Interviewed by Darren Hannah & Jeff Henderson

Originally published 2012

When did you come to NZ?
In 1997

And what brought that on?
Because we were going to visit my sister in law and then we were going to come
during the winter for a few weeks, and couldn't afford it so we thought we'd buy a ticket, it
lasts for a year, lets go give it a try. And because I'm a teacher I phoned the ministry - they'd
just put primary teachers on the hit list so I thought oh well...lets go ‘n’ give it a shot.

So were things so absolutely outrageously bad in England?
Well no, it was just something new to do - we like to travel. So, we thought we'd go
and travel and stay. You know.

So what were you doing at that time in England?
Teaching really, I wasn't doing the Termite any more, I’d kind of given that up - I'd kind
of given up playing, for a bit, which lasted into the first four or five years of when I first
moved here.
I'd kind of got fed up with the playing - but that wasn't what brought us here, that was just
cos we needed a change.

So lets explore why you gave up playing...what were you getting fed up with?
I don't really know, I think it just got to a point where it felt like, you know, people would
come and stay at your house and you put them on, and pay them their 25 quid, and their
petrol probably from London or wherever, for a bunch of ingrates in the end I think. We had
a fairly large house, and we'd put people up all the time –
It was fun, I mean when they were mates of yours, people that you knew, a lot of people
were really good.. but it was just those few who kind of stuffed it up for everybody else...
they wouldn't talk to your kids, and they wouldn't say hello to your wife - they weren't particularly appreciative of
what was happening: give us a gig, give a bit of money, pay us, feed us and then we can go home

Is this - you're talking about the London scene?
No we were living in Leeds at that time, and people were fine generally, but it was just
those one or two people, particularly, actually, the Americans who would just come in and
expect that kind of thing - they were very self absorbed I think, a lot of them, but a lot of
them were really nice.
We got over it, the fact that we were fed up with putting people on, who weren't really
appreciating the fact.

Was this basically the Termite club?

So how did that actually run - who was the we?
Well at that time it was me and John McMillan, and we both had day jobs - that was
always kind of a hobby for me.
When Alan Wilkinson was doing it, he kind of had the time to - Drew is very similar, he
knows everybody, and he had that time to be able to devote to that thing, whereas I always
had a day job and for me it was more of a 'more than hobby' type thing -
I mean I was keenly interested in the music but I just didn't have the time to organise stuff.
Before I became a teacher, I was able to do things like photocopy things, and phone people
up from work, so we didn't have a phone bill or photocopy bill for posters and things like
that. So, while I was able to do that, that was fine.
But when I became a teacher, I just didn't have the time during the day to do that at all. Its a
similar set up really, to what Drew does now, and I do.
I'm taking a much more minimal role in Vitamin-S. So I'd do the things like put people up,
organise the money, organise the funding, whereas Alan would kind of, do the schmoozing
And that suited me cos it was something I could do in the evening and at the weekends.
But it just became too - got fed up with it.

And were you playing? In terms of what was going on in Leeds, was it every week -
because you're sort of here pretty much every week - was it the same kind of thing?

No it was always monthly. - not ALWAYS monthly, but our regular thing was monthly.
We'd organise gigs on the last Friday of the month, I think, it varied - there was always
somebody touring, or somebody up from London or something happening. In the early days
it varied hugely, because of the number of people Alan knew, everybody from the Mekons,
and Gang of Four, through to - well everybody that I knew, Evan (Parker) and Derek
(Bailey) and those guys, Lol (Coxhill) and all that lot. So there was a kind of huge range.
We'd have some kind of more poppy things, from people that Alan knew, and then there'd
be people like Max Eastley and Terry Day.. so people would come along to listen to the
popular stuff, and then they'd talk all the way through the improv. And that kind of went on
for a few months, then it kind of petered out, and so we said we're not doing this anymore,
we'll just do the improv. And of course, when we just did the improv, nobody turned up,
so...but the music was fantastic

So in terms of your playing, playing the guitar, what happened - how did that come about?
I got to it quite late, I came from a totally non-musical family. I'd gotten into listening to
modern jazz, on Radio 3 or whatever it was in those days - in the 60s, and I quite liked
that...8 o'clock at night, get an hour of jazz in, very twee and very establishment,

