Behind The Scenes On Jamie's Piano Pilgrimage
18 October 2013, Posted in: In the studio

This week was a pretty hectic one at Folded Wing, some of us were up at the Radio Festival in Salford while some of us headed over to Northern Ireland as part of our recordings for Jamie Cullum's Piano Pilgrimage. Jamie's Piano Pilgrimage is a three part series that we are producing for BBC Radio 4, which is due to go out early next year.

So, in the blog this week, we asked Andrea, who is producing the series, to take us through what went on in Northern Ireland.

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We arrived on a beautiful evening and headed straight to Bennigans Bar in the city centre, a bar not much bigger than an average front room, where the cream of the local music scene hang out. We had heard some great stories about all-nighters with everyone playing around the piano, so it seemed like the perfect place to start.

The bar’s legendary landlord Joe greeted us at the door together with the jazz pianist Neil Cowley. Neil has been the Musician in Residence for Derry during their year as the City of Culture 2013 and so he has become a part of the local music scene that revolves around Bennigans.

Without even stopping for a Guinness, engineer Micky Curling had miced up the lovely upright Yamaha piano in the corner of the bar so Neil could perform for the crowd. After a couple of numbers on the piano, Joe joined Neil on his cajon box drum for some boogie-woogie.

Curious to know the story behind a large jar labeled the ‘Bennigans School Fund’ on the bar, I asked the nearest local. He jumped up immediately and eagerly led me to the bar’s back garden to show me a banner on the wall. Apparently the bar’s patrons had raised over £12,000 towards building and maintaining a school in India. The opposite wall was covered in a big canvas covered with the children’s handprints to say thank you. It just goes to show the tiny bar is having an impact not just in Derry but much further afield.

As we started packing up, the bar was silenced by the amazing voice of local guitarist and singer Põl Õ Gallchõbhair kicking off the regular Monday open-mic night.

We left the bar and headed over the river for some dinner at Mark Patterson's (BBC Radio Foyle). After a tasty meal, we emerged into a street filled with the flashing lights of a fire engine…there had been a gas explosion in the next street and we hadn’t heard a thing! Ever the journalist, Mark grabbed Micky and his recording gear and the pair of them disappeared around the corner to get a quote for the following morning’s news on BBC Radio Foyle. (Best wishes to the man injured, Trevor McNeill, and his family.)

The next morning we started the day at a very impressive girls’ school called St Mary’s College, where principal Marie Lindsay treated us to some much appreciated tea and scones.

While Micky and Exec Producer Ian Parkinson set up in the main school hall, Jamie popped his head around the door of a music composition class to say hello to some of the pupils.

We then all headed to the main school hall so we could talk to the Head Of Music Fionnuala Deane and music teacher and choir conductor Emma Jayne Kelly.  The teachers’ passion for their subject has obviously worn off on their students as Jamie listened to four of the girls perform at the piano.

The school choir then gathered around Jamie’s grand piano to sing a track for the documentary which was truly stunning – very much looking forward to hearing that mixed down and played out on the radio.

Jamie even gave a little impromptu performance for the girls at the end, which everyone seemed very excited about.

Next stop on the Pilgrimage was Hendersons Piano Warehouse on the outskirts of the city. There Jamie met up with fellow jazz musician Neil Cowley and two young pianists named Andrew and Darrel who Neil has met through an initiative called Music Promise that he’s been working on in the city.

After Jamie and Neil had finished their interview, it was time for the boys to wow us with their piano playing. Both were amazing pianists… here’s a taster of Darrel performing his own composition for us:

Neil then lead the whole team on an improvisation using most of the warehouse’s pianos. He even roped in BBC Foyle‘s reporter Eve Blair who had popped in to interview Jamie for their network.

We ended the day back at Benningans Bar so that Jamie could have a go on Joe’s piano. After a quick lunch at the bar, Jamie sat down at the piano to interview Joe for an insight into the city’s vibrant music scene. He then played a couple of tracks together with Joe back on his cajon box and local musician Põl on guitar who’d only dropped by to pick up his glasses that he’d left there the night before!

After a long day of recording, we waved Jamie off in a car to Belfast where he was performing that night. The rest of the team had just enough time to see a bit of the city and walk along the perimeter wall taking in the sights of the city. Ian’s been to Derry many times before (among other visits he was responsible for bringing Radio 1’s Big Weekend there in 2004), so he acted as guide.

We flew back to London with an over-the-baggage-allowance bag full of recordings from a brilliant 24 hours in Derry. Thanks to everyone we met and their amazing hospitality. We’re really looking forward to everyone hearing the recordings on Jamie Cullum’s Piano Pilgrimage on BBC Radio 4 in the coming months.

You can re-live our day in Derry through our Storify blog.  (