Phil and Fred in Russia
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine being so much in the news, I thought the time was right to tell the tale of Phil Miller and Fred Baker’s British Council sponsored trip to Russia.
The idea was the brainchild of the much travelled Dutchman Henk Weltevreden (see above with Phil) Explorer, author, travel writer and broadcaster, Henk has been arranging tours for Phil in various lineups since the early seventies. The following is an example of his methodology:
In 1991 Phil took his band In Cahoots to Japan. This tour was brought about by Henk who had journeyed to Burma with his father to unveil a statue of a distant ancestor of his, who had been a merchant traveller in the era of Marco Polo, and had, in the course of his travels, been shipwrecked and washed ashore in Burma. He had been captured and thrown into prison, and left to languish. But because he was a very intelligent man he learned the language, was freed from prison and became an advisor to the King of Burma. He rose to high office to become the most famous person in Burma although he was never allowed to return to Holland. After the unveiling of the statue, which was well covered by the Burmese press, Henk carried on his way to South Korea via Japan where he got Phil a record deal with Virgin Japan. Phil’s 1991 tour came about as a result of this record deal plus an offer of some gigs in Tokyo and Osaka from Akimittso Toki from Music Wonder. Henk was in Australia by then and went back to Japan to tie up all the loose ends.
Then he set off on his travels again to Hong Kong and China where he delivered some lectures in Shanghai and Beijing. After that he went on to Moscow, by way of Mongolia, where he conceived the idea of bringing Phil and his music to Russia.
In the early nineties Russia was such a different place compared to how we know it today. In total contrast to Vladimir Putin, President Gorbechov was in power. He had lifted the Iron Curtain and opened up Russia to the West. Perestroika, Glasnost and photos of Mrs Thatcher posing for the press on Russian tanks were the order of the day. The Berlin Wall between the East and the West had come tumbling down.
Going to Russia in those days was a complicated procedure. It wasn’t a simple matter of making travel arrangements and setting off. Before we could make any plans to travel we had to be sponsored by a Russian organisation in order to gain entry into the country. This was something Henk took care of and he worked through several educational bodies and organised concerts for Phil and Fred in various music colleges in Lithuania and Russia.
Phil applied successfully for a grant from the British Council and, with Henk’s help, arranged a tour as a duo with Fred Baker. Applying for the Grant was one of Phil’s first tasks and it was a long process. He was awarded a grant to help with the expenses because Russia was recognised as being a relatively poor country and the proceeds of the gigs would not be enough to cover the costs of such a tour. Unfortunately, in the time it took between receiving the grant and actually going to Russia, the exchange rate had gone through the roof and by the time we left the grant was nowhere near the amount we needed. Our brilliant and resourceful friend Henk managed to solve this problem by persuading some of the contacts he had made on his previous visits to agree to put us up in their various flats. Thus saving the costs we would have otherwise have had to find for hotels. These arrangements gave us a unique insight into the lives of the Russian people and the way they lived.
Henk, Fred and Phil and I stayed separately in quite a few flats as guests. The housing situation there is so different to our own. In the West we are used to a certain amount of choice as to where we live and there are many different ways of finding somewhere to live. When we leave our parent’s home there are all kinds of choices we can make. As students we often end up far away from the area we grew up in. We flat-share, living with groups of friends. Sometimes accommodation goes with a job. Often we move to be near a new job. In every city there are different areas with different vibes and sometimes we look to move to a particular cultural part of town. There are any amount of reasons and a huge diversity of homes.
We only had gigs in two Russian cities: St Petersberg and Moscow, but they both had the same housing format. The system worked like this: There are no privately owned homes. All the housing is government owned and operated. From birth you live with your parents in their flat. This flat is their official residence and their home for life. When you grow up you carry on living with your parents. Even when you get married you can’t get a flat of your own. You and your spouse have to go on living with one of your parents, but when you have a child and that child reaches the age of 10 you are offered a flat of your own. This will then be your permanent home. Your address will be written in your passport. Imagine that!
In both St Petersburg and Moscow the housing areas are situated outside the city in vast forests of blocks of flats. Miles and miles and miles of of blocks of flats all looking exactly the same. All the flats are very much the same. All the ones we stayed in consisted of 2 rooms, a tiny kitchen and a very small bathroom with a water heater on the wall that had a moveable tap that enabled one to direct the flow into the bath or into the hand basin next to the bath. The toilet took up the rest of the space leaving just enough space to stand up in.
The couple Phil and I stayed with in Moscow put us up in the living room on a click clack – a kind of armless sofa which folds down into to make a bed. This was the room our hosts usually slept in. Their daughter slept in the other room along with an aunt who also lived there. While Phil and I were there our hosts slept on a click clack in the kitchen, which turned into seating alongside the kitchen table during the day. Our hosts were a professional couple, not poor, and their living conditions were considered normal. Their flat was the same as all the other people who hosted us.
The population in the blocks of flats contained people from all walks of life, from doctors to dustmen, and were allotted to tenants in a completely random way, so there was no such thing as ghettos. No artists quarters such as you might find in any European city. No run down areas or wealthy areas, just a complete mix of every sort of person with no way of changing your address. It made for a kind of anonymity. All the blocks of flats looked the same on the outside and they all looked very similar on the inside. The furniture was the same, the cookers in the kitchens were all the same, the same crockery, the same flooring – everything. It was as if there was only one shop in Russia.
Our trip was in the New Year period and there was a film on the television that apparently was always shown at this time of year – a bit like we have The Sound of Music at Christmas. We watched it with our hosts. It was a comedy about a man who was coming home drunk. He was so drunk that he got off the Metro at the wrong station – they all look exactly the same – and he made his way to what he thought was his block of flats – they all look exactly the same too. He lets himself into what he thinks is his flat (apparently there are only three different keys in Russia) goes into the bedroom, still looks the same and gets into bed with what he thinks is his wife etc. etc. etc. Apparently everybody in Russia thinks this is hilarious.
All our hosts were very welcoming and always offered us tea. This was never made with tea bags. A pot of tea was always on the go, often kept warm on top of a samova. It didn’t seem the custom to make a fresh pot of tea – instead more tea leaves were added to the pot which was topped up with hot water, usually from the samova. The tea is not served with milk but there is always a saucer of runny jam with a spoon if you want it sweetened. Our hosts all talked of their Dachas which they spent time in during the summer. We saw photos of them – quite primitive little shed-like dwellings on small plots of land where they grew fruit and vegetables. These were bottled to preserve them and used throughout the winter months.
My Mother used to bottle fruit when I was a child in the years after the Second World War so I was familiar with this process. My Mother’s fruit was lovely in delicious syrup. In Russia the process is different: the fruit is not cooked and the water it is bottled with has only a teaspoonful of sugar or vinegar per bottle. It was mostly gherkins or wrinkled, under-ripe, uncooked apples. Gherkins seemed to be served with every meal and we got the impression that fresh fruit and vegetables were not available to buy in the winter. I guess it was all really nutritious but not delicious.
We didn’t see much in the way of shops in Russia. I did manage to buy bread once when I was prompted to join a bread queue. It was a long, slow moving queue, starting outside in the street and gradually working its way inside. At the end, when it was my turn, I was able to buy a ticket. Then I had to join another equally long queue where I was finally able to exchange my ticket for a loaf of bread. In Russia there is absolutely no concept of “Retail Therapy”!
