Perfect Stranger

The band that never was... (but now is again)

After leaving university in 1973, with a B.Mus. (lower second) tucked under my arm, I wanted to explore the idea of composing based on ‘classical’ (awful word!) principles but using the musical vocabulary and sounds of jazz and rock music. One of my initial influences in this (conceptually) was the band Yes (up to the album Close to the Edge). They were producing extended compositions without the usual verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle-8/verse/chorus/fade formula — or the jazzer’s head/bunch-of-solos/head-again formula. Stylistically, and especially rhythmically, I was more influenced by Frank Zappa and various jazz/rock/funk artists.

I therefore set about forming a band. The details of how I found all the musicians are lost in the mists of time, but some came from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, others through word of mouth and I met the bass player, Andy Crawford, in the queue for a Zappa concert. After one or two changes of personnel, I ended up with a fine group of players, nine including myself (on not so fine guitar), which I intended to call Perfect Stranger (a decade before Zappa’s piece with that title, so no, I didn’t nick it and it isn’t a deliberate tribute).

Some of these musicians went on to become highly respected players on the London jazz circuit, most notably Chris Biscoe (saxes), Dick Pearce (trumpet and flugelhorn), Paul Nieman (trombone) and the late — and legendary — Pete Jacobsen (electric piano), a truly extraordinary musician, about whom I’ve written my own reminiscence. I recently tracked down the other multi-reed player, Mark Hutchings, who has remained musically active and now lives on the south coast of the UK. The percussionist, Clifton Prior, flourished in the classical percussion world in Wales, and Andy Crawford has returned musically to his first love, the baroque flute, as well as becoming a leading maker of decorative boxes. Another established jazz musician who was in the band initially was the drummer Dave Barry (who put me onto Pete), but after a while he decided it wasn’t for him and Paul Cartwright took his place. I have been unable to trace Paul, which is a shame because he did an excellent job for me, so if you know him and can put me in touch I would be grateful.

I wrote a four movement work for this band, called Life and Times (of a Perfect Stranger), which you can read about — and listen to some of it played by real humanshere. Chris Biscoe, with whom I’ve renewed contact in recent years, and who is an inveterate archivist, brought to my attention that apart from Life and Times I composed and arranged a bunch of other pieces for this band — all of which I’d completely forgotten about, but Chris kept the parts I wrote out for him! He’s since given them to me, and at a guess, there’s at least enough material for an album. But read on...

A year or two ago I had a dream of reviving Perfect Stranger, and I’m happy to report that it’s finally coming true! My stellar line-up of musicians (see home page) has now had several highly successful rehearsals, sectional and full band, with several more planned before we go into a recording studio to make an album (title: Unfinished Business). All being well this will happen before the end of this year, for release maybe next spring. Covid allowing, we aim to do some live performances to promote it.

Although this project bit the dust back in the 70s, I wasn’t discouraged from this general compositional direction, and it led on to one of my most ambitious works, Music for an Imaginary Ballet (as yet unperformed, need I add?).