My final performance on December 7th when I present a new composition derived from my year as musician in residence is looming. Ironically, this month's trip to Derry came as a slight distraction in that I need to be at home at the moment as much as possible wrapping up the writing in the familiar surroundings of my home studio.
But Jamie Cullum's BBC Radio show called and it made perfect sense to take the opportunity to big up this crazy city on air. Actually, this broadcast is not for his weekly Radio 2 show, but for a documentary he is doing for BBC Radio 4 called 'Piano Pilgrimage'. The premise of the show is to explore the changing fortunes of the 'home piano'. That ambiguous bit of wood in the corner of homes across the world. Sometimes regarded as the centre for family unity, sometimes as the single source of Christmas entertainment, sometimes (criminally) as somewhere to put the family photos. One of the producers of the show, Ian Parkinson, shares my appreciation for Bennigans, the living room style bar near the City Centre and purveyors of the best Guinness in Derry.
In a wonderful twist of fate, Bennigans also plays host to the most famous upright piano in the city. The little black Yamaha is the centre of entertainment for their numerous band and open mic nights, and it's legendary (or LegenDerry in keeping with the new spelling for this City of Culture year) landlord Joe. A man whose passion for people and music colours everything that occurs during the hours of 5pm and 'whatever' o clock.
Joe will not hesitate to silence a punter should their noise threaten to disrespect a performance. His knowledge of music is fuelled from his vast record collection, garnered from many an hour browsing charity shops or record fayres. A collection from which he will gladly donate any item to any stranger that shows an interest.
Having recorded an item involving me playing the famous ivories and a couple of other beautiful renditions by various singers and instrumentalists the night before, Jamie Cullum makes it to Bennigans on the Tuesday afternoon. Straight from a gig in Dublin. Jamie does a duet with Joe on his Cajon. Something I've found myself doing on many an occasion. And then follows it up with an interview during which Joe excels himself. Heaping praise on the heart and soul of all who come to play.
Then Jamie and I dart over to Hendersons the music shop. Or it's piano warehouse to be exact, where we are met by a couple of the Music Promise pianists. Darrel and Andrew. Both have developed their talents with the support of the City of Culture and have grown into career worthy musicians in front of our very eyes. Darrel plays his self penned piece which he also happened to play as an opener at one of my own gigs recently. Flown in especially by the CBBC programme who are following him around this year in the reality TV tradition. Andrew plays the theme to 'Top Cat', a brilliantly contrasting choice and we wrap things up by all jumping on a piano and improvising together.
As I jump into a cab to get over to the Playhouse where I am meeting a bunch of the 'exceptionally talented' group of kids (Or the 'extra terrestrials' as they are becoming known) the driver flips the radio on. Jamie C is being interviewed live on Radio Foyle and finishes up by playing a tune. The ill informed announcer signs him off with the line.... and that was Jamie Mcullum there'. The cities relentless hospitality even manages to make Jamie Cullum one of their own by slipping his name a new Derry twist!