Joy Unlimited: the Sound of Harry Beckett
Joy Unlimited: the Sound of Harry Beckett

Currently trying to find a publisher for a Harry Beckett biography/reference book .... or might self-publish?

Just to whet the appetite .... here's a draft sample chapter to show the style and approach.  This has not been proof read or edited by someone who's a better writer than me and it doesn't yet contain the necessary references

1970 – An Important Year for Harry

 

Flare Up

Graham Collier Music

Ray Russell

Stan Tracey

Other recording sessions

Mike Osborne’s Outback

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath

The London Jazz Composers Orchestra

Other Studio Dates

 

 

As Alyn Shipton states in his sleeve notes for the 2007 BGO re-issue on CD of three Graham Collier albums (Down Another Road, Songs For My Father and Mosaics) ‘The years 1969 and 1970 marked a great transition in jazz, not just in Britain, but all over the world …. Britain was ahead of the game in many ways …. During these same years Graham Collier was also in the vanguard of jazz development in Britain.’

 

Of course, Harry Beckett was present on those three Graham Collier albums and 1970, in particular, was a very prolific year for him; perhaps it was his ‘breakthrough’ year if such a thing really exists. Besides with Collier, he played in many different and varied live groupings up and down the country and in Europe as well as spending a serious amount of time in the recording studio with a range of different bands, small and large. He was also seen and heard on the televison and radio a few times that year.

 

He mainly played live with Graham Collier Music but also with Neil Ardley's New Jazz Orchestra and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, he was in Ray Russell’s recording and gigging band and, towards the end of the year, started playing in the second version of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.

 

His debut album Flare Up was released in the July of that year and laid the groundwork for his trademark trumpet and electric piano combination that was to serve him well for many years ahead.

 

It was in the recording studio that the sheer breadth of his contribution to many important recordings and styles of jazz was made this year, including:

 

Graham Collier Music’s Songs For My Father

Mike Osborne’s Outback

Ray Russell’s Rock Workshop

Bob Downes Open Music’s Electric City

The Trio’s Conflagration

Mike Gibbs’ Tanglewood ‘63

Nucleus’ Solar Plexus

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath

 

Some of these sessions were not released until 1971. Albums featuring Harry which were released in 1970 include:

 

Graham Collier Music - Songs For My Father (Fontana, 1970)

Harry Beckett - Flare Up (Jazzprint, 1970)

Mike Osborne – Outback (Turtle, 1970)

Bob Downes Open Music - Electric City (Vertigo, 1970)

John Surman - How Many Clouds Can You See? (Deram, 1970)

Ray Russell’s Rock Workshop – Rock Workshop (CBS, 1970)

C.C.S. (RAK, 1970)

Colosseum ‎– Daughter Of Time (Vertigo, 1970)

Manfred Mann Chapter Three ‎– Volume Two (Vertigo, 1970)

Various, Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice ‎– Jesus Christ Superstar (MCA, 1970)

Memphis Slim ‎– Blue Memphis (Barclay, 1970)

 

 

Flare Up

 

Harry Beckett’s debut album was recorded and released in 1970 on the Philips label. Harry had gathered together a small group featuring some of the ‘best of British’ of the time to make the album. Alongside Harry, on alto sax, there was Mike Osborne, on baritone and soprano John Surman, on soprano and tenor saxophone – Alan Skidmore, John Taylor on piano, Chris Laurence on bass, Frank Ricotti on vibes and percussion and John Webb on drums. Harry plus Surman, Osborne and Skidmore - S.O.S. as was to come - with a superb rhythm section.

 

Four of the tracks on Flare Up were written by Harry Beckett, with four contributed by Graham Collier and one from John Surman (Where Fortune Smiles).

 

There is an expansive review of the 2005 CD re-issue on Jazzprint of Flare Up by Thom Jurek on allmusic.com:

 

