Wonderbrass and the Druidstone

By Jennifer Allan

Friday – it begins


Jane – The Druidstone

Being somewhat of a Wonderbrass & Druidstone veteran, I can definitely state that this was one of the best yet – Challenging and inspirational, great company, great food, and the Druidstone seems to be becoming a spiritual home for Wonderbrass. Jason is a musical giant, and the band is probably the best it’s ever been. Can’t wait for the next instalments. Brett Chandra – Flute

16.00 – So we’re on our way. The weekend everyone has been looking forward to since the summer – off to Druidstone to jam with Wonderbrass and Jason Yarde as the exciting Cultural Olympiad project kicks off. True, we’re stuck in back to back traffic in Port Talbot and considering sucking on dry teabags for sustenance, but the car is full of musical instruments, people, booze and food and we’re off!

20.30 – Finally! After some cavorting around in the back country lanes of Haverford West and a lot of getting lost we’re installed safely in our amazing little cottage at the Druidstone hotel. We have our own pond! Most of the band is happily ensconced in the bar downstairs savouring the local ales and home-cooked food. Still a few people to arrive though; not seen Jason yet! Looking forward to a night of jamming and a few drinks when everyone gets here. Just saw some people setting up drums and equipment in the back, so not too long now. Ooh here comes the fish pie!

Just been scouting out where everyone else is staying; looks fantastic – lots of cosy little attic rooms and ramshackle cottages dotted all over the place. Everyone is running around cheerfully inspecting the bar, the rooms the hidden little book filled crannies and generally being very silly indeed. There seemed to be a lot of accordion playing going on upstairs at one point, too – glad no non Wonderbrass guests are here this weekend!

4.00 am – What a night! I feel like I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. I think everyone managed to get involved one way or another. People like me were soloing where they’d dared not before, others were trying new instruments and generally having a riotous time. Anna Rogers was rocking the drum kit under the watchful eye of Mark O’Connor and trombonist Kat Berridge ventured out with a three note trumpet solo. That’s the great thing about being in a band like Wonderbrass where everybody is friends as well as musicians; when everyone relaxes it’s a really supportive and creative atmosphere, so nobody is afraid to just give it a go. People were teaching techniques and ideas, learning new things and really getting into the swing of just jamming and having a good time, although it did begin to descend into Bryan Adams madness with saxophonist Rhodri Thomas left unsupervised on the piano. A suitably relaxed and musical introduction to the weekend.

“Druidstone started before we actually got there. I was in a car with three excited women acting like teenagers on a school trip. After comparing rooms and nesting, the girls decided that a spruce up and the bar were the two most important things on the agenda…before we knew it, a drum kit had manifested in a corner, bassist, keyboards, pretty soon the entire bar was awash with noise…” Nicholas Scott, Trumpet

The band were able to spend time bonding which I think is essential for a group this size… after two years of being a member, there were still people in the band I hadn’t had a full conversation with until the Druidstone weekend.  It was also nice to have some of the extended WonderFamily there… it’s good to know that spouses/partners/children are always made to feel welcome and a part of the band, and that their support is so valuable to us all. 

The jam night was a fun part of the bonding… encouraging to see how well some of us (!) coped on instruments that were not our own.  I’m not so sure about my soparino playing… – Jo Jones – Keys


9.30 – Groan! I think there may be one or two sore heads this morning, seeing as our cottage was not tucked up safe in bed until gone 4.30 and we were not the last ones to leave the bar! Everyone seemed to make it up in time for the wonderful and necessary fried breakfast before ten o’clock, some more bleary eyed (and less fully dressed) than others! The view of the sea from the clifftop hotel was enough to cheer everyone up, and lots of people roused themselves to an early morning invigorating stroll along the cliffs and beaches before practise. It is an absolutely staggeringly beautiful day, with more sunshine than should normally be allowed in November. Time to crack on with some serious work soon though – practise starts in an hour and a half!

Druidstone was an awesome experience.  The setting, idyllic and the people very welcoming and friendly.  The first night was exciting and it was lovely getting to know everyone a little better and how to play various crazy card games!!  Jason Yarde is out of this world with his complicated rhythms and ideas but it was all very exciting and a great experience.   I just had to have a photo with him Eeeee! Nerys Porch – Tenor Saxophone

13.00 – A well deserved rest for lunch I think! After a bit of a Wonderbrass warm-up session we cracked on with learning the new parts of the piece that Jason had composed for us. Parts of it are very rhythmically complex, but we learned the different components of the piece  a variety of ways – using written music, clapping exercises and playing through by ear repeatedly and I think that, although it’s quite hard, it’s manageable for everybody in the band one way or another. Each part was broken down and while the whole band played the different parts together, each instrumental section switched between parts as and when they felt ready, so the momentum of the piece was kept up, but allowed everybody to get to grips with each part in relative anonymity without losing the rhythm or the melodies. It was interesting to hear how the different parts worked layered over each other in that haphazard way. I think the band found it a really practical approach to teaching new and complex material to a group of people who all come from such different musical backgrounds and who have different styles of playing and learning.

It was extremely beneficial to have some time away to first confront the piece that Jason is composing.  At first it did not make much sense at all, but it was interesting how Jason was able to very quickly bring people into a relationship with the material…  We were answering back to Jason’s calls and becoming attuned to his ideas; learning through experience rather than struggling with an abstract paper entity.  I am convinced that playing this music will raise my abilities as a musician to a higher level but confident that I will be able to reach that level through this collective learning approach.  Jim Barrett – Bass Saxophone

The Horror! Nick Scott has just run around terrorising everybody in a pair of the tiniest, reddest shorts I have ever seen. Combined with his hip Movember ‘tash  he looked like the men from the 118 advert! Anyway, lunch of delicious home made soup and time to crack on again!

