Sandy Brown Jazz

[A computer might ask you to allow the music to play on this page]




The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Neal Richardson - June 2020


Neal Richardson

Photograph courtesy of Brian O'Connor, Images of Jazz


It is two years since Neal Richardson joined me for a Tea Break. Much has happened since then and it seemed a good time for us to catch up.

Neal Richardson learned piano and violin at school and took up drums at thirteen; he still has his Ludwig classic kit, with a 400 snare, but these days he mainly plays piano.  His father was an amateur piano player, his mother sang in a choir, and there was plenty of music around at home. While at college, Neal was drumming for gigs in the evenings and on leaving college, he continued to play when he worked in computing during the day. The time came when he decided to make the break and work professionally as a musician, so he started to take piano lessons again to get to grips with music theory while at the same time playing in hotels, clubs and for cruises. He met and eventually married trumpeter Sue Richardson and the peripatetic gigging continued – they played on the first ship allowed in to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina.

After an extended period travelling and playing, there was an occasion when Neal and Sue stayed in a family guest house in Seaford, a coastal town in East Sussex, and they decided to make their home there. Neal kitted out a studio and then, as he said in one interview: The Seven Sisters cliffs“We went to a local pub (the gorgeous Snowdrop in Lewes) to see if the music was any good… and were pinned to the wall by the explosive force of (vocalist and pianist) Liane Carroll, whom I’d never heard of. We got chatting, and it turned out she’d always wanted to make a solo studio album ......... The resulting first recording was Billy No Mates, which I launched the label with, and which helped win two BBC Jazz Awards, which had never happened before.” Neal named the label, and other later projects, ‘Splash Point’ after a cliff at the end of the promenade in Seaford, near the start of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs with their seven hilltops.


The Seven Sisters



The success of the album led to producing more albums for Liane, and then for others including vocalist Ian Shaw, guitarist Andy Drudy and four for Sue Richardson and that was followed by music publishing for a digital-only label to help friends’ self-funded projects get onto iTunes, Amazon etc. Neal's next project was to start up a local jazz club and over time, a further five Splash Point jazz clubs along the south coast. Neal is also the festival director for the Eastbourne Splash Point Jazz Festival.

In 2014, Neal finally recorded his own debut album, Better ThanThe Blues. It was launched at the London Jazz Festival and in 2016, his nine-piece band sold out Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. Last year, 2019, his successful ‘Not King Cole’ show also played to sold out performances at the London Jazz Festival and plans had been in hand to take the show on tour.

On 16th March, shortly before the ‘lock-down’, Neal was interviewed by Mark Walker from Brighton and Hove's Latest local TV channel where they talked about Neal's career, working on cruise ships and financing music (click here). The discussion included ideas Neal had for streaming jazz online prior to the challenges that Covid-19 and social distancing have now brought. Neal has now taken those streaming ideas and his regular At Your Request shows are running on Facebook or you can catch up with them on YouTube.


This time Neal and I met up for a 'virtual' Tea Break:




Hi, Neal, What have you got there – tea or coffee?

Decaf (it’s my age) coffee with my new addiction - Oatly Barista (I'm in my 4th year of being plant-based. Hopefully people will still read the rest of this though!).


That's impressive. My wife has Oat milk, but usually semi-skimmed 'ordinary' milk in coffee. The other day I mentioned that we were running short of semi-skimmed and she said, "It's OK, I'll take some oat milk to the studio." (she is a ceramicist). After a pause I said, "Goat milk must be more expensive that cow's milk?!" (she says its my hearing, I think she doesn't speak clearly).


I was thinking of ordering a coffee mug with something on it like ‘I’ll Remember April’ or ‘Thing’s Ain’t What They Used To Be’. Any ideas?

Good idea!  You could bastardise a Gershwin classic: “How Long Will This Be Going On?!”


Sounds good! How have you all been coping with the Coronavirus lock down? I see you have been doing some weekly live stream gigs and asking for requests – how is that going? Will you go on doing them through June?

Neal Richardson

Thanks for asking… At first the situation was awful. A bit like the crash of 2007-8.  After the announcement I lost 125 gigs in 2 hours! Income zero. 25 years’ work building a career … It became a bit comical as the phone calls or emails came from all the venues saying sorry we’ve got to close down! I was very down for about 3 days … then got my head/arse in gear.

Weirdly, I had actually got in my business plan for this year to develop online gigs and Youtube stuff more… so it kinda forced my hand to bring things forward a bit. Suddenly I got asked to go on BBC1 Local News to talk about how our town was coping with Lockdown… so I thought: Right! Time to launch my weekly show straight after… which I did. Terrifying at first (and still is a bit), it’s been a very steep learning curve - and mainly a tech headache!

