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Jon Thorne

Jon Thorne

Musician, Composer
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Jon Thorne

Renowned as a passionate, energetic and highly skilled performer, Jon Thorne’s career as a bassist and composer has spanned a broad range of the musical spectrum. As double bassist in the acclaimed, ground-breaking electronica group Lamb, he has virtually pioneered the use of live double bass in electronic music as well as composing, recording and producing his own records. Join as we delve in to Jon’s life as an in-demand musician...

 

Jon Hopkins, Lamb, Donovan, Yorkston Thorne Khan, Danny Thompson, Oedipus Mingus, Robert Fripp, Badly Drawn Boy, King Creosote, Kathryn Williams, CocoRosie, Love Amongst Ruin
Running into a brick wall at 100mph

"I didn’t pursue playing until five years after I had left School at the age of 18. I loved bands like the Police, The Specials and Blondie, all of which feature bass prominently. Then at 23 I heard Danny Thompson playing double bass on a David Sylvian record called ‘Brilliant Trees’ on the song ‘The Ink in the Well’. Hearing that was like running into a brick wall at one hundred miles an hour. I didn’t realise that double bass could be played in such a deep and expressive way. To me, the double bass was the instrument that sat at the side of the orchestra very much in the background.

At that time I was working in a book store in Manchester and a lovely man I was working with named Mark Brighton did me a couple of mixtapes consisting entirely of tracks from ECM records. Basically the best double bass players in the world were on there. That’s when I really got engrossed. I went out to a second hand bookshop shortly afterwards and, seeing a double bass on the front, purchased Charles Mingus’ autobiography, ‘Beneath the Underdog’ for £1. That opened up the world of jazz for me. I went out and bought some Mingus albums and some Blue Note records by Dexter Gordon and Freddie Hubbard. In a very short space of time it was like a massive light just went on in my head and that was it. I’d tried painting, journalism, writing and various different ways to express myself artistically but didn’t quite have what it took. But when I heard double bass I knew I just had to make that sound.

I went out and paid £275 for an awful plywood bass that belonged to someone as a practice instrument in the Halle Orchestra. I don’t think it had ever been touched, to be honest. The action was horribly stiff. You played two notes on it and your hand fell off! But I finally had a double bass and that was it, I left the bookshop and started working the markets around Oldham to survive. I locked myself away in my bedroom, got all of the videos and recordings of jazz double bassists I could find and studied by myself. I watched people like Dave Holland and tried to copy a lot of the things they were doing. I was a very late starter but I was gripped with fierce enthusiasm and determination. It wasn’t just confined to double bass either, though that was the main thing I wanted to do. I also fell in love with a lot of electric bass players around at the time, jazz players like Jaco Pastorius and through that, finding people like James Jameson. I immersed myself in the world of bass."

Stay on the bus

“The pivotal turning point came when I had only been playing a couple of weeks, I’d heard Danny Thompson was playing in Manchester at Band on the Wall with his own band called ‘Whatever’ so called because they played everything from jigs and reels to free jazz and wanted to avoid catagorization. So I went to meet him and I thought, if I go early, I might get a bit of time with him. So I stood in the doorway waiting in the rain with my plywood bass in hand. The band rocked up late, it had John Etheridge from Soft Machine on guitar, Paul Dunmall who is a free jazz saxophonist from London and a guy playing the Northumbrian pipes. I was very green to it all back then and didn’t really know what I was doing at all, but Danny was very generous to me. He invited me in, sat me on the front row and when they’d finished sound checking, he invited me up on the stage and let me play his bass. He stayed with me for ages talking whilst the others went off to get food and he was just remarkably encouraging to me. It really did change my life completely. I told him I didn’t know what I was doing, I had just bought a bass and was completely in love with it. He told me to just go for it and not worry about categories of music, he told me “people say there’s good and bad music but that’s rubbish, there is only music, you either like it or you don’t. If you like it, engage with it, if you don’t, then leave it alone.”

I rose from the floor about two or three feet at that point and haven’t come down since. People say don’t meet your heroes but that was an example of the complete opposite. Something I’ll never forget is the one piece of advice he gave me, he said: “Stay on the bus”.

