There is no doubt in my mind that my friend Derek Bailey was one of the major figures in music – and not just improvised music – over the last thirty years. I was a 19-year old philosophy student, and beginning jazz bass player, in Sheffield when I first met him in 1962. Along with drummer Tony Oxley, our trio – called Joseph Holbrooke – developed over the next four years an original and experimental approach to improvisation that led us away from jazz into uncharted areas of collective free playing. Virtually no recordings exist of this work apart from a few transitional rehearsal tapes and the group disbanded, quite suddenly, in 1966. I moved away and became a composer – in fact my first commissioned piece was from Derek for his Incus label. He later played on the Obscure Records recording of my piece Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and said that he had had more drinks bought for him on the strength of this than for any other reason!
The trio was eventually reunited in 1998 for a concert organised by German radio as part of a whole weekend long celebration of Tony’s work. This live trio performance was issued on CD (Joseph Holbrooke 98). We then spent three days shortly after making studio recordings that, seven years on, are finally about to emerge. Our last date was in Antwerp in 1999 and we considered it possible that we might play together again but unfortunately that never happened. Ironically, I received the long-lost cassette recording of the Antwerp concert in the post on Christmas Eve, shortly before Derek died and I listened late into the night to guitar playing of staggering virtuosity and invention from the most original and idiosyncratic musicians, and one of the finest men, I have ever known.