Meet the band

Down for the Count Swing Band London

Down for the Count is a collective of fantastic professional musicians. Find out more about each band member below.

The Rhythm Section

Mike Paul-Smith

Piano & Band Leader

Mike Paul-Smith - Piano & Band Leader

Our band leader and pianist Mike Paul-Smith formed Down for the Count whilst still at school in 2005. He is a classically trained pianist and organist - and when, at the age of 14, a local swing band was in desperate need of a pianist for a concert that weekend, he had a go at jazz - and hasn't looked back since.

Mike has played with and directed big bands up and down the country, including the Aylesbury Music Centre Dance Band, the Oxford University Big Band, the University of London Big Band (at the Montreux Jazz Festival), and of course Down for the Count.

Mike is passionate about keeping music live, and loves any music with a swing; his main influences are the great bandleaders and pianists Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat 'King' Cole. Mike writes most of our arrangements, and is always keen to find out more about the history of swing music.

When Mike isn't busy with band-related activities, he can usually be found swing dancing or eating Indian takeaways.

Mike runs Down for the Count full-time, and organises live entertainment for more than 150 events every year. He is available to offer advice to anyone looking to book live music for an event - he has written a series of general advice articles about live event music, but is also very happy to hear from you with any specific questions - feel free to get in touch today.

Amelia Forster

Keyboards

Amelia Forster - Keyboards

Amelia is a classically trained cellist and pianist who joined the band in 2007 on keyboards. With a love of all things vintage, Amelia is Down for the Count’s in-house stylist; she works on the band’s image, set decorates our live events and helps to design our promotional material. This has included illustration for album artwork plus a lot of shopping for the band’s growing vintage silk tie collection!

Amelia works at Granger Hertzog - a furniture and prop hire company for film, television, photography and events. Before that Amelia worked as a Producer at digital marketing agency Holition.

Her creative project management experience has allowed Amelia to really get stuck in with organising Down for the Count’s own music events - encouraging collaborations with other bands, DJs and venues, and co-producing our very own swing music festival, Rhythm Junction London.

Richard Hawking

Drums

Richard Hawking - Drums

Richard has studied the drums since the age of 10 and met the other original members of the band at The Aylesbury Music Centre.

In 2006, Richard gained a Diploma in Popular Music Performance from Tech Music Schools in West London and has since graduated from Bangor University with a degree in Psychology.

As well as his ventures with Down for the Count, Richard has recently recorded and performed with various other rock, pop-punk and hip-hop projects and is the drummer in tech metal sensation, Hacktivist - with whom he has performed at some of the world's biggest music festivals, including Glastonbury Festival.

Steve Torpey

Bass

Steve Torpey - Bass

Our bassist Steve was originally a classically-trained guitarist. He toured Belgium with Aylesbury Music Centre’s senior Guitar Ensemble, playing in festivals and cathedrals, including performing at the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate near Ypres. 

He made the switch to electric bass around the same time the band formed in 2005, and was a key member of the rhythm section for many years. Steve has had to take a break from the band recently - but somehow always manages to get himself invited to the Christmas party.

Steve enjoys birdwatching, ale, the internet, squash, is a YouTube sensation (for all the wrong reasons) and currently works for cancer support charity Breast Cancer Care.

Hugo Fagandini

Drums

Hugo Fagandini - Drums

Our second drummer Hugo joined the band as a deputy in 2011 and on a full-time basis in 2013, as Richard began touring the world with metal band Hacktivist.

Hugo began playing drums when he was 11, studying with Clark Tracey and Dave Barry. Hugo performs with ensembles of all varieties, including wind bands, symphony orchestras and jazz groups. Other musical highlights include performing at the Edinburgh Festival in summer 2011 with the hit show "Fresher!: The Musical" and performing alongside Tony Christie (of "Amarillo" fame) at a London charity gala. 

Hugo's biggest regret is having to turn down the chance to perform "In the Air Tonight" as the Cadbury’s gorilla - but we're sure his time will come again...

John Rixon

Bass

John Rixon - Bass

John is one of our two current bassists, filling in for Steve whilst he is unable to perform with the band.

Like most of the other musicians in Down for the Count, John is originally from Aylesbury - but it wasn't until we were all living in London that we met him! He read computation at University of Oxford, where he was also the secretary of the Jazz Society.

He has played bass on Blue Peter; at European festivals, including four consecutive years at the Cork Jazz Festival; and at Andrew Lloyd Webber's garden party, where the guests included Prince William and Prince Harry.

Through Down for the Count's swing gigs, John was exposed to Lindy hop - and you are now just as likely to see him on the dancefloor as on the bandstand.

