Voltarol - related music

Friday, 31 December 2010

That was the year that was

Well, another year is done and dusted and it is time for me to reflect briefly on the musical highlights of my year, before I get so drunk celebrating the start of a new one that I can’t even remember typing this sentence…

The whole of my last Brazil trip in January and February was chock-a-block with good musical moments but the highlight of all of those was also my GIG OF THE YEAR. You can (if you so wish and haven’t done so already) read more about the trip generally here, but the gig in question was a concert by Yamandu Costa and Hamilton de Holanda at the marvellous Auditório Ibirapuera, in São Paulo. It was a evening of sublime music played by two virtuoso instrumentalists who obviously have the greatest of respect for one another, performed in a near-perfect acoustic environment. When we left the building after the concert I was still having difficulty in seeing properly because their encore had caused me to quite literally weep with joy!

Here is a clip of them playing ‘Samba do Rafa’ - a Yamandu Costa composition that is a tribute to the great Raphael Rebello - at a concert that they gave at the same venue in 1997.

And here is a clip from the actual 2010 concert. I have included the first clip because they played the tune that night and it is one of my favourites but unfortunately I couldn't find that version on YouTube.
This one is called 'Meiga' ('Sweet') and is another Yamandu composition.

And for good measure here is 'Suite Retratos Numero Quatro' (Portrait Suite Number Four) which was composed by one of Yamandu's big influences - Radamés Gnattali.

My CD of the year is, I suppose unsurprisingly, also Brazilian. It is ‘Noites de Gala Ao Vivo'
 (Gala Nights Live) by Mônica Salmaso and Pau Brasil

which actually came out in 2009 but which I bought earlier this year. Monica had this to say about it on her website (I took the liberty of copying it here because I could not create a link to the English version.) - "When we released the DVD of this project, Biscoito Fino had already asked us to release the live CD.

At first, I was against this idea because when the DVD was recorded (March 2008), there had been very few changes in our performance regarding the CD recorded in the studio. We were the same group, playing the same songs with the same arrangements.
I thought that launching a product that was so similar to the one we had launched the year before didn’t make sense.

Between April and November 2008, our dream came true. We went on a tour that covered 21 cities in all regions in Brazil.
I had fulfilled the dream of being able, for the first time, to take the same show with the same technical team and part of the equipment to so many cities for almost a year.

After a 10-year career, I had the opportunity to kind of “map” the audience that has been gradually formed, without a great commercial exposure.  And what surprised me most was the fact that my work had an audience in many cities I had never been to before, formed in a spontaneous way and with great identification. Brazil, such a big country and with difficult communication (beyond the unilateral reach of television), became a little smaller with this tour and I felt, more than ever, like a “countrywide” artist, not only from the southeast region where I was born, live and work most of the time.
When we were on tour, we performed in the most beautiful theaters of each city, historical theaters where both the artist and the audience feel happy for being there.
We visited the cities, met people and got to know places and, the same way as the show, we ourselves had the opportunity to “unify” Brazil by means of those trips. 

When we returned to Fecap Theater in São Paulo on October 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 2008, there had been considerable musical changes in the show. We had performed the show for more than 80 times in several theaters and other nuances, novelties and more musical property were incorporated into the arrangements, besides having included the song FLOR DA IDADE in the repertoire. Like food that is slowly cooked in a wood-burning stove, the show got the same “flavor” of being well done and that only practice and time can provide.
To our luck, the show on October 3 was recorded and, we were even luckier, well recorded without the need of major changes to be made. It was very musical and reflected exactly our feeling that it had gained musicality during the tour, the trips, after the repetitions, with the different audiences and in the various theaters. When I listened to this recorded show, I finally decided to launch it so that the cycle of the project could be completed and we could share this recording and the maturation of the show.
I thank the musicians of the Pau Brasil group for the partnership, all the team that worked seriously and with love for the success of our tour, the local producers, the press in all the cities where we had shows, the sponsors of the tour (Bradesco Prime), Fecap theater for the place we love and for having recorded the show and Biscoito Fino for all support and beautiful projects."

It has to be said that, great though the Yamandu and Hamilton de Holanda gig was, if I’d seen this gig this year then it would have been gig of the year as well. Oh, and there’s a DVD of it as well and I nominate that for DVD of the year! Here is a a promotional clip for the DVD. If you look on YouTube there are a number of clips that have been posted by people who have filmed from the audience but non of them do justice to the sound quality of the original and I therefore do not add them here. Rather, I would urge you to track it down and buy it!!!

