FEATURE: Fourteen musicians Celebrating Billy Jenkins at 60, wishing him a happy birthday (Vortex Monday 4th July, birthday 5th)

Billy Jenkins. Photo credit Beowulf Mayfield

Billy Jenkins is 60 on 5th July 2016. Guitarist and composer Jenkins has played with rock stars including Ginger Baker and his own art-rock band Burlesque, signed to Chrysalis Records in the 70s, punk comedy duo Trimmer and Jenkins and numerous iterations of the Voice of God Collective. His anarchic energy, musicianship and humour have influenced successive generations of musicians, especially on the UK jazz scene.

Billy is currently taking a sabbatical from playing and recording, so won’t be appearing at the first event organized to celebrate his birthday – old friends at the Vortex have organised a tribute to Billy – musical chums play the songs of Billy Jenkins – today, Monday the 4th July (More  detail here)

Billy has issued a disclaimer: “Billy Jenkins is currently in an ongoing period of silence. His guitar will not be attending. Neither will the person. He is deeply flattered that The Vortex have created this informal event and assures that every single wonderful musician contributing to the evening’s music will be worth the entrance fee alone!”

However to celebrate the great day we’ve given some of those musical friends the chance to get their own back…so in reverse alphabetical order – form an orderly queue there please…

“When I first started working with Billy we would often watch Motorsport crash videos. Usually with titles like, “And they walked away”. It took me quite a while to work out the significance of these videos to Billy’s approach to making music, but I got there in the end… when everything is going smoothly, the tremendous amount of energy which is in the cars’ motion is practically invisible. However, if for example two open wheels touch, or there is a mechanical failure, all that invisible energy, with its associated danger, explodes into view: cartwheeling cars; flying debris; squealing tyres…Billy knew how to make sure that two open wheels touched when we were playing….He is without doubt one of the cleverest people I know and a musician of exceptional spirit and creativity. There is only one Billy Jenkins.” Steve Watts

“I first met Billy when he ran Wood Wharf rehearsal studios in the 1980’s in Greenwich where I rehearsed with Loose Tubes a few times… I liked his energy, quick thinking, humour and his unique approach to playing guitar (a mixture of blues and free improv, amongst many other influences) and was flattered when he asked me to record with him. He was very prolific creatively in the 1980’s and 1990’s, releasing many recordings of different projects featuring many Loose Tubes musicians and I remember that time fondly. The recording we did together was with Steve Watts and Roy Dodds and I hadn’t done anything like it before, or since. Thanks Billy!

He is an inspiration in that he has his own path and follows it regardless of trends.There needs to be 
more like him. An independent thinker.

I miss you Billy. Happy Birthday!” Martin Speake

“I had 6 great years with Billy’s VOGC including the ‘football season’ at the Vortex – (‘Leicester City Leaps In’, ‘Don’t Cry for me you Cheatin, b******’), followed by the fashion season in August. (Not a lot of people remember that Billy was composer in residence for Sittingbourne F.C. – ‘Bourne to Win’). Django Bates playing piano in a casual loose fitting lime green cotton dress and myself in a – even though I say it myself – smart twin-set and pearls, alongside him on digital keys.  Frantic adulation followed everything Django played… However following Billy’s ‘Dressing Up for Church’ and my crunchy Hammond-type solo, and despite Billy and Iain Ballamy simulating crude vomittimg sounds, the audience … erupted. A young man close to me at the front shouted “Nice one Django”. Despite my withering look and contemptuous expletive, he winked at me followed by an obscene suggestion. If only it were a living.”  Dave Ramm

“Billy is a true inspiration and a wonderful human being. I first saw him play in the Blue Elephant Theatre and his approach blew me away. Totally unique sense of humour and this comes out in his guitar playing and writing. Of course there is the bowling captain and the humanist funeral director and so on………….Happy Birthday mate! Xx” Finn Peters

“In the late 1990s, after a “night of the long knives” with my own jump/jive band, I informed a blues magazine that I was looking for new personnel. The last person I expected to call and the first who did was Billy… we had a good chat about the trials and tribulations of being a bandleader and he helped me assemble a new line-up and joined the band on guitar. His energy and enthusiasm acted as a powerful catalyst in bringing the best out of the rest of the band… Billy and I then started writing together for the next one, and came up with 8 songs…the basis of the band’s first entirely self-penned album. One track in particular, “The Big Swinging Dick” (about a tall, jazz-playing private detective, obviously) became a minor cult classic. … Billy warned me when he joined that he got bored easily and might leave at any time but he stayed with us for several memorable years and is remembered very fondly by all of us who played with him.” Kit Packham, bandleader, One Jump Ahead.

