Part 1 – Moving to London. Musician stories.

In this blog post I will ask 5 or more questions to London musicians who were not born in London. The questions will be about their experience of moving to London as well as their tips for newcomers. 

The musicians featured in this blog post are Italian guitarist Raul Gagliardi, Scottish drummer Caroline Scott, French bass player Jean Berthon and Australian bass player Gareth Hughes.

  • This is Part 1 of blog series

Introduction

Hi there. Welcome back. I haven’t been writing anything on this webpage for a long time. So I decided to start a series of blog posts about Musicians moving to the Bigger City or Country. Currently I focus on Londoners, as that’s where I live. But there is a chance I will ask this stuff to New Yorkers and people from other parts of the world in the future. I will ask the same questions to many musicians here. This is Part 1 of the blog series ( It’s unknown how many there will be! I don’t expect all of the musicians I have reached out to reply, as I understand that some of them are busy 🙂 Big thanks to all who did reply so far! And to the ones who promised to send me their replies in the near future.

The purpose of this particular blog series was simply to look at different view points and experiences from musicians who have lived or currently live in London. How does it feel to move here? What things they had to learn to succeed in London? Everyone is different. Priorities are different. And even jazz is so different, with a lot of stylistic directions you can choose to go to and study. This blog post showcases some tips and lessons of how to succeed in London as a musician. Depending on your views you may be inspired by some answers or maybe disagree with others. But the things you may have disagreed with, could be an inspiration to someone else. I personally really enjoyed reading all of the replies and view points, and I hope you, dear reader, will enjoy this too! At the end of the day …. the view points are not that different from each other… So far all short interviews can also be summarised into three simple things –

Stay humble, keep improving and be open-minded.

And my personally favourite quote mentioned by Caroline.

“It is important to reach down as you’re trying to reach up” by Herbie Hancock 

 

French Bass player – Jean Berthon

Short bio
I come from Grenoble (french alps). I did audiovisual studies for 2 years and jazz studies for 2 years. In 2008 I decided to move to London to expand my musical experiences. I only knew a friend of friend living there at that point. I’m getting my website back together at the moment so no direct links to my page for the moment. I’ve played with a few bands in London including: Dele Sosimi, Gizelle Smith, Muntu Valdo, Family Atlantica, Aar Maanta, Miryam Solomon, Jack Savoretti, Boom la Tete, Derane Obika.
 How long have you lived in London (or other place)? Where did you come from? 
I lived in London from 2008 to 2015. I originally come from Grenoble (french Alps) and moved back there late 2015.
Name one or a few of your biggest musical idols, or your latest discovery/favourite. ( and if you want, tell the reasons why the particular musician is your idol) ?
I’m a big fan of Meshell Ndegeocello for her producing/bassplaying/songwriting/singing, she’s very eclectic stylistically but incredibly consistent. I’m into Steve Reich, Herbie Hancock / the Headhunters, Bach, D’Angelo, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix.
3 – Why did you decide to move to a bigger city/country?
I just was getting a bit bored in my home town and I wanted to expand my musical experience. I actually was planning to stay 2-3 months and see what happened, I ended up staying 7 years.
What did you expect and how did your expectations differ from real life?
I was expecting the musical level to be super high and unattainable but I realised that there where just more players (talented and non talented), you just have to find a scene where you fit in. I used to be in awe when I saw musicians from big cities as London and New York playing in my home town, there was some kind of fantasy about the way the lived and the supposedly musician “highlife”. After living in London for a few years, I realised that even well renowned musicians struggled to survive in London. London is a permanent hustle but it’s ok as it’s the same for everybody.
How have your thinking patterns or your personality changed since you have moved to London? What are the lessons learned? 
When I lived in London I got used to living in a high pressure environment, this led me to be more ambitious but more stressed out. You really have to fend for yourself, it is a bit of a jungle, yet’s hard to settle down. But this creates excitement and you feel that anything can happen at any moment. I think I’ve become more pragmatic and used to getting things done quickly. I also learned how to play with a band without having rehearsed or met the other musicians beforehand. Retrospectively I now realise that it was hard to relax properly in London, I always felt I had to be super productive with my spare time, time is money in London. I think it really taught me humility to be playing alongside musicians I admired and seeing that they struggled as much as me to survive in London.

What is your advice for an aspiring musician who is thinking of moving to London or another bi city from a smaller country or a smaller town?

I guess you need to be ready to pay your dues, be humble, be ready to do gigs for free or very little money, be ready to get ass kicked by much younger musicians!
Personally I was very lucky to be a sound engineer before moving to London and that allowed me to work pretty quickly and earn a living. I think it’s important not to rely on music to make a living when you first move.

