Noise Annoys: Jazz man David Lyttle on special new Irish tour

Noise Annoys quizzes Mobo-nominated Co Armagh-born jazz drummer extraordinaire David Lyttle about his imminent Irish tour of 'rural and unlikely locations' such as Malin, Keady Mountain and Rathlin

HOW were your gigs at the Stendhal Festival and Bennigan’s in Derry last weekend?

I've played Stendhal before but it was very 'in and out'. This time I got to walk around a bit. They're doing a really great thing. I was there this year performing jazz for children as Ambassador for Live Music Now.

Bennigans is always great. I was performing with some very talented and hugely promising young musicians who I've been mentoring for a while: twin brothers Micheal and Conor Murray from Falcarragh, Donegal.

The forthcoming Irish tour is being done as a duo with you on drums and guitarist Joseph Leighton. Is that a new team-up for you?

Joseph was an impressive teenage rock prodigy when I first met him. I told him about some jazz guitarists he might like and within a few months his interests had shifted completely to jazz.

He'd come to see me play regularly in Derry where he's from and over time we became friends and he started studying with me. It's been really nice thing seeing him develop as a musician and to now bring him on the road for his first tour.

The format of drums and guitar as a duo isn't so common in jazz but lately I've been playing duo with other musicians a bit and also solo drums – both have really pushed me as a drummer.

Joseph is also very good at solo jazz guitar, so us together as a duo really works.

Last year you travelled coast to coast across the US in a Cadillac with saxophonist Tom Harrison, giving impromptu jazz performances along the way. How did it go?

My experiences in the US were very enriching – I performed for cowboys, bikers and UFO tourists near Area 51. Through my YouTube performance videos and vlogs and for the MOBO Awards channel, I showed that good music can reach anyone.

With regard to the upcoming Irish tour of 'rural and unlikely locations', you say that "after 10 years of city touring around the world and watching the music industry fail in many ways, a return to old-fashioned troubadour-style touring is a positive move." Can you elaborate?

These Irish dates are a direct response to that US trip. It seemed like a cop-out to continue normal city touring after that trip. I've done some gigs in rural Irish areas before, but not to this extent.

I know it'll be a lot of fun and there's something very exciting about knowing that you'll be playing for an audience who haven't heard music like this before.

Also in 2017, you spent six weeks in China as the British Council and PRSF's Musician in Residence. What was that experience like?

China was my most immersive experience to date. The US trip was immersive but I could still speak English and I was still in the West.

In China you are very much in China and you can't maintain any kind of routine that is familiar to you.

I was in Suzhou where there is very little English spoken. I don't remember speaking to very many people in English other than my interpreter. It was an inspiring and challenging time.

I got a lot from hearing Chinese music and collaborating with some iconic Chinese folk musicians.

You’ve since been back to China with your show David Lyttle: Tapes & Drums, can you explain the concept and how was it received?

After the long trip I got some invitations to go back and perform. Jazz is still quite new in China and I wasn't sure if bringing my band to perform jazz was really the best use of the opportunities.

I'd done a couple of solo drums performances in China and they seemed to like that, plus I did a podcast there using a tape recorder. That same tape recorder occasionally appears in my live shows.

I combined all of these things and wrote a story about my experiences in China and had it read in Mandarin and recorded to tape by my friend Peter Pan.

In my Tapes & Drums show I improvise to this story. It's been very well received – I've made two trips to China this year with it and I've really enjoyed presenting it and also travelling and performing solo.

That's something very new for a drummer to do and I'll being doing a US version of the concept in New York in October and an Irish language version in Donegal in December.

Earlier this year, you curated a jazz show during Independent Venue Week, an event heavily slanted towards rock/indie. How did it go?

Yes, that was a great opportunity. The music charity Help Musicians, which I'm now an Ambassador for, had heard about previous events I'd presented at Bennigans in Derry and they asked me to curate an event to celebrate my work in jazz and the great work Bennigans is doing as a live music venue.

We had some of the world's best jazz musicians perform to a full house over seven hours.

At this stage you’ve had quite a bit of experience with being an ‘ambassador’ for jazz, what have you learned about people’s attitudes to the genre and overcoming negative preconceptions?

From playing jazz in lots of unusual places – China, Morocco, Connemara, the desert near Area 51 – I've learned that people usually like it and it nearly always touches them in some way.

It might be just be admiration of our dedication to our craft, rather than feeling the music on a deep level, but this is a very sincere, pure music and that's something most people who really listen will be touched by.

When I get in front of an audience they always get something out of it. The challenge for me is really in getting to the audience. The more I do these kinds of concept tours the easier it becomes, because the unusual venues I like to play are more likely to give me a chance if they see I'm experienced at this kind of thing.

Collaboration has been a constant feature of your career. What’s the secret to a successful ‘team-up’?

Total trust. My collaborations are always very easy and fast and always work because, in the case of working with a rapper or singer who will write and perform on a track, I pick people who I really respect and let them do their thing.

I don't usually give any direction and I'd never asked anyone to re-do or change anything they've come up with.

Do you have any dream collabs still on your wish-list?

Plenty, but for now I'm very happy being a total live performer.

You used to play the mini-Lambeg when you were growing up. Is there any room in jazz for the Lambeg?

I used to have one. I like using a very basic, normal jazz drum set up and keeping the instrument as its always been but the rhythms of the Lambeg have definitely influenced me over time, along with pipe band drumming and the bodhran.

Growing up in Co Armagh definitely has affected how I play.

Finally, your favourite piece of music in the world today is…?

Nothing is coming to mind, but I listen to a lot of different kinds of music.

:: David Lyttle and Joseph Leighton's tour begins on Wednesday August 22 at Bonner's in Ballybofey. See for full dates

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