Interview: Bandini, Nomadic Jazz and Blues.
Bandini is a singer-songwriter born and bred in Italy and based in London, raised on jazz and blues and the art of storytelling and song-writing from an early age. He began showcasing his talent on the London streets before building a presence on the Open Mic circuit with his individual blend of acoustic jazz and blues and distinctive vocals.
He started his performing career working with the collective Bandini & The Taylors, who described themselves as ‘folk gypsy people from all over the world’, before focusing on a solo project and collaborating with his own touring quartet of talented musicians. He released his debut 3-track EP Small Room in March 2016 which cleverly fuses his experiences of the London music scene with a discernible homage to some of this musical influences, including Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone.
Small Room was recorded in London with Bandini on vocals/guitar, Henry Paris at the piano, Jacob Powell on drums, Luigi Rignanese on bass, Richard Castle on saxophone and Sandra Sorio providing backing vocals, and is an arresting and swinging debut.
Following a presentation of the EP at London’s The Troubadour, Bandini released a music video for one of the EP’s standout tracks Alleyway of Freedom, which features a live session played and recorded at the London Centre of Contemporary Music [LCCM] in London Bridge, shot by photographer and video maker Carlo Polisano and Jack Marlow.
Bandini has been described as ‘the bastard child of Tom Waits and Cab Calloway.’ How can you not be intrigued by that?
Before a run of gigs in London, Nicola Greenbrook caught up with the very engaging Bandini to learn more about his Italian heritage, punk beginnings and living the nomadic dream. The portraits are by photographer Rachel Lipsitz.
Can you tell me a bit more about where you were born and how your upbringing shaped your musical journey so far?
I was born in Padova, a town just outside Venice. My uncle is an Italian singer-songwriter and French music fanatic; he taught me how to write songs in the classic European style and introduced me to great songwriters such as Paolo Conte, Luigi Tenco, Piero Ciampi, Serge Gainsbourg, Yves Montand and Leo Ferre. Italy is a beautiful country but I spent all of my adolescence dreaming about somewhere else; in my head I was living in California like the rest of my friends! My father raised me on jazz and blues, New Orleans vibes and UK artists like Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Paul Weller but my first band was actually a punk rock band, then a punk hardcore band where I used to be the screamer. I returned to my blues roots when I’d exhausted the punk rock genre; my teenage dreams were over and I felt I needed to go deeper inside music, which is probably why I came back to blues and jazz.
What made you decide to come to London? Was there anything in particular about the UK or London music scene that attracted you?
Honestly? I moved to London because I couldn’t move to New York. I’m kind of joking! London was easier, but I have to say I’m actually happier to be here instead of the U.S now. I moved to London because I play international music, sing in English and want to talk to a wide range of people. As much as people like to complain about big towns and especially about London, this city is one of the most amazing I have ever been to so far. It’s a melting pot; the cultural differences and integrations, the energy. I love how in London there are people from all over the world who come here to take a little piece of the town and start their business – like living where the world ends. I think when people complain about London it’s unfair; obviously it’s expensive and the weather sucks, but everything is hard in life. Even finding love can be hard and expensive!
As a musician in London you can make a good wedge just being a busker, or you can play everywhere, everyday as a session musician. If you’re good enough, you can live with that.
How did you make the transition from busking to playing the Open Mic circuit? Can you tell me a bit more about playing on the circuit?
I didn’t see it as a real transition; busking and open mic goes together in my opinion. During the day I make a list of busking spots and during the night I have a huge list of venues where there’s open mic on.
The open mic circuit is hard to describe. In some ways it’s good – you’re playing your music everyday to an audience, testing yourself and your songs and improving your skills. It’s the easier way to get in touch with musicians and lots of people and start building your audience. In other ways it can be bad – you need to make sure you spot the good ones. I’m not a big fan of Camden for example, it can be full of tourists that are already bored after a couple of songs and start talking to each other. There’s nothing sadder than a guy with an acoustic guitar singing an intimate folk song in the corner of a loud and uninterested pub!
My first session was run by Adam Baine (London Open Mic) who used to run perfect open mic sessions; great sound, venue, and audience and allowed three songs each. East London is great for open mics, the one at Paper Dress is very good and Betty’s Coffee in Dalston used to be so packed they needed two sessions a week. Unfortunately pubs are changing; ‘showcasing the best London acts’ sounds a bit more exciting than an open mic – which basically means playing for a random audience and not even being paid in beer! It means keeping an open mind; people are there for fun, not thinking they will see the most sophisticated artist the world has to offer. My favourites are: Paper Dress in Hackney Wick on a Sunday and Off Broadway on a Monday run by Meg Cavanaugh who is also an amazing jazz singer.
Your band – Henry Paris, Jacob Powell, Luigi Rignanese, Richard Castle and Sandra Sorio. Where did you meet them and how often do you play/practice?
I met all of them at the LCCM where I’m doing a one-year course in Songwriting and Performing. At the moment we practice between lessons, but unfortunately not as much as we would like – they’re all very busy musicians.
Richard plays saxophone with me, bass in his brass band Lit Fm, and guitar in another project and Luigi is the same. Jacob has another band plus is an actor, and Henry is the only piano player on our course which means he needs to play with every band. They’re all great, I feel so lucky to have them all involved in this project and they only need an hour rehearsing before the gig; they’re already tight.
