:: John Potter & Ariel Abramovich


Friday, January 13th, 2012



I’ve replaced the rather rambling Ensemble, Being Dufay and Lutesongs pages with a much simpler Programmes page, which gives basic details of my main performing projects for this year and next, which are (in alphabetical order): Being Dufay (and its successor), the Conductus Project,  the Dowland Project, and lute songs. The Red Byrd discography has been updated to include the two latest releases. RB isn’t offering specific programmes but we have a number of special requests in the pipeline and are working on these. The Dowland Project also has concerts later in the year, and we’re still waiting for a definite release date from ECM which we hope will generate some more.  The album will be the group’s most radical (and possibly its last), focusing on medieval music and improvisation. There are  also  more succinct Biography and Coaching pages and a slightly edited entry page.

There are Amazon Stores for both the Dowland Project and Red Byrd, with a complete discography and biography on each. I also have a writer’s page, though you may get a primary school teacher of the same name or the magical Harry (the CD page is pretty basic at the moment, but will eventually have a representative selection).


A History of Singing

The book is due any day now, and the dedicated page here is intended to link bits of it with recordings and concerts. The book doesn’t have a formal discography (redundant in the age of Google) so I  thought I’d take the opportunity to track down various YouTube examples of my own stuff and match them up with references in the book. It does this by means of  a Prezi presentation which I hope will be a bit more fun than just a list of stuff. If this works I may expand the concept to include other bits of writing (such as my chapters in the two forthcoming Cambridge Histories).


Wednesday, August 31st, 2011


It’s coming up to the first anniversary of my return to freelancing.  It’s also the anniversary of my first attempts at blogging (thankyou Ned for getting me started – I’m afraid my efforts are never going to match yours).

Made it!  I was very heartened by so many people  seeming to think I was doing the right thing. Only a few said  I was brave (a polite way of saying I was stupid) and it’s been a very exciting year.

I’ve been quite pleased that the academic/pedagogical side hasn’t disappeared altogether.  I still get asked to do keynote conference papers, and the doctoral examining has branched out into Europe (really interesting).  I’ve done lots of coaching and workshops from Scandinavia to Slovenia, and  I’ve encountered some really creative students wanting more than just one-to-one singing lessons. A bit like having postgrads but without all the bureaucracy.  It’s ideal really – I  get  to do the interesting stuff and none of the boring institutional bits. Can’t help feeling a little Schadenfreude thinking of my ex-colleagues about to start a new term…

I wonder if it’s actually possible to give yourself completely to a regular job or project and still keep the freshness (maybe the naivety) that attracted you to it in the first place.  Three of the most important things in my life have been Electric Phoenix, The Hilliard Ensemble and my university job. I loved and left them all, and for the same reasons:  once I’d got the hang of them and found myself unable to think in terms of permanent revolution any more I just couldn’t knuckle down and get on with it. I never did get to love big brother (though at York I came pretty close once or twice).  A very great friend of mine once said I couldn’t cope with success, but I think it’s more a case of just not wanting to  grow up. I’m actually very lucky to be able to earn a living as a permanent adolescent – like most of the performers I know, in fact.

It’s been liberating to be able to pursue my own projects, whether in performance, writing or teaching. It hasn’t always been easy – the ECM recording sessions were a bit of a shock to the system (my mistake, and it all turned out OK in the end), and CUP took a while to understand what we had in mind for the referencing system in the history book; and telling a conference in Germany that they should all change their singing teachers when one of them was Francisco Araiza was a bit daft. But on the whole I think I’ve got away with it. There’s been lots of interest in the tenor book, and I’ve corresponded (at length in some cases) with people all over the world who know much more about the topic than I do.   My friend Larry Josefovitz, for example  – I don’t think he would object to my calling him that even though we have never met – was able to guide me through the Jewish part of the singing history as a result of his having read the tenor book. Larry’s an Orthodox Jew, an American Zionist, and I’m a heathen with a secular European take on religion and the Arab/Israeli comflict, yet in metaphysical and musical matters we have a huge amount in common. Venn Diagrams again.

