Ways of Hearing – Kyla Brox

Kyla Brox, Pain & Glory

Shall we take it as read that Kyla Brox is sassy, open, alternatively tough and vulnerable, possesses a towering voice and meets all the tests for greatness in the separate spheres of soul and blues, that her songs are honest and true, and the band cook, and that big words like Pain and Glory can be bandied about with impunity. Put simply, Pain and Glory is Kyla’s best album yet, and this follows too, because each album is the culmination of all her previous efforts and her life experience.  

Let’s do, and then we can move onto some interesting questions raised by the music, and ask about the relevance of soul and blues to our culture at this moment in history, and wonder if soul and blues are synonymous or even compatible terms, and ponder the difficulty of adapting the unreconstructed ‘sugar mamma’ to the ethical standards of the modern world. It’s enough to give anybody the blues! 

The first thing to say is that Kyla couldn’t really escape her destiny, as the daughter of a blues singing father and a soul singing mother. This is the subject of the autobiographical ‘Bluesman’s Child’: 

Too many hours in the back of a van 
Twelve years old already in his band
If I ever want to see him the only way 
Is to get on the stage and play, play, play 
It can be a little wild 
The life of a bluesman’s child 

This exercise in debunking, coming at some personal risk, is typical of Kyla’s honesty. It is interesting to compare that self mythologist, Victor Brox, with his daughter. Victor, like many another bluesman, is concerned with what he can do to you or for you. His potency derives from the power he exercises over others. A certain amount of role-play and fabrication is involved, but this only adds to the gaiety. He continually promises more than he can deliver, but makes up for the shortfall by hamming it up outrageously, to the mutual enjoyment of all. 

The thing is, Kyla never hams it up. Where Victor acts, Kyla is. This is not just a nicety of style: it is a fundamental difference between men and women. 

Not that Kyla is averse to a bit of role-play herself. One of the great archetypes of the blues is the sassy, infinitely accommodating sugar mamma, a heartbreaker and object of male fantasy. And though Kyla is adept at this role, the nearest she gets here is reluctantly foregoing a fling because “in the morning in the cold light of day / I remember I already have a husband and a family” (note that idiosyncratic pronunciation, ‘familay,’ to rhyme with ‘day’). This tale of virtue in peril was co-written with husband Danny Blomeley. 

To be a woman is to be divided into two. And, to simplify a bit, the objectified woman has its musical counterpart in the blues. That is, the sugar mamma appraises everything she is and does in the light of how she appears to others, and especially how she appears to men. To acquire some control over this process, a woman contains and interiorises it. This, in musical terms, is soul. The process is hard and calls for a large reserve of inner strength. In expression, it always comes tinged with sadness, and is so hard-won you find yourself asking, was it worth it? Soul, of the femme variety, is also the sound of a woman luxuriating in her strength, and is a sign of empowerment. So blues and soul are, in fact, symbiotic forms; the yin and yang of Afro-American music (Kyla proffers the Lancashire version). She continually treads this line. She struts her stuff and is thrilling, until it is time for her to reveal how she really feels, and show how vulnerable she is to pain and hope. This is where Kyla is most herself.

So ‘Sensitive Soul’, hitched to a Memphis beat, is a very, very assertive paean to sensitivity, and of such vivacity and energy that you really wouldn’t want to mess with this shrinking violet. ‘Pain & Glory’ itself is a medium paced affirmation of unconditional love and unbridled emotion. It has a stirringly good melody, the proper attribute of classic soul. ‘Manchester Milan’ like many another interior monologue, soon slips into transcendent rapture. By contrast, ‘Let You Go’ is a blistering put-down – brusque rejection being the prerogative of the blues mamma, who reappears with a jolt just when you’ve been lulled into security by the soul belle. 

And then, just when the listener has ticked off all the tracks listed on the CD sleeve, something extraordinary happens. 

‘Hallelujah’, Leonard Cohen’s greatest song, came late in his career. It is a man’s song about the mystery of women, couched in quasi-spiritual, masochistic imagery. What does it mean when a woman sings it? Well, when a woman such as Kyla Brox sings it, it means she claims all its power and passion for her own sex. We lose one mystery and find ourselves in an even greater mystery. This is a performance so passionate and wounded that exhilaration and agony become as one, the ultimate aim of soul. 
And Kyla throws it away as a secret track. Is this some meaning of the word ‘integrity’? 

And His Mother Called Him Timothy

There is a crisis behind the scenes shortly before the commencement of Manchester Jazz Society’s tribute to Tim Stenhouse, hosted and presented by Mike Butler (the present writer). The building work going on next door to The Unicorn has been blocking the pub’s wi-fi, which means the Spotify playlist I’ve compiled to illustrate extracts from Tim’s critical writings is useless. This happily turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Gone is all the funereal music, justified by Tim’s passion for ECM and intended to inculcate profound feelings about life and death. The balance shifts towards the members – it was anyway a members' choice – who have each brought in a piece of music on CD in memory of Tim, all of it swinging and life-affirming. And I am forced to improvise, which is never a bad thing, and in keeping with the spirit of the music. The evening opens with a personal memory... 

We developed the habit, when Tim and I both attended MJS, of walking to Piccadilly together at the end of the evening. I would give him a hand with his shopping bags – he did his weekly grocery shop in town before MJS, and so he had a lot of bags – and we would amiably chat until his bus came. It was the Irlam bus, I think. Note the haziness. Tim was a friend, but I didn’t know that much about his private life. He was happier to talk about what was going on in my life, or more likely Eva’s life, or about world events or his latest discoveries and enthusiasms. 

