Nick Gilmore is a keyboard player and works as freelance session musician and arranger. He is currently working on his new album and we have the privilege of getting to hear some of his first finished tracks and chatting to him about his music journey. He was with Odyssey Soul for 5 years back in the 80’s and has since worked with some really big names such as; Loose Ends, Eban Brown’s Stylistics, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Bernard Folwer, Emmanuel Jal and was on The Blues Brothers Official Tour.
You have been playing with Odyssey for a while now, tell us about that.
Yep I’ve been regularly touring with Odyssey for a while now. We’ve played shows alongside artists like Chic, UB40, Shalamar and Billy Ocean. The songs are really from the hey-day of 80’s New York production….Inside Out and Going Back To My Roots are two of my favourite songs to play, they have some absolutely classic vintage synth parts to explore.
Looking back 80’s music always brings in mind a certain new age sound but really there was a lot going on then with artists like King Sunny Adé, Ska and a real mix.
I really love most styles of music which focus on improvisation and groove. I’ve always been fascinated with how African rhythms have fused with early classical European harmony. So I listen and play a lot of Brazilian music (samba, Bossa nova, Partido alto, Choro, Brazilian funk), Cuban music (salsa, afro-cuban jazz, Charanga) and Trinidadian Calypso.
How has this influenced your music direction?
Playing regularly with Odyssey was a big change in my career, which started about 5 years ago. Before that i was sessioning in so many different bands, which was fun, but a lot of hard work, as I always had a new set of songs to learn! Playing with the same collective of musicians is really rewarding, as you get to know each other like family, and really build a unique sound as a band.
With lockdown now in place what are you working on now?
I’m halfway through my own first album, which has been a long time coming. It’s a real challenge making everything yourself- the melody, lyrics, groove, general arrangement, but a very fulfilling experience. I’m also working on some Brazilian tangos and choros on piano. It’s very close to practicing western classical music in ways, but has it’s own feel and unique rhythms, and is great for technique.
This sounds like a really exciting project.
I’m really excited to finish the first album under my own name. It’s long overdue! The tracks that i’m working on are quite old school in the way I’ve written and arranged them- it’s all using live instruments, rhythm section/vocals and a horn section. I’m very lucky to know some of the best session musicians in London, who’ve all put their unique personalities into the project. I’ve had Sulene Fleming (Brand New Heavies, Incognito), Richard Bailey (Bob Marley, Steve Winwood) and Heidi Vogul (Cinematic Orchestra), to name just a few featured artists. The concept of the album is to eventually have ten songs with ten different singers…the genres are quite varied, from samba to soul and various African styles, but I think the consistency of the sound will come from the way the band connect across all tracks.
What was it like for you to learn music?
It definitely wasn’t a straightforward route for me. I was completely self-taught until the age of 20, when I enrolled for a jazz degree at Middlesex University. A lot of what I learnt is from listening to and playing with records, rather then in a classroom or with a teacher (in the academic sense of the word). I think this approach really helped me find my own sound and style. I also learnt a lot from playing regularly with some of the best musicians playing around London, recording all my gigs with them and listening back, working out what made their sound so special. I’m still learning everyday, and I never get tired of getting up in the morning and heading straight into the studio.
What were the hardest part about learning to play music for you?
Definitely going back to my last point of not rushing the learning process. Also, when playing in a group, it took me a long time to learn to really listen to all the instruments at once, not just myself….really hearing what the bass player was suggesting or how the drummer was phrasing on their snare.
You started off really young in your music career. How did you manage during those early gigs?
When I was 16 I got a few gigs playing with a big band around London. The problem was I couldn’t read music so well at that point, and this was pretty difficult material, each songs had about 24 pages to turn! But I had a good ear, so I managed to somehow scrape my way through it. I’m not sure if they all realised that I couldn’t read, but it certainly gave me motivation to learn!
Was there anything you wish you had known then?
I would have liked to have known how to practice, how to use my time most effectively and have a regular practice routine. For example, I used to sit and practice one thing for maybe 1 or two hours, now I would rather practice six things for 20 minutes each, in a really structured way (and with plenty of tea breaks!).
Connecting with the music
We think the same as Nick
“my last point of not rushing the learning process. Also, when playing in a group, it took me a long time to learn to really listen to all the instruments at once, not just myself….really hearing what the bass player was suggesting or how the drummer was phrasing on their snare.”
Do you have any tips you would share with other people practicing out there and struggling alone?
Take learning in baby steps. When I was starting I wanted to learn everything too quickly and was too eager to see constant improvement. Then I learnt to just try improve a little each day, not to rush the process, and found I gained far more this way. I would also say discipline in practising is really important. Try to have a plan what your working on over the course of a few weeks, don’t just sit down and noodle over your instrument and play things which are already easy for you- challenge yourself! The last thing i’d suggest is, find a great musician in your local community. Go to their gigs, ask them questions, and try and figure out why their playing works.
”"just try to improve a little each day, not to rush the process"NickThe Jazz Adventurer
What attracted you to choosing to play the keyboards?
Choosing piano/keyboards was really more fate then design for me. I got a keyboard as a present when i was 8, and since there weren’t any other instruments around the house, it just seemed natural, I didn’t think much about it until I was quite a bit older. Nowadays I like playing other instruments too, I feel like this really improves my all around understanding of music, but I know i’ll always be a keyboardist/pianist at heart!
What were your career highlights?
Travelling the world and seeing places I would have probably never seen otherwise. In terms of gigs….sharing the stage with an all star group of Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor and Bernard Fowler was a big highlight. The Rolling Stones were one of my favourite bands growing up, so playing with those guys was really special.
Any big inspirations now?
I’m a huge fan of Robert Glasper. I love how he’s taken traditional jazz language and given it a contemporary twist, really combining elements of swing/neo soul and hip-hop to make something fresh and distinctive. I think it’s a really good example of music adapting itself to stay relevant.
If lockdown were lifted tomorrow and this was all a bad dream where would you go for your next Jazz adventure.
I often go to visit Valencia in Spain, where I lived for a few years. The gypsy communities there regularly put on flamenco shows, it’s some of the most incredible and expressive music I’ve ever come across.