Some Live Improv Action At Last!!

So I went to a live gig on the 16th July, purportedly to hear reeds woman Sue Lynch and N.O. Moore in a trio with Lucie Stephenson on electronics and ‘objects’, very much an 'improvisers within electronics’ proposition. However, Stephenson got 'pinged’, so had to self-isolate and, very handily, old stalwarts John Edwards and Steve Beresford stepped into the breach. An instant 'supergroup’ was thus configured, an attraction that I very much needed, after a nightmare car journey through Islington’s new traffic systems, that very much seemed to force cars through major roads and council estates rather than through the borough’s gentrified Georgian purlieus. (Yes, I know. I should have taken public transport and will in future, but I do wonder who these projects will ultimately benefit.)

The Hundred Years Gallery is, shamefully, a new one on me. It was a hot evening, with the door remaining open on to the outside terrace. Apparently, gigs usually take place in the basement, but the unexpected addition tonight of a Beresford piano appearance, meant that the performance took place on the ground floor of the gallery. This meant that some of the (admittedly very sparse) audience sat outside - how many of these eventually paid the risibly small entry fee (¬£5 - I insisted on paying them 10) is open to question, as the entrance operations seemed fairly ad hoc. (Free Improvisers means of existence has always been a mystery to me, and tonight’s gig merely reinforced my uncertainties; Nathan Moore confirmed to me that he has a proper day job.)

Alex Ward gave us some comic relief by phoning the Gallery shortly before the start, and seeming to harass the host by demanding to know when the gig started, spinning his queries out for about five minutes. (He eventually failed to turn up, when all way said and done.) The ensuing performance of Moore/Beresford/Lynch and Edwards was an entirely satisfactory pointillist example of free improv over two sets, with the rather idiosyncratic sight of half the audience on the outside looking in. My impression was of a Cubist Jimmy Giuffre Quartet (with Lynch on clarinet and tenor, and Moore filling the Jim Hall role). The second set had a more kinetic 'free improv’ feel, with increased use of 'little instruments’, and it was again interesting for me to observe another 'uncertain ending’: the second set grinded to an ambivalent halt, at which Beresford assertively stated that “that’s the end, isn’t it?”, as the others seemed rather inclined to carry on. Steve was right, but then again he is a free improviser of fifty years standing, so he should know!

All in all, it was so great to return to live improv, and to see Steve and John again. Sue Lynch and Nathan Moore remain talents to be reckoned with, and I hope that they will gain increased recognition in the post-Covid live environment. It’s a shame that I subsequently screwed up a very promising gig on the 1st. August, featuring a trio of John Butcher, Dominic Lash and Hannah Marshall, again at the Hundred Years Gallery, by getting the time wrong - I assumed it began at 19.30, when in fact it was at 15.30. Doh! upon Doh! I always associate improv with evening performances, which just goes to prove the tyranny of assumptions.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.