I was gutted to miss the early evening on Friday at the Druidstone… but so pleased to find everyone on fine form in the bar at midnight – I would expect nothing less! Great people, brilliant food, perfect weather, fine wine, the view from our cottage to end all views and mind-blowing music… WOW! 
Jenny Bradley – Tenor/Baritone Saxophone

17.00 – Lots of concentrating for one afternoon, but it feels like we’ve actually managed to achieve quite a lot, despite the lot of us acting like naughty school children for a great deal of it. Hope we can all remember what we learned today – time to get ready for dinner now – I hope everyone packed their posh frocks!

“Highlights for me personally were the fantastic sense of fun and togetherness which is sort of what any music should be about. We all just felt part of a great team of people to be with. I thought the music sessions with Jason were brilliant, again working in a totally relaxed atmosphere but trying to get to grips with some really challenging music” Glyn Price – Alto Saxophone

9.00 – Once again I am so pleased that there are no non Wonderbrass affiliates staying at the Druidstone this weekend! Dinner was a calamitous affair with cheering, toasts, speeches and a vast amount  of over-eating followed by an enthusiastic and vociferous sing-along around the piano to the likes of Lady G, Queen and Bryan Adams.

The meal was particularly touching and I wished my husband could’ve been there to hear Rob’s speech about thanking partners for their support.  LOVED the sing song round the piano. Food was DELICIOUS!!! Could have partied again all night playing Zimmy Zimmy!  Nerys Porch Tenor Saxophone

Disappearing once more to the bar the drinking and raucous silliness continued with Rob Smith, Andrew Tabbener and Rich Evans all donning Nerys Porch’s stunning pink lip gloss, all in the most masculine way possible of course. Then came the drinking games and oh, my head…

I am impressed by the band’s tenacity this morning. Once again everyone’s smiling faces appear for breakfast; even those incapacitated by beer, brandy or food comas last night. It’s another glorious day and folks are scampering round the clifftops again and exploring the surroundings before practice starts.

13.30 – Well our hard work yesterday seems to have paid off. I was really surprised to find how much of the music I remembered; I thought I’d have forgotten everything, but most of it seemed to have stuck. Working together in sections I found really helpful, too as everybody’s strengths really shone through; in the flute section, for example, Carolyne Hunter’s sight-reading kept us on track when we struggled to keep up with a particularly tricky rhythm and Brett Chandra’s remarkable ability to play by ear helped us pick out our chosen melody line when the reading was just a bit too tricky to follow at the right speed. The whole session really helped with the bonding aspect of the weekend as well as the musical development. I certainly left feeling more confident about the whole thing. Looking forward to the gig later!

“Jason had us working very hard with many variations on a calypso rhythm that twisted and turned around the markings. This was a challenge, but the payoff came when we performed our usual material on the Sunday afternoon and, because we’d been focusing on rhythmic precision all weekend, our playing was generally much tighter and more precise. So we had a great gig, thanks to Jason”   Rob Smith – Soprano Saxophone/Band Leader

I always love the Sunday gigs after weekend rehearsals, the band is relaxed and confident – the quality and power of our playing is truly inspirational. Just what we needed to inspire us to tackle “Skip, Dash, Flow”. David Kernohan – Guitar

20.00 – Well that was an incredible weekend. Sitting quietly in the car on the way home now and reflecting over all of the things we managed to cram into just two and a half days! The gig went really well. It was great to have a chance to step out and listen to the band when I wasn’t playing and really get a feel for how we can sound when we’re all on form. The whole weekend brought us tightly together as friends and as musicians, so all in all a thorough success. The work we’d done during the day was reflected in the evening’s performance andJason’s solos were incredible – really gave everyone a chance to see what he can do and appreciate what kind of an input he will have on the band. Everybody left really feeling like they were part of something, like they’d developed as musicians and having had an exhausting but wonderful experience.

Although my little concussion episode meant I couldn’t play a note all weekend and I didn’t feel too good, Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed the bonding experience. It was such a buzz to actually listen to the band for a change and hear the fantastic rhythms on Sun morning at the workshop with Jason. We really are an exciting wall of sound. Big thanks to Jane for our welcome,Druidstone is a huge part of Wonderbrass and these weekends always enrich and make new friendships.  Hopefully Jason will enjoy his liaison with WB as much as all of us will!Sarah – Alto Saxophone


The best bits of the weekend for me were the beginning, the middle and end: I loved it all from start to finish.  Jamming in the bar until the early hours was a great start to the weekend.  It’s a fine line between jamming in a bar and a group of inebriated people messing around on instruments and we moved seamlessly backwards and forwards across that line with masterful artistry (or should that be piss artistry?).   As well as the sheer unadulterated fun of it, though, it was good to try some different things alongside our regular repertoire.  That continued as we embraced Jason’s challenging and exciting composition with the exhilarating feeling that we were part of it taking shape and coming into being.  We were definitely raising our game – we skipped, dashed and occasionally flowed – and that was rewarding.  I am now really looking forward to more Olympic training for a great performance of musical athleticism.  A surprising highlight for me was the final gig. Because there were so many of us in a smallish venue the alto section, like other sections, rotated its players so that we each only played about a third of the tunes.  The surprising thing was not that I loved playing the final gig but that I really enjoyed not playing and the opportunity to hear the band – when you’re in the middle of it I don’t think you hear just how good it sounds.  As I stood there listening I felt hugely proud to be a part of it.  And to spend the weekend with such great company, food and drink in such an amazing location helped me feel even more part of it.Stephen Roberts –  Alto Saxophone