Christopher Cundy


Christopher Cundy

Christopher Cundy is a British free jazz musician, both solo and with Guillemots.

He mainly plays the Bass clarinet and Contrabass clarinet.

He is from Cheltenham, UK.

Christopher Cundy is a self taught musician with a particular interest in improvisation as well as more experimental composition. When he was still in his teens he started out as a street busker, a profession which he still maintains to this day and which compliments his desire to explore music within a changing and urban environment.

He studied Fine Art at Cheltenham art college between 1996-99. Painting and drawing, particularly abstract line drawing, is something that still closely informs his distinctive and open approach to new music techniques be it within a classical, jazz or pop context.

Since the mid 1990’s his work with free improvisation has been mainly focussed around ‘Grace & Delete’, his long standing duo with live electronics player James Dunn. In recent years Cundy has received significant grants and awards from the National Lottery, Arts Council England, Friends of the Whitworth and Jazz Services for his work in promoting and performing improvised music in and around the UK. In 1998 he established the ‘Thinking Music Company’ with Simon Spencer and Melinda Lee, an independent, non profit making organisation aimed at promoting new music within the Cheltenham area. His work with the company brought critical acclaim for providing a platform for internationally touring musicians and ensembles such as ‘Muta’ from Norway, and Jeb Bishop from USA amongst many others. An essential part of the companies activities has been providing workshops for young people and new-comers to experimental music-making resulting in broadcasts on independent radio stations and BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz on 3’ with Jez Nelson.

In 1999 he started to perform various concerts focusing on solo bass clarinet work by experimental English composers. This included Cornelius Cardew’s virtuoso piece ‘Mountains’ written in 1977. These rigorous explorations in new ways of playing led him to working more collaboratively with a number of younger composers, most significantly Mat Martin and Pete Wyer whose music he has performed within the UK. Recently Chris has performed with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra and also the Resonance FM Radio Orchestra.

Since 2005 Chris Cundy has been working exclusively as a live performer with Mercury Music Award nominated experimental pop group ‘Guillemots’ (Polydor Records). His collaborations with lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield date back several years. Their work together has mainly centred around music theatre, including commissions from Bristol-based ‘Voices Theatre’ and Cheltenham Literature Festival. In 2003 Cundy and Dangerfield toured California together with New York percussionist Stephen Flinn, again performing improvised music. Cundy’s current activity with Guillemots has seen him tour internationally with the band and has featured him in many TV and radio appearances including Top of the Pops.

Chris Cundy continues to work as a freelance artist maintaining close relationships with Guillemots (Polydor), Longstone (Ochre Records), Grace & Delete (Ochre Records) and Limn (4th Harmonic) as well as appearances as a solo performer. In addition to this he is currently working with the research department at Dartington College of Arts towards a practice based PhD exploring the compatibility of drawing and music.

In his own words here is a brief description of the music archive he has left us:

"AND THE LILAC SPRINGS is taken from the last recordings I made with the wonderful pianist Bill Boysen. I first met Bill as a teenager and he was my first great inspiration. In fact it's because of Bill that I captured such an early interest for improvising. He is a joy to play with and he was the first to turn me on to the other-worldly music of Sun Ra and Eric Dolphy. This piece shows the kind of playfullness that I cherrish about his approach.

LIVE AT THE CONWAY HALL is an excerpt from one of the only surviving recordings of 'Transmissions of Not', an almost legendary, if rather short lived, group . We did actually make a tour of the UK. These particular recordings were made in 2001 at the LMC 'Free Fall' festival. I play bass clarinet. The other musicians were Fyfe Hutchins; electronics and glockenspiel, Aristazabal Hawkes; double bass, Sean de Conde; programmed drums and Luke Harney; drums. It captures the groups live energy and passion for bringing dance music to live audiences while still keeping a very free sound.

MOUNTAINS was composed by the late Cornelius Cardew (1936–1981) in 1977 for the Dutch bass clarinettist Harry Sparnay. This is a really good example of Cardew's music, often craggy in style and full of contradicting polar oppersites. Using a Bach-like counterpoint the extreme tonal range of the instrument is pulled further and further apart in concertina fashion as the first variation of the piece reaches its high plateau. I performed it at Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham in 2003."

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