Interview: John Pope | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle’s bassist extraordinaire, composer and musical improviser, John Pope is taking his all-star band (known as the John Pope Quintet) out on tour in July. The tour marks the beginning of a new phase in the group’s existence, as they prepare material to record for their first album (expected in early 2020) and it finishes on Sunday 7th July at The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle, where the band played their first ever gig in 2016. We chat with John ahead of this significant homecoming show.

Who were your musical influences growing up?
I grew in a super musical household, with a church organist for a father and a host of awesome music playing constantly. The first bands I really got heavily into were Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but there’s always been blues, jazz and soul happening in the background. When I first got into jazz as a teenage bass guitarist it was all about fusion and funk (Victor Wooten, Jaco Pastorious, the usual suspects), but when I started playing double bass a bit later I began getting into the REALLY heavy stuff; avant garde jazz, free improv, Ornette Coleman, Mingus, John Zorn. But I’m still a very eclectic listener; anything with a bit of grit to it will probably catch my ear…
Describe the John Pope Quintet’s sound.
A joyful racket! Old-school acoustic jazz meets modern, European free music, with an open-hearted indie-rock spirit. I’ve been super inspired by the US 1980s indie movement lately, after reading Michael Azerrad’s excellent book ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’; the stories about getting a bunch of musicians together and defiantly carving out your own sound and approach against the mainstream grain could just as easily be about the pioneers of American and European free jazz. That’s the kind of energy we want to access, with hard-swinging free-bop in place of amplifier feedback!
You’re playing The Bridge Hotel, where you performed your first gig on 2016. How has the band progressed since then?
When we played at The Bridge in 2016 the band existed as a tribute to the great Ornette Coleman, who had just passed away, so the material we played were all tunes of his. But the beauty of this music is how it serves as a vehicle for the players, really, and I loved the way the band sounded together. I’d had the itch to compose some original music for a while, after years of playing in other people’s projects, so this seemed like a perfect match. We’re still a baby-band, in jazz terms, and we don’t get to rehearse a whole lot with members living in different cities, but I think that freshness and seat-of-the-pants energy really makes the music feel exciting and new every time we play. You never quite know what’s going to come out the other end, it’s a thrill…
The band is releasing it’s first album in early 2020. Can you tell us any more about it?
I’m very lucky to have some support from the great people at Jazz North, who do amazing work promoting new exciting music from all across the region. With their help I get to take the band in the studio, as soon as we can work out a good time. The good thing about this music is the simplicity of the setup means we can keep it really raw; some horns, drums and a bass in a good sounding room, a few good microphones pointing in the right places and POW, let’s go! Let it happen in the room and capture it in the moment, which is when the best jazz happens.

What can people expect from your live show on Friday 7th July?
Some of the most creative improvisers in the North of England doing what they do best! I’m really excited to bring the group back to where it all started with this new set of tunes, which is a big mix of my own work and a few select tunes by some of my favourite musicians; we’ve got everybody from Misha Mengelberg to Tom Waits to Ornette to Pixies in our set, and we take them to bits and put them together brand new for your ears every time we play. It’s grooving, playful, emotional, celebratory, take-no-prisoners music and I can’t wait to share it with my bandmates and the audience!

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