There’s a whole wave of unreleased material of fabulous vintage being unearthed across at Jazz in Britain and ‘Penumbra II’, in addition to being of clear interest to readers of this blog, might be one of the best yet. Dating from a lost radio broadcast from 1971, not long before Karl Jenkins jumped ship from Nucleus to join Soft Machine, this is a suite in three parts cumulatively clocking in at 30 minutes, (the length of a contemporary radio broadcast at that time). And it contains both musical styles and personnel common to both groups around this time, albeit that Jenkins somewhat turns the tables in that as bandleader and composer, Ian Carr (here on flugelhorn) is one of his subordinates (rather than vice versa as things were in Nucleus).
As detailed in Aymeric Leroy’s typically thorough and incisive sleevenotes, this session was so buried in Jenkins’ memory banks that he hadn’t been able to recall it in a conversation for the ‘L’Ecole de Canterbury book’ around 20 years ago (that was rectified for a more recent conversation specifically for this release, snippets of which appear within the 16 page booklet) – that’s perhaps surprising given the coherence and significance of this excellent performance. The 10-piece collective performing ‘Penumbra II’ is peppered with familiar names: Jenkins, Roy Babbington, John Marshall, Ray Warleigh and Alan Skidmore all had, or would have connections with Soft Machine; Dave MacRae would go on to play with Matching Mole; Brian Smith and Chris Spedding also appeared with Nucleus. Whilst the opening movement, a 4 minute introduction, is really just a scene setter, the centrepiece is the wonderful second movement, particularly once it breaks out of a beautiful Macrae-led piano trio melody (on which Roy Babbington plays double bass). Babbington switches to electric bass and the piece is built around his admirably metronomic groove as the various band members whirl around him. Star of the show may well be the deft licks of guitarist Spedding but there are wonderful crescendos, strident blares, muted responses and exultant solos from the 4 strong brass section, as well as hints of later, more exotic Nucleus grooves, thanks to the augmentation of Frank Ricotti’s marimba and congas to Marshall’s backbeat. This ambience of this piece is reminiscent of the wonderful laid-back detachment of 1970’s ‘Elastic Rock’, held in glorious suspension whilst tension rises slowly, is released, then builds again…
Whilst the highlight is undoubtedly this 19 minute second movement, the third movement will be instantly familiar to Soft Machinists, with a somewhat different version of what would become ‘Fanfare’ on Soft Machine ‘6’. At the risk of alienating a significant number of people here, I’ve always regarded the 6/7 era as a slightly muted affair, where for all the notable underpinning themes, the soloing sometimes seemed strangely soulless, stripped of the unpredictability of its predecessors, with ‘Fanfare’, with its flattened saxophone theme the embodiment of that approach. If that is indeed the case, then the version here is its antithesis: a multi-faceted blast with fluid soloing and upbeat interjections all around the room – its conclusion might be somewhat messy but is symptomatic of a rather joyous addition to our collections.
It was whilst in Canterbury itself at the start of October (starting a separate project, details of which I will share soon…) that I got a message from Steve Hillage clearing up another of my queries about the Steam Radio Tapes sessions on which both himself and Hugh played.
Meanwhile, on the Glass bandcamp website and the Phil Miller Legacy site, one of the most important Canterbury releases for years, namely the Canterburied in Seattle recordings, was appearing (a second even longer set of recordings would follow later in October), important for showcasing largely unreleased live collaborations and guest appearances at the Progman Festivals of 2002 and 2003 by the likes of Richard Sinclair, Phil Miller, Elton Dean, Pip Pyle, Fred Baker etc etc, and of course Hugh Hopper. Hugh appears extensively on the second set at https://therealglass.bandcamp.com/album/progman-2003-complete in an all star pop band, and in the first https://therealglass.bandcamp.com/album/canterburied-in-seattle-2002 memorably playing with Hughscore on ‘Was A Friend’, as well as a cut down version of Softworks performing ‘Ratlift’, but in truth these releases are just wonderful audio documents of latter day Canterbury music in action…
There was also an email in my intray from drummer Laurie Allan, who I’d contacted about his various musical connections with Hugh, an exchange which was friendly enough but with little further detail..
