Graham Langley combined his three passions:, Books, jazz and collecting, when he built the British Institute of Jazz Studies, the UK’s first specialist jazz library. From its inception in 1965 until the National Jazz Archive's formation in 1988 it provided a unique resource for researchers and enthusiasts of all persuasions. Since then the two organisations have cooperated fully, with Graham being invited to be a trustee of the NJA. As a non-musician Graham’s motivation was to be ‘doing something for jazz’. His commitment took place in his personal time, and in his personal space too, as ‘every nook and cranny’ of his home is filled with jazz memorabilia! He tells how it all started.
|Interview date||29th July 2016|
|Interview source||National Jazz Archive|
|Image source credit|
|Image source URL|
Just beginning with some basic information ... could you state your name, your date of birth and where were you born?
Yes. It’s Graham Langley. 14th of April, 1944. Purley in Surrey.
Could you tell me a little bit about your own background in music and maybe your parents’ as well if they were linked at all?
No, there was no particular parental link. My parents were more into classical music. They would have the radio on quite frequently but had no specific taste that I can define. My own background: being born in ’44, the mid-50s of course is the beginning of rock and roll and coming up to teenage years getting an interest in music. So I was interested in popular music generally.
My introduction to jazz: I’ve got an older sister about eight years older than me, and when I was about 12, she bought two records by Chris Barber, the traditional jazz band leader. One was instrumental and I liked that – and the other one featured Barber’s singer – a woman called Ottilie Patterson. And I thought ‘this is dreadful’. It was awful caterwauling. And about 18 months later – I was 13, 14, something like that – one of my friends came around and I said ‘listen to this dreadful record of my sister’s’. Put it on and thought it was fantastic! So a complete Damascene conversion!
So that was when I started listening to jazz – particularly Chris Barber because he was very popular at the time – this was when I was 13 in 1957, ’58 – something like that. And he was coming up to the height of his popularity. And I suppose for two or three years, if it wasn’t Chris Barber it wasn’t proper jazz.
I think I was about 14 or 15 when I went to my first concert at the Civic Hall in Croydon to see the Chris Barber Band and was hooked from there. That was really my introduction.
I’ve always tended to be behind the times with popular music. When it comes out I don’t like it, and then hear it 10 years later I think actually that was really quite good. So I’ve always liked popular music but jazz has been the predominant interest for most of my life really.
Could you describe the nature of your jazz activities?
Really it relates to libraries. As a child or a youngster I was a keen collector of anything. I’ve always been very keen on books and literature and I’ve always collected books. I had all my books on shelves rather than stuck in a box somewhere. When I started getting interested in jazz I started buying books on jazz and I built up a collection of somewhere between 70 and 100 books by the time I’d got to my late teens. My particular involvement in jazz has been the building of libraries, including the National Jazz Archive.
When I got to about 20 or 21, I was working in a bank and one of my colleagues who was also a jazz fan came to me one day and he said ‘Oh I’ve just seen this new organisation that’s starting. It’s to do with trying to develop jazz in the UK. Would you be interested in coming along?’ And purely because it was a Sunday at somebody’s house and my friend was saying ‘why don’t you do it’, knowing practically nothing about it, I went along, and came across a group of about a dozen people, and ended up really with something that’s overtaken my life, an organisation called the British Institute of Jazz Studies.
The background to it was that in the issue of Jazz Journal for December 1963 the renowned critic Stanley Dance had written in an article: ‘It’s a shame that nobody in the UK or group of people in the UK can’t get together to build a comprehensive jazz library’. And he let that hang. In the January 1964 edition of the same magazine somebody wrote in and said: ‘Well, there is the Institute of Jazz Studies in the United States. Why don’t we create an English Institute of Jazz Studies?’ And so something happened about that time and some people got together. It didn’t go anywhere and about a year later my friend introduced me to somebody trying to get a revival of this idea. So I went along, in my innocence, and sat there with about a dozen people and they said ‘well we better have some sort of organising committee’ and I put my hand up and became part of an organising committee. The so-called English Institute had changed into the British Institute and thence it became.
