Graham Collier: Deep Dark Blue Centre (1967) Deram

’60s British Jazz Alert! Queen’s English courtesy of Google Translate.

Selection: Crumblin’ Cookie

.  .  .


Graham Collier: bass, arrangements; Dave Aaron, alto saxophone, flute; Karl Jenkins, baritone saxophone, oboe; John Marshall, drums;  Philip Lee, guitar;  Michael Gibbs, trombone; trumpet, flugelhorn, Harry Beckett (tracks: A1, A3, A4), Kenny Wheeler (tracks: A2, B1, B2)   Recorded January 15, 18 & 24, 1967, at Jackson Studios,  producers John and Malcolm Jackson; sleeve design, Gillian Jackson.

The second half of the ’60s found breakaway-British jazz forms establishing their own trajectory, as with Ian Carr Don Rendell Michael Garrick. and this group, Graham Collier band.  This rich seam of invention left a legacy of quirky British Jazz, which within a few years had mutated into jazz rock fusion and progressive rock   This album features a young middle-aged Kenny Wheeler, and Harry Beckett on alternate tracks, along with others from the vibrant British jazz scene of the late 1960s, including Michael Gibbs, Phil Lee and Karl Jenkins..

Artist of Note 1 – Graham Collier

Graham Collier,  bassist, composer arranger, Britain’s answer to Charles Mingus, though no-one is quite sure what the question was, or indeed who asked it.. Born in England’s gritty North East, the young Collier joined the British Army as a musician, spending three years in Hong Kong playing trumpet and double bass. Why the British army needed musicians in Hong Kong remains unclear, but it left us a useful legacy. On his return, the resourceful Collier won a Down Beat magazine scholarship to the Berklee School of Music, Boston, and was its first British graduate in 1963.

He made his debut album on vinyl in 1967.  Deep Dark Blue Centre (Decca/ Deram). John Fordham picks up the story in his insightful  obituary of Collier (d.2011)

“Collier’s early groups made innovative recordings that have become cult classics, including the live sets from 1968 and 1975 issued on the US Cuneiform label under the title Workpoints. These pieces revealed his devotion to Ellington, Mingus and the Miles Davis/Gil Evans bands, but recast in a distinctively European harmonic language, and explored Britain’s newly emerging crossovers of jazz and rock.

Collier’s  discography of just short of 20 albums extends over 30 years, much of it into the era of the Evil Silver Disc. His later works from the mid ’80s do not attract the same critical acclaim as his early work, toying with “palette-expanding but ultimately cheesy synthesisers”, ageing prog-rock motifs and “fusion 101” “(All Music).

The later half of the ’60s was a uniquely creative time.  Its musical foundation had been laid in the first half of the decade, the cast of players had taken their positions, all the right forces were in place, and distinctly Brit-Jazz took off. If ultimately it lost its way, that should cause no surprise, perhaps everything always does. The trick is picking out the bits that haven’t.

Collier was given numerous prestigious international commissions, was awarded lifetime achievement recognition (Order of the British Empire), and professorial  appointments at the Royal Academy of Music, which marked his major contribution as an educator and incubator of young talent, passing the baton to the next generation.

Artist of note 2 Karl Jenkins (baritone sax in the selection Crumblin’ Cookie):

Composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins fell in with the London jazz scene of the late ’60s while studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He spent time in a number of jazz groups including the Graham Collier Band and Ian Carr’s Nucleus before navigating the following decade with drummer John Marshall in Britain’s ultimate prog-rock-psych-free-form jazz fusion band, The Soft Machine, the highlight of the Canterbury music scene.

Canterbury? Someone say Canterbury? Historic English cathedral city of Kent, about fifty miles south-east of London. Some very notable “Canterbury Scene” bands were Soft Machine, Caravan, Matching Mole, Egg, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Gilgamesh, and many others.

Note: it was not actually necessary to grow up in or live in Canterbury to be part of The Canterbury Scene.  Canterbury was just a state of mind in the progressive rock music genre which dominated the 70s. I think of  it as Student Rock.

For historical reference: Soft Machine, formed in 1966 and reformed 2015 below, highlights the most important element of prog-rock, the haircut. Prog-rock was not destined to last. Sadly, nor was its crowning glory, the boys’ hair.

