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Spot-lite on SaxyAnna

Anna is the second-longest-standing member of The Reggulites, arriving just after Sugar. Her impactful Sax sounds and amazing stage presence light up The Reggulites performance, and her design skills and planning foresight mean we have the cutting edge in everything we put out in the world.

In an absolutely hilarious interview, where I knew nearly all the answers because most of the time I was there, we learn about how Anna got to be Anna, explore her musical background and upbringing and find out what's important to such a beautiful lady (even if I am a little bias) .

Helen: Right. Like I don't know, where are you from and where did you grow up?

Anna: Oh, okay. Yes. West Bromwich and also West Bromwich.

Helen: And where do you live now?

Anna: West Bromwich.

Helen: Excellent.

Anna: That makes me sound like one of them people who's never left their hometown. I've been out. They let me out sometimes, you know.

Helen: Do they really? No, they don't.

Anna: 'They' is 'You' and Yes you do, you keep booking gigs far away.

Helen: That's true. OK, when did you first get involved in music? And do you want to tell everybody what you learned to play first?

Anna: Like I don't know you?

Helen: Like I don't know you.

Anna: When did I first get involved in music? Is this a reference to that video?

Helen: I mean, yeah, we do need to talk about that.

Anna: No we don't. As you know. Not you. This is for the people.

Helen: This is for the people?

Anna: Are you going to edit some of this?

Helen: I'll tidy it up a bit. But there will be big capital letters saying FOR THE PEOPLE!


Anna: Mom could play instruments and she would sometimes wang out the recorder and play erm...oh my goodness...the horse thing (note from Helen - this is followed by Anna singing the tune, but I can't remember what it's called). So because of that I wanted to learn, so I started on the recorder when I was six, and somewhere I've still got the book 'My First Recorder' with that weird looking boy on the front.

Helen: Oh yeah, the ginger boy.

Anna: Was he ginger?

Helen and Anna: Strawberry Blonde.

Anna: And my recorder was green. Mid-green. Pea.

Helen: OK, so you learned to play recorder. Then what happened?

Anna: When I started high school...well, no. When I was at primary school - no, I'm going to give stuff away about you.

Helen: I mean, you can't just cut me out of your life, Anna, I happened.

Anna: I was going to make reference to how you learned trumpet at primary school, but they didn't do that for me. I never ended up in that sort of cycle, if that makes sense. When I went to high school there was a possibility for me to do that, but because I hadn't done it before, I couldn't start until the beginning of the next year. So you start school in September and I didn't start playing the clarinet until January, although they gave it to me in December so that Christmas must have been fabulous for everybody where I'm like 'I've got this new thing and I'm gonna give it a go with no lessons!'

Helen: The straight snake caller (Clarinet).

Anna: Giant recorder, as it looked like to me. And then I took up flute in Year 8 and then Saxophone finally when I was about sixteen. I remember in year eight having either Grade 3 or 5. I decided I would only do odd numbers for a bit. I remember it was like the hottest day and I actually couldn't keep hold of the flute.

Helen: They are wriggly.

Anna: It was just so hot. Everything was very sweaty. It was horrendous and of course I was a bit nervous as well because it was my exam. And fortunately, because I am an older person now, it was in the old days, so I had to keep wiping my hands down the blackboard to powder up my hands.

Helen: Like an athlete?

Anna: Yes, a music athlete.

Helen: OK, because I know you I can ask you little probing questions, like 'How did you get your first saxophone?'. Because this is also a blast from the past. No Facebook Marketplace for us.

Anna: Oh, not even eBay. We found an advert in the Bargain Pages! It was a lovely family over in Aldridge, I think. We went over on an evening to go and fetch it. And Mom and Dad were like 'Have a go on it. Make sure it's alright.' I've never touched one of these before! I don't even know how to put it together!

Helen: You've got marginally better at that.

Anna: But you will see me sometimes being like, if somebody distracts me when I'm in the middle of construction of the instrument, anything could happen. It could be totally upside down! Or back-ards. Backwards. That's for the people, too.

Helen: Can you remember the first time you performed in public?

Anna: ...

Helen: I think it might have been when you were in the choir.

Anna: It could have been. When we did school plays and stuff, I always ended up being the narrator. I don't know why.

Helen: It's because you were the only kid that didn't have like a really broad Black Country accent.

