Noel McGhie: Lacy, Tusques and Space Spies

an interview with
Pierre Crépon

Noel McGhie                                                                                                               © 2018 Uli Templin

This interview was conducted at Noel McGhie’s apartment in Asnières-sur-Seine on December 11, 2017. A tribute to producer Gérard Terronès took place the day before at the Sunset-Sunside club in Paris, where McGhie played in duet with pianist Manuel Villarroel. Sunny Murray had died just a few days earlier, on December 7.

Noel McGhie: We lost Johnny Hallyday, we lost Jean d’Ormesson, now we lost Sunny Murray. Yeah, it’s a period of deuil, you know. But as the Good Man says “we can’t get out of this world alive.” There’s no way we can get out of this world alive. So, what we were saying is that the series of incidents that finally got me here was meeting all of these different people. And finally Kenneth. The fact that I was very close with Kenneth Terroade and that I was instigative, that I convinced his sister to lend him the money to get his saxophone. I already had my drums. And so, when Sunny [Murray] was in Europe [in 1968], him and Ronnie Beer went up and joined Sunny, because Sunny was playing solo. Nobody else, you know.

Pierre Crépon: Did you see the concert?

McGhie: I was not at that concert, no, I was not at that concert. For some reason. And so they got over here, and in a way Marc Chagall also had some responsibility for my coming here, because these people were coming to see an exhibition. Otherwise, I’d probably still be in Brussels ... I don’t think so, I wouldn’t still be in Brussels, but I wasn’t gonna go back to England, until I came to France. And here we are now talking about it. I forgot to mention Anthony Braxton in my list of favorite people. He was so far out, further out intellectually, in the music. He was an intellectual. He used to play chess at the American Center, boulevard Raspail. And he wanted me to play with him too [they did in late 1971]. Everybody wanted to play with me in those days. But then Anthony, he was so far out that he wouldn’t give his tunes names, but he would give them mathematical formulae like “5 0 6 - v 0 7” and stuff like that he used to call his tunes. But he was a beautiful, beautiful man. I couldn’t play with him, because he has stuff in eleven-eight that I wasn’t into at this time. Now I could do some stuff in eleven, twelve, thirteen, whatever. Something a lot of people didn’t realize was that when I was here, I had only been playing the drums for seven years. But the people who were calling me, a lot of them wanted me to just play bebop, or just play being the drummer. When I started to play the drums, being the drummer wasn’t my idea of what it was about. Being the drummer is a central part of a jazz organization, of a jazz group. And I don’t see why the drummer should be limited to just keeping time. And then you get ready to go on stage, and the first thing they say to you is “make me sound good.” Without the drums, they know that they’re not gonna get very far. And so I was not subdued by the part that the drums play. I didn’t think I should just be there to make the soloist sound good. When I was teaching at the IACP, Institut d’art, culture et perception, that Alan Silva mounted, I had one student who was very perceptive, but he wasn’t brilliant, and he wouldn’t follow the lines that I was laying down that I had learned from Philly Joe [Jones], at Dante Agostini’s École de batterie. Which was, you have to understand, the enchaînements and the transitions. Enchaînements, transitions. And so you have to be able to count, you have to be able to read. He didn’t want to do any of that, so I said “what is the drums for you?,” and he said “the drums is an instrument, just like any other,” which is true, but it’s an instrument that has to be mastered.

Crépon: Like any other.

McGhie: Absolutely, like any other you have to master. Most of the people were masters of their instruments last night. There were a few people who were advanced amateurs, but the majority of them were highly trained professionals, you know. I mean, hearing François Jeanneau ... One of my sisters in jazz is Ann Ballester and they have a thing called Soundpainting. It’s extraordinary. He’s an important part of that. And I’d never heard him live, you know. Hearing him playing “Lush Life” last night ... So, anyway, I wasn’t about, you know, to be subdued by these so-called leaders, soloists. But they had a name, you know, they had a name. But I had learned from experience. I don’t want to appear to be bad-mouthing people, but one has to be honest. We have ups and downs, good and bad experiences, and I saw around me what was going on with the drummers. I’m not gonna call any names, but the drummers ... well, I could call for example Count Basie and Papa Jo Jones. Papa Jo devoted most of his life to Count Basie, and at one point, he started thinking it was him and Basie, you know. And Basie said “no, man, this is my band, you’re just the drummer.” And when I saw Papa Jo – I met him at a hotel Porte Maillot, where they have jazz – I said to myself: Why did this man, who had enough fame and notoriété to make his own, set up his own organization, hang on to Basie? And when he left Basie, he just went wasted. He never did anything.

Crépon: But it’s also easier? Because you have less pressure.

McGhie: I know, but that’s not the point, we’re not looking for aisance, we’re not looking for what’s easy. If we were looking for what’s easy, we wouldn’t be musicians. From the very beginning, I was into this optic of being a leader, because I’m not gonna be just the drummer. This drummer who just died, who played a lot with Monk ... He’s famous for having been a sideman, an accompagnateur.

Crépon: Ben Riley.

McGhie: He could be up there, you know, as a leader. How many drummers are leaders? Roy Haynes became a leader, finally. And ...

Crépon: Max Roach, Blakey.

McGhie: And Buhaina, yeah. That’s the way to do it. And that’s the way I did it, and it’s the way I’m doing it now. So when these people were calling me, they were calling me with the idea that I was gonna be the drummer – because I had a certain notoriété, you know, by then – and so they would call me, thinking that I was the ideal accompagnateur. But no, I was not. I was thinking that they were calling me because they wanted to change their outlook on music, and they wanted me to help them to advance in the new form. But no, and then they were disappointed, because I wasn’t playing the tempo that they wanted, my approach wasn’t one of the accompagnateur classique.

Crépon: How was Steve Lacy, in this regard?

McGhie: Steve Lacy was different. Steve Lacy was masterful with that. Because, when he recruited me, like I said in the first part of the interview, I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was dreaming. As I told you, my first record acquisition was his first album that he made under his name [Soprano Sax]. And when he recruited me, he said “whatever you do, don’t swing!” That was perfect, because that’s exactly ... Like I said, I thought free jazz would be here forever. Then we had Sun Ra, and that band was a swinging band, but it was free, right? And so when he said that, that was perfect. And we swung, but what he meant was don’t play [sings chabada], just play the music, because the music is there. And my technique allowed me to participate in the ensemble. The ensemble improvisation, because we were into improvisation. It wasn’t just theme-improvisation-theme, solo here, bass solo, drum solo. No, we were all soloing, but not overwhelmingly so. You had to be able to lighten up. But it wasn’t about [sings chabada], because that had been done, to death. For years, already. With all the developments of the great drummers, Cozy Cole, and all those people coming up, had done that.

