chronicles 2006

No.22 – January 2006

The debut concert of the new quintet, Bermondsey Brass, at St. Michael’s School, found room for a stint of trombone poetry that extolled the joys of jazz in a poem celebrating Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines’ great duet recording, Weather Bird, with the sudden accompaniment of what sounded like someone driving a milk-float through the kitchen serving-hatch.

The constraints and demands of classical brass-playing were loosened in the second half with solo jazz features in the company of Pete Saberton on piano, Dave Green on bass, and Paul Clarvis on drums. Henry Lowther’s Diversee for brass and percussion was the climax of the evening, closely followed in the Prince of Wales round the corner by a bonus set of accordion-powered jigs by tubamensch Dave Powell plus spoons and atonal penny-whistle, launched on a tide of Guinness. A recording of the ensemble, minus the pub stuff, is being planned. If the price is right, we’ll record the pub stuff.

In the dog-eared depths of the Hip Heaven cellar in Deptford, we shrank in the shadows of Sybil Madrigal’s gothic confessions and bobbed through the verbal djembe of John Clarke’s jazz oratory. Who muttered, “Cary Grant on acid”? The trombone poetry set featured two new poems about life in the world of big-band jazz, Devotion and Destiny, interspersed with a few jazz inventions. The final turn, an art-rock band, couldn’t detain us from the lure of the freezing streets.

No.23 – February 2006

Backed by a large picture of an unusually fierce sheep, trombone poetry took to the stage once again at The Black Sheep Bar in Croydon. A friendly crowd listened to a batch of jazz poetry and the odd perverb, framed by brief improvisations, then it was back to guitar world. This included a charming song called Sexy Vibrator, accompanied by a lad with his trousers at half-mast doing random spasms of human beat-box stuff in between puffs on his roll-up. Worth more points, perhaps, than an earlier act of heavy metal misery karaoke. Each to her own.

At The Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel, trombone poetry interrupted the flow of obscenities with a mix of blues and musings. Other turns included early-days stand-up comedy, a slice of some kind of epic poem about mythical slaughter, and our host Vis The Spoon shouting a poem about a fish-fancier. Each to his own.

No.24 – March 2006

There was only one trombone poetry event this month: the star-studded launch of a new club night at the Hog’s Head in Croydon. The event was hosted by Tim Eveleigh, who brought all his fans.

The Beckenham Barbershop Quartet sang Stockhausen. A boy with a guitar sang about girls. Visiting New York poet Ed Stone regaled us with an epic poem about watching Andy Warhol’s paint drying. A boy with a guitar sang about girls. A guy with a home-made tuba played the first eight movements of his Fantasia for Foghorn. A big fat bloke from Purley with halitosis blew up balloons and then stamped on them. A boy with a guitar sang about boys. The highlight, even headlight, of the evening was the ventriloquist fire-eater and his little friend Tommy Tinder.

No.25 – April 2006

The trombone poetry debut at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden was an event put on by The Poet’s Letter magazine. It was an evening of odd contrasts: referring to Siobhan Lennon’s drawings of daffodils behind him, host Munayem Mayenin read some poems about roses, followed by a long series of what seemed like poetry in translation, and Malgorzata Kitowski’s challenging modernist poems jostled against Luke Wright’s pop rhyming. The trombone poetry offerings included a few soundwalks written the week before for a Tate Modern project, The Elephant Vanishes, plus muted improvisations.

Jazz at St Cyprian’s was another trombone poetry debut gig, in the unlikely but beautiful setting of a huge church near Baker Street (see for future events). The evening was shared with a brilliant quartet led by Chris Laurence on bass, with Frank Ricotti on vibes, John Parricelli on guitar, and Martin France on drums. Compositions included a couple by Kenny Wheeler, whom I was glad to meet on a pew near the bar.

Trombone poetry sets started and ended the event, and featured Devotion, a poem dedicated to big-band leader Mick Collins (also present), the new sequence of six soundwalks, and an old trombone favourite, Harmon Air-Shift.

No.26 – May 2006

The Vortex Jazz Club now lives in a place called Dalston Culture House, so it seemed only fair to make them listen to some poetry, and a gig with the Vortex Foundation Big Band was a golden opportunity. It also seemed that the odd tune by Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory might bring an overdue blast of classic jazz to this studiedly “contemporary” venue. This may be a first. Poems included You Hum It, Destiny and Uptalk Turnoff.