Anna: Oh, I see. So yeah, I've done that kind of thing, but actually playing...I'm not sure. I would say, yes, you might be right about the choir. But in terms of instruments that aren't like, onboard instruments to myself, my body, you know, I would say one that I'm not sure is the first time but it's one that I really remember because me and my friend Heather had lessons together and we were both doing the same thing for Grades, this duet anyway. And our music teacher wanted us to do something in the day. It might have been when the kids come from the primary schools. And again, another blast from the past - how old am I? This duet had got a backing track with it, but the backing track was on tape not a CD. We'd practiced and practiced in the music room to make sure we wouldn't embarass ourselves, and our music teacher had wanted to hear it before we did it in front of everyone. So we turned up at the hall, popped the tape in the tape player in there. It starts up with a lovely little introduction. We're counting our 4 bars rest or whatever it was. And we started playing. And the tape player in the hall actually runs slightly slower than the one in the music room or any other tape player you've ever met before in your life, so it was ever so slightly flat. By ever so slightly - it was horrendous. We started it and I'm like 'Yo, what' out the corner of my eye at Heather and we're looking at each other while we're still playing, and we're like 'Well we can't stop' and our music teacher was like 'Ohhhhh, shit.' Anyway, we played the entire thing because we didn't have anything else we could do, and it needed the backing. Oh, my God. We were just going for that one thing and we'd always been taught 'Don't stop.'

Helen: So, in light of that, do you feel that technology advancements have helped musicians?

Anna: Yes. I mean, tapes. The thing is, when you tell people, who remember that time, that story, they're like 'Oh yeah, yeah, that could happen.' But you'd almost never know that was what was happening unless you tried to play along with the tape. Fortunately for us, one of those rare occasions where that was going to happen was in front of like, hundreds of people.

Helen: Excellent.

Anna: Probably not hundreds. Maybe a hundred. The hall was massive. And it seemed to get very full once everything started to go wrong.

Helen: More people came in, like 'I wasn't going to bother but this is going horribly.'?

Anna: No, just, it just seemed a lot more full than it actually was. The same number of people there, but they seemed a lot more oppressive now.

Helen: So, can you tell me a bit about your musical career?

Anna: Well, obviously, given my previous story, it was off to an absolutely smashing start. To be honest, those sort of incidents just continue all the way through.

Helen: I mean, that did happen to us not long ago - where we'd practiced something and we went to rehearsal and then everyone else was playing it in a different key.

Anna: That is true. You know what you were saying about technology, we've all of us, especially doing covers and things, where you listen to them and then you're like 'What key is that in?'.

Helen: Yeah, they're like half way between.

Anna: Yeah, just because of the way it's been put on YouTube or whatever. So, we make a decision, or we all have to jump on the group like, 'Just to confirm, what key are we actually doing this in?'

Helen: Yeah, and then I'll jump in with 'My first note is going to be an A' because I don't know what keys are. So, musical career, what you been doing?

Anna: Well, mainly playing the saxophone. I haven't really done very much with the other instruments. I mean, there's not much call for Rock Recorder or anything. Maybe there should be.

Helen: I mean, Jethro Tull?

Anna: That was flute, man. But no Rock Recorder.

Helen: Oh, that very heavy metal instrument.

Anna: I wanna get one of them great big descant recorders. Pour that out over a reggae beat. I think that would be lovely.

Helen: Why not?

Anna: So yes, I've mainly done stuff with my Saxophone. When I left Sandwell Youth Music and I wasn't playing with them so much in a learning capacity, I played with my teacher's band. Teacher Tildi. Please tag her because she lives in France now and she has a lovely dog called Betty. So I played with her band that she'd set up with her friends called 'Life in a Tin'. That isn't a thing anymore. Although people are still out there. That was all original songs which was cool and great.

Helen: Can you remember some of the names of the songs?

Anna: One of them was called 'Life in a Tin'. There was 'Intro'. 'Pick my Ass'. 'Schlights off'. 'Otter's pocket'! There were enough to make a whole gig out of. From then I started playing with you in Skaface, which was also lots of great experience but I did learn that maybe Ska music isn't really what I'm into. And then, Walsall Jazz Orchestra. That was great, but my sight reading is not up to par. In fact, I haven't actually read any written music for quite some time, so...what's that? Have I missed anything? You have to help.

Helen: Tell me about what you did for Grades, because I've asked everybody else that's involved in Reggulites and we're all in the Grade 4 club, but you're not.

