Duo Tandem – “Two guitarists ahead of the curve”

It did not take a global pandemic for guitarists Necati Emirzade and Mark Anderson, otherwise known as Duo Tandem, to figure out how to collaborate across the thousands of miles that separate them.

Necati is a London-based Turkish Cypriot while Mark lives in his native Chicago. The two met whilst studying at the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music and began their collaboration in 2011.

Their latest album featuring the music of Turkish Cypriot composer Kemal Belevi, which was issued on the Naxos label earlier this month, presented a not only a technical challenge, but also a significant logistical challenge.

At the start of project Mark and Necati had already been working remotely for some six years, but up until then this usual involved working on at most two new pieces at a time.

Now they were faced with producing 62 mins of music to a definite time frame. Three of the pieces had already appeared on their previous album, but this still left over 40 minutes of music to learn.

“It meant doing what we were already used to,” says Mark Anderson. “Just more, and on a larger scale.”

The two sent endless recordings back and forth using a metronome almost like a click track to ground and discipline the second voice. Then there were the WhatsApp conversations to play around with the results.

Necati sees that discipline as core to the success of the project:

“We agreed a schedule for learning each piece and deadlines for sharing recordings which is how we drove it forward. It was important to be systematic. That was the only way it could work. It might otherwise have been all too easy to let things slip, especially when you think you’re not going to see each other for two months. Remote working has to be efficient and targeted. Then there’s the accountability we owe each other as a duo which undoubtedly helps.”

The album was recorded in Holy Trinity with All Saints Church in South Kensington using sound recordist Luca Gardani with whom they have a longstanding relationship.

“The acoustics there are amazing,” says Mark. “You play a note and it sounds forever. It was also important that we were able to show Naxos the sound quality we would be delivering and give them the confidence that could and would be reproduced for their label.”

The three often worked at recording through the night after the church had closed its doors to the public for the day, often finishing at five in the morning.

“This is where the benefits of our remote practice came into its own,” says Mark. “It can seem mechanical while we’re doing it, but it does mean that when we are finally in the same room playing together, those basics are already dealt with and we can go straight to the real musical discussion.”

But then the task of editing began, organised between London, Chicago and Columbia, where Gardani is based. Once again their existing organisational skills came to the fore and the whole operation was directed via a giant Google spreadsheet colour-coded by tracks and edits.

“So now suddenly everyone is talking about the logistics of how to collaborate and perform on-line – we’ve being doing it for eight years!” says Mark. You can almost hear him rolling his eyes.

This album is very personal for Necati, grounded as it is in the folk melodies both he and Belevi grew up listening to, but with a classical approach.

“Play these melody in Cyprus and anyone, Greek or Turkish, will recognise them at once. We are a small community on a small island and when a community gets smaller, feelings get bigger so this music is very powerful.”

Reviewing the album shortly after its release, the Classical Music Pod podcast praised

Belevi’s idiomatic understanding of the personality of the guitar as a classical solo instrument and the textures and colours with which he adapts these folk melodies creating “a feeling of place and a knowledge of people will transport the listener: a summer holiday in a CD.”

Listening to the different tracks it’s hard to imagine Mark and Necati are not able to practise together for weeks and months, their playing is so interwoven expressing an instinctive, reciprocal musical relationship.

As The Classical Music Pod observes: “It’s almost like [listening to] one giant double-necked 4-handed guitar. Lightness, joviality, a willing to play with each other really comes across. You can tell when people are playing stuff that means something to them personally… these two seem so in command of their instruments, their ensemble, the balance of the parts. The warmth of their playing and the pacing of each arrangement is really, really spot on; a joy to sit down and listen to.”

Martyn Roper: Blues Guitar

“The beauty of having Albert is that we see more of family and friends than before and I’d like a chance to start allowing those family and friends to support us as freelancers in real life.”

