Celebrating 30 years in 2022

Matt Holborn on the inspiration behind his new suite of music ‘Here’

Ahead of Thursday’s world premiere of his new suite of music ‘Here’, we caught up with violinist and composer Matt Holborn to find out more about the inspiration behind the music.

Hull Jazz Festival (HJF): We know that Here’s inspired by the city of Hull, its history and its people. Which elements of the city are reflected in the four pieces?

Matt Holborn:  It’s been an interesting process and a bit of a journey in regards to how I did this in practise, but I aimed to focus on Hull’s sense of pride in the city, its sense of humour, its ability to be bold and its solitary location on the map.

One of my pieces is based on local tour guide Paul Schofield’s journey through the city, another is based on and inspired by my own journeys in and out of Hull, passing the countryside that surrounds it. One of my pieces is based on King Charles I being shut out of the city (some say starting the English Civil War) and another is sort of a study in different ways to rhythmically, harmonically and melodically decorate a melody whilst still keeping its form – this one is supposed to represent Hull’s distinctive and unmovable accent.

Throughout the 4 pieces, there is a common returning melodic theme that arrives and disappears at different points. This signifies Hull and its sense if place.

I will also be playing a piece I wrote based on Larkin’s most famous poem ‘This be the verse’, a poem my late grandfather John Holborn used to jokingly recite every time I saw him, take from this what you will…

HJF: Why was it important to you to base this new work on Hull? 

Matt: My relationship to Hull is an interesting one as I was born here, moved away aged 10 but have been back and forth to visit my family who still live here. I have always known that Hull had a distinct sense of place and that the city didn’t always get the credit it deserves from the rest of the world but spending time contemplating why and how has really given me a new understanding of my hometown. It feels like such a positive thing to write music for your city.

HJF: Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve approached the composition process with your quartet?

Matt: One of the non technical aspects of my process was to go on a guided tour of hull with local expert Paul Schofield. This gave me a great insight into the city as well as actually inspiring one of my pieces.

When I’m writing music I either start by singing melodies over guitar chords or melodies will come to me at random points and I’ll sing them into my phone recorder. I’ll come back to it later and try to put chords behind it and record that. Then I’ll come back to it in a day and see if I like it. If so, i’ll start piecing it together into a simple demo and then bring it to the band.

With this project I have tried to keep a consistent line of thought throughout the writing about how the music can tie into the things I have been learning about the city. It’s been a really interesting process.

I have tried to keep enough room for the musicians to bring their own thing to the music. I try to not be overly married to the grooves and sounds that I hear in my head behind my melodies.

HJF: We know your music encompasses a range of styles and inspirations. Can you tell us about them and what people can expect to hear on Thursday?

Matt: My musical focus has always flitted around and pointed at different aspects of improvised music, sometimes I’m obsessed with keeping to the traditions of jazz or Eastern European Romani music or Indian classical and other times I’m writing new music. (This is A.D.D. in action)

This project has helped me try to forget any of the traditions I have studied over the years and just see what comes out. What’s funny is that the music seems to have taken a slightly indie, folky turn which I didn’t really expect. I’ve been told also that the melodies are sort of somewhere in between Nirvana and Brad Mehldau.

Tickets for the world premiere of ‘Here’ are on sale now from the Hull Truck Theatre box office.

‘Here’ was commissioned as part of our Kickstart Commissions series.