Phil Miller, Fred Baker, Henk Weltervreden and I began our journey to Russia by train in the first week of January 1993 from Rotterdam Central in the Netherlands. Sadly we did not travel on an exotic Oriental Express type train but just an ordinary common or garden one and we had to change trains many times. We were carrying quite a lot of baggage because, apart from our own personal bags and food we had brought with us for the journey, we also had to transport all the music gear: an assortment of guitars, equipment, cases etc including a huge flight case containing Phil’s rack for all his midi guitar effects which was a really heavy 3 foot cube without wheels. We called this one “The Beast”. There really was a lot of stuff and we kept it all with us in the compartment so that we could move swiftly when we had to change trains, which we had to do a lot. Often there was very little time to get the stuff off the train. This was especially true in Germany where the timetables seemed to be sacrosanct and the trains waited for no-one. There was a real danger of the trains leaving before we had been able to fully vacate our luggage. We got to be pretty good at this. One time we had to get everything out of one train and onto another in such a short time that it seemed impossible that we would be able to do it, but by then we had it down to a fine art.
Henk was the tour manager. I’ve told you previously that he was a really seasoned traveller. He had travelled through practically all the countries in the world, mainly using local transport. One time he had even travelled across the desert by camel. Nothing fazed him. He was in charge of our budget. His method was simple. We paid for everything in cash. It was mid-winter. He wore a rather nice puffer type jacket that had lots of built-in zipped pockets. In these pockets he carried our entire budget in the form of American ten dollar bills which seemed to be universally accepted. It was a very long journey. We passed out of Germany and through Poland which looked quite different from the rest of Europe because of it’s dirt track roads which really surprised me. Eventually we crossed into Lithuania which was where Henk had arranged the first two gigs. Our host in Lithuania was at the home of a friend of Henk’s called Valari who lived in a very tall block of flats in Vilnius. Phil and I were taken there where we waited while Valari and Henk took Fred somewhere else. Phil and I were left alone in Valari’s flat for what seemed like a very long time. Both Phil and I are a bit claustrophobic and we soon tried the front door to get out to the landing where there was a view over the city we had seen on arrival. We were unable to do this as we found we had been locked in from the outside – presumably for our own safety. We were imprisoned for what was a long, uncomfortable wait.
The tour began with a two-day stop in Vilnius, the Capital city of Lithuania. We had a brief chance to look around. The city was a mixture of old and new. Of course we were more interested in the old because the new just looked looked like anywhere else, but we were discouraged from doing so. Whenever we glimpsed a view of an old looking building or area and I lifted my camera to take a pic we were often as not hustled away as if what we were interested in was, not exactly forbidden, but somehow shameful. I did manage to take some pictures of some wooden bungalows that looked really old but I am still searching for these. I can can find hardly any of my Russia photos. The thing I remember most was that Lithuania had quite extraordinary bank notes with really beautifully drawn black and white designs of national birds and animals. We were told they were really new. I think at this time some countries bordering on the USSR like Lithuania and Latvia had recently become independent and these banknotes – which they referred to as “Tokens” were a part of this. During our brief wanderings we spotted a café with people eating and drinking and went in. We were each given a mug of milk and a large slice of very ordinary, plain cake. A bit like dense cherry cake without cherries, not very sweet but quite nice. When we tried to pay for what we had consumed we were told that there was no charge and that the café had been set up by the local authority as a way of trying to make sure that people were getting enough to eat.
The only places we had a really good look at were the two Music Colleges which were the venues for Phil and Fred’s two gigs. These were Dvariono Muzikos Mokykla and J.Talleat Kelpsos Aukstesnioji Musikos Mokykla. You can see from the photos at the bottom of this page that they were very modern and distinctly magnificent! We have a recording from one of these gigs where this performance was captured in which Phil and Fred performed material from their duo album “Double Up” comprised mainly of Phil’s compositions but which also included two pieces by Fred: “For Christine” and “Loggerheads”plus a couple of pieces not previously heard in duo arrangements, both from Phil’s “Digging In” album: “Speaking To Lydia” (actually dating as far back as 1984) and the feature for Fred’s bass, the aptly-titled “Bass Motives”.
We left Lithuania and travelled by train to St Petersburg, Russia in a distinctly Russian train, complete with an area up near the driver’s part where the passengers stored their Samovars which could be filled with boiling water and taken back to the compartments. The compartment we travelled in had bunks overhead and windows that couldn’t be opened that had little white(ish) lacy curtains that went half-way up the window, held in place with a very thin length of iron rod that had got bent and then straightened out again dozens of times. We found this all over Russia. Everything seemed very old and bent and had been re-straightened time after time. Outside the country was heavily forested and full of snow. Inside the compartment the heat reached a searing 90 degrees with no ventilation. At stations people on the platforms offered slim bottles of vodka out of baskets to the passengers. In my mind I remember these as being steam trains but I’m pretty sure that was my imagination. In the end I had to climb into a bunk behind a little curtain and travel stripped of most of my clothes to prevent death by overheating. This turned out to be typical of the way heating was used in Russia. In the blocks of flats the heating was always on and there was no way of turning it down. If you were too hot you opened the windows (the windows of the flats did open – unlike the trains). The heating was supplied to all the flats – you didn’t pay for what you used – it was all in on the rent. We heard that there were times when the heating (and all the electricity) would be cut off without warning and then you would have to go to bed wearing as many clothes as you could and stay there while everything froze and wait for it all to come on again – however long that might be. When we got to St Petersburg we were met by a nice but incredibly bossy woman from the music college who looked after us during our stay. She drove us around in a car that was like a little van with seats – I suppose you would call it a people carrier. The windscreen of this vehicle was shattered – so covered in cracks that it was quite difficult to see through it. You felt sure it was just about to fall to pieces. Apparently it had been like that for some time and it obviously wasn’t considered an offence to drive it in that condition. The College had arranged for us to have our own flat to stay in on the very edge of St Petersburg in a block that had recently been built but not yet allocated ( see pic of view from window ). It was completely empty but had been fitted out in so much as it had a cooker and built in cupboards in the kitchen. I was very amused by the cooker. You couldn’t have imagined a cooker as basic as this one. It was brand new but was so utilitarian as to be comical, as if it had been invented by a comic book artist. I took a photo of it which, of course I can’t find. We were to find copies of this same cooker in all the flats we stayed in. Our official Nanny had managed to bring in some borrowed furniture for us, mainly several ubiquitous click clacks – the universal seating and bedding convertibles that we were to become so familiar with during our stay in Russia. and a table and some upright chairs. It was very bleak with it’s bare floors and curtainless windows but it wasn’t overlooked and because it was just for us we were very happy with it. The finish of these flats was very poor. For instance the front door had a lock in it, as you would imagine, but some workman had sawn an opening in the door for this lock a lot bigger than the lock mechanism. Consequently when the lock was fitted there was a 1cm gap all the way round it. You could stand outside and look into the flat through the gaps. The bathroom door had a lock on the inside that was a bent hook on the door that poked into an eye screwed into the surround. The vinyl flooring came in two sheets that met in the middle and had been fused together with a blow lamp which meant the join wasn’t even flat. Stuff like that. Before Nanny moved us in she had taken us to what was supposed to be a supermarket except that nearly all the shelves were completely empty. She tried to interest me in some bottled “Sprite” which she encouraged me to buy. I said I would rather drink tap water. Once we were left alone in our flat I turned on the tap in the kitchen but only a dribble of watery rust came out of it. So Nanny really did know best after all.