Up The Octave was launched this month: a new residency on the first Sunday of the month at the very plush Octave Bar & Restaurant in Covent Garden, hosted by trombone poetry and featuring a different jazz ensemble and guest poet each time.

Proceedings began with a burst of trombone poetry, then Ken Champion recited his mordant, playful verse, taken partly from his book, Cameo Poly.

The chosen band was Polar Bear, a superb ensemble comprising Seb Rochford on drums, Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart on tenor saxes, Tom Herbert on bass, and Leafcutter John on electronica. For their encore, the resident trombonist was right chuffed to be invited onboard for a completely improvised piece.

Up The Octave is designed to finish early, as it’s a Sunday, with the booked performances ending by about ten o’clock, followed by an open mic session. This featured jumping John Clarke and a (self-styled) hopeless romantic poet. An unexpected treat was a poem from Pete Wareham.

It was the second church gig in two months, but the date with Muses Café at the Crypt in Camberwell does not imply any trombone piety. Creative Routes served up a suitably rum line-up: the genial Joe Bouzouki & The Missing Puddings treated us to a brace of bouzoukis and an absence of puddings, Ben Dean sang gentle songs backed by a projection of some kind of computer-animated King Kong video, Buda Cakes stuffed cassettes into a walkman to accompany his toy piano, and Dave Eccles regaled us with two songs, concerning war graves and suicide. The trombone poetry set included the first reading of a poem inspired by Serge Gainsbourg: Block Trombone.

The June adventures ended in Brixton, at Club Integral in The Canterbury Arms, where the trombone poetry set had to include Triplets and another batch of perverbs.

Rock trio, Nightfighters, were on next: cheerfully miserabilist songs with artful drumming by Paul May. Then came KJ, who offered distorted vocal explorations (electronicackle?), with artful drumming by Paul May. Finally, the very likeable Laboratoires Murphy, featuring organist Dean Broderick, with artful drumming by Paul May.

The other event this month was the building of a new shed:

No.27 – June 2006

In Borough Market, near London Bridge, is the Stoney Street Café, the home of More Poetry, a secretive gathering of poets shepherded by Ken Champion and Julie Jeana. The proceedings were oiled by bottles of Chardonnay, and the peace disturbed by a trombone poetry set of jazz and a recent invention, the bookend poem. In the open mic, unusually, people were given poems to read if they hadn’t brought any. A bloke called John Clarke brought several, and was accompanied by Petri, the house guitarist.

A couple of days later, trombone poetry was assigned to a circus tent in Camberwell Green, expecting to meet The Mayor of Southwark and a bunch of bananas. Clearly present before we could commence was the London School of Samba outside, and the gentle tones of muted trombone eventually ceded to some other Bonkersfest performers in a neighbouring Big Top. As I made my way out through balloons and bunting, confused dogs sniffed fibre-glass sheep, and carefree children frolicked in the sunshine, to the merry lilt of a death metal band.

The second Up The Octave event brought to the stage the poet Tom Chivers, of Penned In The Margins fame, who contributed his engaging ruminations about London life before a set by a strangely publicity-shy band, too furtive to mention by name.

After a trombone poetry set that offered new poems about Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane, the open mic session was graced by Susie Gordon’s poems about her Peckham ancestors.

Up The Octave is planning to resume, bigger and better, in September.

Under the Next Up! banner, trombone poetry trod the boards at The Marie Lloyd Bar in Hackney, at a night out organized by Core Arts. Outstanding among many melodious moments was singer/songwriter Claire Nicolson.

Quick plug for a new magazine: trombonist Paul Smith has launched Up-Beat, a kind of jazz big-band fanzine, available at various South London haunts. The first issue includes the poem, Devotion, dedicated to the Mick Collins band.

No.28 – July 2006

As a change from the usual dive bar, trombone poetry turned up in the posh modernist auditorium of TUC Congress House for a cabaret benefit in aid of Sing For Joy, a community choir for people with Parkinson’s disease and other conditions, conducted by Carol Grimes. It was a hit-and-run opening set: a few jazz things, Uptalk Turnoff and a lovely crowd.

A few days later trombone poetry was back in the cellar, this time in a pub called The Washington, for the launch of a new Behind The Mic night, MC’d by Rosie Wilby. It was a hit-and-run opening set: a few jazz things, Uptalk Turnoff and a lovely crowd of singer/songwriters.

