Sunday, 21 January 2018

Chris Bowden: The story of the story

A casual conversation; an unexpected connection. Treasure trove.

Chris at 'A Jazz Thing' at the Cuban Embassy, 2017      
Photo by Elliott Taylor       
I've been a DJ and Music Radio man for ages. Now it's documentaries - a stretch, but worth it when there are stories to tell. I've just wrapped up a demanding and lengthy project. I hope it makes compelling listening. 

Lengthy? Yes: there's a full concert (of charm and substance), key to the whole story, in this documentary. The gig has legendary status among a select circle of music fans. But it has lain unheard for years. Now, it gets a chance of a wider hearing.   

'Chris Bowden - The Lost Concert' got its first play at the end of January on Brum Radio. I've put the show up, both as a downloadable podcast, and on Mixcloud so it can be listened to at leisure - scroll down to the bottom of this post for the links.  

The programme is also available to stations in the UK and Europe - just ask; it is up on programme sharing networks. The goal is to get the word out. It's a bloody great story about a huge talent with stupendous music skills, who deserves a wider audience. 

The story behind the story

Here's the background. Two years ago, I had badgered the excellent Lisa Travers (daughter of the equally excellent Brian Travers of UB40), to do a show with me for Brum Radio. Big Wheels focused on people who make things happen in Birmingham's music scene. Lisa was indeed making things jump at a small venue near the city centre: the Blue Piano. Under her guidance, it had become a haven for musos of all stripes and skills. Great musicianship, Jazz and Blues were front and centre, with decent helpings of folk and singer-songwriting on the side. Some of the very best musicians in town were to be found propping up the bar.

Lisa had picked out a 1996 recording for her show by the Heritage Orchestra, featuring sax player Chris Bowden and one of his compositions. I listened. I was thunderstruck. Here it is... 

I did some research to hear more. I found just two albums under Chris Bowden's name, from 1996 and 2002. I loved them both, and I kicked myself for not catching this material earlier. it was Jazz, of course, but different - sparkling, inventive cinematic work. But just two solo albums in all that time? It seemed a rather poor return for a lifetime's work. It was puzzling.

Lisa followed up that introduction by insisting I come and see him play live at one of the residencies she ran. So I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got to chat with Chris, see him play with different line-ups, found out a bit - just a bit - about his story. One of the good guys, Chris.

So far, so well and good. Nothing more happened until about six months ago, when I was chatting with a good friend, a fiercely well-qualified sound man, Neil Hillman. We would meet, share ideas, swap stories, think about blue sky projects.

I mentioned Chris Bowden; Neil grinned from ear to ear. He knew the story. He had worked with Chris' dad, in television. And he had recorded Chris' comeback concert, billed as 'The Incredible So-Called Death Of Chas Bodean' which was held at the CBSO centre in Birmingham, sponsored by Birmingham Jazz. Chris led a ten-piece band for the gig, and the gig was... exceptional.

The Lost Concert, found

That kicked me into gear. Could I please hear it? Yes, I could. Could I use the recording in a programme about Chris? Why, yes, came the answer, from all interested parties. So then it was a matter of collecting interviews from those who had something to say. Most especially this was about Chris.

I'm not going to say too much here about the conversations with Chris in the documentary. I urge you to listen; there are lessons to be learned about performance, self-belief, the music industry and a lot more. We planned what we were going to talk about before I sat down with Chris to record his interview. Chris went into unflinching detail about the setbacks he has encountered during his career, which limited his output for far too long.

An album a decade; but now there's more

It was a grim story, once; right now, it's a good, an excellent story. My doco finishes with an excerpt from Chris's latest, and only his third album, 'Unlikely Being', which was being mastered just a few days ago, and which has an end of February 2018 launch date. 

And that is the story of the story so far. I'd love to see Chris' exceptional talent get wider recognition, and I hope it does. And there are more Radio to Go productions coming your way this year. As long as there's a story...

Please listen. And do tell me what you think. And if you're a station that would like to run this piece, in its entirety, by all means get in touch. There's a link at the top of the page. 

Listen to the Show 

Grab it as an eight-part podcast here...This link takes you to episode 1.

Or stream it right now from Brum Radio's Mixcloud...

See also

An update post from June 2018 covering the summer's developments.

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