Well, that's it for 2010. I trust that it has been a good year for you and that the next one will be an even better one. 
Happy New Year!
Feliz Ano Novo!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Voltarol’s Christmas Cracker

The festivities are upon us once more and who am I to cry “Bah! Humbug!”? Well - a fairly disgruntled senior citizen of the UK, that’s who, but my gruntle is no more dissed than most peoples and I don’t feel inclined to vent my spleen here. There’s plenty of time for that next year.

No – since it is the time when chestnuts are nipping at your toes and Jack Frost is roasting on an open fire (thanks for that line, Denny. I stole it shamelessly), I thought I’d share a few things with you that make me laugh. I shan’t bother to annotate them as they will either entertain you or they won’t and they are all self explanatory. All you need to know is that they are a source of great amusement to me – and if they don’t amuse you well “Bah! Humbug!” anyway…


Monday, 6 December 2010

Danu Fox in Falmouth

Landlord Nick Swan is promoting the first in what he anticipates will be a series of innovative musical evenings in the restaurant area of the Four Winds Inn in Falmouth when he presents Danu Fox and Sorisso on Saturday December 11th. Danu and Sorisso have put together an evening of music that combines musical influences from both North and South America, combining Latin rhythms with jazz standards and throwing some bossa novas and other Brazilian music into the mix.

Singer Danu Fox is known for her musical eclecticism and is equally at home in the jazz, folk, Latin and World music fields. This original and accomplished singer has been likened to Sarah Vaughan. Her spellbinding voice has been described as ‘the smoothest in Cornwall’.

Sorisso is the latest of a series of musical units featuring Pete Kubryk Townsend and Pete Turner. Whenever these two get together you can be certain of a strong Brazilian slant to things. Pete Kubryk Townsend, whilst better known in Europe as a superb double bass player, is also a fine exponent of the nylon string guitar (or ‘violão’ as it is known in Brazil). It is on this instrument that he joins percussionist Pete Turner (who has honed his skills playing all over Brazil in recent years) for this venture. The trio is completed by double bassist Tim Greenhalgh, an excellent player with some twenty years of professional experience to his credit, who has previously played with both Petes in separate ventures.


Any resemblance between Voltarol and Pete Turner is purely coincidental (it says here...)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A man of constant Choro

The other week my good friend Pete Kubryk Townsend phoned me with the suggestion that we get together to run through some Choros together. He had acquired the music for some and was eager to give them a try. A few days later we sat down in my living room with two other curious recruits and began to work through some of the tunes. Four hours later we agreed that we had the makings of a Choro group on our hands and agreed to meet up on a regular basis to knock some of this material into shape.

“So what?” I hear you yawn. Well, the point is that this particular music form dates back to the late nineteenth century and has a lot in common with ragtime and yet the musicians involved in this particular project include two young students and one of the teachers on the Truro College jazz degree course. They, like me, are totally enthused by it and obviously find it relevant and satisfying music to play. So what is this music that we’re all getting so excited about?

Choro seems to have started in Rio de Janeiro around about 1870. According to Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha in their book ‘The Brazilian Sound’ – “ In its early days, choro was less a genre than a style, with Afro-Brazilian syncopation and a Brazilian flair added to fashionable European dance music of the time, including waltzes, polkas, schottishes, quadrilles and mazurkas. The pioneering figure Joaquim Antônio da Silva Calado (1848 – 1880) founded the group Choro Carioca in 1870, the same year he was appointed a teacher at Rio’s Imperial Conservatory of Music” Calado, a virtuoso flautist, was joined by two guitars and a cavaquinho. The music that he composed for this group seems to have been based around his virtuosity and set the tone for the Choro groups that were to follow – as did the instrumental line up. By around 1900 Choro had settled down as a distinct and recognisable genre which continued to evolve and spawn new talent.

