Sunday, 17 February 2013

GIOFEST V

CCA, Glasgow
November 29th-December 1st 2012

Preamble – Beginning of A Great Adventure

In 2002, veteran saxophonist Evan Parker played a gig at the old Free 
RadiCCAls festival in Glasgow alongside a plethora of the city's more 
switched-on musical explorers. During the event, Parker declared it the 
inaugural meeting of something called the Glasgow Improvisers 
Orchestra. In the decade since, Parker's careless talk has inspired and 
enabled a welter of activity based around the loose-knit institution 
GIO has become.

Activities have included live and recorded collaborations with major 
figures in what might be regarded as free music's first wave during the 
1960s and 1970s in Britain and beyond. GIO albums have been recorded 
with Parker in 2004, vocalist and co-founder of the Feminist 
Improvising Group, Maggie Nicols, in 2005, and composer and bassist 
Barry Guy in 2007. Significantly, all three were members of John 
Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble at various points in the 1960s and 
1970s.

Also in 2007, at Parker's invitation, GIO played at the Freedom of the 
City festival alongside London Improvisers Orchestra. With the bands 
playing separately and together, this became a two CD set, with LIO 
players including Parker and  trumpeter Harry Beckett. The latter 
worked with everyone from Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath to 
Robert Wyatt and Weekend, Simon Booth/Emerson's pre Working Week trio 
with ex Young Marble Giants vocalist Alison Statton. Also in GIO's 
ranks was soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, who released his first 
album, Ear of Beholder, on John Peel's Dandelion label after Peel saw 
him busking.

Outside of his own singular take on his instrument, Coxhill's career 
included session work with the Damned and, much earlier, on John 
Kongos' original version of Tokeloshe Man. Younger players with LIO 
included bassist Dominic Lash, a key player with Oxford Improvisers, 
another improv-based contemporary group. Lash played as part of late 
drummer Steve Reid's final band alongside Four Tet's Kieran Hebden, and 
also appeared at GIOFest in 2010. GIO have also played at various 
points with saxophonist John  Surman, pianist Keith Tippett, whose 
fifty-strong ensemble, Centipede, was even bigger than GIO, ex Henry 
Cow guitarist Fred Frith, drummer Gunter 'Baby' Sommer and 
multi-instrumentalist and some-time Flying Lizard, Steve Beresford, all 
pivotal figures in improvised music.

At GIO's helm – 'leaders' would be a far too undemocratic concept in 
this context - are the tireless and avuncular figures of Raymond 
MacDonald and George Burt. While MacDonald's role in the group is 
primarily as a saxophonist, his musical career began as a guitarist in 
indie band, Remember Fun. As a psychologist and academic, MacDonald was 
for twelve years a professor in psychology at Glasgow Caledonian 
University, and is currently Professor of Music and Psychology and 
Improvisation in the Department of Music at the University of Edinburgh.

Among a huge back catalogue of releases dating back to the late 1980s, 
MacDonald played on Lead Us Not Into Temptation, the David Byrne-scored 
soundtrack to David MacKenzie's 2003 film adaptation of Alexander 
Trocchi's first novel, Young Adam. Glasgow-born Trocchi was a key Beat 
writer, who, whether as literary provocateur, smack addict or 
instigator of the 'invisible insurrection of a million minds' that he 
predicted his Project Sigma network to be, was at the forefront of the 
post World War Two counter-culture. As well as Mogwai's Barry Burns, 
Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn and Alasdair Roberts 
playing hurdy-gurdy, also playing on Lead Us Not Into Temptation 
alongside MacDonald were fellow GIO members, drummer Stuart Brown, 
bassists Una MacGlone and George Lyle and tenor sax player Graeme 
Wilson.

Burt is a guitarist who began playing in folk bands, and is GIO's main 
in-house composer. As the eponymous co-leaders of the Burt-MacDonald 
Quintet, alongside Lyle, vocalist and melodica player Nicola MacDonald 
– both GIO stalwarts – and assorted drummers, the pair have released a 
stream of albums, again with the likes of Coxhill, Tippett and other 
fellow travellers including Sushil K Dade's Future Pilot A.K.A. 
Project.