His life was strictly compartmentalised – the word frequently came up at his funeral. What we learned about Tim when the pieces at last began to fall together was a revelation. But by then, I cared deeply, and when I walked with him to the bus station, I was, I think, complacent. I took his sweetness for granted. Tim was too amiable. I recall, in an old jazz magazine, a journalist pressing Steve Lacy to admit that Anthony Braxton was “too European”. Lacy replied that everyone was too something, until it was too late. 

I’ll structure the tribute around extracts from Tim’s scattered emails to me and Eva and excerpts from his prolific reviews for the UK Vibe website, which I dipped into for the first time for the purposes of the present tribute. Their breadth is amazing. They range from funky fusion to spiritual jazz, and take in the sweep of jazz history and related musics from across the globe. He covered a lot of ground. 

November 19, 2018 

...As far as MJS is concerned, the forthcoming ‘Music to play at your own funeral’, does have a morbid undercurrent, but I explained to Peter at the funeral (the funeral of our dear member Frank Gibson) that I had not thought about any selection since I am not planning on departing any time soon! However, I will dedicate a tune or two to Frank, with some Hank Mobley selections. 

Note, he's thinking about Frank, not of himself, which is typical. He didn’t specify the track, so I’ve chosen ‘This I Dig Of You’, because it finds Mobley at his peak, and the title is apt… 

Hank Mobley, ‘This I Dig Of You’

Aug 7, 2017

France is undergoing major political change and I watched a fascinating BBC Parliament special last night on the French elections. I also saw a terrific, but chilling first part of a series on the secrets of Silicon Valley. The new Apple headquarters is a monstrosity and the dystopia they and others are creating is worrying to say the least and, whether we like it or not, we are all going to be on the receiving end.

On the other hand… 

Dec 6, 2017

I had some wonderful news this morning. My younger cousin and daughter of my mum's sister, Catherine, gave birth to a baby son. A lovely time of year to have a new addition to the family.

Robert Reader introduces ‘Parisian Thoroughfare’, in honour of Tim’s love of France. He fondly imagines Tim on the streets of Paris, relaxed, confident of the language and at home. This version is by Le Jazz Groupe de Paris, comprising Jean Liesse and Roger Guerin (trumpets), Nat Peck (trombone), Jean Algedon (also sax), George Grenu (tenor sax), Armand Migani (baritone sax), Fats Sadi (vibes), Pierre Michelot (bass), Christian Garros (drums), with Andre Hodeir as arranger and musical director. It was recorded June 26, 1956, in Paris, and originally issued on LP Vega 30 572. 

July 15, 2016 

Truly awful events to witness on television/online last night after a very enjoyable MJS. Nice was not only celebrating Bastille Day, but also the Nice Jazz Festival was on at the same time. 

Tim is talking about the events of the preceding evening when a 19-tonne cargo truck was driven into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, resulting in the deaths of 86 people and the injury of 458 others.

Alan Brown, who like myself has attended Nice Jazz Festival (maybe others too), will know that the Promenade des Anglais is just a ten to fifteen minute journey to the Roman arena situated part way up a hill where the main festival events take place and therefore it is highly likely that many people would make their way down to the ‘Prom’ as it is affectionately known, to witness celebrations. The town centre is relatively compact and leads directly onto the Prom itself.

Music has the capacity to unite and bring together seemingly disparate individuals who may on the surface have little in common and with jazz being a predominately, though by no means exclusively instrumental music form, it can and does cut across languages, nationalities religions and ethnicities. All the more pity, then, that the festival should be cancelled, but security is understandably uppermost in the authorities’ minds. Nonetheless, jazz has always had a revolutionary ethos, historically countering totalitarianism of all types, and to continue to listen to music is in itself an act of resistance to those dark forces who seek to impose their distorted vision of a religion upon us. Jazz has regularly combined with the music and peoples of other cultures to create something new in the process and long may it continue.

Liberté, fraternité, égalité.


Alan Brown talks about Nice Jazz Festival and introduces ‘Goodbye’ by Bill Evans… 

“My selection considering the circumstance is Bill Evans’ recording with Shelly Manne and Eddie Gomez of ‘Goodbye’ from the album Empathy.” 

Andy Smith introduces ‘A Perfect Day’ by Bobby Cole. “I enjoyed the Thursday chats with Tim regarding our record collections and more to the point, the records we didn't have which were what we called ‘Holy Grails’. Difficult and expensive LPs to obtain but always worth hunting for.” It comes from a Gilles Peterson compilation CD. The original is as elusive as ever.  

Jan 19, 2017:

I have not forgotten that tomorrow is Trump’s crowning. What an awful prospect. I saw a documentary on his family and now I realise why he is such a major league asshole. His father has to be seen to be believed. He looks part werewolf, part mad and demented Nazi scientist and that flatters him. His mother has the weirdest hair-do imaginable and his own hairstyle comes right from her. His father had an utterly ruthless and ambitious streak and regularly tested the outer limits of what was strictly legal. Is this resonating with the Trump of today? I did not know he had three wives. Ivana is exactly what you might expect: a gold digger in search of a numbskull whose only goal is making tonnes of money at the expense of others.    

Well I am making my way over to the pub for the jazz. We are also going to discuss how we attract younger members. You must be the youngest member we had last year. (This was written to Eva, not me, by the way.) 

I am currently listening to some early French music performed by Jordi Savall (I love his group Hisperion XX and his wife is gorgeous too!)

