Two friends who create music from puzzle pieces that snap harmoniously into one another are about to release their first EP called “Hidden Depths.” It’s an easy ride to the perfect bite: great melody, skilled improv and intuitive pacing, featuring Chris Bestwick on guitar, Graeme Flowers on trumpet and friends (see below), otherwise known as Archie the Goldfish.
“Goldfish Memories,” if aptly named, refers to a very luck little fish. It’s a smooth, attractive song with a comfortable beat, nice layering of keys and bright melody streamed over the top from Flowers’ trumpet. The chord changes in “Ready to Go” provide an effervescent experience, the modulations darting towards and away from the root most satisfyingly. The intrigue inherent in “Some More Heroes” weaves a nice waltz with fantastic solos by each; Bestwick’s guitar in particular almost hearkening to the 1960s American surfer vibe. To have each track so melodically different while being so flawlessly fluid is well-earned praise for this new offering.
It must be asked: why the name of your band? And what does “Hidden Depths” refer to?
GRAEME: We wanted to create music that had a “floaty” and “trippy” mood. Something that represented the light melancholy of the current times. The link with water, fish and aquariums seemed to fit. There were also a few Mariachi elements to some of my earlier trumpet demos, which led to the “I Can’t Marry Archie” title. Combining that with the song “Goldfish Memories,” we got Archie the Goldfish!
CHRIS: When we approached Ropeadope to see if they’d be interested in releasing the EP, the head of the label, Louis Marks, said that he liked the music: it was “simple but not shallow.” We were delighted with that; it was exactly what we were aiming for. His comment gave us the idea for the “Hidden Depths” title. It ties in with the goldfish concept and also says something about the music.
How did the two of you meet through music and why did you decide to work together?
GRAEME: We met 20 years ago in London, playing in jazz, funk and Latin bands. We also played in each other’s individual projects, which never really saw the light of day at the time. So it was good to work together after all this time, without any creative constraints. The process flowed so well and was relatively painless!
CHRIS: At the beginning of 2020 I returned to Helsinki after a few years away. In the early (Tiger King) period of the pandemic I made a track with some friends from The Hague and asked Graeme if he wanted to play a solo on it. The track turned out well, and it proved the concept that we could record remotely and make it work, even when the music had improvisational elements. As Graeme and I both had a bit of time on our hands, we decided to try to create a new project, and Archie the Goldfish is the result.
When do you feel that you achieved “a sound” – and how has that developed through time?
CHRIS: We talked a lot at the beginning of the process about what we were hoping to achieve, sound-wise. We sent a few recordings back and forth, but we hit on an approach fairly quickly. Other than horns and guitar, we didn’t know which instruments would be on the final tracks, so we based them very much around the trumpet and flugelhorn. I felt that my role was to create a platform for Graeme to do his stuff (because his stuff is very good). Then once Bob Wijnen added the keys and Steve Maud played bass on a couple of the tracks, we felt we had a consistent sound, which we then developed further in the mixing process by adding some subtle layers.
GRAEME: I’ve always enjoyed playing over, listening to, and contributing suggestions to Chris’ compositions. After our initial collaboration during lockdown, I felt Chris’ current writing style for this project not only captured the mood of the moment, but also allowed us to play what we wanted, in a way that would communicate to a wider audience. We were clear from that start that we didn’t want to create anything too “commercial” but I think the end result is something that satisfies both us and the listener.
How did you each get started in your respective instruments?
CHRIS: I was given a guitar as a Christmas present by my grandparents when I was around nine years old. It was terrible: rusting steel strings and an extremely high action, almost designed to put anyone off playing it. A friend of my parents taught me a few four-note chords and I was instantly hooked. From then on it was the usual progression through blues, pop and rock and roll; and through a series of school and university bands. After leaving university, I thought I’d better tackle the jazz elephant in the improvisational room, and it’s been trampling all over me ever since!
GRAEME: I started playing the trumpet at 10 years old, in school bands. I don’t know why I choose trumpet. I just saw the case in the band room and asked to take it home! Quite early on I got into a local soul/funk band in my home town. My mum would have to take me and drop me off at my gigs in pubs! I guess I’m classically trained, but I quickly fell in love with jazz, soul and funk music.
Your top influences in music?
CHRIS: Jazz guitar-wise it’s all the usual suspects: John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Julian Lage etc. I’m not sure how much I’m influenced by them but I love their playing. Outside of jazz, I try to listen to a wide range of people, and I’m sure that all feeds into the music that comes out, consciously or otherwise.
GRAEME: My two main influences were, and still are, Miles Davis and Michael Brecker. Miles for his stylistic innovations and Brecker for his approach to improvising. But then I was also influenced by all the amazing sidemen who played with those guys, and I studied their musical journeys too. I also think Wynton Marsalis is a technical master on the trumpet and particularly love his classical playing. Like Chris, I try to keep an open mind and search for new artists in all styles. I study the cerebral side of music, but I try and leave that in the practice room when it comes to actual performance.
What do you like best about the music business, and least?
GRAEME: Currently where I am based, in London, there is a lot of creativity. And over recent years, I’ve enjoyed it becoming even more diverse. Boundaries are being broken down; jazz is being influenced by even more outside factors. It’s a real melting pot. The downside of the music industry is that many parts of it are still very unregulated and, working as a freelance session musician, you still sometimes have to fight for your money, even from big record labels.