Driving back from a second trip to Canterbury I’d started listening in depth to Caravan’s ‘All Over You Too’, which features a cameo appearance from Hugh on ‘Ride’. I’d already spoken a little to both Pye and Julian Gordon Hastings about this a while ago, but it struck me that Doug Boyle, whose imprint is all over the reworkings of classic Caravan material here, might have some thoughts – and indeed he did!
Doug Boyle – taken from Doug’s Facebook site, pic Carolyn Longstaff
On the same trip I spent 2 or 3 hours in the company of Brian Hopper in a sunlit back street of Hastings – a chance to catch up chat for the first time since the Phil Miller memorial concert in 2019.
Brian Hopper (left) pictured in Hastings
I woke up one morning in November to the most unexpected birthday treat, an email from near namesake Phil Howard, a drummer so elusive that he appeared to have disappeared off the face of the earth for the last 47 years. Phil gave me a few cryptic and pointed comments about the music business before disappearing back into the ether again!
Shortly after this, I got the lowdown from American multi-instrumentalist and composer Dave Willey on his ‘Immeasurable Currents’ album – Hugh made contributions to 4 of the tracks on this album having been blown away by Dave’s ‘Hamster Theatre’ band at Progman in 2002, although the CD would only see the light of day in the years after Hugh’s death. Immeasurable Currents is still available here: https://altrockproductions.bandcamp.com/album/immeasurable-currents
In the very early 1990s, when I was first in touch with Hugh Hopper, he passed on an A4 sheet (long since lost) of people I should contact in the early stages to help with development of the Facelift fanzine. One name on there was Steve Lake, who I recognized immediately as being the Melody Maker journalist who wrote a lot of seminal articles on Canterbury scene artists in the mid Seventies. I never pursued this particular line of enquiry at the time, but tracked Steve down via ECM records in November, sent him a series of questions and then sat back in amazement as I received, over the next few weeks, a set of beautifully considered and written responses, alongside scans of correspondence which shuttled between Hugh and Steve during the 70s, 80s and 90s. A real coup!
An important initial contact at the start of research in 2020 was Tim Bowness – Tim, in his capacity as Burning Shed co-supremo, was responsible for the release of various CD-Rs involving Hugh (including Jazzloops and The Stolen Hour), but also performed live with Hugh at at least one of the Burning Shed showcases in Norwich, as well as including Hugh as a collaborator on his solo album ‘My Hotel Year’. We talked about all this and more during an extensive interview in mid November. One further bit of news right at the end of the year was the news that Jazzloops and The Stolen Hour would be re-released on Cherry Red Records in March 2023 at budget price.
At the end of November I had a lovely exchange of emails with Herm Mew, who I’ve met over the years a number of times as she often travelled with husband Phil Miller to gigs. Herm had already agreed to let me publish a wonderful painting she did of Short Wave in the garden at home, with Hugh in the foreground, but we talked in a bit more detail about the interweaving of her life with that of Hugh and others both in Canterbury growing up, but also in the late Sixties in London through to Hugh and Phil’s musical interactions. Herm is instrumental of course, in the Phil Miller Legacy project which amongst other things has posted many recordings which involved both Hugh and Phil here https://philmillerthelegacy.com/music/
And to round the year off, probably the most famous interviewee yet: thanks to a few connections facilitated by Pam Windo, I got the chance to speak to Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason – the context being mainly, once again, Gary Windo’s ‘Steam Radio Tapes’ sessions – we spoke largely about the use of the embryonic Britannia Row Studios to host these.
Where will 2023 take us? It feels like the vast majority of interviews for the book are now done, although in theory there could be as many as a further 50 people I’d like to speak to! There are inevitably some avenues for research which won’t go any further but I continue to be amazed at how generous Hugh’s collaborators, be they fellow musicians, record label owners, friends etc etc are with their time and thoughts, even though I am often asking about things which happened in excess of 50 years ago. Please keep looking at the Facelift Facebook page for more updates in 2023 and put a few pennies by for when the book eventually comes along!