Was this your playing?
No just listening, I wasn't a player at that time, I had a guitar I picked up and pottered
around on, and then I went to be a student and I was just looking for some sort of antidote
to this British modern Jazz stuff... and it was really weird because it just fell in in the space
of a couple of months, maybe 3 or 4 months when I first - I moved to Plymouth as a student -
a biology student in 1972, and I met Steve Beresford's brother and I kind of went to the Arts Centre there
and it was quite a forward looking Arts Centre and they had some jazz things on, and this guy said
"oh you gotta meet Pete Beresford”
..and I did and we kind of knocked around and he played me a copy of Derek and Han live
at Verity’s Place and I thought
you know,
"what the hell is this!"
...and I had never heard anything like that before, and Derek's playing on that, I had to listen
to it and listen to it again and again and again, and really I still don't know what the fuck was
going on.
But Han's playing was much more accessible, because, it's just kind of thrashing around, it
was fun and really exciting, I thought.
And then, not long after that the Arts Centre put on Tony Oxley with Howard Riley and Barry
Guy, at the Polytech where I was, in the big hall, and there was about 8 of us sat at the
front, in one corner, listening to this trio playing weird shit music, and it was kind of those
three things that happened - going to Plymouth and meeting Steve's brother, hearing Derek
and Han, and then hearing this gig live.
That was in 1972, 73. So it was hugely coincidental.

I remember you saying at one stage, you were quite a practicer.
Yeah, uh, I moved to Leeds in 1976, but at that time I'd been having lessons all
through while I was at uni, and I had a year after that where I just dossed around on the
So I was having lessons, and I was practicing, I was practicing quite a lot. Because I was
just interested in having this shit hot technique really. I wasn't interested in playing, I was
really just interested in getting the fingers going. I wasn't interested in playing Jazz, and
once i'd heard that, that kind of music, whats the point?
And I hated actually trying to figure out where I was, as a learner, where I was in this piece
of music and not actually thinking about playing.
And I played with a few people doing a bit of Jazz, and I just couldn't handle it really. I
wasn't really that interested, and thats my excuse I guess.

And were you playing with other people at all?
Not really, no, I played a few bits and pieces with Pete Beresford, but I was doing a lot
of listening and a lot of practicing.
Moving to Leeds in ‘76, just keeping that going, but in that kind of interim between meeting
Peter and moving to Leeds, we went up to London quite a few times with the Portsmouth

You were playing-
I was playing violin with the Sinfonia - left handed violin, which nobody noticed -
I had to sit on the end of the row so I didn't poke anybody's eye out.
But the thing about that was we got our expenses paid, and a train fare from Plymouth to
London for a weekend, or maybe a week, to rehearse and maybe do a gig.
And I just listened to everything, every night, Little Theatre, everything that I could get my
hands on at that time, live. It just kind of happened - I didn't say “well I'll go and listen to this
and this and this”, I would just go out with Petesy and meet Steve.
Met Derek at the Little Theatre club, met loads of people - John Russell, and loads of other
And I kind of got to know them, stayed at their places, listened to other stuff, listened to
them playing, and to what they were listening to, and then trying to assimilate this thing that
was swirling around.
I don't really think I made as much of it as I should have done, in retrospect. But it seemed
to be happening a lot.

And it was still quite new music as well, I mean that was only - what mid 70's?
Yeah, there were some weird things going on, and the South Africans were there,
Johnny Diani, Mongezi Feza, and Steve Beresford was playing with Mongezi Feza, and
John Stevens, and a whole lot of that was going on, different people every night - lots of
people around.
Not many people, but always different people in different places on different nights - but
never a huge amount of people.

So what about the Portsmouth Sinfonia, how did you get into that group?
Well, Steve Beresford, he invited his brother up, and he said to me
"here's a violin I was gonna give to some other guy, but you'll get more out of it than he will”
so he gave me this black painted violin without a sound post in it and said "We'll fix this up"
then got some strings, found a bow, and we just kind of trotted off with our violins under our
arms on the train up to London.
And I would just sit there with 50 other people pretending we could play all this popular
classical shit.
And it was great - it was absolutely fantastic, just being there and doing it - and then being
able to go out in the evenings and pour beer down John Russell's throat.

How did they organise? So that group, people all knew each other, or just got together?
Just got together, who was in it.. Nigel Coombes was in it, who was in the SME at that
time, Steve was in it, there were a few improvisors there, not that many, just people that
were interested in playing. Modern musicians that were interested in playing.

