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A Little Orchestra - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 25 / 5 / 2013

A Little Orchestra - Interview


John Clarkson chats to Bobby Barry and Natalie Hudson from the ten-piece A Little Orchestra about their debut album 'Clocks', which features contributions from Darren Hayman, ballboy's Gordon McIntyre, the Loves' Simon Love and Swedish singer-songwriter Lisa Bouvier

A Little Orchestra is a ten-piece London-based orchestra that plays both modern classical pieces and which has also collaborated with several indie pop artists. The orchestra is focused around pianist and percussionist ‘Monster’ Bobby Barry and violinist Natalie Hudson. Barry, who founded A Little Orchestra, also conceived and was the songwriter for the all-girl pop trio the Pipettes, playing as well in their backing band, while Hudson,who is A Little Orchestra’s ‘co-ordinator’, is one of the organisers of the annual three-day train-orientated Indietracks Festival, which takes place every July at the Midlands Railway in Derbyshire. A Little Orchestra’s other members are Alex Billig (bassoon), Catherine Carr (flute), Claire Hadidjenar (violin),Helen Short (cello), Jill Faure ((viola), Matthew Walker (violin), Nicola Burnett Smith (clarinet) and Rosie French (violin). A Little Orchestra released its five-song debut vinyl only EP ‘Josefina’ on the Spanish label Elefant Records in April, and has now followed this with an excellent debut album, ‘Clocks’, which has been released on the German label Vollwert Records. ‘Clocks’ has songs collaborations with among others Darren Hayman, ballboy front man Gordon McIntyre, Simon Love from the Loves, indie/electronica act Apple Eyes, Emma Winston from Owl and Mouse and the Swedish singer-songwriter Lisa Bouvier. It also includes three segments of the title track, an instrumental classical suite, written by Barry. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Bobby Barry and Natalie Hudson about A Little Orchestra and the composition of ‘Clocks’. PB: You started out in early 2010 by playing minimalist, classical pieces such as Michael Nyman’s ‘Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds’ and Terry Riley’s ‘In C’, but at your third gig ended up backing the Pipettes on a couple of their songs as well as playing your own set. You have gone on from there to back lots of other indie pop artists. Was it A Little Orchestra’s intention from the beginning to work as a sort of orchestra for hire? BB: Oh yes, totally. It was our intention to do lots of different things and to collaborate with as many people as possible. One of the main reasons for getting such a big group of people, playing lots of different instruments together was because I've always believed that all kinds of musicians can always learn something from each other, so to collaborate with as many different people as possible is really just a matter of learning together and creating a friendly, mutually supportive environment for doing new things. That's really what this has always been about. PB: Nat, Bobby has described A Little Orchestra as consisting of people who had learnt music at school and a little music theory, but never pursued it. What is your background in music other than with Indietracks? How long have you been playing the violin? NH: Yes, the orchestra is a real mixture of people with different musical experience. Some of us have only picked up our instruments again after learning them at school, but equally there are also a couple of people who are music therapists and play their instruments daily as part of their job. Personally, I gave up playing the violin when I was 17 due to schoolwork pressures, and only took it up again about four years ago. I really enjoy playing though! BB: I should probably say at this point that I have a tendency towards flippancy in interviews sometimes. Really everyone in the group is very highly skilled at their instrument, but by saying what you quoted me as saying (which I have no doubt I did in fact say) I wanted to encourage other people – either to join our orchestra or to start their own. PB: Bobby, you were involved with the Pipettes, and Helen Short who plays cello was in Betty and the Werewolves. Who else is involved? NH: We've got ten members in total, including Matthew and Claire from Apple Eyes, and also bassoonist Alex Billig, who is in a band called Wolventrix. Our clarinettist Nicola is in the London Gypsy Orchestra, so we have a real range of musical styles represented in the orchestra PB: The album features several guest singers and musicians. How were their songs composed? Did A Little Orchestra write the music and then they composed the lyrics or did it work in a different way? NH: Essentially our collaborators would send us a demo of their song and then we would write an arrangement. We would pass recordings and demos back and forth until we were happy with how it sounded! We originally gave our collaborators the theme of "soundtracks for an imaginary film" but the songs soon broadened out into something much wider than that. PB: The album is interspersed with different segments of the title track ‘Clocks’. There is a Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5 there. Is there a Part 1 and Part 4? BB: Yes and no. There are other parts of this ‘Clocks’ suite that are written that didn't end up on the record, either because we decided that they just weren't as good as other stuff we had or because, given the time we had, the recordings didn't turn out so well (which is probably also a fault in the writing more than anything else). But there are also various slightly more virtual parts of ‘Clocks’, that perhaps exist in a slightly more theoretical sense. Like maybe ‘Clocks, Part 1’ is just the alternation of two notes, like the ticking of a clock, for 24 hours. To a certain extent the numbering should also imply the idea that this music will always remain somehow unfinished and to-be-added-to. There will always be more parts to be written, and the parts that are written are always up for grabs and may well change in the future. I could talk at great lengths about the relationship between clocks and music – from the way Galileo would sing songs by his composer father to time his early experiments on the movement of pendulums, to Haydn's compositions for the Esterhazy family's mechanical clocks to Brian Eno's compositions for the clock of the long now. For the time being, at least some of that will have to remain implicit. Suffice to say, there is definitely a Part 4, there might be a Part 6, and there may even be a Part 14, but a Part 1? Well, I'm not so sure. Maybe. PB: Bobby moved to live in Paris in 2011 and is not able to make all the gigs. How has that affected the dynamics of the group with regards to both recording and composing music and also in its live work? NH: I don't think it's actually affected it too much, really. Obviously we miss him, but he always comes back from recording and important gigs -for which we're very grateful! Performing with bands has actually worked really well for us, as it has meant that we're no so dependent on a conductor, and also has enabled us to build up our confidence with both playing and arranging. BB: It was with some small sadness that I told A Little Orchestra that I would be moving to France and therefore it wouldn't really be practical to attend every rehearsal, but I was very pleased that everyone elected to keep the thing going. I think we've got something quite special here that is much bigger than me or my involvement or any ideas I had about it to begin with. PB: Nat,you describe yourself as the group’s “co-ordinator”, and must have gained a lot of management experience through everything you do with Indietracks. What does that involve? NH: Yes, Indietracks certainly keeps me very busy and A Little Orchestra is no different! My role has basically involved finding persuading all our lovely collaborators to work with us, organising rehearsals, sorting gigs, finding people to make lovely artwork and videos for us and generally making sure people are in the right place at the right time! It's quite a lot of work, but I really enjoy it. PB: With ten regular musicians involved, how easy is it organising rehearsals and gigs? NH: It's not always the easiest of tasks, but we've agreed a core number of people who need to be around for us to do a gig, so we can be flexible if we need to be. Generally the orchestra are pretty good at being around when they're needed though! PB:The debut EP ‘Josefina’ came out on the Spanish label Elefant Records, and the album on the German label Vollwert Records. Why did you decide to put these releases on these two labels? Was it a conscious decision to look abroad? NH: Tt wasn't a conscious decision as such. We were just lucky that these were the two labels who were interested in putting out our records. We've been really lucky to work with both of them, and we've had lots of support from Luis and Werner respectively - thanks guys! PB: You are doing your album launch at a free lunchtime show at the Union Chapel in London. What other plans have got for the future and after that? NH: We'll have to see! There are a few things possibly in store, including a couple of bands who have asked us to work with them such as Ani from the Pipettes. We've also done some recording for the Understudies and Comet Gain albums, so we're looking forward to those albums coming out too! PB: Thank you.

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A Little Orchestra - Interview

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