Cuidate y hasta pronto…

Jordi Savall, ‘Chanson et Danse’ from La Sublime Porte

Matthew Thompson introduces ‘El Paso de Encarnacion’… “My contribution, reflecting Tim’s family connection to Ireland and interest in Caribbean and Latin American music, is a live recording by the Conor Guilfoyle Cuban Jazz Quartet at the University of Cork in 2007, featuring the Cuban pianist Vladimir Karell, Andrew Csibi on bass, Ed McGuinn congas and Conor Guilfoyle drums, of the Cuban song ‘El Paso de Encarnacion’.”

Sid Toole introduces ‘Ska-Ra-Van’ by The Skatalites. Says Sid, “Tim had a very wide definition of jazz, and I remember coming to one of his recitals, called ‘Jazz Jamaica’ expecting it to be about Gary Crosby’s band Jazz Jamaica, only to find that he was in fact to be talking about what I regarded as Jamaican Ska music! Tim sometimes seemed to cross over the lines between jazz and other styles of music in his recitals. In tribute I’d like to play something which may not quite cross the line, but hits the line between jazz and ska bang in the middle. I’ve chosen a track by the great Rastafarian composer Juan Tizol. It’s called ‘Ska-Ra-Van’ and was recorded by the Skatalites. I believe Duke Ellington also recorded a version. The track features ‘Dizzy’ Moore on trumpet, Roland Alphonso on tenor and the great Don Drummond on trombone.”

Tim went further than most in Stopping the World – And Listen to Everything in It. He was an omnivorous listener, and always open to new sounds. He didn’t recognise an arbitrary datum-line separating good jazz from bad jazz. He didn’t recognise geographical boundaries. For Tim music was an Eden that covered the planet, and the Fall had never taken place. Musically speaking, that is. Politically, it was a different matter. 

Pete Caswell, our esteemed chair, welcomes 18 MJS members and seven guests. He asks the guests to introduce themselves…

“I am Mike Booth, and I was in the same year at Eccles College as Tim. I was in Tim’s tutor group and sat next to him in A Level classes for both French and History, though his skills and knowledge subsequently far surpassed mine. We also shared a love of a wide variety of musical styles, from Reggae, ska, Latin and African music to Jazz in many forms, though again I was always astounded by the width and breadth of his knowledge in music. He would regularly turn up unannounced at our doorstep in Chorlton, clutching several plastic bags of vinyl and cds and as he didn’t have a computer, I became his unofficial copying service, so we would sit and listen to his latest acquisitions and he often gave me his recommended selections. He introduced me to Blue Note and I think a lot of South American and Latin music, as well as French chansons and a variety of African and World music. Every now and again, I would introduce him to some gap in his knowledge - from Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, to Orchestre Baobab from Africa or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. 

“Tim was an extraordinary character who managed to love the life he lived, despite many potential obstacles and was in the happy position of following his passions most of his time. His passion and enthusiasm about a wide range of topics was a great quality and we will miss him hugely.”  

Mike’s wife, Claire Donoghue, says that Tim introduced her to some lovely French music, including Henri Salvador. They also enjoyed a Celtic connection with their shared roots in Scotland and Ireland.

“I am David Walton and I am married to Helen. I met Tim at Eccles Sixth Form college where we studied A Levels. Tim had been at Winton High. Susan, Mike, Adam and I had been at Moorside High. He was therefore a friend of ours for over forty years. He came to our weddings and he was part of our yearly gatherings which often centred around Cup Finals and World Cups.   

“Tim coached both our boys (Alex and Dan) for their GCSE French oral exams, and particularly assisted Daniel for his A Level History exam. Tim didn’t need notes (he remembered what he had been taught in 1980/81). On a couple of occasions, he stayed over and, in the morning, turned Dan’s bedroom into a fully functioning examination room. Question papers were turned face down, only pens and pencils were allowed and the whole thing was timed. At the end the papers were marked and graded.

“When Adam, Mike and I were inter railing in Europe we had agreed to meet up with Tim in Germany where he was working in the kitchens of a huge hotel. We had no money and were looking forwards to being thoroughly fed and watered at the hotel, thinking that Tim could ‘pull a few strings’. In the event he just wasn’t on the same wavelength. We had a lovely chat with him, I think he managed to get some orange cordial out to us – but that was about it. That night we had lost our tent in a fierce storm. We left Tim in the splendid comfort of his hotel wonderfully oblivious to our plight.

“Whatever Tim chose to immerse himself in he became very knowledgeable about. Everyday stuff like DIY, gardening , financial planning weren’t of any interest to him. Music, politics, sport, European and World culture were what interested him. He could, for example, talk in detail about domestic and world football as well as anyone I have ever met. He supported Manchester United and he came to Old Trafford to watch them play as well as often coming to school games where he would watch Dan and Alex.

“My family and I have never know anyone quite like Tim and I doubt we will do so again. There will be people we know and meet who share some of his traits but never somebody who could become so focussed and knowledgeable about matters that he had personally selected for himself. He lived amidst a back drop of tragedy and ‘life stresses’ that would have floored most people. Tim had the capacity to focus on other matters and in that way, to live most days to his order, not to the order of others. We will all miss him.”

Susan Grant and Tim were in the same German class at Eccles Sixth form college, 1980-1982. Tim went on to study French at the UEA and Susan went on to study languages at the University of Bradford. “However my memories of Tim are more recent with trips to the Met here in Bury where Tim introduced Ross and I to a wide variety of music, which left to our own devices we would not have even considered. Some examples are Vent du Nord and the Good Lovelies, and there are no doubt others to obscure to remember. Tim was unique and he has left a distinct hole in all our lives.” 

Ross Grant recalls that he and Tim were at UEA at the same time but somehow never managed to cross paths there. 

