Tony Oxley, with Derek Bailey and Gavin Bryars, created one of the foundations of free improvisation in the UK through their explorations in the group Joseph Holbrooke. A detailed retrospective view of Joseph Holbrooke can be found in Bailey (1992, pp. 86-93) but, briefly, the group existed in Sheffield from 1963 to 1966, initially playing conventional jazz though by 1965 playing totally improvised pieces. The fact that the three were 'isolated' in Sheffield from developments elsewhere (John Stevens and the SME) provided an ideal environment for experimentation and development. After that the participants moved to London, Oxley becoming the house drummer at Ronnie Scott's while all the while continuing with experimental music. He was in at the beginning of the Incus label with Bailey and Evan Parker and some of his work for that label is recognised as landmarks in the development of free music. He also appeared in various (early) versions of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra
In the last 25 years he has performed and recorded in an extremely wide variety of situations, from those where an emphasis on time-keeping is important to free situations with perhaps Paul Bley at one extreme and Cecil Taylor at the other. His work with Taylor, as a member of The Feel Trio with William Parker, in duos, or augmented with other musicians (such as the quartet of Taylor, Oxley, William Parker and Derek Bailey for two concerts in London and Manchester in 1991) lasted from 1988 to 1991 and can be seen by the viewing a selection of their concert schedule.
In recent years Tony Oxley has run his own Celebration Orchestra, worked with Bill Dixon - both are painters as well as musicians, and there have been plans for multimedia presentations - and with the Austrians, violinist Andreas Schreiber and pianist Dieter Glawischnig in the trio Cercle. This group briefly toured the UK in 1997 (having played the Beijing Jazz Festival in October 1996), with displays of Oxley's paintings, and had a broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in May 1997. Oxley has also begun to work again in duo with Derek Bailey, playing, for example at the Knitting Factory in New York in September 1995, in London in November 1995 and in Vand'Oeuvre in France in May 1997. He also remains in demand to bring unconventionality to conventional settings, particularly with his 'rainforest percussion', playing for example, on ECM recordings with Paul Bley and John Surman and with the Tomasz Stanko Quartet.
His kit is highly individual thus:
'The acoustic part is: drums - eight, various sizes and texture; cymbals,
fourteen, various sizes, thicknesses, weights, sounds; cowbells - five, from
six inches to sixteen inches; wood surfaces - five, wood blocks and oriental
skulls; saucepans - two. The amplified section of the kit is: amplified frame
containing cymbals, wires, various kitchen equipment, motor generators,
springs, used with 3 contact mikes (home-made), 2 volume pedals, 1 octave
splitter, 1 compressor, 1 ring modulator and oscillator, 1 amplifier and two
More recently the whole kit has been slimmed down and the electronics have
(probably temporarily) been put to one side, but the playing, of course,
remains individualistic. A transcription of an interview with Oxley, where he
discusses his current kit (1997) with Alyn Shipton in a BBC Radio 3 Broadcast
is available, complete with sound clips.