Abbie Finn - Female drummer at kit wearing headphones and a red top

Course Studied: BA Jazz

Year of Graduation: 2017

Top Career Highlights:

  • Releasing my own album 'Northern Perspective' with my trio this year. The album is a mix of original music and my arrangements of some of my favourite tunes
  • In 2018, I performed at the Pinter Theatre in London's West End in 'Night School' as part of the prestigious Pinter at the Pinter season
  • Receiving a place on the 'Keep an Eye' jazz programme at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, run in conjunction with the Manhattan School of Music

Hailing from the North East, Abbie is a versatile drummer, composer, arranger and bandleader. Cast amongst names such as Martin Freeman, Lee Evans and Michael Gambon, Abbie previously performed as part of the Jamie Lloyd Company’s Pinter at the Pinter.

A graduate of our BA (Hons) Music (Jazz) Degree Programme, we caught up with Abbie to discuss her latest project, the Abbie Finn Trio and hear some tips on what it takes to become a highly adaptable musician.

How has your career progressed since leaving Leeds Conservatoire?

I went on to study a master’s degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, whilst also performing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) Academy Big Band and Ambassadors Sextet, amongst various other groups.

I then got the part on the Pinter at the Pinter show, which was an amazing experience as I was the only musician working alongside the other actors and crew. The show was a roller-coaster and I’d love to be part of something similar in the future.

I took the decision to return to the North East in 2019 and moved to Newcastle with my partner Harry after he finished his studies at Leeds Conservatoire. We spent time playing and jamming on the scene and met a lot of fantastic musicians including bassist Paul Grainger who runs the Newcastle Jazz Café Jam Session. I really felt a musical connection with Paul and we formed the Abbie Finn Trio, which was an extension of my duo Kinesis with Harry. I also formed the Finntet, which is the trio plus Graham Hardy on Trumpet and Dean Stockdale on Piano. Each of my ensembles has a totally different feel, which is great. I also had the opportunity to perform with Jazz Saxophonist Simon Spillet alongside Paul Edis and Andy Champion, which was a superb gig.

In 2020, I was due to perform at various jazz venues and festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, Gateshead International Jazz Festival and the Wigan Jazz Festival but these have been postponed due to COVID-19.  

Could you tell us about your involvement in Pinter at the Pinter?

2018-2019 was a very special time as the Jamie Lloyd Company decided to hold the Pinter at the Pinter season (at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End); this was all of Harold Pinter’s one act plays in a season and also Betrayal. The season featured names such as Tom Hiddleston, Michael Gambon, Martin Freeman, Lee Evans, Jessica Barden and many more.

I was in Pinter 4 ‘Night School’ where I was in full costume and cast as Mavis, had spoken lines and performed drums live on stage for the whole show. I wrote the drum music with the director and the actors worked from my musical cues and vice versa. It was an incredible thing to be part of and before this I’d never worked in a theatre show. It was quite a revelation having a drum kit in a Harold Pinter play. I even got to meet Lady Antonia Fraser (Harold’s widow) at her house with our cast and loads of other acting legends at parties and gala events. The whole thing was fantastic and I loved being part of such an epic theatre season.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your project the Abbie Finn Trio? What’s coming up next for this project?

In July 2020 we were able to record my first album with the Abbie Finn Trio which is super exciting. The album is called Northern Perspective and we are looking to release it at the start of November with a pre-sale gig at the Prohibition Bar in Newcastle on the 29 October. The album will be available to buy as a CD and also download on Bandcamp/my website. We also have a gig on the 22 November at The Globe in Newcastle.

The trio were featured in the September issue of The Jazz Rag Magazine and the October issue of the Jazzwise Magazine. We were also played on BBC Radio Newcastle on their Introducing North East show in September; this was actually broadcast whilst we were performing our first indoor gig with a live audience since the outbreak of COVID at the Gosforth Civic Theatre. We had managed to perform two outdoor gigs prior to this.

The album is the culmination of the Trio’s playing together so far, with a distinctive sound emerging whichever of our varied influences is to the fore on a particular piece of music. It reflects the varied influences of the band and our musical relationships. Northern Perspective is an album in homage to the people of the North East of England. We have been welcomed with open arms onto the jazz scene here by audiences and fellow musicians and are extremely grateful. I’m also grateful for the chance to create an album with these two superb musicians. It has been a pleasure.