Adam Sharman was another of the European inter-railers, and has travelled far to be here: he is Associate Professor in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at Nottingham University. 

Second half

Mike hands over to Bruce Robinson… 

Bruce: “I have chosen three varied tracks, each of which relates to something Tim wrote. The last communication I had from Tim was a Facebook message that simply stated without any explanation: ‘Errol Garner has never seemingly been more popular with a younger generation. And yet Nat Cole is almost forgotten as a pianist with the general (and younger) public.’ 

Surprisingly this was accompanied by a video clip not, as one might expect, of Nat King Cole but rather of Erroll Garner. So I’ll start with a track that demonstrates Nat’s piano chops. From 1944, George Gershwin’s song ‘Liza’

“The second track was inspired by the knowledge that Tim was preparing to give a recital on Hugh Masekela. If I was superstitious, I’d think it was spooky. I picked a track from his recording with the band Union of South Africa called ‘Johannesburg Hi-Lite Jive’. Later I read Tim’s review of a boxed set of Masekela’s late 60s to early 70s albums. He wrote ‘There are a few surprising omissions from the recordings that are covered here. In particular, from 1971, why leave out the terrific ‘Johannesburg Hi-Lite Jive’?’ That’s either telepathy or we just share a taste for good music.

“Finally, I drew on Tim’s musical autobiography on UK Vibe. 

‘The early 1980s was a period of intense listening and discoveries… Like many, I initially started with jazz fusion (Herbie Hancock, Fuse One), but quickly developed a passion for Brazilian jazz fusion with George Duke’s ‘A Brazilian Love Affair’ a seminal recording. This opened my ears to a whole new sphere of influence and directly led on to other discoveries from Elis Regina and Tania Maria to the more esoteric hues of Hermeto Pascoal.’ 

“Accordingly, my final track was a live version of one of Tania Marias best known tunes ‘Yatra Ta’.

“I will also pay tribute to Tim in my next two recitals, particularly the one on Michel Legrand where, had he still been with us, he would doubtless have contributed information from his vast, vast knowledge of French culture. He will be missed.”

Alas, music appreciation amounts to very little in the world’s account (continues Mike Butler). It doesn’t add to wealth creation like fracking, banking, property speculation, rent-seeking and war. If he had followed any of these pursuits, Tim might have been wealthier and perhaps even ennobled in the House of Lords. As it was, he held out for civilised values and tried to make the world a better place through creative endeavour…

Sept 12, 2018

I volunteered to do some work with a theatre production company. The playwright explained to me his dream to turn a play set in Moss Side about an individual facing moral dilemmas and we have been working on an adaptation and putting in a bid to the BFI. At uni I wrote and directed a film in French with a BBC Look East cameraman and have always wanted to write and direct again. My role on this, if it does materialise, may be more consultative (especially the music soundtrack), but it has spurred my creative juices to write a film screenplay about a journey from Ireland to Manchester, inspired in part by my grandmother, but taking artistic liberties along the way. I have for six months or so been following cinema masterclasses with a professional film critic and learning an awful lot about the history of cinema…  

Eddie Little introduces ‘Minor’s Holiday’ by Kenny Dorham 

Alan Nuttall introduces ‘Five, Four and Three’ by Lee Konitz. 

“The first time I had any real dealings with Tim was through the Jack Kinsey bequeath,” says Alan. “It was made quite clear that whatever you received, you had to collect from the people holding your selection, not them delivering to you.  After more than ten emails from Tim, all with different arrangements, none of them mentioning coming to my house.  This became a bone of contention.

“When he eventually came to my house, to collect the records, he arrived already weighed down with a rucksack and several shopping bags, and he left with three more of those large, strong, supermarket shopping bags, full of recordings.  I felt terrible.  I helped him to the bus stop, feeling dreadful, guilty.  I kept thinking I should have gone in my car and delivered the records to his home.  I’ve done it for others, why not him? 

“From that moment on Tim showed me nothing but kindness.  We exchanged records.  For all his knowledge and intensiveness there was an extreme innocence.  I remember going to his house with some CDs. He was not in, so I posted them through the letterbox.  Later he thanked me and said, “And they were posted from Italy!”  I said no, they were in an old jiffy bag with an Italian address on it!

“The music I have chosen is from a CD that Tim gave me. It is Spiritual Jazz Volume 4 - Americans In Europe.  The track is ‘Five, Four and Three’ by Lee Konitz (track 2, CD2). The line-up is Lee Konitz on alto saxophone, varitone, flute, Enrico Rava on trumpet, Franco D’Andrea on piano, Giovanni Tommaso on bass and Gegè Munari on drums. It was recorded in Italy in 1968.” 

One channel is out during the play, and Konitz and Rava can’t be heard at all. Alan rises from his chair, walks to the CD player and jiggles some wires in the back. The full sound is marvellously restored for perhaps the last half minute of the performance. 

“Oh dear, do you want me to play it again?” I offer. 

“No, it’s alright,” says Alan, magnanimously. 

Bruce, taking advantage of the interval, is now able to access some of my Spotify selections direct from his smart phone, so I can partially revert to my planned playlist and original script.