Crépon: To perfection.

McGhie: To a perfection. So when Gil Evans [in 1978 at the Parabola session] wanted to do “Gone,” from Porgy and Bess, I said “man, I can’t play that.” Because it’s been done, by Philly Joe, with your organization, what’s the point of doing it again? Unless you want to change the color. Because, like I said, my idea was bringing color. At the concert last night, it was almost perfect, you know, because I had never played with Manuel Villarroel before, we never rehearsed, and they chose me from the list that [François] Lemonnier, the organisateur of the homage, put together. They said “I want to play with Noel McGhie.” And the guitar player – it would have been a trio with a guitar player – was quite ill, because he didn’t show up at all, Gérard Marais, whom I’ve known since the seventies, but I’ve never played with. And I said “okay, these guys want to play with me, I’ll play with them.” That’s what the music is about, that’s what we’ve been doing all these years, since the beginning of what we call free jazz. That’s the epitome: Two people who have never met – musically – who decide to play together. The musicality was rational. It was rational. We didn’t do anything that wasn’t musical, even though we weren’t playing tunes.

Crépon: I was thinking that for the interview, since Sunny Murray died, we could talk a bit about him?

McGhie: Sunny Murray was a very strange character. He had his attitude toward other drummers, which was very violent. A lot of people don’t know. I don’t like to badmouth people. I’m not gonna badmouth Murray. Murray is one of my heroes, in the music. But he could also show a violent reprehension toward other drummers who were doing things that he didn’t think he could, or wanted to do. It’s not that he wanted everybody to play the way he was, but I think he was stuck in one style. Which, if he hears another drummer practicing in another room – which he did to me quite a few times [laughter] – he would rush into the room and become violent. He was a brilliant musician, but he had a very bad character. But, genius is hard, you know. That’s what Lou Bennett told me, he said “genius is hard.” In a way, Murray was a genius. I don’t know if he became a genius accidentally, when Albert Ayler chose him to make Spiritual Unity with a bass player who had a great career with ...

Crépon: Gary Peacock, with Keith Jarrett.

McGhie: Yeah, with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. I don’t know, I think he was brilliant because he went out there and did that, and liberated the drums. For that, we must honor his memory. I honor his memory. But at the same time, I’ve known him intimately, closely, because, you know, we’ve been here about the same time. And I’ve seen him with Oliver Johnson, and Oliver Johnson was gonna reach for his knife, you know. He didn’t like other drummers [laughter]. But bebop is a terrifying thing for the drummers. Terrifying.

Crépon: The breakneck tempos ...

McGhie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And your extrapyramidalism – meaning, simplement, your independence – has to be perfect. Now, the reason why I didn’t play bebop was because I saw the music at the end of the sixties and bebop had already run its course. It’s still going on, but for me, I leave that to the other people, the other drummers, who lack ambition. Because, there’s no way you can come up to the standard of the great bebop drummers of the forties, fifties. So why bother? I mean, you’re gonna spend your life trying to play better than Max Roach or Buhaina? You might as well just forget it.

Crépon: You can probably spend your life trying to be half as good as Max Roach.

McGhie: Right, right! It would be a waste of time. Do something that they haven’t done, because music must grow. Music must grow. I listen to a lot of classical music and I noticed that they all come out of the conservatory, playing Rachmaninoff’s first piano concerto, and this young girl just come out, she plays the clarinet, and what is she playing? Mozart’s concerto for clarinet. It’s been done, to death. And she’s only twenty years old. And she’s gonna spend her life doing something that’s been done for two hundred years? I don’t agree with that. But what else could she do? What else can they do? Because there’s a large audience for that. So it’s like driving a bus, or a conducteur of RER. I saw this, I was watching Berlioz’s Symphony on TV, and I saw this guy play the bass drum. Now, this symphony lasts what, thirty minutes? And all he had in thirty minutes, he’s there with his beater, his mallet to play eight notes [sings bass drum hits]. And he’s been there for forty minutes, waiting to play those eight notes, c’est ahurissant. To qualify, when you finish the exams and you graduate from the conservatoire as a percussionist, you have to have mastered – well, not mastered – but for me that was fifty instruments. This drummer, when Kenny Clarke started his school with Dante Agostini, he went and he said “I graduated first of my class of percussionists.” And he wanted to learn to play the drums with Klook. Klook said, “You’ve graduated first from the percussion class of the conservatory and you can’t play the drums?” [laughter]. And he became a hell of a drummer. I forget his name, now.

Crépon: You were talking about Alan Silva’s school, the IACP. You were a teacher there?

McGhie: Yes! I used to play in the Celestrial Communication Orchestra. We were talking about Murray, because they had a beautiful concert with all the names. Anthony Braxton, and Steve Lacy and all the people who were in Paris at that time. This was in the seventies [1971], down in ...

Crépon: Royan?

McGhie: Royan. That was recorded, the album came out [My Country]. Jerome Cooper and Sunny Murray were the drummers in that thing. And also, like, there were three or four bass players, two pianists. One of the pianists was François Tusques, and one of the bass players was Beb Guérin. And so we had played a concert that night with Colette Magny and so I said “goodbye, good gig,” and I went home. And like fifteen minutes after I was home, getting ready to go to bed with my beautiful wife, I heard the door knocking, I opened up, and here’s François saying “come on, we want you to go with Alan, with the Celestrial Communication cause Murray just desisted.”

Crépon: Classic Murray.

McGhie: [laughter] Classic Murray. And so I said “oh yeah, man.” I packed my drums and it was me and Jerome Cooper. He was here. I took over from Steve Lacy after Jerome Cooper. I think I did a better job than Jerome Cooper, ‘cause Jerome Cooper wanted to play bebop with Steve Lacy. And Steve Lacy didn’t want none of that. Jerome Cooper passed away a couple of years ago.

Crépon: The concerts with the Celestrial were like three hours long?

McGhie: Yes, yes, this went on forever. That was some great, great moments.

Crépon: Do you remember how the people reacted? Because it was a contemporary music festival.

McGhie: The audience, they loved it. Yes, they had classical contemporary music. But we were doing contemporary music, we are doing contemporary music. Myself, I consider that I’m doing the musique actuelle, the music of today. Because you can spend your time doing the music of three hundred years ago, like the classical musicians. I think they are misguided, but somebody has to do it, because classical music will live forever. But the young people who are coming up now and still doing the same concertos, I can’t understand. But what else are they gonna do. I mean, there are not many Messiaens or Boulezs to write for the young musicians. And even if they were, the audience would not adhere to it. Because they were brought up with the classical music, and so they grew up, and the musicians are being replaced, they’re dying or they’re getting old, so they got to have new musicians come in, and they spend five years in the conservatory, learning to play Mozart’s concerto for clarinet, which is a beautiful piece. Have you heard Michel Portal’s version?