And like many amateur projects, it intended to do all things to all men. You know, we were going to change the world etc. One of the things that was in the constitution, which had already been written, was to build an archive and information service, so that people not knowing anything about jazz or just intrigued about something had got a central place to go.
This went on for a couple of years and, as I say, one of the things was building an archive. And one day someone came along with a pile of about a dozen books and said ‘these have just been donated to us by a pianist called Dick Katz. And they came in, stuck the books on the table and we sat round looking at each other thinking, oh that’s very nice. Now what are we going to do with them? Because there was no structure, there was no building – we were once described as not so much as an organisation more a series of addresses – because different people did different things you see. Anyway, because of my love of books, I foolishly put my hand up and said ‘well, I’ll look after them’, so I went home with this dozen books and I’ve already got my 80–100 books, whatever it was, and that was the start of what really has been an obsession. The problem with so many amateur endeavours, particularly with young men, and we were all in our twenties, and most of us were single and we didn’t have any commitments, it was just a jolly good idea.
Gradually towards the end of the ’60s people drifted away. Somebody moved up to Norfolk (we were all in and around the London area), one got married and resigned from the committee because his wife didn’t believe in this sort of thing. And that was another one out of the window. So it ended up with just two or three of us, and me building the library. We did achieve some things. We did put on some concerts. When I say concerts, musicians in pubs, we had a pianist, still going today, a chap called Howard Riley who gave a recital in a pub. We had Jeff Nuttall give us a talk. We published a small magazine.
We published something that was unique at the time, a bibliography of discographies. One of the things about the jazz world that you potentially will find out is that there are obsessives, and one of my obsessions is the books and the literature. The majority of peoples’ obsessions are the records themselves. They want to know who appeared on which record and whether it was raining at the time, and they create what are called discographies, which are lists normally of individual musicians or bands, trying to list everything they’ve ever done. So we produced a bibliography of discographies so the people who were thinking of creating a discography for Chris Barber were able to go here and say ‘oh there already is one’ or ‘I can cooperate with someone who’s already done it. But it was published five years ago: I’ll try and bring it up to date.’
We did some useful things but in terms of the grand ambition really that didn’t come to very much other than the library which I continued to build. As I say, it has taken over my life both in terms of time and physically. My houses have always been absolutely jammed full and although it’s still had the grand title of the British Institute of Jazz Studies and it was a registered charity, it only existed in my house. I still had it open to researchers, so it’s always been technically a public archive. Because I had a full-time job as a head-hunter and I worked from 9 till 5 and a lot longer, it had to be evenings and weekends for people to visit.
So that is really where my main thrust has been. I have built the best archive in what up until 1988 when the National Jazz Archive started in Loughton, was the only national facility, albeit in a private house. It was the only place that had brought together as much information as possible.
In 1988 Digby Fairweather founded the National Jazz Archive in Loughton and he and I had contact. We didn’t know each other but he invited me to become part of it so I travelled over to Loughton and was involved in the initial opening of the Archive. I donated quite a lot of material to them because I had outgrown or I’d got a lot of duplicates and stuff. I donated a series of books and also a 40-year run of the periodical Melody Maker, which was the jazz bible from 1926 through to around 1980 when it turned into purely a pop paper. I had a 40-year run from 1940 to 1980 and the Archive coincidentally had been given a run from when it started in 1926 to 1940, and the two butted in. So we gave them an almost complete run – one or two issues missing. It’s probably been the one item within the Archive that’s been looked at more than anything else because if you’re looking at British jazz in the period mid-’20s to the late ’70s that’s where all the information is.
So that has really been my involvement. As I said I have been involved with the National Jazz Archive but having started the BIJS and knowing how temporary it was and how fraught it was in terms of funding and all that sort of thing, the obvious thing would be to amalgamate the two organisations because they both had exactly the same aims. But I kept them separate purely because I didn’t know the National Jazz Archive would survive. I was on the committee and at one stage and for a very short time I was actually chairman but I wasn’t a very good chairman [laugh] so they soon found that out and said ‘go away’ and I just remained on the committee and then eventually came back and was vice chairman for a number of years, before for domestic reasons I had to resign in early 2013. Some domestic circumstances all came together and I just couldn’t spend the time.
