Derek Bailey Interview: September 2001

John Eyles By

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AAJ: You're keeping the CD-Rs very low key, very cottage industry.

DB: We couldn't handle it otherwise. If a distributor said that they wanted fifty, I'd have to sit at this fucking computer burning fifty of them individually, and Karen would have to do the covers. It is OK because we get a dribble, more or less every day somebody from somewhere seems to want one, by e-mail, and I knock one off. I think it will die down. The first time I did anything like that, again in the early 70s, was when I put out these reel-to-reel tapes in little boxes. I used to make them and sell them for 60p. There was a bit of interest, and that was done just on word of mouth. That was OK, that was how it was supposed to be, but then it died away and disappeared. Then I did the same thing with cassettes some years later, at the beginning of the 80s. It is funny how they rear their heads later. For instance, Taps, the reel-to-reel tapes have come out on a CD from Cortical Foundation.

AAJ: And on vinyl as well.

DB: So at the same time I'm doing these CD-Rs, this box of hugely expensive vinyl turns up. In the shops they are selling for about £25. It's heavy vinyl, very posh. But they have reproduced the original artwork so it still says "60p" on the front. It seems ironic that at the same time as I'm knocking out these CD-Rs, there is a bunch of super produced expensive things that derive from the same kind of thing twenty or thirty years ago.

[ There are now eleven CD-R's available, including Chats and The Appleyard File. They are rarely reviewed and are only available directly from Incus Records, 14, Downs Road, Hackney, London E5 8DS, UK, for £10/$15 each. Details at the Incus website ]

AAJ: So, in twenty years, will Chats be on 200 gram vinyl? Funny old world, isn't it.

DB: It's like the empire strikes back, isn't it? You think you can fucking get away with this? Well you can't! When the guy who put out Taps first rang me up and said he'd like to put out these things, I said that would be nice, because he was waving quite a lot of dollars around. I hadn't listened to them for decades. But I said I didn't have the masters of them. And he said that he had them. You get these enthusiasts here and there.

Anyway, when this guy, Gary Todd, was putting Taps out, he said he would also like to organise a concert for the group Joseph Holbrooke that I used to play in with Gavin Bryars and Tony Oxley. I said that we hadn't played together for thirty-six years. I don't think Tony and Gavin had even spoken together in thirty-six years. Certainly the three of us had never been in the same place during that period. So I said I didn't know if it was possible. I gave him their addresses and he organised it. The concert was going to be in LA. We were meant to go out there, do a concert and make a recording. It was all set up and very handsomely rewarded. I was in New York, and I got sick. Gavin was in Hong Kong and got sick. So the only person who could go was Tony, who was with me in New York at the time. So Tony went and played with Fred Frith, out there. So that didn't work. But this guy has always had this ...I don't know if it is right to call it an obsession with Joseph Holbrooke. The name comes from an old English composer, late nineteenth, early twentieth century. When I first heard from this guy, Gary Todd, he said he'd got some records by Joseph Holbrooke. And I said there aren't any, we never made any. It turned out he was talking about the original Joseph Holbrooke. So it was all a bit weird. Then, because that LA thing fell through, we recorded over here for him and did actually get together. The idea was Gary's, but we got together for Tony Oxley's sixtieth birthday and did a concert in Cologne. So we'd actually done that. A strange reincarnation after thirty-eight years. It was kind of interesting play, I have to say. I guess that's the kind of thing you can only do once, have a thirty-eight year gap.

AAJ: I thought you'd said that the next time would be on your hundredth birthday.

DB: That's right, we're saving that. So shortly after that, Gary Todd came over here and we did three days recording for him. Two records. Now he has got that. But he has had a serious accident; fell out of a third storey window at 5-30am. I don't know who is handling it now. The guy has been advertising the records. There has always been something weird about trying to revive that group. One of the nights at Moat studio, we were having a sort of party and somebody let off a fire extinguisher. And in studios, the fire extinguishers are full of sand, so it was like being in a sandstorm. You couldn't see anything. We all got out of the studio. And when it settled down and we went back in, which took a hell of a long time, all the food and drink were covered in a layer of sand. It seems there is some... well let's not get into that oogly-boogly stuff. We did a concert earlier this year in Antwerp. That was recorded, but we can't get the tape. The guy keeps saying he'll give us the tape but won't.

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?

DB: Aah...

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.

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