Trevor Hyett

INTERVIEW by Trevor Hyett


Matt in the zone during the tutor concert…with Ben Somers.


TREVOR HYETT Having been to Sore Fingers three times, and on the eve of your fourth visit, how’s it changed over the 13 or so years since you first came?

MATT FLINNER It’s grown quite a bit…maybe doubled in size. When I first came here there was only one mandolin teacher, now there are three! So it’s grown quite a bit. The level of playing has gone up; the students are getting better and better. I was impressed and after the first day I ran out of material…everyone was killing it so quickly! One thing I appreciate about this music camp is that here in England, you kind of have your own take on Blugrass…more of a folk element to it. The scene here really has that certain folksiness to it that I like…uniquely British. But then last night at the student concert, it was certainly more bluegrassy than last time I was here. You still get that sense of people playing folk songs in bluegrass style, but still uniquely British; there seems to be more and more of that real bluegrass feel coming into it, which is pretty cool.

TH: I’d be interested in your observations on the make up of the student body now compared to when you first came in 2003; when I first came, a couple of years later, there was a preponderance of older people like me…now it seems there are far more younger and very able players…what’s your observation?

MF I remember the first time I was here, there was one very young person in my class, and she was one of the only young ones in the camp and she is now an instructor and great player: Charlotte Carrivick. There seems to be a scene of young kids who all know each other and play together and get together at festivals. It is so good that these young people can get this kind of experience …they don’t have jobs yet, they have time to practice, they don’t have kids yet…they’re really practising a lot, playing together a lot…they have a great camaraderie…this is what they’ll remember when they’re older: these times when they’ve had this camaraderie. I remember feeling that way…you grew up with these people, and you had something special in common. And there are not many kids doing that. The scene here in England is getting good and the next generation will be even better.

TH: When you’re back home, away from the special bubble that is any music camp, how are you able to strike a balance between all the competing demands on your time…in the home, family, the kids and balancing that with all the heavy demands of being a musician…trying to make a living…

MF: As a musician you’re just trying to get by. So it’s the day-to-day: booking gigs or teaching, and…I don’t know…I haven’t managed to achieve that balance yet. I always have to come back to why I started to do this in the first place which is because I love to play music. And so if I can get that in every day and maybe get my kids playing a little bit, at least they see what it’s like to do something you love. It seems like for most musicians – maybe everybody these days – it seems like we’re always working to stay afloat and I have to check in all the time and ask: why am I doing this…oh yeah, because I love it. But the balance is tough…it’s hard work.

TH: I remember when I toured a lot, as soon as mortgages came along and kids, you have to re-evaluate stuff…in my case I wasn’t good enough or big enough, to carry on so had to get a proper job. But I retained my love of music. I’m interested in what you think about this: slap me down by all means…but among the people I grew up with who loved playing music and managed to make some kind of living, well, they all had – finally – to compromise. The few who managed to carry on making music, ended up making music they hated…on the cruise ships for example, playing all the stuff they really, really didn’t want to play. Yet, paradoxically, we (who had to get ‘proper’ jobs) ended up being able to play what the hell we wanted…none of that lounge music stuff if we didn’t want to…but of course we had to dedicate ourselves to earning a living other than through music…

MF: That’s funny! (Laughs – pauses) I’m reminded of a quote from David Grier…we all have those times where we’re struggling to get by and we have to take whatever gigs are put before you…including those cruise ship gigs you mention. On the one hand it’s work, and it can help you keep your chops up, and on the other hand it can be really soul-sucking not playing the music you really want to play, the music that you love. As Grier says: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” – and that applies whatever it is in life. I’ve been lucky so far. I’m out playing and when I play, I’m lucky enough to play music that I love to play. But it’s a really small audience in general - we’re not playing to big halls. So that’s one reason I teach so that I can do what I want to do. And teaching is something I enjoy doing…I didn’t start playing so that I could teach, but that’s my day job; I’m pretty lucky that I’ve got both. So I can play music…it’s rare…it’s all too common that musicians in Nashville are trying to get a gig in a country band, trying to get on a bus so that we’re playing for $200 a night, or less…but it may not be music we love…I speak for myself, others would love to do that but I’ve never really been drawn to that. So I teach so that I can play music I love to play.

TH: One of the things that intrigues me about the way you approach your ‘live’ shows, is your unique Music du Jour…tell me about that; I love the idea, I love the concept…

MF: The Music du Jour thing is something that my trio…we started doing in 2006 as an experiment to see what would happen if we each had to write a tune on the day of performance…hopefully finish it a couple of hours before we go on stage so we can get in a good rehearsal! I have a hard time finishing tunes, so if I have a deadline, well I work better, and the tunes end up being better than we expected… almost all the time.

TH: How many Music du Jour CDs have you brought out now?

MF: There are three now… one is called Music du Jour and there are two more, one is called Winter Harvest and another called Travelling Roots

[The Music du Jour project continues with Eric Thorin on double bass and – usually – Ross Martin on guitar; although Grant Gordy, another Sore Fingers favourite, has also joined Matt when Ross has been busy elsewhere]

MF: What we’re doing these days is, when we can get it together, is Music du Jour plus guest…so we have to wait for the trio plus guest (to become available)…we did one with Joe (K. Walsh); and others with Sam Bush, Alison Brown, Tony Trischka.

TH: Finally…SF is peculiar in a way…you might not expect to find this big a camp on this island. However, given that in the US you have so many…I can’t help wondering how does this compare to the typical camp in the US

MF: It’s very similar…I’d say the level is comparable with the better camps in the US…the difference here is you have a (bar) on campus…

TH: Yes…I’d heard that some camps are ‘dry’…How does that work?

MF: Well, you have to be sneaky…it’s understood that you have a cooler full of beer in your room…


Matt in a late night session with Ron Block, Joe Newberry, Brittany Haas, Kieran Towers & Jock Tyldsley…and half of the students!


View features index