We can’t say anything more about that, sadly, but we did catch up with Oxford-born saxophonist Steve ‘Sax’ Cadd on his way to Phnom Penh’s FCC to talk heavyweight boxers, gas fitting, and falling in love with an instrument of sin.
Tell us about your love affair with the devil’s horn.
It was all down to my father, really, trying to get me into something that would keep me off the streets. When I was about 12, my father bought me a saxophone and I joined a local youth band. As it happened, the band consisted of future players with Wham! and George Michael – they all went on to really good things. I was 11 when we first went on tour to Holland and I got the idea this would be a lovely way to spend my life.
You’ve adopted the word ‘sax’ as part of your stage name. What was it about the saxophone that felt so right?
It’s the sound and the fact every saxophone player I’ve ever listened to sounded different. That really intrigued me, the way they all seem to have a special personal sound. And it’s the most modern instrument, apart from the electric guitar.
The sax has quite a chequered history, having originally been branded an instrument of sin – hence the term ‘devil’s horn’.
That’s right. It was based on a clarinet. Adolf Sax, this Belgian guy, changed it into this Ferrari of instruments and all of a sudden he even had death threats because people who played the saxophone were ‘taking over’ all the other musicians’ work. But it’s quite difficult to be a soloist; the sax is like the icing on the cake in a band. It’s not an instrument you can play with no background or help whatsoever. It’s a one-line melodic instrument. I usually like to be part of something bigger.
Speaking of size, you’ve been part of some very big things, including events for Britain’s royal family.
Because of this band in Oxford, I joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in London and they did lots of royal events, some of them at Buckingham Palace. We did a lot of functions, too. I remember one for surviving heavyweight boxers. Everyone was there, from Jamie Cooper to Muhammad Ali. I was really lucky to be playing with these people, with no formal training myself.
None at all?
[laughs] I was a gas fitter until I was about 19 and then we decided to part company for the safety of the universe. I was much better at blowing pipes than putting them together. Music was my real passion and my father finally said: ‘Go on, then. Just do it.’
Since you made that decision, you’ve rubbed shoulders with some very famous, well, shoulders. Playing at Elton John’s 40th birthday party: what can you tell us?
That was with the Denny Wise Band, one of the top function bands in London. Denny wouldn’t tell us who it was for, what it was for or where it was until the actual day and then when we turned up there were so many press people around. There was a great big Ferrari Testarossa wrapped up in a pink ribbon – a gift from his manager. That was just wonderful and it’s a nice thing to be able to put on your CV. Eventually, I got sent to Monte Carlo.
To the famous Monte Carlo Sporting Club…
Yes. I was the youngest guy in the band, surrounded by fantastic session players from London. There’d be little notes on the notice board: ‘Tenor sax required for Barry White’ or ‘Trombone required for Sammy Davis Jr’. It sounds silly me saying this because when I was teaching in Spain, one of the kids came up to me and said: ‘My father says if you played with all these famous people, what are you doing here?’ ‘Well, they’re all dead, really’ was the only answer I could give!
You can’t question that logic.
[laughs] No, not really. But I was so lucky to play with that quality of musician. I saw the end of the music business for working musicians. I love playing in big bands but to book a 22-piece big band these days is just too expensive. It doesn’t really happen much any more.
Do you think music is losing something by moving away from that kind of massive live presence?
Nowadays, I’m quite involved in playing with DJs in nightclubs – playing house music, techno, electronic music. I could see music was changing rapidly and I knew people who were into a different kind of music and I thought it’d be nice, rather than die out, to try to cross over.
Has it been challenging, making the transition from traditional big band set-up to electronic dance music?
It’s a very different mentality and that’s what I like about it. It’s music that’s being made not necessarily by musicians, so they make it in different ways than I would and I find that interesting. When I first started playing nightclubs in Spain, up on a podium in front of thousands of people, most of these kids hadn’t seen a saxophone player live before. I lived with DJs for two years, trying to immerse myself and understand what it was they wanted from me, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought. You can play one piece of music that’s in the same key for 10 minutes and you have to make something interesting out of that.
Does the interaction with the crowd differ when you’re playing with DJs in nightclubs, as opposed to big bands?
Yes! It’s more personal with a DJ because I usually walk around the room and dance with people while I’m playing. I’ve made so many great friends doing that. But my greatest love is acoustic music, when there are just two or three people playing in a small bar that’s full of people who really want to hear you play. At the FCC, I’ll be playing gentle background music to begin with and then I’ll be working with a DJ and we’ll play some electronic dance music.
Steve joins DJ Sakura Boom for a show at The FCC Phnom Penh on Saturday the 19th. Doors at 8:30. Free cover.