1990 - to date

'It's all done in strict Queensbury spirit, and nobody gets hurt, least of all the music.
Strongly recommended for all those who sat at improv

gigs wondering when/if they're going to stop.'
Penguin Guide To Jazz on Record (2nd Ed.)

'And if things get serious, there's always buckets of uproarious noise generated by the guitar of Billy Jenkins.'
Guardian Guide


As with any boxing match, the musicians confront each other and have to achieve their object within the
constraints of a boxing ring (imagined or real) and of two, or three, minute rounds.

               The performance comes complete with referee/timekeeper (VOTPBFBC* approved),
stop watch, round signs and bell....

               The limited length of rounds creates a tension in that the musicians are forced to deliver goods
within this time, or else it’s too late!

Meanwhile, they don’t know in advance how their ‘opponent’ will set out to influence things.
This prevents boredom setting in, for either audience or protagonists.



*Voice Of The People Big Fights Board of Control.

(l to r) Jenkins, Thebe Lipere, Steve Argüelles & Steve Noble gather at Wood Wharf for the first Big Fights! training camp 1990.


The Big Fights! concept started as a series of recorded exercises for his VOTP label, with Billy matched against three percussionists - Steve Argüelles (VOCA 908), Steve Noble (VOCA 909) and Thebe Lipere (VOCA 910).



BJ v. Steve Argüelles

12 x 3 minute rounds


BJ (guitars, electric bass, piano);

Steve Argüelles

(drums, bells, tray, castanets, tambourine, flute)


This Big Fight took place at Wood Wharf Studios 7.6.90

Referee and timekeeper Mr. Tony Messenger

Recorded and produced by Tony Messenger

All improvisations by Billy Jenkins & Steve Argüelles


First released on cassette August 1991 by VOTP (VOCA 908)

Original VOTP cassette sleeve notes:  


‘Boxing is a supreme and courteous way of perpetrating violence. The participants are willing gladiators - not unprotected, unprepared innocents.

Observers are witness to a unique and spontaneous series of kinetic interactions.

A person landing a punch on the other ensures a two way exchange that never seems to happen enough in totally improvised music. So by taking the scenario of the ‘big fight’ away from the physical damage so loathed by those who seem  incapable of addressing life correctly and replacing it with the aural, we are left with an excellent way of introducing the outsider to creative improvisation - something we need more than ever in our bureaucratically blighted society.

Likewise there is no winner or loser. The real fight is between this music and you the listener.

If it all becomes too much at least you’ll be saved by the bell...’


Original VOTP cassette sleeve notes: 

The phone rang.

Steve picked it up.

‘I want to fight you’.

Steve was unimpressed.

Nevertheless, on the day he approached Greenwich by boat.

Time and motion were all important….


‘Between each round the musicians have one minute to prepare the next ‘piece’.

No sound or interaction music be made during these breaks.

Only one person witnesses the encounter.

The result?

36 minutes of unique musical interplay - improvisation in twelve 3 minute pop singled sized chunks combining into an overall progression of exchange and development.

Never again need the listener fear the overlong self-indulgent sound of an improvising deaf musician offering perhaps only a fearsome technique aligned with machismo.

Such epic discourses are sometimes met with thunderous applause.


Because the listener is glad it has finished.

Can you last the distance?



Billy Jenkins v. Steve Noble


12 x 3 minute rounds


BJ (guitars, electric bass, piano);

Steve Noble

(five stroke rolls, upper cuts, southpaw harmonica

and cak Wood Wharf drumkit)


This Big Fight took place at Wood Wharf Studios 23.10.90

Referee and timekeeper Mr. Tony Messenger

Recorded and produced by Tony Messenger

All improvisations by Billy Jenkins & Steve Noble


First released on cassette August 1991 by VOTP (VO
CA 909)



Billy Jenkins v. Thebe Lipere


12 x 3 minute rounds


BJ (guitars, electric bass, piano);

Thebe Lipere

(Djembe, bells, cymbals, jews harp, didgeridoo,

piano, wood & metal)


This Big Fight took place at Wood Wharf Studios


Referee and timekeeper Mr. Tony Messenger

Recorded and produced by Tony Messenger

All improvisations by Billy Jenkins &  Thebe Lipere


First released on cassette August 1991 by VOTP (VOCA 910)


Original VOTP cassette sleeve notes:  

‘When the first two Big Fight combatants Steve Argüelles and Steve Noble were asked who would make a complimentary third ‘opponent’, they both independently suggested Thebe.

