Free Blow

John Stevens Away
Awat At Home at The Plough Stockwell

Almost a country mile away from his involvement as a big wheel in British free jazzers The Spontaneous Music Ensemble (with LPs on Tangent, Island (!) and Eyemark), master-drummer John Stevens’ Away took shape in the first half of the seventies, when jazz rock was already a happening thing, due in no small way to Miles Davis and his many satellites, though the British movement was certainly a little less pyrotechnically manic compared to some of its American cousins. Looking back to those heady days, the J.S.A. albums on Vertigo, namely 1975’s self-titled debut, Somewhere in Between and Mazin Ennit seemed to receive little encouragement from the might of the Phonogram promo department. An occasional ad in the weeklies, perhaps, consigning them to a mid-table second division placing alongside the likes of Turning Point and Isotope (but above Major Surgery and Pacific Eardrum). Though I do recall them wheeling out a couple of numbers on The Old Grey Whistle Test (circa ‘Whispering Bob’), which staked a claim for perpetuity…unless of course Auntie Beeb wiped the tapes. So a mere matter of decades later, it comes as an unexpected bolt from the great blue yonder to find that Away bassist Nick Stephens’ Loose Torque imprint has issued a previously unreleased recording of J.S.A., at The Plough public house, Stockwell, from the year of 1978.

The Away at Home CD sees the aforementioned John and Nick, Robert Calvert (saxes), trumpeter John Corbett and guitarists Nigel Moyse and Martin Holder run through two sets which include such trieds and testeds as “What’s This” and “Anni” (near as dammit their signature tune), both from their debut. The clattering and gnarled free form preambles eventually disappearing in a well-drilled puff of smoke before the group mind locks on to a series of lyrically sinuous and at times muscular themes that aren’t particularly redolent in style of any of their fellow countrymen.

Three points in closing. Firstly, full marks go to the ubiquitous Mr. Stephens for mixing/mastering duties above/beyond the call, as Away… began its life as a cassette recording (!). If this disc has whetted your appetitite…October 2015 saw the release of a double CD package from the B.G.O. label which takes in all three Vertigo releases plus a couple of bonus tracks. And while we’re all aware that the Robert Calvert mentioned here isn’t Hawkwind’s leather jodphured master of ceremonies, he does have an interesting c.v. Aside from time spent in the S.M.E. and as a crew member on the Gong mothership, he was also a part of obscure left-field progsters Catapilla who recorded a pair of now highly collectable albums on Vertigo: 1971’s Catapilla and Changes from the following year.