“Flare Up is the debut album by Caribbean trumpet player Harry Beckett. It remains an occasion to celebrate decades after its initial release during the golden age of British jazz. Beckett had been a member of the various big bands of the era, such as Graham Collier's, Mike Westbrook's, and John Surman's, preparing him well for this first date as a leader. It does take some cues from the late Miles Davis Quintet sides like Filles de Kilimanjaro and Directions, but it's also funkier, brighter, and freer simultaneously, owing to the great explorations in improvisation taking place in Great Britain and in Europe in general, as well as the late-era modal jazz of Miles. The lineup on this session is quite impressive: the triple-sax front line is comprised of Surman, Alan Skidmore, and Mike Osborne, with Chris Laurence and John Webb on bass and drums alternately, Frank Ricotti on vibes and congas, and John Taylor's uncredited Fender Rhodes piano. Beckett composed four of these pieces, Collier another four, and Surman (who had been flown in from Belgium for the date) one. The feel is brash in places, but there are grooves even in the more abstract spaces of tunes such as "Go West" and "The Other Side." With a three-sax front line, Beckett is uncaged to roam throughout the arrangement and accent the gritty and gruff, making his horn both a seductively mysterious element as well as a more elaborate extension of the rhythm section -- and Webb's drumming in places is absolutely unhinged (check the Beckett pieces like the title track and "Flow Stream Flow," as well as Surman's signature piece, "When Fortune Smiles"). This date was reissued by Jazzprint in 2005, and contains brilliant liner notes by noted British critic Richard Williams. This is essential for anyone interested in British jazz from its most creative period.”

 

Duncan Heining in Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers goes deeper into Harry Beckett’s playing on the album:

 

“With Taylor on Fender Rhodes for much of the album it has a strong feel of the period but this is vibrant, propulsive music with four tunes contributed by Graham Collier, Surman’s “Where Fortune Smiles” - in perhaps its finest incarnation – and with the other four tunes coming from Beckett. “Third Road” offers one of those lovely, loping blues that almost typified Collier’s small groups of the time with marvellous vibes from Ricotti, sinuous soprano from Surman and some glorious playing from Beckett. Beckett’s “Flow Stream Flow” has a strong Caribbean lilt to it and Osborne’s gritty alto contrasts well with Beckett’s supremely assured flugelhorn. The range of tones that Beckett could draw from his horn can be heard on Collier’s “The Other Side” and there’s a tenderness to his flugelhorn here that reflects the man. Beckett’s “Fool’s Play” may be the best piece of writing and arranging on the album and it closes the set perfectly. If the record has any shortcomings, it lies in its rather muddy sound. That reservation aside, it is an astonishing album.”

 

Harry Beckett benefitted from what was a great year for British Jazz with record labels funding recording sessions and plenty of touring opportunities. In a June 1970 issues of Melody Maker, looking forward to recording Flare Up Harry was quoted as saying:

 

“Jazz is fairly healthy here – there are quite a few bands getting work. I’ve certainly known it a lot worse!”

 

 

Graham Collier Music

 

One of the bands getting most work and who Harry Beckett was busy with throughout 1970 was the six piece Graham Collier group previously called the Graham Collier Sextet and then renamed Graham Collier Music featuring Harry Beckett for the release of their Songs For My Father album later that year. The group was regularly gigging as well as spending time in the studio and making recordings for the BBC.

 

The year got off to a busy start for the band; in the January issue of Jazz Journal under the Jazz Diary section we see Harry scheduled to play with Graham Collier on:

 

22nd January at The Albion, Fulham Broadway

25th January at the Grayhound in Redhill, East Surrey

26th January at the 100 Club, Oxford Street

28th January at Cambridge University

30th January at the Imperial in Brighton

31st January at Bedford College, Regents Park

 

Other gigs advertised that January in Jazz Journal included Roland Kirk all month at Ronnie Scott’s with support from the Stan Tracey Quartet with Peter King, Dave Green and Bryan Spring.

 

Helpfully coinciding with Collier touring, the February issue of Jazz Journal saw inclusion in a small advert for the Graham Collier Sextet’s Down Another Road which had been recorded in the previous March but which the current group were playing tunes from. It was a half-page advert for the Philips company listing six albums from their Philips, ESP-DISK or Fontana International labels and also included My Name Is Albert Ayler, Ghosts by Ayler, Cecil Taylor’s Nefertiti, My Beautiful One Has Come and Bob Downes Open Music.

 

In that same February issue of Jazz Journal there was a rather negative review from Owen Peterson, in his Short Takes feature, of the Graham Collier Group’s television broadcast from Ronnie Scott’s the previous October as part of the Jazz Scene At The Ronnie Scott Club series. This was a series of weekly programmes on BBC2 featuring some of Britain's top jazz artists of the time. The Graham Collier Sextet for the broadcast was the configuration that had recorded Down Another Road back in March 1969 and featured Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax, Nick Evans on trombone, Harold Beckett on flugelhorn, Karl Jenkins on piano and oboe, Graham Collier on bass and John Marshall at the drums. The broadcast mostly featured material from Down Another Road.

