Sunday, 2 March 2014

Blue Touch Paper

28th February 2014
Colin Towns

Band on the Wall, Manchester

Colin Towns and I go way, way back – not that, of course, he is aware of the fact.  For it is almost 37 years since I, as a spotty school kid, first witnessed a fresh-faced Towns keying in the intro to Clear Air Turbulence as a member of the Ian Gillan Band.  I saw him perform on four subsequent occasions in various incarnations of IGB/Gillan over the next few years, before I lost interest due to Gillan’s buffoonish antics.

Towns drifted off my personal musical radar in the early eighties, but not before I had sought out his first solo album Full Circle; an utterly bewitching recording which has ever quite left me.  Unearthing a CD copy at a sensible price remains one of my personal holy grails.  My most recent internet trawl came up with a CDR copy for sale at £60.

I would occasionally see his name whizz past on the credits of TV shows: Cadfael, Between the Lines and the like, but that was sort of it until the internet allowed me to go investigating what he had been up to.  Mostly film scores I noted, but also collaborations with the RNCM Big Band, plus his own jazz combo The Mask Orchestra.  Busy man.

His latest venture is Blue Touch Paper wherein he and sometime collaborator percussionist Stephan Maass have surrounded themselves with four Young Turks from the contemporary jazz scene:

Guitarist Chris Montague
Sax player Mark Lockheart
Drummer Benny Greb and
Bassist Edward McLean (although this last named was replaced by Arnd Geise this evening).  

Such is my unfamiliarity with the genre, I could not truly comment as to whether this concert was “good” or “not-so-good” jazz.  What I can say with certainty is I found it a real fun evening, particularly savouring the variation and musical eclecticism.  Surprises popped up in the most unlikely places as vaguely familiar-sounding classical, Latin and rock music snippets were slipped in here and there.

Isadora was a delight, bringing in its wake a wrong-footing musical twist.  And Fair is Foul showcasing Lockheart’s breathy sax against a backdrop of sampled lines from Macbeth was rather special.  Drummer Benny Greb was given the opportunity to bash away in his inimitable style and, whilst even a novice like myself could tell his technique was breathtaking, it was for me, anyway, the rather more subtle contributions made by Maass which elevated this percussive interlude. 

The only piece which failed to do it for me was the title track from the most recent CD, Drawing Breath - the composition began with some deliciously sleazy sax playing, but once the guitar kicked in proceedings developed into a bit too much of a thrash for my personal tastes.  The evening closed with This Could Run from the band’s first CD; Towns eschewing the encore ritual.

The paucity of the audience - I doubt very much if we had reached treble figures by the close of play, did make me wonder the extent to which these guys were actually shelling out to play for us here.  The door receipts could barely have covered their expenses.  It did put me in mind of Bill Bruford’s assertion that King Crimson was the only band he “could play in 17/16………….and still stay in decent hotels”.

I half expected to later meet Colin and the lads checking into the same Travelodge where I was holing up for the night.

Set list – (happy for anyone to fill in blanks or make any corrections)

Attention Seeker
Another Time Another Place
Neon Shadows
Lost for Words

Yes But No
Say What You Mean
Juggling with Strangers
Fair is Foul
Percussion piece (Greb & Maass)
Drawing Breath
48 Prefabs and Forks No 60
This Could Run

Blue Touch Paper - Manchester 2014

Benny Greb

Mark Lockheart & Chris Monague

Blue Touch Paper - Manchester 2014

Blue Touch Paper - Manchester 2014

Blue Touch Paper - Manchester 2014

Blue Touch Paper - Manchester 2014

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