( Here are a few extra questions I decided to give to some of the later participants as a choice. )

If you can, share a failure of yours in the ‘new place’ that has taught you the best lessons and has turned out to be a success in the bigger picture…

My first gig at Jazz Café was a bit of a failure, I only did one rehearsal with the band and we ended up playing a tune I hadn’t rehearsed (but I practiced at home) which I got totally wrong. So I guess the lesson was to practice more at home and be able to smile even if you completely mess up musically on stage. I think most of my mistakes were due to me being a bit over-confident and not humble enough.
Do you miss your home town/country and what do you miss about it?
I missed the mountains, my friends, the weather, the laid back lifestyle.
Do you plan to stay in London? Do you have plans or thoughts about going back?
I moved back to Grenoble late 2015 and quite happy living here now, although the musical culture here isn’t quite as exciting as in London. I think I learned a lot in London about being a session musician which implies: touring, playing on TV/radio, dealing with lots of different bands in various styles, adapting to different groups of people. I definitely do not regret at all having spent this time in London, I think it has clearly become an asset for me.

 

 Scottish Drummer – Caroline Scott

Drummer Caroline Scott is from Scotland, where she started playing drums. After moving to London in 2008, she has played and recorded in a wide range of musical environments, from theatre shows and jazz big bands, to orchestral percussion sections. She has also lived in Boston where she played with college bands at Harvard, Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory and MIT, and gigged on the local circuit. She plays drums with piano trio Cygnus Flare (who recently won the Yamaha Soho Jazz Sessions competition, played at Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express Soho jazz clubs and toured in Armenia), Caroline Scott’s Khoalesce project, the MO Jazz Orchestra, the Swinging Magpies (vintage swing band), and plays timpani in various London orchestras including the Amati Orchestra and BBC Elstree Concert Band. She recently started a masters in jazz at Trinity Laban as an Archers scholar.

( Caroline didn’t give particular answers to the questions I asked but instead she just told her story and gave some advice based on those questions. So I have added themes and questions for this part for an easier read.)
When and why did you decide to move to London?
I moved to London 10 years ago to play more music and to learn more about jazz. I am from Edinburgh and there is a dedicated music scene there. I was playing a lot in local bands in Scotland, but I had just started getting into jazz and wanted to come to London where there is a more diverse scene to learn more. The exciting thing about music is that everybody takes a different route – had I stayed in Scotland it is difficult to tell what I would be doing now. All I know is that London has provided lots of opportunities to develop and this has really helped me to step up as a musician. I started off by going to jam sessions and meeting / playing with as many people as possible, and I also learned a lot from the jazz education group Tomorrow’s Warriors and by listening to or taking lessons with local drummers.
The difference between Edinburgh and London. 
I guess you could say that there is a big ladder of different levels of musicians in London, or people who are into different styles – and the sooner you jump on this ladder at your level and get playing, the sooner opportunities will start to arise and you can slowly move up. It is important to reach down as you’re trying to reach up – I heard this from Herbie Hancock and took it to heart – play as much as you can with different people, be encouraging and open to encouragement and enjoy this period of life where you get to just play a lot of music.
About diversity in music and how to pay bills as a musician in London, and more advice for new London musicians. 
Another thing which has helped me to pay the bills is being open to different styles of music. Over the last week I have played five gigs – three of them were jazz gigs in quite different venues, one was a blues gig at a blues bar, and the final one last night was at the Royal Festival Hall (which is the biggest stage I have ever played on) where I was playing drum kit and timpani with an orchestra. I only really got into classical music after moving to London and there is a really exciting scene here for that – I started by playing with amateur orchestras and worked up to doing some paid gigs with orchestras and on musicals, then saved up for a set of four timpani so that now I can get proper orchestral work. Learning to read music and learning about harmony has been quite important for the gigs I tend to get. If you’re thinking of coming to London my advice would be to save up as much as you can in advance, as in the beginning it will be difficult to get work if you don’t know many people, and go out as much as possible to meet and play with people. And no matter where you’re at, keep trying to improve your playing – work hard at it, stay humble and enjoy the journey.

 

Australian Bass Player – Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is a London-based guitar/bass player and composer originally from Perth, Western Australia. He has performed throughout the UK at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, the Hammersmith Apollo, Birmingham Symphony Symphony Hall and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. He is currently working on recording original country/jazz crossover compositions for a debut album later this year. 

Web: www.garethhughesmusic.com

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/garethhughesmusic

Instagram: _garethhughes
How long have you lived in London (or other place)? Where did you come from? 

I’ve lived in London for six years now. I moved here in 2012 from Perth, Australia.

Name one or a few of your biggest musical idols, or your latest discovery/favourite. ( and if you want tell the reasons why the particular musician is your idol)?

I grew up listening to heavy metal/hard rock. Early on, my biggest inspiration came from bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest etc. Guitar players like George Lynch, John Sykes, Warren DiMartini and Marty Friedman were my first real exposures to rock virtuosity. This music will stay with me forever.

As a bass player, Bob Daisley (Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore, Rainbow et al) was a huge influence on me. There was a time when I genuinely wanted to model my career and playing on him. When it comes to jazz double bass it’s guys like Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford and Paul Chambers.