 

Owen Peterson wrote this:

 

“One of the charges often made by New Thing advocates against people like me who hate the stuff, is that we refuse to listen. The charge is a just one. In my case, however, the refusal is inspired, partly at least, by a sense of self-preservation – a disinclination, in one’s declining years, to waste time listening to tripe when one could be listening to something worthwhile – or even nothing at all. Occasionally, however, I emerge from my protective covering and audition something from the contemporary scene – raise the lid a fraction, as it were, to see if the stew is still simmering. Such an event took place a few weeks ago when I watched the Graham Collier Group on BBC television broadcasting from the Ronnie Scott club. I could (and, indeed, have) said a lot about what I heard, but for now I’ll content myself with this observation: if this is what the supposedly ‘healthy’ state of contemporary British jazz is all about, then, in the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, you can include me out. As Dick Martin would remark about those off-key fanfares on Laugh In - ‘it makes your hair hurt’.”

 

On a more positive note, in early 1970 Graham Collier Music’s Songs For My Father was released. This had an almost completely revised personnel from 1969’s Down Another Road with only Harry Beckett surviving from the previous group. The line-up now was Harry Beckett on trumpet and flugelhorn, Alan Wakeman on tenor sax, Bob Sydor on tenor and alto sax, John Taylor at the piano, Graham Collier on bass and Chick Webb at the drums. These six are heard on all tracks on the album with more personnel added on certain tracks including Tony Roberts (tenor sax), Alan Skidmore (tenor sax), Phil Lee (guitar) and Derek Wadsworth (trombone).

 

Graham Collier’s original line notes explained the personnel changes and the reason for saying “featuring Harry Beckett” in the band name:

 

“Since making my last album, I have changed the name of the band and in fact most of the personnel. The reasons for the latter are, as always, various but the new personnel has, to me, proved itself as the best I have had.

 

The new name arose from a desire to free myself from the necessity of having to work with six people because of the associations of the word “sextet”. Although the basic personnel is still six, I intend now to add people to this group as and when they are required. The reason for “featuring Harry Beckett” is simply my way of saying thank you to the man who has given me more listening pleasure than almost anyone and also my way of cashing in on what must happen very soon – the real recognition of what a great talent he is.”

 

What a great thing to say about Harry Beckett, and Graham Collier was clearly pretty accurate in predicting that 1970 would be Harry’s ‘break-through’ year.

 

Graham Collier toured his new line-up between March and July of 1970. According to Jazz Diary in the issues of Jazz Journal for those months, Graham Collier’s Music played on:

 

12th March at the Oakway Mansion, Paignton for the Torbay Modern Music Club

7th May at the Torrington, Finchley

8th May at Sussex University (with Alan Skidmore added)

11th May at the Bull’s Head, Barnes Bridge

13th May at the Playhouse Theatre, Charing Cross (for a BBC Jazz Club broadcast)

24th May at the Ash Tree, Gillingham

11th June at the Albion, Holland Park

3rd - 5th July at Wansfell College, Theydon Bois (a jazz weekend with Graham Collier’s Music)

 

In the March of 1970 you could have also seen performing live around the country – the Mike Gibbs Big Band, Kenny Wheeler, the Dave Holdsworth Quintet and the Mike Westbrook Quartet. In May you could also have enjoyed live – the Keef Hartley Big Band and the Mike Osborne Trio. In June – Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Brian Smith, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME), Pete Lemer, Howard Riley, Dave Holdsworth, Alan Wakeman, Keith Tippett, Keef Hartley and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. In July things started to really hot up as you could have also caught (beside Harry Beckett with Graham Collier) – Amalgam, Bob Downes/Ray Russell, Johnny Dyani, Ken Terroade, Mike Osborne, Chris McGregor, Mike Westbrook, Howard Riley, Michael Garrick (with Art Themen, Ian Carr, Coleridge Goode, Norma Winstone and others), Mike Gibbs, SME, John Surman. They truly were exciting times or was it simply that Jazz Journal diary was waking up to the “New Thing”?

 

The 13th May BBC Radio 2 Jazz Club recording was presented by Humphrey Lyttelton and was the first of a number of appearances by Graham Collier on the BBC I 1970. A recording of the broadcast does not appear to have been given to the British Library Sound Archive.

 

Fontana invested in half-page adverts in both the June and July issues of Jazz Journal for Songs For My Father with the strap line “What should you not miss this month? Or any month for that matter!” They included a picture of the front cover of the album.

