Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby

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Ian Brighton: An ‘Overnight Success’, 45 Years On

I thought that I’d do a tribute to one of free improv’s lesser-celebrated talents, guitarist Ian Brighton, who I caught up with during the research for my second book, and who was most helpful in his recollections of the scene in the SE of England, particularly regarding his work with percussionist Trevor Taylor.

Both Brighton and Taylor, along with Steve Beresford, form the Kontakte Trio (apres Stockhausen, presumably?), whose most enjoyable album, on Taylor’s own FMR label, was reviewed in the October edition of Wire. Brian Morton describes Brighton thus: “…who bucked the trend by retiring for a good few years before returning to become an overnight success. His re-emergence as a post-Bailey, post-Russell guitarist is all the sweeter from his being chronologically closer to that generation than not”. Indeed, Brighton’s emergence on Balance (an early Incus album, Incus 11, from circa 1973), nearly 45 years ago, was an early indication of the influence that Derek Bailey was to cast over the music from this time on, John Russell and Roger Smith being the other most obvious English examples.

I have blogged earlier about Brighton’s ‘comeback’ gig at Cafe Oto last year, and was pleased to see a CD coming out of that memorable gig (on FMR again) entitled Reunion. He has reinforced this return with the release of some material from 1988, Eleven Years From Yesterday (FMR once more) and a solo recording, Now and Then (on Confront), which also features his son, Paul. All three are, inevitably, highly recommended.

There is a wise old saw that suggests that there are few opportunities for second acts, but Ian Brighton seems to have seized one. I sensed that he was slightly nervous about re-appearing on the free improv scene after many years of absence, and I don’t blame him. The scene has changed in so many ways. But there is always room for creative improvisation, and Ian has provided this through these four (as far as I know, there may be more) recordings. Despite this, he said to me in an e-mail - “people have been kind”, almost as of this was a favour, dispensed from on high, rather than a well-deserved reaction to good work. It’s another indication, for me, of how little extrinsic rewards these guys receive.

Brighton’s guitar is, for me, less spiky and fractured than Bailey, but is ultimately more ‘atmospheric’, if I can be allowed to use such a worn adjective. Seeing him live, I was even reminded of Bill Frisell’s ‘washes’. He is, however, a true original. In my role as somewhat of a self-appointed English free improv historian (in the absence of anyone with more gravitas than I have, which isn’t asking much), I’m very keen to have these potentially obscure figures remembered before they are re-forgotten. There are many of ‘em out there - let’s try and find out who these improvisers are/were. Some will have passed, some will not have recorded for years, some just weren’t in the right place at the right time. Ian Brighton seemed pleased that I wanted to include him in my book. Similarly, I included improvisers from Sheffield, Bristol and the Midlands - it would be nice to see other musicians from this time frame getting to tell their stories. There is, of course, the tyranny of recording -those who didn’t get to appear on Incus and Emanem, for example, are at risk of being excised from the narrative completely. We need more writers out there, discussing and researching this most fascinating of genres.

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