Twelve years in the past, Noreen Davies had a vision. During the dream, the 72-year-old artist and cafe owner envisioned herself playing a unique instrument. “There was a lively melody playing in the background and I was joining in on the trombone, altering the notes and thoroughly enjoying myself,” she recalls. “Upon waking up, I was determined to learn how to play it.”
She went to her coffee shop in Leominster, Herefordshire, and met with her accountant. After the meeting, she inquired if he knew anyone who owned a trombone that she could try out. To her surprise, he revealed that he himself had five trombones. As it turns out, he and his wife were both members of a brass band in the area. He kindly brought one of his trombones to her, along with an old music book, and this marked the beginning of her journey with the instrument.
At the age of 84, Davies has performed in various locations in the Western Midlands with bands that have delved into genres such as blues, vintage jazz, and big band funk. Despite the style of music, she has remained committed to her goal of manipulating the sounds from the large horn, contorting and crying out like a strummed string on an electric guitar. “I’ve only had two lessons, and in the first one, the teacher instructed me to stick to the written music, but I prefer to do my own thing,” she explains. “I treat it more like a percussion instrument, improvising over the melodies.”
The trombone is notoriously challenging to master, as players must use the length of its tubing to determine the distance between notes instead of using fixed keys. However, Davies found the instrument to be easier due to her musical background. At 14, she picked up the guitar and taught herself how to play chords with her younger brother. She also taught herself how to play the piano by figuring out songs she enjoyed listening to. Despite not reading sheet music, she realized that learning music is possible with just a few chords. However, she stopped playing as much when she went to college. Recently, she has rediscovered her love for music and finds joy in playing once again.
Davies encountered her spouse, Gus, and initiated her teaching career at a primary school before the chance to establish her initial coffee shop presented itself in 2005. She made the choice to shut down every Monday and dedicate the day to painting, a pastime she had not pursued since her school days. This led to her gaining recognition for her nostalgic depictions of local storefronts. Currently, she devotes three days a week to painting and utilizes the walls of her cafe to showcase her artwork.
Davies’ self-assurance in performing live increased as she regularly hosted music evenings at the café, even collaborating in a jam session with Ric Sanders from Fairport Convention. However, she encountered a setback when multiple lung surgeries prevented her from playing for several months.
In 2018, after recovering her strength, she attended a jam session in Bromyard and connected with two musicians in need of a trombone player to complete their trio. Fortunately, she had her instrument in her car and was able to seize the opportunity. “We performed a few songs together and they welcomed me into their group,” she recalls. “We played together for a couple of years until Covid-19 disrupted our plans. It was a truly enjoyable experience.”
Davies’ exploration of jam sessions and performances in an open environment has resulted in her expanding her repertoire to include various musical instruments. She has returned to playing the piano and has also taken up the accordion, washboard, and baritone ukulele. Davies shares, “I joined a vintage jazz band because they were in need of a washboard player and I was the only one in the local area who knew how to play it. I also enjoy playing Bob Dylan songs on the ukulele and I’m currently learning some Cole Porter pieces on the accordion.” Although she recently acquired a bass ukulele, Davies admits that she will have to hold off on mastering it as she doesn’t want to juggle too many instruments at once.
It sounds like a hectic schedule, but Davies wouldn’t have it any other way. “Playing music and improvising with other people is essential to me now,” she says. “Everyone should try it out – just get yourself to a jam session somewhere and see what happens. I’m glad I had my dream.”