I had about 5 years after that trying my hardest to get my playing together, scuffling around playing many gigs in pubs to one man, a dog and an empty crisp packet. I eventually started to do functions, a variety of jazz bands and gigs like that. I didn’t want to just play jazz though, I wanted to play all kinds of music, but jazz seemed to have the widest vocabulary and seemed like the gateway to playing everything else skills wise.

Piece of wood with strings on

"Five years rolled by and I managed to get an audition with Lamb, which changed everything pretty much overnight. They had just signed a big deal with Universal. Their fourth gig was to 35,000 people at Roskilde Festival in 1996. I’d gone from playing to small audiences to that. It was an extremely steep learning curve for me. I quickly changed my double bass to an electric upright for the Lamb live shows because it just howled with feedback through a decent sized PA. That started a 9 year rollercoaster which consisted of 5 albums, a lot of touring and life on a tour bus. It opened up a lot of avenues for me, and session work. I ended up working with Robert Miles. I started playing a lot on the folk scene, touring with Donovan which was nuts!

 Lamb’s latest album was released in April so that is mostly going to dominate this year. The exciting thing for me is that I’ve been playing now for 30 years and done everything backwards, learning instinctively until I hit walls  and could not progress any further without formal study. So I started working on harmony, orchestration and arrangement. The more I’ve got in to that, the more excited I’ve become. If you ask me, yes I’m a bass player but it’s just a piece of wood with strings on. Really you are the instrument and that should be the focus. That is liberating because you’re no longer bound by the physical constraints of what you can or can’t play. You are as broad as your imagination and if you can hear something in your mind then you can work towards it physically. It’s an ever-evolving process, like swimming in the sea, you’re never going to swim around all of it but you are free to explore as much as you wish.

Just stick a mic in front of it!

"I wanted to be able to produce my own music independently, so I had some lessons in the Apple store to get my head around Logic. I have gone on to record 3 of my own albums. The first one was a jazz record documenting what was going on around Manchester for me at the time. In 2010 I made the album ‘Watching the Well’ with Danny Thompson, written to feature his playing as an orchestral suite for double bass in twelve parts. It was really a thank you to him for his inspiration. I’d never heard him play in an orchestral context so I thought that would be interesting. I approached him with the project as a commission for a gig at the Manchester Jazz Festival. Following that I developed and recorded it over the next 4 years with the help of my friend Dan Hope. We recorded Danny in his front room. Dan was quite nervous about recording him and when he asked Danny where would be the best placement to mic up his double bass, he just replied: “See this bass? Just stick the mic in front of it!”

I record a lot of music from home now, working with songwriters like James Yorkston, Liam Bailey and Kathryn Williams. I did all of her last album from home as well as all of my composing for the third Yorkston Thorne Khan album. We’re all spread out so it’s handy to record remotely and send stuff across the internet! I also played on Jon Hopkins’ Grammy-nominated album, ‘Singularity’.

Andy Barlow introduced me to Aston, he just said I needed to check out this company! My rig is simple: I use an iMac and the Spirit and Stealth microphones, going in to an Apogee Duet. It allows me to take my time and come up with some interesting work. I tend to place the mic at bridge height a little off to the side so I don’t get too much boom from the E string notes. I find that the mics capture a full, clear representation of the sound of my double bass with richness at the bottom end. I also use the Aston Halo Shadow reflection filter. The Spirit and Stealth mics are my workhorses, I use them for everything, including vocals (my wife is a classically trained soprano) and my Fylde Ariel acoustic guitar.

Outtakes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?

A. Ralph Towner, a really great guitarist on the ECM label. Bobo Stenson, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, . Lots of the bass players on that label I enjoyed. That broadens out in to the wider Jazz improv scene. I love John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and the Branford Marsalis Quartet. I’m obsessed with Blue Note Records. John Patitucci is also a massive inspiration to me, there’s no one out there that can touch him! I did his online tuition course for a year which completely changed my playing. I’m currently listening to Jon Hopkins, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Luke Howard.

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?

A. I would be writing a book. I’ve had some ideas already to start writing. I ‘m reading Stephen King’s book on writing which is part autobiography and part manual on how to write books.

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston or your experience with the brand.

A. Delightfully Accurate Sonic Replication

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?

A. The Long And Winding Road by The Beatles

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