Synth + Mad Drummer = Forgotten Genius

At the tail end of the 1970s, a small NME article alerted its readers to the fact that there were some great albums lurking in the 50p racks at a UK chain of downmarket electronics shops. Most of them were the usual tat (although the ‘Funky Junction Plays a Tribute to Deep Purple’ album, once a permanent resident of the unloved 50p rack, is now a collector’s piece in its own right).


The real gem, though, was an album by John Surman and Stu Martin, called ‘Live At Woodstock Village Hall’. John Surman is a well-known British jazz ‘reedsman’ (sax, clarinet) who had played with the likes of John McLaughlin and Dave Holland. Stu Martin (d. 1980) was a drummer who had played with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd and Quincy Jones. He developed an interest in synthesisers in the 1970s, and integrated them into his wild playing. He had two EMS Synthi AKS synths which, according the album’s sleeve notes, are ‘paired in a special matrix that interfaces both machines into an enormous phalanx of sound’. Imagine the clattering headrush of a jazz drummer channeling Keith Moon. With some kick-ass analogue synths.


The album features titles like ‘Harry Lovett – Man Without A Country’, ‘Are You Positive’ You’re Negative?’, ‘Wrested In Mustard’ and ‘Professor Goodly’s Implosion Machine’, and is intended as the musical accompaniment for some potty half-baked six-part radio serial telling the story of Harry Lovett, a hapless chap who is controlled by the Masters of the Universe and turned in a superhero called Mr Everything.

While the synth-driven free improvisations of this album made jazz critics sniffy at the time, the album is better understood by fans of, say Silver Apples and today’s explorers of the esoteric. The album is well worth tracking down, but be warned; it might frighten the horses.