I have a strong collaboration going on with Luigi and Richard. Luigi is an incredible musician – an excellent bass and piano player and studies trumpet as well. He’s almost obsessed by music, waking up everyday at 7.30 am to study, focusing on a different key each day of the week and on Sunday he studies trumpet. With him I work mainly on the harmonies and melody for instrumental parts. Richard wrote all his sax parts for Small Room. I would sing him a melody and he would play it straight away, basically translating my moaning notes into an actual sax line! I also have Richard Blenkinsop (guitar) and Oliver Presman (trombone) involved with the band. They’re all good mothers!
Tell me a bit more about your EP Small Room – how did you come up with the concept, how would you describe the genre and are there any stories behind the tracks you want to share?
The idea of Small Room came from the very common situation of having a small room in a big town – it’s cheap and if you want to achieve your goals you probably need to save money. I’m a big fan of American Literature, mainly Bukowski, Fante and Kerouac. All of those guys talk about their small rooms so I was just very inspired by the idea.
The song Small Room describes a conflicted situation; you don’t have money, because your room is small as your life, because you’re high etc. Late Night Show is a description of late night London on a Friday night. Alleyway of Freedom is more a personal song as it relates to my personal life. I’ve been a full time bartender in London for a year (fortunately now I am a part-timer) in a busy bar in King’s Cross and I wanted to depict that kind of life – all my colleagues are involved in something else and have that job to earn money. The Alleyway is an alleyway where we can smoke and where you can come back to your real life for five minutes!
As for the genre, it’s jazz, blues, rock, alternative and there is some soul. I would say gypsy jazz… but then the imagination goes to a swinging crazy brass band!
How has the launch gone so far and where are you touring?
It’s going well. The night at The Troubadour was great and I love that place. I’m planning to tour around the UK this summer, possibly France, the Netherlands, and Eastern Europe.
Small Room appears to be a homage to some of your musical influences – Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone. Would you agree? Who else would you cite as an influence?
Yes, it’s definitely an homage to Tom Waits. The man’s work changed my way of understanding, playing and writing music. With Waits everything can be turned in to music: a story, the noise of a traffic jam, even your own paranoia can be musical. This was exactly what I wanted to do with Small Room. Also it’s my first EP and I thought the best way to introduce myself was playing the music I love. The main influences on Small Room are the albums Foreign Affairs and Rain Dogs. There is a lot of Leonard Cohen in Alleyway of Freedom even if when I wrote that song I was thinking about Days Like This by Van Morrison. Nick Cave is a big influence as much as Tom Waits, due to his way of understanding music, singing and telling a story.
Why did you choose to study at the LCCM? Their alumni includes Fabio De Oliveira, Chiara Hunter and Diaries of a Hero who have gone on to find success – is this motivating for you?
I chose LCCM because it is one of the best in London – I would recommend it to everyone who wants to study contemporary music studies. I didn’t even check who was studying or teaching there, or if they have a famous alumni, to be honest; I just looked for the best, LCCM came out, and I said let’s try it! If they took me at auditions, for me it meant it was destiny.
I chose to start a music course as I felt I needed more knowledge about what I was doing (music theory mainly) and because I was looking for musicians to play my music. LCCM is teaching me quite well; I have learned to play piano and my music knowledge definitely feels more complete. Plus I’ve met all the musicians I’m playing with!
You seem like a busy guy – I get the sense you lead a ‘nomadic’ lifestyle, always on the move! Is this true? What do you enjoy the most – performing live and being on tour or being back in London writing new material?
The nomadic lifestyle is the dream, man! One of the reasons I started playing music was to travel, so I’m trying my best to play everywhere I can. I’ve sent a hundred emails to a hundred different venues all over Europe for this tour and I’ve only just started. So definitely what I enjoyed most is playing, everywhere I can, and the show is the most important part of my music.
I see music performance more as theatre. I want to tell a story to other people around the world. Writing is something I’m always doing; I’ve just been to Spain on holiday with my girlfriend and I drove from Barcelona to the bottom of the country for twelve hours driving with no radio. I tried to write four different songs while I was driving, so much so I needed to stop the car and write the chords down for one of them because I thought it was so great (even if when I actually played the chords back it wasn’t that great!).
What I’m saying is, I just can’t stop writing. I’m always writing in my mind and I can’t control it!
What’s your favourite London venue you’ve played at so far, and why?
The Troubadour. Firstly, the history of the place is incredible, and secondly the atmosphere is cosy and perfect for a show. Thirdly, the audience is definitely the best audience I’ve had so far.
You’ve been described as ‘the bastard child of Tom Waits and Cab Calloway’. Are you pleased with this comparison?
Well I love them both, two of my idols, (like Batman and The Joker). So, definitely, yes.
Finally, I love new music recommendations. Are there any artists you’re listening to at the moment you’d recommend to me?
I would recommend José James (jazz, R’n’B), Hocus Pocus (French Hip Hop) and St. Paul and The Broken Bones (Soul).
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook and portrait photography by Rachel Lipsitz
You can experience Bandini’s alternative jazz/blues/swings sounds using the links below.
BANDCAMP – https://bandinimusic.bandcamp.com
SOUNDCLOUD – https://soundcloud.com/bandinisongwriter
WEBSITE – https://bandinimusic.com/
FACEBOOK – https://www.facebook.com/bandinimusic
YOU TUBE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx4Re4cwqlE