            This fight you hear here is the first ever musical meeting between catalystic guitarist and natural percussionist.


Our correspondent writes:

            “The fight took a sensational turn at the end of round two when Lipere failed to hear the bell.

            Buried deep inside a bell tree the percussive pugilist perpetrated pandemonium whilst an irate Jenkins paced the perimeter.

            Had the punch-drunk plank spanker been put over?

            Jenkins shot back with a bass guitar stun attack.

            And so it went on - exchanges coming thick and farce.”


But who is the winner?

            “Music, Harry, MUSIC!” ‘



Wood Wharf  training camp 1990 - Thebe 'Pretty Boy' Lipere (top) and lower l. to r:
Billy 'Git-box' Jenkins, Steve 'Ever So' Noble & Steve 'Sticks' Argüelles.


          Big Fights! were first performed live at the ‘Outside In’ Festival at Crawley in September 1991.


            Subsequently in 1992, European audiences got a flavour of what they were about - at the Citroën Jazz Festival at Wiesen  versus  Steve Noble and in Gent (including Johan ‘Yo-Yo’ Joos, a local Flemish speaking poet and southpaw), Linz and in Berlin as part of the Olympia 2000 Festival.

from the Werstatt Olympia Journal (Berlin) Oct.’92


A Sports Commentator writes:


            ‘ There was a ring. A proper boxing ring that gives the squeamish a slight chill. The thoughts of blood, violence and pain.

            But as the house lights dimmed, the wash of ice white illuminating this proud token of (some say) barbarism was splintered by two very much non fighters eyeing up each other clutching - instruments.

            A referee! The Bell! The noise!        

            Furious arpeggios, counterpoint, inverted chords, dis-chords, pastoral drones.
Bass and guitar necks locked - with sweat exploding.

A two minute time warp of musical invention.

            The bell stops creativity, but starts the listeners’ response.

            Any person can face that sort of pop sized chunk. But 6, 8 or 10 rounds? Can the players sustain the creativity?
Will the listener win, or will the musicians fail to excel?

            Win or lose, the ethics of sport applied to music   are much more appealing than the ethics of muzak applied to sport.’


Big Fights! performances over the years took place in:
Linz, Gent, Nottingham, Marsden, Manchester, Chester, Rostock, Vienna, Monmouth, Dublin and some
Vortex Big Fight seasons in Stoke Newington, London.  



"Mein Gott! ! Ein Motorrad! !  Es muss verboten werden!!!"

Writing about the Big Fights! at the Vooruit Arts Cente in Gent ( televised live on national Belgium TV) the music critic for the Belgium newspaper Het Volk blandly reported:

This absolutely individual Briton took the opportunity to get rid of all his aggression (and he has a whole lot of it) in a real boxing ring in a musical fight against voice, wind instruments and bass’.

Whereas the Austrian jazz critics used the Big Fights! very creatively by making their comments part of  the national radio transmission of the Jenkins v. Steve Noble epic at the 1992 Jazz Fest Wiesen - thus adding to the creativity themselves and indeed enhancing the overall artistry and enjoyment....!


Jenkins fires up a 650cc motorcycle on the Wiesen festival stage and 'plays' the revving engine with trombone mutes
kindly loaned by Roland Bates.
Captured by local legend and photographer Helmut Riedl.


            First draft rules submitted to early contestants and Big Fight promoters (but subsequently amended) :


All fights are controlled by the VOTPBFBC and are conducted according to Wood Wharf Rules.


1.  Bouts can be of six, eight or ten rounds and all rounds are three minutes (Title fights) or two minutes (Guest appearances).


2.  During the intervening period of between thirty seconds and one minute no instrument can be played though musicians can move about.
This time is to be dedicated to the audience - to heckle, shout, applaud or do whatever they see fit.


3.  The referee may cause the musicians to break at any time, if he believes that the music is a waste of time. Public  warnings can be given at the referee’s discretion.


4.  At the end of the fight either the audience is able to choose the winner as being the music or the referee may choose (such as when the musicians fail to ‘connect’).


Saxophonist Iain Ballamy had 'previous' as a Big Fighter...Several years before the Vortex 1997 London premiere, he took on one of Billy's (then) toddler twins.
He probably lost...