The two organisations have run in parallel. The one concession I made to the competition if you like was that at the end of the millennium I thought there’s no point in continuing to collect everything that goes forward if it’s being duplicated, so I stopped collecting at the end of 1999 and have spent my time trying to fill the gaps in the collection, particularly in the books and the journals that I’m still missing, even having collected for a very long time. Then I subsequently have started to integrate the two collections. I have given the Archive all my foreign language jazz periodicals or journals, all the foreign language books, all the posters I had, and gradually started moving stuff across.
What I’m involved in at the moment is a bibliography of twentieth century British publications. So I still collect anything I haven’t already got, published up to 1999 both in books and journals. Eventually the two will merge but the problem is there is of course a huge amount of duplication so what we’re trying to find is somewhere else that can be set up as another hub. The problem ¬– I mean Loughton is great but it’s running out of space – and it’s in or just outside London and if you’re researching and you live in Manchester it’s a long way to come, or in Newcastle or in Scotland. So it would be nice to find somewhere more central and there are some possibilities afoot which I’m not going to talk about, that have literally just come on the horizon and that would be wonderful if that came off. It’s very premature to even mention it really.
You talked about how people dropped off along the way here and there – what do you think has motivated you to continue to invest in them for so long?
Particularly because nobody else is doing it so therefore it is, or was until the NJA, from when I started in ’65 till ’88, what’s that, 23 years, it was unique. There was nowhere else in the UK. So it was a certain sense of ‘I’m actually doing something for jazz’. I’m not a musician. I’m not creative in any way, but I’m quite a good administrator, and so organising an archive even though I’m not trained, I’m fairly logical and if somebody asked me where something I’ve got is I can go and say it’s there, rather than hunting for it.
That’s one of the other things I’ve done for the Archive. It was part-funded by Essex County Council and they’ve been very generous and they give us an archivist, but he’s not a qualified archivist, he’s a retired guy like myself, very keen, really nice guy but not an archivist, and the organisation at Loughton was poor so what I did was to duplicate some of the organisation I’d already put in to my own collection. The way the journals are stored, the way they’re catalogued, replicates what I do or what I’ve been doing for 20 years and therefore bought some sense of order to it.
So if you combine the collecting instinct, the bibliographic instinct, the jazz instinct and put those together, building a jazz library was, I mean as a collector, there is a great buzz if you find something you don’t have. Yesterday I was with my wife in Wokingham: I’d almost given up on charity shops because they never have anything I want. Until yesterday, I went in and there’s a book published in 1998, it falls into my criteria, that I didn’t have. Fantastic! There’s the thrill, a little frisson of excitement. I still have that after 50 years of collecting.
Thank you very much for that background information. Just going to move on a little more – you’ve touched upon it a bit already but just to really lay it out. If we look at the actual organisation – co-ordination of activities – structures. If you go back to the early point, could you expand about how you structured activities and how it was co-ordinated?
In the original British Institute of Jazz Studies?
Yeah, and then if anything changed over time, if you found more effective ways of doing things?
I suppose initially it was structured in that we had a small committee and people took different responsibilities: one person edited the newsletter, one person co-ordinated an information service. Bearing in mind we’re going a long way back in history, pre-computers by 20 years. We built a card index system of information on musicians so if someone got in touch with us and said ‘I’m researching so and so’, we could go to a card and pick it out and have part bibliographic information – just general information about individual musicians. So we split it in that way.
As I say, my responsibility was looking after the physical stuff, the books and periodicals. When people started to fall away, really it all came down to me. I wasn’t hugely active if I’m honest purely because we’re going to a time when you’re buying and doing up houses, you’re having children, you’re still trying to make something of a career and develop your life. I did a job that required a lot of travelling and so I was away sometimes, always once, sometimes twice, occasionally three nights a week, so there’s very little time to do anything. So for chunks of time the library has really been boxed or just sat on shelves not being used until people contacted me rather than me being proactive. But I’ve always been active in the building of it, and always been delighted for it to be used.
