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England Today England Today

Robert Webb | Martin Henderson | Alec Johnson | Steve Laffy | Maggie Alexander

Robert Webb
(Musical Director, keyboards, vocals, acoustic 12-string guitar)

Robert Webb

Photo: Warren Page
 

Robert's musical career started when he attended adult evening classes in South London with his father in 1961 and learned basic guitar accompaniment for American popular music. Robert's father soon bought him a Watkin's Rapier 33 and Westminster amplifier from Charlie Watkin's original shop in Balham for passing his 11-plus exam in 1964.

Heavily influenced by singles records bought by older relatives and the music on cable radio, Robert developed a good ear for music and taught an older cousin to play guitar. He first performed as a rhythm guitarist with a local band at age ten and a year or two later had performed as a leading boy soprano in his Grammar school production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.

A brief period of piano lessons came after his mother bought a second hand piano for their new home in Surrey. Robert had already begun composing music and songs and he now transposed his guitar ideas onto the keyboard. He was also influenced by the classical records bought for him by his aunt; particularly Saint-Saens, Tchaikovski and Ibert.

Robert formed his first prog rock band Angel in Croydon in 1971. Playing Hammond M102 and guitar the band wrote their own music and recorded for EMI Records, who paid for the young musicians to hire instruments including; Minimoog, Mellotron and Wurlitzer Piano. In 1972 Robert joined his first professional band, Big Wheel, touring clubs in the south of France. He then returned to join Madrigal, a five-piece rock band which toured the UK extensively. They went on to become Merlin recording an album and singles for CBS.

Prior to joining England, Robert's writing, playing and recording experiences had led to a variety of successes, including: a hit single attempt (a version of George Harrison's Something for The Miracle Workers) and tours as a keyboard player with Al Stewart, David Essex, and in 1975, Billy Fury and The Tornados.

Robert's direction alternated for a time between pop and progressive (art) rock. After a period with commercial rock band Royce, with Jamie Moses, Robert swung back to progressive rock when he joined the first incarnation of England with Mark Ibbotson and Jamie Moses. This embryonic trio was joined by bass player, Martin Henderson when they played two self-promoted concerts (including the first performance of the Imperial Hotel), demonstrating the power of early England music played live.

Garden Shed, England's first album, followed in 1977, with a line up including Robert on keyboards, together with Jode Leigh on drums, Frank Holland on guitar and Martin Henderson on bass. After recording the album, England went on to give twenty further concerts in France, before England disbanded in 1978.

In 1978, Robert joined melodic rock singer Jenny Darren on a UK tour and went on to form a songwriting duo which published over 40 songs, an album and several singles for DJM. At the same time, Robert was gigging regularly with dance band Oliver Twist, recording with rock band Up All Night and doing keyboard sessions for The Pretty Things (the band that Frank Holland still plays with) and Dave Gilmour.

After returning from 18 months travelling the near East, Robert delved into the world of music education, taking two degrees, studying the harpsichord and playing in over 100 recitals and founding several early music ensembles.

In 1996, Robert started another commercial art music project: Baroque Nouveau, writing, playing and arranging for drums, keyboard and flute. This period coincided with a resurgence of interest in the music of England and together with drummer Jode Leigh, Robert wrote and recorded eight new pieces for a concept album (which Garden Shed Music will release in the future). For the past 10 years, as well as continuing to compose and perform, Robert has worked in jazz education; teaching, running workshops and founding an association (JAPTA) for jazz piano teachers.

Garden Shed, the Last of the Jubblies and other, as yet unreleased music from England might well have disappeared but for the forming of Garden Shed Music which followed the meeting in 2002 between Maggie Alexander and Robert at the Mediterranean Jazz Summer School in France. This partnership has combined Robert's creative musical talents with Maggie Alexander's publishing, management and musical experience to generate a dynamic new organisation to take the project forward.

Garden Shed Music's first project in 2005 was to re-release Garden Shed, in a remastered format, together with a booklet containing the artwork that Robert and others had created in 1977, which had been intended for publication with the original album, but which Arista had failed to bring into production.

The success of the re-release of Garden Shed and the Last of the Jubblies led to the invitations to perform and undaunted by the prospect of putting together a band nearly 30 years after the original members had last played together, Robert reunited England (with two out of the four original members) in September 2005. The new line up has allowed a fresh approach to the music, much of which has not been performed live before and has opened up a wide range of possibilities for composition, recording and live performance, which Robert fully intends to pursue.

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Creative Director: Robert Webb (info@gardenshedmusic.com)
Project Manager: Maggie Alexander (info@gardenshedmusic.com)

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