Notes on Joseph Holbrooke reunion

While the recorded legacy of Joseph Holbrooke from the 1960’s is almost non-existent, it seems ironic that almost every note played since the trio’s reunion in 1998 has been recorded. Most of the material which does survive from the 1960’s is located on rehearsal tapes (one of which was issued as a ‘single’ by Incus) and there are no recordings of the free playing to the best of my knowledge. There are (somewhere) tapes of our playing with Lee Konitz when he toured the north of England in the mid-60’s. These are hardly representative of our work (although Lee was actually interested in a degree of free playing at that time). One of these tapes, recorded at a club in Manchester, appears in the published discography of Lee Konitz where the players are listed as “guitar (Derek Bailey), drums (Tony Oxley), bass (player unknown).....”

Although working with Derek and Tony had been of enormous importance to me, I abandoned improvising as an ongoing, engaged activity in late 1966. As it happened this was when, curiously enough, we had played three different concerts in one day: our usual lunchtime session in Sheffield; the opening of an art exhibition in Northampton in the afternoon; and later that evening at The Little Theatre, St. Martins Lane, London. When I returned home I put my bass in its case and didn’t take it out for 17 years. After that night although I met, and occasionally worked with, Derek from time to time, Tony and I never saw each other until the reunion of the trio for his sixtieth birthday musical events, arranged by West German radio in Cologne in 1998.

In fact I had been asked earlier, in September 1995, through Gary Todd and his Cortical Foundation, if I would be interested in playing again with Derek and Tony. I was assured that they were both happy with the idea so I agreed, although at the time I was touring the Far East with my ensemble. A complicated series of flights were booked for me (Hong Kong - Tokyo - Los Angeles - London) so that the performances in Los Angeles could take place. Unfortunately I was taken ill and had to fly straight back home from Tokyo. I learned later that Derek had also been unwell and had been unable to travel from New York.

In September 1998 we did finally all meet together - for dinner the night before the Cologne concert - and found that we still got on remarkably well. We didn’t talk about the concert, and before the concert itself there was no rehearsal, just a two minute sound-check for the radio. We played about 45 minutes - two fairly long pieces and one short one - and I was surprised at how comfortable it felt. As one reviewer put it, like three people “resuming a conversation that had been interrupted for 30 years”. Although both Derek and Tony had continued to work as improvisers, they told me that they found the experience of the three of us working together to be a very different kind of challenge from the work that they had, individually, evolved over the previous thirty years. While the opening moments sound to me a little tentative, very quickly there emerges a fluency and a sense of intimate chamber music. This live performance was later issued on CD by Incus (Joseph Holbrooke 98). We also played with three other musicians for a different set, but this felt much less satisfying to me and did not have the same degree of internal coherence as the trio.

Following this performance we agreed to spend three days together later that year making these studio recordings. It was fitting, given his role in bringing us back together again, that these sessions were produced by Gary Todd for the Cortical Foundation. Although we set aside three days, in fact we had a routine of playing only in the afternoons from about 1 o’clock until around 6. We were never tempted to listen to playback except, as with the Cologne concert, at the outset to verify sound quality and levels. For the third day, Derek suggested that we record also in the evening in front of a small invited audience (Moat Studio is not very big). The nine tracks on this double CD were chosen by the three of us as the pieces we would be happy to release. While many of the ones we left out have interesting aspects, we have no wish for them to emerge.

A few weeks later we played in public for the second time when we did a whole evening concert in Antwerp. As with Cologne, the first piece felt a little tentative, but the rest of the concert had real authority and confidence. It is not impossible that we may play again.

Titles for 2 CDs

CD 1 (4 tracks)

1. Orchard
2. Condensation
3. Crookesmoor
4. Campo

CD 2 (5 tracks)

1. Holderness
2. Tenter
3. Edinburgh
4. Mappin
5. Matilda