I know that I have a mind which works in strange ways but I really could not get the thought of this band being from Bradford out of my mind! In fact they are from all over the place and are some of the most innovative musicians on the planet.

The name is a pun on In-to-change rather than a tribute to the bus and rail station in the 2025 City of Culture, but it also describes the mechanics of the group. There is a pool of a couple of dozen or so women musicians, arrangers and composers who work as a big band of ten players on a rotational basis and thus interchange.

In this visit to Howard Assembly Room we were treated to an extra session to illustrate the way in which the operation is run. It was billed as a rehearsal and ran for ninety minutes from 1.00pm, but it was more an opportunity for the composers who had submitted their work for consideration under the initiative called Beyond The Secret, to give them a run through by the full band. At the end of the session three of the works would be included in the actual concert later in the evening. Those which were not chosen would be included in a later date on the tour, at the Las Vegas of the East Midlands, Market Harborough.


The process of turning the written arrangements into finished pieces proved to be fascinating and I was mesmerised by the ability of the players to translate the works, which they had not seen before, into the slick performances they became. The instructions from the composer/arrangers were like a foreign language to me but obviously not to the band who dove straight in once the tempo and atmosphere had been conveyed. We were also privy to an explanation of the origins and thinking behind the pieces, something which made the run-through here, and the final performance later, so much more enjoyable. As someone who writes about food as well as theatre I find it daunting to produce a thousand words on a burger flipper, so I was mightily impressed by a three-minute piece about a mushroom hunter!

I loved the way in which everyone was so supportive of each other, giving advice and encouragement to those who had taken the step of submitting their work for public, and, more dauntingly, professional scrutiny.

The leader of the band, Issie Barratt explained that she set up the ensemble after spending many years touring with big bands and finding herself to be the only woman in the group. Not only did she feel that the scope for female players, composers and arrangers was limited but also experienced a certain isolation form the company of other women whist on the road, something which must be very wearing, even if only because of the constant process of having to put the toilet seat down! The objective being to champion and mentor the nation’s most innovative female composers and improvisers.

Villanelle in rehearsal – but for what?

I must say that one of the composers was wearing a rather dashing floral suit and when she had her back to us whilst conducting the band I thought that she bore a startling resemblance to Villanelle from Killing Eve. I remained on my best behaviour so as not to tempt her to come up with some innovative way of dispatching me.

At 4.00pm, after a coffee and sarnie, I made my way back to the venue for the concert proper which featured two sets from their album Donna’s Secret as well as the three pieces chosen from the rehearsal.

The playing was amazing by all concerned, from the debutant sax player, to the more well known Zoe Rahman on piano, whom I had the pleasure of seeing here with Courtney Pyne recently. It goes without saying that Ms Barratt was superb. Not only were the individual musicians excellent but the band as a whole was tight and beautifully balanced.

I also found the choice of music to be perfect for a concert, with the short tunes from the new composers, who were only allowed a maximum of three minutes, to the longer ones which gave time for the instrumentalists, and singer, to showcase their skills. The range of tempo also added variety.

Issie Barratt far right

The three composers were invited on stage to repeat their stories to a full house rather than we smaller number who were at rehearsal. This was especially delightful as the concert was being recorded for broadcast on Radio 3 on Saturday 18th June when Jumoké Fashola will present it as part of a series on the inaugural Leeds Jazz Festival.

Jumoké Fashola from Radio 3

As a footnote I would like to add that there is a tradition of all-female big bands, the most famous being the one formed by Holbeck’s own Ivy Benson during the Second World War. Leeds at the cutting edge yet again!

For more information on Issie Barratt’s INTERCHANGE please go to https://www.issiebarratt.co.uk/interchange/

To find out about the other events in the Leeds Jazz Festival it is https://www.jazzleeds.org.uk/leeds-jazz-festival-2022/

And for more presentations at Howard Assembly Room https://www.operanorth.co.uk/howard-assembly-room/

Feature image provided by Howard Assembly Room. Photographs by Stan Graham

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