I’ve got two researchers I’ve had very recently. Someone is currently writing a biography of a singer called Mark Murphy and I’ve lent him all the copies of a journal that was published in the ’80s that don’t exist anywhere. Well, he can’t find anywhere else where they exist. So he’s then got to go away with a lot of information on the musician that he would not be able to achieve anywhere else. I mentioned earlier we put on a concert by a pianist called Howard Riley: I had his brother come here last year, who’s doing a thesis on the sort of jazz that Howard Riley plays and was interested in the period in the ’70s when all that was being developed. So the circle was completed if you like.
Would you say then that there wasn’t really a clear structure to support activities or was there always something like a skeleton structure in place?
Depends what you mean by structure. You see, as a one man band you do what you think you need to do at the time. There’s no one saying ‘have you thought of?’ – something one hasn’t thought of oneself. It was just really the case of keeping the thing going. As I say, trying to build the collection was my key motivator – to get stuff in one place that probably didn’t exist. The problem with so much jazz material is that it’s ephemeral: you get the issue of the journal that you’ve subscribed to – and you might keep it – but more often than not it goes in the waste bin – or goes out in the recycling. You go out to a concert and in those days you used to get programmes when you went to a concert – you bought a programme and it gave you lots of information. You might have kept it for a while and a couple of years later you throw it in the bin. So my motivation has always been to save those things, that potentially are not available elsewhere.
If we’re looking at the way you communicate information regarding your activities – at the initial point you had someone to help with that, but how did people know to contact you? Was there a network in place?
Not really. I had a range of contacts and one of the things I ran, because of the restrictions when people could visit and also the restrictions of geography, in that I’ve always been generally in this area, it was the same at Loughton, it’s not always convenient to get to. I instigated a postal library service at one stage so people could borrow books by post. They would give me a deposit just in case it went astray, and they would pick up the postage, but of course that becomes expensive in you’ve got to pay for postage both ways. So it was never a major activity but it was something which actually enabled people to get access to things they couldn’t elsewhere.
And would you say the modes of communication regarding your activities have changed over time and how you best communicate?
Oh absolutely, of course. I mean computers changed things totally, in the past you were talking letters and phone calls – and that was it. I got my first computer I suppose in the early ’90s, 20-something years ago, but before then it was all very tedious you know – you write to people and say: ‘Do you have?’ and ‘Can you help?’ and then you wait for a reply and so on – so communication has just changed beyond all measure.
That’s great. One last thing on this theme – you said the structure broke down a little bit as time went on – but were there any major obstacles to your activities that you can think of?
Time, money, space … No with space I always found space [laugh] – every nook and cranny is filled. To a certain extent finance – you know it’s a hobby: there’s never been a penny of funding in this at all – never a penny. The only thing I got paid for was to edit, a company called Music Master issued a jazz catalogue and asked me to edit it. I did it twice in fact and the first time they paid me a derisory amount – they then came back and asked me to do it again and I said ‘yes, but you’re going to pay me some reasonable money’, and they paid me 15 hundred quid the second time – but that went straight back into the institute bank account . But basically you could say that was still my funding because it was my money because I did the job. I was using the materials around me to be able to do it and so it was an excuse to actually put a chunk of money back in – but it’s cost me thousands over the years, tens of thousands I should think – but over 50 years that’s not that much at any one time.
That’s great. You mentioned other people that worked with you, so were there any other obstacles in terms of keeping that network together other than the ones you’ve already mentioned?
People drifted away, so the other activities like newsletters and a small magazine at one stage – if there’s nobody there you can’t do those things, so the activities from the period it started or when I got involved in ’65 through to about ’72 or ’73, when the last person drifted off and really left it to myself. That’s partly because that was the time that I moved down here, I was living in London originally and I moved down here, so I was the breaker of the link if you like. Really it broke down partly because of my moving, and I just refined the activities to what I was doing, quite selfishly I suppose – but it sustained my interest and it’s now still available for use and is in the middle of being amalgamated with the NJA, boosting their facilities.
