Classically-trained violinist Gaynor Sutcliffe earns rave reviews with The Swing Commanders

PUBLISHED: 14:44 08 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:01 20 February 2013

Early days with the the band ivnolved Gaynor and her colleagues playing in pubs for a tenner apiece

Early days with the the band ivnolved Gaynor and her colleagues playing in pubs for a tenner apiece

How did this classically-trained violinist from Clitheroe end up in a swing band? Amanda Griffiths finds out

It was no contest for classically-trained violinist Gaynor Sutcliffe a crack at the internationally famed Halle Orchestra or team up with a band playing swing music the locals pubs?

The Lancashire lass, who studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, picked excitement and went for a place with the band, of course. And she has never never looked back.

From home grown venues like Burnley Mechanics to sharing the same stage as country legend Willie Nelson, Gaynor and her fellow Swing Commanders have built up their own international following.

Playing a mixture of 1940s classics and western swing, The Clitheroe-based band have had rave reviews in Paris, Holland and, most memorably, in Texas.

For many musicians, however, the highlight would have been when she won the title of Musician of the Year at the British Country Music Awards last year. But Gaynor, mother of six-year-old Maisie, has a more modest take on this unexpected accolade.

Im proud to have won it, but I dont see myself as a country musician, so it was a bit of a shock! she laughs. There are a lot better country musicians out there than me.

Last year my Swing Commanders band mate Simon Brady won it; that was justified. I dont know a better country musician. I just think it was awarded to me for the diversity of my work.

It could have all been very different for Gaynor, who also plays the piano, double bass, accordion and trombone and, when she gets her breath back, sings and dances. I went to Clitheroe Grammar School, but was never very academic, she says. I always came top in music, I danced and also played netball for the school.

I had to make a choice between the three. It would always be music. Music and dance have been a central part of my life. I started music lessons when I was five - my mum has a dance school - so my childhood was spent travelling from town 2012to town to different lessons. I couldnt have done all this without mum and dad. Theyve been so supportive.

In fact, its down to her father, Garth, a teacher, that she is playing with the band. As a student studying the violin I was encouraged to do anything with a classical orchestra, teaching or freelancing with professionals, says Gaynor. I suppose I was primed for that next step, trying out for the Halle and the BBC. But I heard about the Swing Commanders, who were looking for a violinist.

Dad taught the son of the lead singer. He gave me a CD of an old musician playing this kind of music. I admit I thought You cant expect me to play this sort of stuff when Ive been studying for so long. They were doing three gigs a week. It was really early on in the groups career they were playing in back street pubs for a tenner each.

Gaynor decided to go for it. Im so glad I got into this sort of music. I have such a nice way of life and people really enjoy the music. Were like a big family all working together with our different skills, she says.

There are two girls Siena Lloyd and me were both classically trained. The boys, Peter Riley, who formed the band and Simon Brady are self taught so whereas were good at reading music and arranging, the boys are good at improvising. Its a good mix.

She still continues to do some educational work with the Lancashire Sinfonietta and plays with three other groups in the Ribble Valley.
In nine years on the road, the highlight has been going to Texas. Weve been twice now and each time its been amazing playing in prestigious venues like The Broken Spoke and Continental Club in Austin.

I think our home audiences now have certain expectations from us. What I love is taking our music to people who dont know what we do. Earlier this year we played Keswick Jazz Festival were not a jazz band so I was worried how we would go down but weve been asked back again next year.

I think its all about the performance. Obviously to be a successful musician you have to master your instrument and put time into it, but its how you communicate that to the audience that really matters.

Look at people like Nigel Kennedy or Vanessa May and how they put their music across the smiles, the glamour. No one wants to watch musicians who dont look like they are enjoying themselves!

Swing along

The Swing Commanders play regularly on their home patch, but youll need to be quick to catch them as tickets sell out rapidly. This month, they are due to appear at St Pauls Peel Hall, Salford (October 12th); Barbon Village Hall (26th) and the Spread Eagle, Sawley (28th). For other dates, check their website

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