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Camtech Big Band

These tracks have been retrieved from material originally recorded on reel-to-reel tape. Multiple transfers have lost some quality.

Over the years, memories have faded and details have been lost. If anyone is able to supply further information, I shall be very happy to receive it and put it out through this website.

Big Bands and me

The Swing Era is conventionally dated from the famous performance by the Benny Goodman Orchestra at the Palomar Ballroom, Los Angeles on Augsut 21, 1935. There is no fixed date for its end, but by about 1948 times had changed.  Some continued, most notably those of Woody Herman and Count Basie which had a strong following until Basie’s death in 1984.  There is a certain justice in this, as Basie’s band is generally considered to have been one of the most swinging jazz groups of any time. (Clearly, Duke Ellington had a big band, and it certainly swung, but I see his work as having the primary purpose of presenting his compositions, rather than as a machine for generating power and excitement).

I realise with hindsight that I took it for granted that big band music existed, and was real music, good music. This is because my father built and repaired radios, and was a strong Americanophile.  When they US forces came to Britain in World War II, they brought with them their own radio network, which my father tuned in to.  One of my earliest musical memories is of Uptown Hall, which came on at 8pm, and opened with the theme tune - the wonderful medium bounce swing of “My Guy’s Come Back”, featuring the piano of Mel Powell. 

When I became deeply interested in jazz, as an adult, I then came to know other swing bands, and found an excitement in their generation of heat which still excites me today.

The basic key to the music were simple but strong chord sequences (notably the 12 bar blues and I Got Rhythm) a pushing beat generated by drums, string bass and usually guitar , with piano adding more florist touches, and above all the use of riffs.

When I came across rock musicians who talked of riffs meaning typically a repeated bass pattern, it surprised me, because riffs were for me certainly repeated patterns, but played by the front line.   Nevertheless, it was this element of Rhythm and Blues (early 60s type) which allowed me to relate to an d enjoy my time with the Soul Stirrers, an outfit based on Banbury, Oxfordshire.

I can see at this distance that apart form the excitement created by a riff, I was also energised by the fact that the three front line groupings (saxes, trumpets and trombones) would each have their own riffs, which played against each other in powerful way.  I liked what, despite its harmonic basis, had really become a linear music, with the same sort of interplay as one finds in other polyphonic styles.

It was not therefore surprising that one of the things I did at university, on finding a pool of often amazingly able musicians, was to form a big band. (recordings of this are due for release on this site in the autumn). 

The Camtech Big Band

When I became a teacher, and more especially a Music teacher as the Cambridge Tech, I persuade my imaginative Head of Department, Norman Hearn, to let me run a student band every academic year.  To give it a focus I used to arrange for it to perform at the local jazz clubs.  Compared to the dance orchestras in the town, and also to the Jazz Orchestra run by Hugh MacDonald, based on the University, we were limited and rough, but as this recording shows, one thing we could do was to capture the spirit of the old big bands, and excit4e an audience,

You will hear that our performances were certainly exciting for the musicians, so that on occasion local semipro musicians of a high standard, such as trumpeter Mike King, would join in and so raise our level.

The personnel:

Jim Lee, Howard Taylor (saxes); Chris Wheeler (clarinet); Mike King, Alan Friend (trumpets); Harold Williams (trombone); James Gordon (percussion?); Dave Corrigan(?) bass guitar. As I don’t announce the pianist, I assume it must have been me !

The evening

This recording was made on just such an occasion.  I was at the time with CMU and one night we performed at a pub in Cambridge.  The occasion was recorded. We needed a support group, and I suggested the big band – perhaps subconsciously to some extent because by this time he group had moved away from the sort of sound and spirit which can be heard on the Leeds tape.

As an aside, James Gordon, one of the CMU singers, can be heard enthusiastically joining in, even though he was not really a jazz fan.

At the time of writing I don’t have more details. It must have been in the first half of 1970 at the latest, as I did not run another band after July of that year, because I took unpaid leave to work with CMU.  This is thus the last performance by the band.  There has not been the opportunity to run one since.

The Pieces

I haven’t been able to identify most of the soloists at this distance and would appreciate comments.

