Innovative jazz drummer and percussionist, from swing to avant-garde; composer, bandleader, music shop owner and owner of a jazz CD label.
Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.
Interview Text or Transcript
Are you born and bred in the Essex, Trevor?
Are you born and bred in the Essex, Trevor?
Yeah. Born in Rochford hospital and lived in the area for years; Leigh all round Westcliff.
Do you remember what got you interested in music in the first place?
I do very clearly: I was about 10 or 12. We were living in Rectory Grove, Leigh. You remember there used to be a lovely little community hall there and they knocked it down a few years ago to build the dreaded flats which of course then never materialised and now the whole lovely little hall has been devastated?
I know, beautiful.
Another part of our culture that has been wiped out.
I know the venue very well.
It was directly opposite St Clement’s Hall and I got interested at a young age of 8 or 9 and my next door neighbour bought me an old Boy’s Brigade drum which he got from somewhere, tatty old drum. I first started to play and practice and was out playing in bands when I was about 14 or 15.
What kind of music?
That was pop music. The first music I ever heard was in the Cliff Richard, Shadows kind of things and a band called Them playing at The Ekco Club in the old days.
Oh yes, The Ekco Club.
Goes back 50 years. I bought a Baby Dodds record. I remember that it was called Nerve Drumming. I heard drummers play fast rolls and I didn’t know how they did it. I couldn’t do it and I bought this drum thinking this record was the clue, so I learnt how to do this nervous thing where you could use your knee and tense your hand. I could only do it with a stick. I thought maybe that was how you did it. Of course, it wasn’t at all. I heard this very rudimentary Jazz from Baby Dodds and all those guys in those days. I was doing loads of gigs until 16 or 17.
Yeah, all local and then at school we had the classic thing. The music lessons were complete disconnect with the students. I was saying what about Digby - Digby could not relate to his father’s classical music. It was the same with us. The music lessons at school. I went to Southchurch Hall, which was a very rough school in those days. It was all just classical music but we were allowed to play records in the interval and at lunchtime. There was a friend of mine at school called Steve Petchey who was a trumpet player. He started bringing a few Jazz records. I have never heard anything like it. What I found really interesting even to this day 50 years on, I have remembered the effect listening to that record has on me now and had on me at the time because people you meet all the time say “Oh I hate Jazz”. I have not forgotten the effect it had on me. He bought a record which was Shorty Rogers, west coast stuff. It was very different to anything I had heard and the initial reaction that I got when I first heard this was that it was a mess. It was like taking a jigsaw, throwing it all on the floor and so there were all the bits on the floor but they were all in the wrong order. You didn’t know how it was supposed to look like when it was put together. Your ears had been used to pop music or early pop music of the day. You were hearing regular rhythm, you are into melody, you are into harmony blah blah blah. You have got used to that and you think that is what music is. This guy comes along and this is even more of a mess. It is more of confusion. It got me interested and I tried to think “What is going on here?” I said “I can’t hear a tune, I can’t hear a rhythm. What is going on here?” That got me really interested in finding out what that music was about.
Shorty Rogers stuff is exciting. I can understand you feeling that as a young person.
You know how you put that on and straight away you assimilate it so easily. You hear the trumpet over the top and you hear what the drummers doing and the bass and the piano blah blah blah. It is no contest. It is not complicated in the slightest but it was then. I tried to say to myself. It is a political problem because of the drumming down that has been going on in culture and people’s ears have been gradually closed up.
So that was someone at school bringing Jazz records in and you were 16 or 17. That has given you the seed of interest into Jazz. So where do you go from there?
The drumming followed on and I decided I need to get lessons because I was trying to self teach myself and I could not really solve the problem. I went to a guy called Reg Williams who was a lovely old guy, lived in Rochford. A terrific guy. He was a very rudimental drummer. A Buddy Rich freak like a lot of those guys in those days, Louis Belson....... The whole big band era of drummers. He got me into that but you needed to have a good technique because that was all he was about. Then he died and another guy came along called Allen Johnson who was working on 'the Oriana', the boat going backwards and forwards to New York. He was into Shirley Mann. Of course Shirley Mann was a completely different kind of drummer to Buddy Rich. Shirley Mann – West Coast again – much more subtle way of playing compared with the militaristic kind of thing of Rich and all those people and Gene Crupa. It just developed from there. Then I met Peter Eden through when I was in a pro band called Original String Quartet. We were used to go to his house in Cliff Avenue and rehearse and he would let us use his phone to phone around to try and get gigs.
How did you know Pete, in order for him to invite you back?
One of the guys knew him and then Pete decided he might be interested in managing bands and that is how we started to go round there. Then he realised I was interested in Jazz and at the very early point of thinking that he might be interested in doing Jazz. He started a recording John Surmon. He was great. He was very helpful. He let me come on all those sessions. Any time I wanted to come I could come. I went to loads of them. Then later on he let me record as well and play. We did some with Mike Gibbs and various people.
When you first knew Pete was he doing production at that point?
Was he already established?
Yeah. I would say he was. If you had to put a title on him, I would say he was a record producer. That was his main thing. He would go to London every day and record and then he would go round humping stuff around to different labels, trying to get it out.
When was this late 60's?
Yeah. late 60's.
What kind of music was the Original String Quartet?
It was a very good band, but it was a commercial band. We played the stuff of the day but it was a good band and we worked a lot. We were working 7 nights a week.
I have got very strong views about the future for musicians. I started to do a little film actually and I got a map of Southend and within half a square mile of the High Street upwards I had found 50 gigs in 10 seconds flat that I used to play regular gigs. Not just one-offs. I thought it would be interesting to go back and to see how many of these places are still there. Literally, only 10% are still there. A few new ones have come up and gone. It was a very healthy scene. As you know, the Rock thing as well. The Rock scene in the 60's was fantastic in Southend and its reputation was well-deserved because there was loads of bands. I played in loads of bands. I played in hundreds of bands. I mean, loads and loads of them all the time. There was never any shortage of work and we were well-paid. Now, for example, do you remember Tim Gentle?
