People Band: 69/79 (2009)
This double-CD is the follow-up to 1968 (Transatlantic, 1970; reissued Emanem, 2004), People Band's only previous album. Where that album featured the band's first generation of players, 69/70 represents its second generation.
69/70 comes after tireless salvage work by Terry Day and Martin Davidson on tapes recorded in a Soho studio, at jam sessions at Mel Davis's house, live at the (in)famous Paradiso in Amsterdam, and live in Trent Park (just north of London). That list of locations gives some sense of People Band's philosophy around 1969-70. They often played simply for the joy of sharing the experience with each other and with the audience. The music was chaotic, democratic, improvised, wild and energetic. Significantly, the band was once ejected from the Anarchists Annual Ball for being too musically anarchic. Terry Day reports that they were lucky to get out alivethe anarchists wanted to lynch them!
The studio recordings open with a lone saxophone plus studio chatter and then lead into a series of free blowing pieces, some with vocal exhortations. Apparently, the studio was crowded with people, with frequent comings and goings to get fresh air. Saxophonist/clarinetist Paul Jolly recalls, "The place was littered with instrument cases and there was a struggle to find a place without someone else's horn in your ear." Consequently, as with the rest of the album (except the Paradiso recording), details of who was present are approximate. With everyone present contributing percussion, the pieces are often highly rhythmic and surprisingly structured. The same is true of the home recording and those made in the woods.
The recording made at the Paradiso is unique in that the band is a five-piece rather than the larger ensembles elsewhere. With the twin saxophones of Davey Payne and Paul Jolly plus Albert Kovitz on clarinet, the quintet cooks up an energetic free improvisation featuring sax and clarinet lines that crossover and interweave. Of the album's twelve tracks, it is the most focused and hence the best. The band clearly responded well to an audience; maybe they should have recorded live more often.
The whole of this release is an entertaining and interesting historical document which is a snapshot of the time. In an early incarnation before they became People Band, the band was called the Continuous Music Ensemble (CME) and they were contemporaries of AMM and SME. Their methodology clearly contrasted with those two ensembles, and this album gives a glimpse of what might have been had CME prevailed over AMM and SME. This music was clearly enjoyable for the musicians to create. It is almost impossible not to be drawn into its infectious sense of fun.
People Band trumpeter Mike Figgis is now an acclaimed filmmaker. Hopefully he will consider making a film about People Band. There are certainly enough comic episodes in the band's history to fill a good-natured comedy. A working title? Carry On Improvising, maybe.
Track Listing: Soho Studio 1; Soho Studio 2; Soho Studio 3; Soho Studio 4; Soho Studio 5; Soho Studio 6; Soho Studio 7; Soho Studio 8; The House of Music; Paradiso; In the Woods; In the Woods Again.
Personnel: Mike Figgis: trumpet (1-9), flugelhorn (1-9, 12), acoustic guitar (11, 12); Rose Widdison: clarinet (1-8), penny whistle (12); Albert Kovitz: clarinet and bass clarinet (1-8, 10-12), piano (10), voice (11, 12); Davey Payne: tenor, alto and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet (1-8), tenor sax and flute (9, 11), alto and soprano saxes and shaker (10), saxophones (12); Paul Jolly: tenor, alto and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet (1-8), tenor and baritone sax (9), alto sax and bass clarinet (10), saxophones and bass clarinet (11, 12); Michael O