REVIEW: Michael Gibbs/ Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra at Eastside Jazz Club

Michael Gibbs
Photo credit John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Michael Gibbs / Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra
(Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham. 5 February 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

Michael Gibbs tried a little audience quiz as he introduced his composition The Time Has Come at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Eastside Jazz Club.

“The time has come . . . the Walrus said . . . who can complete that?”


“Really? Oh, come on,” he chided with a smile.


“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things . . . ”

And he went on to complete the line from Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus And The Carpenter.

“No one knows it? You are British, aren’t you?” quipped Michael.

“Yes, but we don’t read,” cried a wag in the crowd.

The banter was light-hearted, and Gibbs went on to explain that the title of his atmospheric composition, with its snappy brass conclusion, was inspired by bandleader Herb Pomeroy. “He had a walrus moustache.”

Gibbs was directing the conservatoire’s jazz orchestra, with many outstanding students in the line-up, and there were fine solos on The Time Has Come from pianist Timur Pak – making imaginative use of space – and guitarist Aidan Pope.

Altoist Lewis Sallows provided a suitably spirted solo on Almost Every Day, a dynamic piece inspired, Michael told the audience, by a visit to the Greenwich Village club Sweet Basil to hear Gil Evans and his Orchestra. “They were playing a Jimi Hendrix piece – Little Wing, I think – and I was so excited by it that I went home and Almost Every Day kind of fell out onto the page.”

The conservatoire concert, following Gibbs’ appearance with his own big band at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham last autumn during his 80th Birthday Tour of the UK, followed several days of workshops and rehearsals with the students.

One of the privileges of being a photographer as well as a writer is occasionally having the fascinating experience of attending rehearsals, and hearing the final shaping of the sounds – the tightening of musical nuts and bolts – that audiences will later enjoy.

I was fortunate enough to attend the final rehearsal for the conservatoire concert, and to once again see that Gibbs’ celebrated vagueness in ensemble direction actually has a positive creative impact on the musicians. Left to make many decisions themselves (“Maybe you could keep that going for a bit longer,” he will gently suggest), the players are drawn away from the comfort of the printed page and find themselves immersed in the essence of the music.

It raises musicians to another creative level, and this became evident at the concert following the rehearsal. Of course, with such complex music there were a few rough edges. But the spirit of Gibbs music was very effectively absorbed by the young players. This was particularly evident in the soloing of two of the trumpeters: on Country Roads, Christos Stylianedes played with firecracker exuberance, while on And On The Third Day, James Gardener – on flugelhorn – played with exquisite simplicity, a gorgeous tone and tremendous feeling.

The concluding Fanfare – pure vintage Gibbs – provided a gloriously blazing end to a performance which delighted the audience and took the young players into a new creative dimension.

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra Dir. Michael Gibbs
Photo credit John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk


Trumpets: Ashley Smith, Christos Stylianedes, Gareth Howell, James Gardener
Trombones: Sam Shelton, Toby Carr, Joe Carnel, Ashley Naylor
Reeds: Mike Anning, Liam Brenan, Lewis Sallows, Noah Smith, Cameron Woodhead
Piano: Timur Pak
Guitar: Aidan Pope
Bass: Matt Hollick
Drums: Charlie Johnson

Directed by Michael Gibbs


Almost Every Day
The Time Has Come
Oh! So
And On The Third Day
Science and Religion
Tis As It Should Be
I’ll Look Around
Country Roads

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. As a photographer and writer myself, long have I too found rehearsals to indeed be fertile ground for both eye and ear. Photographically, it's the earlier-on the better, when the music is new enough to the players to keep them so occupied as to pay me no mind, while I can move about freely and hopefully be creative in documenting the proceedings. Musically, as you observe, it's a marvel to hear the process of sculpting and polishing in progress, as well as observing the many ways collective decisions are made. I've had the good fortune to do this with large ensembles led by Carla Bley, George Gruntz, Barry Guy, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Alex Von Schlippenbach, Bennie Wallace and Kenny Wheeler. Does it then make me greedy that I envy your access to Gibbs, one I've met up with only for an individual portrait, and that some time ago? And lest I forget: that's a nicely iconic view of the man at work which leads off your piece. I salute you, colleague.

    7 February 2018 at 12:09

  2. Mike Gibbs has responded:

    Patrick – nice to hear your response to John Watson's preparations for photographing a concert – observing the rehearsals, and then the concert itself…..and to see the splendid action shot he produced.

    I've been lucky to have John photograph concerts I've given for many years now and we've quite an illustrious collection.

    I have been lucky also though, to have one, just one, Patrick Hinely portrait – posted HERE, with Patrick Hinely's kind permission – seems an opportunity for me not to pass up and also a chance to display it, and for John to see too – a picture from days gone by -1983, in Park Slope, Brooklyn – you'd traveled there especially as I recall.

    Hope you're well, busy – and catching moments, making pictures –

    let us

    (here, on London Jazz News)

    know what you're up to, and perhaps send a photo or two…..

    My Best Wishes, and thanks –

    Michael (Gibbs)

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