First of all, thank you Ed for this special interview for George Michael News ! It's a great pleasure to have you here.
Frédérique - You announced on Twitter your joy to be George Michael's saxophonist during his orchestral tour for Uk and Australia . Can you introduce yourself ?
Ed - Hello everyone! I am Ed Barker, a British saxophonist and clarinettist from London. I have been playing the saxophone ever since I was 15 and the clarinet since I was 10. Having been principal alto saxophonist for Britain’s National Youth Orchestra and National Youth Jazz Orchestra, it is a great privilege to be able to put everything I have learnt to such good use for George Michael, one of the best singers in the world.
Frédérique - How do you get involved in Symphonica ?
Ed - My favourite saxophone player of all time is Nigel Hitchcock and I published a book of all his jazz and pop solos last year. Once we published the book, Nigel gave me the odd lesson, I started using his old black saxophone (the one he used to record his famous album, The Snakeranch Sessions) and he began booking me for the odd recording session. He introduced me to his friend and colleague, the fabulous trumpeter, Paul Spong, who then gave me the amazing news back in August that I was going to be playing tenor saxophone and clarinet on the George Michael Symphonica Tour. It was the most exciting news of my life!
Frédérique - Did you have time to rehearse before joining The Orchestral Tour ?
Ed - Not only was I going to be playing saxophone and clarinet for George Michael, but I was told I was going to be playing the famous sax solo on Cowboys And Angels. Luckily, I knew I was going to be doing this a couple of weeks before the first rehearsal so I had time to listen to the original and write out the solo for myself. It is a lovely solo, originally recorded by Andy Hamilton and it is a real pleasure for me to be able to perform it each night on tour. Then we did a week of rehearsals with the band, the fabulous backing singers and the orchestra, all directed superbly by Henry Hey.
I started the tour in Birmingham on 16th September and I have loved every minute of it. We travel to the various cities by coach and we get put up in very nice hotels (I spend a lot of the daytime eating far too much for breakfast, and then letting it settle whilst I sit and read in the Jacuzzi…followed by a bit of practice before the soundcheck). The thing I love most about touring is that you spend every minute of your time (except when you are sleeping) with other musicians who are all at the top of their game. Each musician in the band and orchestra has their own career, story, long list of achievements and they are each supremely talented at what they do. I have learnt so much about playing my instruments just by sitting around the guys who are in the woodwind section with me (the brass have also been very helpful).
Frédérique - You did a few dates now : can you share with us your feelings on your first Symphonica date? Birmingham on September 16 ? the atmosphere, the audience,etc ...
Ed - The first concert I did was in Birmingham at the LG Arena on 16thSeptember. I must admit, despite all the rehearsals (and having played the solo for George Michael about six times by then), I was incredibly nervous before the first gig. When you walk around backstage and hear the hum of an audience which is anticipating the arrival of a star like George, everything you think you know about playing your instrument counts for nothing! When the curtains open and you hear George singing and the crowd screaming, everything changes – the stakes suddenly get very high indeed! I remember being overcome with emotion on that first gig. I was so proud to be able to use what little I know to support such an amazing artist. George is the best singer I have ever heard live. In rehearsals and on gigs, he gets everything right and it is a pleasure to play for him on every gig. And when he shouts, ’And on the saxophone, Mr Ed Barker,’ before my solo, it feels pretty special indeed.
Frédérique - Is there something special working with George Michael ? And did you get the chance to meet him?
Ed - As I think I eluded to in my last answer, playing for George is a dream come true. And doing it with him when I did my debut gig at the Royal Albert Hall (the UK’s most special and historically significant venue) was so fulfilling. His tuning is immaculate, his tone is so pure (I especially love his singing on ‘You’ve Changed’), he is really funny and I love his dance moves and the way he interacts with the audience. They always shout so hard for more at the end of the gig and there’s always someone brave enough to shout, ‘WE LOVE YOU GEORGE,’ at each of the venues!
Frédérique - Is there already a special Symphonica fact that you can share with us (funny, strange or maybe incredible?) ?
Ed - As for something funny from the Symphonica Tour, George tells all the funny jokes to the audiences when he is on stage…But how about the fact that, before the gig at the Royal Albert Hall, I noticed that all the female string players were putting pink dye on the tips of their hair. So I asked if I could have some too and they dyed the left side of my head. So, in the most important concert of my life, a little bit of my hair was pink. Not really very funny but very funny for me !