Thursday, 20 October 2011

RIC COLBECK: 'a player of exceptional power and complexity'

Frustratingly little is known of this enigmatic trumpeter. He was from Liverpool, where he joined future record producer Noel Walker's trad jazz band in the late 50s. "He played more in the style of Ken Colyer than anyone else, and had a good knowledge of the standard trad repertoire," Walker told me in March 2013. "In 1962 the band played a season at Butlins Filey, after which we broke up. Most of us returned to Liverpool, but Ric moved to London, and after a few months I joined him there. We roomed together at a flat in Kilburn, and then World's End. He knew all the musician's hangouts - the pubs and late night dives etc. - and we used to enjoy sitting in whenever we could. Quite often, coming home on the tube, we would get out our horns and play to an audience who were just as drunk / stoned as we were! It was clear that at this point he was becoming interested in freeform. The trouble was, neither of us was getting any work! Eventually I landed a job as a producer at Decca, but Ric spent his days and nights pottering around the West End, and his behaviour became so erratic that the landlord chucked him out."

Here are a couple of previously unseen snaps of Colbeck with the band, kindly supplied by Walker:


In the mid-60s Colbeck moved to New York, where he shared a Brooklyn loft with the saxophonist Marzette Watts, worked in the Record Center and Record Hunter stores, recorded a pair of albums with Noah Howard and hung out with John Coltrane, Sonny Sharrock, Jaki Byard and others at the cutting edge of jazz. In late 1969 he contributed trumpet, piano and harp to Dave Burrell's La Vie de Bohème album, a jazzy interpretation of Puccini's opera. At the end of the year he returned to the UK and formed a short-lived quartet with Mike Osborne (alto sax), Frenchman J.F. 'Jenny' Clark (bass) and South African Selwyn Lissack (drums). The great Richard Williams interviewed him for Melody Maker at this point; it may be the only interview he ever gave, and has never been republished. Here goes:

Melody Maker, January 17th 1970
On the day the interview appeared (Saturday 17th January), the quartet played a gig at the Crucible Club in Soho, which Williams rapturously covered a week later:

Melody Maker, January 24th 1970
At around this time Noel Walker encountered him again. "I'd spent the next few years immersed in the production of all kinds of music, and was really excited at the time because I was producing Duke Ellington, but Ric was totally unimpressed and accused me of selling out to commercialism! He told me he was doing some recording for Philips, we did a short round of our old haunts and parted, never to meet again." On January 19th-20th 1970 the quartet recorded an album in Chalk Farm Studios, produced by one of British jazz's greatest proponents, John Jack. The following Saturday they were back at the Crucible, this time supporting Bob Downes:


And a fortnight later they were playing with Michael Garrick and Norma Winstone at the Jazz Centre Society in Shaftesbury Avenue:


Their album, The Sun Is Coming Up, crept out on Fontana in August, in a striking sleeve by Marcus Keef. By then, however, Colbeck had long since returned to America, and no one bought it (a copy sold on eBay in March 2013 for $698).


'He's a harsh player with a spurting, asymmetrical quality to his phrasing, often building solos out of a string of seemingly disconnected notes, each quite separate,' wrote Melody Maker. 'On the ballads he can conjure up an almost childlike air of despair and loneliness. There are a lot of reasons why you should buy this one.' Gramophone was also impressed, stating that 'Clark and Osborne acquit themselves brilliantly throughout the LP, both as soloists and in creating a varied and exciting flurry in the background.'

Unfortunately, I'm unaware of any further recordings of Colbeck, who apparently drank himself to death in November 1981, but he has a loyal following. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth is one notable admirer, and described The Sun Is Coming Up as an 'exceptional and complex masterpiece' in issue #2 of Grand Royal magazine. As Noel Walker concludes: "Ric was a very charismatic guy, capable of great charm, but often moody and depressive. I was very sad, but not surprised, to learn that he had died so young." 

