It’s time for a very rare blog post to share some brief and exciting updates. Firstly, this blog is superseded as a way to keep up to date by a monthly-ish newsletter which you can sign up for here.
Secondly, the website has been updated to highlight my upcoming recording (scheduled for mid-2023) which will mark the first time my original music has been recorded. See here for more information including an interim press release.
Finally, in a month or two I’ll be finishing my studies at the Royal Academy of Music. Many thanks to the wonderful teachers and students there, and to Help Musicians for contributing towards the cost of studying, not to mention financially supporting the upcoming album recording.
I’m bringing a trio playing jazz standards and my originals to Hampstead Jazz Club in North London, this Thursday 19th May. It includes Alex Hitchcock and Jay Davis, two incredible musicians and great friends. It would be great to see you there! Tickets are available below:
Since the second Covid lockdown here in the UK, I’ve revived a childhood interest and gone out looking for wild mushrooms, especially edible ones. It’s been a nice way to be outside with a sort of purpose, and something to do rather than just walking.
I’m not an expert, and recommend instead websites like Wild Food UK or First Nature, Facebook groups such as Mushroom Spotters UK, and a number of easy-to-find books (definitely not iPhone apps). However, I do know a bit about the edible ones I’ve found and, in the spirit of early 2000’s holiday-photo blogs, I thought I’d summarise them as a record of a nice hobby in a rubbish time.
I started in late Autumn, whereas the mushroom season begins properly in late Summer, so I missed many of the earlier species. That said, even with some heavy frosts, I’ve been able to find crops of good edibles as late as January.
Finally: there are many, many different species out there, some can kill you with a few bites, and some of those look very similar to edible ones. Anyone starting out should focus on learning the common poisonous and edible mushrooms, and rigorously check each ID for similar species, which any decent reference will tell you about. Only eat ones you are 100% sure about, don’t try them raw, and only try a tiny amount the first time.
For each mushroom below, I’ll link to the Wild Food UK page and write some notes on whatever comes to mind, including the kind of habitat I found it in and some culinary tips if they were worth it. Do not rely on my information for anything other than idle interest — find and use one of the proper sources I mentioned above!
A shelf-like fungus I found on an oak tree. Looks exactly like meat, seemed like a nice texture to cook with, but not much taste about it. Maybe I didn’t find a good recipe. This was the first one I found and I didn’t really like it so there isn’t much more to write.
There are a few other Agaric types this could be, but I think it’s a Horse Mushroom. I found it in the grass on a golf course in late October, and couldn’t carry it back so haven’t tried it, but they’re supposed to be very nice. I was mainly impressed by how utterly huge it was.
A relative of the very-prized Parasol. It tastes great, though I tested just small bit the first time because some people are allergic (you should follow this with any wild mushroom really). Found in a ring around an Oak tree in London, in dense leaf litter.
I went to a randomly-selected patch of forest in Kent one day, hoping to find these, and found a lot very quickly. That was great. They seemed to like mixed conifer and broadleaf woodlands, or transition zones e.g. from conifers to birch, especially on sloped ground. I also recently found some in Yorkshire, very late in the season (early January). Once you spot one of them, by the yellow stem or frilly cap, you suddenly see them everywhere around, often in big clumps. Then, you can walk for ages and not see any.
This is probably the best edible mushroom I’ve found: expensive, tasty, abundant once you find some, seemingly completely resistant to insects and bugs, and survives freezing temperatures without turning to mush. The smell is amazing, not mushroomy but lighter, buttery and still earthy. I’ve also tried all the main preservation methods on them with success: drying, pickling and storing under oil, and frying-then-freezing.
It is almost irresponsible to put a photo of this because they can look so variable and resemble many other small brown mushrooms, including poisonous ones. Didn’t really taste of anything and not a great edible species, apart from that they can be found in big groups.
These are all over the place it seems, on dead or dying trees of many types, and on logs. They don’t taste of much but are popular in a stir fry and soup. I don’t use them fresh, instead dry them out and then reconstitute them in rice vinegar and soy sauce, or some similar mixture. The texture is soft but crunchy and they take on flavours very well.
This particular photo might be a Sordid Blewit, but I think it isn’t. I found Wood Blewits in the woods, but also in pasture land quite far from trees, and under bushes in leaf litter. They are a type of mushroom that decays dead leaves or woodchip etc. An amazing aromatic smell, like frozen orange juice, and a very posh gourmet mushroom. I found anything except quite small ones to usually be attacked by flies, but that might depend on the local habitat. Some people are allergic to Blewits, and they have deadly poisonous purple lookalikes.