We’re going to move on now to a different theme, looking at the Americanisation and cultural impact of African American culture. Could you tell me a little about if you had any association with firstly British jazz or American jazz?
No, only as a consumer of it. Going way back, I mentioned that I was born in Purley in Surrey which is just south of Croydon. In 1962 I think it was, Fairfield Halls opened in Croydon, which is a sort of a mini-Festival Hall, and started being part of the tours of the all of the major American stars that came over at that time. So that was a wonderful time to be living where I then was, because from early ’63, which was when I went to see Duke Ellington, who was my first American band, I’d been seeing British mainly traditional jazz bands.
Ellington was the first proper black American band that I saw and was totally knocked out and broadened my horizons.
Then over a period that I was still living there from ’63 through to the beginning of ’68 when I moved up to London I saw practically every jazz group that came to Croydon. I remember one week when there were three or four concerts. You’d see someone like Duke Ellington on Tuesday and go and see the Modern Jazz Quartet on Thursday, and Ornette Coleman on Saturday – it was just wonderful – and that really broadened my horizons because that had been introduced through traditional jazz, which is fine and it still goes strong today and is still very popular. I’ve got a friend who was one of my teenage friends who played banjo in a trad band. He still does and he’s a year older than me so he’s 73, and he’s still plunking the same chords that he’s been plunking for 50, 60 years!
Now that’s fine but you know that’s a little compartment of jazz which I’m still happy to listen to occasionally but it’s such a broad field that you want to, you know, branch out. So to go back to your question, I’ve never personally interacted with musicians other than those I’ve met through the National Jazz Archive. I’ve not been a groupie that goes to the stage door and wants to go and talk and interview, I’ve always been a passive listener rather than doing anything else. As I say my musical horizons have changed. To some degree I like practically every form of jazz there is apart from the extreme avant garde. I had my favourites of course but I like it to be fairly eclectic and across the board.
You mentioned African American Jazz – obviously that was very significant to you – could you expand upon the impact that had to your mind in Britain in your experiences?
It’s not really a racial thing. It’s just that obviously jazz originated as a black form and therefore the people that I started to see in concert expanded the horizons in British jazz. If you think where I came through the traditional road, which is almost a British invention, it’s an interpretation of the original rather than being exactly the same. So if you’re seeing a range of different musicians, a lot of whom were black, not all, because you go and see people like Dave Brubeck who was a white musician, there is a connection. I don’t really put any racial overtones on it: he’s a jazz musician and that’s what interests me. The fact he’s a black jazz musician or a white jazz musician is no interest to me at all.
Did you engage much throughout the years with white Dixieland jazz – or traditional jazz – modern jazz – did you engage with any of those?
Well, engage in terms of listened to, yeah. Take the traditional jazz which you can loop the Dixieland a bit to that as well. I then expanded my horizons to a complete range – jazz is jazz. One of my favourite programmes on the radio is Jazz Record Requests, which is an hour of requests. I don’t know how many tracks they play in that period – let’s say they play 15, 20 tracks, all completely different, and therefore you hear something and think ‘ahh, haven’t heard him before’ or ‘I like that style’ and then go out and maybe buy a CD or download, whereas put a CD on which now lasts for 70-something minutes and you can get a bit bored. Personally I prefer, unless you really love somebody, it gets a bit tedious, so I prefer variety.
Obviously you say jazz is jazz – do you think that there was an effect of rock’n’roll – The Beatles – that you witnessed at all in terms of shaping jazz – changing it?
Basically it killed jazz as a popular music. Traditional jazz – Chris Barber – you’ve probably heard of Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball – the Three Bs – and, you know, horrible, horrible area that is, but traditional jazz when I was in my late teens was the popular music of the day. So rock’n’roll and all the other things were around but the thing that was going up the charts, as soon as The Beatles came out that killed it stone dead – it just died – I mean I quite like The Beatles, they were okay, but I much prefer The Rolling Stones because they were blues-based. We talked about jazz but equally important is blues, and again at Fairfield Halls you had all the bought-in blues packages as well, and again they appealed on many occasions more than the jazz did. I liked the majority of what I heard from the blues and some gospel as well which was good.