The gigs have been fantastic – whether sweltering in Seville with Ariel Abramovich, going to Tampere  for jury service and Being Dufay, or  busking with Gavin Bryars at Opera North’s Howard  Assembly Rooms.  I’ve also been inspired by some amazing music throughout the year. Not just by friends and colleagues but by musicians I’ve never met. At the top must be Gianluigi Trovesi, whose ECM recording Profumo di Violetta in some ways epitomises the permanent adolescent musical life. You can’t categorise his music: there’s not a trace of the old avant-garde or of post-modernism either – along with 70s Genesis, Satie or Percy Grainger  he probably wouldn’t cut it in contemporary academia.  We’re going to miss the CD format when it’s gone – just taking the album out of its sleeve is an adventure: the Sascha Kleis  cover (typical ECM – where does that water come from? Bergamo’s on a hill…),  the Roberto Masotti photos, and the touching liner note by Trovesi himself about the town bands that he grew up with in the northern Italian valleys. Then there’s the music – an exhuberant pillaging of Italian opera from Monteverdi to Mascagni. Has ‘Pur ti miro’ ever sounded more eloquent than as a flugelhorn and saxophone duet, or the windband arrangement of the Orfeo fanfare more riotous? He even makes you wish you could play the clarinet. And it all happens in a magical acoustic representation of  the cathedral piazza in Bergamo – where I’ve been so many times with family and friends (and I’m still waiting to be paid for a gig I did in the opera house two years ago).


The coming year is also full of excitements: three CDs to record between now and Christmas, and 2012 will see the release of the new Dowland Project album (actual date to be anounced at the end of September), the first Cantum release (July at the York Early Music Festival) and several more Sound & Fury CDs. On the publishing front,  CUP will launch the history of singing and two other Cambridge Histories that I’ve contributed chapters to (page proofs for the history book are due back at the Press at the beginning of October and it should be in the shops in February). Gigs and workshops continue to materialise, and I’ll even have time to start on a new book…



Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

November 3

Dowland Project (Prague) with John Surman (sax/bass clarinet), Milos Valent (viola/violin) & Steve Stubbs (lutes)

Strings of Autumn Festival

extrapolations & improvisations on  Monteverdi, Merula, Sances, Purcell, Busatti, der Kanzler & anon

Tyn ChurchThis was our only European performance this year, so it was a very special occasion (Steve Stubbs flew from Seattle just for the gig). The Strings of Autumn Festival is magic – very efficient and friendly staff, great audience and the Tyn church is spectacular. Czech TV took part of the concert and even asked sensible quesitions afterwards.  It took a while to sort the sound out (the church is almost higher than it is long) but we had a great time.  For an encore we did La Dolce Vista. I didn’t tell the guys what it was, just ‘drone in D…’, and it worked surpisingly well in a slightly swung triple time…

My suite in the Intercontinental Hotel even had a pillow menu, pilow menuwhich coming soon after the monkish pseudo pillow of Mauerbach was a blessed relief.

November 6

Gavin Bryars Ensemble (London)

London International Festival of Exploratory Music at King’s Place

programme  includes Laude, Singe/Petrarch sonnets & new versions of English Madrigals by Gavin Bryars to poems by Blake Morrison for tenor, electric guitar, viola, cello & bass

Only UK performance this year.

What a wonderful concert hall King’s Place is. Crisp, bright acoustic – lovely to sing in, helpful backstage staff – perfect. It was a pretty hectic day as Gavin Bryars was held up in motorway traffic so we didn’t start the rehearsal till very late. But the new Morrison Songbook seemed to go very well – Blake’s words combine a strong sense of narrative with a linguistic sensuality that singers live for and Gavin is perfect at capturing – and Penny was very touched by Gavin’s dedication of the work to her. Great to see so many friends in the audience too. The Euston Ibis was a bit of a contrast to the Prague Intercontinental – no airconditioning so windows open to the roar of London traffic...

Next performance: Université d’Orléans (France), January 28

November 11

A Musicall Banquet (Birmingham) with Ariel Abramovich

Birmingham Early Music Festival

songs by Dowland, Holborne, Martin, Hales, Batchelor, Tessier, Guedron, Caccini & Megli from Robert Dowland’s 1610 book

November 12

lutsesong workshop with Ariel Abramovich

Learning Centre, Birmingham University 10.30 – 1.00

The Birmingham Early Music Festival’s theme of The Poet Sings was perfect for our Musical Banquet performance. The Birmingham & Midland Institute was a gem of a venue (and apparently features acoustic tiling based on the Fibonacci series) and we had a wonderfully attentive audience who’d braved the atrocious weather.  It’s a great festival – well worth checking out the other concerts. Our workshope was also terrific – what a great bunch of students – and how lucky they are to have Mary O’Neill to look after them!