Crépon: I know very little about classical music.

McGhie: Oh, man. Michel Portal. He wasn’t there last night.

Crépon: He was supposed to show up, but ...

McGhie: Was his name on the program?

Crépon: Yeah. And David Murray, also.

McGhie: Oh, David Murray didn’t come?

Crépon: No. He was supposed to play with Bobby Few.

McGhie: And John Betsch. Oh, he didn’t show up? Is he in France?

Crépon: I guess so, but he wasn’t there.

McGhie: Oh well, there were enough people. They weren’t missed. Archie [Shepp] owes a lot to Gérard Terronès.

Crépon: He was his manager?

McGhie: Absolutely. Absolutely. When he was on tour with Gérard he would stay at Concorde, and he would have a suite.

Crépon: Do you think that Gérard played a big part in helping Shepp have a big career in France?

McGhie: Yes, of course. Of course. Gérard played a big part in the career of a lot of musicians. Gérard is a monster jazz organizer, and a helper of musicians. You saw the people who were there last night, they were not just n’importe qui, hein. They were people who count, in the music business. And Gérard counts a lot for us. I’m glad I went. When François Lemonnier contacted me, I said “yes, man, sure.” When François Jeanneau played “Lush Life” last night, it was heartbreaking. And the way he played it, improvised. You knew it from the first note that he was playing “Lush Life,” because you have a musical ear, but for the people who don’t have a musical ear, who are not familiar with the tunes, they would have to wait until the end to realize that he’s playing “Lush Life.” And he played with Alain Jean-Marie, Alain Jean-Marie was just like the accompagnateur for François Jeanneau. It was a marvelous thing to see and hear, man.

Crépon: Something I wanted to ask you about the Afro-Caribbean Project is how it’s related to your Space Spies band?

McGhie: Ah, there’s no relation.

Crépon: I’m asking because I saw that there was a 45 record with the “Heaven Is Real” tune in the eighties?

McGhie: Yes, yes, this was produced by Barney Wilen. And I also happened to meet his widow, sa veuve, Caroline de Bendern last night. She was also the wife of Jacques Thollot, who was another one of my favorite drummers, here in France. He died too. But back to your question, the relationship between Space Spies and the Afro-Caribbean Project is that Space Spies was influenced a lot by Miles Davis’ electric ... When Miles came out with ...

Crépon: Bitches Brew?

McGhie: Bitches Brew, right. I was influenced by Milford Graves, Sunny Murray — for the New York Contemporary Five [1964 Savoy recording] – when I became a professional musician, for the free jazz. I was influenced by the great drummers – Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Philly Joe Jones – for the technical ability. Because to play the free jazz, you have to have a technique, you have to have an insight into the music, you have to know what you’re talking about. Han Bennink, and John Stevens, not to leave out the European part of my influences, my masters. Han Bennink! When you’re talking about playing some drums and you leave Han Bennink out of it, you might as well just forget it, man, cause you don’t know what you’re talking about. And so, those are my influences. Because when I started, my first group was Action Music in London, and that was based closely on what Trevor Watts and John Stevens were doing.

Crépon: The name of the group was Action Music?

McGhie: Yeah, yeah, it was Action Music, go out and do something with the music. Make it active, make it work. Action. You know, action speaks louder than words. And, so, back to your question, which is a very good question, it’s all in a line of my development, my evolution in the music. I have to be doing something different. It has to be relative and have some sense, because music must grow. The music must grow, must progress. And, so, Space Spies was mostly binaire, and so, Afro-Caribbean Project is still binaire, but with a little bit of ternary, colors. It has ternary colors. And, the fact that I used some of the material from Space Spies, is also because one must use one’s own compositions to make a living from the music. If one’s gonna earn a little money, one must play one’s compositions. Even though Gérard is gone – he’s not gone, he’s just passed away – his influence is still here, because, last night I met Caroline de Bendern, who was Barney Wilen’s widow, and Barney Wilen had produced “Heaven Is Real,” which is on the new album and I wanted to find out how I can get back the edition from that 1983 recording, which has nothing to do with what we did in this Afro-Caribbean Project. It’s the same, it was written as a reggae, but it’s completely renovated.

Crépon: Were there also vocals on the first version?

McGhie: Oh yeah, it’s a song, it has to be sung.

Crépon: I haven’t heard it.

McGhie: Well, that’s okay, forget about that one.

Crépon: I’ll check it out. [laughter]

McGhie: My problem now is to get the whole project out there. Because people might think that the Afro-Caribbean Project is just the CD, but no, there’s a second part. I’m trying to get a video of the whole project done. The first part and the second part, that’s what I need. Because people don’t get to hear the second part, because it’s not on the album. The relationship between Space Spies and Afro-Caribbean Project is my desire to advance, to evolve in the music. Being always a Cartesian, always having René Descartes in the back of my mind. And also, to bring some of those master compositions from the bebop era back into reality, but differently. Cause people are still playing them, but they’re still making the mistake of playing “Everywhere Calypso” with a bebop rhythm section. I mean, Sonny Rollins is still alive, and if you asked him whose version of “Everywhere Calypso” he would prefer now, he would say Noel McGhie’s. I’m sure. Because that’s how he wrote it. He’s from the Virgin Islands, he’s born in the United States, but his parents are from the Islands, and he grew up with calypso. And I’m sure he would appreciate it, because it’s going back to what he had in mind, which would have been impossible to do in the fifties, would nobody play no calypso, baby, bebop was too hot. So the relationship between Space Spies and Afro-Caribbean Project is this desire to proceed vers l’avant, comme on dit en français, to advance.

Crépon: And Space Spies, it lasted from ...

McGhie: We made the album in 1975 [Noel McGhie & Space Spies]. But it started round about 1973, 1974. You know, I had different people. I had Ray Stephen Oche for a moment, a trumpet player from Nigeria. I had tried with Michel Alibo, who went with Sixun avec Paco Séry, a jazz-rock group, too. And various people, until we got around to recording, and then after the recording ...

Crépon: At first, it was only rehearsals, or was it a live band, playing gigs, before you recorded?