The evolution of this music seems to have a lot in common with the evolution of Ragtime in North America, being an admixture of African and European musical styles, although Choro is generally believed to slightly predate Ragtime, which seems to have emerged around 1890. Never-the-less there are distinct parallels to be found between the two forms Just as elements of ragtime helped shape the newly emergent Jazz, so elements of Jazz were incorporated into Choro – particularly by the great Pixinguinha, who added saxophone and trombone to the sound. By the late1930s Choro has even penetrated the market outside of South America. I’ll hazard a wager on the likelihood of most people over the age of forty having heard ‘Tico Tico’ (originally ‘Tico-Tico na Fubá’) which was written by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917 and sung by Carmen Miranda in the Hollywood movie ‘Copacabana’ in 1947.

This is not the original film version but dates from around the same time

The fortunes of the genre have waxed and waned in the intervening years – sometimes generating a new batch of great composers and performers and sometimes lying dormant for years at a time – but it has always remained there in the background of Brazilian popular musical taste, influencing many musicians and often being reworked and reinterpreted in new and interesting ways. In the last few years it has generated a new following in North America (which I have written about elsewhere in this blog (Strike up the Bandolim), and is currently undergoing another revival of interest in Brazil. I was fortunate enough to visit a private Choro club in São Paulo a couple of years ago and was delighted to see that the age of the audience ranged from about 12 to 75 or more. More to the point, the age range of the musicians wasn’t that different, starting as it did at around 24 or 25. Brazilian jazz musicians continue to draw on the Choro repertoire for inspiration  and the great Benjamin Taubkin has recently released a whole CDs worth of Choros under the title ‘Modern Tradição’ (Modern Tradition’) which includes works by some of the genre’s finest composers – Pixinguinha, Jacob de Bandolim, Kchimbinho, Garoto and Ernesto Nazareth.

Yes, this music is alive and well 140 years after it first emerged, and is still finding new adherents every day.  I can’t wait for the next gathering of our group.

If these few words on the subject have whetted you r appetite then here are a few examples for you to savour - first, a classic Pixinguinha tune performed by the master and his band.

And next the same tune reinterpreted in 1978 by the great Elis Regina

Next, a more classical interpretation of a Garoto tune by Paulo Bellinati -

and finally, two great young contemporary musicians from Brazil - both of whom I have written about elsewhere on this blog - perform an Ernesto Nazareth tune. Enjoy!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Taubkin's back in town

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that that masterful Brazilian pianist Benjamin Taubkin will be appearing in London on Saturday November 6th. The bad news - well for me at any rate - is that I will not be there for the concert. I can't tell you how cheesed off I am to be missing the gig. As followers of this blog will know, Benjamin Taubkin is one of my favourite musicians and I was fortunate enough to be able to interview him  the last time he was here. All I can say is - go and see him if you possibly can. You won't regret it!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

How the Voltarol got his name

 (With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

Left to right: Ganja the Dwarf, Voltarol, Alcohol

On the right hand side of this blog you will see my profile, which includes a reference to my two brothers – Alcohol and Ganja the Dwarf – and the fact that we have been known to go on the occasional mystic quest together. This apparent nom de blogish whimsy is in fact firmly rooted in reality and I have had several requests to explain more. So – as senior brother Alcohol has already written about this for publication elsewhere, I thought I would reproduce his piece here but with the addition of a few appropriate links and photographs. Only the names have remained the same to identify the far from innocent…

Three Old Farts in a Boat.

It was all the fault of my younger brother Pete. We bought him a first edition of one of his favourite books, “Three Men in a Boat”, for his sixtieth birthday last August and it reminded him of the enormous fun that he and I and his little brother Bob had on, in, and around the River nearly fifty years ago.

            Within a week he ‘phoned me to suggest that the three of us get together and, using the book as a model, have a week on the Thames. He had already propositioned Bob, searched the Web, and found a small company that hired out Victorian camping skiffs.
 I hesitated for about a millisecond before agreeing. It has always been my ambition to grow old disgracefully and this seemed like a significant step in the right direction. As the plan was elaborated we decided that we would follow as directly as possible in the footsteps of Jerome K Jerome’s heroes. We would start from as near Kingston as we could. We would take small tent for one of us and the other two would sleep under the canvas awning of the boat. If the weather was foul we might take refuge in a pub for the night. We would also exactly retrace their path by rowing upstream to Oxford, ninety-one miles and thirty-one locks. Circumstances even ensured that we did it at the same time of the year, the third week in May.
Just after three o clock on the afternoon of Wednesday the 17th the three of us shoved off from the landing slip at Thames Ditton. Pete and Bob were at the sculls and I was on the rudder lines. I uttered a confident and seamanlike cry of “give way” and we rowed out manfully into the stream. At this point Judy, our chauffeuse, began to look less apprehensive but we rather spoiled it by hailing her to ask which way was upstream.
Left to right: Ganja the Dwarf, Voltarol, Alcohol