Were there rules in how the music was organised, was it all off sheet music?
Oh yeah. You were expected to..people would go along and say
"Oh we can do this"
and then get pissed off because the expectation was they'd actually make a decent attempt.
And when they couldn't do that, they - they wouldn't get pissed off - they'd say
"Oh. I actually can't do this. I can't play well enough to be able to do it, I feel a bit guilty
about not being able to do this.. not be motivated enough to do anything about it".
And we did get better, but there were always things that, we were never gonna get
substantially better that would actually make it - bad, if you see what I mean.
But people were very motivated to make it sound right, so they would try really hard.
Well, thats the impression I got anyway, talking to people about it - we'd stop and say
"what are we supposed to be doing here, where are we supposed to be - which part of this
score are we in?"
and someone would say
"well I'm on bar 38"
and someone -
"well ok, I'm on bar 52, aren't we supposed to be in the same place?"
You know, just play to where you think, you are...

How has that experience shaped your improvising big band attempts?
No, it didn't. But the thing was, it got me to London, to listen to other people. Some vitriol
from improvisors who knew I was in it.

You mean the people thought being in that band was just a joke?
Yeah. And it was, but it was a good joke. I mean we did the Albert Hall, a few other
places, I think I did 3 or 4 gigs with them.
Did the Albert Hall thing, got the video. Got the T- shirt.

So how'd you end up in Leeds. Why Leeds?
I had some mates who lived there. I wanted to leave Plymouth. I don't know why. Just
seemed like a change after four years,
so I thought
"I'll move to Leeds and see what happens there".
A couple of people I knew from school really, who were still at Uni, I kind of dossed around
with them.
And then, one of the guys was in an English department, and he was going down to the
Cambridge Cultural Festival, and I said
"oh good, I'll go with you",
and I learned that Company were on there, so we got a lift down to Cambridge and did the
poetry thing, I think we did the Company gig, and I bumped into Derek, in a pub just round
the corner, and I said
"Oh, don't know if you remember me",
and he said
"yeah - come to the gig, and John Russell's here",
and I'd been knocking round with John Russell regularly for a few years. So I went to the
gig, bumped into John again, and he said
"you've got to start a collective".
So I took back this thing, and I said "ok, how do we do this" and so I advertised - Leeds
had an alternative little paper...

So there wasn't anything going on? - what was going on in Leeds?
I don't know, I cant remember.
There was nothing as far as I can remember apart from odd gigs that were passing through
like Contemporary Music Network gigs, things like that, pubs had a bit of Jazz, but nothing
particularly exciting, standard Sunday lunchtime, afternoon Jazz.

Did the Jamaicans make it to Leeds?
Yeah, lots.

So how did Termite club come about? When did it come about?
You're jumping ahead.
So I advertised for people how would be interested in improvising. Free music.
Because I had no phone - I was unemployed at this time - they'd just come around, call in.
I met John McMillan. He's an Astrophysicist, he plays electronic something, and Simon Fell,
and Martin Townsend.. were the people who understood what free music and improvising
would be about.
And because there were four of us, we formed the ESRO Band and that was it.
...Alan at that time, and Paul Hessian - some free jazzy stuff, and so we formed Leeds Free
Musicians Collective in 1977 and we started putting on gigs in the pub, and we had Lol
(Coxhill) on, and John Russell,
Roger Turner, and local people, and that was quite busy for 4 weeks until they kicked us
So we were looking for venues, constantly looking for venues, and the thing about Leeds -
there'll be these Victorian pubs, with rooms upstairs, nice venues, but you know...they want
people in to buy beer, so we don't have to hire the room.
And that's how it started.
50p to get in to see Lol Coxhill and they packed the place out, and the next week we were
looking for another venue.
So that was constant. It was really through people I'd met through going to London, who
"well we'll come and play, you set up a cooperative or collective or something, and we'll
come and play, and we'll do it for nothing but you have to put us up, and when you get
some money, pay us".

And so, were you playing at this gigs as well?

So you bring people up, and-
Yeah and play with em, generally just play opposite, kind of support I guess, but we were still quite naive,
not as skilled as we possibly could have been.

Keen lads
Yeah. But i think I was early 20s then, I was a late starter. I was still very...lacked
confidence, I was still quite nervous about it and still a bit of an apologist for it - you know,
"well we play this weird shit art music, oh yeah it's really weird, we don't really want you to
listen to it, you know".
I think I'm less likely to say that these days.
So that went on for a few years and different venues, different places, different people, just
widening the kind of scope and number of people that we knew...doing more playing,
getting more interested and listening to more stuff, listening to people from Europe..
getting Europeans arriving...get (Paul) Rutherford in with a few people from Europe..

