Fusion • Prog • Third Stream
The band that never was... (but now is again)
In brief, this is a revival of a project from 1974 that never came to fruition. Click below for full details...
Perfect Stranger finally has its own web site! Yes, you can now get all the latest news ansd information from there, including biographies of the musicians. The historical part is slightly less detailed than here though, so this page will stay put for the foreseeable future.
After leaving university in 1973, with a B.Mus. (lower second) tucked under my arm, I wanted to explore the idea of composing based on ‘classical’ (awful word!) principles but using the musical vocabulary and sounds of jazz and rock music. One of my initial influences in this (conceptually) was the band Yes (up to the album Close to the Edge). They were producing extended compositions without the usual verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle-8/verse/chorus/fade formula — or the jazzer’s head/bunch-of-solos/head-again formula. Stylistically, and especially rhythmically, I was more influenced by Frank Zappa and various jazz/rock/funk artists.
I therefore set about forming a band. The details of how I found all the musicians are lost in the mists of time, but some came from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, others through word of mouth and I met the bass player, Andy Crawford, in the queue for a Zappa concert. After one or two changes of personnel, I ended up with a fine group of players, nine including myself (on not so fine guitar), which I intended to call Perfect Stranger (a decade before Zappa’s piece with that title, so no, I didn’t nick it and it isn’t a deliberate tribute).
Some of these musicians went on to become highly respected players on the London jazz circuit, most notably Chris Biscoe (saxes), Dick Pearce (trumpet and flugelhorn), Paul Nieman (trombone) and the late — and legendary — Pete Jacobsen (electric piano), a truly extraordinary musician, about whom I’ve written my own reminiscence. I recently tracked down the other multi-reed player, Mark Hutchings, who has remained musically active and now lives on the south coast of the UK. The percussionist, Clifton Prior, flourished in the classical percussion world in Wales, and Andy Crawford has returned musically to his first love, the baroque flute, as well as becoming a leading maker of decorative boxes. Another established jazz musician who was in the band initially was the drummer Dave Barry (who put me onto Pete), but after a while he decided it wasn’t for him and Paul Cartwright took his place. I have been unable to trace Paul, which is a shame because he did an excellent job for me, so if you know him and can put me in touch I would be grateful.
I wrote a four movement work for this band, called Life & Times (of a Perfect Stranger), which you can read about in detail here. Chris Biscoe, with whom I’ve renewed contact in recent years, and who is an inveterate archivist, brought to my attention that apart from Life & Times I composed and arranged a bunch of other pieces for this band — all of which I’d completely forgotten about, but Chris kept the parts I wrote out for him! He’s since given them to me, and at a guess, there’s at least enough material for an album. But read on...
A few years ago, after meeting Chris Biscoe and Paul Nieman at a gig they were both playing in, I got the idea to revive Perfect Stranger, and I’m happy to report that it finally happened!
While declining the offer to take part himself, Chris was extremely helpful in providing me with a list of contacts for suitable musicians, through which (and with one contact leading to another and so on) I now have this stellar line-up:
- Adam Bishop (soprano & alto sax, bass clarinet, flute)
- Mick Foster (soprano, tenor & baritone sax, flute)
- Shanti Jayasinha (trumpet & flugelhorn)
- Tom Green (trombone)
- Alcyona Mick (piano)
- Eddy White (guitar)
- Rob Millett (vibraphone & percussion)
- Paul Michael (bass guitar)
- Jonas Golland (drums)
- myself (some fretless bass guitar, but mostly conducting)
- ... and various deps who have done some fantastic work for us, sitting in when the regular members are unavailable: Dave Manington and Tom Mason (bass), Paul Taylor and Oli Rath (trombone), Mike De Souza (guitar), Will Gibson (saxes), George Jefford (trumpet).
Apart from Life & Times, our repertoire also includes the other major piece I wrote for the 1974 band, but which we never got as far as looking at: Ludwig’s Van. This, as the title suggests, is based on a piece by the mighty LvB himself, but I leave it as an exercise for the listener to identify the work! Add to this some smaller-scale numbers — Lugubrious Boots (also 1974), a newer one, Kapadokya and a couple of tiny pieces by Frank Zappa, Igor’s Boogie, Phases 1 and 2 — and we have about an hour and a quarter of music (naturally not including time for applause — we hope — and chat to the audience).
All of this has finally led to....
Gigs and recordings
So far we’ve done six gigs:
- Thursday 24 March 2022: Karamel, north London. Dave Manington bravely played bass for this gig — and did a cracking job — as Paul Michael had a prior engagement.
