The past is a foreign country…..
Red Square 1976 (and I’ve still got the Grafton….)
Ian Staples: electric guitars, violin, toys.
Jon Seagroatt: soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, percussion, toys, electronics.
Roger Telford: drums
Paramusic (self-released cassette, 1975)
Circuitry (self-released cassette, 1976)
Thirty Three (FMR, 2008)
Shuttle Bag (Fo Fum, 2009)
UnReason: Live at the Vortex (Fo Fum, 2010)
Bird Haus (Fo Fum, 2012)
Rare and Lost 70s Recordings (Guerssen, 2016)
Red Square is the pioneering group that myself, Ian Staples and Roger Telford formed in 1972. It broke up in 1978, before re-forming in 2008 as a result of renewed interest in the band’s pioneering bridging of the worlds of psychedelia, metal and free-jazz.
Pre-dating Sonic Youth by seven years, Last Exit by a decade and the Thing by twenty five, our railing aural assaults were once considered too extreme for commercial release, so in a gesture of proto-punk defiance we self-released two now-impossible-to-find cassette-only albums, ‘Paramusic’ (1975) and ‘Circuitry’ (1976).
We conjured up an astonishingly different music in pre-Thatcher Essex. ‘They’ were waiting patiently for ‘Her’, the great dispenser of bribes and facile nostrums to the selfish and the stupid. Sometimes, to their horror, they got us instead.
Red Square was my teenage gang. Red Square gave me family. I grew up there.
This is Guerssen’s promotional video for ‘Rare & Lost 70s Recordings’ (2016):
Below are four tracks, one from each of our post-reformation albums (in reverse chronological order):
And here’s a bit of video from our first post-reformation gig:
The groundwork for the band’s sound was laid when Ian Staples and I began a musical collaboration in Southend-on-Sea, Essex in 1972, following encounters at a number of experimental music workshops.
Ian, fresh from the London underground scene, had been gigging regularly at the legendary Middle Earth Club in London with Ginger Johnson’s African Drummers, alongside, amongst others, Pink Floyd and Mark Bolan. He was working with tape multi-tracking, noise, psychedelia and action painting. Ian’s electric guitar playing was a revolutionary blend of Hendrix and Beefheart, with the sonic palettes of Derek Bailey and Stockhausen. He became adept at unleashing cunningly atonal guitar riffs, which referenced metal without ever becoming metal.
Likewise, I had been galvanized by the explorations of Johns Coltrane and Tchcai, Evan Parker, Steve Lacy, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, and also drew freely on groups such as Can, Faust, Weather Report, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Soft Machine.
Both of us were also heavily influenced by developments in contemporary ‘art’ music.
From the beginning of our collaboration we determined to improvise all of our music. Within a year we found a kindred spirit in drummer Roger Telford, a committed exponent of the free-jazz style of kit playing being pioneered at the time by Milford Graves and Sunny Murray.
The central combination of electric guitar, amplified bass clarinet or soprano sax and drum kit gave Red Square a unique sound palette to explore, as well an instantly recognisable group sound.
The line up of myself, Ian and Roger remained constant throughout the band’s original six year history, as did the commitment to total improvisation, but, given the group’s wide range of influences, our improvisations drew as much on avant-rock as they did on jazz or contemporary improvised music.
Live, we could be punishingly loud (one urban myth recounts that a Red Square set drowned out Cliff Richard who was playing at a venue half a mile away!). We frequently enjoyed a combative relationship with audiences. Our enthusiasm for playing inappropriate venues (including folk clubs and pub-rock dives), and our willingness to engage forcefully with hecklers led to a number of hurried back-door exits from gigs, and presaged the arrival of punk a few years later.
Red Square broke up in 1978.
Thirty years later, in 2008, we were approached by FMR Records about releasing our old material. We so enjoyed trawling through the reels of tape to choose album tracks that we decided to re-form, and are now back gigging, thirty years after last playing together as Red Square, and recording new choice cuts of elemental, genre-defying, avant-rock and outer-limit free-jazz rampaging.
Post-reformation dates have included the Vortex, Cafe Oto, Supernormal Festival, Resonance FM, Darkstar at the Dogstar, Oxford’s Klub Kakofanney, Southend’s Culture As A Dare Fringe Festival, Utrophia’s Cwm Festival, OCM at Modern Art Oxford, the Tinderbox Festival, Oxford Improvisors, Chatham’s Brutally Honest Club and Brighton’s On The Edge.