Perfect Houseplants

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Biography of Perfect Houseplants

Formed in 1992 by four of the most distinctive jazz musicians and composers in Britain, Perfect Houseplants rapidly achieved a reputation as one of the most innovative and challenging jazz groups to emerge in the 1990s. Its unique and colourful compositions and musical interaction has established it as one of the most adventurous groups in Europe today. Perfect Houseplants has performed throughout Europe at many major festivals as well as recording for BBC Radio 2 and Radio 3. The band has been commissioned by Radio 3 and Eastern Arts and has received the support of the Arts Council on several occasions.

Perfect Houseplants is renowned for its crossover projects with the award-winning early music group the Orlando Consort, baroque violinist Andrew Manze, and more recently for its reworkings of English folk music with virtuoso recorder player Pamela Thorby.

Although the group’s debut album, simply entitled Perfect Houseplants (Ah-um), was considered ‘the best British jazz album of 1993’ (Jazz on CD), the group’s music is never just a tune with solos. The Guardian acknowledged that ‘they are at the cutting edge of contemporary jazz music with an innovative approach to composition, operating in a territory of folksy tunes, sultry tangos, waltzes and busy time changes’.

The band’s second album, Clec (1995), opened up a significantly larger sound world by using accordion, prepared piano, percussion, cello and sampled sounds as well as the more conventional line-up of saxophones, piano, bass and drums. ‘I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying Clec however set in their ways they might be’ – Dave Gelly, Observer.

In 1996 Perfect Houseplants signed a contract with the prestigious Linn record label and their first album with the company, Snap Clatter (Linn AKD 063), was released in 1997. ‘More Drama than the RSC’, said The Wire. The album further developed the band’s unique way of orchestrating its original compositions and draws inspiration from many other musical forms, including contemporary classical, Brazilian, ragtime and even cartoon music. ‘If Snap Clatter were a book – it would be Alice in Wonderland, a clever whimsical journey profuse with ideas’ – JazzWise.

Extempore (Linn CKD 076, 1998) brought together Houseplants with the award-winning early music group the Orlando Consort. Taking modes and plainchant as the starting point, the project has appealed to a large cross-section of listeners and has led to concerts in Europe such as La Biennale di Venezia (1999). ‘Remarkable and utterly absorbing’, said BBC Music Magazine. A project commissioned by BBC Radio 3 with violinist supremo Andrew Manze was broadcast in 1998.

The new millennium saw Perfect Houseplants performing in Europe and many international festivals as well as releasing their fifth album, entitled New Folk Songs (Linn AKD 130, 2000) and featuring Pamela Thorby. New Folk Songs originated as a commission from Eastern Arts to write new music based on folk music from East Anglia. The radical reworkings received rave reviews: ‘This band is perilously close to becoming a national treasure.’ – Mojo, May 2001. The BBC featured the New Folk Songs project in a programme of highlights from the Norwich and Norfolk Festival 2002, broadcast on a special Christmas and Boxing Day show on Radio 3.

This year sees the release of a second album with the Orlando Consort, a work based on the mass for the feast of St Michael and taking the medieval melody of L’homme arme as the starting point. Extempore 2 (Harmonia Mundi 907319, USA) is released in the UK in February 2003 and in the US in March

The members of Perfect Houseplants have played and recorded with a glittering array of international artists including: Dave Holland, Django Bates, June Tabor, Kenny Wheeler, Manu Katche, Lee Konitz, Ralph Towner, Steve Swallow, Prefab Sprout, Radiohead, Mike Gibbs, Colin Towns, Billy Cobham, Bob Mintzer, Robert Wyatt and Jah Wobble.

Perfect Houseplants are:

Mark Lockheart – saxophones and clarinets
Born in Lymington in 1961, Mark came to prominence in the mid-1980s with the popular British big band Loose Tubes. After recording and touring with Django Bates, Prefab Sprout and Annie Whitehead, he started his own group in 1989.
This group, which also includes Huw Warren and Dudley Phillips, performed at various European festivals and played two stints at Ronnie Scott’s in London before becoming the co-led Perfect Houseplants. In 1993 Mark collaborated on a album with guitarist John Parricelli that fused jazz, Brazilian and world music. The resulting album, Matheran (Isis, 1993), received rave reviews.

The early 1990s also saw Mark establishing himself as a composer, commissioned by Scottish Arts to write a multi-media piece based on the religious festival of Semana Santa (1991), a piece for the Avis von Herder Dance Company entitled Dance for Anne Frank (1992), and a saxophone quintet entitled Chorinho (1995).

