Chris Storr is one of the most respected and sought after trumpet players in the music business, having played and recorded with more popular artists than you can think of, from Tom Jones, Amy Winehouse, Billy Ocean to Massive attack. He’s performed and toured with the greats, and still called upon for active duties within a host of main stream bands including King Creole and the Coconuts, Jools Holland’s Rhythm And Blues Orchestra and his own band Fillet-o-Soul.
We catch up with a rather tired Chris Storr after a recent 5 week UK tour as trumpet player in the Strictly Come Dancing band, a stripped back version of the band in the TV Series, but none the less demanding.
“It was pretty full on,” says Chris, “I’m just starting to get back to normality. Basically each show is themed like the TV series, although all the couples perform the same dance routine at each show. The audience then get to vote with their mobile phones who they want to lift the glitter ball each time. For members of the band, it’s a routine we can follow each time, but we have to keep well on our toes.
We had a week booked at John Henry’s rehearsal studios in London before we went on tour, but the level of the musicianship is so high that we pretty much had it all worked out after the second or third day. Then it was straight to the arenas all over the UK, finishing back at the O2 in London.
The dances include familiar routines like waltz, rumba, fox trot, quick step and so on, but the songs are often from the charts and arranged in those traditional styles. After playing them nine times a week the dots are only there for a reference, although there’s a danger of complacency, and none of us in the band want to be the one to mess up.
Heaven forbid if there’s a mistake, it would be a slow death in the hands of Dave Arch”, laughs Chris, “He’s such an incredible band leader and notices everything, it’s an honour to be asked to play and the faith he has in my ability to be part of the team. The tour band includes all the TV band’s vocalists, but only half the musicians are involved, so they have to be multi-instrumentalists. I’m on trumpet first and flugelhorn if needed, whereas our sax player on the tour played up to eight different instruments within brass and woodwind.
Apart from the trumpet and flugelhorn I also play the piccolo trumpet, which I’ve been playing whilst dep’ing in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical at London’s Theatre Royal. I do a lot of standing in for musicians if they can’t make the show or need a day off. This really keeps me on my toes as I have to go in and play like the regular guy and more often is the case, without rehearsing, so it can be quite taxing, as there’s nowhere to hide.
Session work is a different category, but is just as challenging. I’m booked for a recording session next week and I have no idea what’s going to be thrown at me, but that’s the height of being a professional, I’ll turn up and get through it. There is a need of course to carry more than one instrument on many occasions, this is where my Fusion bags are so good.
The Urban Triple Trumpet gig bag proved itself when I toured with Josh Stone to Buenos Aires, Brazil. The shows demanded trumpet and flugelhorn and several mutes and a load of accessories and it fitted comfortably in the bag which easily went in the overhead on the plane, and of course the back straps leave me hands-free on the move, it’s obvious a lot of thought has gone into the designs.
The smaller Urban Triple Trumpet gig bag comes with me everywhere, I’ve literally been all over the world with this one, and I get so many collegues asking about them. As often is the case on stage, I’m changing trumpet mutes several times in one song, and there’s no time to bend down and pick one up from the floor. So the inner workstation bag not only holds all the mutes, I can hang it on a mic stand and just pick out the one I need. In the past I always struggled with gig bags, but I’ve been touring with these for a year now without any problems at all.”
Whilst Chris’s father was British, his mother was from Trinidad, which explains his love for Calypso music, he continues.
“I have wonderful memories of my mother singing in church choirs in Trinidad. She would sing Negro spiritual songs to me when I was a kid at home in the UK, and I would go over there and listen to Calypso music and come home with a steel drum or two. It was an odd mix in our house as my dad was a professional violinist and his father was a pipe organ builder but I decided to play piano. I also joined a church choir when I was a youngster and we had to site-sing by following the music sheet. This trained my ears to recognise a pitch and also proved invaluable for me to sight-read with an instrument.
I had the option of learning another instrument, and when I saw Roy Castle playing the trumpet on the British TV Show called Record Breakers, I said to my mum that’s what I want to play. I was about 9 at the time and a child actor working in theatres with the Royal Shakespeare company in Stratford. I was often on stage with the likes of Alan Rickman. One of the guys in the theatre band played trumpet and he gave me my first lesson. I never looked back and went on to North Warwickshire College and then onward to get my degrees.
I joined a Latin American salsa band, and had a great time touring the continent. I still love that salsa rhythm that full-on fat brass sound. I’m still working with King Creole And The Coconuts which falls straight into that category, he calls it Calypso funk. It’s one of my favourite styles and I get to wear all the authentic King Creole attire including the cream suits with the trousers up to the arm pits.
All this of course is as well as working with Jool’s Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra and my own band called Fillet-o-Soul which is fun project involving friends in the business which we’ve built up over the years and more or less features Jool’s horn section and the rhythm section from the Strictly band. Whilst Jools' band is so tight musically, it’s the characters of the players that make each show visually unique, unlike a band of session players who will no doubt sound amazing, but you lose an essence of character if they are glued to music scores maybe.
The amount of high profile artist we get to play with on his TV show Later With Jools Holland is quite amazing, one of the highlights for me was Al green. It was just a small band that included amongst others, Dave Gilmour on Guitar, Phil Veacock, Lisa Graham and myself on brass. Al was a real influence for me as a kid, I had shivers all the way through me during his set.
As a professional trumpet player the need for a high quality instrument is essential in the line of duty, but what makes a good trumpet?
“The player, with a doubt”, says Chris. I have a custom model built by Taylor Trumpets in Norwich, but it’s all down to the player. I would like to think if you gave me any trumpet I could make it sound sweet, it’s playing from the heart that does it as well.
What about maintenance on the road?
Well, I think you could be asking the wrong guy here”, he roars with laughter. “I’m probably one of the worse when it comes to up keep on the road. I may look around the tubes once a month and try to clean out all the gunge that’s been collecting inside. I did give it a clean inside before the Strictly tour and was horrified at what came out. After a while you get to know when it needs a clean, the worry is when it’s too clean you question yourself if you have left it too open.”
There’s a lot going on these days with associations giving incentive for kids to take up an instrument, is this something you would like to get involved with?
“It’s full-on for me with no gaps in the foreseeable future, but I would love to be part of any projects that involved encouragement for kids to learn, after all, that’s how so many of us professionals started in the business. There are a lot of youngsters out there that just need help up the first rung of the ladder.”
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.