We’ve briefly touched on this but just to finish up then – do you think that the activities you engaged with – was there an effect on attitudes regarding immigration and race as a result of jazz activities at this time?
It didn’t affect me at all. What I was doing was unique: I was really cocooned away from that sort of interaction so it’s not like being a musician, those areas didn’t really impact on me at all.
Were your jazz activities at all associated with any political views?
No. Not at all.
Were you or anyone else in your organisation engaged in any activities relating to trade unions or CND organisations?
What was the reaction of the older generation, your parents’ generation, about your activities?
It impacted with my parents of course when I was still living at home, which I was until I was about 22, 23. Apart from filling my room with paper and demanding more bookshelves, no, they were indulgent to a degree because they didn’t particularly like jazz. My father wasn’t so bad, my mother didn’t particularly like it and so if I’d got the record player going fairly loudly in one room they would go into the other! – but there wasn’t any sort of sanction. No, they were fine. It’s like most parents I suppose. You don’t normally like your kids’ music, but it’s their music and you can’t really do too much about it.
In terms of the older generation more broadly – did you see them engaging much with your activities – going to the kind of concerts you talk about – was it a generational thing?
Yes, that was fairly broad actually, more so than today I would suggest. If you go to a jazz club, the one I went to was a dancing club so the upper age limit was probably 35 – something like that. Go to a concert and you’d have all age groups – as I say I saw Duke Ellington in 1963 – he first came here in 1933 – and so you’d have people there who saw him 30 years before and were reliving their youth. So it was a fairly broad audience.
I go to fairly limited jazz activities these days but there is a local venue, South Hill Park at Bracknell, and the majority of the audience now is my sort of age. Depends who it is of course, but you don’t get many youngsters there and predominantly it’s a white audience too. I went to see, 3 or 4 years ago now – Courtney Pine’s Young Warriors – I can’t remember what they were called, and that was a totally black group. South Hill Park or the Wilde Theatre holds about 240 and there was one group of about eight black people there who I think were associated with the band because they came in and had front row seats sort of thing – and that was it. Although it was a young black group most of the audience were my age or give or take probably 50 plus – interesting social observation if you like – that I find surprising.
In terms of the people within your own peer group – what was their reaction to your activities – like friends and people that you came into contact with – were many of them engaged with it – what was their reaction?
A lot of people like jazz as a peripheral interest. Most of them can’t understand why I do what I do: if you like jazz go and listen to it, go and play it! Why do want to bury yourself away amongst a whole load of books – which I can totally understand – it’s a totally valid point of view. Why do you want to read about it when you listen to it? Why do you want to read about it if you can go and see it – as I say totally valid point of view. But as I said earlier, it brings together my love of collecting, love of books, love of jazz – and bring those three things together – what else do you do ? [laughs]
Yeah, no that’s perfect – in your original set-up were most of those people friends you’d had previously?
No, the only contact was the guy I was working with and we didn’t see each other outside the bank at that time. He was just someone I was in a branch of 40 people. You suddenly find someone who’s a kindred spirit and you talk about things. No, the other people were just those that were congregated as a result of what was appearing in the magazine saying ‘why don’t we do this’ and so – it was a whole group – I’m in contact still with one – just in fact in the last year have remade contact with the guy who was the last one to fall away. He stayed interested in jazz – he’s known as a journalist – I think amateur – I don’t think he’s a professional journalist – but he still writes for some of the more avant garde jazz magazines – so we happened to remake contact a year or two back.
How you would describe your activities? Would you consider them to be amateur – professional – semi-professional – what would you consider yourself?
Oh definitely amateur. I’ve had no formal archive training, but, as I said earlier, I’m reasonably logical, I’m a reasonably good administrator. So people that come and look at the collection are impressed by the way it is maintained, how it’s kept, how you can get hold of information and so on. But I’m definitely an amateur – I’ve had no formal training in archiving at all.
Would you say that the other people that you’ve come into contact with: is that quite common with people interested in archiving jazz information?
