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
Part 2 Making Music
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…
But their [sic] was the Am/D controversy – where they played in D & I played in Am & never changed – Jack ticked me off, most politely, but I felt like I’d been told off – a new experience in music! anyway we’ve moved onwards a bit and here we go playing it in the basement. Lets stick one together. V. nearly fell down the basement hatch!
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.