Neil Yates - Trumpet and flugelhorn

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“When I was about four years old, my parents shoved a trumpet in my mouth. I never objected to it but I don’t think I had a lot of choice.” I’m thinking… strange. But then when you learn that Yates’ parents had met when they were both playing trumpet in an amateur dance band and he was an only child, perhaps it doesn’t seem that odd. Although Yates had been taught the rudimentary aspects of the instrument by his parents, he didn’t have ‘proper’ lessons until he was 11. “My first teacher was a guy called Brom Harvey, who taught the trumpet at my school. There was a really good music department, which supported an orchestra, a big band and being up north of course – a brass ensemble.”

Yates “dabbled” on the euphonium and other brass, but the trumpet was the only one that he says he cared about. “When I was in my mid-teens I nearly gave up. The usual teenager things, but I was into science fiction in a big way. Clearly my parents were concerned, so my father found an album with Maynard Ferguson playing the theme from Star Wars and the theme from Star Trek, so I became interested again.

“I guess my first experience of jazz was when I was 13 or 14, when my parents took me to a local pub where they allowed me to sit in with the band and do some improvising. Then I got into Freddie Hubbard. There was a thing on Channel 4 about him making an album and I watched that again and again and again and subsequently bought the record. Then Miles Davis was on TV being interviewed by Jools Holland and I went out and bought a lot of Miles Davis records and through that I found Chet Baker. They’re the three who have influenced me the most.”

So, what about that first trumpet? “It was my dad’s old bronze lacquered and beautifully-battered Rudy Mück. Then, when I began to get really interested, they bought me a shiny silver Getzen”.

Yates didn’t change horns again until he began his studies at Salford university. “I was 18, and it was a really lucky find.” Yates takes up the story. “It’s a Jerome Callet Soloist handmade by the man himself in New York. He didn’t make that many, it was one of eight instruments that was imported into the UK by the jazz promoter Ernie Garside who was UK agent for ‘Sweets’ Edison and Clark Terry. He sold one of these instruments on to a local bandleader up here in Manchester, who for one reason or another didn’t get on with the horn. So he sold it to me for what was effectively half price and it was brand new. I still play it today – it’s the horn I use all the time. It’s wonderful and has a really fat, rich sound but

right now it’s starting to fall to pieces ’cause it’s so old. I’ve got patches on it where I have worn holes in it but I can’t find anything else quite like it. It has a large bell, large bore and thick metal – it’s got all my notes in it. It’s the way I want to sound.

“If I play somebody else’s horn it just doesn’t sound right to me. You can still get Callet horns but they’re now made on a production line – he doesn’t hand make them any more. The ones that he hand made were all slightly different as well. I have seen a few over the years and they were nothing like the one I have, I was just damn lucky!” Yates also plays the flugelhorn but what’s the story there?

“I first got interested in the flugelhorn when I was about 15. I really wanted one but I didn’t get one until I was at Salford uni. I bought it off my teacher, Dave Browning, whose claim to fame was that he played the Coronation Street theme. It’s a Getzen Eterna and I’m still playing that as well. It’s a little bit green – in fact it’s very green! I’m not a lot of good at looking after my instruments.”

As for mouthpieces, he says. He started with a Rudy Mück 17C but was only on that for a couple of years. “Then somebody gave me a Zottola 64B and I’ve been on that ever since. I also use a 64FL on my flugel.” Yates has occasionally “dabbled” with other mouthpieces, but says that it’s a real trap for horn players. “You try a new mouthpiece and for three weeks you can do incredible things on it that you could never do before. Then after three weeks, you can’t do anything. I once did it – I don’t remember what make of mouthpiece it was, but I got all the high notes and everything, and thought, wow, this is it. Then I went back to my old mouthpiece and it took me three to four months to get back to where I was – I’ve never done it again.”

There’s a momentary lapse in conversation. “You know, I almost forgot,” he says, clearly surprising himself. “I also use two Line 6 delay modellers in a loop to create whole brass sections behind me. In a trio situation that works really well, as I can create soundscapes through layering, so that the guitarist for instance doesn’t feel that the music is too empty. Then there’s my copper Original Harmon mute. It’s a replacement for the first one I lost on a British Council tour of Bosnia 10 years ago. That had an awesome sound – somebody somewhere has got a real peach. I’ve also developed a little device to make the Harmon mute into a practice mute – to make it even quieter. It’s a bung-to-bung the bung so to speak.” But perhaps the most important piece of equipment that Yates owns is his Mazda ‘Bongo’ camper van. “No hotel bills – no hassle and I can practise all night if I want.”