Interview with Tony Irving: Well it’s always best to play without thinking too much: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz drummer Tony Irving. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Tony Irving: – I’m originally from Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North of England, but I haven’t lived there for over 30 years. I moved to London when I was 22 and I now live in Brisbane in Australia. I had an interest in music from my teenage years and used to go and see a lot of music, which I still do. I wasn’t really a jazz fan, although I remember seeing Jacques Loussier in the early 80’s when he was doing his Pulsion at the Newcastle Jazz festival. I really discovered Jazz when I walked into my local record shop and they were playing Machine Gun by Peter Brötzmann. I could say that instant my life was changed forever. I think for the next 5 years I didn’t listen to anything other than Free Jazz. It got to the point when I couldn’t understand other kinds of music. Of course, all that has changed now and I listen to and find all sorts of music inspiring

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

TI: – I was originally a guitarist and I was trying to get a band together. We were kind of playing experimental rock and I was trying to explain to the drummer what rhythms I wanted him to play. I think he got frustrated and didn’t turn up for the next rehearsal, but he did leave his drums, so I sat down and never got back off the drum stool. I’ve never had any lessons, except for one on a recent trip to Cuba when I had a lesson on the tumbadoras. So, on the drumkit I’m completely self-taught. I played free jazz style for about twenty years and really avoided playing a regular beat. Only relatively recently I’ve learnt to play in a straight-ahead rock style. I don’t think it’s affected my style too much though, it’s just an evolution.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

TI: – I don’t really have any practice routine that I follow. I have a practice kit at home (with mesh heads so they don’t annoy the neighbours too much), which is great to just sit down for 10 minutes or so to try things out. I try to play every day, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I think every time I play the drums I find some different angle I can take off on.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

TI: – I think my style is so intense that it doesn’t really get affected by outside influences, although sometimes I’d welcome them. Being self-taught is a blessing and a curse.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

TI: – I’m quite an active person, I cycle a lot. I recently found out the recently deceased great drummer, Ginger Baker originally wanted to be a professional cyclist and cycling long distances helped his stamina, so maybe that works for me too. My playing is pretty intense. When I first started playing in Ascension, I used to get tired, and that was kind of when the performance would end! I’ve since learned that you can hit the drum hard without using as much energy.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

TI: – Well it’s always best to play without thinking too much. That specifically goes for improvisation. I was listening to Black Beings by Frank Lowe earlier today and realised that I completely understood what they were doing on that record. I couldn’t explain it or put it into words, but it is a language that I speak.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

TI: – Well, I’m not too sure if I do! I play what I like and assume if I like it, then other people will like it as well. I realise that what I play isn’t to everybody’s taste and there’s probably never going to be a big audience for it. But it’s art and art should never be a compromise.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

TI: – In the mid 90’s I was in a duo with Stefan Jaworzyn on guitar as Ascension, we have a few CD’s and LP’s out. We did a tour of UK as Descension with the addition of Simon Fell on bass and Charley Wharf on saxes. Thurston Moore, from the rock band Sonic Youth, asked us to support them in London. It was probably the most memorable gig I’ve ever played. The crowd was around 2000 people, so it was possibly one of the biggest gigs I’ve ever played. We started playing and plastic beakers started raining down on the stage – the hostility in the crowd was unbelievable! When we finished, half the crowd cheered and half the crowd booed! I’ve yet to hear that kind of reaction at a gig again.

We also played another gig at the same time with luminaries of the London Jazz scene, Lol Coxhill, Pat Thomas, Alan Wilkinson and the two guitarists from Sonic Youth, Thurston and Lee Ranaldo. We played one long continuous piece and we’d go off and come back on when it felt right. I remember a fantastic duo with Pat Thomas. Thankfully, the audience were a lot more receptive on that occasion.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

TI: – Well, people should just play what they want. I’ve never played a standard, I mean, I have no interest in playing standards. I love and feel enamoured of being a part of Jazz history, but it’s filled with people going against the grain. The Thelonious Monk’s, Charlie Parker’s, Cecil Taylor’s of this World are what move the artform forward. To me that’s what Jazz is, it shouldn’t be looked at as an ancient artform, it is an evolution.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

TI: – The Great Chris Corsano told me that your brain acts quicker than you can think. That’s your spirit talking.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

TI: – That it would be easier to book gigs. It really is the bane of my life!

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

TI: – I don’t really listen to a lot of jazz. For me, jazz is a more of a live experience. I find inspiration in all sorts of music; I don’t really differentiate between genres. I’m currently listening to Solange, FKA twigs and Lana Del Rey, love them all.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

TI: – I suppose ultimately, I’m trying to play something that hasn’t been done before. I read somewhere the experimental guitarist Elliot Sharp said (and I’m paraphrasing) that you’re just waiting for a piece of art that will change your life. If I could have that effect on someone then I’ve achieved my goal.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go?

TI: – Probably around 1964 in New York City. A young Albert Ayler, playing with John Coltrane, Milford Graves on drums, Gary Peacock on bass, maybe Don Cherry is there as well. It would be at the Village Vanguard. Don’t know if it ever happened, but if it did, I would have loved to have been there. A while back I went to the Village Vanguard – I mean hallowed ground! But the size of the place really put things into perspective. This was a small scene.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

TI: – So how did your association with jazz come about, did you play or were you always just a fan?

JBN: – I am jazz critic – JJC. I don’t play any instrument, I am the organizer of jazz festivals, concerts, collector and yes, a fan.

JBN: – So, putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

TI: – Well, Vitriol & The Third Oraculum seems to be getting some recognition and we have the Cyclone Trio gig at Café Oto in London on March 10th and Cyclone Trio CD to look forward to. That’s not too bad is it?

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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