19 December 2022
Recording of the week: ‘Rooms above pubs: a nexus of free improvisation’
This week’s post comes from Tom Jackson, Workflow Support Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.
Rooms above pubs have played a prominent role in the development of the UK’s free improvisation scene. The Horse Improvised Music Club began organising events above the Horse pub in Waterloo, before moving to the Dog House in Kennington and several other pubs in South East London until they established a concert series at Iklectik Art Lab. Between 2013 and 2016, Daniel Thompson ran Foley Street Improvised Music Concert Series above the King And Queen in Fitzrovia. While not technically rooms above pubs, special mentions should go to Flim Flam and Boat Ting, which have both been running for over twenty years, the former in a room below Ryan’s N16 in Stoke Newington, the latter on the Bar&Co boat at Temple Pier.
Rooms like these provide a vital space for improvisers to perform and develop their practice, offering an unparalleled intimacy between audiences and musicians. Operating alongside venues whose main activities include a platform for concerts (Hundred Years Gallery, for example), there’s always been something very special about these rooms, temporary spaces of activity existing sometimes for a few years, sometimes going on for decades. I think the history of this music would have been very different without these rooms above pubs.
In the 1980s, concerts were organised at the Priory Arms in Stockwell by Alan Tomlinson and at the Roebuck in Central London by Phil Durrant, Steve Moore and Gillian McGregor. The British Library has recordings from both of these concert series. ‘The Cut’ (British Library ref: C138) is a collection of recordings of the latter, featuring the following improvisers and poets: Clive Fencott, Phil Durrant, Mike Hames, Matt Hutchinson, Stuart Jones, Paul Hession, Roger Turner, Peter Cusack, Phil Minton, Gillian McGregor, John Butcher, Steve Moore, Hugh Metcalfe, Allen Fisher, Parny Wallace, Neil Metcalfe, Jim Denley, Philipp Wachsmann, Will Evans, Mark Sanders and Thebe Lipere. It’s a collection that provides ample evidence of the intensity and excitement of the scene at that time.
From 1984, here are three solos recorded at The Cut, from Paul Hession (26 September), Jim Denley (24 October) and Peter Cusack (12 September).
Special thanks to John Butcher for providing a copy of the flyer.