Cutting across language, nationality and discipline appealed to Tim. This, from his UK Vibe review of Out of the Underground 1958-1967: Jazz in Polish Cinema, a four CD set, gives a glimpse of an engrossing record recital that might have been, ‘Jazz in Polish Cinema’…

June 10, 2015
Arguably, the best known of the films, and by extension the best known music soundtrack, is the early Roman Polanski film, Knife in the Water, with its fantastic black and white print. From this, Ballad for Bernt’ by Krzysztof Komeda from 1962 is a wonderful piece of acoustic jazz that is akin in some respects to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver from a decade and a half later… 

Krzysztof Komeda, ‘Ballad for Bernt’ 

This, from Tim’s review on UK Vibe.…

Bavarian label, MPS, rightly prided itself on its superb sound quality and captured some of the key American and European jazz musicians at their peak. The label went one step further and recorded some gems of Brazilian music. Unquestionably, one of the jewels in the crown is this superlative recording that is one of the finest examples of Afro-Brazilian music with a strong jazz bent ever laid down in a studio setting. It certainly helped that it was recorded in Rio de Janeiro with the cream of Brazilian musicians. These included the great Milton Banana on drums, Copinha on flute and a significantly enhanced percussive section that featured three specialists and another two musicians doubling up. The varied set has a strong emphasis on Afro-Brazilian grooves and this contrasts with the more reflective side of the leader…

The artist is Baden Powell, the album is Tristeza on Guitar, and the track is ‘Canto de Ossanha’. 

Baden Powell, ‘Canto de Ossanha’

Stan Getz popularised the samba in the USA and UK, I blurt, introducing Lorraine Barnett introducing ‘Insensatez (How Insensitive)’ by Stan Getz and Luis Bonfa. She didn’t know Tim very well, Lorraine says, but she knew he liked Latin music. (Lorraine’s choice cuts deep: ‘insensitive’ about sums up Tim’s treatment by the world. All he really wanted was to be left alone to listen to music all day and otherwise absorb the achievements of art and culture, and perhaps improve his mind by adding to his repertoire of languages. That’s fine, but the world won’t leave you alone.) Tim, Lorraine points out, was the only person who ever took notes during recitals at MJS.  

Feb 16, 2019

Hi Mike, Down with the flu, but recovering slowly. Best wishes, Tim

Feb 18, 2019 

Hi Mike, I am on the mend now thanks. The nature of this kind of illness now varies so I started with a bad cough and sore throat, then it morphs into the flu. Just as politics starts to get more complicated here, the new Spanish PM calls a new election. Surely, the Right are not going to get back into power. Hoping to come and listen to the talks at MJS. Anything live and musical of note in Manchester forthcoming? Whatever happened to those cultural evenings at the Cervantes? It seems a couple of years since I last went in and I must find out if they still show films and have occasional music evenings. Best wishes, Tim

Feb 19, 2019 

Mike. Just in case Eva gets that job in Paris, plenty to keep you occupied. And in English and French. 

(There followed a link, in English and French, to an appreciation of the chansonier Charles Trenet. This moved me to request, on behalf of MJS, Charles Trenet singing ‘La Mer’ at Tim’s funeral. They got the later, inferior version. To make sure we don’t make the same mistake twice – we can’t be sure which version will emerge on the internet via Bruce’s mobile – we here plump for Django Reinhardt’s version of ‘La Mer’, which is fabulous in itself, and I also commend the reader to Charles Trenet’s 1945 version…) 

Django Reinhardt, ‘La Mer’ 

“In addition to what Mike said,” says Bruce, “this is the version recorded in Rome in 1949, with Stephane Grappelli on violin, and an Italian rhythm section of Carlo Pecori on bass, Aurelio De Carolis on drums and Gianni Safred on piano.” 

It is self-evident, when you stop and think, that listeners are as necessary to music as players, but we tend to undervalue listeners. Listening is antithetical to leadership, probably, which seems to mostly be about bullying and bending your fellow creatures to your will, or the will of a higher authority. Tim resisted this emphatically, and his chief means of resistance was listening. 

Oct 28, 2014

I am very partial to the French impressionist composers as well as the Italian and Spanish ones, especially the guitar music of the latter. When I was young my parents used to play me an album of Kathleen Ferrier’s songs which I enjoyed, and as recently as June I picked up a 3 CD [set] of her work which I must confess I have yet to play in full, but now you have mentioned her name (I can’t remember: something about style defining category not repertoire. I was saying Kathleen Ferrier could never be a folk singer…) I have to make a point of incorporating that into my required listening. It is amazing what music you remember from childhood. 

Trends come and go but that should not detract from the wonderful music the likes of Duke Ellington and others composed. I still firmly believe the legacy of jazz should not be forgotten while at the same time jazz has to constantly evolve.

In an ideal world, the world that Tim was quietly working towards, listeners would receive some kudos too, and Manchester Jazz Society would be recognised as a hall of heroes. So let’s take a tip from Tim and learn to value ourselves, and not do ourselves down, or waste time in pointless squabbles about what is or isn’t real jazz. Tim was a virtuoso listener, a veritable musical Library of Alexandria. His passing represents a great extinction of knowledge and passion. He was also, manifestly, one of the good guys. 

Apologies to MJS members whose choices didn’t have a chance to get aired, including our beloved life president, Harry Fisher (Johnny Hodges), and Trevor Miles (Miles Davis), and chair Peter Caswell (Bud Powell). 

Manchester – The Silver Age

The following is the full text of my recital at Manchester Jazz Society, April 18, 2019 

 A Silver Age presupposes a Golden Age and for that, the definitive guide is Bill Birch’s book, Keeper of the Flame. The Golden Age of Manchester jazz is Billie Holiday at the Free Trade Hall and Duke Ellington at Belle Vue, Sonny Rollins at Club 43 and Frank Gibson and Eddie Thompson at the Warren Bulkeley pub in Stockport. The Golden Age is what the stalwarts of Manchester Jazz Society were fortunate to experience first-hand. We know that Gold keeps its value. I suspect that Silver does too, but only time will tell. 