Anna: I've got my own little odd grade story. I did up to Grade 6 on Clarinet. Grades 1 - 5 at Sandwell Youth Music, as it was then, were like... I was going to say Internal Exams. I don't mean it in that way. But they did them for themselves and you got a little Word Art certificate. But when you got to Grade 6, 7 and 8, you did a proper exam board. Sandwell used to do ABRSM. So I'd done the first one of those. I don't think Clarinet was really for me, right from the beginning. I tried really hard but I don't think it was my instrument. I mean, arguably none of them are, but particularly the Clarinet. I just didn't really get it. My exam was supposed to take place at a Church Hall in Walsall and it ended up being at some woman's house.

Helen: Oh. They'd never allow that now.

Anna: She was a music teacher.

Helen: They all say that.

Anna: I can't really remember the ins and outs of it, but it was a lot of faff, and it just wasn't for me. With flute, I didn't bother with the first two grades because t's like the basics of the instrument and I already knew that, so I started with Grade 3, then Grade 5. I can't remember if I did Grade 6. I took Grade 8 on Flute. And then Saxophone, because I started so late, I did have a few lessons at school, but then I went to college, and I didn't do music in my first year. Trying to get lessons when you don't do music at college was quite difficult. I think it was my second or third year of college is when Tildi went to France, so I didn't have lessons at all after that. But before she went, I took my Grade 7, and I took the jazz exam, on Saxophone. But because I then left education and my Saxophone teacher left the country, I've only got Grade 7 on Saxophone. If you just see that in isolation, it's like 'Why didn't you just do the top one?'. That was the plan, but it just didn't work out. I've since discovered that Grades are not really that important. They're a good thing to aim for but they can be very narrowing, because you're only concentrating on that. If you've got other responsibilities and other things you're trying to learn at the same time, you just focus on what you need to do to get through your exam because you've paid for it.

Helen: Did you know that ABRSM was founded on 1st October 1899? I just googled what it stands for because I couldn't remember.

Anna: The Associated Board of ... Really Silly Musicians?

Helen: Possibly, yeah. It's the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. And the first things that come up are: The first step to taking the ABRSM Piano Performing Arts Exam is deciding at what level you will take it. And the second one is 'ABRSM responded to the criticism and said that the death of George Floyd in the US has made it think deeply about its effort to get more Black Composers in its syllabuses.

Anna: How come they no say syllabi?

Helen: I don't know. Silly buses. They're always turning up at once. Can you think of any musicians or music that you're influenced by?

Anna: Loads of things and people, but I probably don't know who they are. Like, if you ask me if I know who it is, I wouldn't, but if I heard a song by them I'd be like 'I flippin' love this'. Really I just like anything that's a banger. You know, when I think about my life and all the music I've listened to and what I've really liked...and even before I knew anything about it, there were certain things I liked about music I could hear. Like, oh, do you remember the old Malteasers advert where the fella in the poster used to come out the wall?

Helen: No.

Anna: Right. Well. I'm sure it was Dream Lover. Hold on (note from Helen - there was furious typing in the background here). Yes! Fictional James Dean in a Malteasers ad. Oh, my God. 1989. No wonder you don't remember it.

Helen: Because it was the year I was born.

Anna: It must have been on after that. Hang on a minute. There's something wrong here. Because the first thing is she eats half a Malteaser. That's not right, is it? Just stick the whole Malteaser in your mouth, don't you? Anyway, now she's walking up the wall. And then they do some dancing. But I really liked that. There was something about Dream Lover that sort of captured my imagination as a kid. And oh, I did love the Bodyform advert.

Cue two sisters belting out 'Oooooooh, Bodyform, Bodyform for youuuuu'

Anna: But yeah, anything that captures my imagination and its sometimes surprising what that might be. Nothing in particular.

Helen: Just adverts.

Anna: No! Anything that's a banger but the definition of banger might be different depending on what it is, how it's been recorded, when I'm listening to it, what I'm doing and what day of the week it is.

Helen: Ok, how did you get into The Reggulites?

Anna: I went through the door like most people. There's a lot of convoluted little steps. It's a bit back-ards and forwards. So it all started in March 2018. We were on holiday. Me and thee and our Father (who aren't in heaven) were in West Bay, do you remember that one?

Helen: Yeah, that was good.

Anna: And Trombone sister Errol kept phoning me whilst we were away. And he was phoning to see if I wanted to do the Reggae Winehouse project. They'd got a gig in the April. So, something in me just said 'Say yes, Anna, say yes'.

