An abiding image of Corinne is her presence during seemingly never-ending lunches at long tables under trees in dappled sunshine, deep in the French countryside, with the laughter and friendship of people brought together by the power of music. And at the centre of it a smiling Corinne, in her element, quietly enjoying the fruits of our shared labours. And around the table would be many familiar faces including members of the Brass Band now lost, like Corinne: Paul Rutherford, Tony Marsh, Danilo Terenzi, Phil Clarke. These were glory days. May Corinne Rest in Peace.
Kate Westbrook with The Mike Westbrook Orchestra and Le Sinfonietta de Picardie directed by Alexandre Myrat.Recorded Paris December 1987. Music by Mike Westbrook.
11 November 1918
November 2018 Posts
Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
Marking the Centenary of the end of the First World War with a setting of the poem “Blighters” by Siegfried Sassoon from the Picardie section of the album London Bridge is Broken Down.
The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din.
“We’e sure the Kaiser loves our dear old tanks!”
I’d like to see a tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home sweet Home’,
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.
Siegfried Sassoon (b. Kent 1886, d. Wiltshire 1967)
The Band of the 5th Australian Infantry Brigade, led by Bandmaster Sergeant A Peagam of the 19th Battalion, passing through the Grande Place (Town Square) of Bapaume, playing the Victoria March. The ruins of the town are still smouldering, and smoke rises from the debris of surrounding buildings.
01 November 2018
13 November 2018
We were greatly saddened to hear of the death in Paris at the end of October of Corinne Leonet. Corinne was not only a wonderfully effective agent, she was a close, very dear friend.
The 80s and early 90s, the Mitterand years, were a good time for the Arts and for jazz in France. Every major city had its Maison de la Culture, and every small town its Centre d’Action Culturelle. Jazz in particular seemed to express the optimism of the times and it sometimes seemed that every village had its summer jazz festival.
At a time when we rarely played in the UK, we regularly set off to the continent in the minibus to Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Scandinavia, and most of all to France. A tour in May became a regular fixture, and there were numerous festivals and collaborations with French musicians and theatre groups. This was also the period that produced such major commissioned works as On Duke’s Birthday, London Bridge and the opera Quichotte. All this was masterminded by Corinne. To her, running an agency was no mere commercial activity, it was a labour of love and friendship. But behind her modest demeanour she was a true professional. She gave of herself generously, her reward being the pleasure of seeing her bands on stage. Other UK based artists she worked with in France included Chris McGregor and his Brotherhood of Breath.
Somehow in the 90s the atmosphere changed. As elsewhere in Europe a swing to the right meant less funding for contemporary art, commercialism began to tighten its grip and many clubs and smaller festivals went to the wall.
For whatever reason, Corinne gave up her agency. She had other plans, but things did not go well. She was overtaken by depression and gradually withdrew from the scene. For this sophisticated Parisienne who read Libération every day, who was at the centre of a whole network of forward-looking friends and colleagues, who so enjoyed a convivial supper and lively conversation about art, politics, literature and cinema, as well as gossip about the scene, this was tragic indeed.
For her own safety Corinne spent her last days in a Paris care home. She had a bright upstairs room, looking down on a busy street, but she seemed indifferent to her surroundings and mostly saw her sister Nadine, her brother and her more intimate friends including Hélène Aziza. When Kate and I visited her with Hélène nearly a year ago, she spoke scarcely at all. But there was a glimpse of her former self when Corinne broke the silence to say, calmly and deliberately, and in her excellent English, that she was glad to see us. Her condition gradually declined and in recent months she became totally uncommunicative. She died peacefully at 1am on October 31st.
We were fortunate to be working with Corinne at a time when the scene was at its most open to experiment and to new ideas. It was hard work. We had our triumphs. Some of our projects were controversial, others not well received. Either way we artists felt that what we did mattered. Moreover a gig was a social as well as a musical occasion, a gathering of jazz fans, fellow musicians and like-minded people generally. And whether in Paris or some provincial town there was always somewhere that stayed open late.
