Homage To Derek Bailey

A thousand years ago (or so it seems) in 1977, I heard Derek Bailey for the first time. I was living in a condemned tenement building in the west end of Dundee, my home town. Fellow squatters included Gerry Mitchell, Tam McGibbon, and a few others whose names are fading from my memory. Gerry and another friend, Scott Gowans, had a band called Boo Hooray, deeply influenced by Captain Beefheart, Henry Cow, and Derek Bailey. I joined them as a bass player – befitting, as I’d never played bass before. We did a few gigs at the Art College, about the only place we could play the weird and wonderful music we wrote and improvised (the Tayside Bar in the West Port seemed to be the only other venue for us). As a band, we had some really inspired moments, but as was the nature of band life, members came and went, and eventually the band was no more. That was the last I heard Derek Bailey, until just a month ago…

Bailey was a jobbing musician in Sheffield, London and Manchester, before discovering the music of Anton Webern, whose short, tightly-composed serial compositions consumed most of Bailey’s listening time. After studying Webern’s compositional techniques, Bailey composed (1965/66) the three pieces which commence this video. Although very short, they did provide Bailey with a few licks which became part of his language of free improv. Having learned the pieces, I can see his use of some passages from them in other videos. So, although he quickly abandoned composition, these pieces helped him break away from the trained manoeuvres he had become used to in his earlier work. He referred to the new style as non-idiomatic improvisation, the referred idioms doubtless including jazz, classical, blues, etc. Of course, this new style became an idiom in itself…

Rather than just play the three pieces by Bailey, I thought I would indulge in a little idiomatic-non-idiomatic free improv, as a homage to the great man, and – I’ll admit – a slight reminisce of our days living in a squat in Dundee.

I’ve enjoyed my brief dalliance in the world of Derek Bailey, and might return there again some day. I hope you get something out of it too.

When I first started studying these pieces, I thought I would put them into TAB, but after doing so with the first two I decided it was better to read from the original scores. I’m not in a position to share the original scores, but I am willing to share my TAB versions of the first two pieces, so you can all join in the fun:

Piece For Guitar no1 TAB

Piece For Guitar no2 TAB

Comments welcome…

Rob MacKillop
16 April, 2017

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