Yes of course.
I played in Tim Gentle’s band. Every time we played with Tim everybody got £100 each. Now £100 to do a gig is amazing. That was 40 years ago.
Yes, that was a fortune wasn’t it. An absolute fortune.
Times are changing. I worry a lot for where musicians are now going to learn their craft. To me it is a craft and to have a craft you need to work regularly. You are not going into see a blacksmith or an artisan working in wood and they say “Well I do this work once a month”. You don’t call that craftsmanship because that is something you do which you develop year after year until you… It is the same in music and with musicians if you don’t play regularly. How are you going to develop? You are going to lose your jobs. I really worry about where the new generation musicians are going to learn their craft from.
Yes. Then of course on the other hand you have just got promoters that are prepared to, still, after all these years, pay £30 or £40 a head per musician for some of these things. I know it is all they perhaps can afford but....
The raw economics of the 21st century.
So the Original String Quartet was keeping you very busy. As you said 7 nights a week. So when did you get a chance to start expressing yourself from a Jazz point of view? Did you form a Jazz group or did you.......
Yeah. We had loads and loads of little things. It is very difficult though because it is not an easy music and there are very few opportunities. I remember at the Park in London Road opposite the Catholic place there. The Park Tavern. For years we used to do Jazz up there. There were loads of things going on. Of course The Top Alex goes without saying. The Top Alex was a major place in Southend for Jazz and I played there for years on Sundays with Ken (Baxter) and did commercial gigs there as well. It has all changed now hasn’t it. In the old days you came off the street and it was really deep right back about 100 ft to the bit where we used to play. Of course, now it has been redeveloped and just a small little pub. There is no music there anymore. I would say The Alex was the Number 1 place for Jazz. Yeah I used to play with John Miles and the rest of it and then I remember one day at The Middleton, Ken used to put a gig on at The Middleton.
That was down the High Street, wasn’t it?
Yeah. Just off the other side of the railway. Upstairs and you used to get loads of people to those gigs. You used to get 300 people easy to those Jazz gigs in those days. I remember one day he had Don Rendell. The 'Dusk Fire' group came out. That was doing quite well.
What year was that?
That would be again mid 70's something like that. Sorry my dates are really crap. I remember that night Don Rendell was playing upstairs and the vibe was going around the room that this new piano player was in town. This guy called Pete Jacobson and I remember that quite well. The excitement that there was a decent piano player at last. That start the whole PJ thing you know, who I knew very well.
What an incredible talent that man was, wasn’t he, Pete Jacobson. I mean amazing.
A complicated character. I have got my views about Pete because I knew him very well. I think a lot of people didn’t understand him. Obviously he hated being blind. He hated the patronisation of people that they would often give him as being like an idiot. As if you were blind, you were an idiot, which is a ridiculous thing. Being blind is one thing and a lot of people… you would be on a gig and “Oh Pete, are you alright?” and treat him - molly coddle him. He really hated it. He really hated it.
I think that is human nature and I don’t think people mean anything by it do they?
He had a few girlfriends, Pete.
Yeah. One year he had a really lovely looking girl. A smashing girl but there was something in his character where he...... again I think she tried to molly coddle him because he was blind and he didn’t want that. It was like saying to him that he was not as good as everybody else. I am sure you knew him. You knew about all the stories about the things he used to do, crazy things that we wouldn’t do. Suddenly someone would phone up and say “We have got a gig in Newcastle”. He would say “OK I’ll be up there”. He is bloody blind. He has got to go to London. He has got to get on the train, find his way up there, do the gig and get back. For a blind guy on his own, that is not an easy thing to do.
Yes. I was very fortunate enough to use him on a lot of my earlier recordings as well. He was world class talent wasn’t he?
I have got recordings as well of stuff we did all over the years.
He became a pillar, really, of the Southend scene because he was such a strong player. He had the ability, as you know, he had a fantastic memory. He only needed to go over anything once and he would get it all down.
That’s right. He had a photographic memory.
Yeah. If you gave him a telephone number he would memorise it straight away. He didn’t take any prisoners on gigs either. If you screwed up on a gig, he would let you know.
There and then, he would swear on stage with me.
He would swear on stage. He would go “de, de, de, doo doo”..... he would play some musical jokey thing, which of course the audience didn’t pick up on. They didn’t realise what was wrong. Gary Plumley will tell you plenty of stories.
Yeah. I saw him have a go at Gary at a C level gig. I remember sitting there in the audience and Gary was playing. Remarkable character, Pete, honestly, beyond belief. Shame he was never recognised on a worldwide perspective.
Yeah. It was a shame because Mick Sexton, I don’t know if you would remember him, Mick ran the Basildon Jazz Club for quite a few years, for many years actually. He kind of took Pete under his wing. A lot of people did to some extent. Kenny did, I did, a lot of people did, tried to help him in their own little way. Mick had a very good job. He was an author and had a very good job working in Paris and Belgium and the rest of it. He actually packed in this very high paid job to be a Manager to Pete because he felt Pete should be pushed. It was not very long after he did that, Pete died, so that was a real tragedy. But Mick has run gigs again way back from the 70's. He lived in Basildon and he did loads of clubs in the Basildon area and Southend as well. He has got a lot of stories. Jim Mullen used to come down. He used to bring down all the London guys and play down here. Of course Simon as well I am playing with at the moment. Simon Spillett. He used to write a book on Tubby Hayes, in fact some of the pictures of those gigs I have got but he has got them at the moment in this book. Because of his interest in Tubby and all that stuff he knows quite a lot about this area. He is a very good player.
Does he live round here somewhere?
