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A Short Bio:
Geoff Leigh's professional career began in 1968, playing jazz, rock and soul music with various groups touring in the UK and Europe. In 1969, while busking in Notting Hill Gate (home of the London '67 scene), he met guitarist G.F. Fitzgerald, who introduced him to the new European rock music typified by groups such as Soft Machine. He immediately joined Gerry's band Mouseproof, which also included bassist Rik Kenton (previously in Roxy Music), keyboardist and double bassist Ian Andrews, and drummer Tony Turnbull. Members of the band were featured on the album Mouseproof (1970) [recently reissued at last]. Among other exploits, the band performed at 1971's Glastonbury Festival on the same day Gong played their UK debut. Through Gerry, Leigh met the now infamous Lady June, and musicians like Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, and other Cambridge / Canterbury luminaries. He also met John Martyn, who invited Leigh to join him on various London gigs.
Having been at school with drummer Chris Cutler, Leigh guested several times at Henry Cow gigs, until he accepted the band's offer to join them in the spring of1972. During his stay with them, he recorded a couple of BBC sessions and Henry Cow's debut album for Virgin, Leg End. But musical differences eventually appeared, coupled with the band's intensive touring schedule, and led to Leigh's departure in December 1973.
During this period, Leigh took advantage of Virgin's network of artists, and gigged or recorded with Hatfield and the North (self-titled album), Kevin Ayers, Gong, Slapp Happy (Desperate Straights), John Martyn and Mike Oldfield (the Tubular Bells concert and film). He was also a special guest on Henry Cow's third album In Praise Of Learning.
In January 1974 he formed Radar Favourites with Gerry Fitzgerald (vocals and guitar), Cathy Williams (vocals and keyboards), Jack Monck (bass) and Charles Hayward (drums). Sadly this group didn't release anything, despite making a strong impression, and split up in August 1975, after Virgin Records decided not to sign them because "the band wanted too much money" in advance ! For Leigh it paved the way for a long musical relationship with Cathy Williams (voice, piano, performance) : first the duo Rag Doll (1975-76), then the music theatre collective Red Balune.
Red Balune began in March 1976 when Leigh and Williams were invited to stage four music performance events at Bristol Arts Centre. Gradually the project became something larger , branching out into different strands - the Albert Park Brass Band - up to 30 musicians, many from the Bristol Musician's Co-op, playing everything from the songs of Kurt Weill to free jazz, performing at political rallies and outside events. Geoff and Cathy also worked with Share Community Theatre, a charity dedicated to working with disabled and dysfunctional people in the area. Has anyone else out there ever gigged with ex-bankrobbers ?
In December 1977, a Dutch tour was set up, on the eve of which Colin McClure (bass) and Rob Musgrove (drums) replaced the original rhythm section. The 3-week tour was an unrehearsed affair, and on the second gig the quartet was augmented by Dutch keyboardists Henk Weltevreden and Leo de Pagter, and tour organizer Loek van Saus even joined in. After ten days, Red Balune was further augmented by trombonist Anne-Marie Roeloffs and American Chris Wangro. By the end of the tour they were arriving at gigs with 10 or 12 performers in tow ! In January 1978, recording sessions began for an album, which was never finished. But the "acid punk" single "Spider In Love" c/w "Capitalist Kid", allegedly recorded "as a joke" during the band's lunch break, created quite a stir when it was released, and remains a seminal underground classic. In April 1978 the band decided to move en masse to Holland. But the internal dynamics were becoming more and more unstable, and in September 1978, Leigh decided to move to Belgium.
Having now settled in Brussels, Leigh started work on his solo project "The Modern World of Geoff Leigh". There he met local bands Aqsak Maboul and Univers Zéro, and was invited to perform with them. Meanwhile, McClure became a fixture of the no-wave scene in Rotterdam, and van Saus went to England to work for Recommended Records. In December 1978, Red Balune's 2nd release "Maximum Penalty" was recorded with help from Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson and Marc Hollander.
In 1979, Leigh's solo EP was released and he began extensive solo work in Belgium and France. During that period he also filled the saxophone chair with French singer Pierre Vassiliu. But by 1980, he got bored with his solo gigs and, with Loek van Saus back from England, embarked on a new band venture, the short-lived Kontakt Mikrofoon Orkest (again with McClure on bass), which mutated in 1981 into The Black Sheep.
The Black Sheep released the 12" maxi "Animal Sounds" later that year, and for once the Dutch audiences were very appreciative - the Sheep built up a cult following in their hometown Rotterdam without even playing a single gig ! Of all the MCCB bands, The Black Sheep did the most touring - Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Sweden, (former) Yugoslavia, and other former "iron curtain" countries.
In 1982, Leigh stopped gigging "in order to take a long hard look at future plans". Several projects were begun and rejected. In 1983 he teamed up with ex-Aqsak Maboul keyboards wizz-kid Frank Wuyts to record what later became the "From Here To Drums" album.
