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When Stormzy tore up the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury this year, he instantly made headlines and history, as the first black, British solo artist to headline the iconic festival. What you may not know is that his backing band included a former Cambridgeshire Music student!
Jackson Mathod, who is 28, grew up in Stretham and studied at Soham Village College. When he was just eight years old, he started playing the trumpet, urged on by a primary school teacher. As a young musician, he was involved in various Cambridgeshire Music events and activities, including some work with its ensembles in the early 2000s. “It was a really important experience because it set me up to understand what it’s like to play with others,” Jackson remembers. “You have to get used to that. There’s only so much you can do in a practice room by yourself.”
The experience helped Jackson to prepare for more intensive musical training – first through a Saturday school run by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he fell in love with playing jazz; then as a full-time BMus student at the same institution. At age 22, he took the brave decision to focus on being a freelance musician rather than teach in his spare time. “I just wanted to do gigs and sessions, and to focus on what I’m best at,” he says.
Although it was hard work, Jackson took as many opportunities as he could, working on the basis that this would help him to make crucial contacts. The approach paid off: at one audition he met Stormzy’s musical director, and eventually found himself working as a session musician for the rapper, first in Radio 1’s Live Lounge, and then at Glastonbury this year. “We were up on this rear stage area for part of the performance and all we could see was this massive crowd – it was crazy,” Jackson says. “That was when I realised the magnitude of what we were doing; it was proper bucket list stuff.”
Jackson is now focusing on writing songs and recording his own, dub-influenced material under the recording name of Mathod Jackson. For younger musicians who are thinking about pursuing a freelance career, his advice is to treat it as a social, as well as musical exercise. “Meeting people is all part of the groundwork you have to do,” he says. “Meet the people who come to your gigs, who see you play, and other musicians. By doing that you’ll get opportunities. You never know who’s watching.”