I have more to say about shops in Russia. They are very hard to find. We went into another supermarket on our travels, I can’t remember where exactly. It had the usual rows of empty shelves but on one was fresh meat. I was interested to see what it was. They were whole, fairly small animals but because the heads and feet had been cut off it was difficult to see what kind of animals they were. I thought at first they were rabbits, but was told they were chickens. I was bewildered – I’ve seen loads of plucked chickens but none that looked like these. There was the usual “keel” down the front of the chest like a rabbit but no fat “breast” either side which you would expect to see in a chicken. When I looked more closely I could see that there were little wings, rather than the forelegs of a rabbit and yes, they were indeed chickens. I felt really sorry for them. They couldn’t have had much of a life, and then the were killed. Very sad. Back to Russiano shops: I’ve already written about the double queue for bread: one to buy a ticket and then another one to exchange the ticket for the loaf. We also went into a kind of department store in Moscow which worked on a similar principle. It was quite a large affair with lots of stuff on display but not for sale directly. The merchandise was rather like what we used to see in cheap mail order catalogues and not the slightest bit enticing. You could look in vain for anything to buy to take home as a gift from Russia. I did eventually manage to queue for a ticket which I eventually exchanged for a kind of Russian Hat that was sort of the right shape but made of fake fur. I managed to get it back home in one piece eventually and gave it to a friend if mine who wore it for a bit and then made the mistake of trying to get it cleaned whereupon it completely fell to bits. Some things were also was for sale in the streets. One day (this might have been in Lithuania) there appeared a motorised beer wagon which stopped in the street and began selling beer out of the rear door. People, obviously expecting this vehicle, appeared from all directions, carrying various vessels: big glass jars that had been used for bottling fruit, jugs and the like, which were filled with beer and swiftly drunk on the spot. Quite a little crowd knocking back this beer as if their life depended on it. I suppose it made a change from vodka. On one occasion in Moscow I saw an old woman selling hotdogs in the middle of the road from of a sort from a wheeled “cooker”, but the most amazing example was at the top of an escalator coming up from the underground Metro. A middle aged woman was selling chocolate eclairs from a trestle table she had set up. You can’t imagine how excited I was to see them. We had spent a long time on a diet of home-pickled gherkins and these chocolate eclairs were the first glimpse of deliciousness I’d seen in a long time. Sadly I hadn’t yet learned the Russian trick of always carrying a plastic bag around with me, but the vendor managed to find me a piece of cardboard and I was able to balance my purchase of half a dozen of these glorious eclairs for our little party and made my way to where we were staying. Tucking into them was disappointing, to say the least. They turned out to be fake chocolate eclairs, made out of stuff that wasn’t food. What they were made out of was difficult to say: possibly sawdust, wallpaper paste, paint? Who knows? Beautifully made but for decorative purposes only. On the subject of food: we were in Moscow, Phil, Fred, Henk and myself with a young man called Alex who was putting up Fred. It was during the day and we asked him if he knew anywhere we could go for a meal. He said there were lots of places and it would depend on how much we wanted to pay. We said we didn’t want to pay too much as we were on a pretty limited budget and he replied that he knew just the place. So we set off to walk there. I can’t tell you exactly how far we walked, but we walked and walked and walked – it seemed like miles, which it probably was. Eventually we arrived at a small kind of café where they were serving ravioli. Only ravioli. There was nowhere in this kind of café where you could sit down. There were no chairs. People were standing around with their plates in one hand and their forks in the other, eating ravioli. The truth was this was not what we had in mind. We understood that this venue wasn’t going to cost us a fortune but tried to explain to Alex that we didn’t realise we wouldn’t be able to sit down. Well, he seemed quite annoyed that we hadn’t specified we needed chairs but eventually we set off again to another place where he said we would be able to sit. Another huge hike and an hour or so later we eventually arrived at venue two. Now this place was a real eye opener. It was a worker’s canteen, but a worker’s canteen like you couldn’t imagine. For a start it was the most magnificent building constructed entirely from marble. There was an elegant marble staircase that led up to a cloakroom where a pretty Hat Check girl in a sort of uniform took our coats. The staircase went up to a huge splendid marble hall with rows of tables and chairs. It was self-service from a long marble counter where we were presented with a choice of three different meals served up by staff dressed as chefs, which we carried to a table on individual trays. The meals were great. We loved it and when we worked out what it had cost us it was a trivial amount, something like £1 each. A worker’s canteen for Russian workers. Superb! It couldn’t have been nicer. Oh wait a minute – it would have been a whole lot nicer if we hadn’t had to trek half-way to the Ural mountains and back to get there. Incidentally, this particular day was the day when I had been nearer to death than any day before or since. It happened during this long track back and forth in Moscow: I was trudging along, head down behind Alex, following him like a tired but faithful old dog. Where he went I followed. If he turned to the right, I turned to the right. If he turned left, I turned left. If he crossed the road, I crossed the road. Half way across he broke into a sudden sprint, I broke into a sudden sprint. Looking to my left where the traffic was coming from I realised he had misjudged the situation and had started crossing the road at the wrong time. A huge coach was fast bearing down on me. Alex, being ahead of me a little was going to reach the other side of the road safely, But was I? Fortunately terror came to my aid and I put on a spurt of speed and ran faster than I had ever run in my life. I swear the coach missed me by a millimetre. I managed to avoid being killed by the skin of my teeth. Phil said afterwards that he knew for sure he was going to watch me die. He, Fred and Henk had realised Alex had misjudged the situation and remained on the curb, but I had been just following doggedly and hadn’t checked for myself. I think I learned a valuable lesson that day: always look both ways before crossing the road. I thought I knew that before – I certainly knew it afterwards.
This time I’m going to write about the first gig that Phil and Fred had in Moscow which was at a music College on the outskirts of Moscow. The day started with a reception at the British Council at their beautiful building. Fred remembers the occasion for the vast amounts of vodka they were obliged to drink and how eventually Phil couldn’t take any more and left Fred to face the interview the Council arranged by himself! The Council had arranged transport for Phil and Fred for this first concert with the loan of a very nice people carrier and driver for the evening. On the journey outwards we had the longest block of flats in the world pointed out to us . It was a mile long building along the side of a very big road, a kind of urban motorway. That’s about all I remember about the journey but we arrived safely at the music college with all our considerable amount of equipment. The music college, as it turned out, was situated quite close to this motorway. Everything went as generally planned. All the equipment worked without any problems. The concert was good and Phil and Fred were well received etc. After the gig we packed up all the gear, which was quite a chore as Phil’s rack -mounted units needed to be put into a fairly hefty flight case, as well as the guitars and all the rest of the gear. We stacked everything near the entrance and waited for our transport to arrive to drive us back. Only it didn’t arrive. We were eventually left with just the caretaker, who only spoke Russian, and he made it clear to us that we had to take our kit outside so that he could lock up. So we took all our gear outside and he locked up, got into his car and drove off.
There we were, in Russia, in the middle of winter, outside on our own. It was very cold and late at night. Mobile phones hadn’t been invented. None of us speak Russian. We are outside the venue which is now totally deserted and it is becoming very obvious to us that nobody was coming to pick us up. We are not in a public place. We’re not in a town setting or anything. There is nobody about. It’s very dark. Did I mention that it was very cold? and getting colder by the minute. And pitch dark. Not nice. What on earth were we going to do?
Henk, of course, came to the rescue. Henk Weltervreden the intrepid explorer and world traveller! Henk the ever-resourceful. He just said “wait here” and disappeared into the night. Some ten minutes later he came back in a very large, black limousine, driven by a uniformed Chauffer (who only spoke Russian) that Henk had flagged down on the motorway and had arranged for the chauffer to drive us all home for a few US dollars! We manoeuvred all the equipment onto the leather covered seats, piled in and in no time at all we were delivered, with all our gear to our various addresses in Moscow. I give you – Henk Weltevreden – what a hero!