 

August 1970 finally saw a review of Songs For My Father in Jazz Journal. This was written by Ron Brown and was in complete contrast to the critiscism of this ‘new music’ made by one of the Jazz Journal columnists in February and discussed above. It’s worth including the entire review here:

 

“At first one is disappointed by the absence of the tonal distinction that Nick Evans’ trombone and Karl Jenkins’ oboe lent to Graham’a previous album (‘Down Another Road’ - Fontana SFJL 922), but in fact this LP is extremely valuable because of the way it empasises Collier’s own contribution. His control of the group’s rhythmic personality through the medium of his own bass playing is perhaps easy to appreciate,; more difficult to describe is the extremely personal way he uses the rest of the ensemble to highlight the work of a soloist. Take, for example, the riffs he sets up behind Alan Wakeman’s soprano on Ballad and that lovely growling chord that sneaks up behind the soloist every few bars on Seven-Four: these devices are essentially very simple, but they come over, somehow, as unmistakably Collier.

 

Among the soloists, Harry Beckett stands out, as he does no matter what he’s involved in; living in London exposes one constantly to the unfailingly satisfying club appearances by this musician – fans living elsewhere should lose no time in picking up this superb example of his work. The same goes for John Taylor, my favourite of local piano men. And, when all’s said and done, the group really communicates on an emotional level; it’s impossible not to respond to the terrific heat with which this swinging outfit blows. ‘Down Another Road’ was and is, in my opinion, a great jazz LP; ‘Songs For My Father’ doesn’t quite reach so high, but I wouldn’t want to be without either.”

 

In that same edition, columnist Steve Voce also spoke about Graham Collier in warm terms, again in total contrast to the dismissive words about this kind of jazz from earlier in the year. In his monthly It Don’t Mean A Thing column, Steve wrote:

 

“Hot on the heels of the superb Michael Gibbs album comes a powerful effort from the Graham Collier group with tremendous work from Harry Beckett, Alan Skidmore, the composer and a number of others. There’s no space to deal with it here but I hope to return to it later. It’s on Fontana 6309 006, and you should go out of you way to hear it.”

 

The August 1970 edition of Jazz Journal also saw a full page essay on Graham Collier, written by Martin King, as part of their 10-part ‘British Jazzmen’ series. This talks about the musicians Graham Collier picks to work with, especially Harry Beckett, in glowing terms.

 

2nd November 1970 and Graham Collier Music featuring Harry Beckett was on the radio again. It was BBC Radio 2’s Jazz Club presented by Humphrey Lyttelton as in May. And again no recording of the broadcast appears to have been given to the British Library for us to enjoy.

 

There was a very positive review of an October gig at the 100 Club in the November issue of Jazz Journal. In the Jazz In Britain feature, Ron Brown wrote:

 

“ …. the pieces played weren’t in the same order as on the album, nor do the compositions feature the same soloists every time – solo assignments are awarded during performance. For example, Harry Beckett was playing a beautiful unaccompanied solo on Waltz In Four-Four when Jeff Castle quietly began to play the backing riff to Ballad; this seemed to me to be quite spontaneous, and Harry responded marvellously, his playing gradually becoming more intense as the riff was taken up by the rest of the horns ….”

 

“As far as I’m concerned, Graham Collier’s single-minded dedication to his aims has made his the most enjoyable outfit on the current British scene.”

 

The success of the Graham Collier band with Harry Beckett in a leading role all came to a head, and formal recognition, in December 1970 when a number of the Jazz Journal reviewers included it in their Jazz Record Of The Year selections. Ron Brown voted it third in his top ten, one slot ahead of Bitches Brew; Steve Voce also put it third behind Bitches Brew and the Michael Gibbs album; and Chris Wellard nominated it in fifth place in his list ahead of Michael Gibbs, John McLaughlin’s Extrapolation and Alan Skidmore’s Once Upon A Time.

 

On 8th December 1970 Harry was at the Torrington Arms in recording Mosaics, subsequently released in 1971, with Graham Collier Music. Two versions were actually recorded that night; the one released in 1970 but also an ‘alternate’ version which lay unreleased until 2007 when BGO included it in a three album, double CD, issue of Deep Dark Blue Centre, Portraits and The Alernate Mosaics. Alyn Shipton in his sleeve note to the 2007 appearance wrote this these Graham Collier albums and Mosaics in particular:

 

“In essence, the musical journey we hear on these three albums is Collier finding the confidence and independence to do what he refers to in the sub-title of his book, The Jazz Composer (Northway Books), as ”Moving music off the paper”. He sees the major difficulty presented by this type of work as creating ”space for something to happen in the writing”. In a recent BBC interview, the bassist and bandleader Gary Crosby talked of hearing this I970 version of Graham Collier's band playing this very music from ’Mosaics’while he was at college, and deciding then and there that this was the kind of thing he wanted to play himself. The dramatic arrival of Geoff Castle on piano, a player even more suited to Collier’s aesthetic than the mercurial John Taylor, and the well-established front line of Beckett, Sydor and Wokernan mean that although we now only have the opportunity to hear their performance of 8 December 1970, we can imagine how other performances of ’Mosaics’ might have sounded. If one of these events was responsible for bringing such a major contributor to British jazz as Crosby into the music, who knows what further catalytic effect this work must have had up and down the colleges and jazz clubs of Britain every time it was performed?”