McGhie: It was a live band playing gigs, yeah yeah yeah. Live band playing gigs, yeah. It wasn’t just rehearsals, we rehearsed, but we played. We played the Gibus Club, and we weren’t a great success, because they didn’t like the guitar, they didn’t like the band, for some reason. But no, we played, we played the Dreher, in Châtelet, we played the École normale supérieure, rue d’Ulm. They used to have concerts there. We played around, yeah, yeah. We got a few gigs, man. We even played the radio. Maison de la radio, concerts for Maurice Cullaz. He was a great man. There was Maurice Cullaz, and there was André Francis. But André Francis was more sectaire, he would rather have stayed with the bebop. Whereas Maurice, he was going with the innovators. God rest his soul, too. He understood and appreciated the music.

Crépon: And so you did the record in ‘75 and after that, I found concerts with Space Spies at Gérard [Terronès]’s club, the Jazz Unité, so it lasted at least until ‘82?

McGhie: Right, right, we kept it going.

Crépon: So it’s at least ten years, with Space Spies?

McGhie: Yes, yes. I tried to keep going for as long as possible. And then, I played around with some other people, but I was most interested in having my own organization. I wasn’t interested in being the sideman, ideal sideman, attitré de celui-ci, you know. I played for a while with Hal Singer. That was a good experience. And he’s Mr. Bebop. And we even had a concert where the ex-president, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing wanted to jam with us. He purported himself as a musician, oh yeah, he played the accordion, and he played the piano. We had a gig, and it was an organization for his political party [laughter]. And he wanted to sit in, but it was being filmed, and I didn’t want my friends to see me accompanying Giscard d’Estaing. So I got up from the drums.

Crépon: [laughter] It’s too bad, I would have loved to see that!

McGhie: No no no, not me, baby! Giscard looked at me with these eyes ... You know, he was furious! We had, in this band, we had, the bass player was Jacky Samson, and I forgot what the piano player’s name was, he was a brilliant piano player. He was a student of this great jazz pianist that I really love, Bill Evans. Bill Evans’ student. And so I got up, because it was being filmed for TV, “I’m sorry Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, but anyway you shouldn’t be on stage with us, because, you know, we’re professional musicians.” He was playing at being a musician, you know. So, come on, man. But he was furious. He thought we should sit there and let him have his moment of glory. I said “no, sir, I’m sorry, your place is not on stage with us.” And I got up and walked away. He looked at me with such as a heinous regard, he could have killed me with that look. I said “yeah, baby, but I’m not going for it.” Cause all my friends think I’m communist, anyway [laughter]. So, yeah, I kept up playing with these people while trying to keep Space Spies alive. Space Spies should have been a great group.

Crépon: The record is remembered.

McGhie: I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a collector’s item. It has just been re-released for the sixth or seventh time. It made a fortune for Superfly [Records]. They also helped me, because they paid me for the license. What they paid me was just a small percentage of what they made, but I have nothing to say, because they came to me, and said “we want to put it out again, in a limited edition.” And so that’s how I managed to finance the Afro-Caribbean Project.

Crépon: I think it was also put out in Japan?

McGhie: From the same Superfly?

Crépon: No no, not from Superfly, from a Japanese label.

McGhie: Ah bon, really? I never heard about it. Well, [Itaru] Oki was an icon in Japan before he came here and so the fact that he’s on it would make it interesting for the Japanese. And he plays his ass off. It was him and Rão Kyao. It was the soloists that, you know ... The tunes were okay, but the solos were so brilliant. And the section, Georges Nouel and the bass player, Louis Xavier. But I had to move on from that, as I’m gonna, eventually, move on from the Afro-Caribbean Project too. But not now. Because we’re just starting. But I’m glad that people are still referring to my free jazz days. I’m really proud of that, you know. And I’m happy to collaborate if they call. If people say “we would like, you know, the Steve Lacy alumni.” For example. That was a period far, in my development, you know, and I was really à fonds into free jazz. I was completely devoted to free jazz, because it was exactly what I wanted to do. I was completely liberated, and I could play all my inventions. Cause I lived in Holland, and I lived in England, and I’m referring to two great drummers of that era that I could see regularly, which is John Stevens and Han Bennink. I would study them. I would go and see them regularly. And drink from the well. I’ve seen a film of Han Bennink playing with beboppers, accompanying beboppers, when they came on tour. And he was like, the Daniel Humair version, but he went further. He was pretty good as a bebopper, but as a spontaneous composer, he’s like unequaled. John Stevens too. These guys are unequaled. And these are, you know, along with Milford Graves and Sunny Murray, these are my teachers. These are the guys that convinced me that going that way would be the right way to go.

Crépon: And did you know Bennink personally?

McGhie: Yes, I lived in Holland. I know Bennink. And we used to do the same festivals. Gravensteen!

Crépon: This is something we should talk about, Gravensteen [festivals in Ghent].

McGhie: Gravensteen? [laughter] Oh my god, Gravensteen is a landmark. And thank God, one of the performances that we did with Lacy was recorded. Well, everything was recorded, because Paul Van Gysegem and Patrick De Groote were the ones that set that up and so everything was recorded. Rita De Vuyst got hold of a pirate copy, because she’s crazy about Lacy too. Everybody was crazy about Lacy. I’m still crazy about Lacy, his sound, his manner of being. And Rita put the album out [Gravensteen Ghent 1971: Naked Music 2004-2], and Paul Van Gysegem was a little bit upset. We got up there to make a concert for the promotion of the album: Steve Lacy Quintet, Kent Carter and Steve Potts, she invited us to come up there, as Steve Lacy alumni, for the promotion of the album. I don’t know what happened to that album.

Crépon: It’s hard to get a hold of it. It’s think it’s unavailable anywhere.

McGhie: That’s a dynamite album. But it’s like a diamond, diamonds are deep into the ground, you have to go dig for them. They’re not available to just anybody. I think our best job was Gravensteen. That was monstrous. We did many other album recordings after that.

Crépon: Did the fact that there were so many bands playing at those festivals at Gravensteen, nonstop music for twelve hours, did it play a part in pushing the music?

McGhie: No, no, the music was pushing the festival. Because they had a festival in Belgium before, when I was still in England, when Kenneth Terroade and Sunny Murray were here. It was another festival, but it was in a muddy field, and it wasn’t very good for the people. So after that, they decided to do it in this old castle in Ghent, Gravensteen. No, it didn’t push the music, the music had its élan, especially from BYG, the BYG recordings, in France. I don’t know when the Gravensteen festival started.

Crépon: The first one, it was a smaller edition, in ‘69. And I think the first big one was in ‘70. So you played in ‘71 there? And also ‘72?

