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The People Band: Back and playing again

Sammy Stein By

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The reason for a new album is that our last one, released on the Emanem label, covered material from 1969 / 70 and there was nothing current to show that the band is still alive (mostly) and still creating. —Paul Jolly
46 years after their previous release, the People Band are putting out a new CD. Paul Jolly is producing the project and releasing it through his record label, 33JAZZ records. Jolly is also a member of the band. He says, "The reason for a new album is that our last one, released on the Emanem label, covered material from 1969 / 70 and there was nothing current to show that the band is still alive (mostly) and still creating." In fact, the band have remained active, more or less, for all of the intervening years but to capture the spontaneity of their music on recordings is difficult.

The new CD is a collection of live recordings from sessions at Café Oto, where the band has played regularly for the past few years. They scheduled a release gig at Oto for January 14, 2016.

The People Band formed in the late 1960s when the Russell Hardy Trio, comprising Terry Day on drums, Hardy on Piano and Terry Holman on bass met up with other musicians performing at the Starting Gate pub in north London. The Starting Gate had a jazz club set up by the late, great pianist and improviser Mel Davis, bassist Frank Flowers and big-band leader Derek Goom. The venue attracted leading figures on the London scene, such as altoist Ray Warleigh, bassist Graham Collier, pianist Chris McGregor and drummer John Stevens.

Davis tried out new approaches to jazz music with Flowers, who subsequently became bassist with the Hallé Orchestra, and saxophonist Lyn Dobson. Other adventurous musicians arrived, including the Russell Hardy Trio, and the People Band emerged. Since then the group has been augmented by many players from diverse musical backgrounds and professions who have performed under People Band guises like Mummy or Ommu The Smooch and performed throughout Europe and the UK.

Band membership remains fluid, with various musicians joining at different times, but the core centers around Charlie Hart on bass, Adam Hart on keyboards, Paul Jolly on saxophones, flutes and bass clarinet, George Khan on saxophones and flute, Day on drums and reed instruments, Tony Edwards on percussion, and Mike Figgis on pocket trumpet and bass. Many of the musicians involved have played with more well-known groups. Charlie Hart has played with The Kilburns (Ian Dury's first band), Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, The Battered Ornaments and Wreckless Eric. He's written for films and is currently with The Equators.

Day formed the London Improvers Orchestra and played with Peter Cusack, Steve Beresford and scored films such as Summer (1984). Jolly worked with '80's cult prog-rock band Sweet Slag and many other rock and jazz groups, and had a long association with Maggie Nicols, including albums and European touring with the group Lovely (which included Davis and Day). He also played with the anglo/ french group Big Chico. From 1976 -1999 he ran a jazz club based at the 33 Art Centre in Luton which gave many younger, now established musicians, an opportunity to work outside of London. He cites great experiences including a couple days spent with Mel Waldron and helping with an Art Pepper tour.

Figgis diversified into film and produced films including Stormy Monday (1989) where some of The People Band appeared as The Krakov Jazz Ensemble. His other film credits include Internal Affairs (1990), "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995), Timecode (2000), Love Live Long (2008) and he also directed an episode of The Sopranos. He was the keyboard player in Brian Ferry's original band.

Day and Charlie Hart worked during the 1970s in Holland as Ommu The Smooch and in England they gigged with the larger People Band. They played at the Wood Green Arts Centre, sometimes with the Italian group Music Elettronica Viva and Cornelius Cardew and at the Robert Streets Art Laboratory in London. After a hiatus which lasted from the mid '70s until the early 2000s, the band came together again with gigs at Café Oto, The Vortex, The King's Place and the Royal Opera House and have played several shows since.

A People Band gig is spontaneous and may vary from moment to moment from being esoteric, forceful, melodic, carnal, anarchic, atonal —all of these—but what remains important is spontaneity. The musicians communicate passing riffs to and fro, extending them, curtailing tunes and ideas or expanding into orchestral free—for—alls with all the musicians on stage. With root chords as their guide, players come in or fall silent as the muse takes them, stretching out, taking it as far as they can and then maybe sensing the need for a simple beat —one note or two, or a thousand, it depends. Their previous albums titled simply People Band 68 and People Band 69/70, (Emanem) were open, improvisational recordings with the musicians swapping instruments at times in a distinct lack of orchestration or direction. Passing references were made to any number of influences including Charles Ives, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Eric Satie and classical structures.

With the years that have passed, the experiences of all the musicians involved and the changes in how each player has developed, the CD and performances to come should prove interesting. One thing is certain—The People Band will continue to surprise and enthrall, putting any perceptions of construed or constrained music to the test.
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