Musicroom: How important has sheet music been during your music career so far, and what’s the first ever piece you learned?
I’m a self-confessed sheet music addict! Classically trained from a young age, I’m lucky enough to not remember not being able to read sheet music at least to some degree and this has proved to be somewhat of a blessing and a curse at the same time. I remember when I started playing with funk and pop bands, I found it hard at first to learn things by ear and would have to score everything out to make the music easier for me to learn. I still default to this for last minute gigs, though this is more for structural reasons than actual notes as I’ve put a lot of time into ear-training and practicing the art of picking up lines quickly by ear.
I can’t remember the first piece I ever learned on the trumpet although I do remember the first composition I ever wrote. It was a piano piece with a title something like “The Misty Moon”, the manuscript of which I still have somewhere in a box of relics at my parents’ house.
What are your thoughts on the Hal Leonard Instrumental Play Along series, would you recommend this to musicians making music at home?
As a young lad I had a decent sized collection of Play Along books with the CDs and remember the endless fun I used to have with them. They were always my treat to play at the end of practice once I’d done the more boring (but absolutely necessary!) technical exercises. I had various Disney and hit pop song books as well as some Jazz and Big Band ones. I also had a Christmas Play-Along and used to get requests shouted through the wall by my (very tolerant!) neighbours in December!
How important do you feel music making has been for you and other instrumentalists during the global pandemic? Are you planning on playing your arrangements live?
Music making has been incredibly difficult for everyone during the pandemic as it is such a social thing. I found there was only so much time I could spend playing on my own before it became hard to maintain interest. I’m lucky I had an established platform to continue performing and recording my arrangements on YouTube as it then became essentially my sole outlet for the best part of 2020 and the start of 2021. It is however such a relief now that here in the UK live music is back for the time being and I can get out and tour with my bands again.
As for playing my arrangements live, I would certainly like to, and have done in the past – I originally started writing arrangements for my university brass quintet – but amongst all my other projects, I’m not sure I realistically have the time at the moment! Maybe one day…
Who are your biggest musical influences?
My musical influences come from far and wide – there’s so much interesting and wildly different stuff out there and I love discovering the odd gem that I can get truly obsessed about, and my influences are constantly changing. There are however a few artists and composers that will always be there for me when I’m a little lost musically. There’s an Australian band that has sadly just disbanded after 20 years on the road called The Cat Empire who have heavily influenced my trumpet playing and writing. I was first introduced to them by a friend after I’d been learning the trumpet for a couple of years. He played me their song The Chariot on his iPod and said to me “You’ve gotta learn this trumpet part!”, so I went home and worked it out by ear, wrote it down and proceeded to play it over and over and over to my parents’ delight at first and then probably despair after week two or so! Some other big artists that I can’t remember not knowing about are Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles. Being exposed to their music from an early age certainly left a big impact on me.
Arranging-wise, I spent a lot of time playing in British brass bands and the big names in that world have certainly had a huge influence on my arranging – Philip Sparke, Goff Richards and Peter Graham to name a few. On the classical side, of course the legendary Maurice Ravel and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov are always a fantastic point of reference for orchestration, and I’m particularly fond of Dmitri Shostakovich’s works too.
How big a role do you think social media will play in the future of music making?
It’s very hard to know as it’s constantly evolving so quickly but it’s safe to say social media has become such a prominent part of most people’s lives that it’s impossible to escape its influence. As a tool it can be incredibly powerful for reaching new audiences, and meeting and collaborating with new people who you wouldn’t before have had access to or the opportunities to meet. It’s certainly got me to where I am today.
I do however think as Covid gradually fades into the background of normality it’s important for people to remember that music is inherently a live medium best experienced in person. Tik Tok duets are fun and all, but they are absolutely no alternative to playing with a bunch of people in the same room, feeding off each other’s energy and really connecting with them. Make sure to get yourself to live concerts when you can, and get together with friends to make music with, because while social media is a great place to discover and hear about new music, it is just a snapshot and a shadow of the real thing. It’s why I love hearing recordings I get from people who play my arrangements live, there’s so much more life to them than my studio versions!
Can you share any of your secret plans for the future? A Musicroom exclusive if possible!
I don’t have any grand plans for my arranging at the moment as now we UK musicians are allowed out to play again, I’m pouring most of my energy into that side of my work. The arrangements will continue to trickle out – both for brass ensembles and big band, maybe even other ensembles and styles – but my most recent musical adventures have taken me into the world of recording, producing and mixing.
My band Bare Jams has just released our first single, ‘Little Bit’, since our debut album came out at the start of the pandemic. Due to difficulties arising from the lack of gigs and Covid restrictions we’ve done everything completely in-house with me at the helm of the mixing desk. This was a very exciting challenge for me and I’m very proud of the final result. We’re going to continue in this fashion going forward and we have another single out at the end of April with a killer horn soli in the middle of it (written by me!). I’ve been playing with these guys for close to 8 years now so it’s naturally a big part of who I am as a musician. For fans of soul, reggae, classic rock, jazz and many, many other genres! We’ll be touring around the UK and Europe this year and it’s always nice when worlds collide and my YouTube followers show up to gigs.
I’ve also teamed up with my sister, Emma, to write, record and produce a whole bunch of tunes which we’ll be releasing throughout the year as Skelly alongside gigs around the UK. The best place to stay up to date with everything I’m doing is over on my Instagram @sebskelly because beyond my brass arranging I’m always chasing the next exciting new opportunity.
Hal Leonard Instrumental Play Alongs
Experience the thrill of playing along with a real band every time you practice. These songbooks come with play along CDs or provide access to online audio files, which will make you sound like you’re leading the band!
Learn hits from industry leading pop artists, Disney movies, Film & TV favourites and more. You’ll discover books for specific instruments below, but nearly all instrumental play along books are part of a collection containing a variety of instrumental versions.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your instrument – it’s time to play along!