November 18

Being Dufay (1st London performance)

Lewisham Sampler Festival at The Albany Deptford

I don’t do many gigs in the UK, and they’re sometimes distinctly odd. I looked up during the second number, to see someone apparently doing gymnastics swinging from the balcony ironwork. I hope it was out of excitement rather than boredom. The bar was in the auditorium (something I’d advocated at the York Music Department, but which – predictably – found no support) and it was great to see people sitting at tables rather than strung out like washing. Even so, Ambrose had to leap into the audience before we started to tell them to slurp their beer rather more loudly than they had during the recorder playing that preceded us. The day didn’t start well: I forgot the laptop that plays the video programme, so Ambrose and the Albany techies had to spend hours trying to re-construct it – which they did with seconds to spare. We always travel with plenty of backup, but it’s the sort of thing you only want to do once. I don’t think Ambrose enjoyed himself much, but I thought the show went quite well.

next performance: Parco della Musica Auditorium (Rome) February 26

We’ve just got this short video interview with excerpts from our Dancity Festival performance in Foligno earlier this year:

November 24

Roger Marsh 60th birthday concert (York)

Not a Soul but Ourselves sung by Anna Myatt, Linda Hirst, John Potter & Bill Brooks

excerpts from his Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire &  new works for tenor, cello (Charlotte Bishop) and tape by Ed Jessen and for tenor & marimba (Damien Harron) by Morag Galloway

Marsh posterThis was a grand occasion and a lot of fun: a tribute to Roger Marsh masterminded by William Brooks –   two of the brightest stars of their generation. I first met Bill and Roger when Electric Phoenix took on their Madrigals (Brooks) and Not a Soul but Ourselves (Marsh) in 1978/9  (both pieces written the year before for the seminal Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble of San Diego). They became the Phoenix signature pieces (and daft as it may seem, one of the reasons that I left EP having put a huge amount of effort into getting it going was that the success of those two pieces completely undermined the group’s commitment to permanent revolution (alas, I wasn’t to discover Gramsci for another seven years…).Brooks poster They’re still among my very favourite 20th century vocal pieces – and they more than stand comparison with those of their slightly older more famous contemporaries Berio, Stockhausen et al. Roger subsequently re-wrote Bits and Scraps for me, and I toured with his wonderfully mad solo piece DUM (which I once performed in a field full of cows – absent in these pics as they were busy licking the camera).Dum scan

If someone had said back in the seventies that Roger, Bill and I would end up in the same university at the same time,  I would have thought, blimey – that would be quite some music department…

Anna Myatt, Linda Hirst, Bill Brooks and I just about survived Not a Soul (which Linda and I last did in Finland about 10 years ago), and there some lovely excerpts from Roger’s Pierrot Lunaire sung by The 24, Juice and the assembled company. I survived garrotting by Richard Wistreich once again. The cycle of mostly acappella pieces was originally commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble in 2000 for one of their last German summer schools and completed a couple of years later as a Music Department Practical Project which Roger and I directed (and is one of my fondest memories of the Department).  It was later recorded for NMC (the booklet includes an article by yours truly on working with Roger). Pierrot coverThere were also new pieces for me to sing by Ed Jessen and Morag Galloway (both of whom had studied with Roger). Ed’s, for tenor, Charlotte Bishop on cello and tape,  was a typical Jessen oeuvre, the musical realisation of a fascinating wider intellectual process which in this case began 35,000 years ago. Morag’s was a duet for me and Damien Harron on marimba – an evocative setting of D H Lawrence’s The Healing. Composers and players were a joy to work with. But the best thing of the evening was a pop sog composed and sung by the student Marsh, accompanying himself on guitar,  back in 1972.  We were stunned – he was a fully formed blues singer…

This was my Music Department swan song, and there was a rather nice symmetry about it: it was Roger Marsh who was responsible for my coming to York 12 years ago, and the first York student I met was the newly graduated Morag Galloway. So Roger, if you see this,  a belated happy birthday –  I owe you a large one…

November 25

Launch of UYMP Songbook (compiled by John Potter & David Blake)

Birmingham Conservatoire

It was great to hear most of the songs from the volume, sung with great assurance by the Conservatoire students. There was some excellent cello, clarinet and marimba playing too. David Blake and I (especially David) spent a lot of time choosing which numbers to include, and the singers were coached (very sensitively, I thought) by Mary Wiegold. It was a very nice occasion – hosted with great charm by Julian Pike (a demon with one figure at the keyboard). I do hope university and conservatory students pick up on it – there are some fine pieces, and it’s a long way from the traditional voice & piano stuff.


