[ c o n v e r s a z i o n i ]
L’universo segreto di Bob Downes   di Claudio Bonomi

 

How do you look to your first works as Electric City and Deep Down Heavy, quirky jazz mixed with a clear heavy rock approach? And what about Rock Workshop experience with guitarist Ray Russell?
When Vertigo records asked me to do an album it just hit the right time to allow me to "let the steam off". So Electric City was born. They requested that I keep the tracks relatively short, as they obviously wanted to release a single from one of them. So there was no possibility to give players like Kenny Wheeler, Harold Beckett and Ian Carr any solos which I would have dearly loved to have done. But this would have turned it into a jazz album which was not required. It was also the first time that I was to work together with a lyricist. I believe that most of the pieces were approached by me writing first a bass guitar line followed by a theme and then Bob Cockburn with the lyrics. Before the recording sessions I requested Ray Russell, whose name is an artist name which I incidentally invented for him back in the "John Barry 7" days, to bring his 12-string guitar. But he didn't. I often wonder how different the album would have sounded if he had, because I really like the sound of that instrument. I love the sound of octaves. For instance tenor sax and trumpet in unison, you can't beat it! Here's a story for you: I have a Chinese musician friend in London that used to rehearse with his Chinese band members in his basement, and as you may know, Chinese music is all played in unison. When I had a flute with me I'd join in with improvisation and I can tell you, I'd get some strange looks from them. Where were we? Oh yeah! As one of the trumpet players was leaving the studio after the last session of Electric City, I noticed that the back of his shirt was soaking wet from sweat. 
Most likely from all those high A's and E-flats, which occur quite often in the arrangements which I can assure you were not "looped". Seeing him in that condition made me feel guilty, so I called him back and paid him something extra out of my own money. Kenny Wheeler missed out on that, as he had already left the studio. 
Sorry about that Kenny!
Deep Down Heavy was recorded soon after Electric City. Some of the pieces were recorded of me playing on buses and the underground which attracted me to the project in the first place. The others were mostly recorded at the Caxton Hall in London, a place mainly used for recordings of classical music. For the "heavy stuff " we were putting down, the excellent acoustic properties were a bit too echo-like. Hearing each other and even ourselves was difficult. I suggested that we form a circle, which helped a lot. 

 

 

 

No editing was done on either of the albums, which would have been nigh on impossible to do with the recording of Deep Down Heavy because of the 3 to 4 secs. reverb in the room. 
Now regarding Ray Russell's Rock Workshop: It was a "total gas" being involved in that album. Alex Harvey sang on the album also - wonderful! The recording was done in two days of non stop raving and I had a feeling of sadness when it was all over and "put in the can". It felt like a breaking up of a family. I could have played on and on and on!

What’s the most interesting/valuable collaboration in your long career?
Working with modern dance. I was given such a “free hand”. It astounded me to see what a choreographer would do with what I had composed.

And what’s the best musician/composer you have ever met or played with?
I've never had favourites with anything. I feel it would only limit me. There are countless players whose playing I love. Having said that, Barre Philips playing vibrated through my whole system when he was the Bass man of my Open Music Trio playing my jazz score Diversions on the London Contemporary Dance Theatre tour in Paris and Berlin. Barry Guy's arco playing always "knocked me out". In the making of the Diversions lp I gave him a lot of opportunity to use the bow. I wanted people to hear what he is able to do, as jazz bassists on the whole were not very good at arco. Barry could "lay down" a good groove as well. I've always enjoyed playing with drummer Denis Smith, a man that has a great knowledge of many styles of music. We "cooked" nicely together. He never plays too loud, very important for with flute accompaniment. I remember during an interval on one gig I was a trifle angry with Denis, asking him why for Heavens' sake he had stopped playing for a while during a "number". "I was listening to you" he answered. This is typical for Denis, no matter who Denis plays with he really listens to what is going on and integrates beautifully his ideas to make it all work. Denis and I first made jazz music with each other back in our home town Plymouth around 1956 when we took up playing a musical instrument at the same time. You could say we "grew" together musically.

Why did you decide in the late Sixties to create your own independent label Openian? Many others jazz composers followed your example like Graham Collier (Mosaic) or Hazel Miller (Ogun).
Well, I had recorded Diversions and Hells Angels for Philips Records which was to be a double album. They wanted me to get them published which I didn't want. It would have given me the feeling of parting with some of my soul. As a consequence they refused to release the album. My negative reaction towards them probably came during the recordings as they said they would pay me 15 pounds arrangement fee for each title and therefore felt cheated and got angry when only paid that amount for the Hells Angels track which was 18 and half minutes duration.  What I failed to realise at the time was, that the record company and the publishers were one and the same thing and quite naturally they wanted to get some money back via radio plays etc. I bought the tapes off them for next to nothing, you could say for nothing, as they had forgotten that they had already paid me a producer fee for the recordings. Being no longer with Philips Records gave me the idea to create my own label Openian on which the first production was 2000 LP's of Diversions. But selling them proved to be difficult, as the major record companies warned the distributors not to take Openian lp's or otherwise they would get into trouble with them.

 
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