Browsing Tag Van der Graaf Generator

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.

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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.

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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!’

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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)


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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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Jazz for Modernists 4 – Interview with drummer Guy Evans (Part 1)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guy Evans, best known as drummer with progressive rock legends Van der Graaf Generator, grew up around jazz in Birmingham, where his mother sang Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee classics and his father was a bandleader. One windswept north London day back in March, he talked to ‘Jazz For Modernists’ about growing up in Brum, his role as a musical events organizer in mid-sixties Coventry, drumming in a late line-up of NUTsMag faves The Misunderstood and, above all, the influence of jazz on his musical development and the underground scene in London in the 1960s. Today, Guy continues to be engaged in a multitude of musical collaborations such as the performance collective Echo City, in addition to being an integral part of the current three-piece VDGG.

01: Your father (Joe Evans) was a saxophonist and bandleader in Birmingham. What were your first musical memories or influences?

GUY EVANS – Oh, well, that was it, and it was my mother as well, my mother was a singer… we actually lived in a flat opposite the large pub/dinner-and-dance place where my dad’s band (Joe Evans Orchestra) had a residency. Our place was pretty much the dressing room on a Saturday night… everybody ironing their tuxes…on a summer’s evening, I’d leave my bedroom window open and I could look straight over into the pub and see the band and hear them, see my Mum and Dad play.

02: A major influence on you was Bill Harris, a local trumpeter…

GE: Were there a god, Bill Harris (not of Woody Herman’s Herd) would be my godfather… he was a kind of flatmate of my parents and a very fine trumpet player… unlike my Dad, he was interested in modern jazz which a lot of big-band musicians regarded as rather alien when it first happened and he used to turn up with white label copies of the latest Charlie Parker or Miles Davis recordings. I just thought it was music from Mars… and that’s where I think it got into my DNA.

03: Was modern jazz in any way rebellious if your family was mostly playing pre-bebop swing?

GE: It wasn’t really rebellious; it was just that my dad found it all a bit too much really. I was very intrigued by it, wowed by the virtuosity, but it was just the adventure of it. One of the first musicians I really got hooked on was Miles Davis. I remember that one of the first things that struck me about Miles Davis was that I could hear the mistakes. I was thinking ‘this is music that has got mistakes in it’ or in which mistakes aren’t really mistakes, but part of the vocabulary or a different avenue, different direction to go in… I remember being very blown away by Birth of the Cool.

jazz_0001_Layer 5

04: That was released in 1957, so you must have been very young.

GE: I was ten. Before that I’d heard things that were hugely influential. My dad took me to see the Count Basie Band when I must have been about six or seven and I was just completely blown away by them. I’d never seen anything like it. I’d heard big-band music obviously, but nothing of that power, that kind of elasticity, I suppose. And the drumming, of course, was absolutely wonderful!

05: So, were the drums your first instrument?

GE: I started off playing soprano saxophone and recorder, funnily enough, but I used to go along to my dad’s big-band rehearsals and sound checks on a Saturday. I used to sneak up onto the drum kit and start fiddling around in spare moments… a few of the more waggish members of the band would start playing, so we’d have these little kind of free jazz interludes and I just loved the control when everybody started doing what I was dictating.

06: You were a big fan of Mingus. Were his records easy to get hold of?

GE: Relatively. There was a fantastic record shop in Birmingham that, to my delight, I found is still going, called the Diskery. It’s a specialist record shop, a collectors’ record shop, and now it’s all sorts of genres but then it was very much jazz and blues place and I used to just dive in there and get stuff.

07: Were you part of Birmingham’s Mod/R &B scene? Venues like Whiskey-a-Go-Go, El Sombrero coffee bar, the Kardomah Cafe?

GE: El Sombrero coffee bar I went to a couple of times, yes. In Digbeth, I think. I don’t remember who I saw there…The Kardomah Cafe was never a venue as far as I know, but it was a haunt of mine… I used to pass through the centre of Birmingham on my way to school, and that was a bit of a gathering place for the sort of hipsters from my school. There was another place, more esoteric… a little cafe called The Stage Door, behind the old Alexandra Theatre, I think. It’s gone now… that was very beatnik; one had to have one’s black roll neck sweater and gaulloises. [In terms of mod], I think that maybe I was unaware of what was happening. I was leading quite a strange life really and kind of picking my own tribe, or being my own tribe or whatever.

jazz_0002_Layer 4

Beatnik haunt: The Stage Door Cafe, Birmingham, Go here!