I’m taking December off for book finishing!


Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Reflections on theRobert Kirby Memorial Concert


I didn’t know Robert Kirby well (even though we’d sung together as children) but I felt I got to know much more of him in a wonderful afternoon at Cecil Sharp House. It was a wonderfully warm occasion with some inspirational music making from musicians whose lives he had touched, and a tear or two as we remembered him and, for the Gentle Power singers at least, those extraordinary times at the very end of the Sixties. The whole event was held together with cool affection by Harvey Brough, whose own arrangement of Nick Drake’s ‘Fruit Tree’, powerfully delivered by Clara Sanabras was for me the hit of the afternoon. The FabCab experience was quite an emotional one for all of us. Our tuning definitely continued the curve that began in 1967 but you couldn’t fault our commitment, and that window on Robert’s student life clearly touched a chord with the packed hall. We did the first ever live performance of our single (it got to No 74…), Richard Hill’s Constant Penelope, in a new arrangement by Harvey (thanks Harve!). That was quite something… Marcus, Alan, Dave, Martin, Edward, Julian – it was fantastic to see you all and to sing together again.

Fabcab 1967Marcus Bicknell, Hugh Dibley, John Potter, Chris Johns, Dave Sloan, Alan Fairs

Fabcab 2010

JP, Edward Bailey, Julian Bicknell, Dave Sloan, Marcus Bicknell, Martin Nelson, Alan Fairs

No more academia?

I was going to whinge on about why I left academia, but having such a great experience only 3 days after leaving the day job has made me realise that life’s much too short to go back over all that.  So here’s a paragraph or two about my plans for the immediate future…

I won’t actually be losing touch with the academic world completely, and I’ll be doing the occasional keynote at conferences with creative agendas. The first of these will be at the  Katholische Akademie Schwerte next year for the Tenor: Mythos, Geschichte, Gegewart congress.   I’ve also been invited to participate in the 25th anniversary events at the Bremen Akademie für alte Musik (I taught there in its early days,  when we lived in Great Dunmow and  Air Bremen did a daily return flight from Stansted until it went out of business). More on these in due course.

Cantum pulcriorum invenire

Cantum imageI also now have part-time research fellowship at the University of Southampton. The ink was barely dry on my resignation letter  when I was invited by Mark Everist to take part in his Cantum Pulcriorum Invenire project. This is the result of  Southampton’s success in getting a huge AHRC grant to look at the 13th century Conductus repertoire, and will involve me and Chris O’Gorman experimenting with the research findings and recording the results for Hyperion over the next three years. There is also an Australian dimension to this: much of the 13th century material was originally edited by Gordon Anderson at the University of New England (the volumes of music are known in the trade as Anderson Conductus), and the University of Sydney will explore his legacy as a partner on the project. This is a hugely exciting project, and we’re looking forward to performances in both hemispheres.


The Dowland Project

Actually, most of what I’ll be doing immediately is developing existing projects, which I now have much more time to devote to . The Dowland Project still has the famous night sessions from St Gerold awaiting release. These were completely improvised (and featured a rare performance by John Surman on lecturn). We don’t have a release date from ECM yet, but we’re working on it. It’s not easy to get the band together (Steve lives in Seattle, JS in Oslo and Milos in Bratislava) so we try to make sure that every gig is groundbreaking in some way. Our visit to the Prague Strings of Autumn Festival next month will have several surprises.

Beyond Being…

Being Dufay FolignoAmbrose Field’s new and as yet untitled project is nearly ready to roll. The first performances will happen from June next year onwards. Like Being Dufay, it will be a multimedia presentation with a video response from Michael Lynch. The source material is 15th and 16th century pieces where composers tribute their fellow composers, so it’s really a trope of a trope of a trope.

