Alan Jones with Barry Guy, June 23, 2001 – Vancouver, B.C.

While covering the Vancouver International Festival for One Final Note in 2001, I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Barry Guy, whom I felt at the time (and still do) to be one of the great innovators of creative music. Barry, who was candid with his views on the artistic sides and political corners to his and his colleagues’ very small box in the music business, is in life as passionate as his music, as his words here manage to show. Although it was late June, it was bristly cold on the skyscraper-shaded hotel balcony, where we ran tape for about an hour. The cold soon ceased to matter, and the conversation quickly took “rap session” form rather than the detached formality that interviews sometimes tend to have. An exciting evening was before us: a double bill of the Parker/Guy/Lytton and Gustafsson/Guy/Strid Trios, both with pianist Marilyn Crispell. The Barry Guy New Orchestra made its North American premiere the following night. 

Alan Jones: Music. Which way are you headed tonight?

Barry Guy: I think every note will in essence be new material. It’s an interesting concept. I have two trios – Parker/Guy/Lytton and what we call the Guy/Gustafsson/Strid Trio with Marilyn [Crispell]. Marilyn and I are going to be the common denominator between these two groupings and I know we’ll be influenced in different ways by the saxophone players and the drummers. So it’s kind of an intriguing concert possibility, because we’ve never been in this situation of playing like this before. I think probably that we might even loosen up the scenario – and it has to be talked about yet – but maybe we might all get together at the very end to play with both groupings. And maybe we’ll even break down into smaller groupings. As such, it’s freely improvised and the music will go according to the way the saxophonists play and the drummers play. It should be different types of music. And it will be interesting to see how you hear the difference between the two settings. It’s funny to be the bass player in both groups. We might even have the trios make an exposition by themselves, the Gustafsson Trio and the Parker Trio. There was a small discussion about this yesterday. In a way that is what has happened historically, that the trios have existed, and then my work with Marilyn has brought her into the family in a way. And there have been separately made albums together. With Marilyn joining both trios, the albums are quite different so you get different inflections and a different focus according to the way the group dynamic works.

AJ: Do you plan on recording the Parker unit again with Crispell, the “After Appleby” group, as it’s coming to be known?

BG: It’s always possible. We haven’t anything slated at this time, but very often these recordings come by just being in a certain place at a certain time and actually having the foresight to put some microphones up. It’s a joyful group to work with, so having Marilyn on board in any of these projects is just great, I think she is a fantastic pianist. Whenever we can engineer the getting together of the players – which often happens when a festival happens, or a series of concerts are organized – if we can then engineer that we can get some microphones there and have a studio, then great, we can have a record. These things happen every so often. Sometimes we can’t find time to do it. It is quite often fortuitous that the moments when we want to record actually come together when we can record. Because most of the time you can’t really project, you know, two years down the line that we will make an album. For instance, I am making a duo album with Evan Parker

AJ: Will this be on Maya’s [Homburger] label?

BG: No, actually, it’s for Intakt. Patrik Landolt at Intakt wants to make a duo album with Evan and I, so there we are. It just happens, it came out of the blue. And we thought, great. And there’s another fortuitous thing when we get back to Ireland. We have planned for a while to record the Goldberg Variations, the Bach, with Malcolm Proud, the Irish harpsichordist. And since we have a really good sound recorder that’s coming over from England to do this – he’s an expert at recording Baroque music – we have this wonderful place to play, this wonderful hall in Ireland, a community hall. So I was thinking that while the microphones were up I would record a solo album, which I’ve been sort of predicting for the last couple of years as something I’ve wanted to do. And now the moment has just arrived. So the microphones are there, I have to be around, so let’s use it. In the head it has been a long time in preparation, but the reality is only in the last month that the circumstances are right for it. The recording of the “After Appleby” group may happen, who knows, by us going to a festival and then finding a moment to put microphones up. Or somebody comes along to a festival and places a microphone in front. So it’s that way. We don’t have the luxury of planning to years ahead, saying, “Now we want to do this album, now we want to do that…” With the big band, the Barry Guy New Orchestra, we have to plan a long time ahead because of the finances. But it’s not always certain that you can get microphones or good sound recorders, or have the money to do it.

AJ: The New Orchestra is acclaimed everywhere. Haven’t heard otherwise.

BG: Try The Wire magazine.

AJ: Who wrote it?

BG: Mark Singer.

AJ: I’ll look it up.

BG: Pretty nasty.

AJ: Is there the possibility that we’ll see more of you on this side of the water in the future?

BG: We’ll go wherever we’re allowed to play the music. It’s a joy to get out from home and we like being over here. We will be coming over here next year, hopefully if everything works out, with the Parker trio.

AJ: For Vancouver again?

BG: Not for this, but to do a West Coast tour. There’s two things that seem to be happening. One is that the internet has freed up a lot of information. It is allowing information to pass pretty quickly. The people that have desires or intentions to put together or bring together musicians, promoters, art galleries, well-intentioned people – there is this network which before was impossible to set off. So this is a big revolution, I think. And a lot of musicians are using this very well. They are putting a lot of information out there, folks are reading it, and suddenly it’s all coming together. Peter Kowald was a classic example. I think he did 16 concerts or something like that recently in America. He’s on the road constantly. Not necessarily any great money or anything like that, but playing. Part of the problem these days is getting continuity. Because the old club days don’t exist anymore – the idea of playing in a club for a week or two weeks where a group could really develop its material. It just doesn’t happen like that anymore. I imagine at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London it still happens, but our music never gets to those sorts of places.