With GIO currently some twenty-three or twenty-four strong, the 
Orchestra's alumni includes drummer Alex Neilson, currently focusing on 
his Trembling Bells project, The One Ensemble's Daniel Padden and Kris 
Hladowski, as well as ubiquitous pianist Bill Wells.

Early GIO gigs were suitably sporadic, but, as the group became an 
increasingly cohesive and confident force, so too did the ambition of 
their shows as they joined umbilical dots with fellow travellers across 
the globe. The founding of the now annual GIOFest in 2008 in the 
Orchestra's spiritual home in the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts), 
was a turning point.

Over three days, GIO and assorted guests combined, collaborated and 
composed, with increasingly startling results. In 2009, GIO released 
Metamorphic Rock, recorded two years before with George Lewis, the 
American trombonist, composer, academic and prime mover behind the 
Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. This was 
preparatory work for Artificial Life, a piece composed by Lewis for 
GIO, and released on Iorram Records, the micro-label run by MacDonald 
with fellow GIO members, guitarist Neil Davidson and MacGlone.

Also released in 2009 was GIOpoetics, a collaboration with Portuguese 
father-son duo, viola player Ernesto Rodrigues and cellist Guilherme 
Rodrigues. GIO's most recent releases were both this year. Improcerto 
(for HB) was released on Iorram, and is a single thirty-nine minute 
composition by Burt in tribute to the late Harry Beckett. Parker again 
features on the recording, as does Coxhill, whose own recent death 
lends added poignancy to the record.

Just released by GIO to tie in with GIOFest V is Schweben, Ay, but can 
ye?, a major composition by Barry Guy, which was commissioned by GIO 
and first heard at GIOFest 3 in 2010, with Guy directing. Launched to 
coincide with Scottish Book Week, Schweben, Aye, but can ye? draws its 
title from a translation of a poem by Mayakovsky by Glasgow-based poet, 
Edwin Morgan, whose reading of the poem, recorded in 2009, the year 
before his death at his Glasgow care home aged ninety opens the record.

Edwin Morgan was present too at GIOFest V, in a new piece by Burt for 
full Orchestra with actor and Irvine Welsh compatriot Tam Dean Burn 
performing more of the poet's Mayakovsky translations. Lewis returned 
to open the weekend with a duet with Parker prior to the pair joining 
forces with the full band.

Also returning this year was Maggie Nicols, both with GIO's full 
ensemble and its all-female offshoot, the Rope & Duck Co, while Parker 
appeared as one third of the Schlippenbach Trio with German pianist 
Alexander von Schlippenbach and drummer Paul Lovens. The Trio have 
played together for some forty years after being members of the Globe 
Unity Orchestra, founded by von Schlippenbach in 1966. Original members 
of Globe Unity included future Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, while a 
partial fortieth anniversary reunion in 2006 also featured Lewis. As 
well as his duet with Parker, Lewis brought with him a new composition 
for GIO, the Wittgenstein-inspired Tractatus, with plans to finally 
record Artificial Life, begun back in 2007, the day after GIOFest.

Yet another new composition followed Tractatus, this time by guitarist, 
producer and sonic polymath, Jim O'Rourke. Despite working with 
everyone from Sonic Youth to Derek Bailey and Swedish sax player, Mats 
Gustafson, O'Rourke maybe isn't someone you'd immediately ear-mark fora 
festival of free improvisation. What he brought to the table, however, 
in his playing-card generated piece, Some I Know, Some I Don't, was 
both unique and playful enough to finally dispel the myth of 
improvisation being the preserve of  po-faced pedants with 
revolutionary agendas. Revolutionary agendas may be fair enough, but, 
as inexplicable as it sounds, GIOFest V was fun, and not just for those 
onstage either.

