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 of....

bj: ........The Voice of God Collective? It's over. Finished.
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 adolescent twitterings....

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 aural diatribe.

dw: So what's going to be different about the Voice of The People?

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 festival circuit.

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 business trip.

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'.

dw: Disillusioned...?

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 bored you.

Anyway, the Voice of The People is still the Voice of God.

dw: Yet it is and it isn't!

bj: Like I said, Dick - and the religion is still music!

1997 Dick Ward

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