He doesn’t but he is round here quite regularly because we do a gig once a month at the Railway and he is doing some recording stuff with me as well.
So by the mid 70's Top Alex was going then. What else was going on round in this area to do with Jazz outside of the Dixieland/Trad, obviously which was very big as well.
Of course Dixieland/Trad. has always been and always will be, but still a strong scene now. It was never a particular area I was interested in, so I was never involved in any of that. In the early days for me were a lot of commercial gigs. Until I reached the stage where I realised they kind of tainted you. If you did something you didn’t believe in you would come back from a gig and in those days everyone used to smoke and it was all in your clothes and your hair and there was a vibe about the gig and it used to take about a week to get it out of your system. I came to the conclusion that I would never again ever do any commercial music or do anything like that that I didn’t believe was valid or worthwhile to do. I stopped doing all commercial work and just concentrated on Jazz. By then I got interested in much different areas like classical music and all this stuff. That became a big part of my work which a lot of it was an extension of the Jazz anyway. It is a free improv thing. It is just improvisation. It comes from Jazz anyway. It is just that you study Jazz and you realise the different periods of Jazz and different movements in Jazz. You had the big bands and then Be-Bop and then the Free Jazz, which you still had rhythm cogs but was much freer in terms of his chord or harmonic content, and then eventually you get to Free Input where there are no rules or regulations whatsoever. There are still a lot of musicians playing that music have that ability to do it because of the early training in Jazz. That can be a hindrance as well for other stylistic reasons, but still the concept of and why I have been involved in this for all this time, it takes away the responsibility from the composer to tell you what to do as if you are not capable. You wouldn’t go up to a painter like, Picasso, and say “Here is your instructions for today: you have got a bit of blue up there and a bit of yellow”. You wouldn’t dream of telling a creative painter what to do, so why does a musician need a composer? You don’t. You can create music yourself instantaneously and so that is how that kind of movement went. We were doing that way back then.
We have gone to the mid-70s here playing with Kenny but you were doing your improvisation of music much earlier than that but did you come to….Did you come to the … Because you played classical tuned percussion so were you trained in that?
Yeah. I was telling you earlier on about the drummers I had studied with – Reg and Allen. I never finished the story about Peter Eden because Peter Eden was recording John Surmon and I went on one of those sessions. I got to know Allen Jackson who was John Surmon’s drummer. I went to study with him so that was the next point onwards as far as the drum tuition was concerned. Then one day he said to me “Look I can’t do much more for you. Why don’t you go..... you are interested in classical music as well. Why don’t you go and study with one of those guys?” I went to the Guildhall. Before that in Southend there was a little period when there was a guy called Len Stein. Len Stein was an American professional of the cello. Why he was living in Leigh I never quite got to the bottom of. But he started doing composition classes at Southend College and I went along and Len was very much into Boules, Alec Carter these kind of big names in contemporary classical music at the time, and he got me really into that. So at the same time I’m studying with Gilbert Webster, who is the principal percussion with SO. We did a lot of that stuff. I think probably in quite a short space of time, I’d gone from pop music to Jazz to contemporary classical music to a lot of different kinds of music in a fairly short space of time.
As you do when you’re young, as well, because you would have only been in your early twenties by then weren’t you?
Yeah still in my twenties. Then it wasn’t until I was thirty that one day my first wife came home and said she was pregnant with my daughter Carly, who’s now 36. Although that was a fantastic feeling, obviously, it was also like writing on the wall, like a bolt, “Oh my God, how am I going to support this family?”, because I was a skint musician, like everybody, just doing what I loved to do, but no income, my wife was working in London, office job, so we kept soul together but then this was all going to change. In those days when you had a kid, the wife didn’t go back to work, it’s common now for people, funnily enough my daughter has just gone back to work today from having her first baby. It was a bolt from the blue, “Oh my God, what am I going to do now, I can’t support a family?” So I made up my mind I’d have to do something to get round this problem because I didn’t want to stop doing what I loved so much, which was music, and that started a new kind of phase in my life which was when worked for Roland for a while, working for them, then I opened a shop in Baddow Road in Chelmsford, first music shop, that grew to seven shops..... that was an 80's thing you know.
Just before we go too far forward, just going back to the improv days, Digby told me a story, I guess this would have been early 70’s when you must’ve already known Digby, he said that you said to him “Why are you playing all this old fashioned stuff for?” so you were obviously brimming with all these new ideas, at that point, and were like a new convert to the improvised Jazz, because that was a new thing anyway wasn’t it, that was only just past the experiments of Coltrane and Miles Davis etc.
As I say, I got this little studio in Balmoral Road, which did become a little bit of a centre, it was a place where I used to teach the drums, but it was also a place we used to record at, we had a recording studio, in those days it was just a revox with a couple of mikes. Lots of bands used to rehearse in there as well, lots of pop bands, it was in the back of somebody’s house, I used to rent this little garage, there was a guy called Warwick Kemp, who used to work for the BBC. He left the BBC and he wanted to get involved in a studio as well, he became involved in it as well. But that place became a little bit of a centre, was very busy, loads of bands used play there, and I met, obviously a load of people, including Dig, Dig came along, I can’t remember what context, what band he was involved in, but when I first met him he was still working at the library. I remember that conversation, there was two people like him, John Mole was another one. John Mole was working for, I think it was Havering Council, just in Social Services department, he just a fabulously talented bass player I said ‘John you don’t want to do this nonsense, you gotta be a pro player, you’re good, you can do it’. It was the same with Digby, get out the library Dig, and go out there and play. But I understood it was not that easy for people, you had to be confident you could earn a living, but neither of them were married or had any big responsibilities at the time, so that’s why I felt I should push them to go and do it, I’m glad I did.
Because that conversation, wasn’t that to get him to come and play on this piece you played me earlier on?
