Connecting with the crowd

  • Jazzy backgrounds: Bermudian musician and sound engineer Callum Smith (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Callum Smith’s first real gig was at a massive nightclub in Mexico City.

“Nerve-racking”, is how he describes the period before he got on stage; there were more than 1,000 people at LooLoo Studio waiting to hear him play the saxophone and sing a few tracks.

Among the many distractions: flame bearers, people swinging from vines that hung from the ceiling — and live snakes.

“I’d never properly performed before, never actually sang in front of anyone, and for the first few songs, the sound engineer messed up the mike a little bit, so the sax wasn’t coming through and the vocals had delay and reverb. So I had to fix all that,” he said. “By the end, I thought I’d maybe done all right, but when they said it was the last song, people kept asking for more and we ended up playing four more tracks. It was awesome.”

Incredibly, the entire performance was happenstance.

The 23-year-old was in Cancun on holiday when a friend of a friend put his music on at a party.

“After three or four tracks this guy said, ‘What are you doing on September 28?’ He invited me to play at LooLoo’s, a club in Mexico City and I said, ‘100 per cent’.

“They flew me down and I went. The venue is really cool. It was a sold-out crowd of over 1,000 people.”

Mr Smith picked up the violin while a student at Warwick Academy “and hated it”.

He switched to the saxophone, joined the school’s jazz band under the direction of Kent Hayward, and had the opportunity to attend a camp in Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that he began to fully understand the lessons he’d been given.

“I came back a much more confident sax player,” he said.

At 16, he left Bermuda for a music programme in London, England but, unhappy with it, moved to Scotland and finished high school there. “I joined the South Ayrshire Jazz Band, we played for the Commonwealth Games, and then got into DJing a bit, but I started thinking that I don’t want to just mix tunes, that I could actually make them myself.”

Despite that, he went off to university in Canada to study maths and economics.

“I wasn’t really enjoying it and there wasn’t much opportunity there for music,” he said.

His father, Alastair Smith, was sympathetic to his plight.

The head of the maths department at Warwick Academy was being courted by top English division football teams when he was sidelined by a badly broken leg.

“So, he became a maths teacher instead,” Mr Smith said. “He finished a maths degree instead of following a career in football.

“I thought that maybe music is what I should be doing and he encouraged me to follow my passion. I went back to London and did a degree in music production and sound engineering. I crammed a three-year degree into two years and was surrounded by musicians there.”

He started out making house music but “everyone was making house music and I wanted to be different”.

Friends suggested he should sing after he rewrote a bit of a song he didn’t like, and stuck his vocals on it. “I started using my jazzy backgrounds to write actual songs and pieces of music,” he said. “I connect with this way more than house music and when performing, it meant a lot more to me than just DJing. I could sing and play saxophone live and connect with the crowd better.”

At the moment, he’s in Bermuda painting and doing some maintenance work, but in a couple weeks, he’s off to London to play saxophone for artists recording at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, and to do some sound engineering and production work.

He’s also been offered a return ticket to Mexico City and there’s talk of a gig in Guadalajara. “My goal is for some momentum to come off this gig,” Mr Smith said.

Look for BermudaCal on Spotify, Apple Music, Sound Cloud and other streaming music sites