What did you do, musically or otherwise, while you were in London ?
I was looking to expand my musical horizons. I had the fortune to play with some fine musicians in London and outside the city. Daevid Allen recommended me for a band in Norfolk, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing with them. I played a couple of gigs with some blues musicians on the recommendation of Dick Heckstall-Smith and played a very short jam with Caravan.
How did that come about ?
Through Neil Murray. Neil told me that Caravan might be looking for a bass player and being the generous person that he is, he researched and gave me a phone number to contact Caravan. I spoke with Pye Hastings on the phone, and after a nice chat he invited me to a concert that they were playing in London. Pye left a ticket for me in the box office. I showed up early as requested and announced my arrival to the theatre personnel. Dave Sinclair came out to greet me and asked me if I was the American bass player whom Pye had spoken with. I assured him that I was and he was very friendly and accompanied me backstage.
Since Dave was present, this would have to have been the “Canterbury Tales” tour in November/December 1976, which featured him as special guest with the then-current line-up of Caravan which had Jan Schelhaas on keyboards. Do you remember that dual keyboards line-up ?
December sounds correct – I do recall it was near Christmas time. It is quite possible that David Sinclair played a couple of compositions with the band. My instinct says that he did play and played some compositions from the “Land of Grey and Pink” album. Intellectually I cannot say for sure, because it was a long time ago. However, I would have to say that it was quite likely that he played with Caravan that night. I do remember someone playing an organ that sure sounded like David Sinclair. It was a very nice concert. It was good to see the original members perform, but I must confess it was not my favourite period in Caravan’s music.
Backstage before the concert, I was introduced to Pye and we sat down and talked for a brief while. I really liked Pye and found him very considerate. He suggested that I come out to their rehearsal space to play and meet the rest of the band. A trip was arranged and I boarded the train to Canterbury on a very cold afternoon. I remember the cold because my fingers were frozen and that numbing feeling is still very present in mind today. When I arrived the band were in their final break and ready to go home. I was greeted by Pye, who asked me if I wanted to play and we both played as a duo for a while before Richard Coughlan, the drummer, joined us, and we had a short jam. They already had their bass player [Dek Messecar], but I had a great time playing with these two wonderful personalities.
What about the band Daevid Allen recommended you for ?
I can’t remember what they were called. It was a trio of guitar, drums and bass. We played in a barn on the farm with no heat. It was cold, but a great experience. The music was very interesting, and we composed about a set of music that was bit like Gong and Matching Mole.
How come Daevid knew them ?
When I was in Miami, I corresponded with Daevid and told him of my plans to go to Europe to play music. He suggested that, once I settled down, I write to him and he would try to assist me in my search for musicians. Once in England, I wrote to Daevid, who told me of these dedicated musicians who were looking for a bass player. I was very much inspired by his accurate portrayal of these determined and talented musicians. This band seemed to personally know Daevid. I do not remember much else about them other than I think of that experience fondly.
Did you ever play with Alan Gowen while staying at his home ?
Yes, after he left National Health. We also talked about recording together in the future.
Just the two of you ?
Mostly. I remember playing with a drummer, but I cannot recall his name. But for the most part, we played as a duo.
Did you just improvise, or play any composed material ?
We improvised al lot of the times, but we also did some compositions. We would work on some compositions that I would bring in. I also played compositions by Alan. One that comes to mind is “Play Time”, which later appeared on the second Gilgamesh album. It was originally faster in tempo, different bass line and a bass solo. This solo came to be when we were playing and Alan casually looked over and said “solo” !
Did you play with any other bands during your stay ?
I played with several punk bands and some free jazz musicians. But because of my work permit situation, it was very difficult to join a band and get any type of wages. I had to view this period of my musical career as an education. I am extremely happy for the experience and to have had the privilege to meet so many wonderful people.
After a year, I left England to resume my musical studies in the States. Upon graduation at the conservatory I was in touch with Phil Miller, whom I also met during my stay in London. Phil remembered me from those days in Tooting, and it was through Phil that I became reacquainted with Pip.
When National Health finally toured in the States in late ’79, with Alan Gowen back in the line-up, did you attend any of the gigs ?
No. We spoke of National Health’s upcoming tour. I was playing with Absolute Zero at the time in Gainesville. Alan made plans to call and visit us in Florida. Unfortunately, I found out later that the tour had its difficulties, and thus no visit.
Thank you for sharing these memories. It’s great to learn more about what Alan was like as a person and as a musician. Is there anything else that comes to mind when you think of him ?
Alan struck me as an individual who constantly challenged himself. He would practice religiously every afternoon, starting around 1pm till about 5 or 6pm. His voracious appetite for creating new sounds, improvising and composing new music was ever present.
On several occasions, I talked with him on business matters regarding my experiences in England and, later, the musical vision of Absolute Zero. He would proffer sage advice and conclude with an honest assessment of the issues. He was knowledgeable and experienced with the concerns of a musician/band that chooses music over commerce. Alan was never negative in his points of view with me, but he stimulated a healthy discussion that were realistic and solution oriented.
Alan was a strong, passionate, intelligent and a caring person. These attributes, coupled with a great sense of humour and musical talents, make him an unforgettable friend and human being.