As a change from the usual city gig, trombone poetry went way out west, to the tumbleweed plains of Walpole Park, for the wondrous (and free) Ealing Jazz Festival. It was a nowhere-to-hide 75-minute opening set: a few dozen jazz things, Uptalk Turnoff and a lovely crowd of ‘Trane-spotters, buffalo and Ealing comedians.

No.29 – August 2006

On a second visit to Freedom Of Expression in Croydon, the pub had somehow mutated from a Hog’s Head into a Green Dragon, and the hubbub of a keen young audience augmented this time by clanging roadworks in the street below, celebrated in a wee poem, Street Life.

Bringing more mellifluous sounds was Italian singer Cris Tanzi.

A fortnight later, trombone poetry went even further west than Ealing, to Totnes in Devon. Roberto Pla, Bosco de Oliveira, Bill Bland, Mark Donlon, Jonny Gee and a trombonist were Latin music tutors at Dartington Summer School, and gave a tutors’ concert in the magnificent Dartington Hall. An original bugalu, Bukowski Blues, was followed by the composer’s poetical tribute, One For Bukowski, on what was the eve of Charles Bukowski’s birthday. Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue, made famous by John Coltrane, was followed by the poem, Out Of This World, a tribute to Coltrane.

The first visit to The Gramaphone Club turned out to be the third visit to The Rhythm Factory instead, perhaps due to some cataclysmic row over the spelling. (Apologies for this last-minute change. It’s always worth checking the site to confirm minor event details like where or when they’ve whimsically moved the gig to.)

Vis the Spoon presided over another great night out: poet Graham Pollock took us on the Woolwich ferry, Tim Tomlinson brandished a small harp, a concertina, then a harmonica, John Clarke read some colourful new poems, a singing guitarist was suddenly accompanied by a bar-walking baritone saxophonist, and Niall Spooner-Harvey explained, in a long poem, how several dozen pet cats had snuffed it. Three intense, insightful pieces of street poetry by Klaus were a late highlight.

In June, we trumpeted the return of Up The Octave in September. Unfortunately, Up The Octave has gone Down The Drain, for obscure commercial reasons. Any suggestions for another venue for a monthly jazz/poetry club will be very welcome.

No.30 – September 2006

Fixtures began with a live broadcast/webcast for Resonance 104.4 FM. This was Mark Aitken’s sonic horticulture show, I Can Hear The Grass Grow, wherein (whereon?) the garden poems were Farewell Concert, Bee Attitude, Benchmarks, and Hosts, an entomological sapphic. Aitken was so pleased that no herbaceous borders were trampled in the making of this programme, that he invited the trombone along next time as well. This may blossom into a regular event.

On a return visit to the much-loved Klinker, cabbage-hatted MC Hugh Metcalfe presented a bright Franco-American vocal trio, WAX , and a slightly gloomy band of youths glorying in the name of 52 Commercial Road. The trombone poetry set included The Pioneer, a new slant on psychogeography, and The Ripe Moment, an insufficiently romantic poem set in Jerez.

The following night, trombone poetry headed south, to The Railway Bar in Tulse Hill, for a debut gig at Feel The Pulse, hosted by Dennis (just Dennis). Liz Bentley got us off to a flying start, with songs and rinky-tink keyboards; Ron the Builder, for some reason, recited children’s poetry; Paul Birtill cheered us all up with poems on disease and suicide; some bloke read poems that were only distinguishable from his patter by phrases like “she had no malicious malice”, which no-one would normally think of saying; a shy South African called Portia tried out some new songs. The trombone poetry ranged from You Hum It to Enduring Image, with muted inventions in between.

Stokefest in Clissold Park had it all: sunshine, cakes, police on mountain bikes, and more stuffed animal toys than you could shake a stick at (or truncheon). A lucky technical hitch delayed the trombone poetry set long enough for a samba school to thunder past: beware of gigs in tents.

No.31 – October 2006

Once again, indispensably for a horticulture programme, armchair gardeners listening to Mark Aitken’s I Can Hear The Grass Grow on Resonance 104.4 FM were given extra trombone poetry guidance. The instructive poems were Greengrocer and Owning Up (concerning some mushrooms), together with two specially-crafted pieces: Redriff Ramble and The Rhubarb Rumba.

