The People Band came from a time when freedom in music was still a novelty with optimism at its core. At the instigation of the Rolling Stone’s Charlie Watts, the British aggregate made one album, which was reissued by Emanem five years ago. Now, we have 69-70, a double disc of previously unreleased material taken from a studio date, a home jam session, a concert and a musical free-for-all in the woods.
At its heart, the People Band played the “free jazz” associated with Albert Ayler. Multi-instrumentalists Terry Day, Terry Holman and Russell Hardy had been in a group improvising free music as early as 1960, and they were heavily influenced by the post-Coleman jazz emanating from the United States. The People Band was an extension of that aesthetic, but unlike the concurrent Spontaneous Music Ensemble, they took freedom to its limits. The thought among its members was that music is all around us, and we simply tap into it at will – thus, the collective’s early appellation was the Continuous Music ensemble. Freedom continued to be the overarching concern, so much so that the group was purportedly ejected from the Anarchists’ yearly ball for being too anarchic. Many personalities passed through the group – including Soft Machine veteran Lynn Dobson – and the band changed size and deployment depending on the situation.
The results are as one might expect – chaotic, humorous and overpowering by turn. The first two of eight studio selections from the first disc thrive primarily on fire music; after that, the freedom principle really sets in and no holds are barred. Yet, at certain moments, all drums and percussion drop out, leaving room for moments of spare but gorgeous brass and winds counterpoint. The contrast is as surprising as it is beautiful. The live set from the second disc, taken from a gig at the fabled Paradiso club in Amsterdam, shares similar roots but is executed by a smaller ensemble that was not short of energy.
The other two sessions defy any such simple categorizations. The home jam at Mel Davis’ house contains a few jazz and quasi-rock signifiers, but like the group’s eponymous album, the elements are juxtaposed in unexpected ways. The “woods” tape is the most radical music here, full of jagged musical lines, vocal yawps, tinklings, whistling, squeaking and even a few jets flying over head. They provided the occasional drone, making the music sound similar to the timbral experiments coming out of Finland 30 years later.