Most people are amateurs. As I say, very few people are actually doing the archiving: that’s why I do it. But if you take the people who are discographers – which is a particular passion of people – or magazine editors – if you go and see Derek Coller – he published his first magazine in what is now Sri Lanka but he was in the forces in what was then Ceylon in 1948 and he published a jazz magazine. And he’s been publishing – I won’t say ever since – he’s done a whole variety of things like that but amateur – no one actually taught him how to edit a magazine. It’s just something – you know – you’ve got an interest – you teach yourself what you need to know and take advice from other people, look at how other people have done it, read somebody else’s magazines, saying oh I don’t like that very much, I wouldn’t do it that way, so do it another way – so it goes from there.
Did you have quite international connections and have an international focus? Did you get inspiration from outside of Britain as well and connections outside of Britain?
Yes, well, limited – but to a certain extent. I cooperated with one of the first, one of the best jazz bibliographies, that came out of Germany. I got a copy of the first edition and looked through it and thought some of this information is incomplete: I’ve got information he doesn’t have. So I wrote to him listing everything he wanted that I could give him and then we cooperated, and if you look at subsequent editions I’m one of the names of people that has cooperated. So yes – some limited international cooperation.
Looking at the long-term contribution – which you touched upon at the start – but just to expand upon that – what would you say were the big achievements of your activities?
Well, making or creating the most comprehensive jazz library in the UK. Elements of it are still larger than the National Jazz Archive so if we look at the period I’m particularly concentrating on, jazz journals up until 1999, Loughton has something in the region of 350 different titles. I’ve got about 650. Now some of these are terribly ephemeral – they only lasted for 3 issues. Some of them are slightly more than that. Where we duplicate is all the major titles, so a magazine like Jazz Journal that’s been going since 1948, we both have full runs of them up to date, mine up until 1999 when I stopped. I have got material here that probably doesn’t exist anywhere else or if it does it’s probably in somebody’s bottom drawer or in somebody’s attic but it’s not in the British Library. It’s not in the National Jazz Archive – it might be somewhere else but probably not, because I’ve spent 50 years – you know – filter well
One of the things I used to do to fund my activities was actually to buy collections. The sad thing is that jazz is predominantly a male interest, not exclusively, but predominantly a male interest – particularly the collecting element – men collect – women tend not to – they might collect something nice like silver or porcelain but they don’t collect things like magazines – so what would happen is that an elderly chap would die and after a period of time his wife wanted to downsize and think what am I going to do with this lot. And somehow I’d get to hear of it and – might advertise it or whatever – and I’d go along see it – offer her a price – buy the lot and then bring back and keep everything I wanted and then trade – sell – what I didn’t need because I’d already got.
At the moment I’m trying to find a home for 9000 CDs [extended pause]. You see Loughton doesn’t collect CDs. I have rehoused two collections of about 5000 to 6000 LPs that have come to me in various ways – didn’t physically come to me, but you know. I’ve been responsible for about 500 reel-to-reel tapes going to the British Library sound archive. So because I love information, I love facts, and I want other people to have access to facts so if someone gives me something or I know about something that I can’t use then I want to find somewhere official for it to go where it can be used.
What would you say has been the effect on British culture of jazz and the sort of activities that you were engaged in?
Well my activities won’t have made any effect on British culture at all other than helping people who’ve got some sort of similar obsession finding the information they wouldn’t find elsewhere, like the chap I’ve just mentioned who’s writing this biography. He would find it far more difficult to do if I wasn’t here because he wouldn’t have been able to source that collection of magazines. But I’m having no impact on anybody I’m afraid.
What impact has jazz had? Well, it’s varied, it’s had popularity – I mentioned earlier Dave Brubeck – one of his records called Take Five – which is pure jazz – quite difficult jazz in some ways – went up the pop charts – it just grabbed peoples’ imaginations. I can’t remember when this would be – the 60s maybe – can’t remember, doesn’t matter – but the last thing you’d expect is for it to go up the pop charts but it did because suddenly – it was heard on the radio and people thought ‘oh that’s different – I like that’ – and suddenly off it went but the majority I believe, and I’m not absolutely sure of this, but I believe the audience of jazz in the UK is about 8% of the population which is the same as the audience for opera so it’s a very limited interest. From being when it was pop music of the day going back to the late ’50s, early ’60s – yes the audience was far bigger but it has now moved – it’s declined and I believe it’s about 8%. I wouldn’t be quoted on that because I’m not sure but that’s the last figure I seem to recall hearing – so jazz in itself doesn’t have a great deal of impact I would suggest. You never see it on the television or very very rarely.