Over the years, Big Fight! musicians have included:

 Roberto Bellatalla, Thebi Lipere, Elton Dean, Steve Noble, Johan ‘Yo-Yo’ Joos,
Steve Argüelles, Lol Coxhill, Michel Massot, Deirdrie Cartwright, Alex Maguire,
Gail Brand, Paul Rutherford,  Mark Sanders, Louis Colan, Ashley Slater,
Alan Tomlinson, Michael Buckley, Mike Nielsen, Karl Ronan,
Steve Beresford, Gary Curzon, Liam Genockey, Claude Deppa, Alan Wilkinson,
John Edwards, Jim Dvorak, Pat Thomas, Simon Picard, Orphy Robinson,
Rod 'Room Darkener' Mason, Dave Ramm, Martin Speake, Ken Marley,
Martin 'Mad Dog' Jones, Lyndon Owen, Dave Stapleton,
Simon Pugsley, Paul Hession ,  Tom Bancroft and others…



Music in Monmouth proudly presents....

from 2006:

Here's the Tale of the Tape for the two teams who will be facing each other across the ring in Monmouth
on Friday 15th September 2006:

Ladies and Gentlemen! In the red corner, fighting for Waaaleees...!

         Lyndon Owen - saxophones

Team captain

AGE:  47
WEIGHT:   Above average - equivalent to one of Roomdarkener's legs
REACH:    Long jab, quick stab and short honk.
HEIGHT:    4 octaves above middle C.
RECORD:  Its black plastic with a hole in the middle. Oh, and I'm in the 'Guinness Book of' as part of the greatest conglomeration of sax players.

Dave 'Lightning Fingers' Stapleton - piano

AGE:  26
WEIGHT:  Depends on how much electricity is flowing through those fingers!
REACH:   88 Keys, The Mind, The Body, The Heart, The Soul and The Arse that follows!!!
HEIGHT:  3ft when calmly sitting at the piano. 7ft or more when jumping up and down in an electrifying frenzy of piano action!!!
RECORD: 3 'high voltage' albums released in 2005. Another 4 scorchers in the  pipeline!!!

Simon Pugsley - trombone

AGE:    41
WEIGHT:   Normally at bus stops!
REACH:    About 5 foot (with slide fully extended)
HEIGHT:    Average, but I felt pretty tall on the top of Snowdon once.
RECORD:  No previous record in the ring, but there's a 'fist' time for everything!!


Ladies and Gentlemen! And in the white corner - fighting for Engerlanddd....!!

         Billy Jenkins - guitar

Team captain

AGE:        50
WEIGHT:  I'm waiting for the right moment.
REACH:   mostly UK, Europe especially Berlin and Austria though I did go to Montreal  for two gigs.
HEIGHT:   the top, the very top!
RECORD:  well I've probably made about 40 albums over the last 30 years. I consider most of them knock out.

Rod 'Roomdarkener' Mason - saxophone

AGE:          Nobodies ever dared ask
WEIGHT:    A shade over 3 double deckers
REACH:     Yes he can
HEIGHT:     6' 13"
RECORD:   How many do you want breakin'!?


Paul Hession - drum set

AGE:       49
WEIGHT: Middleweight
REACH:   Edge of Cymbal
HEIGHT:   5' '7"
RECORD: Greatest Hits!
sports correspondent Miles Tooslow writes:

       "A fascinating match up here. Welsh captain Owen has gone for the lithe and lean suggesting fluid piano, nifty trombone and Owen
 himself perfectly placed as a top line or accompanying duetist. Wales also have age on their side.

       To compliment that, they'll be facing a trio of almost stereotypical white Anglo Saxon 'stodge' - with the oldest player, captain Jenkins
probably consigned to a 'comping' role, drummer Hession underpinning with his tireless percussive finesse and, perhaps the
English trump card, Rod 'Room Darkener' Mason with the most vile, vicious alto saxophone playing in all of Great Britain.

Who can forget the mercifuless pummelling of classically trained pianist Dave Ramm at the Marsden Jazz festival in 1999?
Be Bop motifs rained down on Ramm's head, as he was reduced to the foetal position in the corner of the stage.
Worryingly, ever since that event, Mr Ramm has opted for the sanctity of cruise ship employment....

England may have the weight advantage, but rest assured, with Jenkins possibly excepted, they'll not lack for stamina.

I read it as a perfect match up - each three round duet will be pure ecstacy. I've got my ringside seat booked  - have you got yours!?"


Photographer Bob Fitzsimmonds captures the Monmouth madness....


Mass tag match brawl breaks out...

And the winner is....


It is really surprising that the fresh faced Big Fights! idealist started out in 1990 looking like this:

But ended up sixteen years later looking like this....

- grey haired, knackered and out for the count......!?!?

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