…and beyond the lutesong

Potter & Abramovich in SloveniaAriel Abramovich and I are moving into radically different repertoire from our lutesong comfort zone. We will continue to explore the more eccentric byways of the early 17th century (notably Danyel and Morley as well as Campion and Dowland), but we’ll also look at the parallel ‘division’ repertoire, which works in similar ways to jazz some 300 years ahead of its time. We’ll be doing surviving examples by Rognoni and others as well as creating new versions of our own.


But the main difference from next year onwards will be doing programmes with vihuela, and where possible with two of them (or vihuela and bass lute). The first opportunity for this is the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomas Luis de Victoria in 2011. We’re preparing several programmes of masses and motets, adding Jacob Heringman to Ariel’s vihuela. After that we’ll be returning to Josquin with a similar ensemble including Lee Santana and soprano Anna Maria Friman, so that we can explore the canonic part writing with two voices. We hope to record both these projects for ECM in February.

I won’t be neglecting acappella performances of Josquin and his contemporaries though. The Sound & the Fury will continue to record Franco-Flemish at Kloster Mauerbach, and the Ciconia Ensemble is beginning to plan new programmes for the 600th anniversary of the composer in 2012. Red Byrd will also fly from time to time: NMC is planning to release the live BBC Lichfield Festival recording of Thea Musgrave’s Wild Winter. More on all of these later.


Vocal Authority coverI completed two chapters for new Cambridgetenor book pic Histories over the summer. The immediate writing task is for Neil Sorrell and I to finish our singing history, which we’ve promised to  CUP by the end of the year. I also have a chapter to write with Liz Haddon for the book of the IMP project. After that I’ll be taking my time updating the tenor book and writing a sequel to Vocal Authority. Neither of these will be conventionally ‘academic’. The paperback corrected reissue of the tenor book has had a good reception, being  listed in the Financial Times Hottest Holiday Reading and a Sunday Telegraph paperback of the week.

What I won’t be doing…

I’m not intending to do any more academic writing of the sort that has tiny print runs and goes mainly to libraries where three people read it (and in the case of the Cambridge UL  copy of Vocal Authority, scribble oh-so-clever glosses in the margins).

No one-to-one teaching either – the old master-apprentice model needs completely re-vamping for the 21st century, especially in higher education.

Nor am I going to sing any of the mainstream tenor repertoire. I’ve never understood why people want to sing the same old stuff year after year. It’s been a while since I sung Bach Passions, Handel oratorios and the like, and as far as  possible I won’t be doing anything I’ve done before. None of  my performing projects is actually repeatable: programmes have an evolutionary shelf life, and if anything gets to sound the same as last time then it’s time to stop. It’s risky of course, but I like to think that avoiding the bland  predictability of the mainstream is partly why I’m still in business when so many of my contemporaries who took a safer route are now finding life difficult. That’s something  that our all-centralising university education factories don’t really get.

and best  of all, I’ll now have plenty of time for this…

Mybeautiful granddaughter Emily, born to Alice and Ned on August 7th

Emily asleep

Life is good!


Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

This is my first autumn back in the real world…and November has an unprecedented 5 gigs in England, including new works by Gavin Bryars at King’s Place and the first London performance of Being Dufay…

October 3

Robert Kirby memorial event

Cecil Sharp House, London

October 15

Sound & Fury live broadcast from Mauerbach ORF 22.00

October 15- 19

Kloster pic
Sound & Fury recordings (Vienna)

Josquin Desprez: Missa Gaudeamus & Missa Sine Nomine

Marbrianus De Orto: Missa Mi mi & Missa L’homme armé

November 3

Dowland Project (Prague)

Strings of Autumn Festival

November 6

Gavin Bryars Ensemble

King’s Place (London)

to include new versions of Madrigals by Gavin Bryars to poems by

Blake Morrison

November 11

A Musicall Banquet (Birmingham) with Ariel Abramovich

Birmingham Early Music Festival

November 18

Being Dufay

The Albany, Lewisham

part of the Sampler Festival

November 24

Roger Marsh 60th birthday concert (York)

to include new works by Ed Jessen and Morag Galloway

November 25

Launch of UYMP Songbook (compiled by John Potter & David Blake)

Birmingham Conservatoire