Saxophonist Simon Spillett, author of the biography of Tubby Hayes (‘The Long Shadow of The Little Giant’ – link to review below) is as well-known for his love of writing as he is for his playing. An acknowledged expert of British modern jazz from the 1950s to the 1970s, he launches a new blog today, 1 February 2021. Sebastian found out more about it, including an expected appearance by James Bond.
LondonJazz News: What has led you to want to set up a blog?
Simon Spillett: I like writing and have received some really encouraging feedback on various pieces I’ve written over the last year and it seems like the next logical step.
Simon Spillett. Photo credit: Jerry Storer
LJN: And why now?
SS: That’s an easy one to answer. In lieu of live performances I’ve been devoting more time to writing. I suppose the idea is to share these pieces on a platform that is better suited to long-form expression. Previously I’d been putting quite in-depth pieces on all manner of jazz matters on my Facebook page and as several people suggested a blog might be a better place for them. One of them, Ray Stephens, who runs a company dealing with all kinds of online tech, has kindly helped me set it.
LJN: Will people who know your Facebook posts notice a difference with the blog?
SS: The blog will enable me to separate the two streams. I’ll continue posting certain items on Facebook but the content of the blog will be wholly exclusive. Hopefully interest in one might lead to interest in the other.
LJN: How often to you think you’ll be posting?
SS: I’ve decided to share a new piece weekly. I think that creates just the right rhythm – anything else would be a little too demanding on me and I certainly don’t want things to get missed in a glutinous mass of posting.
LJN: It starts with enthusiasm, right? But for what…?
SS: Yes it does! I like sharing good stories, be they observational pieces from a personal perspective or deep delves into the dusty corners of jazz history.
LJN: What’s your first post about?
SS: My first post is all about change, or how, in my case, lockdown has made me appreciate that if you have any kind of aptitude for something you shouldn’t deny it. I used to be hugely hung up on being seen as more of a writer than a musician, which I now think of as a terribly self-indulgent waste of time. I can both play the saxophone and write words and 2020 helped me to realise it’s a both/and situation not an either/or. Although I can’t play gigs right now I can still be creative on the written page. The first entry therefore as a sort of introduction to that mindset.
LJN: Any highlights you’re planning and that you might want to reveal for this new month that ‘makes you shiver’?
SS: I’d really like to keep my powder dry with regards to what’s coming up but there’ll be lots on jazz in the UK in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – with Tubby Hayes a key inclusion – tying in with my fascination with its wider context. In that I have a pretty wide remit; I can talk about individual musicians, newly unearthed recordings, rare photographs, pretty much anything that takes my fancy.
And this is by no means an exclusive policy; if I want to write about the contemporary jazz scene I will, or indeed about any aspect of the craft of being a musician. It’ll be a moveable feast then, and I hope readers will find something to engage with whatever the subject matter.
One thing I will reveal though is that there’ll be a piece on the little-known connections between Tubby Hayes, John Barry and the James Bond franchise. That’s what the blog is about; telling a good tale.
LJN: You’ve also been writing loads of sleeve notes recently. What’s the story?
SS: I’ve been writing sleeve notes for various labels since 2001 but it’s only over the last five or so years that I’ve really found my ‘style’ if I can call it that, and my filed of real interest, which is British modern jazz from, say 1950 to 1975. Fortunately that’s what I get asked to write about!
Over the last year I’ve done notes for ReSteamed, R&B Records and a new label, Jazz In Britain, who’ve commissioned me to annotate previously unissued recordings by Tubby Hayes (‘Free Flight’) and the Rendell/Carr Quintet (‘Blue Beginnings’). These commissions have been both a pleasure and a sustenance during the last year and it’s been wonderful to research and tell the story of such interesting and rare music.
LJN: As John Dankworth once asked me(!) …”Isn’t it playing that you really want to do?”
SS: Of course! But, as we know, at present we can’t. I’m not saying writing is the ‘next best thing’ because I really love it, but it’s simply a way of staying connected and retaining a voice of some kind. I’ll always be a saxophone player, only now I’ll be one with a blog. It’s the same voice just one coming through two different outlets.