The Plague Sessions

The last gig staged by Music In Monmouth before the closure of pubs and other venues due to the corona virus happened on the 18th March 2020. I have a variety of reflections on it. At the time government guidance was unclear – it was suggested that social gatherings, as long as sensible precautions were taken, could proceed so the gig was seen as a “last event for a while”.

(As it happened, I had another gig the following night with the Coltrane Dedication at Cafe Jazz, Cardiff which was cancelled due to several band members falling into the higher risk categories, and eventually all pubs were closed from Friday, 20th.)

Originally the gig was by four stalwarts of the European free experimental scene. Namely the quartet of Paul Dunmall (sax), Phil GIbbs (guitar), James Owston (bass) and Jim Bashford (drums). They had recorded a CD last Autumn, “Inner & Outer”, so this was an outing for four extemporary players who knew each other closely.

A couple of days before Phil Gibbs phoned me up to say Paul Dunmall couldn’t make the gig as his wife was involved with primary healthcare. Fair enough, and a responsible cancellation in the current climate, albeit disappointing (I, and many others, really like Paul’s playing). However, he was sure that an alternative sax player could be found. An hour before the gig this turned out to be me. Despite having been given Paul’s Bulgarian Bagpipes earlier last year I decided to do the whole gig on Tenor Saxophone.

The last free form session at the Queens Head Monmouth before the Covid19 shutdown of public places

From the playing aspect, the synergy was delightful. Phil Gibbs guitar technique is very original and percussive; it provides a strong visual as well as audio prompt and I find it very easy to pick upon and develop my own new ideas. Similarly the inventiveness and interaction between drums and bass fed many fresh ideas. I have found visual inputs always rewarding; particularly with bowing bass players and trombonists. I wonder if this is why I also like playing off images – I remember a gig with Tore Dimmestol way back at Hebden Bridge Trades Club and he was so relieved when I said I had some ‘music’ for the next number, only to be confounded when I gave him a painting of a disassembled trumpet! It reminds me, so many fellow players have mentioned how musical Kandinsky’s paintings are. Anyway, I felt it was musically a great gig and came away happy and not too bruised.

You know that thing when they say “a small but appreciative audience”, well there were 7 in the “crowd” but they were appreciative. What it did say strongly was 1) that gigs were no longer commercially viable for the time being and 2) the public is being (correctly) cautious about social mixing. Consequently all other events were cancelled and this is the last event until things improved. For “Music in Monmouth” it was our biggest loss without doubt.

What did come up in conversations with the band and others, since, is for many players, gigging is/was their sole form of income and now they actually have no prospect of earning a living through practising their finely honed skills. I know some players who are taking on anything they can lend their hands to just to get by. Its been a hard task keeping music live over all the years I’ve been involved with it but believe its so important to maintain this most human of activities. When things start to get back to normal please get out there and support the fantastic talent we’ve got in this small nation.

Stay safe everyone; then go to gigs!

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