Unlike the Wood Blewit, only the stem is purple/lilac, and only in young specimens. They also taste great and have a nice firm and dense texture when young. I found them in fields and also around trees — the ‘Wood/Field’ distinction for Blewits is not set in stone.
The Waxcap family are usually found in a particular type of grassland pasture called ‘Waxcap grassland’ because it is so strongly associated with these species, some of which are very rare. The Meadow Waxcap is quite plentiful where it exists, though, and is luckily also the best one to eat. It was nice to wander round a pasture finding lots of these, sometimes singly, sometimes in large rings, and growing in grassland they also needed very little cleaning. They continued surprisingly late into Winter, and I found a surprising resurgence of them on a mild spell after a heavy frost. The one in the photo above is actually frozen solid. They smell quite plain but slightly sweet, and preserve well in a variety of ways.
I was also surprised to find some not in meadow, but in dense moss in the edge of a forest. Waxcaps are thought to be associated with moss, so it makes sense.
Quite a good one for Winter, because they not only survive freezing but continue growing afterwards. I found them on dying trees or stumps, often in damp woodland or near water, where the trees were covered in moss. The cultivated form (grown in the dark and a CO2-rich atmosphere) is the Enokitake mushroom you find in shops. Sometimes I would find them growing behind dead bark on a tree, where they would mimic they cultivated form. The natural form is very nice and sweet when young, but gets a bit slimy on top in the wet. They were nice pickled and also dried for putting in soup.
It has a deadly poisonous and very similar lookalike called the Funeral Bell, but you shouldn’t be using this post for important ID information anyway! I found them often in the same environment as Wood Ears, but if growing on the same tree as them, the Wood Ears seemed to win and produce more.
Grows on dead wood, either standing trees or fallen logs, and occurs throughout the year but fruits only sporadically, e.g. after a cold snap. These are very easy to cultivate so not quite as chic as Winter Chanterelles, but really nice to eat anyway and keep a firm texture when cooked. When too old they will be covered in fly eggs or maggots, and sadly if some in the crop are too old, even the younger ones can get flies.
I often found them in annoyingly small quantities or too old, but sometimes came across a big group at just the right time to be fresh. There are many different varieties with different colours. Whenever I found the Pale Oyster, it was a bit too old, whereas Blue/Grey Oysters were often just right. The best places to look seemed to be Oak trees in open spaces, rather than dense forests.
Called Pied De Mouton in France, taste great. The smell is floral and almost uplifting, but otherwise hard to describe. I found these in Yorkshire, and only slightly too late in the season, late December/early January. They are distinctive, because nothing else in the UK grows from the ground and has these spines in place of gills. I found a few in the same places as Winter Chanterelles, and then elsewhere in a strange bit of forest containing a mix of Christmas Trees, Birch, and grass.
Another excellent edible mushroom to find, because they are insect resistant, expensive and tend to come in locally-scattered groups: find one, see a few more, walk a few yards, more… . I hear they don’t dry that well but haven’t tried. Many of the ones I found were too old to pick, a bit floppy and would tend to be bitter tasting. When younger they are almost crispy, and excellent. Fortunately they return in the same place year to year, like many mushrooms, so I’ll be back.
These aren’t that amazing to eat, and some people are allergic, but I found them pretty good. I felt strangely fond toward them because on a very late-Winter foraging trip where everything else was too-old Hedgehogs or barely-surviving Winter Chanterelles, these were just coming through and in good condition. They were growing around decaying hardwood in a thick layer of needle/leaf litter.
Bizarre. Grows from an egg (pictured) of which the centre is technically edible but pointless to eat in my opinion. Then it grows into a sort of phallic quasi-Morel with disgusting green spore material on the end that the flies come and carry away. Found in Pine forest.
— Turkey Tail and Birch Polypore. Some people make tea out of these, Birch Polypore tasted very bitter but I guess Turkey Tail was okay.
— Clouded Agaric. Disputed edibility and in any case causes reactions in a large number of people, so I didn’t bother trying it.
— Lilac Fibrecap. I just found one of these but it was interesting, because it is a deadly lookalike of the also-lilac Wood Blewit. I felt confident telling them apart by then, but could see the similarity.
— White Saddle. Not edible but cool looking.
— Olive Oysterling. Disputed edibility, looks like a smaller Oyster Mushroom and it is interesting to learn the differences between them.
— Angel Wings. Deadly poisonous but very pretty looking.
— Yellow Brain and normal Brain fungus. Both very strange.
— Parrot Waxcap. It’s worth looking up some pictures of these, they are all sorts of colours and the different hues seem to flow into each other as it ages.
— Butter Waxcap.
— Trooping Funnel. Apparently quite nice to eat but the ones I found were a bit old.
