, at this price point (£799) it is to be expected, but I still think its something that is surely very important to the majority of musicians especially as this is marketed as a professional keyboard.
Midi Files & Sequencing on the Krome
Within any patch you can press record and the system will ask you if you want to automatically set up the current sounds for recording in the sequencer. This is a really handy feature as it allows you to move all your combination data, program data and effects into the sequencer quickly without having to manually enter it. For me that's where the ease of use ended unfortunately. Although the sequencer on the Korg is ahead of those found in similar workstations, I still found it quite clunky and hard to get to grips with. This isn't a fault with the Krome as such; its more a limitation of trying to work with a 7" screen in a world where we have been spoilt by using computers with mouse, keyboard and 20"-27" screens for sequencing. If you've ever tried to edit a video on an iPad you'll know what I mean, its just not very easy to achieve!
Back when I first started learning to play the keyboard the Krome's sequencer would have been amazing. However, in 2013 it does seem to be a painfully slow experience. For example, changing a sound for a track on a midi file on a normal computer would involve a couple of mouse clicks. With the Krome you need to go to that track, go to Edit Track, then the Event Edit page, select the events you want to view and untick everything except "Program Changes" and then just as you find the event that you need to change you have to remember which patch you want to change it to as its done using the program number not the name! Nine times out of ten I would forget the number of the patch and have to come out and start all over again. You need to do this for each track of course so it gets old fast. Perhaps its just me, but I found it to be quite tedious and slow when you are used to working with modern computer based sequencer programs. That said, I didn't buy the keyboard for the sequencing, I bought it to play live, so its not really an issue for me.
I'm looking forward to using the Krome at upcoming gigs and not having to punch the buttons quite so hard as I have been getting used to with my ageing N5! The sounds are ultimately what make this keyboard a really impressive choice, so it will be good to see how I can best use them in the songs I play. A nice added bonus is that Korg are also offering a full 3 year warranty on all Krome models, so that's great news, especially if the power button/socket turns out to be an issue longer term. Although I have never had to test Korg's customer service, so how useful this will be remains to be seen.
I would like to thank Tom Osborne at Absolute Music for his help. Absolute Music are based in Bournemouth in the UK which is some way from me in Kent, but I have always had great service from them and nothing ever seems too much trouble. I'm hoping they open a shop nearby in Kent one day!