With the rise of GIOFest, it's fitting that it was Parker who first 
provoked GIO into being, and indeed that he keeps returning to Glasgow. 
Parker, after all, was a member of Company with guitarist Derek Bailey 
and a host of others including at various points, Steve Beresford, Fred 
Frith and Lol Coxhill. Out of this activity came Company Week, an 
annual week-long platform for Bailey, Parker and Company's extended 
family of improvisers in a myriad of combinations. Running from 1977 to 
1994, it's without doubt that if Company Week were still running, GIO 
and its own many combinations would be doing something with the old 
guard.

It's fitting too that GIOFest continues to take place in the CCA 
(Centre for Contemporary Arts), the city centre arts centre that houses 
gallery spaces, a cinema, a concert space, meeting rooms and offices 
for arts companies. Open since 1992, the CCA occupies the site of the 
old Third Eye Centre, which was opened in 1973, with Tom McGrath as its 
artistic director.

Like Alexander Trocchi, McGrath was a key figure in the 1960s 
underground. Born in Rutherglen in Lanarkshire, McGrath, alongside 
Trocchi and radical psychiatrist RD Laing, became one of the 
counter-culture's Scottish axis. McGrath read poetry alongside Allen 
Ginsberg at the Royal Albert Hall, and edited Peace News and 
International Times, before getting himself a habit and moving back to 
Glasgow as the 1960s dreams seemingly faded.

As an enabler and promoter in a post-hippy before Thatcherite arts 
bureaucrats took over, McGrath also brought Miles Davis, Duke Ellington 
and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra to Glasgow. While he later 
became better known as a poet, then a playwright, McGrath was also a 
jazz pianist, who loved Thelonius Monk, and was prone to throwing a few 
extreme free-form shapes in performance, and played with GIO bassist 
George Lyle. One story goes that a Glasgow venue's piano had to be 
replaced after McGrath vented his creative spleen on it.

Somehow, the anarchic spirit of McGrath and the old Third Eye coupled 
with the trickle-down legacy – again, if that's not too much of a 
formalisation – live on in GIO and GIOFest. While not mentioned in a 
fascinating conversation between Lewis and MacDonald, such connections
seemed nevertheless prevalent in a public discussion on improvisation 
that took it beyond music to a simple state of being. If GIOFest V was 
'about' anything, it was that.


Day 1 – Come Together

“This must be what my daughters feel like on Christmas Eve,” enthused 
an ebullient Raymond MacDonald introducing the first night of GIOFest 
V's three-day weekend. “I've not been able to sleep.”

MacDonald goes on to talk about how Evan Parker became mid-wife of 
GIO's accidental birth in the same room he's now standing in a decade 
earlier, when Parker threw MacDonald and co into the deep end and 
forced them to swim for their musical lives. To extend the metaphor, 
MacDonald likens it to the image on the cover of Nirvana's Never mind 
album. Like GIO, it is “a baby with wide eyes, but coping quite well.”

It's only fitting, then, that Parker, who MacDonald introduces as “the 
most important post-Coltrane saxophonist”, sets the tone(s) of the 
weekend in duo with George Lewis. While Parker stands, with his tenor 
sax in hand, Lewis sits himself behind a laptop. As Parker blows, but 
quietly, Lewis leans in close to his laptop, peering professorially 
through his glasses as he appears to sample Parker’s honkings live, 
before deconstructing each note's component parts before building them 
up again and sending them around the room in a different form. It's as 
if the sheer physical flesh and blood exhalations of Parker's efforts 
are put through a blender, only to emerge after what at times sounds 
like Parker soloing alongside himself as some breath-heavy electronic 
goo.

Lewis picks up his trombone, muted and distorted further by electronic 
FX, before Lewis throws in some jet plane found sounds  which zoom 
above and Parker moves onto soprano. Such distorted electro-acoustic 
eddies move into more straight-ahead trombone and sax sparring, which 
rise and fall into little melodic volleys before things calm down once 
more  and come to rest, windswept at every level.