McGhie: Yeah yeah, I played all of the festivals. The last festival I played was with my group. It was Space Spies. But it was a different ... It wasn’t binary, like we did finally. It was more free jazz. I had Bob Taylor, who was with Sunny Murray for a while. And I had ... I think it was Robert Scholer. That was the last version we did, in ‘73, with a version of Space Spies.

Crépon: And you played also with Byron Pope?

McGhie: Byron Pope, this is the name I’m looking for. Yeah, I played with him. We did a tour for the United States Information Service all over Morocco, with ...

Crépon: A friend of mine asked me to ask you about this tour.

McGhie: When was that ... It was in the seventies, 1972. Yes, yes, is he a Moroccan guy?

Crépon: Not at all, he’s French, an historian.

McGhie: We did all the major cities. And the Moroccan people they didn’t understand what we were doing.

Crépon: You were playing in the free style?

McGhie: Yes, of course, that’s all Byron does. That’s all Byron does. Byron Pope is a free jazz master. He played alto saxophone, and I think he’s still living in Switzerland, somewhere.

Crépon: Geneva, I think.

McGhie: He wouldn’t do anything else, and so people were astounded. Some Americans came by, and at the end of the concert, this American woman came on to me and said “well, we didn’t understand what you’re doing.” She was with this other friend, she was a black girl, an Afro-American girl, and she was with a Caucasian, her friend, and she said “I was trying to explain to my friend that you guys were just warming up, but you tuned up for two hours!” [laughter]. And some people wanted to stop the tour. Yeah, yeah. And so I made a speech and said “no, no, no, you can’t. We’re not stopping the tour because we are here to bring this version of jazz, it’s new, it’s brand new, and it’s very valid, and it’s gonna last, it’s not gonna die. You know? You might be used to hearing ... Not even bebop, but all the music that went on before, you know. Now this is what we have, here, it is what we’re bringing to you. This is the music that’s actuelle.”

Crépon: What type of places were you playing in Morocco?

McGhie: Oh, we played in theaters.

Crépon: So with large audiences?

McGhie: Large audiences and we had also, on the program, a Moroccan group called the Golden Hands, because the golden hand is an Islamic symbol, right? And so, they were part of the tour, and they were playing binary music, so that was more or less acceptable to the audience. But what we were doing, was totally new to them. They accepted it because we were foreign musicians and it was an offer from the United States government, because the Americans had libraries all over. They used to have libraries, the USIS. I don’t know if this organization still exists. So, yeah, theaters, we played in Rabat, Casablanca, all the major cities. We never played in Tangier.

Crépon: This is interesting, because there is very little information about free jazz in North Africa.

McGhie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Randy Weston was living there, but he wasn’t playing free jazz as such, he’s playing bebop. Yeah, free jazz is a very important music, it’s a very, very important music. It’s the next level from bebop. And what’s interesting is that some of the bebop musicians had turned to free jazz, after a while, it had overwhelmed them, and it was taking over, the new thing, and even at Newport, it was programmed at Newport in ‘69 or something like that.

Crépon: Sunny Murray played Newport in ‘69.

McGhie: Yeah, and that was the tour that they took in Europe that he was on, I think.

Crépon: Yeah, that was ‘68, when he played with Kenneth Terroade ...

McGhie: When Kenneth played with him! [laughter]

Crépon: And in ‘66 also, they had Albert Ayler on the Newport tour. I wanted to ask you, did you see the concert in London?

McGhie: Albert Ayler? No. No, no. I saw Ornette. I was at the concert when Yoko Ono met John Lennon, I was at the concert when she came with Ornette [in 1968]. He had Ed Blackwell and David Izenzon and the other bass player [Charlie Haden] ... And that’s when she stayed and met John Lennon, she was a free jazz artist, she’s not rock ’n’ roll at all. And she met Lennon. When I say outrageous, I mean in a good sense, because Lennon was also a very contemporary musician, and he liked odd things, he liked things that were unusual, you know. He made his money playing that. Not simple, you know, but beautiful, the Beatles, but outside of the Beatles, he was on an extraordinary search for new ideas, you know. And so he met her, and she was like, a very contemporary, a very contemporary artist.

Crépon: Was she doing her thing with the screaming?

McGhie: Yes, that’s what she did with Ornette. But she wasn’t doing that, she gave an exhibition. She was also a plasticienne. And she conquered Lennon because, you know, she had a little bit of renommée, of fame, because she was with Ornette. And when Ornette went back, her aura of being with Ornette, and the Melody Maker talked about her, she was given an exhibition. And one of her pieces was ... It was written on the ceiling and you had to climb up on a ladder to see that piece, and all it said was “you are here.” And that blew John Lennon away, you know, for him that was extraordinary, cause he was that sort of person, and he just fell in love with her. And that broke up the Beatles [laughter].

Crépon: Did you get to meet her?

McGhie: No no, I was into Ornette, and I wanted to meet Ed Blackwell, so I went up and met Ed Blackwell, by then Ornette had left the stage. I’m not sure, I might be mixing up those two concerts. I’m not sure she was there when I saw Ornette, or if I saw her with Ornette, but I know that every time Ornette came to London, I saw him, so I must have seen her too.

Crépon: I think there is a recording of Ornette in London with Ono, so it must be correct. I think it’s like a little piece included on one of Ono’s records with Lennon [Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band].

McGhie: But anyway she came with Ornette. And Ornette needed her vocal contributions to his experiences. But a piece like “Lonely Woman” … A piece like “Lonely Woman” is like ...

Crépon: When I read the first interview we did, I found it interesting that we nearly didn’t talk about Lacy, because it’s so obvious.

McGhie: Yes! We need to talk about Lacy, we must talk about Lacy. We must talk about Lacy. We can’t do an interview with Noel McGhie and not talk in-depth about Steve Lacy and François Tusques. You know, I could talk about Hal Singer, but we won’t talk about Hal Singer, because he’s not important in my development. Steve Lacy, François Tusques are ... We could say Marc Chagall, you know, too. But François Tusques, and Gérard Terronès are the people that got me to get Steve Lacy’s attention. Because Steve Lacy has a great love for François Tusques.

Crépon: I didn’t know that.

McGhie: Oh yeah, and it is reciprocal too. It is reciprocal. Because they played together, before I got here, right?

Crépon: Oh, I didn’t know about it.