Soft Machine went through thirty changes in membership, including notables Kevin Ayres, Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, Allan Holdsworth, John Etheridge, Elton Dean, Robert Wyatt, and Hugh Hopper. Prog rock is still a uniquely British collectable genre that has helped keep second-hand record shops, Discogs  sellers and Ebay dealers alive for decades.

Other members of the Graham Collier Septet:

Collier’s guitarist, Phil Lee, went on to the band Gilgamesh, with drummer Trevor Tomkins, who was heard earlier with Ian Carr, Don Rendell and Michael Garrick. South African Michael Gibbs, trombone, went on to form his rock-oriented jazz orchestra.; Canadian saxophonist Dave Aaron  continues to work as a “freelance saxophonist” in varied musical settings.


All About Jazz  notes “the quasi-impressionistic tones of Deep Dark Blue Centre echo the work of Gil Evans, albeit with a more rhythmically animated sense”

A  bassist in the Mingus mode and one of the most important British jazz composers and arrangers, Graham Collier boasts a discography the envy of many of his contemporaries. Allmusic says of Collier’s early work:  “his wonderfully diverse compositions are waiting to be discovered by a new generation, as his timeless, carefully crafted structures are charmingly alluring.”  “There are contrapuntal lines, complex rhythms tempered by a gentleness and glazed by simultaneous improvisations. The strong personalities of the soloists ensure individuality, while the juxtaposition of the flute, guitar, and trumpet lend a light air to some of the tracks”.

Collier achieves something akin to Mingus, who in his titles like Mingus 5 and Black Saint, paints an orchestral  urban landscape, night lights, smoke, distant horns, soloists emerging and subsiding like passing strangers on darkened streets. Collier’s Septet lays out a similar large canvas, passing encounters with Gibbs’ trombone or Wheeler’s flugelhorn, nervous energy, multiple textures, tangential forays, bursts of sound, call and echo, composed sections jostle against the improvised. It is spacious, both loose and structured, takes time for it to take shape, repeat play, and still there is more to find as you dig under the surface.

Why a Septet? Collier notes: It was all he could afford. With artful arrangement and direction, it sounds much more. I am happy to put Deep Dark Blue Centre  in the same league as Garrick/Carr/Rendell. Well, near enough.

Vinyl: Decca Deram  SML 1005 stereo

Solid Decca engineering, New Malden magic, vinyl was made for this.

Purchased originally from: Jarrolds Department Store, Great Yarmouth, Norwich,  which is nowhere near Canterbury, but demographically not dissimilar. 1960s department stores in provincial university towns all seemed to have record departments, catering for the music tastes of the local student population. Canterbury, to pick a town at random, has the highest student-to-resident ratio in England, one in five of the local adult population. Nice place I believe, apart from being overrun by students.

Collector’s Corner

This record was quite, well, very expensive, an iconic British jazz record. Not the trophy-league, but comfortably into three figures. A friend asked why I bought it? At a loss for a straight answer, I put it down to instinct, as I didn’t know Collier or any of his works. The label Deram was a good omen, the year 1967 hit the right spot creatively, the presence of Kenny Wheeler and Harry Beckett offered the thread of musical legitimacy, and, um… I liked the cover.  Sometimes you just have to go with it. As I say repeatedly, see it buy it, you may never see it again.

Another friend, who can recite the discography and probably every personnel change of every Soft Machine record ever released, knew nothing of Collier, but leapt apon  the names Karl Jenkins and John Marshall, names which meant nothing to me. Ah yes, so and so appears on Soft Machine 5, but completely different to 2 and 3, and by the time so and so joined 7. You Prog Rock People! Gilgamesh? Prog-rock has its own arcane knowledge base and is a big club of which I am not a member, but it is the music many of us of a certain age grew up with. Perhaps I should give it a go. But where to begin, Soft Machine 1? Is this a good idea, I’ve run out of instinct. Can Jazz and Prog Rock ever really be friends?

UPDATE: Coming shortly, new LJC Student Edition!
Launch issue late 2019, after gap year.

Free woolly hat offer.