Oh yeah, Spectrum. You know I was telling about the college, when I was studying at the college, and I was writing the music, before the Guildhall, this was at Southend College, with Leonard Stein. I just got married, I was 25, that I can date, and we didn’t have anywhere to live and we were living with my grandmother in Ashburnham Road, which is by Victoria Circus. I was writing a lot of music and playing a lot, and I’d heard the Ligeti’s Atmospheres, which most people know a part of it from that 2001 film, part of it was used in that. What I loved about it was the tone clusters, where you had semi-tones part, if you put your hand on an organ you get this big cluster, which most people think, horrible, I love the kind of eerie feeling you got from these clusters, dissonance. I decide that I wanted to go one step further than Ligeti had done with his piece, by actually having a multi-tracker, because we had the studio, so we were used to multi-tracker to multi-track the orchestra. So you’d have the same orchestra play once, then again, and again and each time was a different part so you could build up, maybe, 150 different voices, so you could get these massively thick textures. Then I had the job of finding out how to record it, but luckily a lot of those guys from the local college, one Sunday afternoon when we went up to London and did it in a big studio there, Digby was there, I’ve got all the pictures of Digby and all the local guys, and Leonard Stein conducted, so that’s how that came about. But it was a lot of work, obviously writing that took me a long time.
Was that your first major piece that you’d written?
I’d written quite a lot of stuff, but that was the heaviest kind of piece, most complicated and difficult to do, although it’s only about ten minutes long.
I didn’t you play drums with Digby, was that in the Half Dozen, was it?
I don’t know about the Half Dozen, it is a bit of blur, because we really did do so many gigs, in those days it was work everything, there was Jazz everywhere, when you go back to the old days, I was telling you about that map thing, you know, of course there was a period, when I was young, I’d go to the Kursaal, Dennis Heyward would have his big band there, and I’d do a commercial gig.
When was Dennis Heyward there?
Late 50’s/60’s. That’s how my Mum and Dad met in the Kursaal. That was the classic way people met, they went to a dance hall, had a few dances and a few drinks.
Dennis Heyward, I think my uncle played for them as well.
As I say, there’s a suite that runs to left of the Kursaal, where we used to do commercial gigs. I can remember doing plenty of gigs in that part as well and in the Kursaal, and that was the kind of, I suppose in a way, the biggest venue in Southend at the time,
The Palace Hotel? Was there anything going on at the Queen’s Hotel, I mean from a Jazz point of view?
There definitely was. We used to play Sundays at the Queens, and I think on one occasion, downstairs. There are so many places, unfortunately, that have been knocked down now, converted, that it’s easy to forget where they were. But I have still got that map, and what I did, I numbered them all and wrote down what the places were and what the gigs were. Right down the bottom of the high street there used to be the Kontiki Bar, and there used to be three or four places up in the high street didn’t there. There were hundreds of gigs, there really were, that’s what people did, before the advent of television and radio was going but nowhere near the voice it is now, and before television you could go to films, but people’s main form of entertainment, of course, was to go out and listen to some live music. Now that’s all changed, so they’re interested in doing it, so many things have come along and changed everything it’s no longer such a bigger deal for people to go a gig.
It must’ve felt odd, didn’t it, in the seventies, when, if you were doing all your experimentation through Jazz and then playing straight Jazz.
I got very frustrated with the locals lack of open mind, often if they knew about me, I got kind of labelled as the avant guard, which was annoying, not without reason I suppose I wanted to be, but equally I didn’t want that to mean that you did that because you really didn’t have a clue, it was because you DID have a clue. Their attitude was “It’s not Jazz is it, it can’t be any good” and Free improv thing was another thing, you’re playing from improvised music because you can’t play straight Jazz. I proved I could, for years.
So you managed to compartmentalise ok, it didn’t feel odd you doing a straight ahead Jazz gig, and having to be disciplined within that?
I found that difficult, I found it did affect the amount of gigs I got in that area, because a lot of the band leaders and players in the band, had a certain view of what a drummer should in that context, in Modern Jazz, which is that the high hat was played on second and fourth beat, the drummer played a very strong rhythm on the cymbal, with a little bit of emphasis on the snare drum, and basically kept out of everybody’s way and kept time for them. That annoyed me; the drummer was treated like a second class citizen, whose job was to be a human metronome for the rest of them. I used to lose a lot of work because, at first I used play two, four, I remember Tony Williams, then started using hi hat like Tony Oxley, in different ways. Of course if you did that at a local gig, straight away you’d get a look, you know, “What the F* are you doing?” “That’s not how you play” Because their minds were closed. One thing I found about a lot of local musicians, unfortunately, is that you’re the sort of guy, I know, listens to music all the time, is constantly enquiring, looking for new things, but a lot of local musicians aren’t, they’re attitude is ‘oh music is a way of earning a living or earning some money’ it’s a very small time, narrow way of looking, and if you have that approach, you just go out to play for money, you’re just a hired hand, and you’re subversive to whatever they want. I never ever wanted to do that, so that’s why I stopped doing commercial gigs. But if you go on a lot of gigs, you play with people, as I say their minds are closed, they’ve stopped at a certain period of time, there definitely is this thing in Jazz, the classic cliché, the guy standing at the end of the bar with sandals on and a beer, boring old farts who think they know all about the music, and in actual fact they’ve got a small little hairline knowledge of it and all the rest either side of it doesn’t exist, and they will refuse to go either side of the line, and you meet that mentality so often, and it affected me quite badly as far as playing the drums, because the style I was trying to play wasn’t convenient for them, they didn’t understand it, didn’t want to understand it and there were plenty of other drummers you could get who’d do what they wanted.
The style that you’re talking about, that you wanted to play, how would you describe that?
