Derek Bailey Interview: September 2001
AAJ: You did put out that single of the original Joseph Holbrooke from 1965, which was interesting because of how surprisingly conventional it sounded.
DB: I like it. Well that is the only recording from that time that I'm aware of. I've got a feeling there's another one that Tony has got, I'm not sure. But the only one I'm aware of is of that afternoon, it was a rehearsal and there is about an hour or so of music. But I thought that piece [on the single] was most revealing of how we were. All the other pieces are more like rehearsals. The other pieces are OK but they don't demonstrate what I think we were trying to get at as well as that does.
AAJ: Will the rest of it ever see the light of day?
DB: There is another tape where we are playing with Lee Konitz. People want to put that out, but it is terrible.
AAJ: Terrible in what sense?
DB: It was a Lee gig, just conventional jazz. This was the beginning of 1966. We were playing almost entirely free most of the time. I think it's terrible because I don't think the music is any good. But we did play some good gigs with Lee, because we did a little tour. But this one I don't think is any good. Mind you, I've not heard it in years. As I remember, the only good playing on it is from Tony. Lee doesn't play too well for him, and me and Gavin don't play anything at all. Well, I don't like my playing. There has been pressure from various quarters to put it out, but I don't find that interesting. Some of this other rehearsal stuff is musically better, but then there is not a lot of point in it.
AAJ: Of historical interest only?
DB: There is maybe one piece that has some musical interest. But people do ask about it. Zorn wanted to put some of it out. It would be easy enough to get it out, but I don't think there is any musical justification. There is a lot of old stuff that comes out, and it is kind of like gossip, musical gossip. There were very good reasons for not putting them out in the first place. If it was any good, you would have put it out.
AAJ: But there is always that interest, though; the roots of people who are now vastly different. I think lots of the early SME stuff is interesting in how conventional it sounds and how rapidly it converges from jazz of the time.
DB: Well the one that Martin Davidson has just put out, Challenge, that was a conventional band; it wasn't intended to be a free band. When I first heard the record, before I played with SME, I was surprised because I'd always assumed SME was a free band. Then, when I got to play with them all that had gone, the pieces.
AAJ: They changed a huge amount over a very short period when they were playing at the Little Theatre.
DB: But Martin is voracious for old tapes. Whenever he visits anybody, he kind of hunts down the back of the settee looking for tape.
We've just put out an excellent record of the Steve Noble Trio - Steve, John Edwards and Alex Ward. [False Face Society Incus 47] Alex is playing guitar, he's a good guitarist. The record is very contemporary, actually. Anyway, they were here last night and we were having a few drinks (I'm still suffering from it today, actually) and we got talking about Tristan [Honsinger]. He's been ill and now he's OK apparently. I was reminded of something that I'd completely forgotten about; it's actually up there [points to a high shelf in his study]. And that is the first time Tristan and I played together, in 1975 in the south of France. I had a solo concert and I heard Tristan playing on the street - he used to play on the street a lot then · and I asked him to play with me on this concert. So we played, and I've got a recording of this concert and I've never listened to it. I thought it was a really enjoyable concert. I hadn't thought about it for years, but it came up in this conversation and I thought that I'd check it out. It's on one of these big reels - it might have turned to dust if I open the box! - that I'd forgotten about. So, we might dig it out.
AAJ: You say that was an enjoyable concert. If something feels enjoyable to you as you are doing it, does that usually mean it is musically good when you listen back to it?
AAJ: There's a tricky one.
DB: Recording this kind of thing is funny. It doesn't always get onto the tape. Sometimes it sounds better on tape; you hear it and think "Fuck, I didn't realise it was as good as that." So, it's not reliable. But if it's a very good concert it usually turns out to be OK. It's difficult to destroy a good concert. The quality of the recording doesn't matter if it's a really good concert. Nowadays, I really like playing in studios. I didn't used to like it, but I've done a lot of recording in studios in the last few years, and it's just a different place to play.
AAJ: Do you approach studio recording in a different way to live recording?
DB: It depends. No. You see, a lot of the studio recording I've done is with people I've met for the first time in that studio. I just had a record come out called Fish with a Japanese drummer called Shoji Hano, on a label called PSF. He was over here with somebody, maybe Keiji Hano, I'm not sure. Anyway, he was doing some playing over here, and he asked me to make a record. I didn't know him, I'd never heard of him as a matter of fact, although he has been around for years. So I went down to Toby's studio [Moat] and played with him for a couple of hours and that has come out as a record. But that would have been different if it had been live, but I don't know if it would be better or worse. The main thing was that I was meeting this guy for the first time and we had to find out if we could play together. And we found out we could in a certain way, so we did that. Like when I played with The Ruins, the first time I played with them was in a studio and that was one of the best plays we had. We did a few concerts after that; we had a good one in Switzerland once. There were a number of concerts I didn't like; the one we played here I didn't like. The last concert we played was in New York and that was OK. I used to think that live had to be better, but I don't now. It depends. I think if I was playing regularly with someone whose playing I was familiar with, like Susie [Ibarra], I would certainly be more inclined...in fact, I would never go in a studio with Susie. We've got one or two things we might put out, but they're all from live things. So, with people I'm familiar with, I wouldn't go in a studio, but it's a good place to meet people.