The first two were in mono, until I worked out how to get the studio software to talk to the broadcast software properly. Despite my trepidations, it’s growing each week, and people are being very supportive and really engaging. That’s the great thing about jazz fans: if they’re into something, they’re REALLY into it. Yep, no sign of stopping yet … though it is actually very hard work! I know this sounds daft, but it takes a huge amount of prep, technically (I’m always trying to improve production standards), musically (learning new songs), correspondence, keeping people happy, thanking tippers etc.



Yes, but you've always wanted to set the standards high in what you do, but that pays off in quality in the end. You seem so relaxed talking in the gig (can I call it a gig?) people wouldn't know it is hard work. Is it hard finding the motivation to practise and play, is Sue managing to play trumpet?

It can go either way. I know some musicians who are using this to do 3-5 hours a day; others who can’t bear to even play.  I’m in between.  I need deadlines so it’s very good for me to have a virtual gig to get ready for. Sue is in the middle of a PhD at the moment and had a big deadline for an exam, so she didn’t play or sing for 2 months. Then I got her on the show the next week and somehow she knocked it out the park!


I saw that, and she was an excellent 'guest'. It must be ironic that she played Anticipated Blues at Ronnie Scott’s only seven years ago as part of her Chet Baker project - none of us anticipated this situation!

Good point. That was a lovely gig. Oh, the idea of playing to an audience again!! Jazz South organised a couple of Zoom calls recently for jazz promoters and musicians, and the nice message that came out of it amongst the no-gig gloom was: To survive this situation we need to be adaptable… which requires imagination, innovation, creativity, improvisation… WHICH IS WHAT WE DO! So there is hope methinks.


Here's a snatch of Sue Richardson playing Anticipated Blues.







Does it help living near the south coast? Have you been able to get to the beach for walks and the odd social distance swim, or have been people been ignoring the advice and coming down there? Can you still get an ice cream?


Splash Point Seaford


To be honest, living near the sea papers over the cracks of whatever fragile sanity I may have left!  I normally dip every morning, but obviously couldn’t for 2 months, which REALLY didn’t help. I was jogging instead then having an ice-cold shower - which was better than nothing, and had the same masochistic thrill I s’pose - but now that we’re allowed to swim again it’s been deeply, deeply centering for me. I can drone on for hours about cold water therapy, but I won’t. 


Splash Point, Seaford by Mark Huntley


I think I'll leave the cold water therapy to you, my excuse is that I don't think the grey / brown river water here in Frome is quite as inviting! Which reminds me, why did you call your company Splash Point Music? Is it something to do with the sea?

Yes! Splash Point Seaford is my favourite place on earth: it’s the cliff at Seaford Head, which leads to the Cuckmere River and heralds the start of the Seven Sisters.  When I started the Record Label, it was the natural choice.



Splash Point Jazz Club logo



One of the toughest things at the moment must be how to restart the six Jazz Clubs – you have achieved a lot – as you say on the Club website, the events offer paid gigs to around 400 musicians a year? Have you been thinking about how you might re-launch them?

A casket of ashes shot into space? Slowly, is probably the answer. We are of course all at the mercy of the pandemic. I’ve been joking that if I’m doing my usual Xmas Eve gig this year, I’ll be happy.  Even when venues are open again, I think people will be nervous about socialising in an enclosed space again for a while, until we know it’s definitely safe. That is extremely worrying for all of us, I know. It’s no secret that the lockdown has presented many, many of us with mental health challenges, not least because the thing we love doing most, professionally speaking, has been taken away. But, of course, there are millions of people in the world in far worse and life-threatening positions.





I'm sure it won't be difficult to get musicians to play again, but if you could wave a magic wand and get a past jazz musician 'legend' to guest at the re-opening of the clubs, who would you choose, and what would you ask them during their tea break?

Oscar.  Actually I’m gonna cheat and say 3 - that incredible line-up of Oscar, Ella and Louis.  I’d ask any of them if I could download their brain to mine please!


I think Louis was busy on this occasion when Ella sang In A Mellow Tone with Oscar, it was probably from the 1980s and she was helped onto the stage by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, no less.


Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and In A Mellow Tone.





As you have moved more in the direction of live gigs than producing CDs I think people might forget you produced albums for some of the top names in UK jazz including Ian Shaw, Liane Carroll, Claire Martin..... Ian’s A Ghost In Every Bar where he sings the songs of Fran Landesman is one of my favourite albums of his – particularly All The Sad Young Men – I think Sue played on that album?