… in which we sum up the research which took place between June and September 2022 for the forthcoming biography of Hugh Hopper to be entitled ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’ (to be published by Jazz in Britain).
June saw the release of ‘Branes, the album Glass member Jeff Sherman did as a distant collaboration with Hugh, to go alongside the various contributions Hugh had made to three separate Glass releases – all are available at https://therealglass.bandcamp.com/ . Jeff spoke to me at length about various work he had done with Hugh in an interview we did in 2021. In June I also had the first of 4 exchanges with people who had taken part in Gary Windo’s ‘Steam Radio Tapes’ sessions between 1976 and 78 at Britannia Row studios – this one with guitarist Richard Brunton, who had also appeared on the ‘Hoppertunity Box’ album.
Things were winding down a bit for the summer break, but in July I managed to eke out a few words from Veryan Weston about the Oh Moscow gigs in Russia in 1991. And then right at the end of the month I was privileged to get the much anticipated semi-tome from Kramer, musical maverick and Shimmy Disc at https://shimmy-disc.net/ . Kramer has much to say about the two duo albums he did with Hugh: ‘A Remark Hugh Made’ and ‘Huge’, as well as the shortlived supergroup ‘Brainville’ (with Kramer, Hugh, Daevid Allen and Pip Pyle), and there had been a suggestion that he might hold this back for his own memoir (which will certainly be a blast!), but almost overnight he was kind enough to pen and give me 15 or so pages of text about these and the never-intended-for-release ‘Still Alive in 95’ album recorded during Hugh’s first trip to Japan.
Staying with the Japanese connection, July also saw the release of a 6-CD box set on Esoteric Records of Stomu Yamash’ta material, including the 2 CDs which Hugh Hopper played a full part in, ‘Freedom is Frightening’ and the film soundtrack ‘One by One’.
Back to phone calls and Zoom for August and after a chance posting on Facelift the month kicked off with an interview with ‘Kip’ Stewart, who grew up with Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen and the Hoppers in Kent and had some entertaining stories of the very early days… And then a lengthy conversation with drummer Charles Hayward, who talked me through his involvement with Hugh for Clear Frame, Numero d’Vol, the Triklops project (with Lisa Klossner) and other even lesser known projects. A very illuminating couple of hours.
It was round about this point when news came through of the sad death of another drummer (and interviewee for the book) Trevor Tomkins..
September also saw the latest in a series of email snippets from American musician Virginia Tate – her unfinished and unreleased album with Hugh: ‘V’ remains one of the unheard mysteries of Hugh’s later output, although enticing written contributions about the project continue to arrive periodically. Electronic experimentalist Bernard Wostheinrich sent me a few thoughts about a Burning Shed showcase gig he did with Hugh in 2002 in Norwich, whilst an email to flautist/saxophonist Jimmy Hastings brought a friendly response in relation to involvement in Soft Machine’s Third and Fourth albums but, as would reasonably be expected, few specifics. This became something of a familiar theme as the year progressed …!
Another Schnittpunkte snippet following communication with Belgian guitarist Gilbert Isbin, this produced some details of a concert he did with Hugh in 2005, as well as a fabulous audio document here:
In late September I received a phone call from guitarist Gary Boyle; we’d spoken a couple of times in the last 2 years about the Hugh project, as well as an interview a little further back for the Isotope at the BBC release on Hux Records. The last time we’d spoken, it was in still during lockdown and I implored Gary to let me know if he played any gigs post-COVID (we live in the same sliver of Pennine countryside). True to his word, he did and my thoughts of his pop up gig at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge (where I had a chance to meet and chat for the first time – with some hilarious tales of Bilschen in 1969). Review of his concert here: https://canterburyscene.com/2022/09/30/the-gary-boyle-band-puzzle-hall-inn-29-september-2022/
March kicked off with an entertaining hour in the virtual company of Johnny Atkinson, chanteur extraordinaire whose band Hugh played with – Johnny appears singing vocals on several tracks on Hugh’s albums ‘Odd Friends’ and ‘Parabolic Versions’ but has made more recent albums here: https://johnnyatkinson.bandcamp.com/music
Eddy Moust was another of those lesser known names (to me) who had cropped up on Hugh’s timeline, a bit of delving revealed him to be a Belgian guitarist still active on the scene, and he sent me a few lines about his one off gig in a Dutch library with Hugh in 1985!