They'd bring bands?
Yeah, and they'd say
"oh well we're doing a gig in York, we got a gig in Newcastle, we've got a spare night - can
we do anything?"
and we'd say
"well yeah! shit yeah! ‘Course you can (find a venue - quick - charge a quid on the door!)"
Stay at my place...
Yeah, or really just passing through - just do the gig and off again that same night, and
that kind of went on and then - it wasn't happening particularly regularly...4,5,6 times a year

So I want to know about the playing - were there people who you played with who fed into it
in terms of your guitar playing?
You mean influential things?

Yeah, if you were putting on gigs and playing at them, in terms of that being a relatively new
music, was it different every time?

It didn't feel like it...if you're talking personally, because we didn't play together very
often, we would kind of play and then a month later we'd play again and so there wasn't a
lot of difference.
It would sound the same, we weren't really establishing any kind of sound, but I guess what
we had was the Leeds thing as opposed to what was happening in Sheffield, which was
more to do with Art Ensemble (of Chicago) stuff -
they were all horn players in Sheffield, and they were all into - apart from Mick Beck - the
Art Ensemble, they had that kind of Art Ensemble influence and we were doing the kind of
European free improv stuff from the ‘60s...not very well...not really establishing a personal
language to
any great degree I don't think.
Although, we knew what we liked and we knew what we were doing. I think for John
(McMillan), ‘cos he was just totally -
he had things he'd built out of old throat microphones from Airforce voice microphones, so
he had all that sort of stuff and he'd be rolling a bouncy ball round in a film canister miked
up with one of these throat things going kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk.
So for him it was a lot different because there weren't a lot of people doing that at that time,
I don't think.
Whereas I was definitely very influenced by what Derek was doing, and trying to find a
different vocabulary within that kind of thing.

I was going to say, you're very much a guitarist aren't you,
Yes. What does that mean?

Well, you just are-
I like the guitar, I like to play the guitar, yes

I spent all that time learning it, I may as well go and fucking use it.

How long have you been here for now (in NZ)?
15 years

Playing wise... hows that going?
Moving here I, like I said, had kind of given up really, and I'd kind of given up listening
as well, so starting again I felt hopelessly out of touch, because I hadn't really picked up the
guitar for a few years. And I knew that I wanted to, I'd got that urge back again, I wanted to
play a bit and it was still - I felt like I'd wound the clock back about 20 years when I started again.
I cant remember any of the stuff I'd been doing . It took a few years to get into it again and
meeting you guys in Devonport that day, was the first time that I'd really heard any improv
for a long time, although my wife was working with a social worker called John Kennedy at
that time. he was saying
"oh - you ought to meet these guys!"
So, of course, I never did.
I'm always, like I never do that kind of thing - I don't know why - I'm a bit aloof I guess, a bit
I think
"why the fuck don't I just do these things?"
...and I never do.
And then, Evan (Parker) did his tour in ‘99, and I met Paul Winstanley and a few other
people at that time.
And it kind of grew a little bit - when Evan got here actually, that was kind of a catalyst to get
back into it again.
But it was still not until 2002 when i actually started seriously attacking the guitar again and
having a go on it again.
I think I've actually played more in these 10 years than I did in the whole 20 before that.

And, I think someone like Kris Wanders who stopped playing for 25 years then started
again, he sort of picked up where he left off I...the time that you're not playing, what are
your thoughts on that?

It wasn't easy to get back into doing it, I think of all those shitty horrible things I used to
do, they're the first things you pick up when you start again.
I really don't want that - the sound, the kind of things that you do - when you play like that,
that always follows, and that always follows with something else.
That was something I didn't want to do at that time. Those kinds of licks that you kind of
base your whole technique on I suppose.
And I think those were the first ones you remember, and I think
"oh crap, how am I going to approach this that makes it any different??"
so I went on thinking
"well maybe I just have to play and see where it goes".
I tried retuning it to 3rds, but then I didn't have the time really to figure out where all the
notes were, I didn't have the motivation really to do that, so I tuned it back again, and I
"I've given it a go"
so I played for a bit, and
"I actually quite like the way it's tuned, it's easy to get round"

You mean standard tuning?
Yeah. I've never liked open tunings. It's too easy to sound like some...pop stuff...

If that's how you felt about it in the beginning, how do you feel about it now?
I'm ok with it now, actually, it's 10 years, and it took a while -
it took maybe 2 or 3 years to really feel that I actually, what I was doing was making sense –
to me... I used to wonder, and I still do, whether what I do is actually worthwhile, and after a
while I thought
"well it sounds allright to me...most of the time"
although, I don't actually like listening to what it sounds like afterwards. I think
"Oh God thats..."
mostly I don't like the way I play hearing it back, but I'm actually quite comfortable with what
I do. Whether other people think that I don't know.