Yep - I particularly love that track too - the lyrics are superb and very apropos the frustration many young people feel currently - and the performances on the track are lovely. Yes this whole shebang started as a Label - I’d always wanted to run one, then expanded to music publishing (which is where Claire got involved with her fine songs - I didn’t produce albums for her but she kindly sang on my debut album). Eventually I got a bit tired of re-mortgaging and selling body parts to finance it all, so I returned to what I love best: playing live and interacting with an audience - hence starting the jazz clubs around Sussex.  I am addicted to this music!



Here's Neal and a video introduction to another of the albums he produced for Ian Shaw - The Abbey Road Sessions.





Was one of the latest albums your own recording of Better Than The Blues? I still have my copy and it was really nicely done – it looks more like a coffee table book! And while we are talking about it, what was the ‘N’ for in Nfunk?

Thanks for saying so! Yes - having produced about 30 albums for other people - and played on some - I decided I’d push the boat out a bit on mine! The writing was on the wall for physical CDs, so I thought - why not make something that could be appealing in another way too, tactile and hopefully beautiful to look at? So I did it as a joint project with the UK’s No.1 wedding photographer, Peter Prior. Oh and it just means Neal’s Funk! It was the first tune I wrote.


Here is a video with selections from Neal's album launch at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho.





Looking back to last year and live gigs, you did that ‘Not King Cole’ project last year. How did that go? Did you video any of it? And what would you say is your favourite Nat King Cole number?

Oooh that’s a tough question. Probably have to be Nature Boy, just for the message to humanity. The 'Not King Cole' project has been great to do! It went down a storm at the London Jazz Festival and we had a spring tour booked for this year… including Germany and New York … (sigh!). It will p'raps happen in 2021 instead. (There’s a little summary NKC video on my site front-page (Scroll down on Neal's website page below). I’ve learnt SO much about Nat through life-research and studying his music. People forget that he was touted as the best jazz pianist around before he became known for THAT voice. And obviously I can’t get anywhere near him in any way - hence the name - but I try and get across my huge admiration, affection and respect for him in my own way. And the name got awarded the best band name pun!





How do you think the London Clubs are going to manage in the future? If numbers are restricted the economics are going to be a problem, and it will be strange if the audience has to wear face masks – let alone wind instrument players!?

Well, every cloud… But seriously if the places have to have restricted numbers and socially distanced seating, they won’t be able to pay the staff, never mind the band!  Wait a minute, that sounds just like a jazz club anyway…!! I’m being light-hearted, but it is a MAJOR logistical challenge. My pal in New Zealand says that there, places have opened up with distancing - eg theatres/cinemas with every other seat empty - and it’s very weird. I guess prices will therefore have to go up, which may then deter younger people which would be very sad.


So, when things settle down again, what plans do you have for future projects.

Well I’d like to develop the virtual jazz club thing (out of necessity) and I’ve got mad ideas of how to get other guests in… involving some very long cables, 2 baked bean tins, a car mat and some paint I found in the shed… I’m desperate to play with and for others again, and want to further my career in that way.  For me, jazz is a three-way process: Connection between me and the band, the band and the audience, and vice versa. I’m painfully aware of the gaps in my playing and singing - I'm still taking lessons - I love what I do but I languish forever under the usual Imposter-syndrome insecurities of “Who am I kidding” and “At the current rate of progress, maybe by the time I’m 74 I’ll be half way to being the musician I want to be…” etc. Which is what I said about being 54 when I was 34… eek!


As I said earlier, you always set your standards high, but it seems to me that you don't need to worry too much, your enthusiastic audiences are constantly proofing the pudding! Thanks for taking time out, Neal. Now, before you go for a dip in the sea or hunt down a Knickerbocker Glory, it’s your turn to make a request – what do you fancy?

I adore Brazilian jazz, so my current crush is this: Eliane Elias live - No More Blues (Chega De Saudade) please. This performance has such good humour, communication, love, connection, musicality and… I think the best drum solo ever.  I used to play drums, so I love Rafael Barata’s musicianship here! 


Eliane Elias and No More Blues (Chega De Saudade)





Good choice. Bye, Neal, stay safe and well until next time, hopefully in better circumstance, meanwhile we’ll see you at the next live stream.

Thank YOU, Ian, for the nice chat and the opportunity to spout… much cheaper than therapy!



Neal Richardson

Photograph courtesy of Brian O'Connor, Images of Jazz


Utah Teapot



Visit us on Facebook Facebook logo

Other pages you might find of interest :

More Tea Breaks
Tracks Unwrapped
Full Focus
Jazz Remembered

Click HERE to join our mailing list

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2020