Friday, 16 January 2015

A Load of Old Cox

The avant-garde is, at best, a peculiar beast.

Today’s selection comes courtesy of WWR regular Ross Hamilton, who found this virtually unlistenable nonsense hidden away as an extra track on the third disc of the otherwise excellent compilation Love Poetry And Revolution: A Journey Through The British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes 1966 To 1972.

Sung virtually acapella by a gaggle of young kids (save for sparse accompaniment from a badly-plated flute and a drunk bashing away at a piano), this atonal version of the Beatles’ classic I am the Walrus originally appeared on the 1971 album Ear of the Beholder, issued by Lol Coxhill via John Peel's Dandelion label.

George Lowen Coxhill, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 79, was a noted figure on the UK underground jazz and rock scene. His saxophone playing appeared on recordings by Kevin Ayers (Coxhill was a member of Ayers’ group The Whole World), Caravan, John Otway and even The Damned. Recorded between July 1970 and January 1971, the Ear of the Beholder was Coxhill’s first solo album, and features contributions from Ayers, Mike Oldfield and David Bedford amongst others. A peculiar grab-bag of an album, it features everything from covers of outdated music hall songs such as That’s Why Darkies Were Born (performed by Coxhill in protest at its ridiculousness), tracks recorded al fresco with children from a Brixton primary school and poorly-recorded, interminable improvisations such as Rasa Moods. Genuinely everything including the kitchen sink.

Although he had been playing professionally for many years, it was Coxhill’s relationship with Peel that brought the free-improvising saxophonist to prominence: he is reputed to have been spotted by Peel while busking outside the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank in 1968. Coxhill forged strong links with the Canterbury scene, playing in jazz-rock groups including Kevin Ayers and The Whole World and Delivery, later working in small groups and intimate duos with the likes of Canterbury pianist Steve Miller. He was well known for his unpredictable solo improvising and for gigging in unconventional locations – such as his infamous 2004 tour of Yorkshire market towns, Lol Coxhill In A Skip.

Called ‘one of the most uncompromising albums of its age’ by Goldmine magazine, the original double album sold very few copies and is now quite hard to find. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint) it has been reissued a couple of times in recent years.



  1. I met Lol on a number of occasions at gigs around London, where he was either sat as an audience member or - more likely - performing as part of an improv ensemble onstage. A fascinating and very dapper man whose recorded output may have sometimes been a bit too absurd for its own good, but live was an exceedingly good player who could work wonders with all manner of unpredictable people. Thrilling stuff at times, like witnessing the musical equivalent of a high-wire act.

    I think the last time I actually spoke to him was at Bob Cobbing's funeral last decade. Cobbing, of course, broke an unbelievable amount of ground in live poetry and was part of some late sixties gig line-ups that featured Pink Floyd. It's sad to think that so many people of that era, working in those kind of areas, are passing away now.

    I was aware of "I Am The Walrus". I don't think I need to hear it again.

  2. I hope that the children's names were never disclosed, as this calamity would haunt them if it was brought up during their adult lives.


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