In recent years, Tommy Emmanuel has become a real hero of mine. He’s been my gateway not only into solo guitar playing but also country music. I really admire players who continue to grow and improve and, in spite of his already unparalleled ability, he continues to do so.

Why did you decide to move to a bigger city/country? What did you expect and how did your expectations differ from real life?

I was making a decent living as a musician in Perth gigging, teaching and recording/touring with original bands. Having spent a year out uni, I found myself feeling like a lot what I was doing was of no real consequence. I could have probably continued to do the same for a long time, but I would have been miserable. I needed a challenge and a new opportunity to grow not just musically, but personally. In mid-2011, I applied for my visa and bought a one-way ticket to London. I figured if it all went wrong I would just come home.

Coming from a very isolated city, I held the naïve world-view (which I think is common among Perth musicians) that every musician in a thriving city like London would be a burning virtuoso. When I got here though, I realised that – although there are many virtuoso-level players in London – this simply is not the case and there are musicians of all levels here. My naivety also meant that I worked exceptionally hard before moving here, and though I’m no superstar player, I at least had the facility to hold my own when I first started going to jam sessions in London.

How have your thinking patterns or your personality changed since you have moved to London? What are the lessons learned? 

Personally, I feel I have grown tremendously since moving to London. At the beginning of 2012, I was 24 years old and living at home with my parents. I was a pretty reserved person and the idea of being in a room full of people I didn’t know was a scary proposition. When I moved to London, I knew next to no one and just had to deal with these fears and anxieties – it was sink or swim. At first I was terrified of getting up at jam sessions, but I knew I’d have to do it if I was ever going to work as a musician. Eventually I started getting a few gigs and meeting musicians and over time developed a degree of confidence in myself as person and a musician.

One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is to know your own worth. For a long time I was doing gigs paying £20-30 (or even less) because I felt I had to take any gigs I could get. While money can be overlooked at times when it’s playing great music with great players, when this isn’t the case it can be really soul destroying, especially as a bass player. Ultimately, musically-unrewarding low-paying gigs just lead to more of the same. Say no, it’s not worth the resentment and frustration.

What is your advice for an aspiring musician who is thinking of moving to the ‘big city” from a smaller country or a smaller town?

I would advise the following to a musician thinking of moving to London:

Save as much money as possible before you move.

Be open-minded. You may end completely changing direction musically when you get here.

Be prepared for a lot of ups and downs.

Forget what I said earlier – everyone here is a virtuoso!

Make the most of even the vaguest contacts you may have here.

Italian guitarist – Raul Gagliardi 

In Italy he was collaborating with actors and directors as a composer and working as a guitarist with multiple bands and projects. In London he is leading and composing for his guitar led modern jazz trio and works as a guitar teacher. He enjoys writing arrangements for popular tunes.

http://cargocollective.com/raulgagliardi/Bio

http://cargocollective.com/raulgagliardi/Home-1

https://soundcloud.com/raulgagliardi 

How long have you lived in London (or other place)? Where did you come from? 

I’ve been living in London for 3.5 years. I come from a little town called Cosenza (Italy).

Name one or a few of your biggest musical idols, or your latest discovery/favourite. ( and if you want tell the reasons why the particular musician is your idol) ?

Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner, John Coltrane – Chris Potter, Ari Hoenig

Why did you decide to move to a bigger city/country? What lessons has this taught you ? What did you expect and how did your expectations differ from real life?

I moved to London to follow my partner. I came to London to improve as a musician. I thought that to live in a community of talented musicians could be a great source of inspiration.

I’m not so sure that it’s the right place to do original music (this is the biggest difference with my expectations).

How have your thinking patterns or your personality changed since you have moved to London? 

I think that I started to give more faith to the people newly known. Before I tended to be closed at the very beginning when I knew someone new.

What is your advice for an aspiring musician who is thinking of moving to the ‘big city” from a smaller country or a smaller town?

A big city needs energy and commitment (don’t stay at home) The ability to create a network is a must. Not to lose expectations and self-confidence because the beginning can be long and tough. Come with a plan and maybe change it during your stay in London. Don’t move only because you don’t like the place you come from.

  • Authors comments

I didn’t change the grammar much, for two reasons: one, my own language skills are not perfect and the second, I simply wanted to keep the mistakes in as I often feel it gives character to the q&a instead of making things polished and perfect. To me mistakes are what makes life more interesting, real and vibrant. ( Also, some of the musicians interviewed here are native english speakers… It means they’re better than me! ) However, if someone who is preparing the answers for future posts wants me to try to improve the grammar ( with a help of an english person 🙂 ) , just tell me and I will do so.

And..

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Part 2 features American Bass player Shane Allessio from Boston, Austrian guitarist Hannes Riepler and bassist Jose Canha from Portugal.

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