Helen: I mean, it's always fun when Errol suggests a thing.

Anna: I mean, I love being in the house. I don't get to be in my house very often, it seems. So quite often I'll say no to things. But this particular time, something was pushing me, so I was like 'Errol, yes.' And I went along. We did the gig in the April. And then when that was done, the idea was they were going to continue to work and build the set, so I stuck with it. And where they rehearsed, there were quite a few studios around and all different people milling about and somebody else was setting up a soul band. They wanted horns and someone had suggested me so I went along, and the keyboard player they'd got was a guy called Richard. I don't think it was really his thing. He wasn't there for very long. I did stick with the soul band for a little bit longer, but it didn't really seem to be going anywhere. And again, it's not really my thing. It didn't inspire me. There was no spark of 'Oh my gosh, this is amazing'. Yeah, so I'd met Richard and stuff. And then we would rehearse from 7 till 9 with Reggae Winehouse and there was another studio next door and from 8 o'clock another band was playing next door. And not to waffle on and on about it forever, Richard was in that band and it later turned out that he had set it up. and they were also looking for a Saxophone player. And the thing that made me say yes to it...anyone who has listened to the radio interview we did the other day will have heard, from Reggae Winehouse's rehearsal room I could hear through the wall that they were playing songs that I knew and one of them was 'Everything I Own' which I hadn't heard since I was very little. And I loved it when I was very little. So when they asked if I wanted to go in and find out if we all liked each other, I said Yes. And that was it. I did in fact get in there through the door.

Helen: What does The Reggulites mean to you?

Anna: I think other people have said this, but it really does mean family. I went in there, I didn't know anyone else in the room, when I first when in there, through the door...aforementioned door. I didn't know anyone else in that room. And that changed as time went on. But one thing I would say is almost immediately, the one person who is still here with us in The Reggulites is Sugar. We just got on straight away, and I can remember almost immediately I was like 'This guy is...there's somet'

Helen: He gets it.

Anna: Yeah! Obviously after a few months you came in. So I actually did have an actual family member in the group with me. But the more we've gone through life we're collecting family. And we're all tied together by music. And just a real positive and empowering vibe.

Helen: What's the best gig you've done with The Reggulites and why?

Anna: Erm... You know, I'm going to say -

Helen: Don't say the last one, because they're gonna think we've got drug problems, everyone is like 'The last one is really good'...Can we remember anything before that?!

Anna: Obviously, the last one was an absolute banger because it was a complete WHAT, and this isn't where I was expecting to be this time last week. It was just such a chilled vibe and it was really lovely. Everyone who went, it was happy spirits who were just happy to be there. But I would say...I'm going to be really clever and really truthful. One of the best gigs we've done in terms of what was going on at the time and what happened during it and what we gained out of it, I would pick the festival at Droitwich.

Helen: Yeah.

Anna: Because, presumably I need to explain myself now. The why is, because that was the only gig we did after the pandemic started, so from the 14th March, until the 30th April the following year, that was the only gig we were able to do. I think, I found lockdown quite difficult for lots of reasons. Basically the Government are not very nice to people who do very important work. Don't put that in about the Government.

Helen: We're in a reggae band! Anti-establishment!

Anna: For sure, I mean, I had to go back to work a lot earlier than I had wanted to and I felt comfortable doing, and especially towards the end of 2020 and into 2021 I just found it really disheartening when I was being told that what I could do and was expected to do at work was exactly what I wasn't allowed to do as an individual at home. So that was pretty crap. And I just hadn't got any feeling like I wanted to play music. I didn't want to listen to music. It was just too sad, because we'll never get to do music together again, which goes back to the whole family thing. But I think, we did that Droitwich Festival. It was so amazing to be with everybody, playing music. We met lots of people we hadn't met before. We saw people we hadn't seen for a long time. That was all brilliant. It was like the first step, even though we all had to go backwards and lock ourselves away again for another like, year. But it was a good laugh. things went on whilst we were on stage. We had a big power cut which happens sometimes at these festivals, and it was all dealt with very efficiently and stuff. We later found out the reason for the power cut which was quite funny. The biggest thing is, that was the first time we met Will and Grandad. And we started our set with Rock Fort Rock. And we started the bit with...well, if people haven't listened, where have you been? But Rock Fort Rock starts with just the horns and we played that first phrase and I just heard the sound go all the way out to the other side of Droitwich and back and it just sounded flipping amazing. And I was like 'This is epic'. Everyone was so up for a festival because we'd all been locked away for so long. It was a great vibe. And I think we all really needed it. It was a great opportunity. We've had a brilliant story to tell about the power cut all this time, which is hilarious. And we met Will. And we kept him. So I'm going to pick that as my best gig we've ever done.

