• Popping My Solo Cherry | Wonderbrass 25

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Wonderbrass are an internationally acclaimed 25 piece Soul, Funk, Ska, Latin, Jazz juggernaut -- a danceaholic wall of sound -- a kick-ass brass tidal wave -- unmissable!!!!! Wonderbrass formed in 1992 as a community street band from Pontypridd South Wales; Today they are bigger, bolder and brassier (pun intended) than ever before. Under the expert leadership of instrumentalist and composer Rob Smith and drummer extraordinaire Mark O'Connor, Wonderbrass are constantly evolving and exploring new musical challenges.

Video transcript:

I've never been the most nervous of performers,but I've always enjoyed having the opportunity to express myself.The very first time I got called upon to do a solo,in the middle of a gig,I kind of went, "No!"
Playing the heads, playing the tunes and having the space to express yourself was new to me at the time.It's something I've incorporated into the band I play in nowadays as well.
From then on, I don't think I've ever said no to a solo.So I think that says a lot about what the band can do for one's confidence.
There are other pieces where anybody could be called on to take a solo.And that really is the tradition in Wonderbrass,that everybody solos.
I was so scared about playing a solo.I never, ever wanted to do it.I was in awe of all these people - amazing people - that are in this band and some of the things they could do and I never thought I would do it.
It probably took at least five years after I joined.
When people solo in the band,they generally have the rhythm section behind them.I think the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, apart from childbirth,
I had a triangle line through one of the pieces that Rob wrote, Iā€™m sure as a joke and he decided that the last eight bars of that - it was called Lachrimae -it's a beautiful, beautiful piece with wonderful trombone lines in itand the last eight bars was just my triangle rhythm,with nobody else.
We used to play a carnival and a jazz festival in Pontypool.My first solo was in the back streets of Pontypool.We'd gone through all the town, done all the good bits,but we were still following the lorries and the floats and playing and paradingas we followed around through the houses at the back of Pontypool somewhere.
We were going behind a float, which had an inflatable crocodile on a skateboard tied onto the back of it.I did my first solo in a parade in Pontypool following an inflatable crocodile on a skateboard outside people's houses where nobody was watching and I was like, "Thank God it's over!"
The opening melody line on one of the pieces, Caravan,is a trombone line.For most of the last couple of years, I've been the only trombone in the band,so that has been my solo really.
One day I'm going to get it right!Rob, to his enduring credit,always seemed to have that sense of when somebody was ready to do it and then what piece to suggest you have a go at doing.

The first time I played a solo, I was bricking it.Rob approached me and said, "Do you fancy doing a solo in this one?"I immediately started to think, "Oh, my God!"He said, "Look, you won't kill anybody."
I'd been watching for months everyone else playing solos.I was like, "I'll never be able to play like them."- You go out front...- I just did it...and the band give a big cheer at the end because they know it's your first solo.
It's not a scary pressure thing, it was like, all these people know what it's like to play their first solo and are really supportive and lush.
You get such a buzz when that happens.It's like jumping off a cliff and landing on your feet.
I had all this stuff in my head.One of the things I used to do was try to play what was in my head instead of what I could play.
Rob once said, "Play fewer notes." I was like, "That's a really good point."
It seemed really natural with this group.The music lends itself to doing solos and being creative in the background.
You can see somebody who's been called upon to do a solo and they're up there doing it, and they come up with something which is legitimate, it's their statement.And very often, audiences really get behind people they think, "Yeah, yeah, that person's going for it."
I remember Rob pointing at me and I thought, "He's not pointing at me",because I'm usually at the back.
Then the crowd opened and I was like, "OK, I've got to do a thing now."But, yeah, I think I nailed it.
I hope so! I got a big cheer from the bandmembers.
Everyone was so encouraging and that's the big thing really.My fingers did eventually move, but I didn't perform particularly well.I thought that was the end of my career with Wonderbrass.
The experience of playing the first solo was a very liberating experience.I could already solo, so for me, that wasn't something new,that was something I could already do.
It was just really nice to be able to do that. It felt like coming home, I suppose,to be able to make that contribution.
I'd obviously been playing some solos in rehearsals,and then it was like, "I have to now."It was brilliant.
It was a real confidence boost to do that gig and to have the opportunity to solo.
You'd not know what Rob is going to do next, in the sense of we're all familiar with the pieces,but he doesn't keep everything the same.
He might just point to you when you're not expecting it,so you just need to keep your eyes on what's going on,because he will just point and you have to sink or swim at that point.
I did it in rehearsal.Whenever anyone does their first solo in rehearsal,people give you a huge round of applause at the end, which is just lush.
Once you've done the first solo, the other solos don't seem as scary.
Now and again, Rob throws one back to the rhythm section and we either get a drum solo or we get a bass solo.
Yeah, so, there's probably two drum features in a gig.
The biggest gig I did with them was at Brecon Jazz Festival.I got to do a solo at that gig, which was pretty cool.It definitely was a moment for me to overcome those nerves, so I was really glad I did it.I know my dad recorded it and was constantly showing all his friends for about five years afterwards, because his daughter did a jazz solo at Brecon Jazz.
My dad was a big fan.
I remember my cheeks burning, thinking, "I can't do this!" But then I did and everyone clapped and they moved onto the next person.
You think the spotlight's on you, but it's not really, everyone's playing, it's not as nerve-wracking. It was good to get it out the way!
Soloing I love doing, and find it very easy. So I was nervous about being able to learn the written parts and not the soloing. In fact, I only learn tunes so I can solo better on them.
I remember doing it in Brecon Jazz Festival one time and at the end of it I realised I hadn't breathed through it all, because I just felt so exposed.
It was really quite thrilling, so I don't know how people do solos all the time.I suppose when you're playing a brass instrument, you've got to breathe,so that's the difference.

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