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Face to Face

Talking to people with passion for what they do.


Ken Wharton-Emms was born in Birmingham in 1962, joined the Royal Marine’s Band in 1978, after leaving in 1987, Ken has worked as a freelance musician ever since.

Were you a child prodigy? No. My father died when I was young and his friends paid for me to go to a boarding school where music was compulsory. I loved it straight away, and knew that music was going to be my career in some way. 

What instruments did you play first? I began with the clarinet which I went on to play in the Royal Marines Band, also the violin, but the saxophone always seemed very glamorous and exciting. Also, I wanted to play jazz, which the sax is ideal for – so I taught myself. It’s now the instrument I play the most.  

Isn’t the sax really difficult to play? It has that reputation, but all instruments need a lot of work to make progress, but I guess compared to brass and a lot of stringed instruments, the sax is more difficult. 

What training did you have? The Royal Marines Band was equivalent to a university education. We had to play an orchestral instrument (violin), and marching instrument (clarinet). It was very exacting but set me up for life. 

Any big breaks? I formed an 8-piece band called the Alpha Connection which was very successful, we played all over the world, about 250 gigs a year from Park Lane in London to Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Unfortunately, by 2006 the market for comparatively big, expensive bands began to wane and we disbanded. 

Do you play with any bands today? Yes, Soul Suspects, led by Lee Brophy, is a fun pub type band; and The New Party Collective, with Kieron Young, which is a bit more formal. We play at weddings and charity pubs such as The Wellington, I also do some private tutoring.   

Advice for young musicians? There’s no getting around it, you need to put in the hours. Music lessons are just a starting point, you need to then go away and practice, but if you love music, it shouldn’t be a chore

Your favourite piece of sax music? A tune by Joe Jackson, who comes from Portsmouth too of course, it’s called ‘Loisaida’, which one of my students introduced me to – it’s great to play on the sax.

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