Illustrated Biography

I was born in Leeds, Yorkshire in the North of England on February 14th 1962.  I started piano lessons at age six, violin at seven and trumpet at nine. Music held a fascination for me above all other things. The strongest early musical influence I remember was seeing a TV programme about the jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong when I was about 8 years old. Playing trumpet in the school jazz band became a great passion. I loved the big band sounds of Glen Miller, Count Basie and  Maynard Ferguson.

When I was 13 years old my parents took me to  a performance of Mahler’s 10th Symphony in Leeds Town Hall, performed by Simon Rattle with the  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This was a powerful experience that awakened in me a love for orchestral music that grew from Mahler to Stravinsky, Messiaen and Xenakis. I also loved the piano music of Bartok and Debussy. 

Excerpt from Treatise, Cornelius Cardew

I played in youth orchestras, brass bands and jazz bands throughout school years, then in 1980 I went to Manchester University to study music. There I was able to study everything from Medieval to Baroque and Contemporary music. I studied composing with Robin Walker and graduated with the Proctor-Gregg Prize for Composition. I was intrigued by the avant-garde scores of Cornelius Cardew and John Cage, and fascinated by the mysteriously dissonant sounds of the Japanese Gagaku Orchestra. After Manchester University I received a bursary from the Centre Archanthes in Paris to study composition with the Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis who pioneered the use of mathematical models in music.

The Old Men with Patrick Mooney, Haçienda Club, Manchester 1984

On returning to the UK I became immersed in studies of Baroque instrumental music. At the same time, in stark contrast, I played the drums in an experimental rock band, The Old Men with Edward Barton and Patrick Mooney, performing at The International, the Haçienda and other Manchester clubs.

St. James Clerkenwell, London 1986

In 1985 my love for Baroque music took me to London where I studied for an MA in the performance practice of 17th Century instrumental music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I studied with the Dutch recorder player Pieter Holtslag and collaborated in recitals with musicians playing period instruments, including Pamela Thorby, James Johnstone and Piers Adams. During these years in London I also continued composition studies with Robert Saxton.

City Garden with Andrew Okrzeja, Hugh Nankivell, Mark Trewin and Nick Hayes. 1987

I was active on the avant-garde music scene in London, performing frequently at the London Musicians Collective (LMC), and I was a founder member of the contemporary chamber music group City Garden, giving performances of music by Steve Reich, Luciano Berio and Peter Maxwell Davies. In 1986 we performed Goldstaub by Karlheinz Sotckhausen which required the musicians to live completely alone in silence for four days without food or sleep! I also performed in the improvising octet Was It A Car Or A Cat I Saw

Tortoises in Heaven, the London Gagaku Orchestra 1988: With Adrian Lee, Dean Brodrick, Jackie Brooks , Clive Bell, Stuart Jones, Melissa Holding, Glen Fox

All this time my interest in Japanese music was growing. Together with musician friends who shared a similar interest, a new group was formed, Tortoises in Heaven – The London Gagaku Orchestra. This was an unusual ensemble, creating distinctive-sounding arrangements of 8th Century Japanese orchestral court music on a mixture of Oriental and Western instruments. I played a korean version of the ancient Japanese double-reed hichiriki. Several years later I was to have the opportunity to study authentic hichiriki in Japan with the Tenri-kyo Gagaku Orchestra.

It was round this time that I discovered the shakuhachi. After having spent 20 years studying a multitude of different musical instruments I was astonished by the unique sound and expressive power of this simple bamboo flute.  Thus began a life-long fascination with what was to become my principal musical instrument. I began shakuhachi studies in London with Clive Bell, who was at that time one of the very few shakuhachi players outside of Japan.

Alto-Horn-BW-300In 1987 I moved to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North East of England where I began to work as a composer and musical director for theatre, including projects with Northern Stage, Northern Sinfonia, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Dodgy Clutch Theatre. I created soundtracks for short films for Tyne Tees TV, and helped devise music for community street theatre projects. I continued to play the trumpet and also took up the alto horn.

Yokoyama Katsuya, 1934 – 2010

Throughout this period I was commuting from Newcastle to London to continue shakuhachi lessons with Clive Bell. However I realised that I needed to go to Japan to deepen my studies with the traditional shakuhachi repertoire. I had a friend translate a letter to the renowned shakuhachi master Yokoyama Katsuya, asking whether he would take me on as student. To my surprise within a couple of weeks Yokoyama sensei wrote back and invited me to go to Japan to study with him. A few months later I was living in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. It was to become my home for the next seven years.

With Yokoyama-sensei I commenced my studies of the shakuhachi in earnest, in particular the ancient honkyoku repertoire which originated with monks of the Fuke school of Zen more than 500 years ago. I also began to learn minyõ, Japanese folk music, with Kadoya Kyosuke. At the same time I was studying Gagaku music with Tenri-kyo Gagaku Orchestra. In 1993 I received a Japanese government scholarship to attend Kyoto Arts University for two years, to compose new music for shakuhachi and other traditional Japanese instruments.