Is there a reason you can pinpoint if you’ve ever thought of it – I imagine you must have thought about it – why jazz hasn’t taken off in the same way as other?
It’s more difficult – it’s an art music – it’s not a popular music you see. If you look at what is commonly called modern jazz, it’s more difficult, you have to listen to it – you have to try and understand it. Whereas traditional jazz – it’s a nice swinging, easy listening – you might not like it very much but it’s not going to harm your eardrums – whereas a lot of – particularly some of the avant garde modern musicians – very very difficult listening you know – and really does not appeal. You have to put effort in – it is an acquired taste – rather like me going back to my original anecdote of listening to that Ottilie Patterson record that my sister gave me and at the age of 12 I’d thought it was the most dreadful row I’d ever heard, and 18 months – two years later – I play it as a joke thinking this is awful – oooh it’s not awful at all – and so gradually you’re introduced to new styles and say, oh yeah, that is rather good. As I say my education really going back was Fairfield Halls – I went to see them whether I knew I was going to like them or not – some of the people I went to see I’d never heard of – well I’d heard the names but I didn’t know their music at all well and some that I loved some that I didn’t like – I didn’t see Ornette Coleman – didn’t like it at all but it teaches you not to go back to see Ornette Coleman again – you know – but I still liked the experience of having done so.
Did your sister also maintain her interest in jazz?
No – I don’t think so – she got married, had three kids – I’m sure they listen to music. I couldn’t tell you what she listens to now – very much doubt that it’s jazz.
And just finally then what would you, looking to the future now, what would you say the future of the archive is and your jazz activities are?
Well at my age – I’m 72 – they are going to be curtailed by either decrepitude, downsizing or I’m going to fall off the perch. So what I’m interested in now is finding a permanent home – obviously the commitment is for my materials to go to the National Jazz Archive, but they have limited space. There is duplication so there has to be a further home for it.
One of the things that I introduced when I was vice-chairman of the Archive was an outreach programme, because the Archive, even then forgetting my involvement, was getting lots of duplicate materials. Everybody has copies of Jazz Journal and they come along as if they’re giving you gold and you say ‘oh god, not more Jazz Journals!’ [laughs]. And so what I decided was to set up a network of 10 music colleges, universities and conservatoires around the UK where we gifted materials to them for their libraries. It has to be said, not many of them were interested in taking journals, but we would put these books out, and the only premise was that if they at any time wanted to get rid of them they had to offer them back to the Archive. But we had them from Glasgow to Sussex, from East Anglia to Swansea, and so we had this network of people, and someone would phone up the archive and say ‘oh I’m interested in such and such’ and we’d say ‘where do you live’ and they’d say Manchester: well, go to the Institute of Popular Music in Liverpool – it’s closer than we are – so that was another initiative of mine that I’m quite proud of.
And are there any final thoughts or anything you wanted to say that I haven’t asked?
Well I don’t think so. What I have done has been unique really – as an individual I mean. The Archive exists and there’s duplication there – but as an individual I don’t know of anybody else who’s doing it – not to the scale – I know of a couple of people with very big collections – but not with a public face – albeit my public face has been very limited and it’s been ill used over the years.
I’m doing some cataloguing at the moment and I came across an item where I helped a 15 or 16 year old on something. It’s very rudimentary and I said to her at the end of it ‘let me have a copy of it when you’re finished’ and she sent me the original because she appreciated the help and it’s still in the archive. It’s of no value other than a bit of sentiment – someone I helped and she came round with her mum and I sat them at a table and they sat down with all of this stuff and I gave them things they wouldn’t find elsewhere – so that’s it really.
Well thank you very much.
Is that me done?