Jazz for Modernists 5 – Interview with drummer Guy Evans (Part 2)

Jazz for Modernists 5 – Interview with drummer Guy Evans (Part 2)

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series James Thomas on Jazz







Last time around, JFM at NUTs reached the half-way point in our interview with acclaimed drummer Guy Evans, long-time member of Van der Graaf Generator. We pick up the story in 1967, as psychedelia made its mark in Coventry and Guy was about to expand further his musical horizons.

Lead image: Guy Evans, 2011 (source: Wikipedia)

15: Around 1967 you were part of a psychedelic trio called Green Marble Mind…

GE: That was great, I really enjoyed that band. It just went along with swapping the mod gear for the paisley shirts and the long hair and all that. It was a power trio, we wanted to be The Jimi Hendrix Experience really and there was a very good guitar player who was not actually from Warwick University, he was from Oxford. I think he sort of knew someone who was there and he turned up one day and could play all this Hendrix stuff, it sounded brilliant; and there was a very good bass player, so we just started playing.

[A 1968 mention of Green Marble Mind in Warwick University Magazine, Campus, has surfaced: www.contentdm.warwick.ac.uk].

16: You mentioned the Incredible String Band. Did folk come into your musical progression?

GE: Well, we had The Incredible String Band at Warwick a lot. I thought they were pretty extraordinary actually. They could be a bit impossible sometimes, but I’d never heard anyone making music like that really before. [With folk], it came down to the guitarists really for me: Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davy Graham, who of course was something else because of all that Indian and Arab stuff that he used to incorporate into his playing. I loved that adventure. I didn’t get so much into the English folk movement, at the time, I somehow felt it was a bit anal, which is probably a bit superficial of me, but at the time I wasn’t terribly attracted to it.

17: You joined Van der Graaf Generator in summer ’68. Someone who independently had a big influence on the other members of that band was Arthur Brown. Was he one of the main figures in the move from jazzy r & b to progressive music?

GE: Yeah, I can see that… while he did this extraordinary stuff with the flaming hat and all that, he completely had the chops. He had an extraordinary voice, a great, great performer, Arthur. The band was tremendous, with Drachen Theaker and Vincent Crane. Here was a band that could absolutely cut it with all the r & b on every level, from instrumentalist, drummer, singer, doing this wild psychedelic stuff that happened to have a huge number one hit as well.

18: Just before joining VDGG, around June ’68, you helped organize a music festival at Warwick University. The line-up sounds incredible, including Family, Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Cornelius Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra and Ravi Shankar.

GE: We just decided ‘let’s just do something, let’s just have a really big splash here, because this moment is never going to come again’. We’d had these very nice connections with London musicians and agents, who regarded Warwick and Coventry Art College as a sort of consortium of venues to be reckoned with. It was quite well-known…[With Chris McGregor], it was the whole band. It was Dudu Pukwana [alto sax], Louis Moholo playing drums, Mongezi Feza playing trumpet, and it was fantastic. It was wonderful. And to me, it was one of the gigs that kind of brought jazz right back into my bones.

Chris McGregor Group, Very Urgent (1968). South African pianist and his band played in Coventry, summer 1968.

19: Well, it sounds fantastic, because also Family at that time, Jim King was on sax, this festival must have been one of the earliest sort of fusion gigs….

GE: Oh, I think it was, it was.

20: Van der Graaf around this time [autumn’ 68-May ’69] was a pretty full-time affair. Did you get a chance to see much live jazz in London?

GE: Oh absolutely, this was an incredible time to see jazz if you were a Central London musician where everything happened around Wardour Street and Dean Street. What happened that was incredibly fortunate was that the first Brit Invasion had happened and was happening (The Beatles, Stones, Animals and The Who and all that sort of thing) and because of union regulations all of these acts had to have acts of equivalent status coming to Britain on an exchange. I don’t know who worked the miracle but I think Ronnie Scott had a lot to do with it… in exchange, we got Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Archie Shepp….you were spoilt for choice…and because Strat [Tony Stratton-Smith] knew Ronnie Scott, we used to get either very discounted or free admission… every musician in town was down at these gigs…they were thinking it was just like Christmas
every day.