Five of the tracks are compositions by members of the band taking in our interest in everything from post-bop/hard bop jazz of the 1960s through afro-cuban and latin rhythms, through to the more contemporary end of the jazz spectrum. The remaining five tracks are my arrangements of tunes by Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer through to Chick Corea and Don Grolnick. The trio take a range of influences and through the original compositions, arrangements of standards and flights of improvisation produce a sound that is The Abbie Finn Trio.

The trio was branded ‘A Masterclass in straight-ahead jazz’ by Russel Corbett in the Northern Echo and ‘As good as it gets’ by Lance Liddle of award winning jazz blog Bebop Spoken Here. Here is a recent review of our trio from the Gosforth Civic Theatre gig.

As a drummer, what has been your approach to understanding harmonic language?

I learnt a lot from Rob Mitchell’s big band arranging lessons at Leeds Conservatoire; I really enjoyed these sessions and ended up doing an arrangement of Bernie’s Tune. This actually led me to start-up my own big band in my third year, it was great fun! I learn a lot from rehearsal sessions and playing with various ensembles. It’s great to talk and compose/arrange tunes alongside other musicians in rehearsals as you learn new concepts and get some good ideas going. I’m really lucky that my partner is a superb Tenor Saxophonist and he helps me with this too through long musical chats and listening sessions at home. I suppose when you play a lot, you learn to hear the harmony. This means I don’t have to be constantly counting during a solo and can focus on my playing and what the other musicians are doing and how I fit in with this.

You’ve performed in lots of large ensembles and bands – can you talk us through some highlights?

Before I moved to Leeds, I was part of the Durham Music Service who helped me massively when I was learning to play the drums. I used to play with all the county bands – I owe a lot to everyone there. It was when I started playing with the big band that I decided I wanted to study jazz and push my drumming in that direction. I actually teach with the service now too, as well as at JG Windows in Newcastle.

Whilst in my third year at Leeds I set-up my own big band, which I directed, arranged music for and organised gigs for. This was a major highlight in my time at Leeds and we got to perform at various venues across the city.

I also performed with the NYJO Academy Big Band (as well as being a dep for their main band), the NYJO Ambassadors, the Trinity Laban Composer’s Big Band (alongside Andrea Vicari), the Strictly Smokin’ Big Band, the Durham Alumni Big Band, the Musicians Unlimited Big Band, the Custom’s House Big Band and more. I have performed in many small jazz ensembles and will never forget the time in my third year at Leeds when my quartet got to support Derek Nash at the Wakefield Jazz Club, and we played his tune Voodoo Rex with him for the show finale.

What do you think of the UK’s jazz scene – in terms of its evolution, its distribution and its current trajectory?

The reason Harry and I decided to move to the North East again was because we viewed it as a developing part of the country. The North on the whole, seems to be a breeding ground for really creative music and there’s a lot of interesting bands coming out of it. London is good, but the North should never be discounted as an inferior location to develop as a musician.

Unfortunately, I do feel that it is much more difficult nowadays to learn music and receive good tuition if you are from a low income background. My partner and I have witnessed the decline of music services across the country due to government cuts and it seems that music is becoming more of a luxury only open to those who have expendable income. I do wish and hope that the government will realise the value of the arts industry on the whole and allow people from all backgrounds to access music. This is where Leeds Conservatoire excels having waived their audition fees and having welcomed a large number of students on all courses - not just a select few.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to study Jazz at Leeds Conservatoire?

I would say go for it and give it all you’ve got! Leeds is, in my opinion, the best conservatoire in the country and they have some amazing tutors like Sebastiaan De Krom who was my 1-1 tutor during my time there.

Don’t wait for opportunities to come along, you need to put the effort in on your instrument, form ensembles and make your opportunities. Go to all the lectures and make the most of the great practice facilities on offer at the conservatoire… you’ll never have the time later in life to get that much practice in if your neighbours have anything to say about it!

Leeds Conservatoire is really good because they get in lots of students, so you’ll always find a range of different jazz sub-genres to work in. You’re never going to be stuck playing only fusion or contemporary jazz or bebop for example. You’ll be able to get a taste of different styles and receive help from some of the industry’s best jazz musicians in a conservatoire that is a stone’s throw away from a vibrant city centre.

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