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Ken Colyer on Video:
Rare Footage from the Vaults

Upbeat URDVD267



1. There’s Yes Yes in Your Eyes

2. Blue Skies

3. New Iberia Blues

4. Gate Mouth

5. My Life Will Be Sweeter Some Day

6. Salutation March

7. Storyville Blues (a.k.a. Those Draftin’ Blues)

8. Sing On

9. Just a Little While to Stay Here

10. Gettysburg March

Recorded at Langley Vale Village Hall, Epsom, Surrey, on Dec., 20, 1986.

Ken Colyer – Cornet, vocal (track 9)

Mike Pointon – Trombone

George Berry – Clarinet, tenor sax

Ray Foxley – Piano

John Griffith – Banjo

Alyn Shipton – Tuba

Colin Bowden – Drums

At the outset, let us get the caveats out of the way. Upbeat and Mike Pointon, who wrote the note on the back cover of the DVD case, readily admit to the shortcomings of this DVD—it is of amateur quality with grainy black-and-white photography, uncertain focus at times, sound that is less than hi-fi, and a slight lack of sync between video and sound. Small wonder that Liz Biddle of Upbeat had to think long and hard about issuing it.

Fortunately, however, she decided to go ahead, and the result is Upbeat has made another contribution to documenting the history of jazz in the U.K. by making it available. Ken Colyer is generally acknowledged as being one of the central figures in traditional jazz in Britain, but the film offerings of him in performance are slim; so this video, some sixty-eight and a half minutes long, helps augment their number. Although this was not the “classic” Ken Colyer band, it is a very respectable one, given the personnel, and as is almost always the case, is molded by Colyer into a “Colyer band.” Some were members of previous Colyer bands, including Bowden and Foxley, and intermittently Pointon had played with Colyer.

Other than Just a Little While to Stay Here, with a largely off-mike vocal by Colyer, and Gettysburg March, the tunes on this playlist are not among those frequently recorded by Colyer to my knowledge, so there is the opportunity to hear some less-than-familiar Colyer renditions. Despite his having been ill and, not long after this date, having to give up playing his horn, he is still on good form here. His wah-wah mute work is fine, but despite the hat mute’s being there, he does not make much use of it, unfortunately. His band mates follow along, handling flawlessly the segues in the marches from march time to four-four and providing support as necessary for the rest. Colyer’s solos are all worth listening to, as is usually the case, and in the New Orleans tradition he backs those of the others with sympathetic riffing, just as they do for him. Adequate opportunity is given everyone to explore each number, the selections’ lengths varying between five-and-a-half and eight-and-a-half minutes duration, but only the front line and piano avail themselves of such chances to solo. Musically the performance overall is very satisfying.

In addition, we also get a good sense of the club and the club atmosphere (smoky!) as the videographer, from time to time, has the camera pan the audience, which at one point includes a woman knitting as she listen to the music and at another a young lad sitting in front wearing a shirt and tie (!) who seems to be engrossed with the music. Later in the video we see he has moved to the rear side of the band to be close to Bowden to get a proper look at what he is doing. These shots establish a kind of intimacy, pulling us into the proceedings—we get the feeling of being there.

I have no hesitation in recommending this video disc, given the caveats listed above. The folks at the Upbeat label have been very forthright in bringing these to the buyer’s attention, so there should be no surprises. Liz Biddle and Upbeat have to be congratulated for making this video available and adding to the story of British jazz. Colyer aficionados will want to waste no time in adding it to their collections.

More information is available at the Upbeat web site,

Bert Thompson

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