Bringing brass to Bond and Beatle
David Clensy meets the Bristol trumpeter who has played for everyone from Paul McCartney to Brian May, and now has come up with a new way of inspiring the next generation to blow their own trumpets
AS a top-flight session musician, and a regular member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Dan Newell has played with many of the big names in the music industry – from Queen guitarist Brian May to South West rockers Muse, and has helped to provide the soundtracks for the biggest movies around – James Bond's latest outing in Skyfall and the yet-to-be released new adaptation of The Hobbit.
But when he found himself playing trumpet for Paul McCartney, as the former Beatle recorded a recent album at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios, the 37-year-old knew he had probably arrived at one of his career highlights.
The trumpeter, who grew up in Redfield and learnt his art by playing trumpet with the Easton Salvation Army Band from the age of five, was on a high as the orchestra was directed by McCartney.
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"It was extraordinary," Dan says. "Because there was so much secrecy surrounding the session, and none of us had any idea who we were playing for until we turned up at the studios that morning and McCartney arrived.
"But then my heart sank, because at the end of the session, Paul said: 'Dan, could you stay behind please, so I can have a word with you?'
"I thought I'd done something terribly wrong, and was going to get told off – like when you are asked to stay behind after class at school.
"But actually Paul just wanted to chat about the trumpet. He said that he used to play the trumpet when he was a boy, because his dad had played trumpet in a big band – but had given it up when he got a guitar.
"I said that was probably for the best, when you take everything into account, and we had a good laugh together. It was surreal, to be there laughing and joking with Paul McCartney about trumpets. But he was such a lovely guy – exactly as you would imagine him to be."
Dan had a similar route into the music world – his father was also a trumpeter, playing with bands around Redfield and Barton Hill.
"I started playing at the age of five, and just took to it," Dan says. "My dad always said he would hang his trumpet up when I was better than him – he did that when I was 11, and he had decided I'd over-taken him."
Throughout his time at St Patrick's Primary in Redfield and St Mary Redcliffe and Temple High School, Dan was never far from his trumpet – whether performing with the Salvation Army, in school bands, or at his regular trumpet lessons provided through the city's music service.
Then, 20 years ago, Dan made a name for himself by winning the title of Bristol Young Musician of the Year, and he won a coveted place at the Guildhall Music School in London shortly afterwards.
"When I graduated, I just slowly built up a freelance career, playing with different orchestras," he explains. "I had a good initial stint with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, which later allowed me the opportunity to play regularly with the London Philharmonic Orchestra – which has allowed me to play everywhere from Glyndebourne to the Royal Festival Hall, as well as on numerous recordings at Abbey Road – from film scores to rock albums."
But now Dan is hoping to inspire a new generation to blow their own trumpets – he has just released a children's book, Billy's Band, which is designed to encourage an interest in music.
"I've done a lot of educational sessions, visiting schools with the orchestra over the years," he says. "But now I have two young sons of my own, I realise more than ever just how important it is to get children into music from an early age.
"I had the idea of a children's book, in which the characters are the different members of the orchestra, and I was keen to include a CD with the book in which I could include a series of educational music sessions that teachers or parents could use with their children.
"I worked on the book with my brother Andy, who came up with the look of the original characters, with a professional illustrator, Ryan Weaver, and with my co-author, John Blackshaw – a musician with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
"I had a couple of publishers interested in taking the book on, but one of them wanted us to change the orchestra members for animals, and I didn't like that idea, while the other wanted us to take away the educational element and the CD – which I thought was an integral part of the project.
"So I self-published the book, and it's doing well – we've sold more than 1,000 copies in the first few weeks, and are now in talks with a television production company, because we think it could transfer well into a children's television programme.
"But the important thing for me," Dan adds, "is to know that hopefully the book will help a new generation of musicians come through, persevere with their instruments and consider a career in the industry."
Billy's Band is out now, priced £7.99. Visit www.billysband.co.uk.