Recently we did a release of our ECM album, the one with Maya called Ceremony. It has just come out in the States. We did a concert at Tonic in New York, just as kind of a release party. And that took the form of Maya and I playing our material the first half, and the second half as a trio with Marilyn Crispell and Gerry Hemingway. What was intriguing was how many young people were in the audience. It was extraordinary. When Maya was playing one of her solo pieces, there was this guy with his head grooving in the front row. He was thoroughly enjoying it. There are some young people coming from I don’t know where, maybe another planet or something, but suddenly there is a flowering of interest in music away from the commercial music. We are seeing it constantly and we are hearing about it. So whether this is all derived from Internet activity, it would certainly indicate that it is not only our old fans that are supporting music, but there is also the younger generation that is making contact with us. I hear this from Evan when he comes over and plays.

AJ: Did you ask him about the Gush show last night?

BG: I didn’t go, but I gather it was full, it was young, there was a whole group of 25 year olds…

AJ: Nice turn out. Evan Parker and George Lewis among a crowd whose mean age was probably around 22-23 years old. Kids were up there in a trance just listening and watching what the guys were doing. It was really great to see that, and forgive me, rather than seeing a stuffy crowd of judgmental listeners with concrete expectations…well, we’ve seen that. So times seem to be changing.

BG: That’s right! It’s happening here as well. Where have these people been? Where does this new generation come from? I don’t know. It’s a joy to see it, and I think that we can only be thankful. As we are getting older we are getting gray hair, and it’s great to see people coming out and enjoying the music. There are people finding alternatives. As long as we can make the music, it’s great to see the people.

AJ: One last question. What stimulated the move to put together the New Orchestra?

BG: The idea of starting a new band actually arose from a conversation I had with Patrik Landolt at Intakt Records. We had observed that it was getting more and more difficult to get the LJCO concerts, because of its size, because we had no funding. Some countries fund their bigger groups for one reason or another. ICP gets something from the Dutch government, the Instabile gets something from the Italian government, French Jazz Orchestra has some French support from their government. Somehow we’ve always stayed, not by desire, outside of that solid funding possibility. We are finding it difficult to put the band into festivals because festivals don’t have so much as much money as they used to and they don’t want to spend it all on one band when they can get, perhaps, more American players that can guarantee an audience. Whereas the European festivals are almost a luxury. You get this big migration from America to Europe that happens every year. A bunch of American groups just blaze around Europe and come back in the winter. But for a big European group to be in a European festival, well it’s pretty hard. They are not putting as much money out for them. Patrik’s idea was to consider making a smaller group, which would be a flexible sort of hit and run group or something. Getting ten people together would be easier than getting seventeen together. It would be easier to fund and it would give me a different focus. All of those reasons seemed to be good. The reality is that the group comes from America, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland.

AJ: A melting pot.

BG: It is, but it’s actually a nightmare to get together because the logistics of getting everybody, coming from different airports, and different parts of the world together at the same time. This has not only made it almost logistically impossible for Maya Homburger to organize, but it’s difficult in terms of funding as well. Whereas in the old days, even though we don’t get government support, we sometimes got British Council support for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, and for some big projects we would get a few hundred pounds to help us with air fare.

AJ: Why can’t they do that here [U.S.]?!

BG: I don’t know. I don’t understand how this country works. Canada has the Canada Council which has been quite supportive of quite a few arts projects. But America is different. The USA is on another planet as far as I’m concerned. That’s why so many musicians come over to Europe, because the European festivals are supportive. There is a good network of agents and promoters that can ensure that if an American group comes over they can keep moving around Europe. It’s just a shame that the European groups don’t have the same facility going the other way. However, things are changing a little bit, not at a governmental level, but certainly at grass roots level. People via the internet can actually get on the road. Since we’ve been here in Vancouver we’ve met two people who have great desires in getting the Parker Trio a concert in their galleries or spaces. Once it’s set off then it’s a matter of us getting from one place to the other. But anyway, the big band thing is a logistics nightmare in terms of travel, and also any government funding. The individuals have to make their own representations. Where in the old days the LJCO could go to the British Council and say that we’ve got 17 guys… The growing pains of this are one thing, the reality of music is another. Maya and I have to sit at home and do all of the painful work. She has most it, having to relate to everybody and send e-mails, phone calls. We are always hanging on by our fingernails. Hans Koch nearly didn’t get his funding from Pro Helvetia, the Swiss arts council, because he had placed in front of them several projects that he wanted funding for. They went in as a list. They look at the list, take the top and put the rest in the dustbin. I think that we were just a little bit further down the list, and it was only by a late intervention by Maya, who happened to find out whether they were considering his application, that they found it was about to be thrown out. She said that if we can’t get funding for him to over here, it means we can’t afford to get him here, therefore the band won’t work in Vancouver. They said they hadn’t realized that and were only looking at a list of options from Hans, who had made the submission. So they said, “Well, of course, we want him to be playing with that band in an international situation.” So they gave him the funding to get the ticket to join us. It was almost within a day or two that the whole thing would have collapsed or not. It worked in our favor by Maya having, I suppose, an intuition. It’s those sorts of things that mean we either do it or we don’t. It’s these small things.


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