Meet Down for the Count's Musicians: Alex Howgego
In the next of our series of Meet The Band articles, Ruby talks to pianist Alex Howgego about his involvement with Down for the Count.
How/when did you first get involved with Down for the Count?
I got involved with Down for the Count in 2016, I remember it was a gig on an island on the south coast called Bigbury-on-Sea. I was initially put in contact with Mike through a friend from university, she and I had been doing vocal and piano duet gigs in London and she had heard that Mike needed a pianist and put me in contact.
What was your first experience of jazz/swing music?
I got involved with jazz in my teenage years. I was classically trained as a pianist, and I never really found my love for performing in a classical setting. Then there came a point where my mum wanted to try her hand at jazz singing, and obviously I was a pianist in the house so it was kind of convenient for me to accompany her. So it started out with me accompanying my mum, and she had a little band where we were living at the time, so I really cut my teeth there. Then I went to a few jam sessions and got to play with a few more people; it was really the discovery of jazz that led to my discovery of my love for music. Before then it was something I was encouraged into, which I am obviously very grateful for, but it’s probably fair to say I didn’t find my love for it until I found jazz and realised that music is a thing to be shared and not just a solo pursuit.
Who are your musical influences?
I listened a lot to Keith Jarrett as a teenager and young adult. His Out-of-Towners CD, there’s a Tokyo album and the Munich album that I listened to a lot too. Those albums contained, amongst other things, some jazz standards that I was familiar with. So in those early stages I occupied myself by trying to recreate parts of those albums, or those particular takes on those standards. So that was a fairly formative influence for me.
Oscar Peterson is another big influence. I have spent many happy hours just listening to the Songbooks albums - for me, those are an absolute masterclass in technique and harmony, and they are also just a joy to listen to.
And then honestly, outside of that, I would say J.S Bach - I spent lockdown making my way through 48 Preludes and Fugues. Again, they’re just a masterclass in how harmony works which for me is a huge amount of my grounding and understanding of music.
Do you have a favourite jazz album/song/recording?
It’s constantly changing!
Right at present is the Jason Rebello version of Summertime, which Dae Hyun Lee (one of Down for the Count’s percussionists) put me onto when we were on the Voices of Swing tour last year. So at present I’ve got my head stuck on that.
As an all time favourite I would say the Oscar Peterson Songbooks.
Outside of jazz and swing music, I have a real weak spot for 90s boy bands. My Spotify ‘liked’ songs are a mix of 90’s boybands, Eminem and modern artists like Louis Cole. I have also been listening to a lot of Knower at the minute (Louis Cole and Genevive Artadi).
Are you involved in any musical projects outside of Down for the Count?
Bits and pieces! Honestly, at the minute Down for the Count gives me enough to keep me occupied.
I have been doing some standards playing with the likes of James Agg and Dom Franks, which has been a nice opportunity to go and jam some standards. In 2024 I want to go to some more jam sessions.
What has been your favourite Down for the Count performance?
Up until this most recent tour I would have said Cadogan Hall 2022 when we sight-read Our Love is Here to Stay for Alex and Hannah a few days before their wedding, which was a very special moment and a very special gig.
However, with the most recent tour that is quite hotly contested. Glasgow was unbelievable this time around, playing at somewhere like the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall felt like a real step up. And then Nottingham on this Christmas tour was amazing, especially as the orchestra had never been there before, it was amazing to see so many people in the audience. That buzz created a feedback loop on the night and was quite a special performance.
Also an honourable mention to the afterparty at Twinwood 2022 (or 2021?). We played the Control Tower, followed by the Main Stage, followed by the after party. That after party was some of the best crowd energy I can remember, which for me is a huge part of what drives the enjoyment of the gig.
What’s your favourite song to perform with Down for the Count?
I absolutely love Mona Lisa, which is a bit of a funny answer because I don’t actually play on it. Every time we play that though, it is just the magical 3 and a half minutes being surrounded by the glorious warm strings sound, and I just love the way Callum sings it.
To play, probably Let There Be Love. There is a nice little piano feature, and I always get a nice buzz when we do that.
Also some of the big swing numbers. There are few things more fun than the closing section of After You’ve Gone.
What are your hobbies when you’re not performing?
A variety of things really. I am a relatively keen amateur mechanic, I like pulling my car to bits.
I also like swimming and running, I am a software engineer as well so I obviously have a keen interest in anything tech related. Generally anything that keeps me active or interested.
What is the best part about being involved with Down for the Count?
Down for the Count is special to me because it’s about the people as much as it’s about the music. What makes playing in Down for the Count special is that there is a feeling that we’re all doing it because we enjoy playing together, not just because of the actual notes we are making. That goes for off-stage and on-stage to be honest; part of the enjoyment of the tours for me is the time we spend off-stage together as well. It means when you do get on-stage, you’re making music not only with amazing musicians, but also your mates.
I am a firm believer that making music together is a very intimate thing, and that you do it better with people you like. I think that is substantiated by the audience feedback we get as well, as lots of people comment on the chemistry on-stage, and I think that has sort of become a unique selling point for us.