 

 

Ray Russell

 

Ray Russell and Harry Beckett started collaborating seriously in 1970 and for the followimg few years were very important to each other, producing some glorious music together. In early April (the 4th and 5th to be exact) they were together in the De Lane Lea Sound Studios in Kingsway in London recording Ray’s Rock Workshop album. The jazz rock group Rock Workshop were formed by Ray Russells jand featured many of the UK’s leading young jazz musicians of the time. Rock Workshop originally included Harry Beckett (trumpet and flugelhorn), Bob Downes (saxophones and flute), Bud Parkes (trumpet), Tony Roberts (trumpet and woodwind), Derek Wadsworth (trombone), Alan Greed and Alex Harvey (vocals), Brian Miller (keyboards), Daryl Runswick (bass) and Alan Rushton and Robin Jones (drums). This was an exciting time for British jazz rock and several of these musicians were involved in other, simultaneous projects, including albums by Bob Downes, and nearly all made session appearances on famous albums of that time by Jack Bruce and Keef Hartley amongst others.

 

Other live gigs, studio sessions and BBC recordings cropped up throughout 1970 for Ray Russell and Harry. For example:

 

16th July at the Kings Head, Fulham Broadway (under the banner Albion Music a double header from Ray Russell and Bob Downes

 

Then, in September 1970, Harry was in the De Lane Lea studio again but this time as part of the Ray Russell Sextet recording their Rites and Rituals album which was released on CBS in 1971. The sextet comprised Ray Russell on guitar (who also wrote and arranged all four sings for the album), Harry Beckett on trumpet, Nick Evans on trombone, Tony Roberts on sax, Darryl Runswick on bass and Alan Ashton at the drums.

 

The Ray Russell Sextet were recorded a number of times throughout 1970 for BBC broadcasts but it’s a little hit or miss trying to work out exactly when. Ray Russell did not keep a diary and the BBC Genome site only lists the dates (from scanning in Radio Times) of the broadcast, ie not the recording date. The sound archive at the British Library does not appear to contain copies of these recordings which is a pity as, when they do, they list full details of the sessions – dates, musicians, titles recorded, composers etc. So some of the following broadcasts may have been recorded the previous year. Maybe a reader will have a precious home (ie off-air) recording of one of these gigs and could supply more accurate information. This is what the BBC Genome site lists for 1970:

 

19th January 1970 – Jazz Workshop (BBC Radio1) – The Ray Russell Sextet introduced by Richard Williams

 

20th April 1970 – Jazz in Britain (BBC Radio 3) – The Ray Russell Sextet introduced by Derek Jewell, jazz critic of the Sunday Times, playing two of Ray’s compositions

 

 

Stan Tracey

 

Harry Beckett was a perennial member of Stan Tracey’s bands of all shapes and sizes on many BBC sessions and concerts over the years. Stephen Didymus lists 43 Stan Tracey entries in his discography of the ‘Godfather of British jazz’. There was just one session for the BBC in 1970. The Stan Tracey Big Band comprising Derek Watkins, Kenny Baker, Harry Beckett, Paul Tungay on trumpets; Keith Christie, Dave Horler, Don Lusher, trombones; Mike Osborne, alto; Ronnie Scott, Tony Coe, tenor; Ronnie Ross, baritone; Frank Ricotti, vibes; Stan Tracey, piano, arrangements; Dave Green, bass; Bryan Spring, drums recorded in a London BBC studio on 14th December for Humphrey Lyttelton’s BBC Jazz Club seriesbroadcast on 3rd January 1971. The titles that were recorded are unknown and apparently a copy isn’t held in the British Library Sound Archive.