Once this tricky point was resolved we made our farewells and set off pulling along the boundary of Hampton Court palace. It was bright when we started out but the sky had been clouding over for a while and it was not long before it started to rain. At this point we were very pleased that our gear was all stowed in waterproof stuff bags. Three hours later it was still drizzling and we made our first nights camp moored alongside a rather muddy island near Shepperton.
Alcohol wrestles with the camping cover

 It was something of a pantomime. None of us had erected a camping cover since I was a lad, the Victorian folding hoops seemed intent on inflicting painful injuries on our fingers and the heavy canvas cover weighed more than we remembered. Eventually we got it up, Bob’s tent was pitched, and with the aid of an entrenching tool sanitary facilities were provided in an adjacent thicket. This first night it took well over an hour and a half to set up camp but we got faster with practice
Ganja and Votarol work on the wine lake

Once order was established Pete cooked supper and I opened the first bottle of wine. We washed up in the river (We carried our drinking water with us but relied on the Thames for washing water) and then opened the second bottle. We followed that with Pete’s secret camping potion, hot chocolate laced with about a quadruple brandy and by bedtime we were three deeply contented men. When we retired to our sleeping bags we slept like logs. We woke at about seven the next morning, breakfasted on tea, dried fruit and muesli, struck the tent and the cover, tidied the camp site and rowed off up river.

That first day set the pattern except that we abandoned the notion of cooking a main meal in the evenings as the weather worsened. From then on we found a pub for a couple of pints, a substantial lunch and coped with plenty of tea and cold food for breakfast and supper besides making serious inroads on the European wine and brandy lake. 
Alcohol, Voltarol, Montmorency, a friendly landlord and Ganja the Dwarf

The weather worsened and the wind was pretty consistently against us. On one day it recorded a mean speed of twenty-five knots, and as the heavy rain continued the lock keepers progressively opened the weir sluices and the current ran faster and faster. Passing through Reading we were overtaken by a three year old riding a fairy-cycle along the towpath and several times we were rowing flat out and only just managing to breast the current, while we hunted across the stream for slack water.  
           Ganja and Alcohol ,  Rosalind and Actief
 On the fourth night we decided that a shower and a dry bed would be a good idea but discovered that most of the cheerful riverside pubs of our youth had been tarted up and become hideously expensive. What is more, in our wet and mud splattered condition we would have been about as welcome as a mild dose of amoebic dysentery. In the end, the friendly keeper at Sonning lock introduced us to “J” and Charlotte, the owners of the hotel boat “Actief” which was moored just above the lock. Despite the fact that they had just said farewell to a full complement of guests and had been looking forward to an evening off, they provided comfortable beds, hot showers, a great deal of wine and a magnificent breakfast.
 Restored by good company and this touch of luxury we pressed on upstream and despite being awarded a yellow card, which told us that the current was now too strong for unpowered boats, we continued to head for Oxford and became increasingly confident that we were going to make it. We developed a sneaking feeling of smug superiority when we encountered two more of Tom Balm’s skiffs coming downstream, the crew of one of them announcing that they had asked to be retrieved after only two days.
Alcohol, Voltarol and Ganja the Dwarf 'having a ball'.                  

 Despite the weather we were having a ball and despite an average age of sixty- two, reverting to our juvenile selves. We are none of us the sort of blokes to take readily to stuffed toys but Montmorency, the toy dog that had been loaned to us in place of Jerome’s very real one, began to develop a personality. 
Montmorency availing himself of the facilities...