08: In 1965, you went to study sociology and economics at Warwick University in Coventry… ’65-’68 must have been a wonderful time to be a student?

GE: Well it was staggering: I didn’t get much work done. I went in the founding year of the university and they were just about the most hip places to go to. I was one of 400 students who went there in the first year. As my late old mate Mal Peet said, the main distractions were mini-skirts and psychedelia. But there was also music and we had this fantastically generous entertainments budget and I became very involved in how it was spent. We had a great venue, not far from the M1. Bands used to love coming to play there as it was not far, and we paid quite well and had a very good audience. We had regular gigs by the Bluesbreakers, all the classic London bands like Steampacket, Shotgun Express, Graham Bond, everybody came and played loads of times; we had Cream, I think, on their second gig for 105 quid and I managed to get (through some personal connections) the Spencer Davis Group. As luck would have it, that gig was the week they topped the charts with Keep on Running.

09: You were in a group called The New Economic Model. How did that come about?

GE: That was a bit of hustling really. People wanted to have a whole evening of music and we were spending quite a lot of effort and money on support bands. Then there were just a bunch of us who were quite into playing music. We got into a little kind of jamming scene, put together a few tunes and we finally persuaded the university that we should be the support band. We were a kind of Soul/R&B covers band, they equipped us a bit and we put together the classic line-up: two singers, guitar, bass, drums, organ, sax and did many a gig. It meant that I was playing in a band on the same bill as all sorts of great people, learning from them. Then came the great dream moment when Victor Brox’s Blues Train came to play and the drummer didn’t turn up because he’d broken down somewhere. So I volunteered to play and we had a little dressing room rehearsal and I did the whole set with them which was a real blast for me.

10: Did you keep in touch with a lot of these musicians?

GE: Yes, Victor, particularly (I haven’t seen him for years now) because when I came down to London he was playing with Aynsley Dunbar. Aynsley’s two roadies lived in the flat above me and we became really good mates. I used to go and see Aynsley’s gigs all the time because I thought he was a great drummer.

11: Do you remember a band from Coventry called The Sorrows?

GE: Yes, I do. I don’t remember seeing them. I remember my cousin talking about seeing them, but I don’t think I saw them myself.

12: Peter Hammill (VDGG singer/songwriter) cites The Beatles’ Revolver, particularly ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ as a milestone. Do you recall Revolver [August 1966] having an influence on changing musical styles of bands coming to Coventry?

GE: I don’t know about bands coming to Coventry, because they were still very much the British blues boom…I think that remained quite a solid core of a particular style that I really loved. There were quite sudden moves into psychedelia, I suppose… Zoot Money suddenly became Dantalion’s Chariot and it all became quite psychedelic. One of the earliest bands we had at Warwick was The Move and that was interesting because, apart from looking really sharp, they were an extremely good band. They were quite hard-edged and loud and blowing up televisions and that kind of stuff. And then the next thing that came to Warwick that, live, was anything like a shift, was The Incredible String Band…and then it was Pink Floyd.

13: Was New Economic Model a jazzy R&B band in the Brian Auger/Graham Bond style?

GE: Yes it was, because the big thing that had come into popular taste or reasonably soft popular taste was Soul/R&B. We had the soul revue coming over. People were suddenly picking up on all this stuff. So they liked to dance to Eddie Floyd and Sam & Dave etc. There is a fabulous discipline in it (Stax, Motown) and, also, it is fairly forgiving of limited ability as long as you do the right thing. That was nice, to be able to discover that energy of an ensemble doing some relatively simple things, but doing them with some energy and feel.

14: So, were you able to keep your jazz drumming going, as opposed to having to completely change style?

GE: Yes. I’d say, with my jazz drumming, I always feel a bit bogus with that. I really love playing it with people who are very forgiving of me, but I don’t really claim to be a jazz drummer. It’s more something that’s in my blood as an influence than something I’ve ever really sat down and studied… I have a semi-frustrated, semi-in-awe relationship with jazz really. I’m in awe of the playing ability and the knowledge and the dedication; but I also get frustrated by the sort of familiarity of the territory now, sometimes. I thought it was incredibly rich the first time I saw Roland Kirk, Albert Ayler, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, and, of course, John McLaughlin, all those people. I was aware that I was seeing something real fantastic, something new, something that I was not even bothered whether it was jazz or not!


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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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November 20, 2015 By : Category : Bands Front Page Interviews Music Tags:, , , , ,
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