Do you know who were Alan’s main influences as composer and instrumentalist ?
A musician with the curiosity and musical gifts that Alan possessed would undoubtedly claim a vast array of musical and personal experiences as his influences. I can only give you my personal observation. Joe Zawinul of Weather Report and Chick Corea would be two influences that I hear in his music. The beginning of “Brujo” displays countrapuntal melodies similar to 20th century musical practices. I remember us discussing 20th century composers like Stravinsky, Bartok and Varese. Alan’s musical palette borrowed across musical genres and his ability to claim them as his own is a testament to his musical genius.
On March 13 1977, having played their last gig with Amanda Parsons the night before, National Health played at the Victoria Palace in London, which was Alan’s last gig with NH. Jimmy Hastings augmented the band on that occasion…
I don’t recall other musicians being involved, other than the National Health core members. I do remember that at the end of the set, Alan went around shaking hands with each member of the quintet. Early that day was the first time I’d ever met Pip. The band were in the front room at Trinity Road, getting ready to pack up for a gig, and I was suddenly introduced to Pip by Alan. After the quick introduction, Pip said to me that they did not have any tickets for the show, but later Alan and company provided me with a ticket, and I attended the concert with C and Geoff. After that show, Alan indeed left National Health to start his own band.
What band would that have been ? A reformed Gilgamesh ?
It eventually did turn into a different version of Gilgamesh, but I am not quite sure that the original intent was to reform Gilgamesh. Alan was very adventurous and, like all great musicians, was trying to explore new paths. I don’t think he had a particular band in mind. I think he wanted to try out different musical ideas and explore new horizons. He was very interested in blurring the line between improvisation and composition.
Who else played with him in that band ?
I do recall a drummer, but I am not sure of his name.
Could this have been Trevor Tomkins ?
No. Perhaps it was Dave Sheen, but I cannot say for sure. I didn’t attend any of the rehearsals. By then, I was getting ready to leave England because of work permit complications, and my attention was focused on that. I do remember Alan and I speaking about future plans and possible musicians he wanted to play with, and he mentioned Hugh Hopper and Roy Babbington as possible bassists for his band.
Were you around during the sessions for National Health’s first album, where Alan and Amanda were guest performers ?
I did not attend the sessions. I do remember meeting Amanda at the house and speaking to her on occasion.
Any memories ?
I do recall Alan as being very happy with the sessions. He brought home a tape and he played me Neil’s wonderful solo on “Borogoves”. We spoke about the music and the progress of the recording.
After Alan left, did National Health still rehearse at Alan’s place or somewhere else ?
No, they rehearsed at another location.
Did you attend any National Health gigs without Alan ?
Yes, I saw one. It took place at a new concert hall were I had seen Stan Tracey and Keith Tippett perform, a big complex which I remember as being very new – the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It is a grey structure and I saw it still there on my last visit to London a few years ago. The gig had Richard Sinclair singing and it had additional wind players. At that time, National Health’s core players were a quartet. I found that the quartet played very well that night. When they played as a core unit they sounded rawer, passionate and energetic. I truly enjoyed that concert. This was the last time I saw National Health during my stay in London.
Do you remember how many songs Richard Sinclair sang ? “Clocks and Clouds” and “Binoculars” – any others ?
I think you are right. I recall that he sang two songs at the most. He might have also sung “Fitter Stoke has A Bath”, because of the trademark gurglings that he was making during one of the songs. I remember them playing “Underdub” and I also remember that at one point in the evening, the phone rang and Dave Stewart answered it onstage, similar to the first Hatfield album !
[Note : “Fitter Stoke…” definitely wasn’t played; the “ringing phone” moment, however, did happen – see comments section]
Any memories of other musical activities involving Alan or other members of National Health during the period you were in London ?
Not really. Alan would play the occasional jazz gig. I do not recall a lot of musical activity outside the group.
Would these have been informal line-ups or regular collaborations ?
I think they were informal line-ups.
At the time, Alan earned his living playing in the pit for a ‘sex comedy’ staged in London’s West End. Was this still the case when you stayed at Alan’s house ?
Yes, Alan worked at this particular position during my whole stay in England. He would arrive at the Trinity Road house at about 11pm. He would practice or compose his music starting around 12-1pm till it was time to leave to the West End.