Finding transport in Moscow gave us a whole heap of trouble. We had assumed it would be easy in the country’s capital city. When we were preparing for the next gig we asked our hosts – with whom we had been “billeted” – for a telephone number of a taxi service so we could be taken to the gig. We were told that it wasn’t possible. ” What? Not possible to ring for a cab and have it come and pick us up and drive us to tonight’s gig?” Yes, apparently, it was not possible to do that. We were flabbergasted to say the least, but our hosts were adamant. We could not phone for a taxi to take us to the gig. We spent the rest of the day trying to find someone who could take us and eventually were introduced to Victor through a contact of Henk’s. Victor’s vehicle was an ex army-type lorry. There was only one seat – the driver’s seat – and it didn’t have any suspension or a proper roof. It was covered with some tarpaulin that was lashed to the sides and had an open back. We just had to sit on the floor with our equipment but there was a bar next to the driver that you could cling to. Victor was very pleased to put himself and his truck at our disposal. He collected us and brought us all home for the rest of the tour. and charged us $30 US dollars for each return trip, which we thought it was a reasonable price. It was only later, at the very end of our stay, when we were in our hosts flat and our host’s elderly father arrived for lunch – which he had brought with him. He was a retired doctor. His lunch, which he unwrapped, was a piece of pork fat which he cut into thin slices, arranged them round his plate and consumed them with some relish! Afterwards we learned that his monthly pension amounted to $30 US dollars. So what we had considered to be a very reasonable price for each of Victor’s trips in his lorry was the equivalent of a doctors monthly income every day When we eventually were driven to the station at the end of our stay, we travelled by taxi which our hosts arranged for us by phoning for a taxi 24 hours in advance! Can you beleive it? It was possible to arrange for a taxi to come and take you anywhere you wanted as long as you arranged it the day before! – a detail that our hosts hadn’t revealed when we had asked them for the phone numer of a taxi service so that we could arrange transport to gigs. We had simply been asking the wrong question! The price of this taxi ride, which was a long drive into the centre of the city from where we had been billeted – easily the equivalent of our trips in the army lorry- was 8 roubles. I can’t recall what the exchange rate for dollars to roubles was in those days but a rouble was only worth a few pence in British currency.
We got into real trouble when Henk tried to buy rail tickets to get us back to Europe. There was a weird system for buying tickets that Henk had discovered and used previously. I don’t remember the details, but it was something to do with a 2 tier system which allowed ordinary Russian citizens to buy rail tickets as opposed to international travellers who went through travel agencies. Henk had always bought tickets the citizen’s way as it was much cheaper. This time when Henk tried to buy tickets he was told that all the tickets had been sold and we would have to wait another week until they became available again. We really didn’t have enough money to stay for this extra time, let alone impose on our hosts for another week and anyway we had other commitments back home. We seemed to be stuck. Later that day we visited a friend of Henk’s who we had arranged to see before we left and told her about it. She replied that she used to work for some international agency or other – can’t remember the details – and that she still had a book of tickets, which she found in her desk and proceeded to issue us with the tickets we needed to get back to Rotterdam on the day we wanted. She waived aside Henk’s offer of payment saying they hadn’t cost her anything and that she was pleased to be able to help us. Wow – problem solved!
Well, the day came and we took our taxi ride to the station and started our journey back to Europe. The train was amazing! It was an absolutely brand spanking new train on it’s virgin voyage. The floors throughout were covered in a beautiful green covering. I guess it had to be vinyl but it looked like the lovely thick lino we used to use for doing lino cutting at school. It didn’t have the slightest scuff or footprint on it, although we could see our own markings appearing as we walked on it. We were the first passengers on this virgin train. I particularly admired the lavatory because I had been struck by the appalling condition all the public lavatories we had seen in Russia during our stay. I had even been in the habit of taking photos of them as a kind of sick souvenir of our adventure. The loo on this train had never been sullied by human waste, it was pristine and amazing. Interestingly at the end of our journey it was in the usual appalling condition. It seems Russians don’t know how to use the flush, and think the floor is the place to deposit used lavatory paper. There were all kinds of luxuries on board in our compartment. These Russian compartments were often used for overnight journeys and on this one there were complimentary toothbrushes and tiny little tubes of toothpaste. These turned out to be fakes, as when we unscrewed them they only contained air. Likewise there were complimentary sachets of sugar which, although it looked like sugar, was actually some kind of white grit which wasn’t sweet and didn’t dissolve. We had this carriage to ourselves and it was great, only being interrupted by the ever-changing parade of ticket inspectors who allways charged us for excess baggage, which we were very happy to pay considering this was a completely free trip. We were particularly amused when one ticket inspector demanded an excess baggage charge of $15 and then stopped us while he went and fetched his partner and then pointed to him and said “That’s $15 each”! Nobody, for the whole of the journey, raised any objection to our tickets and we travelled back through all the countries in between without challenge until we reached Rotterdam Central when a ticket inspector turned them over in her hands, just as we were getting our excess baggage out of the carriage and said “These tickets are rubbish” to which Henk replied “How dare you” and we left her looking dazed and made our exit.
Coming back to the West was wonderful. Suddenly everything was easy. Henk managed to get a gig for the Duo in a club for that very evening. We were made incredibly welcome. The Patron opened a wall cupboard, revealing all the different types of canabis on offer, which he gave us free, along with a free meal for us all in the restaurant. When we sat down for this meal we could hardly contian ourselves with the luxury of it all, having spent our time in Lithuania and Russia living off a pretty mean diet of vodka and borscht with gherkins and bottled, sour apples. The restaurant was heaving with an immense variety of fabulous, steaming dishes of every kind being carried backwards and forwards from the tables, some of them hardly touched, such was the quantity. Everything was absolutely delicious. When they served us coffee it came in cups piled high with whipped cream. We were practically in tears with the the whole luxurious, generous spirit of it all. How lucky we are to live in this part of the world.
“The Miller Brothers and me” by Hag
THE STEVE MILLER TRIBUTE GIG 12th May 2001
Phil Miller /guitar, Lol Coxhill /sax, Mark Hewins /guitar, Hag /guitar, Pete Lemer /piano, Dave Hammond /percussion & vibraphone, Steve Ash /Bass, Paul Dufour /drums, Arranged by Hag.
Recorded by Steve Lane using a ‘Soundfield’ microphone. This records the space in the room from one point in four tracks; Up, down, left and right. Steve then mixed these four tracks live to stereo.
BELOW IS THE NEW PIECE BY HAG, specially written for our website in three parts. To give you an idea of what the piece is about I have drawn up a list of the names of the people who appear in it:
Champion Jack Dupree, Alexis Corner, Mark Hewins, Pete Lemer, Patrick Dean,The Who, Jan Dukes de Gray, Pink Floyd, Nick Griffiths, Francis Moze, Mark Knopfler, Dire Straights, Steve Phillips, Laurie Allen, Alan Holdsworth, Roger Odell, Shakatak, Gilgamesh, Hugh Hopper, Alan Gowen, Richard Sinclair, Soft Machine, Steve Cook, Robert Plant, Pip Pyle, Elton Dean, Jim Dvorak, Fred Baker, Mark Saunders, Jack Monck, Lol Coxhill, Carol Grimes, Roy Babbington, Gong, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, Eddie Prevost, Steve Ash, Lou Gare & Keith Rowe, Tony Moore, Nick Biggins, BJ Cole, Steve Lane, Paul Dufour, Phillipe Janoyer, Veryan Weston and Dave Hammer.
