Red Square Electric (1978-80)

Ian Staples: guitar
Jon Seagroatt: bass
Roger Telford: drums

Sometime around 1977, Red Square began to re-cycle ideas.

Total improvisation with the same three musicians inevitably results in signature, idiomatic – but increasingly predictable – stylings and tropes. At that point, you are teetering dangerously on the edge of cliché, or worse – self-parody.

Furthermore, it was dawning on us that not only was there no ‘circuit’ that we could play, but that the resistance and hostility to what we were doing was looking increasingly insurmountable.

For Red Square, improvisation was a richly creative method, not a musical ideology. Ian and I probably viewed improvisation in music as analogous to ‘action painting’, and Roger’s playing was rooted in the free jazz of Sonny Murray and Milford Graves, rather than the free improvisation of Tony Oxley and John Stevens. 

We had deliberately avoided committing to a ‘school’ of improvisation, (though we’d probably have got more gigs had we done so!). We drew instead on an eclectic range of sources for inspiration, and some of those sources were inevitably based in composition. 

Listening to recordings of our improvisations, I couldn’t help mulling over the fact that brilliant passages of playing only existed for one spine-tingling moment, and were then gone for ever. I began to toy with the idea of how we might make some things repeatable. I began to wonder about composition.

Some time before 1977, inspired by listening to Hugh Hopper, Miroslav Vitous and Charlie Haden, I had bought an second-hand Epiphone Rivoli bass, badgered Ian for a few playing tips and launched myself into playing bass guitar. 

Dissatisfied with how things were going in Red Square, and encouraged by Ian and Roger, I began to incorporate the bass into our improvisations. 

However, nagging doubts about total improvisation and our musical isolation remained, combined with a growing interest in the idea of ‘moment capture’ and repeatability. This lead me to suggest trying out some compositional sketches I had been working on. If there’s one thing that compositions allow for, it’s repeatability. Collectively, we worked the sketches up into the pieces you hear on this album. Much of the old freedom was retained, particularly for Ian and Roger, but we had a compositional framework that made each piece recognisably the same on each outing.

Audiences were much more receptive to our new direction when we began gigging the new material in 1979 as a guitar, bass & drums trio, but the project sadly ended when Ian and his partner, Sue, had to move away from Southend in 1980.

The seven pieces on the album are the only studio recordings that we made of Red Square Electric. They are ‘test-of-concept’ recordings captured live in Trevor Taylor’s Essex studio during the first few months of our becoming – somewhat to our own surprise – a sort of left-field ‘power trio’.

Never Never Land is available as a download or a CDr from Bandcamp.

The album marks the first time these tracks have been released. The tracks have been newly edited and mastered by me from digital transfers of the original stereo reel to reel master tapes.

PS. If only we’d had the wit at the time to give the pieces decent titles rather than just numbering them 1 to bloody 20!