 

Matthew Read

Bass

Matthew Read - Bass

Matthew makes up the second half of 'team bass'.  He enjoyed jazz from a very early age dancing with his brother to Weather Report. However he didn't play jazz until he started studying at Alton College, Hampshire where he received a college music scholarship. Matthew has recently completed a degree in Jazz in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, earning him the nickname "Professor".

When not playing jazz, Matthew can be found thinking about jazz, talking about jazz, listening to jazz or composing/arranging jazz to play at a later date (and sometimes doing two or more at the same time). Thoroughly devoid of a life outside of music, if the stars have aligned and he is not involved in jazz-based activities Matthew is probably asleep, eating or taking horrendously artsy black and white film photographs.

Matthew has performed with numerous ensembles including the award winning Guildhall Jazz Band, Howl Trio, Morgan Brother's Big Band and jazz-house crossover project Bleep Test. Matthew is also involved in many upcoming projects including his own big band.

Jonny Wickham

Bass

Jonny Wickham - Bass

Jonny is a bass player and composer from north London and plays bass in Alexander's Dixieland Band. He has recently graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he studied Jazz with some of the best players in London.

Jonny is an accomplished musician in a wide range of styles, and has played music with many fine musicians in London and around the world. Some of Jonny's recent work includes a BBC Proms Extra broadcast with acclaimed Brazilian music band 'Caravela'; working as a musician and sound artist for the score of the world premier of Arthur Millers "No Villain"; and composer for short film "Denis Doyle", which was nominated for best student short at the international film festival Camerimage in Poland. 

Tom Hutchison

Drums and percussion

Tom Hutchison - Drums and percussion

Tom has played music for most of his life and began playing drums aged 14. He turned fully to the instrument when he began attending the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he has just finished his BMus Jazz degree.

Currently working primarily in London, Tom plays regularly across a range of styles. He has performed with the London Jazz Orchestra, the Wilderness Festival Orchestra (with Kate Nash and Charlotte Church) and the Jitter Kings, who have a bi-monthly residency at Ronnie Scotts. Aiming to further his work in the music scene Tom is also undergoing the construction of a home studio.

Tom is the percussionist in Alexander's Dixieland Band, where he does unbelievable things with vintage washing equipment. If you're intrigued to know more, you'll have to check out their videos...

 

The Vocalists

Katie Birtill

Vocals

Katie Birtill - Vocals

Katie Birtill is our lead vocalist, and recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music. She was part of the RAM choral group who supported Elton John at the Royal Albert Hall, and since graduating she has featured on the T-mobile advertWelcome Back filmed at the Heathrow Terminal 5. 

Katie has also performed as a backing vocalist with artists as diverse as KT Tunstall, Fyfe Dangerfield, Jon Allen, Michael Ball, Mica Paris, Fran Healy, Craig David, Tony Hadley, Marti Pellow, Il Divo, Suzi Quatro and Elio Pace at Hyde Park Arena for Elvis Forever. She was also featured as a solo backing vocalist in the Friday Night is Music Night’s Christmas Eve special with Barbara Windsor. 

Katie recently sang backing vocals on Russell Watson’s UK tour and is on the DVD of his Royal Albert Hall performance released this Christmas. Katie has starred in professional productions of Dreamboats and PetticoatsPriscilla Queen of the Desert and Sweet Charity.

Callum Gillies

Vocals

Callum Gillies - Vocals

Our male vocalist Callum comes from a family of entertainers and started performing at a young age alongside his father.  He then participated in a number of shows in his native Jersey, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rent and The Producers.

Alongside performing with Down for the Count, Callum has sung on cruises, solo shows in Jersey theatres, and with the London Gay Big Band in front of 7000 people at Trafalgar Square.

Callum loves the crooners such as Nat ‘King’ Cole, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Sammy Davis Jr., and brings a little bit of all four to each performance.

Callum works as a medical physicist, has the dubious hobby of cage fighting (he is British Combudo champion, whatever that means), and recently married his partner Laura - and has had to endure signing "I’m Just a Gigolo" ever since.

Hannah Castleman

Vocals

Hannah Castleman - Vocals

Hannah Castleman is an award-winning jazz and soul singer based in Winchester. Having grown up in the UK, Singapore and New Jersey, it was always music that tied her travels together.

After graduating with a Masters degree in Comparative Literature, Hannah decided to pursue music full time. She sings with several bands around the UK and has performed across Europe with soul and swing bands. In 2016 Hannah released an EP of co-written original material called WILD.

Hannah is one of the Directors of Winchester Jazz Festival, which runs every September. She is also a vocal teacher and workshop leader.

Kim Syvret

Vocals

Kim Syvret - Vocals

Our fantastic singer Kim is from Jersey. Whilst living on the island she was the lead singer and frontwoman for a local function band and since moving to London in 2015 she has been busy performing as a lead and backing vocalist for many groups.

