I met with author and jazz lover Richard Bruce Clay in the pleasant surroundings of Chemistry Café on Stourbridge High Street on a sunny day in July to chat about his passion for free jazz and in particular the playing of Paul Dunmall. I first became aware of Richard as a performance poet in the days when I myself performed regularly at the Barlow Theatre in Langley at their regular poetry evenings. Later I began to see him around at various jazz gigs at The Red Lion in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton. My portrait of Richard sees him gazing from the window of Chemistry Café on 25 July 2016.
By Garry Corbett
Says Richard: “I’ve been listening to jazz since the early to mid ’80s, getting into it in a predictable way. To someone who likes Hawkwind it’s not long before Can and Soft Machine start to sound good. To someone who likes Can and Soft Machine, The Ganelin Trio are going to appeal. And then, Ornette Coleman is just around the corner.”
He gave me more background: “By ’86, I was living downstairs from a jazz drummer in Swansea, and going to a few early editions of the Brecon Festival, which was on a scale that could not happen today; plenty of people were still alive and active from a time when jazz was at the centre of popular music, and profits from the Humph and Melly gigs that they so loved could pay for a lot that was more leftfield.”
“Back in the Midlands in ’89, I got to be a regular at Jazz Club Friday, which by then was at The Cannonball in Adderley Street and where, among other things, I got to hear the Dean/Dunmall/Rogers/Levin Quartet, and the Rutherford/Haslam ‘1989 and All That’ duet. It was around then that Everything Changed – the notorious John Zorn’s Naked City gig of November 1989 at the Adrian Boult had the mainstream scurrying for the exits in a petulant frenzy.
“What’s been most noticeable over the succeeding quarter century has been the emergence of a strong local body of players – often under the guidance of the shamanic but affable Paul Dunmall. After the end of Jazz Club Friday in ‘91, most of the best performances to be heard in Birmingham would come from visiting musicians. Now, you’re as likely to hear something first-rate from someone who might have come no further than from Moseley or Halesowen. The sadly missed Tony Levin and Andy Hamilton have left an incredible local legacy.”
As an author Richard is responsible for three published novels. “In 2002, I began writing seriously with a short novel called She’s Alone. This is the story of the last woman left alive on earth after being female has been made illegal. It will appeal to fans of Clifford D Simak and Joanna Russ, as well as to people who like Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Later, I wrote a long novel called Both, about occult magic and religious obsession in the Black Country. Strictly for the Robert Anton Wilson fans and the Crowley-heads.”
Richard’s latest novels is Kingswinford Sunset. “Its a story of family dysfunction and bloody vengeance in leafy suburbia. This one is where I found my voice. and where I explain how and why music is important to me,” he says.
Richard recommends the following 5-a-day:
1 Middlemarch by George Eliot
2 Macbeth by William Shakespeare
3 Tokyo Story, a film by Yasujirō Ozu
4 John Coltrane: Coltrane At the Village Vanguard 1961 (box set)
5 Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake
Chemistry Café on Stourbridge High Street is HERE.
Photo and words © Garry Corbett