David Lyttle

We talk to David Lyttle about all that Jazz and his Musician-in-Residence appointment at the Nerve Centre

David Lyttle has been involved in music from the age of eight, and now at the tender age of 30, he has amassed a wealth of experience spanning every genre of music as a musician, songwriter, producer, composer and record label owner. With the Jazz Festival just underway, we caught up with the Nerve Centre’s Musician-in-Residence for a chat about the local scene all things music.

Have you seen a progression in the music over the years since coming to Derry?
I’ve been coming here for near enough 10 years now, a lot of festivals in the beginning, and I played Sandinos a lot too. I played the Jazz festival every year and I was involved in the University of Ulster and even then I could see that there was a healthy amount of festivals taking place and that there were a lot of musicians and also people coming to gigs, which may seem like a normal thing for a city the size of Derry, but I think it’s miles ahead of most cities it’s size.
For example, in 2013 during Culture year, even from the outside I could see that there was a lot of stuff going on, but I was wondering ‘are people actually coming out to it?’ but they were. One week you could go and see the Dalai Lama, or Bruno Mars and the next the London Philharmonic which is amazing! And the energy hasn’t dropped either.
My impression is that people actually care about the arts here, from bigger events I went to and even going into a smaller place like Bennigans and seeing the response from people there.

So you’ve recently been appointed Musician-in-Residence at the Nerve Centre... how’s it going so far?
It’s been going great and I’m having a great time. I’m working with some local musicians who I’ve known for a few years, so we’re writing together which is very much a collaboration as we’re coming at it from different angles. Everyone from the up-and-coming singer songwriters to the more established songwriters, and a broad range of acts and artists as well.

That’s what I’ve noticed about your albums, you like to involve a lot of genres...
Very much so. I was pretty much a pure Jazz musician for the first five years of my adult career but I realised that there’s lots of other things I like as well. I’ve realised that I can collaborate with different people from Hip Hop, from Soul, from Pop music, from Dance music and still do something that’s personal to me. And that’s what music is about, and also how music evolves.

You have recently released your third album, titled ‘Faces’, do you still get nervous prior to the release of your music?
No, I wouldn’t really. You create an album that you feel represents you at that particular time, and I would only release an album that I am truly happy with. Ultimately, if you are getting to the stage of release and you’re nervous about how it’s going to be perceived... that’s not what music should be about. You hope that people will buy into your music because they know that you believe in it and they like you, and that your not just trying to appeal to them.
If you can drive around and listen to your own album and be happy with it and like it, that for me is success.
I have met so many musicians that are under pressure from record companies. They’re not at the stage where they can say ‘I want to do this’ so they end up putting out an album that they’re not happy with, whereas if you’re an independent like myself (David is founder and owner of Lyte Records), yes, I have to pay for my own album which is challenging especially if you’re quite ambitious in the type of album that you want to do, but ultimately, I can do want I want. Yes it would be nice to have someone pay for the whole thing, but at the same time I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending my songs off to the label and asking ‘what do you think?’.

Do you think that the Jazz scene in Northern Ireland has progressed over the years?
I would like to say yes, it’s great, because I’m from here, but I don’t know. I spent a lot of time in the early days doing gigs in Belfast but it was always very difficult. At that time it was me and a guitarist called Mark McKnight who were the main guys in Northern Ireland and we were bringing in a lot people from places like New York to play with us, and we were playing every week. But we always had fairly short lived residencies in town, which might last for six months. But it was still great fun. That’s the nature of the music if you play locally.
Ultimately, somewhere like Edinburgh or major cities like London and New York have a massive population, so that if a small percentage want to go out and hear live music, and then a percentage of that then want to hear jazz music... you can sustain a few clubs. But even some clubs in London will struggle if it’s not a big artist.
But then again, here you have Bennigans where John Leighton runs a Sunday night Jazz club, which I play when I’m around. It’s great and has a wide demographic of people from students to older people, and he’s been able to sustain that for over a year.

How did the idea of launching your own label come about?
I wasn’t really planning on setting up my own label, I was just wanting a structure for own my music, and it just happened fairly organically. I put out my first album on Lyte Records which was just a name at that point, then I released another one... then, someone who’s album I actually played on asked could I do the same for them. All that time I was learning new things and building connections. But we have about thirty albums which have been released in the last six or seven years, which is good. It’s impressive for a small independent label like us. Each album that comes out builds the reputation of the label and the connections the label has within the music industry.

Photo by Adam Patterson

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