The second set was a kind of warm-up for the full Orchestra, as they 
played with their guests for the weekend, Parker and Lewis again, with 
Maggie Nicols sitting in for her first appearance of the festival. 
Prior to the performance, the room is bathed in a red light that seems 
to pervade throughout all pre-shows, while the band's seats in the 
performance area are laid out in a circle from when they could look 
each other in the eye at an earlier rehearsal. In the hubbub that 
follows as everyone comes to order, however, the seating is 
reconfigured to a semi-circle and the lights brightened.

The first of two pieces played is Artificial Life, the piece composed 
by Lewis for GIO in 2007. Lewis, alas, who was busily pacing the floor 
a few moments ago, is nowhere to be seen. When he does eventually show 
face, his introduction talks of improvisation as being a process that 
moves between periods of stability and instability, and encourages the 
Orchestra to call without necessarily making or soliciting a response. 
He does this with a wit that again dispels all notions of improv as 
something serious. It's deadly serious, of course, but it's the playing 
that counts.

Lewis holds up a mini-recorder to set levels with, and asks the band to 
make “one loud sound.” The mass eruption that follows might well be 
something GIO would break out for the introductory sequence of Jools 
Holland’s Later in the unlikely event they'd ever be asked to appear on 
the programme. The performance that follows is made all the more 
startling for its apparent softness and spectral intensity as the 
instruments weave in and around each other, dropping out and jumping 
back in again with a concentrated formality.

The second piece, a totally free-form affair, begins with guitarist 
George Burt's hand-claps setting up a rhythm picked up on by trumpeter 
Robert Henderson's foot-stomps, while harpist Catriona McKay taps her 
hand up and down the wooden frame of her instrument. With MacDonald 
playing soprano, Peter Nicolson's cello spars gamefully with Nicols' 
voice. There's no upstaging or show-boating by the older hands here. 
Everybody's equal, and then some.

Even if by Saturday night's climax to GIOFest V this first day looks 
retrospectively like a warm-up, the one thing that stands out about GIO 
– always – is just how much fun – no,  joy – they're having doing what 
they're doing. This isn't in some exclusive and esoteric jazz-bore 
indulgence, but feels instead like a genuinely communal – and, yes, 
loving – form of shared expression that gets more infectious by the 
minute.


Day 2 – Breakout

The bar is raised and the first real signs of cutting loose are in 
place with Maggie Nicols' opening set on a day of small groups with the 
Rope and Duck Co. This all-female trio is an off-shoot of GIO, and 
normally features bassist Una MacGlone, flautist Emma Roche and 
vocalist Aileen Campbell. With Campbell indisposed, Nicols blends in 
seamlessly, picking up any slack with a remarkable performance of two 
group pieces that begin with a full-throated guttural cry and ends with 
a tantric dance.

Inbetween, MacGlone sits on the floor conjuring up noises from her 
prostate bass, while to one side of her Roche’s flute becomes an 
understated but still vivid sound carrier that doesn’t so much spar 
with the others as absorbs and co-exists with them. On the other side 
of MacGlone, Nicols sits, mewing like a cat one minute, dancing in her 
chair the next, her head rolling trance-like as she goes.

For the second piece, MacGlone and her bass are on their feet, playing 
what sounds suspiciously like proper. After a brief silence, Nicols too 
is on her feet, circling the chair, babbling into the microphone, 
sounding cross with herself and limbs that maybe aren’t as flexible as 
they once were. In-between whispers, Roche’s flute seems to twitter 
back in gentle recognition. Together, Nicols and the Rope & duck Co are 
channelling the same terrain as Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides or 
Muscles of Joy, a collective spirit alive with sensuality and rage.

GIO’s main body is broken up even further by way of four small groups, 
each playing for ten minutes apiece. The first is a trio, the gag being 
that all three players are named George; George Lewis on trombone, 
George Murray also on trombone, and George Lyle on double bass. Why 
George Burt declined to make up a quartet is anybody’s guess, but 
having trombones playing lead on a low-end exercise like this is 
glorious to hear.