Welcome back to our blog series, talking to leading musicians who are also parents about their experiences of balancing their careers with family life. This week, we meet Martyn Roper, blues guitarist, who talks about how his busy gig schedule works alongside his wife’s freelance career, the challenge of working when breastfeeding, and the importance of friends and family.

How many children do you have and how old are they?

I have one child, a sweet and lovely boy named Albert. He was born in August 2018.

Tell us a bit about your work and how it is structured.

I generally work ‘one nighters’ which can be 3 to 14 (a record in one week!) gigs a week. 3-6 gigs is normal for me in a week. They range from weddings, parties, festivals, pubs, bars, restaurants, care homes, etc. At various times over the year my duo do longer tours for weeks at a time in arts centres and venues all over the UK. All weeks are different but 80% of the time I’m booked up Thursday to Sunday every week.

Tell us about your work/parenthood balance. 

I make at least one full day a week where computers / phones aren’t really used unless in desperate circumstances and the aim is to get away from the house and out. During time at home I make sure we get out to do stuff even if just a walk and try and give my son complete attention for periods of time between work / rehearsal time. I usually structure this around meals and cooking.

Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent? How did this make you feel?

Not sure I’ve turned things down but it does take good organisation to fit things in. I’ve been happy to let some gigs slide if a week was already well booked so we can have family time.

Do you have a partner, and if so are they also freelance? What effect does this have?

Chloé is a freelance graphic designer / web builder / photographer and I think home time with a baby can get messy at times. We’re 100% breast feeding so although I can do lots of shopping / cooking / washing etc baby needs to be with mum or near all the time which makes it hard for her to get a good run at work. On the other side the fact that we’re both in the house nearly all daytimes and free especially on Mondays to Wednesdays means that Albert probably gets more face to face time than working a 9-5 as his bedtime would mean only a few hours a day instead of the 10 – 16 hours he probably gets now.

Do you have regular childcare, and if so, in what form? 

None, due to the reasons above. I have family nearby but visits tend to be social due to his feeding needs. I would like to be able to start passing Albert on a little bit more soon as the support of family could make it possible for us both to get more done and hopefully have more family time afterwards. Even if we’re in the house but they just baby sit him while we get a couple of hours to sort some admin.

Have you performed anywhere that made the work/parenthood balance easier?

Some venues and festivals especially in the daytime have been great to us and welcomed our boy and gone out of their way to make it as pleasant as possible for us.

What can promoters/venues/festival organisers do to help freelance artists who are parents?

The same thing they do to anyone to make their life easier. I think we’re all equal with or without children and its down to us to manage our lives and children as well as work.

Are there any organisations/venues/festivals etc that you have worked with that are particularly supportive of performers who are parents?

My work is varied so I wouldn’t take the baby to say a private wedding. The nice blues / jazz festivals are so lovely. Some of the dementia wards are very inquisitive once I mention I have a child, and we’ve all been invited in when I perform. We did this once and had a lovely afternoon at a home in Harrogate.

How did being a freelance musician affect your parental leave?

No such thing. I cleared a two week period (apart from one gig) around the birth but he was born over a week late so I had to find cover for a gig the day he was born. I had an afternoon wedding gig near Leeds the day after the birth so left the hospital for about five hours and came straight back ASAP.

Were you freelance before you had children? If not, what prompted the change?

For about seven years before.

Are you part of any online social groups for freelancers/freelance parents? 

I’m not. To be honest, I don’t have time to do all the work I need to and am trying to find ways to minimise wasted time so more social media interaction that kind of ‘sucks you in’ isn’t good. The beauty of having Albert is that we see more of family and friends than before and I’d like even more of that and a chance to start allowing those family and friends to support us as freelancers in real life.

A professional musician since 2011, Martyn Roper specialises in 1920s, 30s & 40s blues, jazz and swing music on guitar, banjo, ukulele and double bass. He plays over 200 gigs a year largely between three acts; Leeds City Stompers (trio); The Washboard Resonators (duo) and solo sets, and lives near central Leeds. He likes collecting vintage guitars, cooking, reading and his two beautiful cats.