“I’ve only known Billy for 32 years so it’s difficult to know what to say. Most of the time I spent with him was playing music and most of that time was spent trying not to laugh. My kids love him and so do I.  A hard working man. Definitely not idle. I hope he lives long enough to officiate at my funeral.”
Oren Marshall

“Billy taught me that a boxing glove really can be as powerful as a flat 9, sharp 11, dominant 13th chord, if delivered with the correct, well intentioned momentum. He hails from the same urban humblings as myself, and showed me that in this case, it’s OK to play the blues in really weird ways without degrading the Mississippi river. He’s deadly serious about being very silly, which means he gets away with a lot, in the best possible way.” Arthur Lea

“Looking back I remember Bill as the sandwich maker & caretaker of a rehearsal studio on the banks of the mighty Thames, home to the disco boats that motor past around 2 o’clock in the morning, little did I know I would one day perform on such a boat. That is all thanks to William Jenkins. For if it wasn’t for he, I would have had a career playing immaculate ejaculate bop jazz, I’d be wearing a suit, playing the great American song book to middle class white septuagenarian audiences… Just as the blues no longer has any meaning for the new generation and passes into legend, so must Bill Jenkins and one day, someone will stumble upon his large archive of thematic deconstructionist music and say “will someone put all that shit in the skip” Happy re-birthday Bill.”
Thaddeus Kelly

“I was playing a gig with Billy in a jazz club in Amsterdam way back in the last century.  The audience was attentive in the extreme and treating the gig quite rightly as a serious music occasion.   Billy had other ideas, and in the middle of one of the numbers,  let go of his guitar, grabbed one of Martin France’s brushes and proceeded to brush his hair with it. The audience was astonished, I nearly died laughing, but from then on the whole atmosphere warmed up.  The power of humour!  Thanks, Billy.” Charlie Hart 

 “I first met Billy with Trimmer and Jenkins at a little festival in Druidstone in West Wales In about 1981. They made us laugh like hell and played great music. The next year I was playing with them and Continued playing with Billy for 10 years and more. I loved his music and he wrote great tunes with very funny titles. When we recorded them we got one go at it even if things were wrong we weren’t allowed to have another take!…Billy could play the Guitar really fast ,faster than anyone! I am very proud to have worked and played with him and it still disappoints when other people I work with don’t have his wonderful irreverence and turn there tunes in wonderful free chaos and call them things like “There’s a Ringroad in my garden” and “ The rust on the screws of the Churchill Theatre. “ A great and lovely man.” Roy Dodds

“Billy has had a big influence on me. The vinyl collection in particular (and I’m a proud owner of the whole set) really appeals to me: each album is a concept album which doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a teenager, I wrote him fan-mail, and it was an ambition fulfilled when I joined his Blues Collective. I’m glad to call him a friend and mentor! Happy birthday, Billy!”  Dylan Bates

“I got to know Billy doing the “Whose Solo Is It Anyway” comedy improvising kids show which we did a run of in the Edinburgh Fringe. I remember vividly an insane kind of very dark satirical dance/guitar/vocal improv during the Michael Jackson tribute round when we played the track Ben through the PA and contestants were invited to to add whatever they felt was necessary. This was in 1997 so before Jackson was fully understood to be a twisted puppy but Billy presciently nailed the correct vibe and it was both disturbing, musically amazing, and hilarious. So happy birthday billy you crazy wonderful genius.”Tom Bancroft

“I would describe Billy’s musical influence on myself and countless others as nothing short of a musical enema! His music is highly conceptual yet often blindingly simple and always his musical presence radiates high energy and raw emotion. I will never forget watching his “Big fight” concert at Weisen Jazz festival where he fought drummer Steve Noble in 10 separate 3 minute rounds.

 “Just at the point where the crowd were screaming for Noble (who had produced an air horn from behind his drum kit) Jenkins staggered off the stage and reappeared on a motor bike, put a mic into the exhaust pipe and kick started it to win the match in a cloud of smoke, engine roar and glory! Then there was the time when we drove around Newington Green in his three wheeler in the middle of a song! Billy was driving while I took an an alto solo (via radio mic) with the band still onstage at the old Jazz cafe. The song? ‘Swing low sweet Reliant Robin.” Happy birthday Billy.” Iain Ballamy

“The first time I played with Billy was on Scratches Of Spain around 1987. We had a horn section session at Woodwharf in Greenwich and Billy was directing us by dancing, lurching around gleefully in front of us as we played. We were improvising on a track called “Cuttlefish” and someone played something that was stylistically inappropriate, maybe a bit too slick, and Billy said “No, a cuttlefish wouldn’t say that”. It was funny but profound, and it changed the way I thought about music from that point on.”   Chris Batchelor

LINK: Some of these tributes in their original form are longer. The complete, unexpurgated texts, plus much else that is entertaining, are on Billy’s website

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