Hugh Hopper: Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening – Phil Howitt (Jazz in Britain) – an update

It seemed appropriate to mark the Facelift blog’s 100th article with an update research progress for the Hugh Hopper biography. More regular updates on the project are on the Facelift Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1928474387265516

Well, bubbling away in the background I seem have carried out 24 ‘live’ interviews in 2021, with a further 20 or so email interviews and many other shorter snippets and contributions. After a bit of a break over the summer for various reasons, things resumed in earnest in the autumn and I am already preparing to continue in full swing in the New Year of 2022. There have been some surprises, some frustrations (not least that to work at the pace I’d like to, I need to completely give up my day job AND find a way of doing without sleep) but the response from musicians and other luminaries to help create a lasting written legacy for Hugh’s story remains disarmingly generous.

January 2021 started off with an exchange of reminiscences with Starvin’ Marvin Siau, Kevin Ayers’ guitarman, who recalled and shared videos of Hugh playing with both musicians at Gong 25 in 1994, a collaboration I’d forgotten about.

Then my powers of German translation were stretched by a series of lengthy narratives from Alfred 23 Harth about his (and Hugh’s) in Lindsay Cooper’s ‘Oh Moscow’ project in the late Eighties and early Nineties, including ventures behind the Iron Curtain both before and after it was destroyed.

Alfred 23 Harth (right) with Lindsay Cooper and Phil Minton

I also spoke to Lawrence Fletcher, a saxophonist who collaborated with Hugh on a much more low-key level around Canterbury in various jazz groups during the same era. And to finish the month off, an often riotous interview with Yumi Hara, Japanese musician who appears right at the end of the Hugh musical story in 2007/8

Yumi Hara in conversation

February started with a lengthy chat (there will hopefully be more) with Frank vd Kooij, Dutch saxophonist who played over 100 gigs with Hugh and was behind a whole host of Dutch and Franglo Dutch Hugh Hopper bands, as well as NDIO, whose posthumous release ‘Zenith’, released this year, I was asked to write sleevenotes for, incorporating some of the many things we talked about in the interview.

Frank vd Kooij in conversation
The author with vinyl and CD versions of ‘Zenith’

Henry Franzoni, drummer with Caveman Shoestore, gave me his thoughts about the album he recorded with Hugh and later Hughscore members Elaine di Falco and Fred Chalenor plus a link to a previously unreleased track called ‘The Hugest Hopper’!

. Another saxophonist, Scottish resident Steve Kettley spoke to me about his involvement in North and South, one of whose gigs in 1995 appeared on CD as part of the Hugh Hopper archive CD set

; whilst Brian Hopper gave me his fourth interview for the book, this one concentrating on his time alongside Hugh in the Soft Machine in 1969.

Brian Hopper in his studio in Hastings

A very productive month continued with a lengthy and informative video call with film director Sally Potter (about the Oh Moscow project)

Sally Potter

plus the first ‘duo’ interview: this one with Sophia Domancich (who played with Hugh in Equipe Out alongside Didier Malherbe, Elton Dean and Pip Pyle), but also, unexpectedly, her partner drummer Simon Goubert, who was one quarter of Soft Bounds in the Noughties alongside Sophia and Elton Dean.

Sophia Domancich/Simon Goubert

Finally, a couple of snippets, or possibly near misses: a brief exchange with Zoot Money about a gig that took place right before Hugh joined the Soft Machine in 1968 (he remembered nothing, but his response was quite amusing); plus a very nice response from Karen Mantler after I had attempted to contact her mother Carla Bley about Hugh’s involvement in her band in 1977, including permission to use Carla’s line drawing of the band for the book!

Karen Mantler/Pip Pyle. Photo: Joanna Refrain

March saw two phone call interviews with esteemed drummers from Hugh’s work in the 1970s, the first a very illuminating one with Mike Travis, whose delightful collaborations with Hugh continued in the Nineties, and the other Trevor Tomkins who played with Hugh in Gilgamesh in 1978.

Trevor Tomkins

Then unexpectedly, some really nice contributions from trombonist Nick Evans, who gave me a few snippets about his time with the Soft Machine septet.

Soft Machine Septet 1969 – Nick Evans third from left (photographer unknown)

There were 4 live interviews in April, but first I explored the Bone connection: the US power trio which had Nick Didkovsky and John Roulat at its core and whose albums ‘Uses Wrist Grab’ and the posthumous ‘Gift of Purpose’ represent Hugh stretching out outrageously right at the end of his career: both musicians contributed their thoughts via email.

John Roulat

The extremely amiable Geoffrey Richardson gave me his thoughts via Zoom, followed by a fascinating hour with Roy Babbington who gave me an insight into his early days as a guest with Soft Machine, and followed it up with further thoughts via email.

Roy Babbington (photo: Jason Pay)

Shyamal Maitra, percussionist extraordinaire from Gong and Fluvius, spoke to me about his unique musical journey from India to France, and more particularly about his work with Hugh and Mark Hewins within Mashu.

Shyamal Maitra

Geoff Leigh, of Henry Cow, put pen to paper to tell me about the brief appearance in the mid Eighties of Oddjob, a Dutch-based band which also somehow included Hugh and Phil Miller.

Geoff Leigh

Then, thanks to a chance exchange of messages with Van der Graaf Generator biographer Jim Christopoulos, I had the chance to contact drummer Guy Evans, and elicit some wonderful memories of Hugh visiting Oxes Cross in Devon in 1981, a meeting that spawned a number of guest appearances on recordings by Mother Gong and others.

Guy Evans/Yumi Hara

And the month ended with one of my favourite chats, with the effusive Jeff Sherman, one third of Glass and virtual collaborator with Hugh on a number of experimental pieces, many unreleased (as of yet).