Other musicians I collaborated with during this period include Kyokusei Katayama, Hiroki Otano, John Kaizan Neptune, Esoh and Ema, Paul Winter and Matsumoto Montz and Joshua Pearl. Read more about the Shakuhachi here…

Yurabe Masami

While living in Kyoto I worked extensively with Butoh dancers, including Yurabe Masami, Katsura Kan, Atsushi Takanouchi and Nobutaka Kishi, composing and performing music for Japanese contemporary dance. I composed soundtracks for two short Butoh films, Tracing A Vein and Curtain Of Eyes, directed by the Chicago filmmaker Danièle Wilmouth. Read more about my Music for Butoh and Dance here…

with Chistopher Fryman in Plink, Kyoto, 1995

I began working as a sound recordist for independent film cameraman Christopher Fryman, making documentaries in Japan for the BBC. We travelled the length and breadth of Japan, making films about earthquakes and volcanos, sumo wrestlers, the Japanese Space Station, the Nagano Winter Olympics, the Kodo Drummers and other things. I also wrote the soundtrack for the short film Rain Is Heaven On Earth, directed by Christopher.  At this time I also played trumpet and bouzouki with the experimental band Plink,  led by the Norwegian singer Beatrix Fife and guitarist Marki Katagiri.

East Whistle with Hugh Nankivell and Melissa Holding, Kraków, Poland, 1994

Whilst travelling in Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian Express a chance encounter led to the formation of the folk-fusion group East Whistle, featuring Joe Townsend (violin), Hugh Nankivell (guitar) and Melissa Holding (shamisen and accordion). We first performed at the Wrocław Folk Festival in Poland  and over the next few years went on to to record several albums and perform tours in Europe and the US, including at the Black Mountain Folk Festival in North Carolina.

Wedding Photo SquaredI met my wife Noriko at a spiritual retreat in the foothills of Mt. Fuji in 1995, and we were married six months later. You can see Noriko’s artwork on the covers of my CDs and books, and other places on this website. In 1998 we left Japan for Brazil, where we spent most of the next three years living in small forest communities in the Southwestern Amazon region and across Brazil, immersed in the simple songs and rhythms of sacred forest rituals. Read more about my devotional songs here…

with Michalis Terlikkas, Efxifios Satsias and Yiorgos Fountos. Photo, Steve Tanner

We came back the UK in 2002, and settled in a wooden cabin by the Atlantic ocean in Cornwall where our two children were born. I became active on the Cornish music scene, working as Musical Director for Kneehigh Theatre and Wildworks Theatre, composing music for a series of site-specific productions that were staged in Malta, Cyprus, France as well as in Cornwall. In the course of this work I came to work with Cypriot folk singers, French jazz musicians, African gospel singers, Maltese brass bands, youth orchestras and community bands. Read more about my music for theatre here…

Golowan Festival , Penzance, 2006

Together with Cornish composer Jim Carey we formed the brass-funk band Bombrassa, giving performances at Golowan festival in Penzance, Port Eliot and other Cornish festivals. Jim and I co-wrote many compostions for Cornish music ensembles and theatre productions during this period, and worked extensively at The Eden Project, including a collaboration with Rajasthani folk musicians.  

Anjali Orchestra: Iwan Kushka, Charlotte Mabon, David Beauchamp, Adrian Freedman, Martyn Phillips, Johnny Flynn, Rowan Sterk, Charlie Roscoe, Asha MacCarthy

Since 2007 I have been living in the village of Dartington on the edge of the stunning Dartmoor National Park in Devon. Here I continue my practice of  traditional Zen music for shakuhachi, as well as composing new music and giving concerts in ancient churches and sacred spaces around the world. In 2010, a long-held dream came to fruition with the creation of the Anjali Orchestra, an 11-piece acoustic ensemble with instruments from around the world. The music is bound together by the musicians’ common interests in World Music and devotional practice. Read more about the Anjali Orchestra here…

Two Rivers with Justin (Ravi) Freeman

The duo Two Rivers, featuring shakuhachi and kora, was formed in 2011 with Justin (Ravi) Freeman. Ravi was one of the first Western exponents of the African kora, and he is also a pioneer of overtone throat singing in the West. He has collaborated with musicians such as classical violinist Nigel Kennedy, Senegalese singer Baba Maal, devotional singer Deva Premal and blues legend Dr. John. Together we are exploring the synergy of shakuhachi and kora in an ongoing series of concerts and recordings.  Read more about Two Rivers here…

Haru Kuntanawa

In August 2012 my interest in the sacred forest music of Brazil led to an invitation to a meeting of twelve Amazonian Indian tribes from the lineage of the tronco linguístico Pano. This meeting took place in the heart of the Brazilian Rainforest, in the Vale do Juruá. There I took part in moonlit ceremonies and learned songs of the forest with Haru Kuntanawa, and other members of the Pano tribes.

Mukashi Mukashi! with Noriko Takahashi and Kyoko Tadaoka

Other current or recent projects include collaborations with the classical cellist Matthew Barley, singer Chloë Goodchild, drumming group Kagemusha Taiko, Andy Barlow of the electronica group Lamb, tabla player Sanju Sahai and Japanese shamisen player Hibiki Ichikawa. I am also musical director for the music and storytelling group Mukashi Mukashi! together with Okinawan singer Kyoko Tadaoka and Belgian storyteller Iwan Kushka. Read more about Mukashi Mukashi here…

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Kyoto 2014

In April 2014 I was invited to play shakuhachi for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Kyoto, Japan. 






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