In conversation with The Bristol Hornstars

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By Lauren Paddison, Music Subeditor

Bristol University’s auditioned big band have this morning released their first live single, ‘I Feel For You.’ It comes exactly one year after its performance at the Victoria Rooms - the home of Bristol’s Music Department.

To celebrate this release, Epigram spoke with the Hornstars conductor for 2019/20, George Barnes, and vocalists Grace Harwood and Liv Harris who feature on the single which hit streaming platforms at midnight on March 6.

The Prince original taken on in 1984 by Chaka Khan, ‘I Feel For You, marks the first single release in Hornstars history. Featuring some incredible musical moments, most notably a sensational sax solo from band member Jordan White, and intense harmonising vocals between Harris and Harwood, the energy is unwavering. Funk stabs dominate in between verses ruled by brass swells and a relentless rhythm section, both reviving the buzz of live music and the feel of a beat in your chest.

Hornstars at their Anson Rooms Takeover concert, 2019. Big Band Society | Christy Nunns 

Casting their minds back to a time of gig packed diaries and a life pre-lockdown, Harwood reflects: ‘sometimes I would be jamming, singing and rehearsing five times a week.’ In keeping with the demand of being part of such a high-grade band in constant demand at venues in and around Bristol, Barnes adds ‘it was such a massive part of everyone’s lives, going out, singing, playing, jamming, rehearsing. It literally took up about 50 per cent of our time.’

Taking us back to the night at the Victoria Rooms, Barnes gives credit to Jonathan Scott, studio manager in the Music Department who was responsible for the recording of the entire concert, and thereafter the mixing and mastering of the single. Barnes says ‘it was a massive feat, and all credit to Jonathan. It sounds amazing.’ Harris, being relatively new to the society at the time remembers most being part of a ‘tight knit group’ and ‘that feeling of togetherness, and pride in each other.’

There were several highlights from that final term in which the band were able to perform; Harwood remembers that ‘even though it was really short, we got to play quite a few nice gigs before everything happened. So, it’s nice to look back on those ones too.’ Barnes agrees: ‘it was definitely one of the busiest years, it was good while it lasted.’

The concert taking place scarily close to the implementation of the first of three national lockdowns, Barnes also confesses ‘at the time we were really really lucky to get the actual concert in.’ He further admits to ‘very mixed emotions’, looking back on the evening which still marks the last live performance from the Hornstars a year on. The devastating effect of the pandemic on live music cannot be ignored, but Barnes remembers fondly ‘I felt we had such a tight group within the band that it was such a shame we didn’t get to do tour. But then this release is definitely a good way of looking back on it with happiness.’

With the massive shift to online learning university-wide, music groups and ensembles are left behind without the means to rehearse and play in the same room as each other. ‘We can’t even really do anything online’ admits Harwood. Although, the society has not been idle this past year, producing three instalments of ‘lockdown videos’ in which each band member records their part individually to be brought together in sound and video. The difficulty of actually rehearsing online is often insurmountable, so musicians eagerly await the green light to conduct socially distanced rehearsals.

Whilst plans that allow live music to go ahead are still very much up in the air, Barnes admits ‘I’m more bothered about rehearsing and just playing together. We’ve been waiting to do that all year, and to get to a gigging standard you need to be able to rehearse and we’ve not been able to do that at all.’

Hornstars vocalist and President of Jazz Funk Soul Society, Grace Harwood. Big Band Society | Christy Nunns 

Jazz Funk and Soul Societys (JFS) live sessions at Mr Wolfs at the beginning of this year now seem like a distant memory; so hope is found most immediately in the possibility of seated/outdoor gigs. Harwood being the president of JFS and instrumental in the organisation of these ‘seated jams’ said of the evenings: ‘it was so nice, because we kinda got a taste of playing together, even though six people were only allowed on the stage at once.’

With another year of study, Barnes will continue to make music with the society but for Harwood and Harris who will graduate this year, there is still excitement to be found in the alumni gigs and concerts that are bound to follow, with performance opportunities in established alumni bands in Bristol and London.

Sentiment about the new single and getting back to gigging is summed up in Barnes’ last comment – ‘there’s only going to be positive things – we’ll hit the ground running.’

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Featured Image: Big Band Society / Christy Nunns


Have you listened to The Hornstars new release yet?

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