Is that important to you?
Sometimes it is actually, it's always been like that, I like people to like me, you know.
I'm enjoying playing more in these past few years. I just feel more comfortable with it. I think
it's an age thing or something.

Is it a personal thing, is it a situational thing, the people you're playing with?
No, I just feel a bit more at ease with it, I think, I don't care as much as I did.

Do you think improv is something you grow into?
No. For me, it was something that I heard and that was it. Everything after that or
before that was irrelevant.
Culturally or chronologically it wasn't relevant to anything I wanted to do, Jazz wasn't part of
what I wanted to do, it was just not right. And it just seemed, it was so coincidental and so
obviously the right thing to be getting involved in that everything else just became
I still listen to a lot of Jazz, (Ornette) Coleman and (John) Coltrane and all that stuff as much
as i could, but to play it wasn't really, I wasn't that interested in playing Jazz.

What about the AMM, was that part of the scene? Was that influencing, in terms of the
music and playing, not wanting to go down tracks that go too poppy, did AMM have a
different approach?

They did, and I didn't listen to a lot of AMM - I never saw them live.
I think that might have skewed my perception a bit. I never saw them live - it was difficult,
going to see them, because I seem to remember they weren't doing a lot of playing at that
time, so I wasn't listening to them as much as I probably should have been.

But was that in the air, in terms of the music?
Not really, no.
It wasn't something as a group or a player really referred to much, although when John and
I played together, John McMillan, which we did in London a couple of times, we just tended
to play noise.
We played quite loud and quite, um, not so much musically.
It was playing with the sound, rather than with the instrument. Whatever John did was never
particularly musical anyway -
it was more to do with sound, and I was more interested in finding something I could do to
relate to what he was doing,
which involved for me playing distortion and volume, which seemed to fit in more with what
he was doing.
Whereas with the quartet, with the bass and the saxophone, it was more trying to be a
fulcrum between the tonal side and this noise thing on the other side. But when we played
together it was more challenging because I just kind of had one area to play with..that was
quite interesting.

How did you see the music you were listening to and a part of back then developing - how
did it develop? Did it change? How did it change?

It changed because people were always dipping in and dipping out, it was never - for
most of us it was something we were doing as a kind of hobby. We never did it often
enough to make it became a kind of group sound or a particular sound, although like I was
saying about the different styles in each regional area, Bristol had a co-op, there were a
couple of guys in Hull, Sheffield, Leeds, and each had a different thing.. a different sound
depending on who was there and what instruments they were playing.
So the Mentors in Bristol at that time, Will Mentor was interviewing people as part of his
research, talking to people - he'd go to New York and Chicago and talk to the Art Ensemble
people and do that, so he was interested in that, and they kind of had a Free Jazz thing.
In Sheffield they had the same thing, we had a more kind of European improv thing, and
then people in Hull just kind of made noise and playing little cassettes and things like that.
then there was Simon Fell in Bradford at that time.

Just a little side road, but this idea of the collective, where did that come from, was that a
particularly English thing do you think?
Yeah, we had little collectives dotted all over the place.
That just came out of John Russell saying at that Company gig at the Cambridge poetry
"you gotta go get a co-op",
and so we did - it just happened like that - it's just kind of how it all came together and then
from there we did the co-op things with people who visited and by that time I guess, I hate
to say it like this, but Alan had caught up with the improv - he'd gone through the Free Jazz
thing, and he'd caught up with what we were doing on the improv side - or we kind of met I
guess, I don't think 'caught up' is quite the right word.
So we said
"well right, lets have a club".
So we did.

So he was in Leeds?
He came to me - he'd come out of the University School of Art. He was a fantastic
painter and he gave it up to be a saxophonist.
He's that kind of singleminded - I was never that singleminded, and he was in whatever he
did... it was one thing regardless of anything else, nothing's gonna get in my way.
So he was good at painting, and then he gave that up to learn to play the alto saxophone.
He knew that I'd had all this 6-7 years of organising gigs, trying to get money out of people,
had a few contacts with the London improvisers, and he had all these local people that he
knew because he's a very gregarious sort of guy.
So he said
"look, we should just sort of do this club"
so we thought
and we did.