Here, I’m defining the Silver Age of Manchester jazz as the years between 1989 to 2010. Quite accidentally, this period coincides with my period as the jazz correspondent of City Life, the Manchester what’s-on magazine. It was, and From the vantage of 2019, as the Silver Age recedes into history, I appreciate what a privilege it was to view Manchester jazz at such close quarters. I expect it was the best job in the world, in every respect except the pay. 

So let’s start with a Silver Age standard. ‘Clockmaker’ by Mike Walker is to Manchester what ‘Take the A-Train’ is to Harlem. I have it in a few versions, actually, all of them good, but the interpretation by Mike Walker’s supergroup, The Impossible Gentlemen, demands to be heard. The players are Mike Walker, guitar; Gwilym Simcock, a graduate of Chetham’s School of Music, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; and Adam Nussbaum, drums. ‘Clockmaker’. Sometimes it has the definite article, but in this case it doesn’t. 

The Impossible Gentlemen, ‘Clockmaker’ (9:15)

My next choice is a band called Buhaina, an Afro-jazz ensemble with a line-up of Charles ‘Phred’ Farret on bass clarinet, Nii Kojo Yaw Saki, known as Kojo, on percussion, Matt Nickson on flute, Trevor Nxumalo on alto, Gerald N’Guijoel on percussion and Anthony Haller on double bass. The two best known names there, are Matt and Phred, who achieved immortality when they were donated to Manchester’s premier jazz club, Matt and Phred’s, which had previously been known as PJ Bell’s, and was an incubator of jazz in the city. Matt and Phred’s names are now eternally linked, though they had an unseemly bust-up in real life, but let’s dispense with the tittle-tattle. 

Buhaina included Mancunian and Ghanian players, which nicely flags the fact that cultural diversity is always a feature of the music. Think of the rejuvenating effect South African players – Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani –   had on the London scene. Manchester had its equivalent culture shock, but with musicians from Ghana. Kojo’s father, Stanley Saki, founded Waduku, the most prominent hi-life/Afro jazz band in the North West. The tune ‘Sweet P’ was written by another Ghanian musician, Danny Okpoti, a saxophonist who played with ET Mensah in Accra and, upon moving to the UK in the sixties, first landed in Newcastle. He was in an early line-up of The Animals and jammed with Ian and Mike Carr. In terms of fame, it may have been a backward step to move to Manchester, but he was active at grassroots level. I heard him play at a jam session down the road from me at the Grants Arms in Hulme, and once I visited him in his flat on the Rochdale Road. It was impeccably tidy and had pictures of Jesus Christ and Bob Marley on the walls. He was a lovely man and died a year or so later, in the late nineties. So this is ‘Sweet P’ by Buhaina, written by Danny Okpoti, from the album Swallows and Africans on the Iroko label. Let’s play it for Danny Okpoti.   

Buhaina – ‘Sweet P’ (8:10)

Next up is the quartet Whirl. I’ll play it first and then give you the line-up. One of them is well known in Manchester jazz circles under another guise. 

Whirl, ‘Freewheeling’ (6:11) 

Right. Helen Pillinger played tenor saxophone, Nicki Dupuy was on double bass and Andy Hay played drums. The guitarist and composer was Steve Mead, who is better known as the artistic director of Manchester Jazz Festival, and a very charming fellow. Thinking about it, MJF could not have achieved what it has, without a creative musician in the driving seat.

Only last week I became Facebook friends with Mick Waterfield, Steve Mead’s faithful lieutenant. He told me he’d quit MJF and gone back to his first trade, cabinet making, and was making bespoke furniture. This was news to me. I’ve missed the last two Manchester Jazz Festivals because I was away in Spain. It’s typical in a way because I always tended to be behind with the news as a roving jazz reporter. One day I bumped into Helen (Helen Pillinger, who played the saxophone there), and she told me that Richard and Nikki Iles had been separated for two years. I insisted on calling them a husband-and-wife team in the City Life jazz listings. A few weeks ago I bumped into Helen at Unicorn and she told me that the piece we’ve just heard is called ‘Freewheeling’. The information on the disc, a limited release made for promotional purposes, is lacking or confusing.

There’s a continuity, of course, because many Golden Age musicians were still active in the Silver Age. Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz epitomise a certain strand of vintage Manchester jazz, as their name suggests. The late Mart Rodger was not known primarily as a composer. Yet here he is on his own ‘Then It Changed’, a bittersweet evocation of bygone times…. 

Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz, ‘Then It Changed’ (4:04)

The line-up is Mart Rodger, clarinet; Allan Dent, trumpet; Terry Brunt, trombone; Alec Collins, piano; Tim Roberts, banjo; Colin Smith, bass; and Pete Staples, drums. It comes from Makin’ Whoopee, a 1993 collaboration with singer Marion Montgomery, who, needless to say, sat out on that performance. Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz, to my certain knowledge, never played the Manchester Jazz Festival.  

The title ‘Then It Changed’ tells you that Mart is remembering things past, but poignant, bitter-sweet nostalgia is not confined to the old-timers. This next comes from the Steve Chadwick/Ed Barnwell Quartet and is called ‘Going Back to the Village’…

Steve Chadwick/Ed Barnwell Quartet, ‘Going Back to the Village’ (7:19)

The line-up is Steve Chadwick on cornet, Ed Barnwell, piano, Matt Owens, bass and either Danny Ward or Rob Turner on drums. No line-up is given on my demo, which came wrapped in a piece of paper, and both were members of the band at different times. Steve Chadwick and Rob Turner will crop up again in my survey but I wanted to have something by Ed Barnwell, who is outstanding even in that crowded field of great Manchester pianists. In fact, Ed Barnwell comes from Harrogate, but he studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and adorned the Manchester music scene for a few years back there. ‘Going Back to the Village’ was written by Matt Owens. There’s a good version on Matt Owens’ album The Aviator’s Ball, but this version, without the sweeteners, has the edge, I think.

