If you got to this page, it’s perhaps because you are curious about how me and how I got into music. It’s a long story, I’ll try to keep to the point. Thanks for reading!
I was born in rural Pembrokeshire, in West Wales in 1964, the second child of an artist with London-Irish roots, and his wife, a local girl. Mum left us when I was a few months old, so I was fostered by a local family until I was five or six, and spent Sundays with our Dad. My foster family were infinitely kind, and one of my earliest memories is hearing Louis Armstrong on TV when I was about five. His trumpet affected me strongly. My foster mother was from an English family of vaudeville musicians, and her father played banjo. That’s my earliest musical memory.
Dad remarried when I was about 6, so my sister and I rejoined him. We lived in a village called Camrose, surrounded by nature. Music was often on the radio, or playing from our small record collection. We had classical, Irish folk, and some jazz – Nat Cole, Louis, Ella, Oscar Peterson, Goodman and Basie were all there. Every child got music education at school, and I tried violin before switching to clarinet at age 12. Pretty soon I started trying to copy those old records. That sophisticated music, joyful and soulful, was like a voice from another world, and I wanted to speak with it.
Music was an essential part of local life. There were choirs and village concerts, and Jofre Swales, an ex-marine bandsman and owner of the family-run local music store, was my clarinet teacher. I spent hours browsing records and sheet music in his shop. Jof, a wonderful and very open minded musician, took me under his wing. He explained the basics of improvisation based on harmony to me. His love of teaching made him very loved and respected. I bought records by Quincy Jones, The Crusaders, Glenn Miller and others at his shop, and slowly my musical world expanded.
Later I acquired a tenor sax and a guitar, and I studied and listened voraciously. Humphrey Lyttleton had a Monday night jazz radio show. I recall hearing Bechet’s “Blue Horizon” for the first time ever, drinking coffee around a winter bonfire with Dad. Humph introduced me to Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Bird (who I really didn’t understand at all) and many others. I was listening to punk and New Wave pop music with my school buddies, and learning the sax licks off anything by Madness or the Boomtown Rats. I studied Beatles songs from a book my sister had. To be “cool at school” you had to play rugby – but I did OK with the sax. Dad, a gentle giant, although not a musican himself, was very encouraging and took to me to jam with local musicians.
I left home at 17, to be an electronics technician in the RAF. I’d have liked to study music, but I didn’t have the qualifications, having left school early. Anyway, a technical career looked like a safer option. (My fascination with electronics had already caused a few broken radios.) But I was still playing, and almost my first purchase with my salary was a top quality Selmer clarinet, which I still have. An alto and soprano sax soon followed.
For the next eight or ten years I was just surviving, but I was always dreaming about music. I sat in wherever I could, played in bands, or in the street when money was tight. In the late 80s, triple misfortune knocked me down – a house repossession, a breakup with my first love, and on top, I lost my job repairing electronics for recording studios. I decided that music was more trustworthy than people, and at my neglected saxophone. By chance or synchronicity, a few days later a local musician (and to this day, dear friend) Cuttie Williams called me out of the blue, and invited me to a jam. Soon I was in reggae and soul bands and even studios. Home recording was becoming affordable, so we begged, borrowed, and eventually bought gear. My bass playing buddy Mark Anderson and I wrote and recorded instrumental and vocal tunes with other friends every weekend. The tech was limited, but we had fun and created music with what we had. I was teaching myself basics of arranging and production.
Although I had good ears and a knack of playing pretty phrases, my technical command as a player was lousy. I hadn’t had a lesson since school, and anything to do with scales or etudes was a mystery to me. I realised after a bit, and sought guidance. By now living in London, I took a few lessons with Jimmy Hastings, who showed me the basics of sax technique, with Roger Cawkwell, who helped me to grasp harmony as sequences of chords, and introduced me to Bach. Both of these showed me enough in an hour or two to keep me working for months or years.
I lived in London from 1990 to 1999. I played a lot in sessions in East London where I backed singers. This was good experience – my jazz chops weren’t great, but I could handle soul, funk or reggae well and I learned to hear and think on my feet. My electronics career grew as well, and I eventually designed audio equipment for Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (some of which they still use). I loved being at ROH, as I could come in early and blow the hell out of the saxophone, before enjoying the canteen breakfast. As practicing sax was always a problem in tiny London apartments, this was a godsend.
