Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Improv Ahoy! On Board A Boat With Steve Beresford

All aboard the good ship Improv! Batten down the hatches, stormy weather is expected, and I don’t mean the song because I doubt that anyone at the Boat-Ting night would play it, want to play, or if they did, play it in any recognisable form. It’s a Monday night, my friend’s over from Bangkok and has suggested we meet up because he wants to see some ‘live’ music. During the phone conversation he mentions Steve Beresford and we both say we’ve heard of him but the context escapes us, a fact which, later, shames me because I know, really, that he’s a ‘legend’ on the UK Jazz/Improv scene, and I must have seen his name a million times in Wire magazine. So we’re standing by the Thames looking at the little boat where this night is supposedly happening, just a few people on deck, sat at the tables – it doesn’t look too lively but we’re well aware of the fact that ‘lively’ and ‘Improv’ night just don’t go together. There’s no sign outside, but this suggests to us that the night is here because, well, Improv is so underground as to not bother with efforts to advertise – I don’t blame them because a sign might attract people, people like tourists wanting to see a band play music that's melodious, or at least recognisable as music, and this is the wrong place for that. We walk up the gangway (which feels ominously like a gang plank) and down the steps into the bowels of the ship where two guys at a table tell us it’s six quid each. I pay, then check that’s it’s a Lady Gaga night, you know, a tribute act, all straight-faced, and he looks at me, assesses what I’m wearing, thinks a bit, and I save him from further procrastination as to how to answer by laughing, and he laughs, my friend laughs, his friend laughs and we go in to a cosy room for 150 people with a few stylish chairs, a bar, wooden floor and a table to our left on which a white cloth covers something. Mmm...not even a ‘real’ instrument tonight? No torturing of a saxophone or dismantling of a drum kit – fine. We get drinks and become bemused at the music being played, which must be something put on by the barman, unless the organisers think that Blondie and other hits from the 80s will set the appropriate mood. Look at the ‘crowd’ (around twenty people), recalling so many Improv gigs I went to years ago back in the olde days of Improv, when they did make odd noises on common instruments. We go up on deck, look at the murky twilight sky starting to show up the neon of the OXO tower very nicely, chat, go back when we hear what sounds like a poet – it is a poet, Ronnie McGrath, and he’s rapping complex surrealistic prose like a true pro, great delivery, musical, like Ginsberg meets The Last Poets – good, so good I buy his book off him later. Go back on deck and get chatting to a guy from near Liverpool who’s been in London for years and plays bass apart from doing an office job, and I get to rapping about the moon, and our place in the cosmos, how we can’t be alone and if people think ‘aliens’ are a weird concept, how weird would it be to find out that we are alone! And so forth, about music, work, living in London. He tells a funny story about the young daughter of a friend who, upon hearing Lol Coxhill play live, simply said ‘Bore-ing, bore-ing’ – heh-heh. Back down for Beresford, a guy ‘playing’ an acoustic guitar and a woman vocalising – sit there, start to get into it, drift off, tune in again – Steve’s twiddling knobs, the woman’s adding pseudo-operatic Dadaist sounds, heavy breathing etc, and the guitarist is doing things that make the guitar sound like it’s not a guitar. A baby in the audience is making noises too, perhaps in appreciation, who knows – the very young are unburdened by our preconceptions of what music should sound like. Funnily enough, the baby noises do fit in with those made by the adults. Raymond Scott made albums called ‘Soothing Sounds For Babies’. These sounds aren’t soothing, but I still think the little one is connecting somehow with the sound of electricity. Perhaps babies are the best audience for Improv. Further still, I think Steve should have asked the mother if he could borrow her child to perform at his next gig.

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