In terms of the drums, if you trace the history of the drums, as I was talking about those people from Krupa through to Shelly Manne through to Roy Haynes to then you get to Tony Oxley, Tony Oxley was a great example of somebody who could play both really well, he was a house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s, and yet when he wasn’t doing that, he would be playing free music. Those people couldn’t criticise him because when he was on the stand at Ronnie’s he was a better drummer than they were put together. What I was talking about, with the traditional way of playing Jazz had changed, the hi hat wasn’t used just to do the off beat, the cymbal wasn’t played, it’s very complicated for me to explain without playing and showing you what I’m on about, but basically, yeah, the way we should play had changed, and it wasn’t convenient to a lot of people because they didn’t get it, and they were trying to play music from the past, and I learnt that if you’re going to play music in a certain genre, there’s really no point in trying to play in a way that doesn’t fit that music, it’s not going to work, they’re not going to like you, there’s going to be other people who can do it, prepared to do it. So I made some mistakes I think there, by trying to fight that, trying to be myself in a situation where it probably really didn’t work.
Yeah that’s right, because you’re not going to be meeting their expectations are you, if they’re soloing, there’s something they’re going to expect to hear behind them and you’re not giving it to them.
They’re not looking at in terms of “This is an interesting guy. What’s he doing?” obviously using an innovator, and they’re not trying to innovate, they’re just trying to duplicate what’s already happened, and that’s one of the biggest problems I’ve always had in music, that music should be a creative force, you’re a creative person I can tell. You’re trying to do things, you’re not just living somebody else’s life, trying to replicate what they’ve done, what is the point! There’s no point in Digby trying to be Miles Davis, there’s only one Miles Davis and there’s only one person who sounds like Miles Davis and there should only be one Miles Davis shouldn’t there.
I understand that, but on the other side, it is important that there are genres of music isn’t there, as well, that people that are dedicated. Obviously there was the whole Jazz Fusion thing happening in Mid to late-70's, and obviously Jazz Funk. Did you get into that at all, into that way of playing?
Yeah. I remember that studio that I was telling you about in Balmoral Road, I went out and bought the first Nucleus album, do you remember the lovely cover? Kind of a spiral front. I remember getting that back and thinking “Oh this is interesting” John Marshall on drums, it was the first Jazz record that featured an eight fill in the drums, before then Jazz had largely been trumpet based, he was using a eight fill as a rhythm that hadn’t really been done before, one of the first bands to really synchronise. I’ve always been interested in music which pulled different areas together, experimented or kind of crossed with them. the Indo Jazz Fusion I’m talking about, I did a recording with Keith Tippett called Linückea, where he wrote a piece for a string quartet with Jazz piano, beautiful fantastic piece of music that works really well. A lot of those attempts had failed in the past, some of the early sixties stuff had not really been very successful, the music could be quite disparate, it hadn’t really fused together as two different forms, so I was always interested in those areas where we tried to do that, put a lot of Indian music on at Balmoral, a lot of Indian classical music we put on there, loved doing that.
That’s right because you did a lot of promotions there didn’t you
Yep, again through the 70's. The 70's for me, when I look back on my life, the 60's were the learning stage, the 70's were the performing bit, ninety percent of everything I was shown in the East is 70's you know, the 80's was more business, for about a decade.
But that’s the same story for most people, is that it’s the voyage of discovery, everything’s new to you, and you’re absorbing everything and you want to make a difference don’t you, bit of an odd expression to say you’re kind of blinkered in a open minded kind of way, well you’re focused. I mean to say, you can get really focused on something that you really believe in don’t you, you think you can change the world don’t you, at certain parts of your life.
For me, when people ask me “Why were you interested in kind of avant garde things” and the rest of it, to me music was just so exciting and there just all so many things you could do with it, and I could never understand why people just wanted to get one little thing and stick with it forever and never do anything else. It’s this idea of the spectrum, you know, you had this line going across and above and beyond was all this spectrum endless possibilities and yet everybody wanted to stick to one little line as it, who decided that? Music could be so exciting, discovering new composers, new musicians, new players and new directors just like in art that you didn’t know about, and then you found them. I’ve a very strong idea about what music is, what it should be, not just music but all art, literature, painting all the art the art forms should be everyday, especially on that bloody television, and what do you hear? You hear the most negativity about human beings you can hear. You hear the worst, all the bad things that are happening in the world and you see terrible people doing terrible things. When you’re involved in music and the arts, you see the reverse, you see the highest creative heights that human beings can reach, to me, through that creativeness of art, literature and painting and music you hear the greatest we can be, how high we can reach as opposed to the depth that humanity can be, to me, if you had a choice of life of how you want to live your life, I’d much rather be doing something like that, than involved in something. We’re all human beings, we make mistakes and misunderstand things, but as you go through life you must learn from your mistakes, you must at least realise that these things teach you something. For me, it’s been a privilege to be a musician, just to find a creative outlet and to never stop those ears listening and taking in what’s available. My wife and I went to Venice last week, and whenever I’m in Venice I also go to the Guggenheim galleries, fantastic gallery. We were talking about painters, and I can never understand why, with difficult music, there doesn’t seem to be an audience for it, but if you compare it to a different art form, like abstract art, those galleries, there’s always plenty of people, they’re all young people, they’re looking at the great Miro, Kandinsky all those great artists, extremely abstract art, and they don’t seem to have any problem liking it or affiliating with it, and yet when you come to music, with avant guard music, people just seem to have a problem.
Avant Garde’s much more popular in Europe though isn’t it, than in this country?
Certainly, yes, a lot of British jazz musicians have moved abroad.
My friend Larry Stabbins works over there. He said he spent four years not playing a chord.
A lot of British players felt it necessary to move to Europe because there was no way they could earn a living in this country. It’s not that easy over there, but it is better. The kind of pop music infiltration has not had such an effect in Europe as it has in the UK. There was a time, I often talk to people about this, pop music was supposed to be for teenagers, supposed to be for young people, but now you stop most elderly people on the street, and say “What do you like?” and they talk about some pop band, they won’t say they like Mara or Strauss or John Coltrane, they talk about pop music. It’s infiltrated the psyche of everybody because everywhere you go that’s all you get, so they think ‘this is music’ this is what we should like. The choice is not there anymore.