She was largely responsible for the long and fruitful relationship that we and our fellow musicians enjoyed with the French jazz world. A turning point in the Brass Band’s career came with a performance of Mama Chicago at the Angoulême Festival in 1979. The morning after the concert Corinne offered to be our agent in France.
‘Corinne' 1992 oil on canvas Kate Westbrook 76 x 101cm
22 November 2018
I first worked with Kate and Mike Westbrook in 1999. Mike had been making wonderful music since the sixties and his unique collaboration with Kate was entering its third decade. I felt I was a little late to the party but, I reasoned, when dealing with great artists - better late than never.
As producer of Jazz On 3 I put their big band on in Glasgow as part of the BBC’s Music Live Festival. We recorded the gig and broadcast it from our truck the same night. It was the first time the band had been assembled for several years (economics!). The concert was a triumph and making it happen was one of my proudest achievements at Radio 3.
We’ve always kept in touch and I always try to get to see/hear each stage of their creative journey ... a new version of Blake ... A Bigger Show ... Mike’s wonderful solo recordings ... and Kate’s epic and ground breaking Granite being the latest.
News that they would be returning to Catania came with the unexpected release of the double CD of their legendary 1992 visit. Lovingly compiled and remastered with the help of their friend and long-time collaborator Jon Hiseman (it was one of the last projects he completed before his untimely death).
As I mentioned the big band’s appearances are rare events, add to that the fact that I hadn’t seen the Westbrooks for far too long and had never been to Sicily and the trip seemed almost inevitable. Off-season Catania is a relatively quiet place, unless your hotel room is directly above a bar frequented by the city’s large student population. Sleep deprivation feeds paranoia and anxiety and the morning’s empty streets made me fear slightly for the concert at the 1000 seat Teatro ABC. Afer all It had been 26 years since the Westbrooks last visit … would the jazzers come? How many of them could there be in Sicily in 2018?
My fears were unfounded. As I fought my way through the foyer to retrieve my tickets it became clear that the concert was sold out (see photo taken 5 mins before curtain up). It was a night of beautiful music and it was nice to see some players from the 1999 Glasgow gig playing better than ever. Dominique Pifarely, Pete Whyman and Dick Pearce must all have portraits ageing in their attics.
The whole trip was, for me and many others I’m sure, a beacon of light In these increasingly grim times. Long may the Westbrook musical adventure continue!
Steve Shepherd, Penarth 2018
CATANIA 15-11-18 Steve Shepherd
24 November 2018
The days in Catania in July 1992 have lingered in my memory ever since as one of the greatest sets of concerts I heard in my life. The nights on the roofs over Catania with great acoustics (and tolerant neighbours) organized by an enthusiastic Pompeo Benincasa and his generous treatment of the band would be rarely matched in Europe.
When Kate and Mike intimated that there might be a repeat in 2018 we were excited and kept our November free from any commitments. And again, Pompeo was there and set up two evenings in Sicily, – Catania and Palermo. There were seven members of the original 1992 orchestra, - Alan Wakeman, Pete Whyman, Dominique Pifarely, Graham Russell, Phil Minton next to Kate and Mike. With the addition of some great new musicians, we were treated to two great concerts to great applause from two full houses. It must be noted, that the Westbrooks now include the younger generation having Sam Chamberlain-Keen in the trombone section. His radiating joy in playing was contagious to the whole band.
In Sicily these concerts are filled to a good part by subscripted seats in the hundreds – unimaginable in Zurich or northern Europe I guess. Together with the newly released CATANIA Live in Sicily 1992 double CD the concerts recaptured the spirited event of 1992.
This was not all. After the Sicily concerts on the Thursday and Friday the orchestra moved on to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast – Rossini’s birthplace, presently commemorating 150 years since his death. The Mike Westbrook Uncommon Orchestra was invited to perform ROSSINI RE-LOADED. Kate sang forcefully with support from the very talented and musically versatile Billie Bottle and the orchestra, now joined by Frank Schaefer on the violoncello (formerly in the original orchestra in Catania 1992) and brought the full house of the charming Teatro Rossini to a long lasting and great applause.
