Sometimes these days I write long essays in reissue/archive CD booklets, but more often (not least because it’s easier) I get involved in the background of such projects – putting audio source holders in touch with appropriate labels, recommending other (better) people to do the notes, digitising audio if required, rummaging around for period adverts to scan for the booklet from my vintage magazine collection, etc.
I was delighted to do all of the above for a terrific release coming up next month on the Turtle imprint (part of the Cherry Red group): ‘Honesty: The Unreleased 1963 Studio Session’, a 2CD set and the very first album ever by the Fat John Sextet.
The release came about, really, via Facebook. I’m a member of an FB group that celebrates 1950s–70s British jazz and among its other members are a couple of fabulous musicians who passed through the ranks of Fat John’s band back in the day (versions of the band spanned 1962–66). I posted something there about Fat John, being one of those names that crops up relatively frequently when scouring period copies of the ‘Melody Maker’ for other research purposes, yet who left little trace on record (just three tracks on a 1963 various-artists live album). He seemed a fascinating character.
Peter Lemer (piano, best known as a ‘free’ jazzer) and Tony Roberts (a wonderful sax/woodwind player who avoids the limelight like a dormouse, but whose career spans bands with John McLaughlin and John Renbourn and the pit orchestra for end-of-pier Morecambe & Wise shows) are the two Fat John alumni at the FB group and Peter sent me, just for my interest, an unreleased track from a 1963 session with the band – just to prove they did record more than those three live tracks. It was from a 90-minute session that took place purely as a test of facilities at Pye Records’ studio in London. It was terrific… and, of course, the whole set *had* to be released!
Mark Stratford, whose Turtle imprint has released half a dozen fantastic vintage British jazz sets in the couple of years it’s been going (most of them lavish 3CD sets), agreed. A pristine cassette copy of the studio session was sourced from Tony Roberts and digitised by Mark’s regular engineer, while I purchased from Discogs a near-mint copy of the out-of-copyright vinyl album ‘Hot Jazz, Cool Beer’ (1963) that contained those three live tracks and digitised them for use as bonus tracks. I recommended Simon Spillett, author of the superb Tubby Hayes biography ‘The Long Shadow of the Little Giant’ (Tubbs being another rotund 60s British jazzer, albeit massively more prolific in recording than Fat John), for the booklet and he’s done a typically brilliant job.
Fat John’s bands in the 60s were generally referred to in print as ‘mainstream’ – a style associated with the pre-bebop but post-New Orleans sound of small-group jazz in America during the ‘Swing era’ of the 1930s. His sextet were seen as one of the two or three core acts in a ‘mainstream’ revival in London during the early 60s, centred around a pub in Chelsea called the Six Bells (the Al Fairweather/Sandy Brown band being the kingpins of that scene).
The revival never really took off, but then – as these new flashes from the archives of oblivion testify – Fat John’s band was much more interesting and adventurous than mere peddlers of old Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate riffs.
I doubt this record will be a particularly big seller, but I hope it gets a fair wind of publicity in the print and online jazz media and consequently some traction among the curious. They’ll be well rewarded.
It’s a real thrill to have been involved in bringing into the sunlight a whole double CD’s worth of unheard high-quality audio (and brilliant performances) from 56 years back, in a set that fills a real gap in our knowledge – in terms of the music and the story, courtesy of Simon’s notes – about a corner of 60s London jazz that’s been hitherto neglected, then as now. If 12 quid is burning a hole in your pocket…