It's shake, rattle and roll in the Yorkshire countryside as budding musicians get to learn the ropes jamming alongside established jazz and rock stars. Elaine Williams reports
On a summer Saturday afternoon, the Yorkshire Pudding Orchestra - a huddle of nervous 10 to 16-year-olds - waits in the wings with Snake Davis and his band as hundreds gather for the annual open-air Yorkshire Pudding festival and boat race. Davis, who plays saxophone with pop bands such as the Eurythmics and M-People, mouths words of encouragement to his novice performers as they take the stage. He turns to them, sax in hand, counts them in and they are off, belting out the "Brawby Boogie". Once in the swing, the fledgling orchestra appears unfazed by a bizarre spectacle in front of the stage as a bunch of yacht-varnished Yorkshire puddings skids across the grass (the race is usually a water sport on a local farmer's pond; this year it was held on grass, with the puddings operated by remote control).
This group of 12 budding wind and brass players (sax, clarinet, trumpet, flute, cornet and horns) are well prepared; besides a two-hour rehearsal on the day, they spent a gruelling five-hours the previous weekend in a masterclass with Davis in Brawby village hall.
Between whist drives and meetings of the gardening club and Women's Institute, Brawby hall, in the back-of-beyond flatlands between the Howardian Hills and the North Yorkshire Moors, turns into The Shed, a steaming, stomping, sought-after night-spot; it is possibly Britain's most offbeat and off-the-beaten-track blues, jazz and country venue. Despite the remote setting, the likes of Kubryk Townsend, Billy Jenkins and the Blues Collective, Kevin Coyne, John Otway, and David Thomas and Two Pale Boys have performed there and want to come back.
Fans from the south of Yorkshire to Scotland risk getting lost on unlit meandering lanes on winter nights. Radio 4 has been to record a One Night Stanzas programme, and will return in October. So, on the Sunday morning before the Yorkshire Pudding festival, the hall sees an intent Snake Davis electrifying the air with a few nonchalant, rippling sax phrases. Before him is his "orchestra", wide-eyed with anticipation. He drives his young players through their paces with a series of jazz pieces and improvisations culminating in a solo by each. "I want some edge to this, play it angular fashion," he says at one point. "No finesse, just some wallop here," he urges later.
This is the third time Davis has held a jazz masterclass for young musicians as part of Pied Piper, an educational project established by The Shed three years ago, funded annually with pound;30,000 of regional arts lottery cash and pound;5,000 from Ryedale district council. The Shed is the creation of Simon Thackray, a Brawby-born-and-bred sculptor and ideas man who decided 10 years ago to bring the music business to his door, rural and remote as it is. He is a lateral thinker with the guts and business acumen to turn wild ideas into successful events. This year's Yorkshire Pudding concert was held in his garden.
Pied Piper enables young jazz and rock enthusiasts in this isolated countryside to work with established performers, an opportunity that is hard enough to find in big cities. "Whether they become professional musicians or not, these young people gain an insight into how the music business works," says Mr Thackray. "Snake is one of the country's top saxophonists. They gain so much by performing alongside someone like that. It's about making entry points into a creative life."
Pied Piper was established when Mr Thackray teamed up with Sarah Derbyshire, executive director of Live Music Now, which was founded by Yehudi Menuhin to bring live performance into isolated communities and institutions such as special schools, prisons and hospitals. They set out a proposal and raised funding for Shed musicians to work with young people, extending the venue's sphere of influence beyond mere entertainment. So far, Pied Piper workshop leaders have included the contemporary jazz quartet Perfect House Plants, the Kubryk Townsend jazz band, blues guitarist and singer Billy Jenkins, rock band Delta Sly, poet Ian McMillan and songwriter Jim Diamond.
Emily Gibbons, 16, a tenor saxophonist from Whitby community college, attended a Pied Piper workshop with Delta Sly before Davis's session. "It encourages you to try things out, to widen your experience. It makes you want to carry on."
Snake Davis has praised Pied Piper for giving young musicians the chance to learn about improvisation and live jazz performance, something he did not experience until he was nearly 20. "I do this whenever I can because it has amazing results," he says. "Freeing young musicians up and giving them a chance to go solo in this way really boosts their confidence."
He isn't the only big-time jazz-rock musician to be so public-spirited. Jeff Rich, the former drummer with rock legends Status Quo, runs drum and percussion workshops in schools which provide an insider view of the music business, a history of the drumkit and a chance for every pupil to perform with one of Rich's 180 pieces of hand-held percussion. His intention is for music-making to be accessible to every child. "Kids love drums and it makes them feel that music can be fun, not the chore it so often becomes for so many," he says.
Herbie Flowers, who has played bass guitar for T-Rex, David Bowie and Lou Reed, has scraped funding together to run 100 free Rockshops in schools, arts centres and prisons over the past 10 years. Young people work with session musicians and sound engineers hired by Flowers over several days, towards a performance with state-of-the-art equipment. "It's great to give kids that wow factor. It's a fantastic formula. Everyone pulls together because they have a show to produce, writing the material, playing the music. It's very intensive. They get such a buzz."
Pied Piper workshops begin again in September. Contact Sarah Derbyshire, Simon Thackray or James Williams at the Pied Piper Project, Mill Houses, Great Habton, Malton, North Yorkshire Y017 6TZ. Tel: 01653 668551; email firstname.lastname@example.org; www.theshed.co.uk. For details of Rockshops, contact Herbie Flowers at 15 High Street, Ditchling, East Sussex BN6 8SY. Jeff Rich is taking bookings for drum and percussion workshops from February 2002. Details on www.jeffrich.co.uk