Alan Skidmore: Once Upon A Time…. (1969) Decca Deram Nova

Selection 1: Once Apon A Time . . . .  (Surman) 7:07

.  .  .

Selection2: Old San Juan (long – Christmas Bonus!)

.  .  .

I ripped both tracks but could not decide which to make the selection. So I chose. . . both –  a classic solution to many split-choice dilemmas, feel free to use, but  for joint-account holders, with caution. This album shows no sign of a vinyl reissue any time soon. I figured, grab it if you can, when you can. Ooh, it was ex-pen-sive.


A1 Once Upon a Time (Surman)
A2 Majaera (Oxley)
A3 The Yolk (Taylor)
B1 Old San Juan (Warren)
B2 Free For Al (Skidmore)
B3 Image (Image)


Harry Miller, bass; Tony Oxley, drums; Kenny Wheeler, flugelhorn; John Taylor, piano; Alan Skidmore, Tenor Saxophone; Producer, Peter Eden; Engineers, Bill Price and David Grinsted; mastered by Harry Fisher for Decca.

Each engineer who cut at Decca was identified by a letter code at the end of the matrix number, in this case Harry Fisher (W). ZAL is the Decca prefix for stereo.


This is iconic British jazz, divorced from its US origins (no pre-nup), ground-breaking artists, originality leaning towards the avant-garde, and moving on from the European classicism of the late Sixties. 

Each side of the album is dominated by a lengthy piece.  Though they have individual song titles and composer credits, there is no obvious separating band between the tracks, which lead one into the other, and the group plays continuously. This likely explains why Youtube posters post the whole side, I’ve made my own judgement where each finishes.

Of the two long pieces, I prefer Old San Juan (Warren) for its cinematic mood and structure. I was always a sucker for European Classicism. Once Upon a Time (Surman) is more spacious piece, slowly unfolding,  easing into free-improv territory, the direction of some British Jazz at the time. Skidmore is quite restrained, considering it is his album.  Both sides are graced with marvelous Kenny Wheeler explorations. The rhythm section provides colour and shading more than “rhythm”. John Taylor’s sparse piano wanders in pursuit of his own ideas, keeps everything loose, and adventurous.

Each long piece eventually ends in a free-for-all, cacophony. Man-in-a-Shed tells me he likes cacophony. I envy such a forgiving nature, me not so much. When Mingus deploys cacophony in Pithycanthropus Erectus, it is for the purpose of narrative: “conflict”. Here, it’s like they can’t think how to finish a free piece, so end in cacophony, purpose: finishing. If you disagree, that’s fine, we can settle this conflict outside, in the car park (swings sock full of coins).


A very rare and desirable record, but I’m going to have to put my hand up, the recording engineering is not Decca’s finest. Messrs Price and Grinstead were Decca house engineers, and a glance at their late 60s workload shows a conveyor-belt of popular vocalists – Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck, Kathy Kirby, folk singer Julie Felix, and a few groups, The Strawbs,  Amen Corner, The Batchelors. Then, out of the blue, a couple of quite abstract and free British jazz albums turn up on the studio job roster. I imagine the engineers were wondering: what’s this all about?

The drums and soloist are carefully miked, but the ensemble is a little muddy, and recessed in the mix. Were they thinking “another lead singer with backing band”? Perhaps producer Peter Eden can throw some light on this session (if you are out there, Peter, set me straight!) Still, it’s great music, you have to give it some rope.

Harry’s Place. Our time-travelling jazz paparazzi, Harry M,  heads on back to 1969, just in time to capture Alan Skidmore Quintet in concert, Harry Miller, bass, Tony Oxley,drums, John Taylor, piano, Kenny Wheeler, trumpet, Jazz Expo 1969. Kenny with the Anthony Braxton Quartet at Montreux in 1975

Collector’s Corner: Seen Out and About – more Pharaoh Sanders (UPDATED 9/12/22)

Tauhid, Pharaoh Sanders first  title for Impulse! has long been on my shopping list, and  doesn’t seem to get any attention from official sources (UMG/Verve/Decca, kindly note). In the absence of any official vinyl reissue release, entrepreneurs fill the gap, with digital reissues like Anthology Recordings

and not unexpected, a Russian bootleg on the AudioClarity label. There was a vinyl reissue from Germany in the 80’s MCA-era, bizarrely stickered “WARNER COLLECTORS SOCIETY“, like who collects “Warners”, however manufactured by Direct Metal Mastering, from undisclosed sources, poor provenance, even for a Warner Collector.

There are clearly digital files in circulation, and an abundance of CD reissues, but no official AAA release, possibly the master tape – along with a lot of the Impulse catalogue – went up in smoke in the LA back-lot fire.

But suddenly, another vinyl reissue of TAUHID has popped up, that claims to be a legitimate official reissue, originating in…Germany.  A brace of sealed new copies have just appeared from Discogs re-sellers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  A quick check of Verve Official websites and Universal Music Group make no mention of TAUHID in their current or forthcoming release schedules.

