Martin Davidson responds to questions put by Tom Theunissent.
First published in Gonzo Circus.

When did you start to listen to free improv?

I came to terms with it in 1971. I had heard it starting in the mid-1960s, but could not relate to it. A 1971 concert by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (with John Stevens, Trevor Watts, Julie Tippett and Ron Herman) turned me on. At the same time the 1971 solo Derek Bailey recording that was later issued as 'Six Fairly Early Pieces' on Emanem helped me see the light.

Did you come from a (free) jazz background?

As a teenager I was hooked on what was then known as Modern Jazz - now usually referred to as Bebop or Hard Bop. I was also into composed music from Bach to Mahler. In the mid-1960s my taste expanded into earlier Jazz, Free Jazz, some more modern composers, and traditional/ethnic musics.

Was there something missing/lacking in other music, in your opinion?

I find the best of the above-mentioned areas of music to be totally satisfying. However, I do now find it a bit limiting and strange when musicians have to stick to playing something that is pre-determined by someone else, yet I am the first to admit that some magnificent music has been made in this way.

Did you ever play music yourself?

Not really. I did a gig on reel-to-reel tape recorder around 1974, predating all the turntable manipulators. In the 1980s I accumulated a large percussion kit, but did not perform in public.

What kind of music do you listen to besides free improvisation nowadays?

All of the areas mentioned above - jazz, so-called 'classical' and traditional/ethnic.

Any favourite composers, groups?

Too many to mention.

What is your favourite Emanem recording, line-up?

All of them. I only issue things I like.

What was/is the relation with Quark, Steam?

Quark was another name I used momentarily in 1979. Steam was Stan Tracey's label from around 1975 to 1995 - it was not related to Emanem.

Why did some older Emanem LPs get reissued by Blue Note, hat ART?

Because I was inactive at the time, and the musicians found other labels that were interested to reissue Emanem recordings that had been out of print for too long.

What was your impulse to restart the label in 1995 after several years of inactivity?

Several people were nagging me to do so, and I felt that I was not doing anything significant with my life. I delayed restarting because my finances were very poor, but I managed to start without having to spend any money.

Can you make a living of running the label?

Unfortunately, no. Since starting CD production in 1995, I have not taken any money out of the label. But then, I have not put any in either. It just makes enough money to continue. So in order to live, I have to do other work (as a computer programmer).

One sometimes gets the impression that most so called free improv is played by males in their 40s en 50s. Is this (age thing) a result of a certain level of practice/experience or maturity?

You would not get this impression if you went to a cross-section of the gigs in London. The London improvisation scene comprises one or two hundred musicians ranging in age from 18 to 80. Many are in their 20s and 30s. Some, but not enough, are women.

Why are so few female musicians around?

That's a good question, which is at least equally problematical in the worlds of jazz and composers. It used to be due to the role that women were supposed to play in life, although I wouldn't have thought that was still particularly valid. It may have something to do with the generalisation that women tend to be generalists rather than specialists. In music (as in most other things) I do not think in terms of gender, yet I realise that there are very few women on Emanem.

Are there some promising younger players around, you'd like to 'push'?

Too many to mention. For various reasons, Emanem has concentrated on the 'first generation' of improvisers, but I am trying to bring in some of the younger ones.

Maybe a stupid question, but just being curious (hey, I wasn't even born then): how many people went to see the SME, Iskra 1903 or duos with people like Bailey, Parker, Guy et al. on an average gig in the 70's?

Some gigs attracted a good number of people, some didn't. Much the same as now really.

Return to home page