Music: The Route I Took to Get Here
My earliest musical influences are the songs my mother and grandfather sang; nursery rhymes and musical scraps and doggerel from the fading British Empire. And then of course, the far away but ubiquitous voices from the radio; a mix of post-war swing, light opera, Broadway show tunes and patriotic anthems, sprinkled with advertising jingles, and once a week on Sundays, a bit of church music on a cracked and wheezing organ with an out of tune choir.
These circumstances pertained, as I recall, until the high tide of my adolescence, which had been building under a seemingly-placid surface for some time, crested and curled and crashed upon me with the full force of a California surfing wave in the jingle jangle morning of the summer of love.
I took my earnings from berry picking and mucking out stalls and sent off for a guitar which had beckoned to me from the pages of a mail-order catalogue.
The initial direction and momentum was provided by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary. But after Dylan went electric at Newport, it was the insolent, androgynous non-conformity of Jagger and the charming flippancy of Lennon and McCartney, the quintessential rocker and mods respectively, carried along, of course, by the emerging, consumer-driven, youth culture and, perhaps even more importantly, the economies of scale for popular music made possible by the development in Japan of mass production techniques for the transistor.
But it didn’t take me very long to progress from there through the blues, first delta, then urban, to a rock, the primary aim of which was to get people moving, nothing more, nothing less, and then on to a music that somehow spanned the North American continent by incorporating both the relaxed, parochial, San Francisco rockabilly of the Grateful Dead and the hip, atonal, New York thrusts and electronic feedback of the Velvet Underground; a frenzy of acid-induced, free-association sound, and from there eventually through the stoned, erotic, revolutionary, Black Jamaican nationalism of reggae, and then, once I’d had the profound revelation that scales are modes and modes are scales, to the cooler precincts surrounding the molten core of post-bop.
As early as the final years of high school, I was earning a part-time living in weekend dance bands, and by backing local folksingers. I paid my way through college this way, and then, through much of the 1970s, drifted into a life touring north-eastern North America as a bass player in anonymous country, rock and jazz bands.
There were highlights, of course, including tours with the revered Canadian folksinger, the late Stan Rogers, the American anti-war icon, Jerry Jeff Walker, and in put-together backing bands for occasional notables, like Chicago blues singers, regional pop stars, and once, through a series of flukes and coincidences, the legendary Stan Getz. This early period also included a stint in a provincial symphony and a very doubtful season with the Ice Capades Orchestra.
For substantial periods of time music took a back seat while I worked at a variety of other jobs in journalism and as a teacher. These assignments took me on a series of remarkable journeys around the world and exposed me to the music of first Latin America, then South Asia and the Middle East, and finally China and the orient. This had a lasting and profound effect on my musical range.
It was in Hong Kong in 1992 that I met and began a decade-long collaboration with the American saxophonist Gordon Mathews. Together we released four albums under the name Hong Kong Silicon Orchestra. The music is highly influenced by the emerging computer-driven synthesizers of that time and at the beginning it was almost pure electronica. Toward the end we were using a lot more traditional instruments as well.
Now, any music that's sincere, that's honest, I tend to like. After all, once, long ago, before electricity and media hype, composers and musicians created and performed music because that is what they loved to do. Blues is fundamental, of course. Not a day goes by that those twelve bars don’t pass through my imagination in one form or another. But I listen across a huge range from jazz to Western classical, and also to all sorts of ethnic music from around the world, together with the inspiration I draw from friends and collaborators.