The record label says UMG Recordings © 2022, Universal Music Jazz, Germany, a Division of Deutche Gramaphon GmbH, Berlin, Universal Music Group logo.

UPDATE! A German music magazine has flagged up the release at the end of November 2022, though some difficulty with spelling TAUHID  (Tawheed) but providing no insight into the recording source, nor for another Impulse reissue, Shepp’s Attica Blues:

Any further information about these Impulse reissues, give us a shout.

Limited Edition 180-gm, pressed by Pallas, fine, but mastered from what source? Sources matter, they know that, but don’t think we need to know.  Omission is an admission, something to hide. Apparently there is a Hype Sticker on the shrink. If anyone has a picture, I’ll gladly add it.  


And now the post-early-for-Christmas, Tough Time to be a Turkey Special Edition LJC Seasonal Message: Happy Christmas! Or for the benefit of my American readers (exclusions apply, the Sussexes) Happy Holidays! Not very original, but short and sweet. 

With Christmas just around the corner, due to the unprecedented Cost-Of-Giving Crisis, I hear on the QT that Santa is shortly to go on strike. At Christmas, when else? I’ve got three LPs in the post, but with our postmen intermittently on strike, who knows when I will hear them. Maybe next week.

Just in case my local wine merchant goes on strike over Christmas, I have pre-emptively laid down emergency supplies of French white Burgundy: Viré-Clessé, Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint Aubin (new one for me, whoa, delish), and a Northern Rhone treat, a bottle of Condrieu. It’s like original Blue Note, only in a bottle, and more affordable.

Luckily for you, no strike here. LJC will be working all hours to make sure you get your next jazz-on-vinyl posts before the celebrations kick in, electronically of course. Until they cut off the power. 



8 thoughts on “Alan Skidmore: Once Upon A Time…. (1969) Decca Deram Nova

  1. About “Tahuid”, I got it, it’s an official release by Universal Germany. Pallas pressing, not gatefold.


    • Thanks for the link to I will update my post. Yes, JazzEcho lists the release of Tauhid (reissue) at the end of November, along side another Impulse title , Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, both pressed by Pallas. It makes no mention of the recording source for either record. I assume that means it is official licensed release, but not mastered from the original tapes, just from a secondary source, undisclosed, I guess a PCM digital audio-file of some sort. No vinyl copies are found among UK distributors thus far. The marketing is amateur-night, and Universal are not managing their European division.

      What with Karma, and Ptah El Doud (Third Man) reissues heavily promoted and distributed, now these two. Impulse is seeing a lot of vinyl reissue action, but looks all over the place. We have the Verve Acoustic Sounds Series, with top notch professional remastering from original tapes I believe at Sterling Sound (from memory) rival to Tone Poet. Then we have these reissues from Germany of unstated provenance, little different from grey reissues apart from being licensed (if that claim is true) .

      We deserve better from this great historic label, and Universal management need a gentle wake up call, what’s going on with Impulse!?


      • Yes, too much different reissues series. Also some titles on Vinyl Me Please and two more in the german division: Marion Brown “Vista” and Michael White “Pneuma”. By the way, is a web run by Universal Germany. I don’t know how the claim might not be true.


  2. Once Upon A Time – superb record. I have a stereo version of this and yes, it was expensive, five years ago.

    Oxleys drumming is creatively driving the whole ensemble and all musicians are really giving it some wellie Skidmore and Surman are highly inventive ,energised and right on the edge, throughout.

    Agreed , the use of cacophony as a means of bringing free sounding pieces to an end is a bit predictable and less creative than say ,Mike Taylor who used it as a device to build tension before moving seamlessly back to the harmony and melody. Clever that, I’ve never heard anyone us it like that before his Trio LP

    ZAL – good info , who would have thought it?

    Presumably DECCA used their revolutionary mixing console which they were always plugging on the Phase 4 stereo inner sleeves?

    Merry Christmas , if it ain’t out of keeping with the situation


    • Bought it when it came out think it was something like 25/11! As you say cracking album Oxley was/is an absolute monster, cacophony was very popular in the late 60s and a freak out was considered to be de rigueur


      • Drumming is brought brilliantly to the forefront as a solo instrument on Oxleys debut album The Baptised Traveller. Drums can often sound self indulgent or directionless ,but not here

        I like the photo of Oxleys kit on his Ichnos LP. A normal kit is supplemented with what looks like , among other items,a washboard and a film spool ! Amazing drummer


  3. Yes you are right it was busy time
    at Decca at the time of Alan’s recording his album. But it was amazing Decca did these recordings
    at all. Bill Price and Dave Grinstead were always so helpful and did all
    they could to help. BUT it was a
    everyday working studio and we
    were limited in time and the albums
    weren’t going to sell like Tom Jones
    Suggestion: just listen to the playing
    and the music. Enjoy it. I still do.


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