Dafter still, we boozily decided that we were on a quest and adopted the characters of Voltarol, Alcohol, and Ganja the Dwarf. Any one that has suffered from arthritis will be familiar with Voltarol, Alcohol needs no explanation, and two years teaching in a school for disturbed adolescents provided me with the third name. We later added a fourth character to our pantheon, Offa’s Dyke, a Celtic princess of indeterminate gender.
 The week wasn’t merely a combination of a nostalgia fest, an endurance trial and a geriatric booze cruise. It was also a journey through a positively magical landscape. Once above Windsor, apart from a rather dreary passage through Reading, the Thames Valley is every bit as beautiful as it was fifty years ago. There wasn’t very much river traffic and because a rowing boat makes very little noise the wild life took next to no notice of us and we saw at close range Red Kites, Parakeets, Herons, innumerable water-fowl, and a quietly busy little water vole. The banks were as leafy as ever and the May blossom brought to mind hackneyed comparisons with lace and foam, and an odour that booted all three of us back to being about ten years old again.
 The lock keepers were almost universally helpful, there were still a few cheerful unpretentious riverside pubs which gave us a very warm welcome and most of the folks we shared the river with were friendly and good natured.
           Elderly hooligans

When we emerged from the final lock at Iffley we ran directly into a flotilla of Oxford regatta crews who were evidently bewildered by a trio of elderly hooligans chanting “Voltarol, Alcohol and Ganja the Dwarf” but before we could get in to serious trouble we reached the slipway above Donnington Bridge, where two daughters and three grandchildren were cheering and waving flags at us. “Rosalind” was hauled out of the River and on to Tom Balm’s trailer, and our voyage was over. There will be another one next year. Despite a few creaks aches and pains none of us wants to wait for another forty- eight years before we do it again.
                The good ship 'Rosalind' and her crew at journey's end.

Well, that was in May 2006. The following year we paddled two Canadian Canoes down the River Wye together, on a quest that we named  - unsurprisingly - 'Three men in two boats', and one day I'll tell that story here. For various reasons there has not been a quest since then but we are currently planning one for next year. We are not quite sure what form it will take but it will definitely involve boats and a renewed assault on the European wine and brandy lake. Maybe we'll try to swim across it...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Afro Sambas

Baden Powell

When I first started working in a record shop in 1964 (see (High) Street life) I soon discovered the joys of specialist record importer’s catalogues. Good record shops stocked ‘in depth’ in those days, and one of my more pleasurable tasks was to scan the pages of the aforementioned catalogues in search of interesting stock. One such catalogue was produced by a company called ‘Selecta Records’ who were, I think, principally the distribution arm of Decca Records, but they had a fine imports selection and among other things distributed the French Barclay label in the UK. As I observed in a recent posting (French Leave), the French do have an appetite for good music generally and this characteristic manifested itself particularly in the Barclay catalogue in the form of a number African and Brazilian recordings.

At this time I had yet to recognise the passion for Brazilian music that was stirring in me, so I was drawn to the name ‘Baden Powell’ out of sheer curiosity and amusement. When ‘Le Monde Musical de Baden Powell’ arrived in the shop it was with no more than vague interest that I put it on the turntable for a listen but I was hooked from the start. This was guitar playing of the highest order and although some of the tracks were a bit ‘syruped up’ with unnecessary strings, others were sublime. I was particularly taken with a tune called ‘Berimbau’. I didn’t know then what a berimbau was and certainly had no idea that I would ultimately own and play one.

Time passed and my enthusiasm for Brazilian music generally and Baden Powell in particular resulted in an ever growing collection of Brazilian recordings, which went positively nuclear after my first visit to Brazil. My face is extremely well known in many Saõ Paulo CD shops and I rarely return from a Brazil trip with less than 30 albums. Ironically though it was on a regular on-line CD trawl that I first came across ‘Baden Powell – Afro Sambas’ (1991) on the French JSL label.  By this time I was fairly familiar with many of Baden Powell’s compositions and was also aware that amongst the numerous people he had collaborated with in his composing career was Vinicius de Moraes, who had co-written ‘Berimbau’ with him.
Vinicius de Moraes

I noticed that, with the exception of the first tack – ‘Abertura’ (Overture) – which was credited to Baden Powell alone, all the other tracks were co-written with Vinicius. I also noticed that one of the titles was ‘Variações Sobre Berimbau’ (Variations on Berimbau), and that a number of the Candomblé gods or ‘Orishas’ were referenced in the other titles (I knew about these from having visited Salvador and through my reading of the works of Jorge Amado). The disc was duly bought and played and I was, of course, hooked.