— Fool’s Funnel (possibly). Similar looking to the above but very poisonous.
It was a pleasure to participate in a session on music and tech for the Incorporated Society of Musicians, part of their excellent free event ‘The Empowered Musician’. I talked about the research I’ve done into online real-time music software, drawing on discussions I had with Sam Leak, Adam Spiers, Doug Hunt, and many more, while preparing this article.
Thanks to the ISM and the other panellists for a fascinating talk. After the event is finished, it will be available on YouTube for a few more days.
For 30 days (from 12 November 2020) you can watch in full, for free, the Royal Academy of Music Big Band under Nikki Iles playing some wonderful music by female jazz composers. Many congratulations to everyone involved in putting it on, this was great to be part of.
I’ve just published an article for the Incorporated Society of Musicians, introducing the world of online real-time music (ORM) software. Strangely, this field has hidden in plain sight for decades, as a somewhat niche occupation of internet hobbyists and academic researchers. The COVID-19 lockdown has precipitated a wave of new interest, with professional musicians quickly realising that Zoom and Skype wouldn’t cut it and looking for something more suitable.
The article is based on extensive interviews with some key players, and my own forays into ORM. We all want to get back to playing in real life as soon as possible, but it’s likely that being able to rehearse, livestream and record remotely in real time will remain useful going forward. The pandemic could prompt a rapid ‘professionalisation’ of the field, and ORM may become a standard tool of jobbing musicians alongside home recording, remote lessons, etc.
Check it out and please share the article if you find it interesting. Most people still do not know that online real-time music is actually possible.
In due course I might upload a slightly longer version to this blog, but the essentials are pretty completely covered in the ISM’s version — thanks to them for their editorial flexibility in allowing me to retain the hybrid news/advice tone I was going for.
I’m really pleased to make an appearance on a tune from this new album by Wilma Archer — ‘A Western Circular’ on Domino/Weird World. Difficult to describe, really musical and creative and varied, and great fun to record! Go and check it out.
There’s also some great double bass playing from John Pope (who I’ve never met but I think is up in Newcastle, not far from where I was born) and extensive use of Dom Pusey‘s saxophone playing. Lovely stuff!
I had reason to write out this nice tune recently, so here is a chart in piano trio format. It’s the jazz standard “Broadway” in a nice, sparse and very swinging arrangement. The source is an album by Hans Ulrik that I got into while hunting down Steve Swallow material. Here’s the track. Here’s the score. Below I’ll discuss briefly what attracted me to it.
Things I enjoyed:
Begins with a very well-sold deceptive half-feel drum fill, straight into full-speed-ahead blowing.
Tasteful use of power chords in the hits.
The walking bass lines…
There are lots of characteristic Swallow tricks in the uptempo walking, including a walked solo section that makes them really easy to spot. Look out for:
Slurs (hammer-ons, pull-offs and both) within the quarter note lines. These are used much more extensively than you’d normally hear on a double bass, and it works well because the electric bass does not lose much of the note during the hammer-on/pull-off process. Also, the plucked notes have less attack than on a double. These factors combined mean that the plucked and slurred notes sound rather more similar to one another than they could on the double bass, so they don’t “upset” the flow of the walking line as much. On the contrary, this technique and the fuzzy bass tone give a liquidy, synth-y vibe that is as much reminiscent of the organ as of the double bass.
Swallow is unafraid to occasionally shorten his quarter notes, often out of technical necessity (repositioning the hand, string skipping, etc.), which breaks up and adds contrast to the extensive legato lines.
Not many repeated quarter notes at all, but many examples of chromatic stepping or enclosure around a target note, sometimes repeated twice or three times in succession. This adds a lot of motion to the line for minimal technical outlay, which is handy for such uptempo walking.
A very striking example of the above occurs around 1:07. A simple chromatic up-and-down is repeated three times, over a transition from the second A section to the B. The repetitious chromatic “see-sawing” here is wonderfully disorienting — to me it sounds like a computer malfunction, in keeping with the synth-like tone of Swallow’s bass. The repetition creates a glitchy sort of tension, which is resolved as we enter the B section, the glitch corrected, and the walking flowing freely again.
A nice arrangement of a great tune and it swings like mad, in my opinion. Enjoy!
At the top of the latter (or right here) you can download a folder containing five tunes recorded at 2018’s gig at Inkwell Arts, in Leeds. The set was a combination of standards, Lee Konitz repertoire, and arrangements of music from the Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis.
Take a listen!
At Inkwell, Leeds
Matt Anderson — Saxes
Martin Longhawn — Piano and Synths
John J. Williamson — Electric Bass and Fretless Bass
Steve Hanley — Drums