M1-42 After Mendelssohn (137 Years) A slim, spry Gavin Bryars nipped up the five flights of stairs at Pipe Studios in Notting Hill Gate and presented himself at my door fresh, alert and breathing normally – unlike most folk (me included) who needed a quiet sit and a cuppa tea to regain their breath. Impressive. His miniature had already been presented to me and added to the fast-growing stack of small reels of tape in my cupboard.
He was here this time to ask me if I knew of any good record labels who might be able to release his work. Unfortunately my knowledge of such labels was not so deep, but I gave him a couple of suggestions, including of course Cherry Red Records, who released Miniatures (and soon after released an LP of glowing minimal orchestral music by the late and wonderfully talented Piero Milesi).
Gavin’s work had first been brought to my adoring and transfixed attention by his masterpiece “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” This extraordinary work, based on a loop of an old tramp singing a sentimental religious song, had seen the light of day via Brian Eno’s Obscure Records label (which had also alerted me to the wonders of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Michael Nyman, and John White – all of whom participated in Miniatures). For Miniatures 2, Gavin kindly allowed me to use one minute of this modest 25-minute epic (which was later extended to a full 75 minutes for a version featuring Tom Waits). This work never fails to bring tears to my eyes. (By the way, the previous link, to an interview with Bryars and Waits, features uncredited footage from the amazing film “The Body” which was scored by Miniatures artist Ron Geesin along with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters).
In his typically bright, generous letter to me, Gavin mentioned that Obscure Records had made a plan to create a Miniatures-style project, but apparently it became unfeasible due to the complexities of copyrights and legal issues involved. I have a feeling that my project’s success was largely due to the fact that it was a one-man operation and I kept all paperwork and musical restrictions to an absolute minimum (and contacted the artists directly, rather than through their managers!).
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The same year Miniatures was released, Gavin released his marvellous “Hommages” album, featuring his friend John White (the review which can be seen in the previous Amazon link sums up his music, and my feelings about it, brilliantly). The lush yet minimal piano/vibraphone textures on this album are utterly alluring and quietly, deeply emotional. Works of this calibre (as with Milesi) move me far, far more than the more successful Reich and Glass, I have to say.
Soon after I moved to Japan, in ’86 or ’87, Gavin came to conduct a concert of his music. I went to meet him in his hotel, and took a seat in the smart lobby. I was expecting to see the usual slim, chic, all-black figure, and while I waited in the crowded lobby my eyes fell upon a largeish man in a fabulously colourful T-shirt, walking, nay, sliding as if wearing diving fins, slowly through the suited Japanese multitude. Then I realised it was Gavin who had, as many of us do, filled out a bit. I said hello and do you remember me, and he at once responded, “Yes of course, Morgan Fisher, aka Swami Veetdharm!” I had no idea he knew the Indian spiritual name I had been using for a while. Such is the keen, meticulous mind of this prolific man, a man who may sometimes appear academic, but can fill my heart to the brim with his serene, evolving compositions, written for luminaries such as Charlie Haden and Julian Lloyd Webber.
I have said that in his early years he played with the voluptuous Kathy Kirby, whose busty figure and Marilyn-esque charm was probably my first real turn-on when I was 13 and glued to all the music programs available on our small black-and-white television. However, I may have been thinking of Gavin’s bandmate (they formed a trio in 1963), avant-garde guitarist supremo Derek Bailey. Whatever, it is always a pleasure for me to imagine the musical pioneers of today starting their careers humbly in nightclubs behind some sequin-festooned pop goddess.
At the Miniatures launch party in 1980, Gavin (along with John White and Dave Smith) performed as the Nordic Reverie Trio behind some potted palms while permed ladies served tea and cake. In this modest way do such musical legends carry out their lives in the service of true beauty. I thank him, from the bottom of my heart, once again.
Coming up: Murder the black…