And who came to the gigs?
All his mates mainly.
People who were interested in what was going on mainly, but it was quite straight forward
music apart from the improv we were putting on, which people weren't very interested in.
I'd kind of cover that by, I'd say to people like Max Eastley and Terry Day, I said
“You come to the gig and play, but as soon as you start to play, people will start to talk",
so they developed this whole thing that went for 45 minutes and they would talk, they would
just talk to each other,
and then they'd play for a bit, and then when people started to talk they'd stop and they'd
talk again,
and while they were talking nobody was talking.
So they'd do a little bit of talking, 2-3 minutes, play for 5 minutes, maybe a little bit less, talk
for a bit, and that was great -
one of the best gigs we ever put on.People really appreciated that kind of thing because
they had to listen because it was
'too rude to talk over people talking...'
then other gigs where people would just come along and play, and reggae bands...

You'd have reggae bands on your night?
Yeah on that Termite Club gig night because people knew them. Alan knew these
people, and so "come on lets have a gig", punk bands and things like that.
And it got to be a bit something that I wasn't particularly interested in...
I just wanted to listen to improv.

So the club, was that in a pub?
It was in a pub, yes.

And it was the same pub every month?
Yeah. It was good because it was at the Adelphi down by the waterfront, right round
the corner from the brewery.
The Adelphi in Leeds...
The 'Adelphi' yes, and that became quite, we built up a bit of a following and we got
quite well known, it was a great venue.
And people would come...mostly, but it was hard to know because you could put local
people on and nobody would turn up,
and then we kind of felt we can't do too many of these because we need to put people in
the bar to buy beer so that we didn't get kicked out...and then we'd do similar gigs like
Company at the University and nobody would come to that either!
So what the fuck are we supposed to do, we should just put it on there, and people
would've come out for that, you know.
And it doesn't matter, it's like trying to flog it to people, just because people have never
heard of them doesn't mean to say the music's crap, we got people at Evan, and Derek,
and everybody, lots and lots of people used to come out of London.
Not often, but they would come and they would play, and we would get to be known, and
people would ring up and say
"I want a gig, I'm just passing through can you give us a gig, we'll do it for nothing"
which is great!
(Peter) Kowald turned up one weekend, and we ended up hand-mailing all the people on
our address list - this was before email - we ended up, Paul Hessian and I, hand delivering
posters - little leaflets - to all the people on our list, all fucking night.
It was only about 40 people, but it was fairly widespread.
And we got 20 odd people along for Kowald, and that was good...fantastic.
And that's the kind of thing we did. looking back at it now it seems totally bizarre.

Vitamin-S is quite normal for you then...
Ahum yeah...

So you were working at this stage, this is in the 70's and early 80's - England must've been
grim by then...

It was good because in the 70's it was pre-Thatcher so I left Uni to go on the dole - I
was on the dole for 4 years and then Thatcher kind of materialised and they were trying to
get everybody off the dole into jobs and if you weren't actively looking for a job then they'd
take your benefit off you, so I got a job and as soon as that happened I had no time - I had
more money, but I had no time, so I used to try and rig as much time during the day...I had
an office job which allowed me access to a telephone and a photocopier. And a reasonable
amount of time cos it was, I had nobody looking over my long as I did the
work it was fine, which was easy for a youth of my abilities to get by on.
I still don't really think we realised just what we were doing. I think you probably never do,
but looking back we did a lot of really good stuff, and I just think we should've done a load

And then what happened when Thatcher came along?
Well she closed all the pits. Well nothing really, we just went on, we kept going and I
think we just went from strength to strength. We just kept it going from one gig to the next.
We got money out of Leeds City Council and sometimes out of the Arts Council to put on
gigs. We got a thousand quid for a year for 2 or 3 years in a row and so we said
"how are we gonna spend it?"
so we thought
"25 quid a head, and we'll pay you the door money, and make up your expenses out of the
door money".
and you know 25 quid, 50 bucks, and people would be "ok", this was in the 80's, mid to late
It was worth doing.
We should've been paying way more than that, but I mean, it was all we could do.
Do we spend it on a couple of big gigs, or do we just do it and keep what we were doing,
and so we thought
"well what we'll do is just spend it on those monthly things, and then if something big comes
along, we'll see if we can get some money from somewhere".
And this just kept going, kept going on and on.
I think Alan left in 1990, he went to London, and John and I kept it going till I kind of, left.
But the playing..I don't know that the playing was...because it was really only me and John,
and Paul Hessian came into it, a drummer - a fantastic drummer, and he knew a lot of other
people as well.

Did the Hessian/Wilkinson/Fell band start in Leeds?

