Davey Payne | Blockheads and beyond (Part Two)

Written by | Articles, Artists, Featured Artist, News

Davey Payne – Part Two

By: Sammy Stein

After Davey left the Blockheads in 1998 things were quiet for a while. He commented, “In just one tour with the Blockheads we would do 70 gigs off the trot. I have a pile of itineraries with hundreds of gigs all over the world.” So, given the sudden contrast in life style I asked him if he regretted anything and he put it like this, “1998 back in Cornwall. It suited me not to work with Ian. He was unwell, on chemotherapy. I always thought he should stop gigging, move to Hawaii and live on pineapple juice, eat clean fish and organic vegetables and vitamin D but he carried on his rock and roll lifestyle and that’s what he wanted.”

Davey reunited with the band after Ian’s death in March 2000 when in June the same year The Brixton Academy hosted an Ian Dury tribute concert. Davey joined Madness for renditions of Ian’s songs from the Kilburn days, ‘Crippled With Nerves’ and ‘Rough Kids’ with Glen Matlock and Mick Jones and sat in with Robbie Williams and other guests on ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’. In 2005 he played with them at a concert at Colliford Lake near Bodmin. Of Colliford, Davey says, “I was a bit crazy, leaping into the audience. It was a kind of hippy midsummer solstice gig. I’m almost sure there were magic mushrooms in my veggie burger, so my playing was totally outside the box.” There followed a gig at Falmouth Princess Pavilion where Davey says, “ I did a storming solo on ‘Clevor Trever’ and I think that’s when the Blockheads realised I hadn’t completely lost my head and asked me if I would like to do more gigs, kindly opening the door for when I was ready. ”

In May of 2011 he joined the band again for a concert in Exeter at the Corn Exchange where he shared sax duty with Terry Edwards and in July of the same year he was part of a 3 day residency at The Water Rats in Kings Cross, London as a prelude to celebrations marking 35 years of The Blockheads. The line up of the band on those nights was original as it could be. The manager at the time, Lee Harris, told me that halfway through one gig Davey commented to him that it was too noisy to hear himself play and he was not sure if he would play with them again but later he came back and said it was a great vibe. Davey later said, “At the Water Rats gigs, Nigel Kennedy was expected to join us. He’s a big fan of the band. Unfortunately he couldn’t make it. They were great gigs with many friends in the audience.”

One other regret is that the People Band did not continue to play together regularly due to other commitments. He comments, “In retrospect, I wish I had taken the band to Europe. Don Cherry asked me if I would take the People Band to Sweden but I was tied up with the family and the Blockheads but I wish I had and tried to keep the People Band playing over these years.”

Originally, the Blockheads replaced Davey with Gilad Atzmon, who was introduced to the band as he had played with Chaz Jankel (keyboard/guitars) in his studio but now they use a rolling line up of saxophone players including Gilad, Terry Edwards and Dave Lewis with Ed Jones doing one set of gigs in Norway. Davey says, “The only times I played with Gilad were on ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ at Ian’s tribute concert at the Brixton Academy, and then the crazy Colliford Lake gig. We met again socially when he was playing and staying down in Falmouth with my friend, bass player Pete Kubryk Townsend” (Townsend is a bass player, a member of the Bop Brothers Blues Band and has backed Gilad occasionally).

There is acknowledgement that the original Blockhead sound owed much to the combination of musicians at the time, including Davey’s sax sounds and many fans of the band have a yearning to see Davey play with them again. Terry Edwards told me, when I commented that his solo during ‘Clevor Trever’ was heading toward a free jazz sound, that he did it like that because, ”that’s how Davey would have done it”. He said that as a kid he used to watch the band and was inspired by Davey’s playing, which is testament enough when you consider Terry is one of the best players around.

Over his career Davey has played both large and small venues. He has had different reactions, from warm appreciation at jazz gigs to rapturous cheering when he played solos during Blockheads’ concerts. Recently at a gig at Café Oto, London with Terry Day on drums, Neil Charles on bass, Alan Wilkinson on bass clarinet and saxes and Pat Thomas on piano, Davey stretched his free playing to the limits and received well deserved warmth from the audience. He comments, “I don’t really have a reaction to the audience as such, though obviously it’s great when people are shouting for me- especially when I’m flying away with a crazy free solo rather than a planned one. I react more with the band if it’s going well and the sound balance is good, which is important. What upsets me is a bad sound, when the guitars and bass are so loud that I can’t hear what I’m playing, or a sound man hasn’t noticed that my monitor is not on. Out of frustration, I might end up throwing a mic stand at someone or, worse still, smashing my saxophone but I’ve only thrown one mic stand and smashed two saxes. Maybe a few scuffles on stage but hey, rock and roll! It never happened with jazz and the People Band and I think that’s because I’m with like minds and more fulfilled creatively.”

Recently, he commented that playing free jazz is about losing the ego and selfishness, or at least that is how he sees it. He may not react much to an audience but his interaction with musicians he is playing with is a different matter. Then, communication is everything. Davey recently played a duet with ‘cellist Hannah Marshall as part of an event at Café Oto, London and there was a moment at the end of their set when the two musicians glanced across at each other as if to say,‘yes? It that enough?’ and both just stopped. “When I play with others”, Davey says, “I’m totally aware of them. That’s what it’s all about; dialogue, communication, to create a oneness, lose the ego, so if you need to play a thousand notes you do that but if only one note is required you do that also: This is when free music is at its best. It is said that you have to be intelligent and in control of the music. Well, I like to be out of control; it’s a different intelligence. OK, sometimes tell the music what to do but try letting it speak to you also.”

As a free player Davey’s intuitive interpretation is clear. He can play gentle sounds which are like caressing whispers and intersperse these with screeches and wails which can curdle milk at 50 paces. For those who do not appreciate free form jazz, Davey puts it like this, “what do they think of Schoenberg and atonal music? Or abstract expressionism? The point is, I would sooner listen to a child blow the sax for the first time, with the purity, texture, the broken notes, multi-phonics, and natural and interesting spacings, than some twat trying to play ‘Desafinado’ or painting the Haywain badly. I say that because they are the people who criticise free jazz and music they don’t understand – and don’t forget ‘Giant Steps’ is only nine chords and 3 2-5-1s – it’s not rocket science.”

Next Page

Last modified: August 7, 2015