Thoughts on Alan Barnes’ Octet – “Copperfield”, 27 December 2022

Thoughts on Alan Barnes' Octet - "Copperfield", 27 December 2022

Now this was special. Wonderful material written by Alan Barnes, and edited by Mark Nightingale, eight of the best players about having a great time, Alan’s telling of the story of the book, and a very happy audience.

    It has been many years since I had read Dickens’ “David Copperfield”, but Alan did a lovely job in giving us synopses for each of the songs. Every song, at least for me, evoked my memories of the book. He had a script to work from, but he was very aware of the audience so that he could ad lib when he wanted to, Early in the first set, he admonished me for “playing with my knobs” (remember, I was the sound guy), He got the audience to holler out the names of characters he described. Alan had a great ear for spontaneous comedy.

    For a set list, I refer you to the beautifully designed CD, which contains some of the scripted material at our live gig, as well as the music.  Information can be found at You can buy the CD at

    About the  music: I don’t think it was easy to play. It had lots of notes in places, and very careful spare areas; I am thinking of David Newton’s piano solo in the 3/4 “Mr Micawber”. Clark Tracey’s careful, evocative drum intro to “Uriah Heap” before Alan Barne’s only use of the bass clarinet with sonority and shivery runs, which evoked “Uriah” beautifully, Alan had great solos on alto sax and clarinet during the rest of the gig.

    In “Barkis is Willing”, there was a sweet entry from the horn chorus, followed by one of Simon Thorpe’s bass solos. You can hear why Simon is such a ‘go to’ player. “Creakle and Tungay” has Bruce Adams displaying his power on trumpet, followed by Karen Sharps lyricism on the baritone sax. I could listen to  Robert Fowler’s work on tenor sax or clarinet all day.

    Mark Nightingale is a trombonist of international note, a composer and an editor, and his playing on the gig ranged from the powerful and dramatic to the sweet. His solo in “Steerforth” was my favourite of his work on the gig.

    Usually I listens for the solos, using the head as a platform for the solo work. Indeed, the solos were worth the price of admission, but I found the written work captivating. Alan interspersed beautiful harmonies with contrapuntal sequences in just about all combinations of horns. I will be listening to it again and again.

    Just for fun, my naughty nephew took a very short video of Alan having fun: 

    The next gig is another Tuesday, the 10th of January in the New Year. The young musicians in  The Magpie Trio are a fascinating listen. Do join us.

    Have a happy and healthy New Year,


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