PART ONE: STRANGE COINCIDENCES
I first saw Steve Miller, the elder brother of Phil Miller, playing solo blues & boogie-woogie piano at a London Blues Society gig at the Conway Hall London WC1 on the 7th December 1968. He was on the same line up as Champion Jack Dupree, (1909 -1992) ‘…..a New Orleans blues and boogie-woogie pianist, a barrelhouse professor’. This is a testament to Steves standing at that early date. He more than held his own. A white, gently well spoken English middle/upper class young man. His playing excelled & it equalled Dupree’s in quality & authenticity. I was sitting on the front row, fresh from Leeds enjoying the bigger city at the end of my 1st term at the ‘Regent St Poly’ London UK. To this day I can still recall his performance not only because I retained the flyer for the gig as I had asked for the chords of the song ‘Strange Rain’ (Tom Paxton 1962) which another performer had sang at the gig. I’m guessing either Gordon Smith or Dave Kelly. He kindly wrote them out on the back for me. I didn’t discover this for many years when I found the said flyer amongst my music after I had become a friend of Steve’s in the early 1980’s. Alexis Corner was also on the same bill who greatly respected Steve’s blues piano & whom Steve performed with. Later when Steve moved into Free Jazz Steve told me Alexis did not approve. The second time I saw Steve Miller I thought was my first. It is a strange tale of coincidences going back to my youth that brought me to the Bull & Gate public house in Kentish Town around 1982 to see Phil Millers ‘In Cahoots’. As I arrived somewhat worse for wear Steve & Mark Hewins were performing. The music was strange, very strange with Steves free form piano and Marks neck rubbing spiralling sonic accompaniment. I found it brilliant and amusing. It made me laugh out loud. There are not many kinds of music that actually make one laugh in a complimentary manner from sheer enjoyment. It was the bravado, confidence and perfect seriousness I found so amusing. Steve told me much later that he recalled that gig with somebody cackling at the back of the hall. He wasn’t offended. My friend Peter Lemer was playing with ‘In Cahoots’ which was the reason for my presence. They weren’t bad either. How I came to be friends with Peter Lemer is as complicated as life. It goes back to my earliest musical friendships. I began trying to play my elder sister’s ‘Framus’ guitar in 1962 when I was 13. She didn’t mind as she only used it for posing in front of her mirror. It took me some time just to discover how it should be tuned. It was awful to play, action dreadful, intonation bad & it didn’t stay in tune. That was all I knew when one sunny afternoon in 1973 with guests around I got up took it from the wall and smashed it for effect a la Townsend and Hendrix. I later discovered ‘Framus’ is a noteworthy antique German guitar. Yes I was smashed & stupid. Patrick Dean was playing Purple Haze with his ‘Sugarloo Blues Band’ on stage in 1967 at Leeds University where he was a student when I first set eyes on him. He was dating Angela a friend of mine and shortly after that at a party at Angelas, Patrick played Jimi Hendrix’s first album fresh from the record shop booth. He had only got as far as listening to the feedback and first chord at the start of ‘Foxy Lady’ before leaving said booth to make the purchase. ‘Are You Experienced’ changed everything but that’s another story. Patrick became a journalist for the Yorkshire Post, (see the back liner notes for the Who album ‘Live at Leeds’), where he worked with Mark Knopfler, later of Dire Straights fame. We had a jam, me, Patrick, Mark & his friend Steve Phillips. I had by then learned to tune a guitar. In 1973 Patrick left his wife, my same friend Angela, and his life as a journalist, to join the band ‘Jan Dukes de Grey’ who had a new contract with Panda, a management company in London. So Patrick came to stay with us, my wife Valerie and I and we both got work for Panda. The office was in a large flat in London’s West End, Montagu Mews. Dave Griffiths was their manager & Nick Griffiths his brother was also living there. We all became friends. Nick was then working for the BBC as a recording engineer. The owner of Panda management, Norman Lawrence, became the accountant for Pink Floyd around 1976. This is how Nick Griffiths applied for the job as Studio Engineer/Manager for Pink Floyd’s Britannia Road Studios then under development. The Floyd at this time were tax exiles. Nick succeeded in the appointment and put the studio together. When it was completed Nick Mason drummer of the Floyd asked him to record an album to work the studio up to a usable state. Nick Griffiths is best known for recording the kids singing ‘We don’t need no education’, the chorus in Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall part 2’ amongst other sound effects for The Wall album and engineering the subsequent tour. Nick chose to record Peter Lemer’s band whom he had recorded at the BBC in various other bands. Nick asked me to come in to meet the musicians. Well yes I would. Nick was working alone and Peter was also looking for a record cover. This is how I was introduced to Peter Lemer with Francoise Moze bass (Gong) Laurie Alan drums (who earlier had played with Steve & Phil Miller in Delivery) and later Alan Holdsworth guitar who was overdubbed onto one track. I began photographing Peter at the grand piano at the house where he lived. The idea was to make him transparent, so I photographed the piano with him naked and without him in the frame. I did experiment with using this idea for the cover of Peter’s recent release “Son of Local Colour” Live at the Pizza Express, Soho. I also helped Nick by listening to the mixes he would give me on quarter inch reel to reel tape whilst I was working on the cover photo. However at that time Peter did not get a deal to release the music. The CD ‘Peter Lemer and friends – Jet Yellow’ was finally released on 13th May 2019. It was embarrassing for me as Pete did not have any masters only some cassette copies of Nick Griffiths mixes. Nick had sadly passed in March 2005. I knew I’d had some original mixes from the multi track but upon going through the old tapes I used on my Akai reel to reel mainly for doing ping pong recording of guitars I found the box but I had recorded over all the tracks. Such is fate. I did not expect to be holding masters. It is a beautiful fine recording not touched by time.Listening to it now I am flown straight back to those days in the mid 70’s in my first darkroom in Belsize Park London NW3 working on my photographs. My work for Peter was not wasted either as I used one as the piano shot for the inside sleeve of Steve Millers ‘See Hear’ piano solo collection Phil released on his label Crescent Discs in 2002.
This brings me back to why I was at The Bull and Gate witnessing Steve Miller & Mark Hewins supporting In Cahoots in 1982. Six of us, Peter Lemer & I, with our then partners, and the same Nick Griffiths, plus the bass player Steve Cook, had bought the large Glebe House situated between Spellbrook & Bishops Stortford which we were converting into four separate abodes. Steve Cooke realised after moving into Glebe that he used to rehearse there around 1971 with the band CMU which contained Roger Odell on drums who went on to form Shakatak in 1980. Steve later joined Gilgamesh which Peter Lemer, Hugh Hopper, Alan Gowen & Richard Sinclair also performed with amongst others. Steve Cook became a member of Soft Machine in 1976. Nick Griffiths had found Glebe House as he had lived on Hobbs Cross Road as a child, the opposite end from All Saints Church where Steve Miller had his workshop. (Just a few more coincidences of many). Glebe House needed woodwork so we employed Steve Miller in 1983 to build our kitchen. He carried out work for all the households at Glebe House, Peter, Nick and Steve Cooke. This is how I became friends with Steve Miller. He came around to give a quote. We talked about music almost immediately having seen him perform with the great Mark Hewins. I had continued to play with Patrick Dean down the years but he had now moved back north to Leeds. We had a great musical rapport based around improvisation. I loved improvising, being in the moment. Listening rather than thinking about what you’re playing.It was thus great to find somebody who just wanted to play and was local. It wasn’t long after that first meeting before I entered All Saints Church near Old Harlow where Steve had his workshop. So yes we played and I got to see our Iroko kitchen coming to life. I still have elements of this kitchen in my present kitchen, bathroom & a coffee table top 40 years later. Steve was not only a craftsman of the piano he carried this over into his woodwork where he made his living. He rejected power tools and modern methods. He embraced traditional skills of sharp hand tools, no screws no glue just perfect joints & wedges. He practiced this to the extent of renovating ancient barns restoring them to their original form. I recently asked a local carpenter to join two of the rescued Iroko boards to create the coffee table. Upon collection he said. ‘A real craftsman made these boards, joined in the correct traditional manner of reversing the grain with a hard wood tongue inserted into the joint so the boards always remain flat’. I then mentioned to him the same craftsman had a band with Robert Plant before Led Zeppelin. He looked up at me, mouth open then looked down and gave the newly joined boards a stroke. My visits to All Saints became a regular event. We played, we talked, we smoked, we drank coffee. The Miller’s father was a coffee importer and coffee was part of the ritual. To this day Steve taught me how to make coffee with nothing more than a pot and hot water. He also taught me how to make music seriously. He didn’t appreciate me slipping into amusing little riffs, rhythms or nursery rhyme’s randomly. Steve would stop on play back. Yes these were recorded on cassette as part of the ritual. Then explain this wasn’t appropriate. ‘This is serious music and should be treated as such’. It was OK for me to be amused as part of the audience but not as the performer. There became a desire to have a night with Steve. It crept up as a need to play. The gaps were irregular, from weeks to months, though never years. Sometimes at Glebe, sometimes at All Saints. Children for both of us arrived so demands on time and perspectives changed but always the need to play remained. We made a cassette collection recorded from 1992 to the end of 1995 called Pantheist Dreams in mybasement at Glebe with Steve playing synthesiser and one track on piano recorded at ‘The Premises’ in Hackney, London, near Phil Miller’s. This friendship expanded to include Phil as I went to more In Cahoots gigs. He often visited Glebe House to work on arrangements with Peter Lemer & the whole band for various things. I would peer out of my window and see Herm photographing all of In Cahoots with Pip Elton Jim & Fred.
