What’s all this “free-form” malarkey, and why?

I just played a wonderfully creative evening of free-form music with “Toru”, namely Phil Gibbs (guitar), Ashley John Long (Double Bass), Alex Goodyear (Drums) and myself on Tenor & Soprano sax, and Gaita Galega.

The reason I decided to write about it, is due to the delight in the process and interaction between players and audience, and a couple of incidents that happened which kind of fulfil and illustrate my philosophy of putting music on in public spaces (in this case a pub)

So, 1st June 2022 at the Queens Head, Monmouth. The gig was privately sponsored by a friend who had been on an acoustic journey over 15 years or so, and now loved the creativity that spontaneous music brings. The audience gave voluntary contributions as they saw fit or could afford.

The whole idea is that the gig is essentially “free” to attend; anyone can walk into the place and be exposed to a musical form that they wouldn’t dream of paying to go an see – I think listening to music has become such a proscriptive process these days. So much is available and yet channelled for the “I know what I like” brigade. The only way people chose to like what they like is by hearing it for the first time somewhere – so they didn’t know they liked it first time. Ask Spotify or Alexa to play something and they feed you stuff that sits in that area of “similar”; no real exploration at all.

The Gig

We played two sets for about an hour each. The music flowed from sensitive areas of calm to full on heart rendering high speed intensity and back again. The venue is only small so the audience of 35 or so filled it and there was a great sense of intimacy. Wonderfully attentive. There’s an immense sense of mutual trust at the Queens Head – 15 years of programming like this has educated an audience and brought great musicians together in this rarefied musical form. The feedback from the audience was second to none and many had travelled considerable distances (40 miles or more)

The band were very much on form and Alex Goodyear stunned everyone with two squeaky pigs. The musicality he applied to these was unquestionable – nothing wrong with humour and music.

Alex Goodyear with this two musical pigs

The Heavenly, the Bad and the Ugly

There were three types of people in the pub, but the title only describes two of them. The majority of the audience were “the good”; they came because they loved the form, trusted the venue, and had a very good night. The “Bad and the Ugly” were a group of four golfers who were staying and after a nominal two seconds came out with the usual “what’s this shit?”, etc., etc., and proceeded to make as much noise as possible. They of course failed; the “good” disapproved and they retired without putting any effort into the experience (they obviously know what they like).

Philosophy #1. Personally I don’t like opera; I’ve given it sufficient time over the years and I get it. It’s wonderful, its a high art form, its hard work to perform and sometimes to listen to, but I simply don’t like it. However, you don’t have to like it but that doesn’t equate with not listening and coming out with totally worthless criticisms. Some artforms require effort on behalf of the receiver.

… and now I come to the “Heavenly” and my real reason for writing. Two girls came up to me afterwards and said “thank you so much. This is the first jazz gig we’d ever been and we loved some of it, found other bits very challenging, but valued the whole experience”. My reply qualified the style a little, as the next jazz gig they went to would probably be a bit less left of centre but the real thing I shared was a parallel experience …

In 1994 I walked into the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. There were three guys playing this profoundly intense almost disturbing music which I’d never been exposed to before and afterwards I felt almost cleansed in some way, or at least, disinfected. The experience was so profound I instantly wanted more and this started my journey into free form music. Had I not walked into that room, without any commitment to what was being performed, I would never have discovered this whole new creative world which has profoundly affected my life ever since.

The band were “quite good” incidentally. HWF or “Hession, Wilkinson and Fell” or gods of this world in many peoples eyes and ears. Thank you, you did it! well, you did it for me!

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