In the second of a new series of Artist Profiles we are excited to welcome Oliver Cross to the blog.
Oliver is a harmonica player who lives on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens. He has just returned from Romania where he was doing some photography and filming, and researching folk music for his Drake Music/PRS Talent Development commission.
Oliver is a Drake Music trainee and is also part of the National Open Youth Orchestra and British Paraorchestra.
We talked to Oliver to find out more about making a musical microcosm, touring and breaking music teachers…
Meet the Musician: Oliver Cross
Please tell us a bit about your upcoming Drake Music PRS commission.
My commission is going to be sort of a mish-mash, part audio, part visuals, part cross-pollination of different genres. I want my audience to be at the centre of a black hole of ideas and messages, just sucked in to this world.
It’s going to be a bit freaky, a bit surreal, a bit of a mish-mash of different things. I hope the audience is at least going to have fun, and if they don’t, well at least they’ll remember it!
What are you looking forward to over the coming months as part of the programme?
Working out what I can do rather than what I can’t do; looking at all the different ways I can be a little clever, a bit sneaky with my ideas and how I can get the maximum effect, and hopefully spend the least amount of money.
I’m just really looking forward to creating this sort microcosm of a universe that you can get sucked into, and leave… thinking how the real world is a bit boring.
Where did it all begin for you in making music?
It took a long time for me to find an instrument I could work with. When I was 13 or 14 I started learning the accordion, but unfortunately, I’ve got ADHD and my teacher had a swivel chair… I think I broke him!
Anyway, shortly after, my dad suggested I tried the harmonica. I thought to myself: ‘Yeah, relatively compact… (Lie!)… Cheap… (Lie!)… Portable… (Lie)!’ And I just started from there, and I’ve been making music ever since really.
What would you say have been your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement is actually more of a personal goal than a professional achievement.
In June I was touring with the Paraorchestra in Athens and I got to play, for the first time properly, my big double bass harmonica. Being able to play it properly and hear it was the biggest achievement, because I really like very low bass sounds and it really works. I was very happy.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been being a harmonica player because certainly when I was in music education it was very difficult to have the harmonica recognised as an instrument.
There are a lot of barriers to get over to perform. Like, because there are no grades for the harmonica… to a lot of people an instrument must have grades for it to have some validity, which of course is absolute nonsense, but it was just one of those things I had to get over and strangely disappeared when I stopped being in education full time. So that was a little bonus.
What would your dream collaboration be?
This might sound silly, but I’d really like to play with the Blues Brother’s Band. They’re just awesome. It’s been my favourite film, favourite sound track to any film.
I would say Stevie Wonder, but he already plays the harmonica like a God, so I would be left in the lurch there!
Apart from this commission what’s coming up next for you?
I’ve been part of two R&D groups through the Paraorchestra with two composers – Rasmus Zwicki and Amble Skuse. Also, I am enjoying exploring folk music, as part of work I need to do for my commission, through my Cambridge clubs, the Black Fen Folk Club and the Stapleford Granary Folk Ensemble led by Stu Hanna from Megson. These groups are starting up again after the summer.
I’ve also been accepted as a trainee with the National Open Youth Orchestra, which is very exciting for me and I am looking forward to that starting soon. Through them I have been asked to perform as part of a duo at the Bank of England in November. Just now I am starting to go through the footage and photos from my Romanian trip, and am planning the next steps…