60 seconds with ... Gwilym Simcock

Pianist Gwilym Simcock, currently touring as part of guitarist Pat Metheny’s new quartet, will be appearing twice at HAF 2016.

What or who are the biggest influences in the sound and soul of your music?
Well, my jazz beginnings came from a cassette of lots of different jazz musicians, made for me when I was about 14/15 years old by the great bassist and educator Steve Berry. I was at a classical music school at the time, and Steve was taking improvisation classes for the students there. The first four tracks on the cassette were Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Egberto Gismonti, and they were really responsible for changing my entire musical outlook and I guess the direction of my life at that point. I always feel a huge connection to, and affinity for classical music, especially the romantic and 20th century forms - that have the beautiful and powerful harmonies. I'm a particular lover of the music of Henri Dutilleux, and I'd say his first symphony is my favourite piece of classical music. Closely followed by the Ravel string quartet. Harmony is such an important part of music for me, and I always find myself drawn to music that can move me emotionally through the harmonic movement. 

When you create new music, do you have a target audience in mind?
I think you get to the point eventually where you have to create and make the music that feels 'home' for yourself. Trying to write and play what you'd like to hear yourself as a listener. That way you can maintain the highest integrity and honesty in your creative output. Of course specific musical situations and 'briefs' lead you to go in certain directions, but that 'truth' in the style of what you write and play should always be central to the music. That way the listeners that share that love can get on board and enjoy the music too, and the people that don't like it can just avoid it of course! Having said that, I do hope that the music I try to make can appeal to a large number of people. Certainly Jarrett, Metheny and Gismonti have been responsible for a huge output of simultaneously heartfelt and extremely popular music over the years, and that's certainly something I aspire to in my own career.

There is a sense of dualism in your music, straddling both classical and jazz musical genres.  If you had to choose, which do you prefer and why?
Well that's a good question. Having studied classical music from the age of 3 to 18, there's always a strong sense of 'home' there for me. However I really feel best suited, as a performing musician, to be an improvisor, as opposed to an interpreter, so I guess that leans more towards the jazz side. Having said that, I really do love composing, and the sense of achievement you get from crafting a new work from a blank page is something that I think I prefer to one individual improvisation, which of course comes and goes in the moment. So there we go - have I successfully managed to fudge a noncommittal answer together there?!

What is the make and model of your signature piano?
Erm I don't have one!

What has been your favourite venue to have performed in, in your career to date and why?
Well playing my own concerto at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 in the Proms was probably the biggest and most important performance of my life to date, so I'd have to say there. A wonderful iconic venue and festival, it was a huge honour to be part of that. And for sure a nerve wracking experience too! I do hope I get the opportunity to do it again one day.

What has been the highlight of your professional career so far?
See my answer to the previous question!

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your life thus far?
I think for me nerves. I'd always struggled with that, and nerves can be a very restrictive factor when you're trying to get into a creative improvisational flow. I think I have improved the last few years, and for sure the more times you end up in - and deal with - a high profile, high pressure situation, the easier it gets. It seems silly when you talk about it away from a performance situation - but when you're out there on stage, especially when it's a solo concert, it can be a real challenge to focus on the creative element and not let the nagging voices take over. I think this affects a lot of musicians in all different genres, and I think the more that it's talked about in the open, the better for everyone. It's easy to think that you're the only one that suffers, but really it's a lot more widespread than you'd think, sadly.

Which actor would you like to play you in a story of your life?
Ha ha another good one! I have absolutely no idea. I have, on a few occasions, been said to look like Pierce Brosnan (although I totally don't see that at all!) so I guess he would be a good bet?! I have no idea basically. I'll think about that for the future...

Tell us one fun fact about yourself which people may find surprising.
Well I am a very keen footballer, and I have played two matches on the pitch of my favourite football team, Stoke City. They were both amazing experiences and I really hope to do that again sometime. Actually I have a secret dream to get into that Socceraid match they have every year. The one they show on the television with half ex professionals and half 'Celebrities'. The 'celebrities' they have mostly tend to be terrible footballers, and I'd definitely like to have a shot at trying to do a good job out there on the pitch one day. Sadly I don't think my profile will ever be high enough to get me on there though. Ah well, I can dream….

If you were to have a dinner party, which 3 people would you invite (dead or alive) and why? Also, what would you feed them?
Again an excellent one! I do love comedy so I'd definitely like that to be represented at the table. I'm torn between one of the greats, like Tommy Cooper, or one of may absolute favourite contemporary comedians - Armando Iannucci. I think I'll go for Tommy, as I never had the chance to see him perform and it would be really fascinating to meet him. One of my favourite musicians of all time is the late, great Jaco Pastorius. A man who revolutionised the role and sound of the electric bass and played in my favourite band of all time - Weather Report. He was a larger-than-life character in the extreme, but sadly had an all-too-short and ultimately tragic life. Again I never had the chance to see him perform so that would be very special to at least share a meal with him. Hmm, so far it's a bit male-heavy, so let's even it out a bit at least! I do find the concept of meeting people that I never could in real life the fascinating one in this scenario (I.e. people no longer with us) so how about really going out there and having Cleopatra for the final guest?! I have absolutely no idea what she would be like but I think that combination of guests would certainly be a memorable one! Scallops for starters, and then my Mum makes a fantastic sunday roast, so I think I would definitely go for that as the main course. Finally, anything Italian for dessert. Hopefully that covers everything!