Mark and I had bought an eight track home studio on which I recorded a four track debut CD, “DanMcB” in 1996. I travelled around France playing in the street. For a while I got into traditional Irish music and learned some few tunes, and hung out and jammed with musicians in County Clare and Galway.
In 1997 I met my Belgian ex-wife Sofie, and our first daughter Beatrice was born in 1999. It’s hard to raise a family in London, and work as an engineer was getting scarce, so we moved to Dublin in 2000, then Antwerp in 2001, where our second daugher Anna was born. Sofie and I divorced after ten years, and I stayed in Antwerp co-parenting Bea and Anna.
In the early 2000s I met singer Judy Rust who introduced me to Indian percussion master Udhav Shinde. We hit it off, and played together as The Udhav Shinde Trio for a few years, recording together in 2003. It was an education to play with Udhav. I was also dealing with jazz now, and played with a wonderful Belgian guitarist, Paolo Radoni, before he passed away in 2007. I am grateful to these musicians who took an interest in and encouraged me.
After divorce, I didn’t touched the clarinet or sax for a few years. I was more interested in songwriting for a while. This had already started in London, when I saw singer-songwriter Nick Harper live (at a legendary, but now long gone, cafe called Bungees). Nick is amazing, and inspired me to perform my own songs. Only problem was, singing – I took some voice lessons and tried my best. It felt like learning music all over again, but it taught me a lot. In 2010, I played guitar and sang a selection of my original songs on an album called “Claudia”.
In Antwerp, I played guitar with a Belgian country singer called Mariona, and we visited New Orleans and Nashville, with the clarinet in my suitcase. In New Orleans, in Oak Street Cafe, a gentleman called Charles was playing piano. I sat in, and soon saw smiles and tapping feet. We got invited to parties and made friends. Welcome back to the magic of jazz, blues and swing! It was like coming home. We visited Nashville too, played singers nights, and, briefly, Memphis, where we visited the church of the great Al Green. I arranged several tunes for Mariona which were recorded in 2011.
Back in Belgium I embraced clarinet and sax again. With pianist Dirk Van Der Linden and bassist Jean Van Lint I recorded an album “Clarinet Swing” in 2012. The album has three of my originals, “Vikanda” (for a dear friend who tragically lost her life to cancer that year), “March Of The Bluestones” (dedicated to my father) and “A Swing For Paolo” (for Paolo Radoni).
New Orleans gave me new energy. In Antwerp, I named and co-founded a band, The Blue Heathens Jazz Band, with trumpeter Angelo Perez, dedicated to traditional jazz. I was with them until our debut album in 2015, for which I wrote and arranged three tunes, the vocal numbers “Be Natural” and “Let’s Fall Out Of Love” and an instrumental called “The Twice Nothing Rag”.
After the Blue Heathens, I had my own group called The Moochers, and we played around Belgium and toured a bit in the UK. We recorded an album of swing and bebop called “The Moochers In Antwerp”.
I returned to New Orleans a few years later, and met and played with the Treme Brass Band, Tim Laughlin, Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns, Tuba Skinny, Russell Welsh, Freddy Flambeaux Staehle, and others. What a town, and what a music scene!
These days I’m still in Belgium, in the wonderful town of Gent. I still balance my engineering work and my family with being a creative musician. During covid, I started home recording again, and experimented with making music videos. I now study sax with Greg Fishman from Chicago, who learned with Joe Henderson and James Moody. Greg has really helped me stay fresh and inspired, and to grow as a player. Most Friday nights I jam with friends at Cafe Commerce, where we keep things swinging and try to help the players coming up to find their way.
I have a ton of original songs that I haven’t yet recorded to my satisfaction, and I intend to fix that. Recording, producting, writing and everything else to do with music is endlessly fascinating. Music has been a healing force in my life. She got me through tough times, gave me wonderful friends, and helped me growth as a person (I’m always work in progress). I owe music more than she owes me. I love jazz, soul and r’n’b but I don’t care much about genres. It just has to feel real.
Thank you for reading! Reach out to me through the contact page if you wish. I’ll be happy to hear from you!