Jeff Sherman

Things were starting to slow down a bit in May after this burst of activity, but not before a lovely hour spent in the company of Rick Biddulph, a fellow bass player who had played alongside Hugh (on guitar) in the ‘Hugh Hopper Pig Band’ with Lol Coxhill and Pip Pyle, plus partner Celia Wellcome who offered some lovely insights into Hugh’s work with her late partner Alan Gowen in the late Seventies.

Celia Wellcome/Rick Biddulph

This led directly on to a fantastic insightful interview with sound engineer Pete Ball, who had engineered ‘Two Rainbows Daily’ in Alan’s front room!

Pete Ball

Further activities in may included thoughts from guitarist Tim Crowther about his work with Hugh on the Conglomerate album in the mid-Nineties, as well as snippets from percussionist Frank Perry about the Keith Tippett album ‘Frames’, which Hugh produced in 1978. In May there also arrived a memory stick crammed with artefacts, memories and much unreleased music from French guitarist Micael Gidon, who worked extensively with Hugh in the Nineties. The bundle included a lovely tribute from Micael’s partner, the performance artist Mure Natale.

June was marked by a typically erudite and detailed response to a series of questions from Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler: Chris played with Hugh in the Oh Moscow project but later more extensively with him in Brainville 3, which included regular performances of duo work.

After a summer off, it took the good work of Dutch friend Charles van Waalwyk to kickstart research again as Charles travelled to interview drummer Pieter Bast (of Hugh Hopper Goes Dutch, Hugh Hopper Band, NDIO etc) and sent me a transcript of the interview.

Pieter Bast

This was in September but it wasn’t until being grounded through COVID in October with time to burn, that things ramped up again in a number of new directions. French musician Chrystelle Blanc-Lanuate, who contributed flute to a number of projects in the early Noughties (including Hughscore) sent me her thoughts,

Chrystelle Blanc-Lanaute (second from left)

whilst keyboard player Peter Lemer sent me a snippet about life with In Cahoots (with Hugh, Phil Miller, Elton Dean and Pip Pyle) in the late Eighties. Frances Knight, the wonderfully lyrical pianist who recorded two improvised albums with Hugh (‘The Swimmer’, ‘Mind In the Trees’) sent me some reminiscences via email

Frances Knight

and another chance sighting on Facebook prompted me to contact Virginia Tate, an American musician who recorded a number of unreleased tracks with Hugh in 1999. Initial insights with the promise of more to come… An exciting month was topped off with a very amiable couple of hours spent in the virtual presence of Julian Whitfield, who not only recorded much of Hugh’s output at Delta Studios at the turn of the millennium but also made a very fine (and unusual) album ‘In A Dubious Manner’ with him there.

Julian Whitfield

No less than 5 interviews in November: the first was the longest yet – a very detailed and entertaining chat with Lisa Lawson, who as Lisa Klossner recorded ‘Far Cry’, ‘Different’, ‘Cryptids’ and various other released, emerging and unreleased material, again through the Nineties and beyond.

Lisa Lawson (Lisa Klossner)

Two tentative enquiries through websites produced two informative live interviews with American musicians connected with Carla Bley’s 1977 band which also included Elton Dean and Gary Windo: these with tuba maestro Bob Stewart and French horn player John Clark.

Bob Stewart

John Clark

Meanwhile I had also tracked down (in Denmark) keyboard player Frank Roberts who played on both ‘Hoppertunity Box’ and Isotope’s ‘Deep End’, for a further interview. Alex Maguire, one of the masterminds behind the Phil Miller memorial concerts, talked to me about his crossovers with Hugh in the Noughties and gave me some fascinating insights into the Progman Cometh festivals in the States.

Frank Roberts

December was mainly spent transcribing the November interviews as well as sowing seeds for the New Year, but great to see the year off in the company of American keyboard player and vocalist Elaine di Falco, who recorded three albums with Hugh as Caveman Shoestore and Hughscore. That was the first of hopefully a number of chats with her.

Elaine di Falco

There are lots of things in the pipeline for 2022, with a first interview lined up for 10 January and lots of other possibilities bubbling away and plenty of more research required before writing starts in earnest. I’m going to keep a lid on precisely who I’m hoping to interview as often things stall, take different routes etc but do keep checking back on the Facebook group for regular updates. Any snippets from people reading this, artefacts, contact ideas etc are always appreciated, as well as obviously your support when this book is eventually published by the good people at Jazz in Britain.

7 thoughts on “Hugh Hopper: Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening – Phil Howitt (Jazz in Britain) – an update”

  1. This is going to be brilliant, Phil. Thanks for all your work. Would I be the only person interested in having the full transcripts of the interviews as an additional purchase?

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    1. That’s a really interesting one… it would be nice to make some of this publicly available, although only once tidied up and vetted! I did consider at the start of the process writing an article for each of the interviews linking into the musicians’ other work, but it’s just too much to tackle at present and would hold the book up further… But will keep this in mind, particularly if there is more interest here. Hugh’s career was just so crazily varied that there’s a fascination (for me at least) with quite how diverse the backgrounds of all his collaborators actually are…

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  2. Bonjour Phil, je suis impressionné par le travail titanesque que tu as effectué. Le travail de Hugh méritait vraiment d’être archivé en raison de son talent de musicien, mais à mon sens, surtout pour faire comprendre et ressentir la profonde humanité qui l’animait et qu’il savait prodiguer généreusement avec une totale humilité, en témoigne le grand nombre d’heureuses collaborations que tu as recueillies. Travailler avec lui à été un enseignement qui est gravé dans mon coeur et il restera pour moi un grand maître de sagesse. Merci à toi qui sait le voir et le transmettre. Micaël GIDON

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