McGhie: So François Tusques brought me to the attention of Steve Lacy, cause I was playing with Tusques, and so Lacy heard me, and so when he recruited me, and we played some magnificent concerts, we were living like rock ’n’ roll stars, we were on and off the planes. When we went to Lisbon [in 1972, for the concert issued on Estilhaços], we had a chauffeured limousine, and at the same time, Salazar, the extreme right government was in power, and when we got to the airport, television crews were waiting for us. We made headline news. Yeah. I mean, we were the first group to get in there. We were being watched by the secret service people, they thought that we were revolutionaries, which in fact we are, we were at that time. The concert was an immense success, because it was a breath of freedom for the Portuguese people in Lisbon. And the guy who organized the concert, he must have been considered as a dissident, his name was José Duarte. He had a radio program. He brought us over there. So, there was a resistance to the Salazar regime, and what was so beautiful about this is that the same Alain Mingam that brought me to Paris, he happened to be in Portugal when the revolution broke, and he took a picture. I did mention this already in the first interview, but I have to say it again, he took a picture of one of the military crying, in tears, when the regime collapsed. And that photo put him on the map. Just like Tusques took me and put me in the attention of Lacy, and Lacy put me on the world scene. Yeah, so we must talk about Lacy. Well, Lacy was playing with Gil Evans and Irène Aebi was babysitting for Gil Evans, for his two young children, when they were in the States. And so, I don’t know much about his career before he came here, but he came here playing Monk, because he played ... What is a bit unfortunate is that he never recorded with Monk.

Crépon: There was no album, but there was a tape for the radio or something like that, which came out a few years ago. So there is one recording [Steve Lacy, School Days (Emanen 2011 edition)].

McGhie: Oh, okay, that’s good to know. Because he used to tell us stories of him and Monk rushing around New York, they would have two or three concerts in the same day, in Nica de Koenigswarter’s Bentley. You know who Nica de Koenigswarter is?

Crépon: Yeah, the Baroness.

McGhie: A Rothschild, the Baroness Rothschild. And Thelonious died at her apartment, because, you know, Thelonious became ill. And he went to live at Nica’s. And Steve Lacy used to tell me about stories like that and he spent years playing with Monk. And he came over here playing Monk, before he went out with the free jazz. Did you know that?

Crépon: Yeah. Actually he was the one who made me love Monk, because I got into Lacy through the free jazz, and then I listened to the solo recordings where he plays beautiful Monk pieces, and I came to Monk the other way around, through Lacy.

McGhie: And I came to Monk when I started with my friend who went to Canada, his name is Bob Arthurs, I have to mention his name. We used to play together in England when I first got my drums, so we used to play duo. We had concerts. Piano and drums. And one of our favorite tunes was “Blue Monk” [sings theme]. And so I was into Monk before I went to the free jazz. I didn’t jump into free jazz. I got into free jazz because I realized it was the music of the future, not that bebop was dead, but there was a dynamic in free jazz, a liberation, a liberating ability in it, the potential for us young musicians to move on, right?

Crépon: And create a new space.

McGhie: Yeah, yes.

Crépon: And so I guess that your love for Monk was important in the connection with Lacy?

McGhie: Oh no, I found out that Lacy was connected with Monk after, I didn’t know anything about him. I mean, I knew about him because I bought his album, but I didn’t know that he had spent so much time with Monk, that he was so into Monk. I found that out later. No, the connection with Lacy was the fact that I had bought his album when I was a young up and coming aspiring musician in London. Well, I had an album with Kenny Clarke and Dizzy and all that. But it was what we called a plate, it was cassable and it broke. But the first album that I actually went out and bought with my own money was an album of Lacy, and I listened to it religiously. The fact that he was playing the soprano saxophone that nobody else was playing, and something that he has, on the soprano, that beautiful, perfect sound. Perfect sound. Playing with Lacy and being with him every night, on stage ... You can’t imagine the ecstasy that comes from that, you know.

Crépon: Was he working a lot on his own compositions?

McGhie: Yeah, yeah, when I got with him, he had finished with the Monk period. That was over. Thank God, because there’s no way that you could turn Monk around. To do the music that we did, we had to invent melodies and new tunes. We couldn’t take liberties; Monk’s compositions are so perfect, it would have been a bit of disrespect to play them in a contemporary way. Even though they’re very contemporary, Monk was the original. I think he was the one that set the way for the new music. I think he might have been the one that set the way. Monk himself is very revolutionary in his approach to composing. And even his piano style, he’s not orthodox at all in his approach to his piano technique. People used to say that he couldn’t play the piano. People will always talk. But the people who talk are the ones who don’t know what they’re talking about. Lacy, later, he won that prize, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for literature, it wasn’t Nobel, but it was a prize for music, I don’t know what it’s called. It was designated for Sun Ra, but Sun Ra didn’t have a structure, apparently his tunes weren’t even deposed. So there was no way that they could give him a large check. So what happened to Steve Lacy was that. When he got that money, he didn’t declare it to the French tax system, and by the time they called he had already spent the money with Irène [laughter]. They had spent the money. Then they started asking about all the money that he had been making since he was here. And the money was being declared by the people who were paying us. He paid everybody and saved money – and we were making good money, hein – and so, the tax people came down on him and asked him for some enormous amount of money. And he didn’t know what to do. He could never pay that. And there was one particular man who was his tax supervisor. L’impôt, en français. And this guy said “I’m gonna hound you to death,” and he had a thing against Lacy. And Lacy didn’t know what to do, he had to leave. And then one time we went to Germany but it didn’t work out. I don’t know what happened in Germany, I can’t understand why it didn’t work for him in Germany. John Stevens had gone to Sweden, and it didn’t work out for him, he went back to England. I didn’t have any problem, when I came to Paris, it worked out for me perfectly. I created my space, brought my children up here.

Crépon: We talked about what was special about Lacy as a person, maybe we could talk about the creative process? The work process with him?

McGhie: Well, he would come up with tunes, and of course he would have some bass lines but he would have no drum parts at all. And sometimes he would say “you haven’t got it yet,” and then he would say “heels and toes” when he wanted to talk about tempo. Heels and toes, because the old guys they used to [sings binary rhythm], tap your foot to keep the tempo. And he would say this is a heels and toes, what he was saying was it was a straight tempo. In the beginning, he had told me “whatever you do, don’t swing,” but he had moved on in his appreciation, because it was two years after, you know. We stayed together, he didn’t have another drummer. The group was the group, you know what I’m saying? Bass, drums, a quintet, we didn’t have no piano. It was a quintet. He had Bobby Few for a minute, and he had Michael Smith ...

Crépon: I don’t know too much about him.

