In 1997, local reporter Dick Ward
cautiously accepted an invitation
to dig the dirt.
BILLY JENKINS: 'Maybe we were playing jazz!'
dw : So, Billy, the Voice of God Collective is dead.
bj: Yes it is and it isn't.....
dw: But you told me you wanted to talk about the demise
bj: ........The Voice of God Collective? It's over.
Record-wise it started in '81 with 'Sounds Like Bromley'
and went in a huge circle back to 'Still Sounds Like
Bromley' in '97. Now there will be no more VOGC
concerts, no more VOGC recordings - no more childish
dw: You're saying what you've been doing for the last
sixteen or seventeen years is childish, even stupid!?
bj: Don't get me at it Dick. You know my music. I
don't do things lightly. I take, shall we say, a 'world'
view of things and from that view I see ( as the song
goes) 'the colours of the rainbow. I hear children cry,
I watch them grow', blah, blah blah etcetera. There are
children on this planet, Dick. There is every
fuckin' thing. And in my limited 'world' view they go
into my music.
But the point is, the VOGC is fast reaching the Age
of Consent. School leaving age and all that stuff. It's
going to have to conform a little more - fit into
mainstream society. Behave. Grow up. So yes, the Voice
of God is dead.
dw: But you also say it isn't.
bj: Yes, that's right. It'll now be known as the Voice
of The People.
dw: So you've asked me to interview you just because
you're changing your 'brand' name - yet it sounds like the
product is saying the same. This is all bluff and, dare I
say, complete nonsense!
bj: No Dick. You're a journalist - the recorder. You're
the one that sometimes writes complete nonsense. But why
not? I'm on the train whizzing past. You're just the
trainspotter writing down what's gone on the wind.
Sometimes the music is misinterpreted by the critic -
but they hear it objectively and have taken time to pay
attention to my work. I would never call anyone's
energies complete nonsense. I like people like you. You
really care for and love music and musicians. So I'm
stopping the VOGC Express and inviting folks like you to
come on board and look around. You can study and enjoy
the back catalogue without keeping one eye out the
window for another passing 'new idea', 'concept' or
dw: So what's going to be different about the Voice of
bj: VOTP will be like a real 'cutting edge
contemporary jazz ensemble. It'll be looking backwards
and reinterpreting the music of the VOGC.
Since the inception of the VOGC I have always
encouraged musicians to be themselves and express their
musical and performance skills in an instinctive way.
Constraint of the player has been minimal - if anything
I have coaxed more from them, things they might
never have considered.
Our sporadic performances have been in intimate jazz
clubs or on international Festival stages. There is a
limitation to one's creativity in the improvised sphere
and I have no wish to recycle supposed 'inspired
improvisation' in the interests of monetary returns - as
the majority of those who trade on the past do on the
dw: I say, Billy. That's a bit pompous isn't it?
bj: No. By shifting the title I will be able to
continue on the same circuit but with a clear
conscience, recycling and reworking VOGC music but in a
style which is presumed 'jazz' namely - backwards
looking, revivalist and imitative.
Contrary to the presumed perception of the VOGC
'taking the piss', we will have no truck with debasing
the spirit of 'jazz'.
dw: So. Let me get this straight. You're leaving the VOGC
behind you so you can promote and develop the recordings
as 'real jazz'.
bj: Yes. For it is in the past. It is history. It is
what jazz has become.
dw: What about the great players you work with - Iain
Ballamy, Mark Ramsden, Mark Lockheart, Martin France,
Steve Watts, Dave Ramm, et al?
bj: We'll still play together. But we can relax now.
Look at Ramsden. He's been there for me for fifteen
years. His contributions have been immense and an
inspiration. Ballamy for 13 years. Onstage he's been the
VOGC 'vice captain' for quite a few years. I've worked
with Roy Dodds since the start in 1980. But we will
not betray the music we love!
No players can continue to ignite onstage together for
so long. The empathy one develops overrides the 'clash
of creativity'. I remember a run of three gigs up north
in '91 with Iain, Martin & Steve. We were too tight!
These things are unavoidable. Unsurprisingly, this
happens a lot now. We know each other very well as
musicians, but really it's fear (coupled with the
mastery of one's instrument) that creates the frisson
for fantastic improvisation.
When the Voice of the People takes to the stand our
heads will be held high. We will not be conning the
public as so many players on the circuit do. They have
no choice. You spend fifteen years in this business
building the contacts. You'd be crazy to throw 'em all
away. So you use the propaganda and the bullshit and the
quotes and press clippings to get a return on your
investment. As it happens, the large corporate sponsored
jazz festival is the perfect breeding ground for such
duplicity. You give a 'show'. You don't really play
'jazz'. You go through the motions and do the show
dw: Yes, I think you've made your point, Billy. I sense a
bit of repetition in your musings.
bj: Ok, Dick. I'm sorry. I just a bit emotional about
it all. I guess I've been in denial for quite a while -
accepting the hard fact that the adolescent creativity
is slipping away from the VOGC. Keep repeating myself.
That's why I gotta make changes.
I was right when I said that 'the true improviser
should only perform once'.
bj: Not disillusioned. Just exhausted.
dw: Yes, I recall you telling me many, many times over
the last couple of years that you had been diagnosed as
suffering from physical and mental exhaustion.
bj: Well maybe I was trying too hard. I'm sorry if I
Anyway, the Voice of The People is still the Voice of
dw: Yet it is and it isn't!
bj: Like I said, Dick - and the religion is still music!
©1997 Dick Ward