In September 1984 he combined forces with ex-MCCB diehards Colin McClure and Henk Weltevreden to start Random Bob. This largely improvisational group was a melting pot of world music, jazz, and electronics, and released two tapes, Painting By Numbers (1984), and Ekwinox (1985), before splitting in 1986. Meanwhile, a new line-up of The Black Sheep was formed in 1986 : Leigh and van Saus were joined by Lindsay Cooper and Chris Cutler. Through 1986-7 Leigh also continued playing with Random Bob percussionist Azad Oberoi, working on contemporary dance projects and duo gigs in the Netherlands, but again spending more time in Brussels.
Over the next four or five years he played there with numerous bands, some with strong ethnic and jazz connections - Sables, a project of multi instrumentalist Pierre Jacobs, and Algerian singer Hamsy Boubaker's group. Leigh plays on both these group's CDs. He also played with Moroccan singer and oud player Hassan Eradgi's group Arabesque.
In 1987-88 he gigged with two different duos - Switchcraft with songwriter, trombonist and saxophonist Claude Jansens, and Compaxident with fellow saxophonist and computer buff John van Rijmenant. Unfortunately no recordings of these projects were made, although some archives are being dug up for possible release. During this time Leigh also worked (often with Claude Jansens) on music for TV ads and documentaries.
With Moroccan oud player (simply known as) Abid, he co-wrote the music for Arouyessa, a one-woman theatre piece written and performed by Sabra Ben Arfa. Apart from performing all over Belgium, the play was performed in Cairo, and twice in Tunisia.
In 1988 Leigh formed the Morton Fork Gang together with fellow british saxophonist Joe Higham. This group was a true melting pot of maverick Brussels leftfield jazz and rock musicians - the final line-up included former Univers Zéro drummer Daniel Denis and bass player Guy Segers. The other musicians were cellist Jan Kuijkens, and saxophonists Marc Bogaerts and Daniel Stok. Highly praised by both the press and one or two promoters, and influenced by "avant-rock, Sun Ra, Mingus, and the Duke", this was unfortunately to be Leigh's last project for many years.
In 1989 a badly performed dental intervention left him with a serious neuro-chemical imbalance, which over the next two years led to an incurable neurological illness called dystonia. This condition is typified by uncontrollable muscle spasms, which affected all his facial muscles, and thus of course his embouchure. He managed to fulfill some concerts and recording sessions from late '92 until early '94, during which time he also co-founded the Highly Irregulars, a short-lived trio with bass player Jack Monck and Moroccan percussionist/vocalist Lahcen Lahbib (who went on to play with Joi, and later founded the Moroccan fusion band Momo), but finally had to accept the fact that he would have to stop playing music altogether. The condition was diagnosed in late '92. The hard facts were that only 1 in 10 sufferers ever get any relief from the medication available, so being the kind of person who was used to "life on the edge", and a "warrior" (sic!), Leigh decided to be one of those 1 in 10!
...and he succeded !
Over the last 4 or 5 years Leigh's confidence and playing have improved enormously. Formed in 1999, the "ethno-fusion" band Ex-Wise-Heads have released two CDs and one CD-R, and played various UK gigs and festivals. They are currently working on their 4th CD, although the band is no longer gigging and has no other future plans. In 2001 he met Berlin-based waterphone player and percussionist Tom Zunk - together they formed the duo Men Working Overhead. Their first CD-R will hopefully soon be available online. On recent gigs in London they were accompanied by dancer, performer and video artist Elke Postler. Leigh has also re-started a duo with vocalist Lucianne Lassalle, who he first met in 1999. They are working on material for release by early '06. Both of these projects mark Leigh's return to his freer improvisation days, a move welcomed by many "fans" and fellow musicians alike.
Latest news update : The recently formed Ad Hoc Records USA have re-released the complete MCCB back catalogue, together with some previously unreleased material (two Black Sheep tracks and one solo track from Leigh), plus two other Black Sheep tracks from RecRec compilation CDs. The original Black Sheep line-up of Leigh, Colin McClure, and Loek van Saus have started work on a new CD, which should be finished sometime this century ! In 2005 Leigh played in London with original Faust members Jean-Hervé Peron and Zappi Diermaer (and guested on several dates on Faust's Autumn 2005 UK tour), and he and Lucianne Lassalle played at the Faust Fiestaval in Hamburg, with Tom Zunk as special guest, and were one of the surprise "hits" of the festival. Promises of a solo CD from Leigh have been temporarily suspended, since he has found that these new projects give him "all the freedom of expression" he needs for now. But there will no doubt be more to come... In other news, The Ex-Wise-Heads have parted company with percussionist Vincent Salzfaas, but their 4th CD will be released in September 2006. A new CD with Cathy Williams is being mixed in August, and will be released before the end of '06. Lastly, Leigh and Lucianne Lassalle will be performing both as a duo and with Faust at the Annual Avant Garde Festival near Hamburg (September 1/2/3), and are also contributing to the latest Faust CD.