Young Artist of the Month: Fergus Quill
Double bassist, bandleader and composer, Fergus Quill, is the Musicians’ Company 2022 Tina May Jazz Award winner – an award given to an exceptionally talented young British jazz musician following an audience vote. A Leeds Conservatoire graduate and founder of avant-garde jazz ensemble, Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band, and equally experimental The Fergus Quill Trio, Fergus also arranges and performs with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and the NYJO Jazz Exchange. Through the NYJO, Fergus has performed a number of his compositions at the Barbican and Ronnie Scott’s.
Hi Fergus, how are you? Where are you currently?
I’m good, thanks. I’m in Leeds, having graduated from Leeds Conservatoire.
Congratulations on your Tina May Jazz Award win? What did you perform?
I was humbled to win as I was up against some very talented jazz musicians. Pizza Express Soho, where the competition was held, is also where my dad, a bass player, took me to see my first jazz gig. The competition itself was a lot of fun and I performed my composition Sun Dream which is a tribute to Alice Coltrane. Alice Coltrane’s talents are often overshadowed by her husband but she played a large part in his success.
Your debut Fergus Quill Trio album was greeted with critical acclaim. What are the ensemble’s influences?
We’re inspired by the whole range of 20th, 21st and 22nd century improvised music, from Jelly Roll Morton and Sun Ra to Derek Bailey and the Boredoms. We recorded Zoop Zoop, our debut album, in less than 12 hours thanks to a friend who lent us his studio overnight for free. After buying a piano for £1 and drinking a lot of coffee, by 9am the next morning we’d finished all seven tracks.
Tell us about Tight Lines, the ‘not your typical record label’
Tight Lines is an independent record label and community interest label that I founded with Conservatoire friends: Will Lakin, Hamish Dixon, Josh Ketch and George MacDonald in 2016. Our first gig was in the shed of our student house – we’re now up to our 23rd release. Tight Lines also celebrates Leeds vibrant jazz scene with gigs and events including the ‘Chill Withers’ nights and two-day mixed arts festival ‘Salemango’ held each June at Hyde Park Book Club.
What was the inspiration behind your second album, ¡Blamo!
I became fascinated with spaghetti westerns during lockdown. I love the way Italian composer Ennio Morricone managed to make epic sounds on such a small budget, and became so immersed in the genre that year. ¡Blamo! came out of this love for spaghetti westerns and has been featured in publications such as Jazzwise and GQ’s list of Coolest Things of the Week!
The album features a tribute to composer Ennio Morricone. Who else inspires you?
I’m currently listening to a lot of Hermeto Pascoal. Hermeto is an amazing Brazilian instrumentalist and composer that I was lucky to play with at the Barbican last year through the NYJO. As previously mentioned, another big influence is visionary jazz artist Sun Ra. Sun Ra was an idiosyncratic character that claimed to have come from Saturn to save humanity and bring peace to the world. His band still tour and is led by their 98-year-old sax player who I saw recently at Earth Hackney. Hermeto is something of a party version of Sun Ra.
You have had a busy year musically. What have been the biggest highlights?
Playing with Hermeto at the Barbican was definitely a highlight. I’ve also just recorded a big band album on the Tight Lines record label by Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band. This began as a five piece and has grown to 20-30 musicians who rehearse every couple of weeks. Last year I also organised a gig called the Very Awful Big Band to raise money for the Ukraine. Musicians gave up their time to swap musical instruments and play really cheesy classic big band repertoire. It really was very awful!
What are you most looking forward to this year?
The big band album I mentioned is the thing I’m currently most focused on. I’ve also just started writing some percussion pieces which I aim to get recorded and played. I’m hoping Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band will soon be able to tour outside Leeds and am actively looking for a bus on Ebay. Check out the Facebook and Instagram links below for details of upcoming gigs and events.
Interview by @suzywillmott
Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company