CHRIS: As someone making music with a high amount of improvisation, I’m not sure how much I’m actually in the music business, in the same way as I doubt that many poets are in the poetry business these days. That being said, the fact that we can record music cheaply and to a high quality and find a label as good as Ropeadope to release it is a positive aspect of the current situation. Whether that’s worth the huge demonetization of the music business is hard for musicians to judge; when you’re part of the overabundance of supply it’s tricky to complain about the lack of demand!
What were the highlights of making this album and did it come out the way you thought it would?
CHRIS: The highlight for me was making it with Graeme. We spent a lot of time together when we first knew each other and had some enjoyable touring and gigging experiences, so it was good to reconnect. I enjoyed the process of making it; we tried to push ourselves and keep the momentum going, as we both have experience of these kinds of projects fizzling out due to lack of deadlines. We wanted to make something that was accessible but not in a dumbed-down way, and I think we succeeded in that. I usually vacillate between liking and hating recordings I’ve been involved with once they’re done, but this one I’m unwaveringly proud of.
GRAEME: It was great to work closely with Chris again. We had a musical connection the moment we met, and Chris was around at certain key points in my life in general. He advised me, and I sometimes listened! Our recent musical collaboration progressed easily, and the answers, solutions and directions seemed to almost present themselves.
Is there a track that was particularly challenging? Which was the most fun?
GRAEME: All had their challenges, but overall I enjoyed playing on them all. There are instrument-specific issues that I will learn from, but you have to let those small things go! The challenges were possibly later in the process, adding extra instruments, effects and the mix as a whole. Tipping the balance too far in any one direction would totally alter the mood of the track. I’m very pleased with the moods and sonics that we’ve found.
CHRIS: I found the major key-ness of “Ready to Go” a psychological challenge. For some reason, it feels more exposing releasing something moderately cheerful! There’s a gravitas in minor-key tunes that you can somehow hide behind. The most fun for me was “I Can’t Marry Archie.” Each tune was written in a matter of hours, but this one was particularly quick and written to end the EP when all the others were in place. I think we all meshed really well on this one, and I’m happy with how it turned out.
What’s behind the song title “Some More Heroes”?
CHRIS: My original guide track for the bass reminded me of The Stranglers’ tune “No More Heroes,” so I just tweaked that. When Steve did the final bass, he made it much more subtle and interesting so it’s not such an obvious rip-off now!
What’s the most fun thing about improvising and what are your responsibilities to the other musicians when you do it?
GRAEME: Growing up and studying jazz, I always listened to a lot of bebop. But I was sometimes dissatisfied with the lack of interaction between the solos and the rhythm section. I never really wanted to play over a band as though I were playing over a pre-recorded backing track. I want to be in amongst it, prodding and poking the rest of the musicians to do something interesting or getting them to respond to a melodic fragment or rhythmic idea that I would throw at them. It’s a conversation.
CHRIS: The brilliant guitarist Bruce Forman talks about a solo being a chance to take the lead for a section of group improvisation, and I think that’s a perfect way of looking at it. You need to give the other musicians something to respond to and incorporate their responses in your playing as you go. If you can make that work, it’s fun!
What venues have started to open where you are? Where would you most like to play?
CHRIS: In Helsinki, many of the venues are open, although I’ve been steering clear of most gigs; I’m prioritizing staying alive for future performance possibilities! As a new project, we haven’t played anywhere yet, but Graeme and I both agreed the other day that Blue Note Tokyo is on our wish-list. (Blue Note Tokyo, if you’re reading this, please get in touch, we’re very reasonably priced.)
GRAEME: Well depending on when you are reading this, some venues have opened up in London, with limited seated capacity. Kind of strange playing a high-energy funk gig and no one is allowed to get out of their seats! As for “Archie The Goldfish,” I think Chris and I are both in agreement that we don’t want to just get on the old-school jazz circuit, just for the sake of it. We are keen to choose the right venues so that we can showcase the music to the right people. These may or may not be jazz venues.
What will you do to get the music out there until you are able to perform?
Our plan is to promote this EP far more than feels comfortable for two self-deprecating Englishmen and then make another one in the first half of next year. Then we’ll have enough material to form a set once gigging becomes a more realistic possibility.
What is it like to be a musician during these very weird times?
CHRIS: One of the advantages of being a jazz musician in a pandemic is that your pandemic experiences are quite similar to your non-pandemic ones: you struggle to earn a living, people tell you to get a proper job, and you can’t decide whether what you’ve spent your life doing is worthless or vital. This remains un-overcomed!
GRAEME: It’s tough in many ways. I think the collective creative spirit has meant that musicians have fought on, with lockdown recordings, split-screen videos, new projects etc. People have become more aware of platforms such as Bandcamp, and social media is full to bursting with self-promotion!
CHRIS: We must say thanks to the other two musicians on the project who made such an important contribution. Bob Wijnen is a brilliant keyboard player who I got to know during my time in the Netherlands. He’s well known and respected on the scene both there and more broadly; he recorded his first album in New York with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Dezron Douglas on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. He had a tough job on our tunes as there wasn’t a huge amount of space for him to do his stuff, which makes his contribution even more impressive.
GRAEME: We both met bassist Steve Maud around the same time as we met each other. Again, it was great to reconnect with someone that we have history with. Steve has the perfect sound and approach for this project. Such a great groove player, with just the right amount of subtly creative additions. We would have loved for him to have played on all the tracks, but he was busy running his successful media business in London!
For more information visit https://www.archiethegoldfish.com/.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artists. Top photo: Flowers at left, Bestwick at right.
(c) 2020 Debbie Burke