Kim graduated from the The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts with a BA in Music, specialising in voice and singing. While studying at university Kim was fortunate to learn from some of the world's greatest artists including Paul McCartney himself.

Since her time at LIPA Kim has gained valuable knowledge working as a session singer for a number of artists, and has performed at a huge variety of venues and festivals in the UK. In her spare time Kim likes to write her own material.

Nicky Dega

Vocals

Nicky Dega - Vocals

Nicky studied French and History at University College London, and performed in shows such as Anything Goes, Blood Brothers and RENT. 

Nicky's voice suits many different styles of music, and she lists her main influences as Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse.

As well as performing with Down for the Count, Nicky has worked as a vocalist alongside artists such as Rudimental and Nile Rodgers.

Nicky is bilingual and speaks French fluently, so she can often be found sampling the cultural delights of Paris and further afield.

The Horn Section

Max Fagandini

Trumpet, Trombone

Max Fagandini - Trumpet, Trombone

Max joined the band in 2010, taking over from our original trumpeter Tristan who moved abroad.

Max has been playing trumpet since the age of 8 and in his time as a musician has had the pleasure of playing with several superb groups and musicians, including More Ice and Honey, Paul Carella, the University of London Big Band and his own band, the Two Rules Big Band.

A classically trained trumpeter, Max caught the jazz bug at the age of 11 when he was invited to play with his local big band, and it's been with him ever since. He loves the sound of players like Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Harry James, and loves getting the opportunity to play with a great-sounding band like Down for the Count. Max also runs his own music projects including The Happy Hour Collective.

Simon Joyner

Trumpet, Guitar

Simon Joyner - Trumpet, Guitar

Simon caught the jazz bug playing alongside Mike and Claire in the Aylesbury Music Centre Dance Band, and has been a member of Down For The Count since its humble beginnings. He spent four years in exile studying music and composition in Manchester, where he learnt the ropes leading the University Big Band, setting up his own jazz quintet and working as Musical Director for student productions including Bernstein’s On The Town. Simon finally made the leap south in 2013 and settled in London.

Not always content with merely tootling, Simon divides his time between arranging, composing and producing - including music for short films, classical and choral music, and studio arrangements (you can check him out at www.simonjoyner.co.uk). He has also been known to build websites (this one, for example!).

A stickler for style, he loves getting his teeth into a little Goodman or Ellington - but when the chips are down there's no-one quite like Louis.

Katie Edwards

Alto saxophone

Katie Edwards - Alto saxophone

Kate has been playing a variety of musical instruments since the age of 7 and started studying jazz piano and saxophone whilst at secondary school. In 2007 she made the intrepid journey 'up north' to study jazz at Leeds College of Music and left there in 2009 with a first-class honors degree.

Since graduating Kate has performed with a variety of bands including M83, Firing Line and the wonderful Down For The Count. She also runs an adult Glee Club who rehearse once a week and can often be found performing in the local pub.

Kate is a qualified accountant and when not performing she can be found with her head buried in a spreadsheet (often making sure our books are balanced!). Kate can also usually be relied upon to provide the band with baked goods and snacks and is definitely the band ‘feeder’.

Jamie Hone

Tenor saxophone, clarinet

Jamie Hone - Tenor saxophone, clarinet

Jamie has played with Down for the Count since 2011, and was brought in as a fully fledged member in 2015 when Claire moved abroad. He picked up the clarinet at the age of 8, moving swiftly on to the saxophone a couple of years later and he hasn't looked back since.

Jamie has played in a variety of bands such as the Spanner Jazz Punks, Urban Big Band, and The Rhythm and Blues Brothers. With these bands he has played at venues such as The Bulls Head Barnes, the Waterside Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall.

He has spent time organising gigs for small bands and larger line-ups such as the Phase 2 Big Band - and has extensive experience playing in various musicals (including Oliver!, West Side Story, Wizard of Oz, Anything Goes and many more).

Alex Western-King

Clarinet, tenor saxophone

Alex Western-King - Clarinet, tenor saxophone

Alex Western-King is a clarinettist and saxophonist who studied music at Wells Cathedral School and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He leads our dixieland trio, Alexander's Dixieland Band.

Claire Waterhouse

Tenor saxophone, Clarinet

Claire Waterhouse - Tenor saxophone, Clarinet

Claire started playing in big bands back in 2002 when she joined the award-winning Aylesbury Music Centre Dance Band, and toured with future Down for the Count band mates Mike, Simon and Tristan when they were the only school-aged band to play at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague. 

Claire has recently moved to Frankfurt with her husband Rob, where she runs music workshops for young children.

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