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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Q & A w. Alan Glen

Alan Glen is one of the most loved and respected pianists  in the North East and beyond. BSH was delighted to catch up with him,

BSH: When did it all begin? Were you from a musical family?

Alan: Yes I was. I was born in London, my father was a pro violinist and my mother was a good amateur pianist. When I was three the war started so they decided to leave London and return to the North East (Boldon Colliery) and there I was!

BSH: You are known for saying very little, if anything, on a gig. Is this simply due to being the shy type? 

Alan: Actually, I thought I was ok on the mic!  I crack a few gags occasionally and get a laugh out of the audience. I don't announce the tunes - but that's in the great jazz tradition. Miles, Garner, Evans and Jarrett never said a word between them! 

BSH: In 1969 you led a big band at the Newcastle Festival (a few years later the first Newcastle Jazz Festival would come into being). What was the name of the band?  What sort of band was it? Were you writing original music at the time or arranging classic big band charts?

Alan: I remember the first festival before it became a Jazz Festival. Goodness knows where the money came from, but I can remember Ray Charles, Yehudi Menuhin, the Woody Herman band & Shirley Bassey and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf - how's that for a couple of divas?  I had a big band and I wrote a suite in three movements based on the blues sequence, I think I called it Aspects.  Dankworth said the only reason for his big band was to play his own music & it's the same with me.

BSH: Tell us about Complex One and Complex Two. Was version two a different line-up or was it a case of wanting to write and perform different material? 

Alan: Complex One was a Quintet.  Jazz at the time seemed to be moving between 'free jazz' and jazz rock, and I indulged in both fields – why, I'll never know!   Free Jazz was good fun to play but pretty brutal to listen to and Jazz Rock was always too loud and bass driven for my liking, but that was in vogue at the time and the band was a good one. Complex Two was a bigger band. I wanted to do more writing so I phoned round to see who was interested and I ended up with an 8 or 9 front line, all top players - this was ideal for what I wanted. My writing was probably influenced by Gil Evans, Mingus & I fell in love with Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart. We used to rehearse at a pub at the top of Shields Rd on Sunday lunchtimes. It was a lot of work composing and orchestrating the parts, but I really enjoyed it.

BSH: In the seventies you were something of a fixture working regularly at the Newcastle Jazz Festival. In 1976 the Alan Glen Complex appeared on the bill with Soft Machine, in 79 the Alan Glen Complex Two supported Morrissey-Mullen and the following year the Alan Glen Trio shared the stage with the John Taylor Sextet. Did you take the opportunity to chat to some of the musicians, particularly fellow pianists Karl Jenkins and the late John Taylor? 

Alan: Actually, we didn't share the stage with anyone. The 'name' bands played upstairs in the theatre and our gigs were in the University Bar. After their gigs, the bands would all come down to the bar for a drink, so it was pretty daunting. I knew John Taylor, I had played for his then wife Norma Winstone at Grey's Club a few years before.

BSH: Your appearance at the 1976 Newcastle Jazz Festival just happened to be on the evening Roland Kirk played a late night concert. Did you hang around to catch the legendary American's set? 

Alan: I've no recollection of the gig, but I did hear Roland Kirk at Durham University & he was brilliant.

BSH: Jude Murphy recalls Dave [Weisser] and herself working with Ray Truscott and yourself in a band at a holiday camp. Was that when you first met them?

Alan: Ah yes!  happy days. I'd known Dave for ages, everyone knows Dave - he should be made a hero of North East Jazz. His weekly sessions provided a platform for all and fledgling players were always welcome to try their stuff. If it hadn't been for my monthly gigs I would probably have ended up a bitter and twisted unknown - but let’s not go there!

BSH: Since those days your paths crossed regularly particularly at Dave’s Take it to the Bridge sessions where you would play a trio set usually with Laurence Blackadder on bass and David Carnegie on drums. Later line-ups included John Pope and Paul Wight. I remember one night devoted entirely to bebop tunes. Do you have a preference for trio work or larger ensembles?

Alan: I've enjoyed all the things I've done, but I must confess the trio format appeals to me the most. I use standard tunes and some of my own, so there is no need to rehearse and most recently I was working with two great players, Paul Wight and John Pope.

BSH: Like most bands and musicians you have had several residencies such as The Cooperage, The Three Tuns on Sheriff Hill, The Newton Park and of course frequent gigs at The Cherry Tree all, of course, jazz or jazz orientated. However did you ever go down the road that so many pianists of your generation took – organist in a working men’s club?

Alan: I certainly did - I stayed at one club for ten years. It was a good job and I had a marvellous drummer. On the occasions when he put in a dep, it was either Adrian Tilbrook or Tony Hicks.

BSH: You are recognised as, not only a jazz pianist but also as a composer – not just a composer of jazz tunes but also of contemporary classical pieces. Which came first the classics or the jazz and was Sue, herself a fine pianist, instrumental in broadening your horizons

Alan: I was working in a hotel in Ilfracombe & I had a Clavinova in my room. Sounds like a B movie but I started to write classical pieces for the piano. I eventually recorded them to give to family and friends. The CD is my finest achievement and has been praised to the sky by some prominent classical players, I'm tremendously proud of it  - "he said modestly"! Did Sue tell you she's also a church organist as well as being my biggest fan - well that's what she says!

BSH: ...And Sue should know! Finally, I know you have had problems with your hands in recent years. Has this made it unlikely, if and when we return to normality, that there will be anymore live performances – please dispel our fears!

Alan: The last gig I did was with Paul Wight and Andy Champion & I would love to do more - who wouldn't with those two?  But there's a real world out there and I can't see anything much happening before spring. I have trouble with both hands, but my back is the main problem, I don't know if I could sit at the piano for any length of time - but who knows?

BSH: Thank You Alan, great catching up with you.

3 comments :

Jude Murphy (on F/b) said...

Alan is just so cool!

Sylvia Truscott (on F/b) said...

Early Alan Glen' Complex.. Circa '73 at the Highpoint Hotel...Al.....Ray on bass guitar....Terry Ellis on guitar..Bill Golding on tenor and a drummer called Derek whose name I cannot remember...never a soul in the audience and bewildered bar staff....but bliss!..
God I feel old....

Gerry Richardson said...

Derek Lunn on drums I think.

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