 

 

Other recording sessions

 

Harry Beckett was involved in a lot of very varied sessions for other band leaders and composers throughout 1970 or the previous year which were released in 1970 – some of them seminal albums of the time which are still revered as very influential. In chronological order these inlcuded:

 

John Surman’s How Many Clouds Can You See – Harry Beckett appears on just one track (Galata Bridge) on this album, originally released on Deram, which was recorded in March 1969. The review in Jazz Journal in April 1970 said that Surman “is to be heard roaring above a Westbrook like ensemble” (on Galata Bridge). The ‘Westbrook like ensemble’ comprised Harry Beckett, Malcolm Griffiths, Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, Johh Taylor, Harry Miller and Alan Jackson. The July 1970 issue of Jazz Journal had a full page advert for How Many Clouds Can You See on the back cover. It listed one ‘Harold Beckett’.

 

Neil Ardley's New Jazz Orchestra (NJO) Camden '70. This was recorded live at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre, Bloomsbury, London, WC1 during the Camden Festival on Tuesday 26th May 1970 and was not released until 2008 on CD on Dusk Fire Records. It featured a rock-oriented line-up of: Mike Davis, Nigel Carter, Harry Beckett, Henry Lowther (trumpet or flugelhorn), Dave Gelly, Jim Philip, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Barbara Thompson (saxophone, flute or bass clarinet), Derek Wadsworth, Mike Gibbs, Robin Gardner (trombone), Dick Hart (tuba), Clem Clempson (guitar), Dave Greenslade (Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes), Frank Jellett (vibraphone and percussion), Tony Reeves (bass guitar), Jon Hiseman (drums).

 

As you can see this was basically Colosseum with brass and horns. The line-up was substantially the one that had recorded NJO’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe minus Ian Carr, John Mumford and Frank Ricotti but plus a few replacements. The venue, now called simply the Cochrane Theatre and no longer featuring jazz concerts, was regular venue for the Camden Jazz Festival and then later the London Jazz Festival.

 

The writing, arrangements and playing are very good throughout all twelve compositions on the album. In his sleeve notes, Dave Gelly mentions Harry Beckett in glowing terms on two occassions:

 

“The soloist on flugelhorn (on Miles Davis’s Nardis) is Harry Beckett who has one of the most beautiful tones ever created on brass instrument, in my opinion.”

 

“(Study) is cast in the form of a duet between soprano saxophone (Barbara Thompson) and Trumpet (Harry Beckett) and this version is, I think, superior to the one on the Dejeuner album – because the interplay between the two of them is so intense.”

 

Barry McRae reviewed another May concert by the NJO and Colosseum, this time at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the July issue of Jazz Journal:

 

“The programme was divided into three parts. The first featured the NJO with the Colosseum five included in their ranks. Hiseman predictably played well and excellent solos came from Harry Beckett, Frank Ricotti, Barbara Thompson and Henry Lowther. …. The fact remains it was a pleasing concert, with plenty of fierce pop and moments like the Beckett/Thompson duet that would satisfy most jazz followers.”

 

Bob Downe’s Open Music’s Electric City which was recorded in early 1970 at Philips Studios in London and released on Vertigo Records. It featured a large ensemble of musicians: Bud Parks, Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, Kenny Wheeler and Nigel Carter (trumpet or and flugelhorn), Bob Downes (alto & tenor saxophone), Don Faye (baritone saxophone), Chris Spedding and Ray Russell (guitar), Daryl Runswick, Harry Mille and Herbie Flowers (bass), Robin Jones (percussion), Alan Rushton, Clem Cattini and Dennis Smith (drums).

 

Electric City was reviewed in the August Jazz Journal but no specific mention was made of Harry Beckett’s contribution.

 

Here’s a rather interesting one. Released in the summer of 1970, The Trio’s Conflagration actually featured Harry Beckett, along with a host of other musicians expanding the basic ‘trio’ of John Surman, Barre Phillips and Stu Martin. The entire personnel was: Harry Beckett (trumpet), Marc Charig (cornet), Chick Corea (piano), Nick Evans (trombone), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), Dave Holland (bass), John Marshall (drums), Stu Martin (drums), Mike Osborne (alto sax and clarinet), Barre Phillips (bass), Alan Skidmore (soprano & tenor sax, flute), Stan Sulzmann (clarinet and flute), John Surman (baritone and soprano sax, bass clarinet), John Taylor (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn).


 

Mike Osborne’s Outback

 

Another mid-1970 session alongside Mike Osborne resulted in the first release on Peter Eden’s Turtle Records, and Mike Osborne’s first under his own name - Outback. A great little quintet of Osborne on alto, Harry on trumpet, Chris McGregor on piano, Harry Miller on bass and Lious Moholo on drums produced just two Osborne composed tracks So It Is and Outback.

