The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
When Lol Coxhill was busking, it was as if you among passing thousands could hear his soprano saxophone all over London in every crevice of brick, concrete and tar.
His notes, pouring from his spiky horn over the Thames from his favourite spots like Waterloo Bridge or outside Embankment station, flowed as if they were comrades of nature to the Thames water as it was sucked under the arches and rolled on towards estuary and sea, all around the world.
Coxhill died earlier this year. London pigeons lost an accompanist and music lost a master. Not a hidebound, studio-bound or conservatory-bound master, but a virtuoso of the streets, the small venues and anywhere where democratic souls would listen, marvel and learn from his artistry of the byways.
Listening to him on these albums, all on the British-based Slam label produced by his old confrere, baritonist George Haslam, you realise again how his sound, brilliantly terse and unique, full of edge, surprise, audacity and lyrical beauty, expressed the truly human spirit of music, simultaneously of the ordinary and the glorious - and always of the real world, of humour, pain, discovery, perplexity, happiness and inordinate skill.
From Whichford Hill is an album shared with Haslam, pianist Richard Leigh Harris and bassist Steve Kershaw.
It was recorded live in 2006 in the acoustic sanctuary of Oxford's Holywell Music Room, which seems like a galaxy away from the streets of London.
Perhaps it was a venue Coxhill dreamed of because he plays like a timbral prophet.
In this room where history eats the ears, Coxhill and Haslam's horns sound as if the past has backfired on the present, particularly on the title track, where Kershaw's strings seem to dig deep into the Thames earth.
The Waltz Of The Happy Buddhas gives Leigh Harris some joyously jaunty passages, but it is during Coxhill's 13-minute solo piece Alone And Unnoticed that memories of his lonesome busking erupt in the listener's mind - his breathiness, his lyricism on the edge of sound, his human birdsong, his sudden unique and utterly spontaneous melodies carry you with the eastern Thamesflow from Oxford to his old pitches in central London.
There's a whirling flourish of Coxhill's soprano notes to begin All In One Uphill before his confreres enter and Haslam's baritone growls its response.
And then there is the concluding imperative, Forward, Forward, Forward, Stupid Criminals!
Is he addressing his bandmates? Or the listeners? Or the world's people?
Who knows, only the breath and power of the horns.
Sixteen years earlier, Coxhill was at the same venue with Haslam, Yorkshire pianist Howard Riley and the south London trombone genius Paul Rutherford for the recording of The Holywell Concert.
Riley and Coxhill begin the proceedings with the serpentine curves of In Transit and the vocalese banter and throttle of Rutherford's unique solo slides are garrulous all through Half Pisced.
There's a three-way horn colloquy in the solos and exchanges of No How, and Gliss is all Coxhill, beautifully recorded and resonant with his solo soul.
The final track Oxford is the full quartet unleashing and Coxhill is playing as a true co-operator, as he did as a member of the 30-plus-strong London Improvisers' Orchestra or rock-steady bands with Rico Rodriguez or bop formations with Stan Tracey and Bobby Wellins - full of empathy, sonic unity and ensemble generosity with whomever he shared the performance.
In July 1999 the Slam label celebrated its 10th anniversary with a "Slam-fest" at The Premises in London. Among the delights on the twofer CD that was cut are three tracks by CHAR (Coxhill, Haslam and Rutherford) where the musical comradeship of the three veteran hornmen reaches a true communal apex.
CHAR 1 is almost 20 minutes long and is full of breath, fire and astonishing notes. Coxhill's shuddering soprano spikes its cry over the two deeper, rumbling horns and the rhythmless surge of the dynamic counter-sounds create a mystery and musical oneness which is wondrous to hear - voices within instruments, speaking and singing their own lives and the lives of the world.
CHAR 2 has Haslam playing his Hungarian tarogato and the threesome in a more sprightly mood, and Coxhill is warbling, inventing and laughing through his horn all through the conversations of CHAR 3.
It was Loren Coxhill's old London ancestor, Blake, who "wander'd down each charter'd street" of the city 200 year before him, saw the "mind forg'd manacles" and wrote how "my streets are my ideas of my imagination."
Coxhill did the same and his sonic poems resonated over the air of Londoners.
With these priceless records he can still do that, and carry our consciousness with his brilliant sound all over the world.
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