Next up is a quintet of Neil Davidson on acoustic guitar, Fergus Kerr 
on French Horn, Graeme Wilson on saxophone, Armin Sturm on double bass 
and a wonderful Jim McEwan on electric keyboards. Out of this mix comes 
a kind of wonkified 1970s noir, with McEwan bending his keyboard sounds 
out of shape as if stalking his after-hours prey in a very woozy, if 
appositely contained, concentrated and eminently controlled fashion.

“I just have to go to the toilet,” Nicols declares, before joining 
pianist Gerry Rossi, trumpeter Robert Henderson and drummer Stu Brown. 
Once convened, Brown wields a dangerous looking rubber duck which he 
threatens to bash his snare drum with, but instead barely taps it with 
the force of a feather-duster kiss. This nudges the quartet gradually 
ever deeper into the sort of latin-scat-exotica favoured by Arto 
Lindsay. Henderson’s trumpet bursts threaten to go into Sketches of 
Spain or Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra territory, until 
Brown jumps onto his knees and pretty much attacks his cymbal into a 
silent death to finish with. It’s the first real unhinged moment of the 
weekend, its knockabout absurdism provoking laughter among the audience 
as Nicols blows kisses at Henderson.

The final ad hoc amalgamation finds Lewis teaming up with GIO 
trombonist Nicole McNeilly, melodica player Nicola MacDonald, cellist 
Peter Nicolson and Raymond MacDonald initially on soprano saxophone. 
Somewhere in the cut and thrust of this five-way exchange, Nicolson 
seems to channel the ghost of Arthur Russell in his cello playing, 
while Lewis plays his dismantled trombone handle on his cheek, huffing 
and puffing like Donald Duck at the dentist.

The way the small groups cut loose is telling, With less responsibility 
and accountability to so many people in GIO’s full ensemble, it seems, 
and with so little time, it allows them to go for broke without any 
hesitation or anxiety about the consequences.

“Welcome back to the adventure,” says MacDonald before introducing the 
Schlippenbach Trio, who proceed to raise the bar even further with a 
relentless forty-five minute blow-out. There’s a relentless muscularity 
that drives Schlippenbach’s piano pounding and Parker’s intense blowing 
that’s not just about Paul Lovens’ busy drums. It’s as if all are 
constantly racing each other, nudging each other out of the way a 
moment, only to converge with renewed synergy, constantly refreshing
themselves as they go. Schlippenbach even slips in a few bluesy 
Monkisms to leaven a set that is exhausting, exhilarating and an 
inspirational way to end the night.


Day 3 – Play

On Saturday lunch-time there's a Salvation Army brass band playing 
Christmas Carols on Sauchiehall Street just along from the CCA . For 
all the band-member' uniformed predictability, there's something about 
hearing music – big band sounds in particular – in a social context 
beyond the concert hall that gives it fresh life and gives it a weight 
and a reach that goes beyond music. GIOFest V may be held indoors, but, 
over the course of a very busy final day, it breaks infinitely more 
boundaries than the Sally Army, mixing up forms and content to become 
much more than a mere gig.

The day begins with a workshop for 3-5 year-olds, an age-group 
unsullied by musical tuition and open to any chance to make a noise 
that's going. This, by all accounts, they do in spades. This is 
followed by a workshop by Maggie Nicols attended by improvisers of all 
ages and experience. Only a lone folkie, who, by his own admission, 
doesn't like improvisation, resists.

The first performance of the day comes from Sonic Bothy, here a 
seven-piece ensemble founded by violinist and composer Claire Docherty 
to embrace musicians with visual and other impairments to playing 
alongside herself, GIO bassist Una MacGlone and others. The first of 
two pieces is a Korg synth-led quickie that's practically a squiggle, 
while the second is led initially by some very quiet percussion, both 
on congas and on MacGlone's bass. With violin and flute flourishes 
under-scoring, things settle into a propulsive little off-kilter 
groove, over the top of which, again, comes Matthew Ward's Korg, awash 
with Mozartian flourishes a la Walter/Wendy Carlos.