Van der Graaf Generator, c. 1968/69 (l to r: Hugh Banton, Keith Ellis, Guy Evans, Peter Hammill; (photo credit: Deborah Ellis/Phil Smart)

21: VDGG played at some solid jazz venues like Klook’s Kleek in West Hampstead. Was it easy to see how different styles of music were influencing different bands?

GE: Yeah, you didn’t think about it too much because what was actually happening was a real melting pot and I think quite a lot of it was coming from the jazz musicians as well. Jazz wasn’t nearly as snooty or exclusive a world as people make out sometimes. I think there were two reasons really. One was the spirit of jazz allowing, even embracing, the whole idea of different forms, different ways of playing music, different types of musicians, incorporating different styles etc and overall cherishing improvisations, and, secondly, a kind of opportunistic thing which was that they kind of wanted to get in on the act. A lot of jazz musicians were either in soul/r & b bands as well or were best mates with people who were in horn sections. And yes, it was great to go around being in the Bluesbreakers and occasionally maybe getting a bit more money than you might get for a night at Ronnie Scott’s …but actually ‘wouldn’t it be great if you were out there coining it in the same way that The Who were’…so I think there was a certain amount of motivation to embrace electric music and rock styles and things from a commercial point of view.

22: What about those crucial Miles Davis records for the fusion of jazz and British rock: In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew…

GE: They were wonderful. In a Silent Way and the small group electric Miles stuff exist in a planet of their own. I remember being very excited by Bitches Brew but also thinking that I wish I could have produced it. It was still suffering a bit from ‘jazzer’ recording techniques, though again looking back, it sounds pretty good.

23: So, from the jazz world, would you have been seeing people like Evan Parker and Keith Tippett?

GE: I never saw Evan Parker. I would like to have, but I just wasn’t aware of him…Keith Tippett, yes, absolutely. Keith Tippett was pretty hip; he was a mate of Robert Wyatt and, of course, Julie Driscoll, who was a chart-topping and supremely hip person. So, you’d go and see Centipede playing somewhere, that kind of thing. And I think there were some quite remarkable crossover/elisions of pop culture and jazz thinking at the time. I think one of the most remarkable albums to come out from then is Extrapolation [John McLaughlin LP, 1969]…because here you have an album that is produced by Georgio Gomelsky, who managed the Rolling Stones, set up the Crawdaddy Club, produced the Yardbirds, produced Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll and then John Mclaughlin does his first solo album (before Mahavishnu and all of that stuff) and I think it was Georgio Gomelsky’s influence really that actually dictated the line-up in that band which was John Surman, Brian Ogers on bass, and, completely left-field, Tony Oxley, the great British free jazz drummer who was considered very far out at the time, who I loved, but was certainly not one of the powerhouse drummers that you might have brought into that situation. The obvious one to have brought into that would have been Ginger Baker, or possibly Mitch Mitchell or John Marshall, even, but that idea of that band was genius, I thought; I don’t quite know who was responsible, but certainly Georgio Gomelsky was very creative in his influence
on things.

24: Talking about Mitch Mitchell, VDGG supported Jimi Hendrix at the Albert Hall [February, ‘69]. Any memories of that night?

GE: Yeah, it was just great, it was lovely. We were very nervous about it. I remember having very little notice of it…we weren’t bad, because we’d actually been doing quite a few gigs, and we were quite well-oiled, we actually went and did a pretty good set, I think.

25: In summer ’69, you met [future VDGG bassist] Nic Potter, playing together in a later line-up of The Misunderstood on two singles and the ‘Golden Glass’ sessions. How did that come about?

