What It’s Like to Play the Trumpet in Belle and Sebastian

Local player Dick Titterington, a jazz and theater stalwart, joined the Scottish band for its last two Portland concerts.

Last week, trumpeter Dick Titterington was in the pit at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus Let’s Get Proud concert. A month before that, he played Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite” with the Oregon Symphony in Salem. And in between those gigs (on June 1 at the Roseland Theater), the 67-year-old Portlander was a member of Scottish indie legends Belle and Sebastian.

Since the departure of multi-instrumentalist Mick Cooke in 2013, the group, which has been out promoting its 11th album, A Bit of Previous, has mostly used a horn-for-hire on the songs that feature trumpet (Cooke’s replacement, Dave McGowan, plays guitar, keyboards and bass).

“I thought it must be that way, because most pop groups don’t hire trumpet players at all…much less just one trumpet player,” says Titterington, who usually tends toward jazz and Broadway music. Before moving to Portland in 2000, he spent seven years (52 weeks a year!) with the road production of Cats, and has also taught at Portland State, led two jazz bands (including a sextet called The Three Trumpets) and played with Pink Martini.

Music’s in the family as well. Titterington’s wife is the renowned Great American Songbook vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, while his nephew, Jon Titterington, is Father John Misty’s keyboardist and musical director (Dick has also cameoed with FJM).

Titterington first played with Belle and Sebastian at the Oregon Zoo in 2018, having picked up the gig from Steve Conrow, an Oregon Symphony stalwart who couldn’t make it that year. Back then, he says, the music seemed a little “bubble gummy,” with the “jumpy up and downy” front pit at the zoo seemingly filled with “a bunch of white guys from Intel.” He enjoyed the Roseland crowd (which was fairly young and co-ed, as well as rather mask compliant) more.

And Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch seemed to enjoy him, singling out Titterington’s trumpet solo on “Chickfactor” (a song named for the partly Portland-based ‘zine of the same name) during his between-song banter. “Really great! Thank you. As a prize, Dick, you get to play on this song as well,” the frontman joked.

Titterington featured heavily on such B&S classics as “She’s Losing It,” (from their very first album, 1996′s Tigermilk), “I Want The World to Stop” and “Sleep the Clock Around.” He says that for a trained musician, it’s a pretty easy gig. While the band’s representative sent along PDFs of all the possible sheet music in advance, he could pretty much show up and play with no rehearsal.

“There’s nothing technically even remotely hard about their music,” Titterington says. “It’s high-level music, [but] very simple music compared to big band or Broadway shows. You just kind of play the melody and play it like the band is playing. You want to blend in. So that’s the challenging part of it.”

For one song, longtime Belle and Sebastian auxiliary member Sarah Wilson, who plays keyboards and cello, did provide him with a particularly Scottish direction: “Play this one cheeky,” she commanded.

“I have a good time playing that stuff, even though it’s not my bailiwick.” Titterington says. A few days after the show, while out for his daily walk, he even found himself humming “Young and Stupid,” the first song on A Bit of Previous. “It was an earworm,” he admits.

Also appreciated: the fact that the band uses in-ear monitors, enabling Titterington to set his own volume and hear himself clearly and, of course, the fact that it was an honest night’s work. Titterington is semi-retired from both music and a second career in massage therapy, but he’s walked out of enough jazz clubs without so much as a dollar for one lifetime.

“They give you cash money on your way out the door and a 1099 at the end of the year,” he says. “A nice situation.”