 All though my linguistic abilities are poor and my French in particular is only marginally better than Del Boy’s, I was able to ascertain from the sleeve notes that this was a re-recording of the Afro Sambas and that the original had been issued in 1966 but had been unobtainable for quite some time. Furthermore, Vinicius de Moraes, who had died in 1980 and was therefore not a participant in the 1991 recording, had performed on the original. This original recording immediately migrated to the top of my ‘must have’ list, where it was to stay for the next twelve years or so.

A few years after this initial purchase I was on yet another trip to Brazil and searching through the racks in Pops Discos (see Voltarol in Brazil 2010, continued) when I came across a second-hand copy of Afro Sambas performed by Paulo Bellinati and Mônica Salmaso and immediately added it to my haul for that particular day. I think that I had it on the CD player within minutes of returning to my son’s apartment and was immediately seduced by the wonderful voice of Ms Salmaso and the superb guitar playing of Paulo Bellinati as they breathed new life into these songs. I was also beginning to realise that they had not actually been composed to go together as a suite (although they worked well enough in that respect), because the order in which the songs were performed was different to that of Baden Powell’s 1991 recording, one title was omitted and the disc included an original guitar composition by Paulo Bellinati – ‘Cordão de Ouro’ (Golden Cord), which had been grafted on to ‘Berimbau. I subsequently learned that Mônica Salmaso was only twenty four when she recorded this – it was in fact her first CD – although Paulo Bellinati was a seasoned performer who had already made a name for himself. If I’m honest, I think I actually prefer this album to Baden Powell’s re-recording.

So that was that, and I now had another two artists whose recordings were on my ‘must have’ list. Time passed and I began to think that I was very unlikely to find that original recording unless one of my Brazilian friends knew someone that owned a copy but didn’t want it…or maybe I would find a Japanese reissue (surprisingly, there is a very big following for Brazilian music in Japan). And then, a couple of months ago, I learned about an extraordinarily eclectic reissue label called ‘él’. There, lurking in their catalogue alongside such unlikely bedfellows as Becker and Fagan, Brigitte Bardot, Segovia, Chet Atkins and Malcolm Arnold were a number of Brazilian artists and – yes! Result! There it was, the original ‘Os Afro Sambas’ from 1966 which has been reissued with a Baden Powell solo guitar album from 1963 – ‘Á Vontade’ (loosely - ‘Chilling Out’) – on one CD. When my copy arrived I couldn’t wait to play it but was a bit trepidatious. Would it live up to my expectations? I needn’t have worried. His recording is an absolute masterpiece and well worth the long wait.

In his sleeve notes for the original album Vinicius says – “When the young and talented producer Roberto Quartin approached us about recording this album, we agreed that it should be made with maximum creative freedom and minimum commercial interest. We were not interested in producing a well crafted record but instead to be spontaneous in conveying the simple message of our sambas’. In truth, the net results - which utilise as many amateur and semi-pro musicians and singers as they do professional ones – occasionally teeter on the verge of chaos, and yet it is sublime chaos. These performances capture the spirit of their subject matter and at times transport one to the same heights as “…the powerful magic of candomblé baiano ( candomblé as practised in Bahia)…” to quote again from Vinicius. Here's a sample track.

All that remains to be said here is that all three of these albums are worth owning, but if you must choose between them then the original is by far the best. It’s up there in my top twenty recordings of all time – but then again, so is Mônica Salmaso and Paulo Bellinati’s version! Go on - get them all.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A poster from the past

Last week I received an email from my old mate, fellow blogger and Blue Two and a Half, Leigh Heggarty. Leigh had, in the course of his guitar tuition activities, acquired this old poster advertising events for January 1985 at the jazz club that I ran for several years at The Load of Hay public house in Uxbridge, Middlesex.  Being the good soul that he is, he had forwarded a copy to me, along with a copy of his latest poster advertising events at the club he now runs at that same venue.

 This of course was where the recent Blue Five reunion took place earlier this year, and where the Jugular Vein had played one of their first gigs in the late 1960’s. One way and another I’ve had connections to this pub for over forty years!

Seeing the poster after all this time brought back a lot of memories about the musicians involved. Some of them I am still in touch with, two of them are no longer with us but the rest are still playing – and playing well. I’ve had a snoop around on the net and found a fair amount of material about them so I thought I’d compile it all here. I was also very fortunate in that many of the gigs were documented in pictures by a young photographer called Chris Warren who was just starting his career. All the black and white images on this posting are his handiwork (and, incidentally, his copyright). I tracked him down on the net after I started writing this piece, having lost touch with him some twenty or more years ago and was pleased to learn that he was still taking photographs for a living. He has a thriving business and an excellent web site with many examples of his work which you can find here.