GE: Because I wanted to. That was it. VDGG had broken up. I was kicking about in London, feeling pretty frustrated and not really wanting to join in the gang of sort of dissolute, out-of-work musicians hanging around Le Chasse and the Marquee bar. My partner at the time, who was Strat’s secretary, said ‘what band would you like to join?’ (cos I didn’t actually like much of what was around at the time.) It was either The Misunderstood or Captain Beefheart…that was my thing. These were two things that John Peel had been playing, so I’d heard them on his recommendation and so, about three days later, she came back and said ‘right, you’ve got an audition with The Misunderstood. They were in town. I mean the whole thing had happened with their work permits and visas all screwing up. It was in fact two members of The Misunderstood trying to put together a band…Glen Campbell and Steve Hoard. And I went down and the person running the auditions was Chris Mercer, sax player with John Mayall. I was feeling a bit
‘right, okay!’

The Misunderstood, later line-up, 1969 (Guy Evans, top-right)

26: Did that line-up play a lot of the songs that the original Misunderstood had done?

GE: Unfortunately not, that was what I wanted to play. There was a bit, but somehow they’d gone…I enjoyed it, it was a pretty good band, but I was rather frustrated in that it was the music I wanted to play, because that’s what I’d heard and I wanted to go in that direction. I think Glen had gone ‘no, we’re not doing that sort of stuff anymore’. I think he’d associated it with being a bit too ‘out there’ mentally anyway, and all sorts of things…he was going much more sort of roots/bluesy and Steve Hoard, who was a very good singer, in fact, but he was quite into that very kind of alpha male leather trousers sort of delivery and wanting to be a bit commercial …so between us, we pushed each other in all sorts of directions, thrown together by the mad situation anyway, the best thing was when we just got on and played, because it was actually a good band and we just sort of played what we felt like playing or could play….we did a version of the Beatles’ ‘She Said, She Said’, we did ‘Who do you Love?’, we occasionally did an old Misunderstood song like ‘I Can Take you to the Sun’, but very, very rarely.

Space does not permit Guy’s further memories of VDGG (hopefully to be published elsewhere)

Series NavigationJazz for Modernists 8 – Interview with Julie Tippetts and Keith Tippett (Part 1) >>

James Thomas

James Thomas was born in Bristol just the wrong side of 1970 (1971). His first encounters with the 1960s were his two-year-old elder brother’s reminiscences of the Moon Landing (since deleted by the BBC) and an afternoon in 1975 listening to the Beatles with his parents. He remembers 2-Tone and the ’79 revival, but was the one in his primary school still wearing flares until he persuaded his mum to buy him a black Harrington jacket (a stylish-enough copy by Burtons) and asked a hair stylist to make him ‘look like Suggs’. In the 1980s he became obsessed with almost every aspect of the 1960s, whether it were Star Trek, the length of George Harrison’s hair in March 1965 or the first colour TV broadcast of a cricket match (he thinks it was 1968). After being side-tracked by progressive rock (an ongoing guilty pleasure), James came to his senses in 1986 on seeing footage of Booker T and the MGs and Otis Redding on a programme celebrating the 60th anniversary of television. A flirtation with ‘indie pop’ (in the bowl-cut and anorak days) led to too much introspection, but also a new interest in the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s that seemed to go hand in glove with a liking for The Pastels and The Razorcuts. A summery afternoon in the jazz tent at Bristol’s annual (and long gone) Ashton Court Festival in 1989 opened his mind to the sounds of Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Art Blakey and most forms of modern jazz. In 1990, James attended his first proper 60s club night, the revered Kaleidoscope Pop! in Leeds. On his return from the North in 1992, he developed a new commitment to Mod culture. He recalls early Untouchables Brighton New Year rallies and in 1994 moved to London. A real education for him (in so many ways...) was a period in Barcelona (1997-2002) where he helped out with the Magic in the Air club for a year or two and where his IQ was permanently reduced by a record dealer who made him clean vinyl for four weeks in a windowless room. After a decade or so in the West Country, he is now living again in London, where he plans to write about jazz, meet like-minded people and study the history of the cravat.

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March 2, 2016 By : Category : Bands,Front Page,Interviews,Music Tags:, , , , , ,
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