Blow, winds, and puff your cheeks

''Yes, yes, I'm a wild boy. The trumpet is my way of focusing a lot of physical energy and controlling its output. The violin wouldn't suit me at all. As a child I probably would have stamped on it."

He speaks in gusts, inhaling deeply, as if sucking up a thought and then breathing it out smoothly like a musical phrase. He is extrovert and introvert by turns. He'll pick up guitar, flute, penny whistle, percussion, but mostly he plays jazz trumpet.

“Jazz is just ears open. Ears and a tap open, ideally. For me it's a way of removing the barriers to instinct."

He's an improviser. He scavenges tunes. He listens to the world and replies. He tries anything, even sailed his own boat to St Petersburg this summer, crossing the North Sea in a gale with his children.

“It strikes me when the wind whistles through the rigging that the overtones it sings are like the ones I play on the trumpet, a fixed series of notes that are enshrined in nature. I love the sound of the wind. I love the smell and the power of it. It's terrifying. “I've seen this cumulonimbus cloud or whatever it was, a big black cloud rising up from the west like a hand reaching into the sky. It just covered the sun and suddenly it blew an enormous storm . . ."

Wind ought to be a verb or an adverb. It isn't really anything. It's a manner of movement of warmth and cold, a kind of information system of the air. Sails, clouds, clothes, leaves or planks or horses or whole houses blowing by at a hundred miles an hour are only ever the wind's afterthought.
And yet there's something quite vindictive about the emptiness that whips up your coat and pushes you backwards as you're walking. There are stories of milkmaids left with nothing but a bucket when the wind carried their cow away; and a child in Kansas who was sucked on his mattress through an open window and set down in the yard without waking. It's impossible not to take the wind personally.

“You have to offer some resistance to the wind. Whether you're sailing or trumpeting, you've got to adjust the air, like this . . ." He blows a raspberry long and loud and the wind replies by rattling the door.

Lip service

“You see the lips are like a water-skier and the airstream has to be going fast enough for the lips to ride it. It's a sort of intentionality of the wind blowing through your lips. Now a woodwind instrument is affected by the wind quite badly. You can't play penny whistle in a wind because it takes the sound away.

“But with a trumpet, the sound is produced in a sheltered environment, unlike the flute, which you blow over and it's right open to the elements.

“One of the strangest gigs I've done was swimming with a little model boat I'd made, about a metre long with a cornet in it. It was sailing by itself, powered by the wind, and the cornet was being carried by it. I snorkelled out and then trod water and played. It was quite easy with flippers. I just made something up. I thought it was one of the most unusual gigs I've ever given, but I don't think the audience noticed me. Ha!"

He leans forward. He says: "Now the secret to circular breathing is actually storing a little air in your cheeks and just while you snatch a breath
release it. Ha!" With eyes wide open and cheeks puffed out, he looks just like the North Wind, and when he laughs he slightly loses control.

With particular thanks to Martin Holland. Alice Oswald is a poet and the author of "Memorial" (Faber & Faber, £12.99). She will write about nature occasionally for the New Statesman. Next week: Nina Caplan on drink

Alice Oswald is an award-winning poet. She writes the nature column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Britain