The Jazz Weekend of the Buxton International Festival 2022 will present something of a coup, the first appearance since 2015 of The Impossible Gentlemen, in what is described as a “2022 version” with Laurence Cottle on bass and Ian Thomas on drums. Interview with Gwilym Simcock by Sebastian:
Back in 2010, I had the good fortune to attend and to review the second ever concert by a new band. The quartet then had the unwieldy name of ‘Simcock Walker Swallow Nussbaum’. “This should be the start of something big,” I wrote about that group – which would later become The Impossible Gentlemen.
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Peter Bacon was also at that same concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. He went further, and was completely taken aback by the interaction between Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker, and wrote: “Pat (meaning Metheny) and Brad (meaning Mehldau) could learn a lot from Gwil and Mike.”
It is quite the claim, but the strong sense of partnership and musical empathy between Simcock and Walker was and is undeniable. It was also the catalyst which led to the original formation of the band. The two had first met as deps working at the same gig by Tim Garland’s Dean Street Underground Orchestra (“ I seem to owe Tim Garland a lot of things, and this is definitely one of them,” says Gwilym).
And that understanding, that empathy have continued to be important. “Mike and I are good friends and have a close musical association.” The pair have just been working in a new trio formation, giving concerts in Holland with Dutch harmonica player Hermine Deurloo, a group which owes its existence to meetings at “Ambleside Days”, the Lake District residency, where this incarnation of The Impossible Gentlemen will do the second planned gig, on 3 September.
As I spoke to Simcock in Holland, he carried a sense of real optimism about the continuing potential of his musical partnership with Mike Walker. They seem to add to each other’s ideas in such a way that there is an optimism about new pieces emerging: “One of us just plays something, the other responds, and we both have the feeling that a new piece could emerge from that. That is what it is: an honest association with the potential that something can be created.” But on a more realistic note, he adds: “However, it is a function of actually having the time…”
The Impossible Gentlemen continued initially from 2011 to 2015, years which saw the group record and release three albums on the Basho label. They built up a repertoire of tunes during that time, and that will form the core of what the group will play for their two gigs this year, the first in Buxton and the second at Ambleside/Yewfield.
And the new line-up? “Actually there is something quite serendipitous going on here. Yes, obviously, the financial and the logistical practicalities: the offer of the the two gigs in Buxton and Ambleside meant that it was logical for us to try out an entirely UK band. But the links between us all run really deep. First there’s the fact that Laurence and Ian have played together such a lot, and are a formidable partnership with a wealth of experience, not just in jazz but in all different kinds of music.”
And the links run deeper. Simcock has known Laurence Cottle ever since first meeting as members of Bill Bruford’s band, including tours of the US. (See picture of Bruford/ Garland/Simcock/Cottle from 2006). “Laurie has been one of my closest personal friends for nearly two decades.” And Ian Thomas has worked a lot with Mike Walker, most recently in the Nikki Iles Orchestra. “It has a nice feel of a completed ring,” Simcock says of the quartet which will perform at Buxton and Ambleside. And the future? “We will fulfil these two dates and see what happens after that.”
What will they be playing? Their repertoire starts with the pieces from the three previous Impossible Gentlemen albums, from which they will extract “some of the more successful ones,” in Simcock’s words.
Are there any new compositions? Both Simcock and Walker will contribute individually written rather than co-written new pieces. The time to work together as co-composers has simply not been available. Simcock and his wife are based in Berlin with their year-old son. And for the years from 2015 until the pandemic struck Simcock was touring extensively around the world in Pat Metheny’s quartet. That will start up again in the autumn of this year with a tour of South America.
Other projects? Gwilym has a lot of commissions and other projects on the go, but definitely one of the things he wants to bring to completion is a set of music recorded before the pandemic with Hamburg’s NDR Big Band. “I’m just excited and want to get it out as soon possible.” It is currently in the latter stages of post-production, something Simcock is doing himself.
(*) Photo credits L-R: Publicity photo, Joe Garland, Lieve Boussauw, Lol Johnson.