A bothy, lest anyone is unaware, is a basic rural shelter found largely 
in the Scottish Highlands which is left unlocked and available to all. 
As a metaphor for Sonic Bothy, such an open house approach is perfect.

The discussion between George Lewis and Raymond MacDonald which follows 
makes sense of the full GIO aesthetic, not just musically, but as a 
philosophy and a way of life that sounds infinitely more practical than 
you might think. Lewis talks about how a decade back improvised music 
seemed at the margins, but now feels very much at the centre of things. 
He praises GIO as pioneers in large-scale improvisation, illustrating 
it with an anecdote from playing Company Week, when “we'd get in our 
duos and trios, then somebody would say 'let's all play together', and 
Derek Bailey would say 'That never works'. A lot of the time it didn't, 
because there was no methodology, but I think even Derek admitted it 
worked once.”

Lewis goes on to relate improvisation to the Occupy movement as a way 
of organising which may at times be exhausting and doesn't always work, 
but which remains a genuine attempt at democracy. Lewis states quite 
clearly that improvisation is neither genre or method, but is rather 
“an unholy alliance between indeterminacy and agency.”

There is a leakage too, Lewis observes, “between musical improvisation, 
other art-forms and other non-artforms.”

Noting the role of improvisation in education and other spheres, 
MacDonald points out that “It's important to be evangelical about 
improvisation.”

While there are few better evangelicists than MacDonald, it is Nicols, 
sat in the audience, who sums up the real power of improvisation to 
change things in terms of self-determination and power.

“One thing the state can't do is improvise,” she says. “In terms of 
having the power to negotiate, their backs are against the wall. They 
can bush badly, but they can't improvise creatively.”

If the spirit of Tom McGrath seemed to be chuckling beatifically 
somewhere for what he set in motion by establishing the Third Eye 
Centre, there were further elements of baton-passing via The Shetland 
Improvisers Orchestra, a recently formed twelve-piece troupe who play 
their second gig at GIOFest V having made the trip to the mainland from 
their island home off Scotland’s north-east coast.  As trumpeter and de 
facto leader of the group Jeff Merrifield explains, SHO were formed 
after MacDonald and Burt announced at a Shetland workshop hosted by GIO 
that, just as Evan Parker had willed GIO into being a decade earlier, 
the workshop was in fact the inaugural meeting of the new band.

Merrifield lends a far more flamboyant presence to SIO than anyone in 
GIO. His presence  at GIOFest V also forms the sort of crucial link 
between art-forms observed earlier by Lewis and MacDonald. Merrifield, 
after all, was a long term collaborator of the late Ken Campbell, the 
theatrical mad-man who became Alf Garnett's sidekick in 1990s TV 
sit-com, In Sickness and In Health, but in effect helped  usher in a 
theatrical revolution while accidentally helping sire Liverpool's punk 
scene, the KLF and everything that followed.

Campbell founded the Ken Campbell Roadshow, an anarchic touring troupe 
which at various points featured Sylvester McCoy and Bob Hoskins, and 
whose anarchic revues came out of an anarchic counter-culture that was 
a million miles from more orthodox writer-based theatres such as the 
Royal Court. Campbell claimed that the unsung hero of the Court was 
director Keith Johnstone, who wrote a book in 1979 called Impro! 
Improvisation and the Theatre.

In 1976, Campbell and Chris Langham had formed the Science Fiction 
Theatre of Liverpool to devise a nine-hour stage version of Robert 
Anton Wilson's cult science-fiction epic Illuminatus trilogy of novels. 
As well as featuring the likes of Bill Nighy in the cast, the house 
band included future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie on guitar, while 
building the sets was one Bill Drummond. Out of this came the germ of 
post-punk Liverpool super-group in waiting, Big in Japan.

After an anti-career of solo shows, wind-ups and eccentric popular 
science shows that make Brian Cox look boring, Campbell came to the 
2008 Edinburgh festival Fringe to oversee a young theatre company 
improvise a brand new musical every night. Campbell would act more as 
provocateur than director, pushing the company towards new realms of 
creative freedom, and never allowing them to become boring even for a 
second.