During the mid-1990s, Mark toured and recorded with Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice, Mike Gibbs, June Tabor, indie pop band Stereolab, and folk jazz group Sine.

In 1997 Mark was received the Peter Whittingham Award to record his 11-piece Scratch Band. Mark’s semi-orchestral compositions for this line-up were released on his album Through Rose-Coloured Glasses, which was voted by Time Out as one of its Top Ten records of 1998. A commission from the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Birmingham Jazz followed, and the resulting suite of new music formed the basis of the band’s Imaginary Dances (Staytuned, ST 004), released in 2002.

Currently Mark is a member of John Parricelli’s Group and Sebastian Roachford’s Polar Bear.

For more info about Mark’s projects, go to www.marklockheart.co.uk

Huw Warren – piano, accordion and cello
Born in Swansea in 1962, Huw studied piano and cello and, as a teenager, he first worked playing Hammond organ in the working men’s clubs of South Wales. He discovered jazz by chance from radio broadcasts and also became interested in the English experimental music scene after studying with John Tilbury in London during 1980–83.

In 1988, Huw started a long collaboration with English singer June Tabor. As pianist/arranger this has since involved worldwide tours and several CDs, including the 1999 commission A Quiet Eye with the Creative Jazz Orchestra.

A widely experienced performer, Huw has also worked with Kenny Wheeler, Billy Bragg, Steve Arguelles, Julian Arguelles, Billy Jenkins, Christine Tobin, Eddi Reader, and African guitarist Mose Se ‘Fan-Fan’ and has featured on film scores by Stephen Warbeck and Michael Gibbs. Having appeared on over thirty CDs, his debut release as a bandleader was on the Babel Label in 1997. A Barrel Organ Far from Home was a suite of pieces for a nine-piece ensemble based on early photographs by English photographer John Topham.

2001 saw the release of his critically acclaimed solo CD Infinite Riches in a Little Room. His solo piano performances have included the Bath, Cheltenham, Norwich and Norfolk, and Jyväskylä Festivals, as well as London and Brecon jazz festivals.
Huw has completed several commissions including Riot (for Piano Circus), Steamboat Bill Jnr (a new score for the classic Buster Keaton movie), Lullaby Exit Bear (for the RSC) and music for a new production of Jean Cocteau’s Monologues at the Lyric theatre in London. Recently he has composed for the ABRSM jazz syllabus and the Palladian Ensemble.

For more info on Huw, go to www.huwwarren.com

Dudley Phillips – electric and acoustic basses
Dudley is a self-taught musician and composer who won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music in 1979. On leaving, he toured the world for several years gaining valuable experience with artists as diverse as Annie Whitehead, Bill Withers and Womack and Womack.

In addition to his partnership with the Houseplants, he has developed his work with other artists, recording two albums on Blue Note Records with vibraphonist Orphy Robinson, with folk singer June Tabor; with John Etheridge, and with Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra. In 1996 he joined Andy Sheppard’s group Moving Image, recording and touring an acclaimed album.

Recently projects include recording his own Trio album with Nic France and Karl Ore and recording projects with singers Mark Nevin and Anja Garbarek.

Martin France – drums and electric percussion
Martin began performing at the age of twelve, backing singers in working men’s clubs with organ trios in and around Manchester. In 1983 he began his recording career when he performed on several records for ECM.

A turning point in his early career was his role within the Eighties big
band Loose Tubes, where he began long-standing partnerships with many of its members including Mark Lockheart. His association with Django Bates has led to many diverse projects away from the ‘jazz’ environment they normally occupy, with Human Chain and Delightful Precipice. These include film soundtracks, jazz theatre, cross-cultural collaborations and recording projects involving orchestras such as the London Sinfonietta, the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra and the ASKO Ensemble in Amsterdam. He is also active as a studio musician working on TV and film soundtracks and is involved in programming and composing for many projects and artists, including his own band.

Along the way Martin has performed and recorded with some of the world’s best jazz musicians, including John Taylor, Arild Anderson, Marc Johnson, The Yellowjackets, Mike Gibbs, Nils-Petter Molvaer, Bugge Wesseltoft, Maria Schneider, Sidsel Endresen and Maria Joao. In England he has performed and recorded with the very best of his generation and is currently preparing to tour his band Spin Marvel, in which he plays mostly electronic and sequenced drums.

For more info on Martin, go to www.martinfrance.com

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