Anton Hunter

We meet jazz guitarist Anton Hunter to find out what inspired Article XI, a new piece specially commissioned for this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 22 Jul 2014
  • min read
Young guitarist musician Anton Hunter is inspired as much by artrock noisniks Mogwai and MyBloodyValentine as experimental jazz artists such as Graham Collier.

As a result, he’s usually to be found playing in more leftfield fringes, either with the Beats & Pieces Big Band, his own trio or Beck Hunters – a trio with brother Johnny on drums and saxophonist Mick Beck. It’s with these acts he’s garnered a reputation as one of the most inspiring new jazz musicians in the North West.

It’s no surprise then that he won the 2014 Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission for this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival.

Article XI, a new piece which takes its name from the European Convention on the right to free assembly, will be debuted this week at the event. We caught up with Anton ahead of the gig to get the low down on his music and he wrote this new work…

How did you begin making music?

I’ve been in bands with my brother for years. Our first band played Mogwai and Radiohead covers. That was our route in - OK Computer and Mogwai’s Young Team both had a big impact.

How did you get involved with the Manchester Jazz Festival?

I’ve lived in Manchester for 12 years and have been aware of the festival for most of that time. I was originally a punter when we got our first jazzish band together. The festival was a focal point for our endeavours.

You’ve written Article XI especially for this year’s event – what was the thinking behind the work?

With most of my gigs there’s a lot of spontaneity. It’s either completely improvised or there is a lot of openness to allow for the musicians’ personality or how they’re feeling on the day to shape the performance.

I love playing with larger ensembles as well as smaller groups but with the former it’s often harder to get that same feeling of spontaneity. Part of the idea behind this piece was to get the musicians more involved. In the first instance I wrote melodies, got them to record themselves playing that and then immediately improvising. I then got their feedback on the music. In some instances it’s changed what I’ve written, inspired new pieces and motifs. It’s a way of them being involved from the start.

How did you get the ensemble together?

It’s a mixture of people I’ve played with a lot, like my brother, Sam Andreae and Nick Walters in various groups. Some of them I’ve played with less but always wanted to work with them. I’m also involved in running a couple of nights in Manchester for new music – Freedom Principle and The Noise Upstairs. Through those nights I’ve met a lot of musicians from outside of Manchester.

What are you hoping to get from the collaboration?

With a band of 11 there are always going to be some logistical concerns. The bassist is also from Finland and the sax player is from Norway. We’ve got a gig in London at the Vortex three days after the appearance in Manchester. We’re going to record both gigs so hopefully there’ll be an album’s worth of music there, then keep seeking opportunities with the project.

Will it be in a state of flux until you perform?

Yes I’m making sure I leave enough room for the unexpected. I’m imagining that both those two gigs will be very different from each other.

Where did you first get inspiration for such an ambitious piece?

In terms of approach, people like Graham Collier and his work with large ensembles before he passed away. Ken Vandermark and his Resonance ensemble employed quite a lot of freedom but still with moments of strong writing alongside the improvisation.

What has been the biggest challenge with the piece?

This is the first time I’ve had to write such a large amount of music. It’s the scale and trying to maintain the focus over the whole suite which has been tough. A lot of things have been in a half finished state but we had the first rehearsal the other week and it’s a relief to hear everything come together

Do have any thoughts on the jazz genre - is it in good health?

This is the question which keeps getting asked – jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny. Without wanting to disappear too far up my own arse, it depends on what you mean by jazz. To some people it’s a stylistic thing stuck in the fifties or sixties, an old fashioned music played by men in suits. I don’t think many musicians would define themselves as jazz musicians these days.

There is a lot of incredible creative music out there – and whether or not it calls itself is not really the point. Shatner’s Bassoon and Metamorphic from Leeds are both great. So many musicians also run nights which fertile breeding grounds for new music.

Have you any advice for aspiring musicians?

Do it. Maybe five or six years ago we were bemoaning the lack of gigs and opportunities. So we decided to just start doing it. We aren’t owed anything by anyone so just go out and do it.

Check out Anton’s and his ensemble’s performance of Article XI at the Manchester Jazz Festival on 24 July and in London at the Vortex Jazz Club on Sunday 27 July.