- Wednesday 6 July 2022: Colchester Arts Centre. Dave Manington played bass again for this gig, and Paul Taylor took Tom Green’s trombone chair — not to mention we had our then new drummer Tristan Mailliot, so we did some urgent rehearsing!
- Wednesday 5 October 2022: Jazz825 in Southend-on-Sea. This was our first gig with our ‘official’ line-up, no deps! Wonderful reception from the folks in Sarfend! And thanks to Trevor Taylor for inviting us.
- Monday 14 November 2022: EFG London Jazz Festival at Karamel, north London. No deps again, but we'd switched to Jonas Golland on drums. We played well and got a tremendous reception.
- Saturday 11 February 2023: The Jazz Centre UK, Southend-on-Sea — kindly invited back by Trevor Taylor. We had no fewer than four deps for this one: Oli Rath (trombone), Mike De Souza (guitar) and Tom Mason (bass), who all had just one rehearsal; and most remarkably Will Gibson who, at one day’s notice and with no rehearsal, sat in for Mick Foster (saxes) who went down with Covid at the worst possible time. Considering that Southend Council wouldn’t let us play a single note outside our allotted gig time (2-4 pm) — which meant no sound check — it all went remarkably well.
- Monday 27 February 2023: Jazz In The Round, The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH — a last-minute gig after I spotted that their web site said ‘Acts TBA’ for the February JITR! We once again had three deps: George Jefford on trumpet, Mike De Souza again on guitar, and our old friend Dave Manington on bass. Like Oli, Mike and Tom Mason before Southend, George had just one rehearsal with us, and gave a stellar performance. As a marvellous bonus, the show was opened by a short solo sax set from one of the band’s founding fathers, the great Chris Biscoe! Great crowd, who gave us an equally great reception.
- Nothing at the moment — any offers?
...but our debut album, Unfinished Business, is now in production! We recorded the basic tracks on 9 and 10 October at AIR Studios. Full details here.
First, the old stuff: here’s the very rough recording we managed to cobble together before disbanding the 1974 band. It’s the first movement of Life & Times from a rehearsal, edited together from numerous takes and with numerous mistakes, omissions, etc., but still giving a good impression of the music:
And now the newer stuff: having managed to organise a rare full-band rehearsal in August 2021, when our drummer was Gary Willcox, I also arranged to film it. This video was done by Jonas Golland (yes, the sometime drummer of PsychoYogi and now Perfect Stranger’s drummer, a man of many parts) and John Murphy, who between them amassed a vast quantity of video and audio material from five cameras and an audio recorder in the course of four hours or so. They also came round to film me talking about the project in the garden. From all this we’ve boiled it down to four short films which are on YouTube.
The easiest is to watch this playlist of all four videos listed below (c.21 minutes):
Or if you’d rather watch them separately:
- A taster for Life & Times, with none of my nattering (or my face)
- Mini-documentary part 1: The History (more or less what’s on this page, with actual music)
- Mini-documentary part 2: The Music (partly what’s on the Life & Times page, with other music too)
- Mini-documentary part 3: The Players (concentrating on all those wonderful people listed above)
And now the even newer stuff: here are six snippets of our performance of Ludwig’s Van from the EFG London Jazz Festival gig at Karamel in November 2022. They total roughly half the piece and you’ll find info about them with the video on YouTube. It was shot by Natty of Beyond Images, and for reasons of space the extracts are listed here as links rather than embedding them all.
Note: it’s recommended that you turn off Autoplay in the YouTube player that opens (sadly, there appears to be no way to do this from ‘this side’). You’ll find the switch at the bottom of the player — it’s the one circled in red here, just click it:
... and in any case this isn’t a playlist as the extracts aren’t contiguous.
- Ludwig’s Van snippet 1
- Ludwig’s Van snippet 2
- Ludwig’s Van snippet 4
- Ludwig’s Van snippet 6
- Ludwig’s Van snippet 7
- Ludwig’s Van snippet 8
We were hoping to get some decent video of our February gig in Southend, but sadly it was not to be. However we had a video team with us on the second day of our sessions at AIR Studios, so hopefully something will result from that in the fullness of time.
Although this project seemed to have bitten the dust back in the 70s, I wasn’t discouraged from this general compositional direction, and it led on to one of my most ambitious works, Music for an Imaginary Ballet for jazz/rock sextet and orchestra (as yet unperformed, need I add?). There are also touches of this sort of thing in later pieces such as my Trumpet Concerto and Invisible Cities.