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WorldService Project: Articulate Arsonists

John Kelman By

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It's a very different time to be a musician than it was even 20 years ago, when major record labels still existed, providing tour support and money to make recordings. It's also a very different time because, with the upsurge of DIY recordings, there's more music being released every month than ever before. Add to that the mix of media—CD, digital (low and high res) and the resurgence of vinyl—and music fans now have more choices than ever before, at a time when there are more things than ever competing for their attention, from podcasts and other web- only services to social media and video games, all available on a multitude of platforms (desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, tablets). It's a great time to be a musician, because you can truly take complete control of your career; it's also a terrible time to be a musician, because you are competing with more musicians for peoples' attention than ever before.

There was a time when musicians had publicists, managers and booking agents. Some still do, but most find themselves doing all these things themselves—all while trying to accomplish their primary goal: making music. This change from DIY to DIAY (do it all yourself) is enough to drive many musicians off the cliff, but then there are those like WorldService Project, a young British quintet that doesn't just accept the world as it is today but embraces it. On the cusp of releasing its second full-length album, Fire in a Pet Shop, WSP has become a veritable cottage industry. It's gained significant exposure as part of Ireland's 12 Points Festival, an event that, each year, selects 12 young bands of interest from around the world to perform at a festival that alternates between its home base of Dublin and locales abroad like Porto, Portugal. WorldService Project was also chosen as one of three from those dozen groups in 2012 to be part of 12 Point PLUS, a European tour program that garners for those selected even greater exposure, thus far at festivals in Ljubljana, Umeå and Tampere.

But beyond external opportunities, WorldService Project has intrepidly charted a territory that few groups have explored with its annual Match & Fuse Festival and tour. "I'd say there was a definite step up for us at the end of 2010, when we won an award in the UK called the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award," says Dave Morecroft, WSP's de facto leader and composer. "It's a private award but curated by the Musician's Benevolent Fund, which is the charity that helps musicians who get injured or can't play because they're older. It's essentially estate money left by this guy Peter Whittingham; he loved jazz and left money to be awarded each year. With that money, we essentially devised a project, which was the very first Match & Fuse tour.

"That came in September 2011, but with the award at the end of 2010, it took us that long to plan it," Morecroft continues. "From September 2011—well, from the award being given through to now—it's kind of just been this cascading thing of Match & Fuse, and it's literally snowballing, as it's gone bigger and bigger. Our funding applications have kind of overlapped, and we just kept reapplying. Because every step forward we took with Match & Fuse, the more sense it made—to me, anyway—to take it and run as far as we possibly could with it, because it was being received with such enthusiasm by the other bands involved as well as venues, collectives and promoters."

World Service Project-Fire in a Pet ShopMatch & Fuse comes with the kind of mission statement that few musicians as young as Morecroft and the rest of his twenty-something band mates—trombonist Raph Clarkson, saxophonist Tim Ower, bassist Conor Chaplin and the relative newcomer drummer Liam Waugh—could ever conceive of, let alone execute. As the M&F site explains:

"Match&Fuse (M&F) is a touring exchange network and annual festival with the primary aim of connecting creative scenes across Europe. With an emphasis on local culture and its transmission across borders, M&F facilitates shared platforms for likeminded artists and the creation of new artistic material through international collaboration."

This is a hefty objective, if ever there was one, but since its inception just two years ago, Match & Fuse has garnered tremendous critical and popular acclaim, collaborating with a surprisingly large cross-section of young groups including Tin Men and the Telephone (Netherlands), Pixel and SynKoke (both Norway), Innkvisitio (Finland), NI and Alfie Ryner (both France), and with other artists coming from Italy, Denmark, Poland and Germany. It's ambitious, but for the seemingly tireless WSP, it's a means of creating an international scene through a kind of virtual underground railway that engenders collaboration and cooperation across the continent.

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