All of this is in Seeker!, a huge and very personal biography of 
Campbell written by Merrifield and published earlier this year. 
Merrifield also wrote a play about Ian Dury, which went on in Edinburgh 
the same year as Campbell's final appearance. Merrifield's play was 
originally called ABFCAP – The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury. The first 
half of the title was an acronym for Arseholes, Bastards, Fucking Cunts 
and Pricks, the opening line of Dury's song on his New Boots and 
Panties album, Plaistow Patricia. With the first half of the title 
amended to the no-less expressive but less likely to cause offence Hit 
Me!, Merrifield's play transferred to the West End.

Shetland Improvisers Orchestra isn't just about Merrifield, though, as 
the first of three pieces makes clear. In what is essentially a round 
of musical pass the parcel without pause, guest GIO saxophonist duets 
with GIO's guitarist awhile before double bass player Hayden Hook joins 
in as the guitarist eventually drops out, and so on. This leads to Hook 
playing with pianist Lewis Hall before one of two percussionists comes 
in on congas which eventually frame a second saxophone and Merrifield's 
trumpet before a second percussionist comes in. Female voice, recorder 
and fiddle point more to Shetland's Scandinavian influences than 
Scottish ones before a somewhat incongruous slap bass brings us back to 
the start.

The second piece is inspired, according to Merrifield, by a Kevin Ayers 
song, which Merrifield proceeds to sing a verse from, sounding, in its 
electronically distorted fashion, not unlike a more genial Davros from 
Doctor Who. Before the third piece, Merrifield relates how GIO's visit 
to Shetland had been the day after Lol Coxhill died. Merrifield cues in 
a big picture of the late saxophonist which appears on a big screen 
behind the band. Coxhill too cut something of a theatrical dash, 
playing in productions by Welfare State and groups associated with The 
People Show and poet and jazz lover Jeff Nuttall. Nuttall, like Tom 
McGrath, had been approached by Trocchi re Project Sigma, and Nuttall 
wrote a biography of sorts of Coxhill called The Bald Soprano, also the 
name of a play by Romanian absurdist, Eugene Ionesco.

Coxhill also played with Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt, and it is the 
title of the latter's 1970 free-form solo album, End of An Ear, that is 
nicked for GIO's final piece, on which they are joined by MacDonald, 
Burt and GIO bassist Armin Sturm. It starts, appropriately enough, with 
three saxes, and proceeds to rip up a light-hearted riot in tribute to 
Coxhill.

“If anyone wants to give us our third gig,” hustles Merrifield, 
sounding not unlike Campbell, “we're open to offers.”

Things continue in a theatrical vein for the three main pieces of the 
evening, all of which feature the full GIO ensemble with Lewis and 
Nicols sitting in. Three Envelopes for E.M. Is a new series of four – 
not three, despite what it says on the tin - compositions by George 
Burt which set more Edwin Morgan translations of Mayakovsky to music. 
Where Barry Guy's composition on GIO's newly released Schweben – Ay, 
but can ye? album was an impressionistic interpretation, Burt has actor 
Tam Dean Burn perform them with considerable relish.

Burn is familiar from character roles in the big-screen adaptation of 
Irvine Welsh's The Acid House, read the audio book of Trainspotting and 
performed a stage version of Welsh's novel, Filth. Burn has also worked 
with Steven Berkoff, has played William Burroughs onstage, had a small 
part as a bar-man in Young Adam, and formed The Bumclocks with his 
brother and former Fire Engines drummer Russell Burn and ex Josef K 
guitarist Malcolm Ross to perform Robert Burns poems in the style of 
Iggy Pop. Burn began as the front-man of Edinburgh punk based The Dirty 
Reds, who later morphed into Fire Engines. More recently, Burn directed 
a production of Morgan's adaptation of ancient epic, The Play of 
Gilgamesh, published in 2005 several years after being appointed 
Scotland's national poet, or Makar.

