Chrissie Murray (*) remembers Anthony Wood, the trailblazing champion of improvised music who tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident on 15 September 2021, age 73.
Anthony Wood, inspirational promoter of improvised music, founder of groundbreaking magazine The Wire, was a man on a mission in 1979 — his sights set on taking to uncharted heights what, even in the late 1970s, was often unceremoniously dismissed as ‘chin-stroking music’.
Anthony proceeded to blaze a trail for this revolutionary ‘in the moment’ music and, in the process, helped shine a light on the gifted musicians who performed it… and Anthony’s passionate speeches in defence of this challenging genre would leave even the music’s most hardened critics buffetted and bruised, but definitely better informed.
Anthony Wood was born in Germany to English parents, but came of age in the late 1960s in a suburban corner of Ashford in Kent. His first job, which he hated, was a soul-destroying clerical position at the Schott’s Music company where he felt misunderstood and a misfit.
Escape was offered in the form of the sparky British Blues Explosion of the 1960s. Anthony became Alexis Korner’s biggest fan and a friend, and persuaded the influential ‘Father of British Blues’ to document his fascinating musical journey in interviews, which Anthony lovingly recorded on a bulky, reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Meanwhile, Anthony’s vinyl record collection grew… and grew, expanding from Blues Incorporated, Cyril Davies and the Graham Bond Organisation to jazz heavyweights: Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton et al. In 1975, John Clare and Dave Ryner at Honest Jon’s record shop recognised Anthony’s infinite ‘oneness with the sharp end’ of the music and asked him to join as their avant-garde music specialist. This job was a perfect fit.
In spite of his passion for the ‘serious’ end of the music, Anthony was no purist and listed Prince and Martha Wainwright among his favourite artists. To see Lady Gaga currently decorating the website of a magazine like Jazz Journal would have made him laugh out loud and he would have loved the hat.
The first person Anthony got to know when he moved to London at the end of 1978 was guitarist John Russell (also recently sadly departed). Anthony had a letter published in Melody Maker complaining about the lack of coverage of improvised music. As a result, a mutual friend put John and Anthony in touch, as they both came from Ashford. John provided accommodation for Anthony for nine months. Anthony said that living with a musician gave him ‘a different view of the music he was listening to’. In 1979, John convinced Anthony to start promoting. ‘Without that time spent with John,’ said Anthony, ‘there would have been no Actual Music…’.
Anthony’s Actual Music events created an historic opportunity (and a discerning audience) for the avant-garde giants of the day: Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Abdullah Ibrahim et al… as well as creating a platform for the key contemporary British experimentalists. The same year, Anthony, John Russell and percussionist Roger Turner launched the critically acclaimed but regrettably short-lived independent CAW record label.
In 1982, Anthony announced his most ambitious project yet: he was going to launch a ‘jazz magazine’. It would be called “The Wire: Jazz, Improvised Music and…” I listened, in disbelief, but enthralled, as he enthusiastically outlined this ‘insane’ prospect, and I was the first to enlist.
Anthony initially financed the magazine himself, producing it with the help of a group of committed, music-loving friends who worked for free. He drew up a professional ‘business plan’ which impressed Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Arts Council enough to stump up £2000 each in grants. As Anthony found himself deeper and deeper in debt, his friend Leo Feigin (Leo Records’ label boss) also chipped in a substantial sum at one point.
The creation of The Wire was an audacious, adventurous and enduring moment in the music. Even when The Wire joined the generous Naim Attallah’s prestigious Namara Group in 1984, it was a struggle to keep such an ‘outré’ magazine up and running. It was hard to build and widen our readership, particularly as WHSmith outlets, for some bizarre reason, refused to sell a magazine with a circulation less than 100,000.
Anthony was to lose The Wire, his much-loved and hard-won trophy, the following year when he suffered what I can only describe as a brutal ‘boardroom coup’. Anthony never fully recovered from this devastating experience. He was flat broke: his apartment was repossessed and he cut himself off from everyone and went to ground in his shabby Farm Lane office. Gradually, things looked up: he embarked on a successful career in market research, a field that valued his likeable, persuasive personality and rewarded his facility to communicate.
A life-long ‘hard-core biker’, Anthony lately did a great deal of flying around on his customised BMW superbike, his first love. Now in his Third Age, and enjoying a new lease of life, he was always restless, ever wanting ‘to get off this island’, planning his next bike tour to the back of beyond. I once asked him why he insisted on heading for ‘the world’s terrorist hot-spots? What was the attraction?’… Anthony gave me his wry smile and replied, emphatically: ‘The adventure, Chrissie!’.
Anthony was now also contributing beautifully written articles for biking magazines documenting his adventures on the road and had become totally absorbed in creating a website for Third Age Bikers.
As recently as August 2021, Anthony was recorded for posterity in an interview by The Camping Biker channel on You Tube (LINK). He was reporting on how the UK’s biker cafes had survived lockdown and is heard animatedly enthusing about his life in the fast lane. In view of recent tragic events, it makes for poignant viewing.
Anthony was, indeed, a life-long trailblazer… through Actual Music and his bravery in creating The Wire (still being published), Anthony Wood’s place in the music endures because, just like the music, for Anthony there were no limits. For his unique view of life alone he is simply irreplaceable.
Early 2020, as the clouds gathered across the world and national incarceration loomed, and I railed against it, Anthony, a hard and fast ‘European’, shared a rare, philosophical moment of soul-baring enlightenment… prophetically, his words stand as the perfect epitaph.
Anthony wrote: ‘There are too many walls being erected, physical ones by governments, physiological ones by individuals, both trying to retain the illusion of perceived past greatness or racial purity. All intended to keep out either people or ideas. Bridges, on the other hand, close gaps, cross divides, bring people and ideas closer together. Despite the dangers of falling off, I would rather be on a bridge than behind a wall.’
(*) Chrissie Murray is a freelance journalist based in Bridgnorth. She was co-founder of The Wire, and has been editor of Jazzwise and associate editor of Jazz At Ronnie Scott’s magazine
Anthony Wood. Born Germany 7 June 1948, died Yorkshire 15 September 2021