M1-18 Lol Coxhill

M1-18 An End to the Matter


As I mentioned at the end of the previous blog – this is the original Lol. To think that his name is spelled the same as one of the dumbest acronyms currently in vogue on the internet (one that I never have and never will use – even though I was partial to writing SWALK and NORWICH on the back of envelopes when I was a besotted teenager) is in my mind a travesty. And I am not alone in this – there are several pages on Facebook dedicated to haters of LOL, who number in the thousands.

In point of fact I absolutely admire Lol. I can’t remember exactly when we first met, but during the late 70’s I would sometimes head down to the London Musicians’ Collective, a dark cavernous hole somewhere in Camden Town, to watch various avant-garde films and performances. As a musician myself, I naturally expected it would be easy to strike up a conversation with some of the performers, but in general, perhaps due to my timidity in those days, I felt intimidated by the stern ascetic faces of many of the players I saw there. It felt like an intensely know-it-all political collective, so in the dozens of times I visited there I never found it easy to chat to any of the musicians – except for one, a sax wizard.

A bloke who seemed very approachable, without carrying around some kind of forbidding philosophy or dogma, an open-faced easy-going cove, whose playing seemed to flow in a liquid fashion more than anyone else’s, who was definitely a part of the band but not a part of the group, if you catch my drift. His own man, not limited to any particular creed or attitude; willing to go along with any interesting musical challenge that presented itself. Certainly not averse to melody, harmony, and rhythm, unlike many of the LMC’s propagators of so-called “free” music (doesn’t free include everything?). In short, a man in touch with the present moment, with a mind and heart unfiltered by any predilections, open to anything and anyone who came along. A bloke who can out-rage the most outrageous players, can navigate the most heinously difficult musical pathways, yet loves a bit of whimsy and humour as well. That was Lol.

 When Cherry Red Records, following the release of my first Hybrid Kids album, suggested I make my own sub-label under their friendly umbrella, I plumped for starting Pipe Records (and ending, as it happened) with two diametrically opposed recording projects: Miniatures, with its galaxy of 51 musical adventurers, and what was to eventually be called Slow Music, an ambient album based largely on tape loops of Lol’s playing. I felt inspired to do this after hearing “Digswell Duets,” an album Lol had made a couple of years earlier, on which he played, echoed and looped  over soundscapes created by electroacoustician Simon Emmerson. In true Lol style, the eclectic album also includes versions of jazz standards accompanied by Veryan Weston (pianist of Miniatures band Stinky Winkles).

Lol came up with the brilliant idea of playing Handel’s Largo as the main source material for the album. Playing a soprano sax held together with a forest of elastic bands (“can’t find anyone who can repair it properly”) he whipped out a lyrical interpretation of this eternally lovely melody, put onto tape in one take via my trusty Revox. I then slowed it down to half speed, ran it through various tape delays, and Lol played unerringly beautiful harmonies over the top. That one brief session was, as it turned out,  the end of his involvement with Slow Music, for then I rather selfishly took the raw material and ran with it. Well, “walked” might be a better word. No, “sat” would be best. For the next two weeks I was at the desk in my home studio, copying, splicing, looping, Lol’s lyrical performance, playing it backwards and at different speeds, running it through my VCS3 synth, dubbing it to cassette to distort the sound, etc., etc., – in other words, I was experimenting to see what sonic sculptures could be created using the very limited tools at my disposal.

I still feel a bit guilty for not involving Lol more in the process, but frankly it would, 90% of the time, have involved him sitting around waiting while I tried things that didn’t work, so I bummed on regardless and eventually invited a rather surprised Lol (“What, you mean it’s finished?”) to Pipe Studios to have a listen. I think he liked it, finally. Especially the opening track, which I find, always movingly, gives the impression of a Mexican funeral in slow motion (this excerpt also appears in the very first post of this blog):

Que En Paz Descanse

One more tasty bit of raw material that Lol supplied for the album was a recording of him singing “Pretty Little Girl”, a charming if slightly naughty love song he’d written and sung on top of an accompaniment he’d played on a church carillon. “You might find a use for it” he said as he handed over the cassette. I loved the piece, and decided it would end the album, preceded by a very slowed-down deconstructed version of it made using a forest of tape loops of single notes which gradually spelled out the melody over its languid 24 minutes.

As neither Lol nor I are ambient/minimal specialists like, say, Brian Eno or Gavin Bryars or Terry Riley, we have never been able to maintain the correct profile in order to attract large numbers of record buyers. We both just go on with our lives, rather than our careers, and respond positively to most of the various musical invitations we have received over the decades, regardless of genre. However, I think this album is a minor classic, and it has garnered various admirers over the years (e.g., Haruomi Hosono, one of the leaders of seminal synth rock band Yellow Magic Orchestra) and is still available as downloads via various online sources. This was our one and only joint recording (apart from his brief and brilliant appearance on the Hybrid Kids’ “Claws” album); we have never played live on the same stage, and so I treasure it all the more. Which is why I have gone on about it at length so far. I have also just received a request from the BFI to use part of this album as the soundtrack to a film on absurdist hero Bruce Lacey’s forthcoming DVD. Let’s hope it happens! And now, in the brief time and space allotted to me, let’s return to Lol’s life and times…

Lowen Coxhill was born in Portsmouth, England on September 19th, 1932, soon to be an amazing 80 years ago. His astonishing biography is to be found nowhere in its complete form, for that is impossible (also ‘cos it ain’t ended yet – far from it). However, fairly informative accounts may be found here, here and here. He has also appeared in various fine films (including acclaimed works by Derek Jarman and Sally Potter) as listed here.

John Lewis at Time Out magazine wrote this fine overview: “Soprano sax maverick Coxhill is a musician who’s touched on nearly every area of music over the past half century. In the ’60s he jacked in his day job to accompany soul singers like Rufus Thomas. He’d sit in with bluesmen like Alexis Korner and Champion Jack Dupree. He was signed to John Peel’s label Dandelion and played bebop with the likes of Bobby Wellins and Stan Tracey, prog rock with Steve Miller and Kevin Ayers, and dabbled in ska and rocksteady with Rico Rodriquez and Jazz Jamaica. In 1977 he even toured with the Damned. In the last decade I’ve seen him play with assorted avant jazzers, drone rockers and electronic mavericks. I’ve seen him busking near the Thames, and seen his old LPs selling for $100 in New York record shops. And I’ve also heard him playing beautiful, straight versions of standards… A true national treasure and a top geezer.” I couldn’t put it better.

Videos that I know of (and there are hundreds online) include him playing with Rufus Thomas (dig the shades), with Kevin Ayers/Mike Oldfield/David Bedford (dig the jacket), with The Flying Padovanis, with a fine Hugh Hopper ensemble, introducing his debut album (from 0:40), for a film of tulips,  playing under water, and leading a bunch of kids through a skilled interpretation of “I Am The Walrus.” I also saw him play with an avant-noisy Japanese band in a tiny club in Tokyo. The band was called “Totzuzen Danboru” which, of course, means “suddenly cardboard.”

A healthy and active performance schedule still is being maintained by our hero, at home and abroad. Go and see him.

There is a rare (and now pricey) book about Lol called “The Bald Soprano” (publ. Tak Tak Tak, 1989 – not to be confused with Eugene Ionesco’s first play) written by the English poet Jeff Nuttall. I have yet to read it, and know that it also will be markedly incomplete, compared with the inimitable musical and artistic life of this, one of the great mavericks of our time. Lol. Not LOL, you swine. Lol!

Next up: Tube theatre, anyone…?

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