Helen: And finally, what's your favourite song in the repertoire and why?

Anna: Oh, what. The first thing is, I can't remember any of our songs. I don't know. I don't think I've got a favourite song. There's a song out there that will do things to me at a particular time that any other time of the week I'll be like 'No no, I ain't interested in listening to that'. So much of that is to do with time and place and reason and if I've had a cup of tea, so I don't have a favourite song. I love them all. I love where we've kind of headed to from where we started. I think the tunes we're picking now... What I will say is I have zero knowledge of reggae music. All my knowledge is from people going 'Have you heard this song?' and me going 'Let's have a listen to it then'. And then sometimes we play those songs and I learn a bit more. But I don't have a wealth of knowledge, so I just love what I hear or I'm not that taken with it. But I love all the songs we do at the moment. Who doesn't love the Dancehall Medley. I love the Dancehall Medley. the last song in the dancehall medley, it doesn't matter that the way we play it doesn't sound like the original, and I'm like back at college in 2002 or whatever, and everyone's listening to Avril Lavigne and McFly, and I'm like 'Yeah, ok' and then that came out and I'm like, actually I'm gonna be over here with these guys. I am a Wayne Wonder person.

Helen: It was 2003.

Anna: Was it? So I was still at college then. And I just loved it. And I love the fact that our medley means we get to play the entire thing.

Helen: Yeah, we're not cutting this down!

Anna: But I would say, you know when we have gigs that are quite close together so for ease we'll say we're going to keep the set list the same? One song from one gig will be like 'I can't wait for this' and the next gig it will be a totally different song.

Helen: You know what's actually shocking? No Letting Go was released in 2003. At the time, Wayne Wonder was 31 years old. He is now 51 years old. Because that song turned 20 this year.

Anna: I mean, not to give my age away, but I was 17 when that song came out.

Helen: And now you're...67?

Anna: Huh?

Helen: What?

Anna: You're being mean to me because I'm old. I forgot the bit about my flute grade 8 and not being able to go to university.

Helen: I mean, do you really wanna go into that?

Anna: Yeah man, because it was an injustice!

Helen: Go on then.

Anna: So, I went to college and I didn't start music till my 2nd year, so I actually did 3 years of college. And in my last year of college I only did music. And I had applied to go to university...Bristol, other, I can't remember. I don't know whether they still do it, but when I did my Music A Level, you could take it in January and June. And I'd done that. So when I got to the one in June, I was quite surrpised to discover that the essay question was almost exactly the same as the one in January. So I did that, it was all fine. One component, obviously, of the A Level was music performance. So the criteria I had to work with was to perform three linked pieces. So I decided to play three pieces on Flute that had been arranged for Flute and Piano accompaniment and they were linked by all being by French Romantic composers. That seemed all right to me. It seemed to tick the boxes. And when I got my results, my music performance I had actually got 'Unclassified', so I got a U. So I didn't go to university. There was something up with the exam board and the way it had been marked and whatever, but because it had gone to everybody and not everybody had complained, they wouldn't do anything about it. So this is how I know Grades don't mean anything. Despite having Grade 8 flute and meeting the criteria, I still got unclassified in my music performance. So I'm like, great. But it did mean I didn't leave home and live somewhere else. It meant that I was here to follow on with all the other things I talked about like Life In a Tin and Walsall Jazz Orchestra, and then BOOF here we are, Reggulites.

Helen: Lovely. Well done Anna.

As you can see, Anna's bubbly and vibrant personality comes through in everything that she does. We're truly blessed to have her at the front of the stage projecting that out to people. She's done a lot more educationally than most of us have for music, and she's an extremely versatile musician. I remember the night we went to go and pick up that Saxophone. It was very much the start of something, with Anna standing there looking like she'd been given something to hold, rather than it being something that would change her life. But she went for it and she's never looked back.

I hope you enjoyed reading the Spot-lite interview with Anna. If you'd like to take a look at the others that are already out, feel free to browse the blog posts, and we'll be hitting you with some more throughout October!

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