A Chat With...Kevin Lees
This week, we are chatting with Kevin Lees, another fabulous fiddle player from Northumberland. Fiddle players – be sure to check out Kevin’s patreon channel for some great tuition resources!
Instrument(s): Fiddle, Bouzouki, Melodeon, Piano.
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: Inver, The Good Tune, Fiddle8, D.u.K
Sub-genre: Ambient / Background Folk/Acoustic
Number of years on the folk scene: 18
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: Played with Sting in Hall 1, Sage Gateshead.
What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year?
I’m currently mixing an album for a wonderful string trio called Vesselil, which will be released later this year. It’s been an eye opening challenge to be on the other side of the music, helping other players produce the sound they want for their record. Fiddle wise, I’m looking forward to developing a project I have called The Good Tune. We are releasing our first album this year, and playing our first live gig this summer.
If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start?
You should listen to a trio called Inver. We recorded our debut album ‘Heading Out’ in 2019 which features a lot of our own compositions. The Good Tune is probably the project where you can hear my true style the best. It’s a YouTube channel featuring over 100 videos of some of the finest tunes from around the globe, together with a wonderful guitarist, Sebastian Bloch.
What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you?
A Swedish singer and multi instrumentalist called Esbjörn Hazelius, as well as his duo Hazelius Hedin, together with Johan Hedin. Their musicality is superb and the albums are produced so well. It’s perfect for listening over the cold winter months. I particularly like the albums ‘Om du ville männsika heta’ and ‘Blunda och du ska få se’.
Which folk albums, in your opinion, should everyone listen to at least once, and why?
Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill – ‘Live in Seattle’. A mind blowing performance! And Nordic – ‘Metropol’. The arrangements and musicality on this album are second to none.
Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument?
Definitely around a table in a pub playing in a great session. I feel this is where you can be most creative and spontaneously interactive with the other musicians in a none-pressure environment. Either that or playing for a full floor of dancers all evening long. Nothing beats ‘grooving in’ to the dancers’ steps together with a great band.
Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist.
Practice is very much tailored to the up and coming projects. I would love to have a daily fiddle practice routine but it’s proving tricky to fit in with the amount of different projects in the diary. I take it week by week – if there is a tour with a certain band coming up then I will work towards that. I’m a lot in the studio using multiple instruments – fiddle, viola, bouzouki, melodeon, guitar, keys. I will practise each of those in the days and weeks up until the recording date. It’s unfortunately rare these days that I practise for the love of practising – but when I do it’s amazing the difference it makes!
What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it?
I remember being asked to play solo in front of my school assembly in year 6. I reluctantly agreed and played my favourite piece at the time, the Barrowburn Reel. I was so nervous beforehand but as soon as I got playing and had reached the B part, I could hear everyone’s feet tapping and suddenly the nerves were long gone. At the end I received a huge applause from both pupils and teachers. It taught me that no matter how nervous you are before a performance, as soon as you get into the groove you can begin to zone in to your playing and enjoy just playing for an audience who have come to hear you.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?
That the best players always play the long notes even longer. Such a simple tip transformed my slow pieces! My late Grandad once told me before a performance, that at that time, there is no one better who can play your concert than you can.
What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)?
I’ve always had a dream of playing with Kate Rusby and her band. The way she tells stories with her singing is so beautiful. The most important thing for me is that whoever you play with, you can have a lot of fun together, have the ability to twist and turn the music in a live performance, and laugh on stage. This makes it both interesting for the audience and band.
To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music.
I have a functional home studio setup which includes an array of reasonably priced equipment. Right now I mainly use SE8 mics running through my Focusrite Clarett 8pre audio interface. I use KRK Rokit5 monitors and DT990pro headphones to listen back. I’m competent using Logic Pro software to record but am also getting better at using Pro Tools. I find it’s a really good setup to record all of my instruments, whether that be for releasing, composing or just general practice. I am however finding that I’m firmly on the slippery slope to an endless desire for equipment upgrades.
We can’t recommend The Good Tune enough! Here’s Kevin and Sebastian playing a favourite tune from our session repertoire, Elsie’s Waltz
A track from Inver’s debut album ‘Heading Out’
Hazelius Hedin, from Sweden. There is some beautiful Nyckelharpa playing on this video.
Nordic, with a track from their Metropol album
If you are a regular in our online sessions, you will recognise many of the tunes featured on The Good Tune channel. Here’s another favourite!
A shout out for Kevin’s patreon channel