PART TWO: MAKING MUSIC
We are starting part two with Steve Miller’s Piano Solos, Crescent Discs CD7CD
Recorded at St Johns Arc, Old Harlow, Essex between 26th August 1996 and 18th May 1997
Over the years Steve Miller began introducing me to other musicians and I once brought my old friend who started me on this path, Patrick Dean. It was a satisfying evening. Another early recorded meeting was on 21st March 1993 with Steve, myself and Jack Monck.
Another meeting was with the drummer Mark Sanders who recorded with both Steve and Phil and earlier with dear Jack Monk with whom we recorded four sessions in 1993, from March to May. Here is a recording of a session in November 1995 with Steve and Mark playing.
I became aware of the rich history of Steve, Phil and Jack Monck. In 1966 Phil & Steve had founded the ‘Bruno’s Blues Band’ with Phil’s school friend drummer Pip Pyle with Jack Monck on bass. The band gigged around London for a few years. In 1968, saxophonist Lol Coxhill joined them, and the band’s name was changed to ‘Steve Miller’s Delivery’. In 1969, the band teamed up with blues singer Carol Grimes and the bassist Roy Babbington replaced Jack. They then recorded ‘Fool Meeting’. Later Pip Pyle left to join Gong and was replaced by Laurie Alan who later left to also join Gong. When Delivery disbanded Steve joined Caravan & Phil went on to found Matching Mole with Robert Wyatt and Dave Sinclair. In 1972 a new Delivery line-up was assembled with the Miller brothers, Pip Pyle and Richard Sinclair on bass & vocals then Steve Millers bandmate in Caravan. They played a few live shows later that year but with Dave Sinclair on keyboards replacing Steve Miller. They then changed the name to ‘Hatfield and the North’. Their first gig under that name was on the 17th November 1972. On this occasion, Hatfield were appearing, along with several obscure artists, at a benefit concert for Radical Alternatives to Prison at London’s Imperial College, in what was hoped to be the first in a series of fundraising concerts for RAP.
I knew that Phil had been in Hatfield & The North but had no idea of the other history.
One time at All Saints when Jack Monck came and played, he turned to me after one piece and said. ‘You thought that was in Am didn’t you?’ ‘Yes’ I confessed, he was correct. ‘It was actually in F’ said Jack. Not in a dismissive way. Just gently communicating by way of information. I can’t remember the actual keys but I know I was wrong. I felt somewhat silly but was greatly impressed with Jack’s listening skills, pitch and of course his fine qualities as a Bass player. No singing was involved.
Looking back now it may have been something they both had played in their shared rich history.
This is probably exaggerated in my memory. I can remember feeling uncomfortable with my playing and not being sure about the key. It all goes back to my mother who loved singing. ‘Just move your lips but don’t sing, you’re tone deaf’. She told me in church as a child. All the years I played with Steve I can’t ever recall discussing a key! The rule in Free playing seemed to be the obvious, ‘If you want to know the key you shouldn’t be there’.
Since I first wrote this memory a few months ago Herm has found a cassette marked ‘Steve, Hag and Jack at the church 21/03/93’.
I was surprised by this as I hadn’t recalled at all recording with Jack but now I could investigate this in my diary. This has revealed that we recorded together four times, this being the first and part of the second. I have also found that I have all the original cassettes and have now re-mastered this recording. I guess I had recalled the ‘key’ story as I had written it up in my diary. These are my diary entries for these two dates…
’21/03/1993 Jam with Steve and Jack the bass player, pleasant play but didn’t like my sound or the cold in Steve’s church.
1/04/1993 Jam in SJH….. with Steve Jack & Hag. It was fun – but Jack as already mentioned ‘Gigs’!……I told him I’d never done it in front of people. Still I’m open to the idea.
On 16/03/1994 we appeared in a short ‘Slot’ for a cable network called Wire TV videoed at All Saints. It consisted of a short intro piece, interviews with Steve & Eddie and an Outro. The mix is rather poor, the piano being mostly drowned out by the other instruments. This could be considered the first incarnation of K.Ostra. Watch the video here
By 1996 we had another bass player on our regular Thursday night meets at All Saints Church, Nick Biggins, who’s daughter attended the same school as Steve’s daughter in Sawbridgeworth.
Steve Miller must have been happy with my performance as he invited me to do a gig with him at ‘St Johns Ark’ Old Harlow, an arts & music venue where Steve regularly performed, often with his brother Phil & Lol Coxhill. He loved the sound of that baby grand piano in an excellent converted church acoustic setting. We titled the gig ‘May the Fourth be with You’.
You guessed it, on 4th May 1996. The band was augmented with a group of seasoned players well above my pay grade. This was billed as Steve Miller, keyboards. Eddie Prevost, drums. With guests BJ Cole-Pedal Steel guitar, Nick Biggins-bass, and Hag- guitar. No rehearsals or anything of course. We played in various formations from the complete quintet to duos. Here is one featuring me and Steve:
Here is a review of the gig by Paul Newman
Steve was in charge. Eventually he asked me to do a duo with Eddie, a great opportunity. I walked over and picked up my guitar next to Eddie. He had started playing when I noted that my guitar was not plugged in and as Steve Lane was recording I was so scared not to make any unwanted noise I just sat there with my guitar on my lap, just me and Eddie, waiting for a suitable gap but none arrived and thus I did not play a note. Seems silly now, just nerves. I can still recall the fear & now at last I have confessed all. Listening now, Eddie Prevost’s drum solo is impressive
There is nothing I could or want to add. My just being there makes this my first but not last Cage-ian performance. This was my first ever paying gig, with an audience, at the age of 57! Later Steve told me Eddie had said. ‘If Hag doesn’t want to play what’s he doing there?’. I communicated all this to Eddie on the 24th anniversary of the event and confessed all. He was pleased to hear from me but did not recall the gig, fortunately for me. I however had caught the bug, my diary entry simply reading ‘Great gig (in the end) My first after all these years! – I want more.’ The next gig Steve asked me to play at, he was performing with his brother Phil who would arrive by train with his guitar over his shoulder and his Amp on a 2 wheeled trolley, with his calm persona and a happy beaming smile. I cannot recall if Phil knew Steve had asked me to play. I guess not as Steve had a bit of a Miles Davies approach to band members in that he liked to surprise them to illicit more interesting performances. I knew Phil well by now and we were comfortable with each other. I think it was the first time we had played but I was aware then that I was playing with two guys who had been doing this since they were teenagers, over 30 years ago. Despite my initial nerves I settled in with Phil quite happily. I recall it being a dramatic, exciting night with some thrilling trades with Phil. Unfortunately it was not recorded. Unusual for us. Many years later talking to Phil on the phone towards the end of his time discussing music and musicians he payed me the greatest of compliments for a musician of his quality standing and respect. ‘You know Hag whilst playing with you and Steve I often used to think what am I doing here, Hag is doing everything that is required’.