The late Matt Matthewson was a fine pianist who was born in that most unlikely source of jazz musicians, The Shetland Isles. He was the younger (I think) brother of the more well known Ron Matthewson, who played double bass with Ronnie Scott Quartet for many years. I’m not sure what had happened, but at some point not long before I met him Matt had had an accident which had affected his behaviour some what. As a consequence he was not always the most reliable musician, and had been known not to turn up for a gig - or to turn up but to forget his piano, as happened at my club once. But for all this Matt was still worth booking because he was a great and inventive player who always provided an evening of excellent and thought-provoking music. Sadly I have only been able to find this rather poorly recorded example to illustrate this. I post one here by way of memory jogger to any one out there who has memories of Matt or, better still, recordings or video footage of him.

Matt was accompanied on this occasion by the club’s resident musicians – The Coverdale/McCartney Trio, featuring Martin Hart. 

Guitarist John Coverdale is playing as well as ever and works regularly in the Home Counties. John, like me, started his musical life in the folk clubs before moving into life as a professional musician. Unlike me he went the academic route and went back to study music, eventually attending one of the Dankworth/Laine Wavendon music courses.

 I caught up with him earlier this year when we had the opportunity of playing together at the same function which saw the partial reunion of the Jugular Vein. Despite appearances, I am in fact playing percussion and not squaring up for a fight with the invisible man...

The late John McCartney played electric bass in this unit and was one of the few players of that instrument that many of the London based jazz fraternity would work with. John was a dazzling player who swung like crazy, was tremendously supportive of other musicians and was a fine soloist in his own right. It is my intention to devote a whole posting to John in the near future.

Drummer Martin Hart completed that trio. He has a very subtle touch and a very musical ear, and always listens intently to the players he is working with. Martin was never one to blow his own trumpet, so to speak, but he had worked with names as diverse as Dudu Pukwana and John Mayall.

I found this clip of him playing at a jazz club in Surrey in 2008. Unfortunately he's impossible to see because of the juxtaposition of the camera and the saxophonist's sheet music, but you can hear him well enough! 

Inigo Kilborn is the musician about whom I know least. He only played the one gig for me and I can’t now recall anything about that evening. I can’t even remember what the instrumentation of his group was, let alone who the musicians were, although judging by the musical company he keeps these days (John Horler, Malcolm Creese and ex Load of Hay regular Max Brittain) they would have been top drawer players. I have found a couple of clips of Inigo but these seem to show him playing Dixieland!

The third Sunday of January 1985 saw the resident trio supporting chromatic harmonica player Harry Pitch. Harry was another regular at the club. He made a good living from session work but jazz is his first love and he is one of the ever growing numbers of improvising musicians whose first choice of instrument is the harmonica. (In fact, the harmonica is in its second phase of ascendancy at the moment – see this posting on the National Harmonica League’s web site – and Harry was part of the tail-end of the first wave so he spans both phases.) Not many people know him for his jazz playing but most people in England are probably familiar with the theme music for ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’. Harry played this for the first twenty five years of the series. He provided harmonica for a number of chart singles over the years, including ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’. -  Oh, and he played on the theme music for the cult BBC detective series ‘Shoestring’, which ran between 1979 and 1980. Anyway, Harry is still playing and I found this clip of him with Rhythm and Reeds, a group he has run with accordionist Jack Emblow (another regular at the club) for many years. 

Incidentally, the bass player here is Pete Morgan, and a quick glance at the poster will tell you that he replaced John McCartney in the resident trio for the last gig of that January. In fact Pete was a regular ‘dep’ for John at the club, as was fellow double bassist John Rees Jones. All three were busy session players and shared the honours between them, but it was always John McCartney’s first-call gig.

The guest for that Sunday was John Nixon, whose first instrument was another most unlikely source of jazz – the English Concertina!  (Scroll down this list of recordings to find some examples of his  work.) John also plays alto saxophone and double bass (although since heart problems in the early eighties he abandoned double bass in favour of the acoustic bass guitar, which was much easier to manage. 