10 thoughts on “Graham Collier: Deep Dark Blue Centre (1967) Deram

  1. This LP was hidden in a small job lot of jazz albums on Ebay the other week, which I didn’t win, Curse my tight-fistedness

    • Sympathies, anon.

      I have concluded that there is now so much information on comparative record prices at the press of an internet button, for both buyers and sellers, the era of the “bargain” is well and truly over, prices are market-driven: even grieving widows of jazz fans have got the message.

      The art now is to unearth hidden gems that the market undervalues. And there are some of those around, but I won’t tell you what they are until I have secured my copy! I go back to the old folk-tale, ask a Frenchman where to pick the best forest mushrooms. He replies: “Why would I tell you?”

      When it comes to rarities, assess the market worth, then add 10% if you really want it.

    • Great interview, a few short well-chosen questions, and give Collier lots of room to answer, in the depth the subject deserves, bravo, and thanks for posting the link. As a composer and educator Collier has an unusual long perspective on the forms of jazz, most interesting, and as you say, a nice man to boot. There is another Collier title in preparation.

  2. I’ve only got a ten or twelve (or fifteen?) year-old reissue of this. I can’t remember who the reissue was done by, but it’s not too bad. This is one of those Brit jazz LPs that is deeply evocative of a particular time — on the cusp of the 70s, edging towards jazz-rock and electric jazz fusion, but not quite there yet; classical influences still evident; there’s a new music on the horizon but it still isn’t quite clear what it will be.

    I always hear similarities between this and some early Ian Carr/Nucleus LPs, and also Neil Ardley’s Greek Variations & Other Aegean Exercises (the cross-over of personnel makes this almost inevitable). Jenkins’ baritone on the selected track is marvellous but I will admit that I would give almost anything to expunge his’ simpering oboe playing from this and a number of other records of the period. Oh, that mellifluous, pinched sound of Harry Beckett’s trumpet!

  3. I don’t know whether it was prophetic or just mere coincidence but just TODAY I received not only this latest issue of LJC in my email inbox but in my real mail inbox a long sought after Deram MONO copy of Deep Dark Blue Centre that I had finally wrangled from a European seller.

    I have had the Stereo version for a while but is always wanted the Mono—if only for, of all things, “Crumblin’ Cookie”—the sample du jour.

    The stars are in alignment. And it is GOOD.

  4. Excellent album and an important one, helping to indicate the way forward for the second phase of Brit Jazz modernists. Colliers formal musical education, and that of other band members, probably helped to create some discipline so the musical arrangements don’t run away with themselves and loose direction , given the album is to an extent cutting edge, helping to take Brit jazz into new territory.I like the cover as well!

    Jenkins and Marshall appear to very good effect on Soft Machine 7

    Post Wyatt Soft Machine (throughout its many changes of talented personnel)produced some very exciting ,sophisticated and subtle music ,which isn’t easy to categorise

    With Wyatt ,Soft Machine produced some brilliant music,particularly on 1 and 2. Its avant garde, experimental,free,sophisticated and driven along by Wyatts jazz style drumming and vocals.Above all ,Wyatt has a very whimsical English sense of humour and the overall effect is one of Art Blakey meets Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.Always look forward to playing these albums! I think they played The Proms back in the late sixties

    • Soft Machine is a minefield everyone has a favourite period. I tend to go for the 70/71 era with Ratledge,Dean,Hopper & Wyatt line-up, this was the one that played The Proms in 1970.
      Saw them a couple of weeks ago they were ok but more a vehicle for John Etheridge’s guitar work than the Softs of yesteryear, though John Marshall can still nail it fifty odd years after the Collier album.
      Incidentally the young Kenny Wheeler was 37 when DDBC was recorded the oldest player on the date by some distance!

      Whoops! Fact-checkers day off! I’ll settle for “middle-aged Kenny Wheeler”, thanks!

  5. I owned 2 or 3 Gong LPs in an earlier age which seem to fetch quite large sums now.

    Then again I also wore an afghan coat in those days.

    Electric Camembert might be quite hard to find but in a couple of months there could be lorry loads of the conventional variety queuing up at Calais, beyond the reach of Canterbury’s students and all points further (Hatfield and the) North.

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