 Hills Road
I have given the piece this title, because I can’t remember what the original title was and it is impossible to hear the announcement.  It is a theme I wrote for the band. The solos are typically rather weak but the rhythm section pushes things along

Click to hear/download Hills Road

Freddy Freeloader
Miles Davis’ theme gives the band a chance to be more relaxed. The trumpet solo (I think of Alan Friend) quotes Miles’s solo extensively.  Near the end you will hear me cue the band “one more [chorus]”.  But they had the bit between the teeth and carried on, so I call out “Two more” well after they have started what really was the last chorus of a very modern 12 bar blues.

Click to hear/download Freddy Freeloader

Named after a friend, colleague and fellow Nottinghamian, Wendy Marshall, this is another original, featuring the clarinet (I think of Chris Wheeler).  It was through this number that drummer Roger Odell taught me how to get a relaxed but intense slow swing.  Fans of Count Basie will recognise the inspiration of the piece....

James Gordon later added words to turn it into “Just What Shall I Do”, sung by him as “Valentino Boccherini”  in our Festival Hall show.

Click to hear/download Wendy

A theme by CB and chosen and arranged on this occasion by student Alan Friend – at the Tech we also had Jazz Theory and Arranging classes – very daring at that time! A 12 bar blues in the great Swing Band tradition.

Click to hear/download Jones

Terry’s Groove
I urged Terry to provide us with an arrangement. I had first worked with him as a Soul Stirrer in R and B, but knew that he had since gone deeply into more contemporary jazz. I felt that this would give a freshness and challenge to our repertoire as well as giving Terry a vehicle.  It certainly does that and inspires the alto and bass players especially.

Terry and I had a lot of affinity musically (despite important differences) and there are interesting comparisons of style and text between this and my arrangements for the Oxford University Big Band (which he had not heard).

Click to hear/download Terry’s Groove

Time to Move On

An original by me, in 32 bar format. The title reflected both my changing circumstances – the growing success of CMU and a new wife – and also the fact that I wanted to take the band further musically. I originally wrote an ending in a more modern style. But they found it too difficult and so we left it off in this performance.  It taught me the important lesson that a creative artist who also teaches needs to distinguish the two roles clearly.  Students cannot be expected to deliver the demands of professional creator- it puts them under too much pressure and fails to put their education first.

It sets off the players giving a very impressive alto sax solo and exciting trumpet moments.  You will have a little insight into the value and role of the band leader, when I cue someone who has lost their place (“Middle!”)

Click to hear/download Time to Move On

Rio Muni
I begin by announcing the personnel (see below), but not all the names are clear – information welcomed ! This is a particular pity in the case of the bass guitarist, who throughout the evening produces a pretty well faultless and swinging performance.  This was not easy at that time, because the instrument had developed in a different context and it was quite hard to get the blend of sustained sound and attack which the string bass gives.

There are exciting solos by trumpet and alto sax, but the main part of the item is dedicated to a drum solo a tradition which grabbed the public after the fmaous solo by Gene Krupa in the Goodman Carnegie Hall concert date).  The drummer is Graham Vulliamy, who deploys his whole range of skill, and keeps up the drive and excitement which he had manifested throughout the set. (Interestingly, at this point his jazz playing was more convincing that the rock passage in Terry’s Groove, a situation which he remedied totally when he moved into rock, where power and conviction was certainly the name of the game).

Click to hear/download Rio Muni



At the time of writing, I have one response to my request for any further information. James Gordon modestly writes about my uncertainty as to the pianist:
I was playing piano (not very well)  There are times on your CD ( a few) when I think it’s me rather than you, because the placing of the chords is very square, very non-bebop, as I simply couldn’t get the hang of it – especially the sparse left hand.  I don’t know if much of it is me.  I think most is you, as I think it was acknowledged I was a weak pianist, so I probably sat out on most if not all numbers, though I  think I did play on some.  I quite enjoyed hearing the Camtech Big Band again – love Graham’s thunderous solo.  I think it was a marvellous course, and I seem to remember that by the time of the gig that starts Rocky Foundations (because that was the Camtech, though I wasn’t playing piano on that occasion due to my other duties – and my weakness ettc as above mentioned) the band had to got to be quite competent.  On this occasion I think it often sounded a bit rough, but a fantastic romp.  We did enjoy ourselves and that’s half the battle.