These days he sticks mostly to the concertina but is still playing the occasional jazz gig. John had two independent careers – one as an engineer and the other as a musician – but the music was always the most important thing in his life. He was a much-in-demand session musician who has played for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, The Kinks(!) and Michel Legrand, as well as providing concertina music (and, where necessary, a dummy concertina for the actor) for more TV and Radio productions than you can shake a sick at. Now retired, he still pushes boundaries and for the last few years has been experimenting with a concertina with built-in MIDI interface. Alas, I could find no footage of John playing jazz, although I do have some in my own archives and hope to upload something in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, here is one of John’s MIDI experiments.

If there is anyone out there who was a Load of Hay regular back then, I would be pleased to hear from you. And if anyone has an old poster, or some photos, audio recordings or video footage I shall be absolutely delighted to hear from you! Just think, all that great music and an entry fee of just £1. No wonder I never got rich. As the old joke goes – “How do you make a jazz musician into a millionaire? Give him two million”

Sunday, 5 September 2010


I’m very fond of the music of a number of French composers and on my recent journeyings in France found myself thinking about how much some of this music seems to reflect the French countryside. Now this may well be purely my imagination at work but the feeling is nevertheless there, in the same way that the music of Delius, for instance, always seems intensely English, even when the work in question is inspired by France or America ( for example, March Caprice, American Rhapsody). Maybe I’m guilty of whatever the musical equivalent of anthropomorphism is, but when all is said and done the music of Debussy, Ravel, and, to a degree, Saint-Saëns and Bizet still conjures up visions of French landscapes for me (with the possible exceptions of 'Carmen', ‘Bolero’ and ‘Danse Macabre’). I’m also enthusiastic about the works of Ibert but these seem much more cosmopolitan to me.

Anyway, enough of these ramblings – here are a few examples of what I’m talking about. You may not agree with me but I’m not trying to lay down any laws here, merely giving a point of view. First off, here’s a favourite piece of mine – Le Tombeaux de Couperin by Maurice Ravel. This was originally written for piano and was orchestrated by the composer in 1920 (although he omitted two of the original piano movements). My first introduction to this work was – somewhat surprisingly - a performance of the prelude by the jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton. He recorded it in 1969 on an album called ‘Country Roads and Other Places’, dueting with himself on piano and vibes. From there I found the original piano work and then subsequently the orchestral version. If I had to choose between them it would be the piano version that would win out but I still retain a great fondness for Burton’s version. By way of a compromise, here is a clip of Vlado Perlemuter playing the prelude. I trawled through a lot of clips before settling on this one. In my opinion many orchestras and pianists take it far too quickly, but Perelmuter has the measure of this work perfectly. Check for yourselves – there are innumerable versions posted so have a listen to some and see what you make of them.

Another Ravel favourite is the string quartet. The pizzicato movement from this has been used as incidental music for several films and television programmes over the years but despite this rough treatment the work still holds up for me. That movement has also been performed on the appropriate members of the mandolin family, in a multi-tracked version by the American mandolinist/guitarist Mike Marshall (this is on a very fine album called Gator Strut). Here, however, the pizzicato movement is played by the American String Quartet.

Now here’s an interesting little test of my feelings viv a vis the French countryside and the music. I found this clip of ‘Carillon’ from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite No 1, which has been set to film of windmills in Sussex. It’s a very pretty juxtaposition but despite this I still feel a distinct mismatch between the two elements.

The first two pieces of Debussy that I ever heard were ‘The Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ and ‘Clair de Lune’. The former on BC Radio’s ‘Children’s Hour' in the very early 1950’s and the latter on an EP bought by my older brother, ‘Alcohol’ sometime around 1956 or 57 (see Classical Guess). Later I was to learn that Charlie Parker was much influenced by the harmonies of Debussy and Ravel and was to become well acquainted with their more sophisticated compositions but I have to confess that these two pieces were what kick-started my interest. Incidentally, for those of you who – like me – blench somewhat at the non-pc title of the cakewalk, here’s a link to some interesting observations. Anyway, here’s a piano roll of Debussy himself performing that work, and one of Mária Kovalszki performing Clair de Lune.

It goes without saying that this is by no means a definitive selection. There is a wealth of material to be discovered if you are not already familiar with these composers, but the clips by and large represent the start of my own interest in them. and my recent French trip made me think about them in a new light so I reckon they’re as good a starting point as any.