In the middle of the month Richard Sinclair popped up from nowhere for what turned out to be the 50th ‘live’ interview for the book, adding a few thoughts to the story he’d given me a couple of years previously – he has proven to be increasingly active with gigs in the second half of the year in Italy, which is great to see.
Richard Sinclair in conversation!
One of the great unexplained items on the Hugh Hopper discography, which I’d compiled early on in the research process (and which is constantly being added to) is the ‘Mind Capsule’ album, an excellent heavy riffing guitar project from Rob Sadowski over in the States, featuring a monstrously foot-tapping version of ‘Facelift’ including a guest appearance from Hugh himself. A series of email exchanges elicited the full story behind this release, as well, as later in the year two physical copies of the album, one of which I was able to give personally to Hugh’s brother Brian.
Mid March saw a series of lengthy email exchanges with keyboard player Steve Franklin. I saw Steve play alongside Hugh with In Cahoots in 1987, as the ‘odd one out’ amongst a lineup of Canterbury luminaries: Phil Miller, Pip Pyle, Elton Dean and Hugh, but of course he also collaborated with Hugh on both the excellent Numero d’Vol and Conglomerate projects, as well as a near miss for the North and South outfit which went up to Scotland in 1995. Steve got stuck in Bali during COVID and was still there when we communicated!
In Cahoots circa 1987: Steve Franklin far left
Another enticing entry in the timeline was a ‘Childhood Vigil’ at Canterbury Cathedral in 1990 with few further details, and I had a series of exchanges with Pam Mudge-Wood about this event which managed to combine appearances from various luminaries who may have included Richard Sinclair, Andy Ward, Peter Lemer and Ralph Steadman!
The end of the month saw me dipping my toes into researching another series of European musicians of whom I knew little. First of these was saxophonist Peter Ponzol who played alongside Hugh, Elton Dean and Joe Gallivan in Germany in March 1984.
All of this digging into unfamiliar names and places got me thinking – Hugh had an entry in his timeline for November 1994 saying simply ‘dubbing fuzz bass on Morcheeba’. Could this by any chance be ‘the’ Morcheeba, the trip hop outfit that came to the world’s attention in the wake of Portishead, Tricky etc. The dates implied that if Hugh had indeed done a session with Morcheeba, it would precede even the own band’s document of when they first became active. I tracked down Morcheeba’s record label Fly Agaric, who turned out to be run by Ross Godfrey, one of the two brothers who founded the band, and after a couple of promising emails, we ended up speaking – the session did indeed turn out to be a long-lost, day long session for a single track in a neighbouring studio to the Spice Girls, also recording a debut single. Both bands failed to secure a recording deal!
A brief break from researching, off to see Soft Machine at the Band on the Wall, where we saw former bandmates of Hugh’s Theo Travis, Fred Baker and John Etheridge play a rejuvenated gig with Nic France including Hugh’s ‘Kings and Queens’ before opening up April with the first 4 way interview – myself versus two members of the Delta Saxophone Quartet, namely Pete Whyman and Chris Caldwell, alongside occasional interventions from previous interviewee Frank van der Kooij. We covered the story of the Deltas commissioning composers to interpret classic Soft Machine tracks (many composed by Hugh) for the 2007 ‘Dedicated To You’ album at https://www.deltasax.com/. Myself and Chris went off piste whilst waiting for the others to join the Zoom call when Chris went into the story of the three saxophonists visiting North Korea … more on this at a later date…
Sax appeal: clockwise from top left: Pete Whyman, Frank vd Kooij, Phil Howitt, Chris Caldwell
Further delvings into the German/Austrian hinterlands via communication with musicians who had played with Hugh in pop up bands at the Rudersdorf Schnittpunkt festivals in 2005 and 2007, namely drummer Wolfgang Reisinger and guitarist Armin Pokorn who both gave me thoughts about brief appearances with Hugh: sadly Wolfgang passed away later in the year.