22 comments:

  1. fucking shit, those sharrock dates sound awesome. and to think that there is actually an unreleased recording (the pixie date).
    in this day and age, something like this has got to turn up, right ?

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  2. Richard Williams28 October 2011 at 04:06

    I don't have a copy of this and hadn't seen it since the day it was published, so it's interesting to read his comments about Coltrane, New York etc. He was a slightly odd guy -- or at least he seemed so in the context of the London free jazz scene of 1969/70. He wore a very expensive pair of tan leather trousers, for a start. That made some people a bit suspicious. And there was a hint of impatience and arrogance about him that the London-based musicians didn't have: the result of hustling in NYC, no doubt. John Jack (who then promoted the Crucible gigs and now runs Cadillac) spent time with him, and produced the album. I wish I still had a copy. Never been reissued on CD, to my knowledge, even as a boot. Oh, and Jean-Francois Jenny Clark was a monster bass player (as we used to say).

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  3. I met Ric Colbeck in the fall of 1965. I was newly arrived in NYC,and went into the
    Record Center store on East 42nd St. I asked if they had any Ravi Shankar records, and he (Ric) said Shankar was the "Dave Brubeck of Indian music"(not a compliment, obvs).He sold me my first Vilayat Khan record. We hung out a bit in that time. He was sharing a loft in Brooklyn with the sax man Marzette Watts, whom I never met.We went to Slug's a few times, and he also introduced me to Panama Red (lol). I didn't see much of him over the years, although once,I went into the Record Center store on 8th St, and he introduced me to Ginger Baker, who had not yet recorded with Cream, and was thus unknown to me. The last time I saw him was about 1970, when I was working at the Record Hunter on 5th Ave. Some time later in the 70's, I was looking for someone's number in the NY phone directory, and came across a listing for Ric, along with a C Y Colbeck at the same number (Had he gotten married?)The only remaining issue is that Noah Howard has said in an interview that Ric had played with the Beatles in Liverpool. Can anyone shed any light on this.

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  4. Does anyone have a death date for Mr. Colbeck?

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  5. This is awesome, thanks for posting this. I found a listing in the New York Times for a Rick Colbeck/Otis Harris Quintet date on January 21, 1972, at the WBAI Free Music Store on East 62nd Street. I hadn't heard of Otis Harris before, but he was featured on a Ted Daniel Sextet record that was fairly recently re-released on CD. The blurb at DMG states, "Alto saxist, Otis Harris, wrote three of the six tunes here and plays with flaming spirit that saxists like Sonny Simmons or Noah Howard or Arthur Jones were best at....Otis Harris is another of the little-known free jazz-inclined musicians from Cleveland who came up during the late '60s-early '70s." There's some other interesting stuff there from Marc Chaloin about tracking down Otis Harris and others who knew him.

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  6. Hi, I'm Ric's niece Katherine. My mother is Ric's older sister. She found it comforting, and humbling that Ric is still being discussed, thought about and respected all these years later. @Clifford Allen, Ric died in NYC 27.11.1981. To anyone reading this, if you have any memories or anecdotes you feel able to share with me, I would love to be in touch with you. Thanks, Katherine

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  7. Hi Katherine, Richard here. Thanks so much for posting. It's great to hear from you. If you can let us know more info about Ric's background and career, I'd be extremely grateful. Might your mother be willing to fill in some gaps? Many thanks again.

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  8. Hi Richard. My mother would be delighted to share stories about Ric's background & early career. Will we mail you at your flashbackmag address? Katherine

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  9. So any more news about Ric? What did you find out from his family?

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  10. Thanks for the warm message, Fergus. When I hear from his family I will post about it. Nothing yet.

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  11. Hi guys. I will spend time with my mum soon and send Richard some info.
    Katherine

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  12. Thanks Richard. Sorry if I seemed a bit over-eager! Looking forward to hearing more about Ric soon.

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  13. Still no news from Ric's family!