McGhie: Yeah, no no, he’s not really important in the scheme of the musical thing. He was a medical doctor and decided to become a piano player. We’re just talking about pianists who were with Lacy. Lacy came up with melodies, extraordinary melodies. To which he doesn’t want you to play a drive, like for instance when he composed [“The Highway”], [sings bass line and theme], and so you’re free, but then you have to know that this is a song about the traffic, and the cars, and all over the cities, all over the world, there’s traffic all the time and it’s a hum [sings bass line], vehicles, constantly. So my job was to come up and lay down the volume of the traffic and the streets and the rolling of the [sings hum]. And I had a whistle, because in those days the traffic cops had a whistle, they still do, when they want to stop a car. So I had a whistle, and it worked out great. When we went in the studio, he brought the tunes in, and of course he had bass parts for the structure, for the solidity of the structure and then I was completely free, which was exactly what I wanted, to be able to take part in his creative process, get into his mind and see how I could strengthen the melodic line that he brings up. And then I would play the same thing all the time, in concerts. Even though it seemed like what I’m doing had no structure, but it was very structured. The sounds were in place, the sounds were meant to be in place where they were. And the cymbals that I chose, and the dynamics that I would put out, it wasn’t just ... I wasn’t going in stoned or drunk or anything like that, you had to be completely lucid, clair, you know. Cause his compositions were so beautiful that you could not just throw any kind of accompaniment out there and say “okay, that’s good, that might work.” We had rehearsals.

Crépon: A lot?

McGhie: Yes, yes, we had a lot of rehearsals.

Crépon: Lacy gives the impression of someone who was extremely serious about his work.

McGhie: Oh yeah, oh yes. Yeah, yeah. He’s a monster of creativity. I thank heavens I had the occasion to have, you know, worked with him. With such an artist, with such a giant of the music. He’s a giant of the music. By associating with him, a little bit of that, his greatness, rubs off on me, and his exigence. He was exigent. You couldn’t just play n’importe quoi. You couldn’t just do anything. No, he was exigent, it had to fit in what he wanted. And he would let you know, he used to say “no no no, it’s not there yet, you haven’t got it yet.” Even though he told me not to swing, I said “do you want me to swing?” No, not swing, but there’s a tune, there’s a line out there and you’re not with it yet. “You haven’t got it yet,” he said. Yet, that was like after two years, huh? That was a new tune. He was talking about the new tune, “you haven’t got this one, yet, you haven’t got it, yet.” But he was serious. You know, “that’s not it, it’s not working.” You tried to find out what you’re gonna put in and how you’re gonna make a contribution to his creation, because it’s all right to write a tune or write a melody, but a melody doesn’t stand up on its own.

Crépon: It’s an interesting process, because at the same time he’s not directing you but he wants you to be at certain point, you’re free to get there on your own, but you have to.

McGhie: Absolutely. He’s expecting something from you. You must get there.

Crépon: And as you were saying, it’s also important to talk about François Tusques.

McGhie: Ah yeah, Tusques is a ... I wouldn’t say he’s my mentor – my mentors were the guys I knew in England, who helped me on my way, my first steps into the music, you know, my apprentissage, those are my mentors. When I got with Tusques, I was already formed, and like I said, I was jamming with Jef [Sicard], who played last night, and he’s the only survivor of the group that lived in the house we talked about. I’ve known him for forty-seven years, we’ve played in different organizations, and last night, after he got off, he said “yeah, we decided we’re gonna form a group with you in it,” he didn’t ask me if I wanted to play, “we decided that we’re forming a group, we’re trying to find a bass player.” I said, “Call me.” It’s a pleasure, because I’m in a position of leader, now, I am the one who selects the musicians, but those older guys that I grew up with, in France, we were young men together. And he said “yeah man, here’s the piano player and we’re just trying to find a bass player.” He decided that they’re gonna form a group and Noel McGhie’s gonna be in it. I said, “Cool,” you know. So, when I met François Tusques, I was already formed. He’s not my mentor, but he is the vector that got me off.

Crépon: Could you describe the music that you were playing with him, at first?

McGhie: Free.

Crépon: Very free?

McGhie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Crépon: He was already composing a lot of tunes.

McGhie: Yes, he started with his compositions, and like we said, the first thing we did was his projects, I remember we did a project, the opéra chinois.

Crépon: Ah yeah, La prise de la montagne du Tigre?

McGhie: Yes! Yes! I can remember that trumpet line now. I can remember that line now. It was very strict, very strict. But they always counted on me to make a contribution to what they had composed. Lacy, as well as Tusques, as well as Mal Waldron. The only person I had any problem with was Anthony Braxton, because he was too much of an intellectual. He intellectualized the music too much. I mean this is music that had no soul. It was cold. Yeah, because, he wants to organize everything, all the instruments and all parts, you know. No, it doesn’t work like that. You have to find musicians, come up with melodies. My greatest pleasure is when the musicians leave my rehearsal singing one of my melodies. They leave rehearsals actually singing one of my melodies, you know. Tusques had Bernard Vitet, hein, with him. Bernard Vitet, with François Jeanneau, they used to call them l’eau et le gaz, because at all the sessions, there were those two. One had l’eau et le gaz, parce que in France, you can still see in some of the buildings gaz au troisième étage. And growing up as children, those guys, ils n’avaient pas water and gas, in the apartments. And so those were the two mainstays of all the sessions, you know, that were going on. And [Vitet], he was there, so I had the best to begin with.
Crépon: Do you remember if the tunes Tusques was playing at the time are the tunes that are on his solo piano record, Piano Dazibao?

McGhie: Yeah. Yes. Dazibao.

Crépon: It was his répertoire from this record?

McGhie: Yeah, and he went from that to create projects. And the project that we did first was La Chasse au snark.

Crépon: About Lewis Carroll?

McGhie: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Crépon: Could you describe this project a bit, because it was not issued on record.

McGhie: Well, it was a project. It had a name and an atmosphere. You had to have the atmosphere of these guys hunting snarks. They used to go out, chasing these animals, for their living. We rehearsed, and we talked about it, and he would start with what you call Italian type rehearsals. We would sit around and talk about each person’s part. When you come in, when you go out. It was organized. François, sometimes, he would get upset with me because I wasn’t following the line. He had no drum parts, but at the same time we talked about it, and I had played a line in one rehearsal, and if I didn’t play the same color at the same place at the next rehearsal, he would notice. And he would say “that’s not what you played yesterday.” But he was right, because the music has to be consistent, whenever we play, it has to be just like a bebop piece, theme, you know AABA, improvisations, back to the theme. So he had that same process, only we were not expected to play the chabada, that was out. But at the same time, the instruments, you still have the same cymbals, and drums and all that, and brushes. Like I said in the first part of the interview, I started playing with sticks, so I wasn’t playing drum rolls, traditional rolls, because the branches that I was using to play the drums wouldn’t sustain, they weren’t rigid enough to sustain the pressure that is required to make a drum roll. So there were no drum rolls. But there were splashes, and that was the splash, like the water hitting, the waves, and you could hear it coming. And he loved that. That was, like, an innovation, nobody else was doing that. No other drummers were playing that. But he was very precise in his project, in what he wanted to do. His compositions, and, you know, the sections. We had huge sections, you know, trombone, and trumpet sections, saxophones.

