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People Band



by Tim Owen

June 25, 2009


Pure democratic improv, often wild sounding and always energised

The People Band was a loose, inclusive musical collective, active in the mid-to-late 60s, which was motivated by an idealistically anarchistic, anti-nihilist world view. Although there clearly were key individuals (drummer Terry Day evidently being the most proactive in the production of this archive release), the group’s membership was fluid, a community that occasionally expanded to embrace its audience. 

The band must have attracted a degree of attention back in the day, because it was a Rolling Stone, Charlie Watts (of course), who financed the band’s only studio album, 1968, which was released in 1970 on Transatlantic and reissued in 2004 by Emanem. 69/70, compiled by Terry Day and Emanem from miscellaneous tapes, follows up by documenting the fruits of the ?second generation’ People Band’. 

Some band members were clearly more able as musicians than others. The music they made together is pure democratic improv, often wild-sounding and always energised. Players might drop in and out of studio or home recordings as the moment dictated, or wander in and out of range of field recordings; all such events are represented on these two discs, each session having quite distinctive characteristics: studio recordings, jam sessions at someone’s house, a gig in Amsterdam, and ad-hoc performances in Trent Park, north London.

It was in Holland that the band found their most appreciative audience. It is tempting to assume that the surprisingly focused nature of the live recording from Amsterdam is a result of the necessary pruning of the group for travel (the studio and Trent Park sessions both featured over a dozen collective participants, here there are only five) and a focus imposed by the demands of contractual obligation. But with the People Band nothing can be so straightforward, and therein lies the magic. Terry Day remembers Dutch audiences “virtually taking over - the effect was to make the music stronger to keep the audience away as long as possible”. In any case, the traveling contingent, as represented here by a 23 minute live recording from Amsterdam’s Paradiso in 1970, was a relatively straightforward and purposeful quintet of the more ?accomplished musicians’ (this distinction made by Day in his useful liner notes).

The brief ?House of Music’ jam session recorded at Mel Davis’ house is contrastingly loose, with players dropping in and out. A freak folk vibe creeps in, and a brittle recorded sound renders bass frequencies as willowy twanging. It sounds not unlike Jackie O-Motherfucker, a similarly collective latter-day enterprise coming from quite another place (namely stateside folk, blues and jazz). But the studio sessions are, if anything, more chaotic still. Someone attempts to organise a sound check but proceedings get under way regardless, in unstoppable ad-hoc style. Don’t get the impression that all is chaos: things may be frequently unruly, but this is courageously free and inclusive music by players who are also listeners and the degree of apparent structure stamped on the music is remarkable, given Day’s assertion that “People Band music was always improvised and 99.9% of the time it was open and spontaneous”. 

Ultimately, unsurprisingly, People Band music defies categorisation. At times I was minded of the Incredible String Band or Sun Ra, and there’s a lot of clear water between them. The inescapable ties are to free jazz although, if comparison is made with other more celebrated practitioners, there’s a refreshing lack of emphasis on technique. Hints of the psychedelic rock that was in the air at the time are offset by other passages that develop a polyrhythmic momentum that evokes late Coltrane. But it all hangs together and sounds of a piece, a glorious communal assertion that Ascension is for life, not just for 40 minutes.

The People Band celebrated their 40th anniversary with a gig at London’s Vortex in September 2006, returning to the same venue a year later. Members at these shows were Tony Edwards, Terry Day, Tony Marsh, Maggie Nicols, Mike Figgis, George Khan, Charlie Hart, Paul Jolly, Terry Holman, Adam Hart and Davey Payne. All except Marsh and Nicols are credited on 69/70. The band’s next appearance will be in London at Café Oto, Dalston, on July 8th 2009.

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