Gwilym Simcock

All Saints Church

By Pete Fletcher

I was privileged to witness a conversation between two good friends.

Gwilym was playing the piano and Mike was playing the guitar, but the way they listened and responded to each other musically made talking unnecessary although, apparently, this was the first time they had played publicly together as a duo – they are usually half of their award winning band ‘The Impossible Gentlemen’.

Speaking of awards, Gwilym has been picking them up for most of the past decade and is quite the fastest rising star on the British jazz scene.

He started his classical musical training at the age of three (he also plays French horn and has perfect pitch; very useful for a jazz musician,) and the technique is absolutely obvious if only from the lack of hand movement compared to the number of notes being produced.

But he is one of the few musicians who have managed to straddle the two stools of Classical and Jazz music; those who come to mind are Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Nina Simone and, most apposite tonight, Jacques Loussier. I mention the last in particular as Gwilym acknowledged the performance of St. Matthew’s Passion in the Cathedral this evening by improvising on two sections of the Passion at the beginning and end of the evening.

Gwilym, like many contemporary pianists, likes to take off the music desk and get his hands into the action of the piano to pluck and slap strings, play percussion on the frame and manipulate the dampers.

This can often appear gimmicky but in this performance it was clear that these were just some more voices of which the piano was capable and entirely melded with the keyboard work. Mike was also no stranger to sfx, using hammering and slapping techniques and several effects pedals but always in a most subtle and musical fashion.

This was the conversation. None of this had been rehearsed or worked out in advance.

The piece was developed by improvisation and settled into a circle of fifths chord sequence, which enabled them to morph into ‘Autumn Leaves’ to finish it off.

I can’t go into so much detail on every number because there were so many musical surprises and delights.

The second was a sixteen bar blues based on Samuel Barber. This had a funk feel and the left hand pattern was almost an inverted boogie, starting at the top and going down.

Then we had a really old fashioned ballad, “My Foolish Heart”, which started with homophonic chord style on the piano going into a more rhythmic section with the melody on the guitar.

Mike really came through here with his range of techniques.

There was ‘Clockmaker’, a composition of Mike’s.

This started on chimes from harmonics picked up by Gwilym on the piano. It explored chords and rhythm with a definite Latin tinge. The next was a Bach-like piece, throwing phrases back and forth and joining in true counterpoint; very reminiscent of Jacques Loussier and ending with a lovely quote from Charlie Parker.

Then we had ‘Ladies In Mercedes’ which featured more hand percussion in the piano in a Latin tempo.

Gwilym’s finger technique in this piece was quite extraordinary.

We were delighted by an encore which was completely improvised from the end of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion.

I think Bach would have approved.