So how did you fall out of playing? Did you end up doing less of it, you said you'd changed
to teaching by then, you'd become a teacher by then?
Yeah I started being a teacher in 1990.

But you didn't have any kids then?
Yeah we had one at that time, and it wasn't anything to do with him, it wasn't his
fault...because when he was little I stayed at home and looked after him, and he didn't take
up as much time as a real job did.
But then I had to go back to work. And I thought
"I don't want to just go back to work for the wholesalers"
So I went and became a teacher. I kind of pottered along a bit, for a few years, and same
old to our 10th Anniversary...
I think as we got more gigs - got more people coming through - I think it just got to be a bit
of a nightmare, like I said earlier on, it became like you were expected - just do this - and
people just weren't nice about it.

So you stopped playing at around the same time you stopped doing the...
Yeah in the mid ‘90's I guess...‘96.
We left England in February ‘97 and by that time I hadn't been playing for a while. And then
I came here, didn't do much, brought the guitar with me...

And now you've got a Monday night residency...Have you felt a similar progression in your
musical life in NZ?

Felt like 'falling out of playing'?
No, actually I haven't. I don't practice much, but I actually enjoy playing, certainly in
this last 10 years I've been playing more, and particularly in these last 6-7 years way more
than I've ever played before, between the early ‘80's and 2000, I've played way more than
And I guess it's just the fact I've played more, I feel like I'm getting better.
Regardless of what anyone else might think...but I'm doing as much as I want to do I think.
and I've never gone out in front and got gigs, I've never really wanted to, I never wanted to
move to London to play...Alan did - that's that single-mindedness, he just wanted to go and
play saxophone and be a musician, I never did that...never really wanted to. The Termite
Club was kind of my instrument in a way, because I could kind of devote that time to it.
Playing and the Termite were inseparable.

There was an interesting comment at the Frode Gjerstad gig at the Gundry Hall by a friend
of a friend who was there, and when asked how she was finding it, she said "I think I've
worked it out...they've got such beautiful instruments, but they don't know how to play
them". It wasn't actually your set she made that comment about...
It wouldn't be the first time

- through cultivating different style of playing the guitar, and the pace of it, there must be a
conscious choice in terms of the palette, the textures of the music you're trying to make, the
construction of your technique...

Well it doesn't come out of nowhere does it, whoever you are, you have to make
conscious decisions about what you're going to use. But the thing is, well there are two
things really...40 years ago when I first started, people were saying exactly the same things
You'd think over the years people would've heard more of this kind of music, but they
haven't, which is in a way, it's quite a good thing. It's the same old comments, I've been
hearing this for a long time.

There's an evolution of a technique, in terms of this music that has deliberately..

Yeah the more traditional materials
It does deliberately push this aside. I think if you're going to improvise, in general
terms, if you start to do a rhythm or start to play in a particular style...immediately the music
just goes ‘whoomp’ and hits a kind of concrete floor.
It deadens it, the rhythm that you get from that...thats when you get Egyptian reggae...
It's just that improv Egyptian reggae thing that comes out.
And it's what happens when people who don't really get improvising, start to improvise
together and somebody goes ‘un chika un chika un’... and then goes ‘thunk’ and everyone
starts playing it - it becomes a jam session and then it just goes ‘bleh’.

So what is the difference? How would you explain the difference?
I've been trying to explain the difference between an improvisation and a jam session
for years and I still haven't got a decent one. To me a jam session is where you are all ever
so friendly, and you find some nice things to do with each other and you play and you copy,
and support here, and you find a pathway through which you can all follow, a little pathway
which wherever it might meander to...
whereas a piece of improv you really,
It just flows,
it doesn't matter what you play.
All you need for an improvisation is an open mind and open ears.

It's a willingness.....
As somebody who's never played Jazz, or never particularly wanted to, playing a
decent improvisation.. and I'm not just talking as being a performer..but listening to one, it's
the hardest thing. It's the most difficult thing, to listen to and construct because there are so
many things going on, and there are so many choices to be made at any one time.