Getting back to the 70's, it was an incredible time for cross-pollenisation of all kinds of music, a very creative time for you as well, so you were doing your experimentation, avant garde and as you say, you were playing with Kenny and probably many other bands as well, were you involved in much recording at that point?
As I say, I’ve had three, what you would loosely call, studios in my life: the first one was the Balmoral thing, which was just a two track. Then I moved to Hadleigh, and had a studio there.......
Where was that in Hadleigh?
It was opposite Honky Tonk Music originally on the London Road, in fact that’s how I bought it, because Pete had Honky Tonk Music and wanted a drum department, because his place was too small. Then when I moved to Chelmsford, because we had the shop, and the 24 track above there, so I’ve kind of always had some kind of recording, as I say, in the early days Pete Eden gave me some opportunities to record at Decca, early 70's. I’m quite used to recording.
All your own personal recording, has it generally been Avant garde? Because you did have a band, didn’t you? Was it Avanti or something?
We’ve still got Avanti. Avanti is just a bunch of local guys, who’ve been around for about 15 years. They’re not pro-musicians, so it’s not a great standard or anything, but they have become personal friends, as often is the case in music. I play in probably three or four local groups as well as London groups, like Taurus with Mick Sexton. That was an 80's band, Taurus, started at Basildon. We were doing the Towngate Theatre for years.
When did that start? Do you remember?
That was late 70's, Mick had guests, Jim Mullen used to come down a lot, lots of saxophone players..... Pete King. Got lots of recordings of that.
That was in the foyer wasn’t it?
That was in the foyer of the Towngate, Basildon. Of course then the Towngate closed. We moved up to a very nice pub called the Strings Bar, upstairs, piano bar. That was in Basildon, just round the corner and we did that for about a decade? Maybe not as much as that.
Was there much going on in Basildon around that time?
Yeah, largely because of Mick, again. He had Basildon Jazz Club.
That was there was it? That was at Towngate, the Basildon Jazz Club?
It varied, in different places, it was in Sweeneys, all kinds of places. He would be the guy to talk to, he was involved in that, in the Southend scene. He got a lot of knowledge, a great entrepreneur for Jazz at that time. So Taurus was playing up there and then, of course, when Pete Jacobsen died, that group folded. Gary Plumley moved to the Isle of Wight, as you know, Mick moved to West London and then recently Mick’s wife died, Mo, who was another great person, pusher, getting things going. We decided to get the band going again, only this time we used Jonathan Gee on piano. He’s a fantastic player. So it’s the same band, with Jonathan replacing Pete Jacobsen. So I do three or four local things, as far as straight ahead Jazz goes.
Was that more or less it from the 80's through to now then, just playing regularly with those?
Probably is yeah. I started the label FMR, that started ’87. FMR stands for Future Music Records, the shop was called Future Music. The idea was to have FMR, Future Music Records as an extension of that. Started in ’87, and the earliest records I put out there were straight ahead Jazz, with Tim Garland was the first two, with Kenny Wheeler, etc. etc. But then I kind of wanted to experiment to whether I could put out more Avant Garde stuff on it, by using some of the more commercial side to finance it, so I started doing a whole series of girl singers nights, Anita, Judy Kerr and these kind of people. But then I realised after a little while, in actual fact, you’re diluting the essence of what that would mean to people, you’re confusing people about what you are trying to do. So I stopped all that, drew a line, and haven’t done much straight ahead Jazz anyway, the odd thing.
I’m surprised you did straight ahead Jazz, because you were not that involved in it really were you?
No, but, you know, I’ve always been a person who believed, as Ellington said, there’s no bad music, there’s bad people playing Avant Garde music, just as much as there is pop music in straight ahead Jazz, and there’s great music in there as well, you can’t just take a genre and say it’s rubbish, it’s pointless to do that, you just have no interest in it, or you do. FMR is 25 this year and we’ve just done about 500 CD’s over that period of time.
You’ve release 500 CD’s?
Not all on FMR, some on other labels, but mostly FMR. This year we decided to series of celebration box sets connected with that. The first one we did, which we’ve just put out, is Paul Gunnell, that’s 50 CD’s, a book etc. etc. and through the rest of the year we’ll be doing other people as well, like Frode Gjerstad, the Norwegian saxophonist, Trevor Watts, who’s a very famous British saxophone player, goes way back to SME (Spontaneous Music Ensemble) in the late sixties, with John Stevens, Kenny Wheeler the real main kind of started point for Free improv in the UK. Then of course Derek Bailey is in that group and a few other people.
That’s an incredible achievement, blimey, I had no idea! That’s outrageous! Because you’re a book publisher as well?
Occasionally done books, yeah, the book thing first started when a local guy called John Wickes, he used to live in Brentwood, wanted to write this book called ‘Innovations in British Jazz’ again an interesting bloke, interested in how the different areas of jazz had moved on and who were the major players in the innovation of the music. He put a lot of work into that first book, which I published. And then, I knew Francois Baschet from way back, who’s French inventors of the Baschet Sound Sculpture, back in the late 60's I was editor of ‘Drums and Percussion’ Magazine, George Clinton gave me the job, and I decided I’d use it as vehicle to really give people, used to the usual kind of pop drummers, the good guys who never got a look in. I decided I’d do a series about that, so I did a series called ‘The Improvised Percussionist’ and one of the percussionists I did was Stomu Yamashta, from Japan who was quite big in Britain in those days, now he’s a Buddhist Monk in Kyoto. But he’d just bought out a fantastic record, and on the front cover of this record were these weird instruments, and I thought “What the hell are these? They’re really interesting” so when I’m doing the interview with him, I said “Tell me more about these” and he explained to me that there were these two brothers Bernard and Francois Baschet, and he gave their phone numbers. I called them up, they didn’t know me from Adam, and they said “Yeah come over”. So I went over to Paris, they lent me all these instruments! Incredibly trusting people, so I bought them back and started to do loads of concerts..... did the Wigmore Hall.