Again, a trip with the orchestra and three evenings never to have been missed – like in 1992. Thank you to Kate, Mike, the orchestra and Pompeo.
Peter Fritz Zurich
Teatro Rossini, Pesaro photo: Peter Fritz
Teatro Rossini, Pesaro
photo: Peter Fritz
click on the image above for a larger view
Nomos Jazz Poster
26 November 2018
UNCOMMON & UNFORGETTABLE
And what a treat all these conversations were: to talk with Coach about books, with Marcus about bells, with Dave Holdsworth about times long gone and with Billie about life.
This trip to Italy was an unforgettable experience. And I really admire the stamina of you all: After these four days I was completely exhausted – and unlike you I had not even worked!
Confessions of a Westbrook Groupie
Bettina Bollmann - Zurich
When we heard, that the Uncommon Orchestra would be playing three concerts in Catania, Palermo and Pesaro, we quickly knew that we would want to come along for the ride. We being Bettina Bollmann, Lucienne Droz, Peter Fritz and myself. Peter and I had already been in Catania in 1992, an experience we shall never forget. This time our wives would join us, both of them dedicatees of two of Mike’s most beautiful compositions.
Thanks to the generosity and organizing talents of the Sicilian promoter Pompeo Benincasa we could ride in the same bus as the band and book rooms in the same hotels. So on November 14th we ensconced ourselves in the Catania hotel and waited for the band to arrive. We were in for a shock: When Kate and Mike entered at 9.30 p.m., they were deathly pale, their faces drawn, and we thought, "How can they even survive the next three days with all the rehearsals, soundchecks, concerts, lack of sleep, long bus rides and especially the journey from Sicily to the mainland with a concert the same evening?"
So it was with some trepidation that we went to the first concert on November 15th which started late, around 9.30 p.m. But lo and behold, the energy of this 21-piece band was infectious from the very first tune. And on the second night, during a sleazy lounge orchestra passage in "Alabama Song", Kate even got Mike to dance in front of the piano, an image we shall always cherish.*
The flight from Palermo to Ancona on the 17th was gruelling indeed, an especially grumpy flight attendant kept attacking various musicians, saying that they were only allowed to place one instrument on the seats booked for this purpose - whereas the lady at the check-in had said that two were allowed per seat. We very much admired Peter Conway, who seems to have nerves of steel, and things calmed down, when Pompeo started talking to the flight attendants in Italian.
Pesaro proved to be a charming town, much smaller than Catania and Palermo, and the Teatro Rossini was by far the nicest venue of the three, an old little theatre with numbered boxes going up at least four tiers high. The Rossini program has always been a favourite of mine, but I had never heard "Once Upon a Time", which an at first reluctant Kate did as an encore, accompanied only by Billie Bottle on piano. It was the most touching moment of an already glorious evening.
Kate and Mike are two of the nicest human beings we have ever met. But it turned out that there were many absolutely charming people in the band too, and we groupies certainly got a kick out of talking to them (and drinking with them).
Being Swiss we were ashamed, that once more it was the Sicilians who brought over a 23-piece band for three concerts, whereas in rich Switzerland no promoter would have the guts to do anything like this. I can only marvel at what Pompeo achieved in 1992 with the three-day festival and now again with this tour on which he faithfully followed the band from Sicily to Pesaro.
The morning after the Pesaro concert was sad: first the band left, then we had to catch a train. But miraculously Kate and Mike looked much better than four days before: Once more Doctor Footlights had done the trick.
Tommy Bodmer - Zurich
* Kate says that, to her delight, it was Mike who asked her to dance.
on stage at Teatro Golden, Palermo, photo Peter Fritz
Ian Wellens, Sarah Dean, Sam C-K., Matthew North,
Dave Holdsworth, Roz Harding, Coach York, photo Matthew North
Thank you all for playing such perfect versions of "Brazilian Love Songs" (the fourth and fifth I have heard). They moved me to tears. I especially want to thank Dick Pearce for his heartwarming solos and of course Mike and Kate for writing the song.
click on the image above for a larger view
Thanks to Matthew North for the poster images