Crépon: Do you remember the other musicians who were part of it?

McGhie: Oh yeah, we had Jo Maka, Jo Maka was one of his mainstay, and Ramadolf — Adolf Winkler – too was on that. Some people were not even really professional musicians, they had other métiers, but they used to come, because he was ... He needed twelve musicians for each project, you know. I can’t remember all the names. But I remember Jo Maka, Ramadolf, evidently Bernard Vitet, and there was another trumpet player. Sometimes we used the [Free Jazz] Workshop de Lyon and the ensembles, if we were down there, Saint-Étienne, in that area, we joined up with them, rehearsed, and incorporate them.

Crépon: Yeah, it brings to mind something I found about Avignon.

McGhie: Yeah, we played at Avignon, we went to Avignon, at the festival off at the Théâtre du Chêne noir. I think we might have inaugurated the Théâtre du Chêne noir. This must have been 1970.

Crépon: Or ‘71. I think there were two. In ’70, I think Clifford Thornton was there, and in ‘71 I know for sure that you were there with Tusques, and that there were also a lot of people like the Frank Wright Quartet, and the guys from Lyon ...

McGhie: Right, right. Yes, that was at the Théâtre du Chêne noir, the festival d’Avignon, in what we call the festival off. But those were magical periods. It was magical, magical. We would spend the whole month, the whole festival. We had a house and I had my family, I had my children.

Crépon: Okay, everyone coming along.

McGhie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I still have pictures. And we stayed, had a house out there, and then we would go in in the afternoons, go to the theater, and it was good. We had people, we could afford to spend all the time there. We had the whole time, the theater had different programs, we weren’t the only one, we had like one hour and a half, and then other groups were there, and then there were plays and things and comédie. And the Théâtre du Chêne noir, I think they had just renovated or got a new theater or something. And it’s still going on.

Crépon: Do you know if Gérard Terronès had something to do with that?

McGhie: No, no, Gérard Terronès didn’t have anything to do with that.

Crépon: I’m asking because he recorded the guys from the Chêne noir, made a record out of a play [Aurora].

McGhie: Oh, really? No, he didn’t have anything to do with us being with the Chêne noir. Maybe, it could have been. I wouldn’t say no. It was all new for me, and that Terronès had any part in the organization, I don’t really think so, he might have recorded. Because the Chêne noir wasn’t a jazz theater, it was a théâtre. There was the Palais des papes, and there was the Chêne noir. Recently, they developed another place in Avignon at which I played with Marius Lorenzini. But it had nothing to do with the festival.
Crépon: Another project which I think you were a part of, with Tusques, was something else which was not recorded, a show which was titled Qui a tué Albert Ayler? [in 1971]. You remember that?

McGhie: No.

Crépon: You were playing at two drummers, you and Oliver Johnson.

McGhie: Really?

Crépon: Yeah! It was a big formation, and if my information is correct, when the concert started – it was a short time after Ayler died – some tapes of Ayler were played, some pictures shown, and after that you came in. And you played, two drummers. You don’t remember that?

McGhie: No, but I don’t remember everything! I can’t remember everything we did with François. I remember we went up to, not Geneva; but, we played in Switzerland for a homage to Boris Vian. I remember we did that, but, yeah, the thing for Albert Ayler, vaguely. Vaguely. You sure it was me? It might have been with Jacques Thollot.

Crépon: I think it was you, if you want I can find the review and send it.

McGhie: Okay, that’d be cool. Yeah. We might have done that, yeah. À la Cartoucherie de Vincennes, also, we did some stuff. I remember we had, if my memory is serving me right, we had Rafael Garrett. It might have been in one of Tusques’ projects.

Crépon: I think so, yeah.

McGhie: So, Garrett and Oliver Johnson, they came from California. They used to play together in California. And they formed the rhythm section of the French violin player, Ponty. I never played with Jean-Luc Ponty myself. So it could have been one of Tusques’ projects. But Tusques had so many projects. So many projects. He had one project in which we had to come out of the ceiling with a candle [laughter].

Crépon: What? [laughter]

McGhie: We came, that was a theater, au Théâtre Noir ou quelque chose noir, dans le treizième arrondissement, and we did that. What was that theater called? Pas le Chêne noir, but something noir, quelque chose. We had invested that theater for a long time, too.

Crépon: What was the thing with the candles?

McGhie: I’m trying to remember the name of that show. We had Jean-Denis Bonan – he’s a cinéaste – and he directed the piece. It was that sort of piece, I mean, it was well constructed. And we didn’t appear on stage, but we appeared on stage from different parts of the theater. With a candle, you know. And when we arrived on stage, by the time we arrived on stage, the other people were already playing, and then you come in. What was the name of that piece? Oh my god. That was a brilliant piece. Another idea of Tusques. [Le Jardin des délices, at the Théâtre Dunois, in 1991-1992.] So the one we had two drummers. I remember we played two drummers with the Celestrial Communication Orchestra.

Crépon: With that orchestra, you did only Royan, or also other dates?

McGhie: Ah non, we did a lot of stuff.

Crépon: Were you at Vincennes, also? With the Celestrial, at the Parc de Vincennes [in 1971]?

McGhie: All the other concerts that we did were at the auditorium of the [IACP] school, in Oberkampf [in the ‘80s]. Cause the school had an auditorium, where the Celestrial would play. We did a lot of concerts there. But the only other that I can remember was at Festival de Royan. That was a monster concert, we had Ambrose [Jackson]. Everybody was on that concert. Ambrose Jackson, Anthony Braxton.

Crépon: If you’re interested, there’s a full tape of one the Royan concerts. What’s on the official CD is only about half of the music.

McGhie: No, no. I moved on, I’m not nostalgic, I don’t go back to see what I did. I don’t listen to what I did. Even with recent material, I listen to it to make the necessary corrections, and I play the tunes on stage because the idea is to have the project, take it out, to the people. But once it’s done, even if the people tape the concert, I don’t listen to it. I don’t listen to my past recordings. We recorded with Tusques, we made a live recording of “Les amis d’Afrique,” I think it was called [on Blue Suite]. With Denis Colin. Did we have a bass player? No. After Beb [Guérin] died, we couldn’t find a bass player to replace Beb. So we never played with a bass player. We haven’t played with a bass player.

© 2018 Pierre Crépon

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