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  14. Somewhere a year or more back, while trawling for info on Ric, I found a reference to Weasel Walter having played some of the Pixie date on a NY radio station- this station appears to have the tapes. Somebody go liberate them!

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  15. I knew him while he was working at the Record Center. He was friends with another elusive character from those days, Bruce Johnson, or as he was sometimes known The Reverend Bruce Johnson. Johnson recorded with Ronald Shannon Jackson And The Decoding Society at one point. I was just a kid then.

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  16. If anyone is interested Sun is Coming Up is being issued for the first time on SHM CD in Japan on March 30th 2016. it is a limited edition and not cheap but definitely cheaper than the album

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    1. Further to my last comment I have just received a notification that the release has been cancelled. We live in hope........

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    2. Ric and I were very close. I think about Ric frequently. Still. We worked at the Record Centre together with Sherman Darby who, after working with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis became B.B. King’s manager. The classical pianist and educator, Bruce Potterton, was our store manager and we all liked and respected him. It was magic. Ric and I would go out bar-hopping after work. I frequently stayed at his loft after we closed up the store. He had a dog named Samir, named after his friend, the fashion photographer, Samir Safwat. The dog would howl only when an Ali Akbar Khan or Coltrane record was played – not at any other music. Ric was a genuine sweetheart, a lovely, caring man - and his fits of temper (sometimes at other clerks in the record store whose taste in music he abhorred as he would rip their chosen lps off the turntable) were temporary and always followed by introspection and apology. One night he put on a complete side of Messaien’s Organ Works at full volume. We loved it as did a few customers – but many of them didn’t. He didn’t care. Beatrice Lily pranced into the store with two tuxedoed escorts on either side and Ric pushed me from behind the counter, introduced us, threw me into her arms and put on a waltz and insisted I dance with her – in the store. She was delighted. I don’t know how to waltz. She was gracious and a lively partner and I did my klutzy best to keep up with her. Ric was holding his sides in laughter. He was a good-natured riot. So much fun to be with. One afternoon, my high school idol, Bobby Timmons, who was playing at a club two doors away, came in high on smack and tried to pocket a sheaf of sheet music. It was right under my nose and I didn’t know what to do. Quickly, Ric saw this and said, “Archie, you were going to buy those for him weren’t you?” Ric and I chipped in the costs and Timmons walked out, completely oblivious to what had occurred. Ric called his heavy shoes “bovva boots” (bother boots – in case someone would want to give you trouble). Of course, he also, always, felt, despite the admiration of his fellow musicians, a bit alienated and did what he could to alleviate his alone-ness. He was dating a wonderful woman, a dancer, named Blanche Sands, about whom he cared deeply. The Sun is Coming Up was a line by my brother, Harry, who wrote that phrase, repeatedly, as a poem. At the back of the 8th Street Record Center many musicians would drop by – it was 8th Street in the 60’s: Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Rashied Ali, Andy Bey. We went to Archie Shepp's and Ornette's lofts frequently. He was very fond of Sonny Sharrock and Byard Lancaster and we saw them often. He was a terrific talent at a time of extraordinary creativity. I miss him terribly.
      -Archie rand

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  17. Hi, Ric's niece Katherine here again. We've found an old case of Ric's in mum's loft recently with some fabulous photos from Ric's days in NYC and elsewhere which mum brought back from NYC after Ric died. Archie - a fab one from the record store also! We'd be happy to share these if anyone is interested. Please get in touch and we can find a way to share. Thanks, Katherine

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    1. Hi Katherine, great news! Please drop me a line to the email address at the top of this blog, and we'll sort it out! All best, Richard

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    2. Dear Katherine, how kind of you. I would be thrilled to see any of Ric's photos that you'd care to share. My email is archie@archierand.com. Wishing you all the best, with gratitude, Archie

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  18. Would love to see photos of Mr. Colbeck in NYC then.

    The Pixie apparently "exists" as a tape here in New York, though sorting everything out as far as getting it heard or released is another matter.

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