Croydon, home of Freedom Of Expression, was the next venture, at The Green Dragon. Sue Verran gave us a sparkling set of expressive songs. It was the late, great Thelonious Monk’s birthday, so that accounted for all the music in the trombone poetry set.

For the third collaboration on I Can Hear The Grass Grow, the theme was mushrooms. Aitken requested (though did not commission) a trombone piece designed to represent the growth of a mushroom. The second piece of mycological music was Slippery Jack. This was an absolute world premiere, in the sense that even the composer had not heard it before, as it was composed on the bus (the fertile 176) on the way to the studio.

On the trombone poetry debut gig at Utter!, in the Salisbury Pub in Green Lanes, the first person to take the stage, clutching a sheaf of poems, got the evening off to a confused start with the greeting, “Goodnight!” Things brightened up with the antic verse of Phil Philmar, the smutty limericks of Maricel Samson, spoken (shouted) word from Paul Lyalls, and the thoughtful acoustic hip hop of Skanda.

Good to be back at Scaledown in Fitzrovia, to hear host Mark Braby open with a Ukrainian folk song, followed by Black Cat Bones with neat songs like Short Back and Sides. Guy Hall dragged his drumkit from the south coast for a 3-piece suite with a soft-mallet centre. Hicks Milligan Prophecy managed without a drummer for their kitsch pop set. Orson Blake misleadingly sang that “the fun is always happening somewhere else”. The Remote Viewers offered contemporary music for three saxophones. The trombone poetry set included a trial run of Higher Education, a poetic response to a daft email about rays from another universe.

The month ended with an unpublicized gig at the Park Road Project in leafy Harlesden that included a beautiful solo dance by Natalie Holasz. If you’re ever invited, do go.

No.32 – November 2006

At The Canal Café in Little Venice, trombone poetry performed at the first night of Club Black Sheep (not to be confused with the Black Sheep Bar). This was a kind of comedy variety night, featuring sketch comedy from Colin & Fergus, wry stand-up from Alex Horne, magic from Jay Fortune, and balloon modelling from Mr Croaky. The Black Sheep did several nifty sketches themselves. Poems included a skeptics’ favourite, Give Me A Sign.

For Mark Aitken’s I Can Hear The Grass Grow on Resonance 104.4 FM the themes were things beginning with “t”, with special emphasis on tulips. Two new tulipian poems were broadcast, inspired by stories in Charles MacKay’s marvellous Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: Root of Exchange and Gentleman’s Relish, both concerning tulipomania.

Back to Croydon again, for more Freedom Of Expression, at The Green Dragon. The open mic included folk songs like Whiskey For Me Johnny (?), accompanied by random roars of football frenzy from the bar downstairs, Zero Trilby, and a relaxed debut set from Karen & Hannah. The evening ended with a schizoid double-header from trombone poetry and the brilliant Gaz Twist, interweaving three bursts each.

Trombone poetry has been invited back for a Xmas special on the 12th. Humbug.

No.33 – December 2006

Musical and poetical goings-on are now happening at the Green Note café/bar up on Parkway in Camden on Saturday afternoons, where trombone poetry, fuelled by a stupendous brunch, gave voice to a few jazz notions. Let down by some absent-minded, absent-bodied poet, host Joan Coffey bounced ardent songs off the brickwork, and threw in a Spike Milligan poem to boot.

On his horticultural show on Resonance 104.4 FM, Mark Aitken focussed on his worms. His vet prescribed tablets. Poems and music were swamped by an unmonitored surge of background muzak.

Invited to Croydon yet again, for more Freedom Of Expression, trombone poetry shared the bill with a select few. Steve Smith showed off his new guitar by singing about Jack and Jill. Blue Rose Code shone star-like. Mozzy Green fused guitarcelloloudly. Magic Sam hang on forgotten the bollocks anyway this is about no what oh listen the. Joan Coffey risked more death threats by singing her satirical hit, We Know You’re From Croydon. Usual host Tim was rumoured to be ho-hoing around in scarlet somewhere.

For the final collaboration of the season on I Can Hear The Grass Grow on Resonance FM, a would-be leaper from Golden Gate Bridge was talked out of it on air by means of a bit of trombone-play, a couple of poems about death, and Aitken talking about sprouts, or something. The show will shoot up again in the spring.