 

This recording came just two months after the Melody Maker’s Reader’s Poll declared Mike Osborned ‘No.l Alto‘ in Britain. The result was an album of what John Wickes described as “broiling intensity”, with Osborne’s playing unleashing “dark forces in an all-consuming rampaging freefall of jostled excess, a devastating outpouring of blind fury the flip side of genius, overloading fuses to the point of burn-out a demonic spirit that, tragically, would lead to eventual breakdown and withdrawal from music making."

 

A review by Adam Baruch on his ‘The Soundtrack of my Life’ website says this about Outback:

 

“Although Osborne recorded quite a few albums as a sideman, his output as leader is very limited. This was his debut session as a leader, which took a lot of persuasion to materialize, as Osborne hated to be in the limelight. Released on the legendary Turtle label (the first album to be recorded for the label, which was actually started to release this album), the album was a rare collector’s item for many years and the reissue is a blessing. The music consists of just two long tracks (which used to be the LP sides), performed by a quintet with Osborne on alto saxophone, Harry Beckett on trumpet, Chris McGregor on piano, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums (the rhythm section of Brotherhood Of Breath). On both tracks the quintet states the theme and then ventures into extended free improvisation passages, with splendid long solos by Osborne and Beckett. The album is a classic example of European Free Jazz, capturing the atmosphere of the era, when music was created because musicians had something to say. Not easy music, but essential to all enthusiasts of the genre and a most important historical document.”


 

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath

 

The important album made by Chris McGregor in late 1970, but not released until 1971 (on RCA) Chris McGregor’s Brotherhead of Breath included Harry Beckett alongside an impressive cast of players: on saxes Dudu Pukwana, Mike Osborne (also clarinet and flute), Ronnie Beer (and Indian flute), Alan Skidmore and John Surman; on Indian flute Mongezi Feza; on trumpet: Harry Beckett and Mogezi Feza; on cornet: Marc Charig; on trombone; Malcolm Griffiths and Nick Evans; on piano and African xylophone (and composing/arranging all the tunes): Chris McGregor; with Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums and percussion.

 

One review on the discogs.com website says that Brotherhood of Breath is:

“An album that fuses the influence of African music, jazz-rock, and free improvisation, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath shares affinities with the '70s music of Don Cherry and Miles Davis. Somewhat of a legendary album amongst collectors of British jazz and fusion, Brotherhood of Breath created one of the defining recordings of ethno-jazz with this album; with an expansive use of African-inspired melodies. This album comes highly recommended to fans of Don Cherry, Afro-beat sounds, and the Sun Ra Arkestra.”

 

A Melody Review at the time of its release stated that the Brotherhood of Breath were:

 

“Probably the most exciting band of any kind in London at the present.”

 

This was in fact Chris McGregor's second band in Britain. The first was formed in 1968 but they gave relatively few performances but still managed to be voted second only to Ellington in Melody Maker's poll. The band dissolved through lack of work for a band of its size. This second band was formed in June 1970 and gave its first performance in the same month at the Notre Dame Hall (with a slightly different line-up from that appearing on the recording – inlcuding Evan Parker and Ken Terroade on tenor saxes). That concert was reviewed by Pete Gamble in the August 1970 issue of Jazz Journal who wrote:

 

“For the opener the band played a Columbus Ngcukana composition called Mra, a rocking ensemble piece which had the audience whooping it up, right from the start, which was followed by a typical McGregor offering, Restless, with a nice solo from that so underrated musician, Harold Beckett.”

 

Duncan Heining in Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers discusses Outback and says the following about the contrast between Harry Beckett’s and Mike Osborne’s playing:

 

“On Outback, the themes are simple and open with an Ayler-like quality. Their real purpose is to allow the maximum scope for improvisation and both the title track and “So It Is” do precisely that. The contrast between Beckett’s stately solo on Outback with the frantic outpouring that follows from Osborne could not be more marked.”


 

The London Jazz Composers Orchestra

 

According to the British Library Sound Archive and the BBC Genome (although the precise dates aren’t confirmed on the latter), on 19th July 1970, Harry was part of Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra which pre-recorded a session for BBC Radio 3’s "Jazz in Britain" series (presented by Richard Williams) and which was broadcast on 17th August 1970. Four Guy-composed titles were recorded for the 30 minute broadcast: Ode for jazz orchestra: Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: Strophe 1; and Part 7: Coda.

