With the CD Snake Strings Volume 1, the man once dubbed by Eurythmic, Dave Stewart as 'free as a bird' takes flight in a highly successful partnership with an outstanding British string quartet. The result is a beautifully chosen collection of classical pieces, new compositions and classic pop covers that is a joy from first note to last. Acknowledged as one of the UK's foremost saxophonists. As well as being the go-to guy for session work with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and George Michael - it's his star turn on Take That's A Million Love Songs - Snake Davis regularly plays sell-out shows across the UK with the jazz and soul tinged compositions of the Snake Davis Band and Burden of Paradise. Here for the first time with brand new arrangements, Snake Davis places his saxophone within a classical context. "I'd love to think that people who would go and see Nigel Kennedy or Bocelli or Kathryn Jenkins would love what we're doing." With their passionate feel for melody, Snake Davis and the string quartet: Adam Robinson - violin, Damion Browne - cello, Jayne Coyle - viola and Raymond Lester - violin - take classical, musical theatre, film score and pop classics and add their own unique sense of musicality. It's the perfect classical crossover and an idea Snake Davis has wanted to bring to fruition for some time. "About ten years ago, I made some demos with a keyboard player who mocked up string parts for Elgar's Nimrod and Bach's, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. I was looking for a deal, but it didn't come off and the project was shelved." Like many of the best ideas, it refused to go away. Snake Strings gives new audiences a chance to find the music of Snake Davis. It's something he is keen to encourage. "I'd love to think that people who would go and see Nigel Kennedy or Bocelli or Kathryn Jenkins would love what we're doing. It's a classical crossover and so many people love that kind of stuff, we just need to reach them." SNAKE DAVIS - A CLASSIC IN THE MAKING Snake Davis is acknowledged as one of the UK's foremost saxophonists. As well as being the go-to guy for session work with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and George Michael - it's his star turn on Take That's A Million Love Songs - he regularly plays sell-out shows across the UK with the jazz and soul tinged compositions of the Snake Davis Band and the beautifully melodic Burden of Paradise, featuring the vocals of Helen Watson. Now with the CD Snake Strings Volume 1, the man once dubbed by Eurythmic, Dave Stewart as 'free as a bird' takes flight in a highly successful partnership with an outstanding British String Quartet. The result is an album of soulful classics, new compositions and classic pop covers that is a joy from first note to last. I met with Snake Davis and asked him, where did the idea for Snake Strings originate? "I've always loved melody and playing a good strong tune is more important to me than anything else. Some of the best melodies available to us are in classical music. I'd fooled around playing classical things in my own style on the sax, busking or as part of my practice. Then about ten years ago I made some demos with a keyboard player who mocked up string parts in the studio, that worked well - Elgar's Nimrod and Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. I tried to get a deal - it was in the days when you could still take stuff round the major record companies." Snake came close, but eventually the plan to make an album and tour the world with local orchestras fell through. The project was shelved, but not for long. Like many of the best ideas, it refused to go away. "It never left my mind and I began to think maybe it would work with a string quartet, so I arranged a few of my own pieces, some classical pieces and pop covers for a small string section. I tried it out when I was on tour in Japan [Snake is a regular in the touring band of Japanese rock star, Eikichi Yazawa]. Yazawa had half the Czech National Symphony Orchestra on the road with him and they were bored, so I collared some of them in the dressing room and plonked these arrangements down in front of them. That convinced me that it could work." It took another two or three years between gigs and recording commitments for Snake to complete the new arrangements and audition British string players. Finally he came across Adam Robinson, Damion Browne, Jayne Coyle and Raymond Lester who are freelance players working with Opera North, Liverpool Philharmonic and the Halle. "I listened to about thirty quartets and these guys really had the attitude and the sound that I wanted. It was in their playing and their feel for timing that convinced me. They're just brilliant." Viola player, Jayne Coyle, had previous experience of pop/classic crossover with Litmus Strings, a quartet celebrated for their album of Manchester classics by Joy Division, The Smiths, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Oasis. When Snake's call came, she put the idea to the other members of the quartet. They were up for it. For any musician, even one with Snake's wealth of experience, making the leap into a new world was a risk. "I could tell from the first rehearsal that it was a good combination, but even up to stepping on stage at Hull Truck I wasn't totally convinced I was going to get away with it. I didn't eat that day, I was so nervous." Although Snake and the Quartet had recorded most of the album, playing it live for the first time felt like working without a safety net. For Davis, having nowhere to hide was a welcome challenge. "I've practised getting the sound and tone over thirty-odd years, and my favourite gigs are when every note can be heard and where the audience is respectful enough to listen. That's not always the way in a club or a gig. But with the strings, it's so stark, no guitar or drums." In many ways it's an ideal set up for a man who feels passionately about melody. "You can't imagine people at a classical concert clinking glasses and chatting. I mean we're lucky in that as a band, audiences are very respectful. So it's not so much that I needed a classical audience, I just want to be in that situation where every note counts." The album features brand new arrangements of some classic pieces of music from across genres. The grace and elegance of Fauré's Pavane or Bernstein's Maria from West Side Story sit easily alongside Snake Davis compositions like The Waiting, Sugarloaf and the main theme from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Eternal Vow. Making the right choice over which pieces to record took some working out. "The pieces on the album are those I thought might work, they were arranged and tried. It's very diverse. The Eternal Vow - played with the bamboo flute - that was one of the string section's suggestions. " Most of the album was recorded at Snakepit studios in Buckinghamshire. "Some we recorded as live together and on some tracks they recorded as a quartet and I added my parts later. When you can achieve it, it's beautiful to record together and they encouraged me to do that. There were all these acoustic screens and they said, 'you've got to get rid of those, get closer, it's really important.'" Snake was pleasantly surprised at the way it came together. "I had the fear that it would fall flat, that people wouldn't be able to grasp it, or that it would feel uncomfortable. But it felt great in rehearsal, great in the studio; the musicians loved it and we got a great reception." Beloved by audiences for his soulful playing, Snake Davis has given his life to study and challenging the boundaries of the saxophone with musical collaboration, arrangements and compositions. Snake Strings is an exquisite addition to the repertoire. Will there be a Snake Strings Volume Two? "Definitely. There are so many ideas, pieces we'd like to have put on the first album." Snake Strings gives new audiences a chance to find the music of Snake Davis - those who might not go to a gig with jazz or blues in the title. It's something he is keen to encourage. "I'd love to think that people who would go and see Nigel Kennedy or Bocelli or Kathryn Jenkins would love what we're doing. It's a classical crossover and so many people love that kind of stuff, we just need to reach them." A few days later I get the chance to hear for myself in the grand surroundings of Louth's St James's Church. Snake and the Quartet are utterly captivating and the surroundings on a Sunday evening are just about perfect. The sense of longing in original Davis compositions like The Waiting are taken to a new level. There are 'tingle moments' throughout the evening and surprises with covers of Erasure's A Little Respect and Annie Lennox's Walking on Broken Glass. Switching effortlessly between tenor, alto, soprano saxes, keyless wood flute, keyless wood flute and shakuhachi, Snake Davis is in his element. The arrangements are wonderful, melodies rising to the rafters. The ovation at the end says it all. If there were doubts, they're long gone. Nick Triplow.