You’ll note that jazz musicians, if untethered from the music stand and allowed their own voice, will go pluck their hearts and place them directly on their sleeves. Both ‘Then It Changed’ and ‘Going Back to the Village’ illustrate the tendency. But one man’s tender warmth is another man’s sentimentality. Each listener must draw that line for themselves. This is called ‘The Generous Heart’, and it’s Jon Thorne’s heartfelt tribute to his mentor on bass, Danny Thompson. Gilad Atzmon takes the clarinet solo and JoJo Thorne is the singer.

Jon Thorne, ‘The Generous Heart’ (6:14)

Danny Thompson’s own musical idol was Charles Mingus, and so Jon absorbed Mingus by osmosis, and made the most of it by forming the Mingus tribute big band, Oedipus Complex. Mingus was known for his mercurial moods, but was never twee. I think we should be indulgent of his followers. It came from the heart, I think.

The Magic Hat Ensemble maintain the quest of some of the more searching hard boppers. ‘Speak No Evil’ is a Wayne Shorter tune, and the band contains the cream of the Silver Age players. I’ll identify them afterwards, but dig the way drummer Rob Turner changes metre at the drop of a magic hat. We can call off the search for Manchester’s Tony Williams. 

Magic Hat Ensemble, ‘Speak No Evil’ (8.10)

That’s from the album, Made in Gorton. I was in Gorton last Saturday, so I can appreciate the piquancy of the title. The Magic Hat Ensemble comprised Steve Chadwick on cornet, Andrzej Baranek on piano, Nick Blacka on bass, Tony Ormesher on guitar and Rob Turner on drums. Steve Chadwick moved to London, and  is now collaborating with Swedish folk musicians from what I read on Facebook. Andrzej Baranek is still active in the area, and Mike Hall, the saxophonist and jazz educator, wants to find a free night to go see him (that’s another Facebook snippet). Nick Blacka and Rob Turner have riding high with GoGo Penguin (I shall return to GoGo Penguin), and Tony Ormesher, who studied at the Guildhall School in London with John Parricelli, is now back in his hometown, Liverpool. (He gets around though and in 2006 won the Berlin Jazz and Blues award.) His father, Tony Ormesher Snr, plays guitar in the Original Panama Jazz Band, a carry-over from the Golden Age. Father and son have been known to play as a duo at Hillary Steppe, Chorlton, on a Sunday night.     

And the hidden track from Made in Gorton by the Magic Hat Ensemble brings the first half to a close, thanks.  

Second set 

Alan Barnes, who was born in Altrincham, is a man out of time: chronologically he belongs to the Silver Age but spiritually, he comes from the Golden Age. Here he is with Scott Hamilton and the David Newman Trio on the Zoot Sims’ tune, ‘Zootcase’. It belong here because of Alan (on alto sax; Scott Hamilton is on tenor) but also because of bassist Matt Miles and drummer Steve Brown, who made their own contributions to Manchester jazz… 

Alan Barnes & Scott Hamilton, ‘Zootcase’ (5:50)… 

Matt Miles and Steve Brown studied by day at the RNCM, and woodshedded by night at PJ Bell’s. Steve Brown moved to London and the next time I saw him was at the Royal Exchange playing with Stan Tracey. It was only then I realised how good he was. I next caught him, reunited with Matt Miles, at an Alan Barnes gig at RNCM. Alan Barnes, one of the great wits of British jazz, introduced them thus: “If you don’t like their playing you haven’t got far to go to complain.” 

Another of Manchester’s favourite sons is the late, great piano-player John Taylor. This next is a collaboration with the Creative Jazz Orchestra, a Manchester-based ensemble with a floating line-up directed by Nick Purnell. And although every member was an outstanding soloist, as was John Taylor, here they opt for brevity, enigma and collectivity… 

John Taylor and the Creative Jazz Orchestra, ‘Without’ (2.00)

‘Without’ is probably the most accessible thing from Exits and Entrances, an album from 2001 of inner-directed self-exploration. Some of the same players – like Iain Dixon and Andy Schofield – can be heard to more rousing effect on a 1999 album, From Here to There, by flugelhorn player Richard Iles. This is a tune called ‘All Good Things’. Note the ‘Clockmaker’-like exultancy. That’s either a general feature of Manchester’s Silver Age or a sign that Mike Walker is in the room.… 

Richard Iles, ‘All Good Things’ (7:12)

Let us now praise the journeyman jazz musician. Manchester jazz would be nothing without its unsung heroes, the musicians who ply the North West circuit, perhaps playing standards in a pub with a guest soloist within a fifty-mile radius of Stockport. Bassist Ken Marley is one such, and doubtless he’s played many gigs since dropping in at The Railway on March 31, accompanying Alan Barnes and Mike Hall with Paul Hartley and Eryl Roberts. Once in a blue moon such journeymen will release a CD, and then, Lookout! That’s the name of the album by the Ken Marley Trio actually. His partners are Richard Wetherall on piano and Matt Home on drums. This is the closest we’ve got to a piano trio from the esteemed Richard Wetherall. He seizes the opportunity with both hands. 

Ken Marley Trio, ‘Tribute to L.A.’ (5:02)  

This next comes from Kathy and John Dyson who went under the name Inside Outside at the time of recording in 1998. I’m reminded of Herb and Lorraine Geller, and that very special rapport you sometimes get with musicians who happen to be married. It comes from the pure pleasure, pure tenderness and pure telepathy of two shared lives. 