When was that?
Started 70's, and they went right through. Then they had a dilemma because they were putting out a book about their work with a Canadian publisher, and he just went bankrupt, and they said “Oh my God what are we going to do?” so I said “I’ve just done some books. I’ll help you out”. So I put out their first book.
So you were publishing in the 70's?
This was a bit later, this would’ve been 80's. The connection with Stomu was 70's, but then having got to know the Baschet’s I’ve been lifetime friends with them ever since, and like I said, they had this problem with the book, so I got the book out, and started taking their instruments about and using them. We did a gig with Evan Parker at the Dixon Theatre. For this kind of music it’s difficult to play in a pub. Modern Jazz you can play in a pub because it’s got a relative sound where you can hear above, but for this kind of music you need silence. So that’s why we started to that series at the Palace Theatre.
Promotion has been something you seemed to have been doing all along through the 70's. Was there anywhere you were at for any length of time?
Yeah. To me it was always exciting, and I wanted more people to listen to it, so the logical way of thinking from there is to give other people the opportunity. You can be a musician but you can also promote as well, in the same way Kenny Baxter been quite fairly well known as a great promoter of Jazz in this Essex, because he had done over all those years. He’d booked thousands of gigs.
Sixty years this year (2013)
Yeah, and I was doing the same. I was interested in different areas of music so I put on different music, you know. We had the first studio in the early 70's in Balmoral Road, Balmoral Community Centre was right next door to that, so I started putting stuff on there, some amazing music there. We had Cliffs Pavilion in the early days, my connection with Chas Mumford, Chas and I go way back, we’re school pals, way back to Southchurch. I used to teach him the drums, when he learnt the drums, Chas Mumford, went on to be the manager of the Cliffs Pavilion. There was an allie there, because Chas was interested in Jazz, appreciated Jazz, he appreciated all music actually, in fact he started that concert series of classical music there, which is a great series. So he gave me the opportunity there, so we used to do gigs there Sunday. I even had a Thursday night for a period, the Palace Theatre you’ve mentioned.
The Palace Theatre, that was a series of gigs though wasn’t it? Over how long a period?
There’s so many places, Mark, when there’s been regular Jazz for periods of time. There’s hundreds of pubs, of course.
I meant for your own promotions?
Yeah, I suppose the Cliffs is the main one, obviously when Joan Morrell came down from Cambridge as a Jazz animateur. A number of us applied for that, we went to Chelmsford to the first meeting, Joan got the job, and I didn’t know her before. The job was called Jazz Animateur, the word Animateur simply meant that you would mix up, get going, get some things happening, mix it all up. She already had a very good track record, because Cambridge Jazz Club is the longest running Jazz club in the UK. She goes way back. Once I knew her, got to know her, realised, very strong person, highly motivated, very hard working, perfect person for the job. Anyway, she and David Duguid from Chelmsford came down from the local council and started, which was then called The Blue Note Jazz Club, so the deal was that I ran it, they would help fund it through Jazz.
Because there was one there on the Wednesday, wasn’t there, and then yours started on the Thursday didn’t it?
There are so many things you’re reminding me of that I’d forgotten about! The Blue starts there on a Thursday night and eventually becomes the Jazz Bar, when they were no longer involved in it, and I took it over totally as The Jazz Bar.
Was that a seamless transition?
Yeah, seamless transition. We had some great people, Jack Degeneve from the States, some great people come over, great musicians, and that ran for 17 years actually, every Thursday for 17 years, that’s not too bad is it! I think it was ’93 it started.
And of course the tradition is still there now isn’t it, with Michael Crook still doing stuff there, monthly I think, still the room, the Maritime Room?
It’s a good room isn’t it. It’s a nice size. In the early days in that club, again, we had a lot of people, I remember now, we had Ronnie down with his quintet with Dick Pearson trumpet. Ronnie Scott would come down, and that room would be packed with 300-400 people.
I saw Ronnie Scott there once. I don’t know how many times he played. That was beyond belief!
It’s a shame to see over the years how the audience for that music declined and it was no way connected with the quality of the music, because the quality of the music was excellent. We worked really hard to make sure that there were really good people coming down. You could see how an audience is dying out gradually. Two things are happening, the audience is getting older, and at the same time, the younger people who naturally you would feel would replace those people, you use the word transition, so that the older people are gradually then taken over by younger people, but the younger people are not interested, or the amount of them interested is very small. So you have this dilemma, “What is going to happen to Jazz?”, “Is there ever going to be an audience?” Some of them are dying, some of them are infirm, don’t come out anymore, but they are not being replaced by a new audience.
And also, young people, through that whole kind of Acid Jazz thing that happened in the late 80’s early 90’s, which I was involved in on label, the whole kind of Jazz Fusion/Jazz Funk thing was a very young thing in the 70's, and that was everywhere because it there was Jazz influences even in disco, all kinds of stuff. There was Jazz elements of that, and through the Jazz Funk, later on in the mid to late 80’s, Acid Jazz. There’s still things for young people to discover Jazz for the first time. They might discover it because it’s fashionable, and then decide they like that. I’ve met loads of people who are into Jazz, across the board now, their first taste of it was from hearing it in clubs, but young people are not going to experience that enmasse like they did then.
