“It’s Challenge Anneka on steroids,” says Sid Peacock. “You have to raise the cash and do the whole organising thing yourself that big orchestras have a whole team of people doing.
“You’d think in times of austerity it’d be better to be a solo or duo act,” he agrees, “but that’s not how musicians think.”
It’s certainly not how Sid Peacock thinks. Over the past year, in addition to the education and performance work he has been doing as associate artist at the mac in Cannon Hill Park, Sid has also played in the Peacock Angell Band, the Celtic folk group he co-leads with his partner Ruth Angell. And then there is the time he has spent with the Sichuan Opera Troupe in Chongqing, China, as a British Council musician.
Before all that Sid had been back home in Northern Ireland working with his mentor and fellow composer Brian Irvine on Beyond The March, a project to get Loyalist marching bands playing their music in a cultural context.
All those recent influences in his life will be reflected in the music he is currently writing for the Surge Orchestra, an expansion of his Surge Big Band which was formed in 2003 and has recorded two albums.
“It’s going great so far. I’ve been trying to reconnect with my Celtic influences. It’s not exactly Enya though.
“I’d recommend checking out the novelist Patrick McCabe, who wrote The Butcher Boy and Dead School. It’s something like that. It deals with the darker and delirious side of everyday small town Irish life.”
He quickly adds: “There’ll be plenty of brighter moments too, though!”
In addition to having added string players, the Surge Orchestra will feature two soloists, both Birmingham-based musicians, and both previous collaborators with Sid.
Pianist Steve Tromans is a musical partner who has shared the stage with Sid on many an occasion. So what does he most like about Sid’s music?
“He gives me free reign, for the most part,” Steve explains. “We’ve developed this understanding – I don’t have to play just what’s there, I get to add my own music to the mix. It’s something that came out of our work as a duo – every now and then we do duo gigs where neither of us knows what the other person’s going to do before we start doing it.”
Like Steve, drummer Mark Sanders is more often heard in smaller combos. Was there an added difficulty in playing with such a large band?
“The challenge with a larger group, especially if there is a brass section in the line up, is to be aware of the wider dynamic, Mark tells me. “With the brass it’s not to worry so much about playing too loud because the brass can easily cover the drums. Or the opposite as when I played with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Choir – working with that sonorous, beautiful sound of strings and voices was a kind of heaven but I had to be very careful to balance my dynamics of small percussion sounds and full drum kit, not to be too loud or be drowned out.
“Also playing in large ensembles, especially when improvising, can be a challenge to play less and make each note you play be purposeful and sing out.”
Sid Peacock has developed a very particular style of teaching improvised music to young people who don’t read music. It involves his players responding to hand signals and called out numbers, all great fun for children who respond to the way Sid turns music into a kind of game. So does he use similar techniques for the expert musicians in Surge?
“I do, yes, but as with notation you have to find a way to make it fresh and inspiring. If you keep wheeling out the old stuff you start to sound like a tribute act to yourself,” he observes.
It would be easy to assume that jazz musicians have come to this music in a focussed and relatively academic way, especially as so many jazz musicians these days are conservatoire educated. But Sid Peacock, Mark Sanders and Steve Tromans have much more eclectic backgrounds and tastes.
For Mark the initial spur to play the drums came from a seemingly unlikely source: “Influences change over the years don`t they? But as a drummer the first was Keith Moon of The Who, a brilliant and totally original drummer.”
Sid came to jazz via playing in rockabilly bands in Northern Ireland, and taught himself music theory while working as a library assistant.
Steve Tromans’ influences and interests range wide and free. He says: “Your ears are open all the time when you’re a musician. You hear music in everything. So I like to soak it all up and then feed it into my playing.”
Sid Peacock and Surge Orchestra with featured soloists Mark Sanders and Steve Tromans will be at the mac, Birmingham, at 8pm on Saturday, February 7. Tickets are £12 (£10 concessions) and are available at macbirmingham.co.uk or on 0121 446 3232.
Here are four other Midland jazz gigs not to the missed:
January 31:The Impossible Gentlemen. Transatlantic supergroup of pianist Gwilym Simcock, guitarist Mike Walker, bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 8pm, £18 (£16). More at wlv.ac.uk/arena-theatre
February 6: Neon Village. Jazz is mixed with soul, pop and electro, in this quartet plus one featuring pianist David Austin Grey and singer Aisling Stephenson. Birmingham Jazz at The Red Lion, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, 7.45pm, £5 (members free). More at birminghamjazz.co.uk
February 10: Kenny Garrett Quintet. The former Miles Davis sideman is one of the world’s pre-eminent alto saxophonists. Town Hall, Birmingham, 8pm, £20. More at thsh.co.uk/jazzlines
February 17: Kieran McLeod’s New World. Two trombones feature in this quintet. The Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham, 9pm, £5 donation suggested. More on Twitter @spotteddogjazz