With GIO, things begin with a raw martial fanfare as Burn launches 
himself into A Revolutionary Slogan with polemical abandon which Burt 
suggests later works better translated into Scots rather than English. 
Harpist Catriona McKay comes to the fore on A Retrospect For Cuddie, 
attacking her instrument with muscular flourishes. The third piece 
begins with a long musical introduction before Burn becomes pop-eyed 
and manic as he relates a very different form of love that dare not 
speak its name that comes in the form of a man falling head over heels 
for a double bass. Given the occasion, it couldn't be more appropriate. 
The final piece, even more appropriately called For Crying Out Loud, 
suggests Morgan had every reason to be 'tickled', as he apparently was, 
by the idea of something called the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra.

The world premiere of Tractatus, George Lewis's new composition for 
GIO, is delayed a few minutes while the BBC set up to record it for a 
forthcoming broadcast of Jazz on 3. It makes no odds, as by now the 
band are loose enough to dip in and out of things at will, and given 
that they're about to perform a twenty-minute piece based on 
Wittgenstein's notions of timelessness and how he who lives eternally 
lives in the present, it's all too fitting.

With lewis conducting with a series of twenty-three cards, Nicols sits 
in on a slow-burning and propulsive affair awash with more harp sweeps 
 from McKay, while Nicols and Nicola MacDonald exchange a set of yips, 
yelps and shrieks. Getting into the groove, Lewis Shimmies like a 
free-style wrestler before shuffling off to the side of the room, hands 
deep in pockets, and letting them get on with it. At the end,lewis 
almost drops his final card before raising his hands up preacher-like, 
egging the band on towards cacophony.

There are even more cards to be played in Some I Know, Some I Don't, 
Jim O'Rourke,'s posted-in gift from Japan with love to GIO. With what 
follows turning into a rush-hour riot of movement as well as music, 
what is effectively the climax of the weekend finds the band cutting 
loose both singly and as one as O'Rourke very much plays the joker.

The idea was that O'Rourke sent over two packs of playing cards, with 
each card bearing a set of instructions to whoever picks it. With each 
member of the band issued with two cards apiece, a full-on free 
improvisation then ensues, with anyone at liberty to turn over a card 
at any point and follow the instructions given.

There may be obvious comparisons here with Brian Eno's I Ching inspired 
Oblique Strategies, but this is far more fun. The band have done one 
rehearsal for the benefit of O'Rourke, who watched on Skype, and the 
fully fledged performance slips into three main movements. The first 
finds the band cautiously going for it, waiting until one of the band 
takes a chance on turning over a card. Once this happens, the 
flood-gates open and comic mayhem ensues until all the cards are 
exhausted and the band settle in for a final flourish, as Zen as they 
like.

Nicols is one of the first on her feet, wandering over to pianist Gerry 
Rossi for a chat about something or other. French horn player Fergus 
Kerr is up too, as is trumpeter Robert Henderson, who plays his mute as 
a piece of percussion. Henderson is on his feet again shortly after, 
this time wielding a mobile phone. Nicols and Raymond MacDonald have 
similar fun with mobile phones, Burt and McKay exchange assorted found 
detritus as capos, flautist Matthew Studdert-Kenndedy plays from the 
audience, while Nicola MacDonald takes a drinks order from those 
sitting next to her and heads for the bar, returning with a tray of 
drinks. It's silly, stagy and slightly self-conscious, with Lewis, in 
what might be a first, stepping up to the microphone to confess a love 
of Scots porridge. By the end, the entire stage is cock-a-hoop with the 
sheer elation of not having to take themselves seriously anymore.

No-one is more caught up in the moment than Nicols, who just can't help 
herself and succumbs to an extended laughing fit even as MacDonald 
gives a vote of thanks before a surprisingly quiet finale ends the 
show. One hundred and thirty people improvised during the course of 
GIOFest V. It looked and sounded like liberation. Long may the 
adventure continue.

Schweben - Ay but can ye? and other GIO CDs are available from 
www.glasgowimprovisersorchestra.com

Commissioned by The Quietus, December 2012

ends

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