Is that what drives you to do it?
Yeah. It just sounds great!
But you notice also that it's an awareness of the situation musically as well, if somebody
suddenly locks it down and shuts everybody out, it then becomes a context, suddenly you
have this thing that all relates to this one object, which is some kind of real powerplay...
But that's ok. It's possible to do that but not make it, it can be one little sort of bubble
thing that's going on at that time...whereas it's not the whole thing. If it becomes the whole
thing, it suddenly becomes idiomatic and it's not what we're trying to achieve.
I mean I have particularly definite ideas about what an improvisation should be - but not
what it should sound like.
Generally, in the past, in my experience people who don't understand it or don't play very
well or are just not competent yet on their instruments, they think it's easy to do and they
get into that kind of
"Oh I'll just follow this rhythm, and we'll just join in with that rhythm"
and that is some of the worst improvising that I've ever heard. There was a group of people
in a squat in London called Heuristic music - heurism is learning by experience, learning by
doing, and they would just have no instruments, have no technique, just be surrounded by
objects some of which could be instruments or could be used as instruments, and they
would just play, and it was just...there was none of the essence of music in it. It wasn't

To rip forward into Vitamin-S days, how does that feel when you quite possibly hear that on
a regular basis?
Yeah it's very disappointing. Particularly when some people who should know better.
I like coming down an a Monday, and I think
"what we gonna get tonight?"
and it's always interesting. I think that quote from Paul Winstanley
"something weird, something disturbing, something beautiful would distill, but you're never
quite sure what your gonna get"
that was a beautiful quote from him and I think it just really sums up everything that goes on
on a Monday night, those two lines.
But what is happening, there are influences that are being taken away and brought back.
That things are developing. You can see it in people.
We've got some young people coming through who are good anyway, and some of those
people have been coming for a while,
their playing has changed, maybe their style has changed and what they contribute has
changed as well,
and I think it takes a while to understand what this music is about, but once you've got it, it
becomes really beautiful.
It doesn't matter who you play with as long as they are reasonable players you can do
You can hear some great stuff down here.
There are so many different ways of improvising that are all legitimate and all mean
Some of them are nowhere near the same as each other but they still kind of conform to the
rules - as it were.
People just listen and play, rather than kind of conform to somebody else's idea or whoever
they're playing with... take the idea and play - just fucking play.
And if they do that rather than trying to be polite and trying to do stuff..and once you've got
past that idea of being polite then that's where the music comes in.

Making music I think is a big one...making music as received ideas about what makes a
good piece of music...and “knowing “what a piece of good music is and trying to make that
- can be a handicap.
You have to leave all your ideas about what music is behind and just play.
Just do what you do and do it as well as you can and it'll work, rather than trying to make
somebody conform to what you want to do or to fit in with whatever else is going on.
But having said that, that's always feasible as well, but it's not the whole part of the music.
It's, everything that was ever musical can be part of it,
but we don't want it to end up like flamenco....and it usually ends up like Egyptian reggae.

Ok, so last pearls of wisdom...Go.
Oh fuck.
Usually quotes from other people:
"If a lot of people start enjoying this music there's something wrong with it"
thats from Derek, I'm sorry about that.
In all my improv organising days, I've waited until I got to the Wine Cellar to find somebody
who owned a bar, and was into the music.
And that is just incredible, that is just rich. That is just extremely important.
In Leeds we had used every pub in the city centre. I think we used 14 pubs in 12 months.
When you're constantly looking for a venue, and worrying are people gonna kick you out by
the end of the evening, you get kicked around a bit.
It's just nice not to have to worry about that, but then does that make the music
do we make the music more fresh and how do we push it forward?
And is this the best way? - there must be other ways, how do we push ourselves forward...I
don't know. It's something that you do and you can't stop doing it ‘cos if you don't do it no
one fucking else will.

Vitamin S Bandcamp


Portsmouth Sinfonia - Self-proclaimed World’s Worst Orchestra:
“wholesalers” – health service. I worked for the NHS as a porter, then in admin, 1979 – 88.
Leeds Musicians’ Collective – founded in 1977
ESRO Band (European Space Research Organisation):
John McMillan – electronics; Martin Townshend – saxes; Nigel Harvey, drums/perc; Paul
Buckton – guitar. John was a researcher in the Physics Department at Leeds University,
trying to find cosmic rays. He named the band.
Termite Club – founded in 1983 by Alan Wilkinson (saxes) and myself.
(‘Legendary’, according to the Penguin Jazz on CD).
Vitamin S –

Published as part of 'Is This Thing On? - 20 Years of Vitamin S'
Audio Foundation, Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa – New Zealand
13 April – 7 May 2022



Image Credits: Exhibition Texts: Sarah Callesen - exhibition poster

SoundBleed is an online journal of critical writing around sound in NZ/Aotearoa – a forum for discussion around sound-related activity and practice.



SoundBleed is an online journal of critical writing around sound in NZ/Aotearoa – a forum for discussion around sound-related activity and practice.

Image Credits: Exhibition Texts:
Sarah Callesen - exhibition poster