It was in late 1996 K.Ostra began to coalesce. By then we asked both bass players, Steve Ash and Nick Biggins to join us for our Thursday evening meetings. This worked well as they were both very experienced players but with different sounds and styles. It melded well expanding the sounds. Steve Lane, who had met Nick Griffiths when they both worked for Pink Floyd had become interested in recording Steve and us and became a regular member. I had always encouraged Steve Miller to consider making a set of solo piano pieces. He didn’t need any accompaniment. Much as I enjoyed making music with him he always flew without a parachute and would soar solo. From 26/08/96 to 18/08/97 Steve’s Miller & Lane recorded the tracks for his solo piano collection ‘See Hear’ at St Johns Ark Old Harlow (which is the CD playing at the top of this page).I had the honour of attending all the recordings and powerful they were as Steve set off from silence and moved through his own spaces he formed moulded and conjured in that air. Towards the end of 1997 it was Steve Lane, yes we had three Steve’s, who suggested a drummer he knew who may be interested. So at the next meeting Paul Dufour arrived tentatively with some percussion and a minimum kit of a snare, high hat and cymbal. He slipped in well, clearly for him too, as at the following event he arrived with his full kit and a percussionist Phillipe Janoyer creating the final sextet line up. It was a great feeling and from that point Thursday’s became band night. We were all interested in the same thing. Making coherent freely improvised music. Sadly it was around this time that Steve Miller recognised he was not well. That dance began for him through differing moves finalising with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 1998. On the evening of 14th May 1998 we had a K.Ostra rehearsal as we tried to do every Thursday. I wrote…..‘A sombre night at K.ostra.But some good music played’. I am sure the sombre comment referred to Steve at this time as we were all well aware of his medical situation. Steve Lane recorded all these rehearsals on DAT. There is a recording by Steve Lane at St Johns Ark in Old Harlow earlier that day with Phil Miller as Steve Miller loved that baby grand so much. You can listen to the recording here.
This I am assuming was a rehearsal for their forthcoming gig at The Vortex on 28th June 1998 with Carol Grimes, Lol Coxhill, Fred Baker & Pip Pyle. Almost the original ‘Delivery.’ We are hoping to get a recording of this concert for later inclusion into this article. Meanwhile here are some photos from the gig:
That gig was Steve Miller’s last public performance. Steve Lane had been recording Steve Miller at various performances & our sessions at All Saints with his Soundfield microphone which records the whole space in multiple directions. We decided to record the band using this mike whilst also close miking all the instruments so it could be mixed down from 8 tracks. This was set up for Friday 31st July 1998 in the evening at St Johns Ark so Steve Miller could use the baby grand and his Synthesiser keyboard. We all arrived except Phillipe Janoyer who couldn’t make it. Steve Miller arrived late. Things were beginning to get difficult for him. He had also invited another guitarist, Mark Hewins, a seasoned professional of many talents, the guitarist I first saw Steve with all those years earlier. He hadn’t let me know. As I mentioned above that old surprise trick.I admit I was put out with these changes as we were supposed to be recording our sound and I had gone to great lengths to arrange this. It was a difficult set up with people being late and equipment failures but we did eventually get going. After all that and my disgruntled state it was a very satisfying set. To play with Mark was a delight and always has been as we have become good friends playing together on numerous occasions. Gathering at Steve Lane’s to listen to the recording was always a nervous event but this, recorded more carefully than at our usual band nights was exciting with two guitars. I recall the band blending well. I remember the excitement. I only heard it the once as we resolved to try again with Phillipe present which became the K.Ostra ‘….its out there’ recording. This session was never mixed down from the eight track and that master was lost somewhere sometime well into the 2000’s. I still live in the hope of it turning up. The next session at St Johns Ark was 11th October on a sunny Sunday afternoon with the light streaming through the churches stained glass windows. It was a much more relaxed session. Everybody arrived on time and the sound check and balancing went well. So well that the opening track on Steve Millers K.Ostra ‘….its out there’ is actually the piano sound set up as Steve plays some good old boogie piano as the band gently joins in. This was a rare thing for him to then play but still wonderful. The session is exactly what is recorded on the CD in that order. A very satisfying result. Tragically in 8 weeks and 3 days Steve Miller, at such a young age, would be gone. There was no reflection of Steve’s position in his performance that day. There was a certain energy present. My memory fails me on how this happened but a small part of these recordings was sent out into deep space forming examples of terrestrial music with other examples on a unmanned space mission. I think it was something Steve Ash arranged. From this recording we were all excited and were planning ahead with creating a set of music for performances. This entailed having a new premise. We began rehearsing beginnings & endings so we all knew where to start and where we were going. What happened in between was just that. What happened. We took this seriously to the extent of hiring a rehearsal studio warm enough for Steve Miller, for us to work out the parts, formulate keys, scales, rhythms and time. Now we would all know where we were when the show began. Sadly time overtook us. Veryan Weston is a pianist that Steve had spoken about with great respect. They occupied the same musical orbits. Clearly the feeling was mutual as understanding Steve’s situation Veryan had been in touch and arranged with Steve to record another set of solo piano pieces in his studio on his piano. These were the final pieces Steve Miller recorded. I have never heard these recordings. His health then deteriorated rapidly as Steve Miller departed his mortal coil on December 9th 1998.
PART THREE: TOO SAD TO CALL
For this last part of Hag’s piece we are starting with Steve Miller’s K.Ostra …’its out there’ CD which Phil released on Crescent Discs in 2002 featuring Steve Miller on keyboards, Hag on guitar, Nick Biggins bass, Steve Ash bass, Phillipe Janoyer percussion, Paul Dufour drums, and recorded by Steve Lane.
Steve Miller’s death was, of course, tragic for Phil, Min his wife and Stephanie, his young daughter. I can recall the moment I was told he had died and I just collapsed in tears. Steve was my first close friend who had moved on to a better place in my lifetime. I knew, as did his family and friends, that he was, of course, irreplaceable.
Phil Miller wrote these liner notes of the In Cahoots ‘Out of the Blue’ CD released in March 2000. ‘Over the past three years since the release of ‘Parallel’, amongst the various compositions I have written, has emerged a strong contingent with a distinctive blues influence. With several of these pieces completed it seemed to me that they would be best served if I put them together in a suite. With this in mind I wrote the remaining compositions, trying to contrast and complement the existing pieces.’ Whilst Phil was writing these it coincided with the re-release of the Delivery album ‘Fools Meeting’ echoing the strong blues influence of that original band of Steve and Phil, hence the title ‘Out of the Blue’. Phil dedicated this CD to his brother Steve. He asked if he could use one of my images for the cover for which I was more than happy to oblige. Asking what my fee would be, I replied. ‘My first guitar lesson’. Phil was 53 days older than me, so after 38 years of playing I thought it was time to have some instruction from an elder master.