 

The complete band personnel was: Harry Beckett, Nigel Carter, Marc Charig (trumpets and flugelhorns), Paul Rutherford, Mike Gibbs, Paul Nieman (trombones), Elton Dean, Trevor Watts, Chris Francis (alto saxophones), Alan Wakeman (tenor saxophone), Evan Parker (tenor and soprano saxophones), Bob Downes (tenor saxophone, flute), Karl Jenkins (baritone saxophone, oboe), Derek Bailey (guitar), Howard Riley (piano), Ron Mathewson, Chris Laurence, Barry Guy (double basses), Tony Oxley, Paul Lytton (percussion) and Buxton Orr (conductor).

 

 

Other Studio Dates

 

Towards the end of the year, a studio session for Harry Beckett is well documented and we can be certain about the exact dates. On 10th & 11th November and 2nd and 23rd December 1970, he was in the Morgan Studios recording tracks for Mike Gibbs’ Tanglewood ‘63 album. Released in 1971 on Deram, this included another stellar cast of players.

 

Mike Gibbs assembled an orchestra for this seminal recording session: saxophone and woodwind - Alan Skidmore, Brian Smith, John Surman, Stan Sulzmann, Tony Roberts; trumpet and flugelhorn – Harry Beckett, Henry Lowther, Kenny Wheeler, Nigel Carter; trombone – Chris Pyne, David Horler, Malcolm Griffiths; tuba – Alfie Reece, Dick Hart; violin – George French, Hugh Bean, Geoff Wakefield, Michael Rennie, Raymond Moseley, Tony Gilbert, Bill Armon; cello – Alan Ford, Fred Alexander; guitar – Chris Spedding; bass – Jeff Clyne; keyboards – Gordon Beck, John Taylor, Mick Pyne; vibraphone, percussion – Frank Ricotti; drums, percussion – Clive Thacker, John Marshall.

 

Then, finally, on 14th and 15th December, Harry Beckett was in the studio with Ian Carr’s Nucleus recording two tracks (Bedrock Deadlock and Spirit Level) for their Solar Plexus album which came out on Vertigo.

 

Harry Beckett played on two tracks (on either 14th or 15th December) on Solar Plexus the third album from Ian Carr’s Nucleus and its largest ensemble; Kenny Wheeler was on the other tracks. Ian Carr was on trumpet as well, of course and Tony Roberts, Brian Smith and Karl Jenkins handled various sax, flute and oboe (Karl Jenkins) duties, Karl Jenkins was on electric piano as usual, Keith Winter adding VCS3 synthesizer lines, Chris Spedding was still on guitar at this point in Nucleus’ development, there were two bass players - Ron Mathewson and Jeff Clyne, Chris Karan on percussion and John Marshall on the drum kit.

 

In the liner notes to the 2002 re-issue on BGO Records (coupled with Belladonna) Alyn Shipton writes:

 

“Above all, to elements stand out about Solar Plexus for me, the equally brilliant but widely differing solos of the three trumpets, and the exuberant confidence of John Marshall’s drumming. Kenny Wheeler’s clear upper register on Changing Times gets to the essence of his wide-open singing style, while Harry Beckett’s joyous lyricism on Spirit Level contrasts with the choppy phrasing, occasional plaintive cries and subtle use of electronics in Ian’s own Snakehips’ Dream solo.”

 

One little Harry Beckett oddity for 1970, that was only discovered while researching the British Library Sound Archive is an unpublished recording of a suite jointly composed by Lionel Grigson and Bob Cornford. It’s possibly a session for a BBC radio programme, although the recording includes no announcements, which was apparently never broadcast. It appears to be a suite of music entitled Portraits by the Bob Cornford-Lionel Grigson Septet. There is 30 minutes of music from a septet made up by: Harry Beckett on trumpet, Stan Sulzmann on alto, Phil Lee on guitar, Lionel Grigson on piano, Daryl Runswick on bass and Mike Travis at the drums. There are also apparently some string players but the only listed name is a Clare Deniz on cello. The British Library appears to have two copies – the second says that Lionel Grigson is also on piano. If you want to hear this, you’ll have to visit the British Library!

 

In addition, and jumping back to the February of 1970, there had been a very brief appearance by Harry Beckett on the television that year. A fascinating programme was broadcast on Sunday, 1st February. It was a BBC2 documentary on Jack Bruce. Harry was in the Jack Bruce band that was filmed as part of Tony Palmer's documentary on Jack called "Rope Ladder to the Moon" which was aired on BBC2 on 1st February 1970. The band was Jack Bruce (electric and double bass), Jon Hiseman (drums), Dick Heckstall-Smith & Art Themen (saxes) Harry Beckett & Henry Lowther (trumpets), Chris Spedding (guitar) and Mick Pyne (piano).

 

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Coming soon .... Joy Unlimited: the Sound of Harry Beckett