The water-cooler is commonly known as a place for collaboration and networking, and it is where I first heard about the musician, Fotis Begklis. Better known amongst staff and students as a Learning Technologist, Fotis is a talented clarinet and percussion player. In addition to countless concerts across the UK, his performance portfolio includes two appearances at Glastonbury and regular appearances at Rich Mix with fellow musicians of the Trans-Siberian March Band (TSMB).
By day Fotis is usually found wearing a pair of headphones, working with his colleagues to create, film and edit video content for programme and website use. The team’s current focus is creating videos for the Online Global MBA. There are 22 videos in total and the team have created all the content from scratch, a project that has taken them over two years. Filming usually takes place in the small recording studio tucked away behind rows of staff desks in the Business School. The small quarters are where a lot of Fotis’ business relationships are formed: “we meet people in a different way; during a week we are with them for 8 hours a day so we have a different relationship. I quite like that!” he says. “It is intimate; we are in the studio just them and us. Standing up for hours and hours trying to get the best product – it can be very challenging.”
Currently studying his PhD in Interactive Media at Westminster University, Fotis has previously obtained a degree in Media which is a field that requires constant learning, and up-skilling: “I have learned a lot of things on my own, because there is new technology every year. So in general I am some kind of self-taught media specialist,” he says. Fotis started playing clarinet when he was quite young, and after a break in playing he pickedup woodwind and then percussion again roughly 12 years ago.
On top of traditional music methods and obtaining his Masters in Ethnomusicology, Fotis has a keen ear for sound and pitch, noting he can often hear sounds that others can’t. From hearing to playing unique sounds, the Trans-Siberian March Band website provides a great window into their performance world. The photo gallery is a vibrant portrait of Balkan costumes, caricatures, mid-performance captures, and thoughtful soloist moments. As the name suggests, their music is influenced by a number of cultures including traditional Balkan, Turkish and Russian cultures. Fotis’ Greek heritage and strong interest in folk music makes him a valuable member of the band when it comes to donning costumes for song and dance performances – a process that can take a couple of hours.
Together, the band have been rehearsing every Monday for ten years. Their sound is made up of rich brass, married with airy wind instruments all backed by the rhythmic percussion, producing a very playful track – one critic named them the “Sex Pistols of Balkan Brass”. The band’s performances draw a large crowd, and they are called upon to entertain at many different social events, cultural performances and bar gigs. “We are a professional band, so if they pay us, we will play!” laughs Fotis. When asked about his most memorable performance, he notes there are many that come to mind however the Glastonbury experiences are concerts that have stuck with him. “The second Glastonbury was quite good. We collaborated with DJ Yoda, and we played on a massive stage. He asked if we would collaborate so we developed a show and went to Glastonbury, which was our biggest performance to date,” Fotis recalls.
Fotis’ best kept secret? The college practice rooms that are available to students and staff. “The best room is always available. I am not sure why though, it has a very beautiful view,” he says. It is in these quiet rehearsal spaces, as well as vacant lecture theatres he finds time to practice his music most mornings. Squeezing practice in where you can is important especially when you belong to two bands, work full time and are undertaking a PhD. When we asked how he fits it all in he shrugged and smiled, replying “I don’t know.”
You can learn about upcoming performances and learn more about TSMB here.