Inside Outside, ‘No Time For the Blues’ (4:33) 

I’m told that GoGo Penguin were the sensation of the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival and I myself witnessed a similar eruption of euphoria at their MJF appearance in 2012. GoGo Penguin met whilst studying at RNCM. I can guess some of their inspirations, like the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, and some others I needed to be told about, like Aphex Twin. ‘Fanfares’, the title track of their debut album on Gondwana, Matt Halsall’s label, is additionally influenced, we’re told, by György Ligeti, mostly familiar from the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Einojuhani Rauavaara, a Finnish composer who died in 2016. It’s a tribute to RNCM that such arcane names are included on the syllabus.

GoGo Penguin, ‘Fanfares’ (4:51)

GoGo Penguin at that time were pianist Chris Illingworth, drummer Rob Turner, and bassist Grant Russell, although the bass chair is now occupied by Nick Blacka.  

In summer 2001 an Asian lad, a clarinet player, brimful with energy, knocked on my door and dropped off a demo for my listening pleasure. This was not common. As a general rule jazz musicians are rubbish at self-promotion. He had the usual suspects with him, namely Stuart McCallum, Jon Thorne and Danny Ward. This is what it sounded like.

Arun Ghosh, ‘I’ll Swing For You’ 

 His name was Arun Ghosh. The tune is optimistically entitled ‘I’ll Swing For You’. Naturally, I filed it away without giving it a second thought or a second play, and Arun Ghosh didn’t appear on my radar again until perhaps ten years down the line, and this is what he sounded like then… 

Arun Ghosh, ‘Caliban’s Revenge’ 

‘Caliban’s Revenge’ was commissioned by the Royal Exchange for a production of ‘The Tempest’. In the ten years I wasn’t looking, Arun pioneered a form of Indo-jazz fusion he called ‘Northern Namaste’ and moved to London where he enlarged his musical circle with the players on Primal Odyssey, from which ‘Caliban’s Revenge’ comes: Idris Rahman on tenor sax, Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet, bassist Liran Donin and drummer Pat Illingworth.  

Seamus Cater is not a native but comes from Derbyshire and spent some time in Essex and Devon. He moved to the North West in 1995 to take up a place at Salford College (it was still Salford College in 1995). He formed a band circa 1998 with guitarist Mike Outram, a local lad, who took lessons from Mike Walker and earlier, my dear pal Pete Bocking. I remember being with Pete seeing John Ellis’ Big Bang featuring Mike Outram headline at Manchester Jazz Festival in 1996, and Pete was murmuring approvingly, ‘That’s my boy’ throughout. Milo Fell is one of those drummers who propel things nicely with delicately placed accents, and bassist Gary Culshaw was in Some Other Country with Mike Walker. They are collectively known as Rare Birds. Birds of passage might be more apt, since Mike Outram and Milo Fell were shortly to decamp to London and Seamus Cater was last seen in Amsterdam. They left behind one cracking album, the eponymous Rare Birds. It has a good version of ‘Clockmaker’, but ‘E.G.T.’, a co-composition by Seamus Cater and Mike Outram, attains similar heights. 

Rare Birds, ‘E.G.T.’ 

One of the most extraordinary nights as  a jazz correspondent came at Manchester Jazz Festival in July, 2011, at a night at BOTW headed The Imaginary Delta. It was an extended tribute by a very advanced pianist, Adam Fairhall, to his musical ancestors, It had shouts and yells and jollity and elegance and chaos and catharsis, and it seemed to me a more authentic recreation of antebellum New Orleans than anything ventured by the trad revivalists. They were greatly aided by enlisting technology to access the actual voices of Victoria Spivey and Ivy Smith, so there was a ghostly element too. The Imaginary Delta was resurrected by James Allsopp on clarinet, Chris Bridges on trombone, our old friend Steve Chadwick on cornet, Adam Fairhall on piano, Tim Fairhall on bass, and Gaz Hughes on drums. Paul J Rogers who fed the voices of the blues singers from a laptop and manipulated them on-stage via a gizmo he called the diddley bow. This is ‘Harlem Fast Shout’… 

Adam Fairhall – The Imaginary Delta, ‘Harlem Fast Shout’ (6:01) 

The concert was recorded and issued on a CD – Adam Fairhall - The Imaginary Delta on Slam Records. By the way, that clearly audible whooahhaaa is my standard whoop of euphoria. So there you go, I actually feature on one of the records on the playlist tonight. 

A guitar duo, I think, to play us out after the anarchy of The Imaginary Delta. 

Stuart McCallum is a player who utilises loops and pedals and other electronic paraphernalia and might even forfeit the jazz tag, except he’s been a fixture at Matt and Phred’s since it opened and no-one works harder or is more committed to the principle of musical freedom. Here he forsakes the gizmos and favours straightforward beauty. And Mike Walker is a player of such emotional intensity that I’ve seen him weep as he plays, and sometimes you get the feeling he lashes himself and his audience into frenzy to sublimate depthless agony and joy. So I rejoice at the serenity he’s found at this late stage of his career. I’m sure you’ll recognise the tune.

Stuart McCallum & Mike Walker, ‘Alfie’ (5:28)

Does it follow that we now languish in the Bronze Age? I hope not. Remains of silver can still readily be found and possibly even some gold if you look hard enough. It’s just that I now hunt for treasure on a voluntary basis, like everyone else. 

That was Manchester’s Silver Age, ladies and gentlemen. 

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