Interesting what you just said about Jazz being influenced by other music. I think the great thing is that Jazz has done both things: it’s been influenced by lots of other music and has influenced other music, so you get Jazz in other forms of music, you get classical music involving Jazz, you get pop music which has got Jazz elements in it, then you got Jazz which is the reverse, we’re talking about Ian Carr and Nucleus and all those kind of things, Jazz Funk, so it’s the music which is fertilising itself and also fertilised other music, which is a great thing. It’s like having some green paint and putting some white in and watch is slowly move through until in the end it’s just one colour, which is everything.
Good point. It’s a nice way of putting it.
Yeah, that’s what I felt. All these little elements came in, they’re great. You mustn’t think Jazz is like a bible, some sort of holy art form that can’t be influenced by anything else. It can and should be.
People intellectualise too much. I mean at the end of the day, something that Pete Jacobson said to me many years ago, he said “At the end of the day 98% of people that go to Jazz gigs, actually don’t even know what they’re listening to. The only people that really know how great a musician really is, is another musician.”
It’s funny we have this conversations now, you go on a gig with people and sometimes they’re quite nervous, I kind of laugh because over the years I’ve learnt that very thing you’ve just said, that the vast majority of the audience have no idea what’s going on, unfortunately.
They just accept the music for what it is.
The ones that you’re really worried about are those few well known musicians there, who you know are clued up, who do know, and you’re not going to get away with jack shit. For the other fifty people there’s one there that does know, and that counts. It’s annoying and irritating that you put all that work into something, then you go out and play knowing they don’t have a clue what you’re doing .
I think in a way the audience enjoy Jazz in the same way that one would enjoy Soul music, you may not know how technical that person is being, but it’s what you get from it, the feeling you get from it. It’s a different experience than say, what a musician gets from listening to a Jazz soloist.
I guess it’s a long road the musician has to take gradually, by a lot of listening and a lot of affiliation with music to get to a point where they listen to something and say “This is fantastic. I just love this music” and what price can you put on the feeling, you know, all the money in the world can’t buy. Yes it’s complete hardship being a musician, but when you go out and play and you know you’ve played well and you’ve really loved what the band did you can’t put a price on it, which is why people still do it. If you looked at it on purely economic terms, nobody would do it would they because it don’t make any sense. Cart all the gear in the van, get it to the gig, set it all up, play to six people, why would you do that? It ain’t going to be for the money, because there isn’t any, so why else would you do? Because somehow you get something from it that other people can’t really understand. You’re a musician Mark, you know. That’s why you do need to balance it up with trying to get some commercial or pop stuff or pit work, not to do it forever. If you’re in a lucky position where you can have that and one subsidises the other, to do a bit of that work gives you the freedom to do the other stuff. If you can get that balance right.
Can I just establish that obviously, as you said, you got married to your first wife, had the success of your seven shops, you got the record label and you done the book publishing, and you were playing regularly with your own projects.
Right through the business period of time, the 80's, I still managed to play, that was when Taurus was going, mostly straight ahead Jazz I have to say, not so much the more Avant Garde stuff. But as soon as that all finished in ’91, closed that shop and gone out of Sound Well and dedicated myself mostly to FMR and to playing again, a definitive decision to come back, because when you’re running a business, you don’t have the same amount of time, you don’t. So ’91 was the time when I come back and all the efforts go back into playing again, did a lot more wood-shedding.
So are you doing a lot more of that these days, you know, outside of just playing straight ahead stuff, you’re doing a lot more of that?
I do many different things in many different groups outside. The local scene is largely straight ahead. In all the years of trying to,find an audience, trying to find the musicians to play the kind of music I’m really interested in is quite hard locally. But there is a Jazz scene, and smaller as it’s getting, and you can go and play there. I thought, “Well I’ve got the experience, I know I can still do it,” you don’t go backwards, you can’t un-learn that, so I thought, “Ok I’ll carry on playing the drums and do the other stuff as well”. So now it’s recording within all different projects, I’m doing a thing with Gary Plumley actually, a thing with Simon, I play a little with Paul Gunnell, so yeah there’s the Avant Garde side if you like, and then there’s the straight ahead scene, which is mostly locally, and with Taurus in London.
Did you ever find in any of these projects, was it more kind of Southend-centric, when I say Southend-centric I would incorporate Basildon and even Chelmsford in that, to a certain degree, say within a 15, 20 mile radius of Southend, were you finding most of the interest in what you were doing was more round here, or were you going out further to North Essex, to Colchester?
For serious music you just had to get out of Southend. We do have geographical problems, lets face it. You got the estuary there, then the North Sea there, so there’s nothing from an audience point of view. If you put on something down here, it’s difficult for people to come from there, they’ve got to come through the Dartford Tunnel, and from here they’ve got nothing anyway, and you’ve got London just on the horizon, so obviously if you want to hear some great Jazz it’s very tempting to say “Let’s just jump on the train and go to London”. Obviously you’re going to find some there. We are hiding here.
The point I meant was, were you finding much of a call for you music in other parts of Essex, further North?
Funnily enough the first major Jazz gig was at Tolleshunt D’Arcy, some guy wanted to put on Jazz.
Where was that?
Tolleshunt D’Arcy is off towards Colchester, near Tiptree in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say two gigs later....... It’s not the easiest place to live, Southend, because of it’s geographical disadvantages. So if you want to do really serious heavy duty stuff I’m afraid, yeah, you have to move outside. I never had, I’ve never moved, mind you I suppose because of family, and then I established the business.
But you were close enough to be able to get out, though aren’t you? We’re very lucky like that.
Like I say, I didn’t go abroad like so many people, like Paul, Tony Oxley all moved to Germany, who said “We’re going to have to get out of here if we’re going to work regularly”. I never did do that.
Reg Webb had a go at getting out didn’t he? He went off to Los Angles for a while didn’t he?
Again, Reg, another fantastic player. A very talented guy.
I’m sure he’s got a very interesting story to tell.
Absolutely. Because he runs kind of parallel with Pete Jacobsen doesn’t he, as another blind pianist of immense talent.