I recall having that lesson at Colvestone Crescent but not what we did, except that Phil took it seriously in offering me instruction.
On May 12th 2001, with Phil’s assistance, the remaining members of K.Ostra (Hag – guitar, Steve Ash – bass and Paul Dufour – drums, Nick Biggins having moved to Scotland and Phillipe Janoyer returning to France), organised a tribute concert in memory of Steve Miller at St John’s Ark in Old Harlow. (This event is played in full at the begining of part one of my saga).To quote the flyer: ‘Plus esteemed augmentation from Peter Lemer – piano, Mark Hewins – guitar, Lol Coxhill – sax, Phil Miller – guitar and Dave Hammer – vibraphone & percussion.’ Yes, quite a line-up out of respect for Steve Miller. Yes, three guitars, but we were all very familiar with each others abilities. It wasn’t a competition. Myself, Peter Lemer, Paul Dufour and Steve Ash had a rehearsal for the tunes we were thinking of playing. I then took the risk, with such an esteemed list of improvisors, to write a kind of set list with outline arrangements. This was met with some amusement by the other players when I handed them around. Some were vague, such as the first tune, ‘Free Up for Steve’, which became a 13’08” performance. Next, a composition by myself, then there was a liberal interpretation of Brahms’ Lullaby, two of Peter Lemer’s and a kind of John Scofield’s ‘Groan Man’, ‘Blue Monk’, two other free pieces and an Andrew Hill. An eclectic mix, which of course the assembled musicians took great liberties with in following my arrangements in the spirit of Steve Miller. It was a great evening. Phil Miller released K. Ostra’s ‘…its out there’ ( appearing at the start of this part 3) and Steve Miller’s ‘See Here’ collection of piano solos, both from the St John’s Ark recordings on his Crescent Discs label in 2002 (appearing at the begining of part 2). Here is Paul Newman’s review of these CDs:
It has been a great honour and privilege to have known, played and performed with both Steve and Phil and all the other wonderful musicians I have met through this relationship. I am ever surprised that many were and still are willing to play music with me.
Phil and Herm did make the journey into the deepest Fens to visit me around this time. I remember Phil banking up with coal on the open fire, saying ‘That will keep it going’ – and cosy we were. I also appreciated his compliments about a track from a collection I had made in the 90s of my own compositions I called ‘Music for metaphysical lovers’, called ‘Funky takes and funky gives’, which included his brother Steve on electric piano. Here it is:
There is however another person only mentioned briefly in the above tract, but who was ever present. She still is to this day pivotal in supporting Phil Millers’ music. She told me many years ago, whilst talking about Phil’s early career, that when she moved to her spacious flat in Dalston in 1980, she and Phil decided to join forces and started living together. With Steve’s help they soundproofed one of the rooms to use as a music studio, and from then on Phil spent most of his time in there writing his music. When he formed his band they used the flat for rehearsals. He recorded there, started the record label there. The flat became the hub for Phil’s music. Well, that certainly paid dividends, not just for Phil but to all those who love the music he created and all those touched by such a creative force. I am of course talking of Herm. When Phil’s life was approaching the end, I did manage to visit him before I was due to go into hospital for my second new hip. What a moving meeting. How strong he was towards what he knew he was facing, just as his brother Steve had been. Impressive as ever. Below is the letter I wrote to Herm explaining why I was not able to attend his funeral, which sums up my feelings for both Phil & Herm.
I am thinking of you and your family, sending you love and strength at this difficult time.You were inseparable and Phil’s rock. He only ever spoke of you in terms of the love and care you both shared. Yours is a jewel of a loving relationship. I was so moved and honoured to have seen you both just a few weeks ago. It was with saddened heart that I heard the news. How amazing Phil was both in that meeting and the conversations we have had recently, and of course all the rest. He appreciated his life, both creatively as a musician and with you. He considered himself a lucky man to have been able to do what he loved doing and spending that time with someone he loved. I need not stress the gifts he gave the world and the influence he had on so many people. He was truly a gentleman first, always respectful and kind in his praise of others whilst exhibiting a true modesty towards his own exceptional talents. He consistently expressed a positive outlook on his current difficulties and the life you both led. Impressive without shirking the reality of his position and caring for those around him. Phil was a fine appreciative friend, and again I am honoured to have known him and Steve, played with him and Steve, and having contributed photographically to In Cahoots. Sadly I am unable to attend the ceremony on Saturday. I want to express to you how I feel and offer my deepest condolences. I have found a way with the help of Pete Lemer to be there, but upon discussion with my nurse it would be reckless of me to attempt such a long day in my current position despite my healing well. I will be present in spirit with you all, as Phil will always live in our hearts.
Wishing you peace – 25 October 2017
Herm is still doing amazing things supporting Phil’s music, not least by creating this rich gift of Phil Miller – the Legacy and giving it freely for all to enjoy.
I also photographed Steve as a model.
In 2002, I used this portrait on the back of his ‘See Hear’ solo piano CD, and also in the book ‘Understanding Dreams’ (New Holland Publishers UK Ltd), for which I was commissioned to contribute numerous illustrations. This was in retrospect portentous. They were all to illustrate dreams, of course. Completely beyond my choice were three pictures I was asked to make which perfectly illustrated Steve Miller’s final journey.The shoot was 19th April 1998, before he was diagnosed, though he was aware that he was not well. The first as a marked man bearing the imprint of a cross.
The second was a recreation of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ as a Scottish farmer. The realisation of the situation
The third as flying away into a psychedelic heaven.
By the time the book was published in 1999, Steve had gone.
We – myself, Steve Lane, Paul Dufour and Nick Biggins – would also like to remember Phillipe Janoyer, who was the next to leave us after Steve Miller, followed by Steve Ash a few years ago. Sadly, to this list I have now added Paul Dufour. May they be at peace. Here is a photo of Paul and Phillipe together:
Finally this image, photographed 08/03/1988, commissioned by ‘The Telegraph Magazine’
As described on my website, I was not concerned with the face, just the hood.
Phil Miller’s HARD SHOULDER – it’s hard to play – hence the title
This week I want to give some insight into how Phil approached recording his compositions. I recently came across an article that Dave Stewart wrote about Hard Shoulder – a piece of Phil’s you can find on the Cutting Both Ways CD Phil’s first CD featuring his band In Cahoots. The second CD was Split Second. Both albums contained some compositions played by In Cahoots and some put together with Dave Stewart using what was then very new music technology. To quote from the excellent interview Phil Howitt published in issue 15 of Facelift Phil said “I had written some rather awkward material, unsuitable for the band that I decided to do with Dave Stewart having had the first glimpses of what machines could do to facilitate playing certain sorts of music. I had written some pieces that I could only just about play on guitar if I practiced very hard because of their sheer statistical density (to borrow a quote from Zappa). That’s why the Figures of Speech track I did with Dave on Cutting Both Ways was something you could only do properly with a machine. Not that I wrote it for a machine, it just happened that I had all these chiming polyrhythmic things going on that needed a dead steady beat. The titles Cutting Both Ways and Split Second acknowledge this dual approach although I often think that, with these two albums, it would have been better to have done a whole album without a band and then a whole album with a band.”
Click the image or this text for the score as a PDF.
Tributes to Paul Dufour
I am glad that Paul was in my life for many years, and though we managed to play together, it was not very often. We had dear friends in common, and it was always refreshing to chat with him, especially about Jazz movies. I was intending to pick his brains for some recommendations, but am gutted that this will not now take place.