Geoff Leigh

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For the Australian politician, see Geoff Leigh (politician).
Geoff Leigh
GeoffLeigh July2008.jpg
Geoff Leigh performing in Schiphorst, Germany, 5 July 2008.
Background information
Birth name Geoff Leigh
Born (1945-10-05) 5 October 1945 (age 71)
Genres Jazz fusion, World, Progressive rock, Electroacoustic,
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Soprano sax, Flute, Zither, Keyboards, Electronics, Ethnic instruments (Khene, Shenai, Mbira), Vocals.
Years active 1968–present
Associated acts Henry Cow, Black Sheep,
Ex-Wise Heads, Mirage

Geoff Leigh (born 5 October 1945) is an English jazz and progressive rock musician, playing primarily soprano sax and flute. He was a member of the English avant-rock group Henry Cow and founded several bands himself, including Red Balune, Random Bob, Black Sheep, Mirage, and Ex-Wise Heads.


Early career[edit]

Geoff Leigh's first gigs were with soul music bands in Manchester in 1965, (the beginnings of the now infamous Northern Soul Scene), in clubs like the Twisted Wheel. His professional career began in 1968, touring the United Kingdom and Europe with various jazz-rock-progressive rock groups, mainly Crazy Mabel. In 1969 he joined Gerry Fitzgerald's band Mouseproof, which introduced Leigh to the budding Canterbury scene and musicians like Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt.

Henry Cow[edit]

In the early 1970s Leigh performed with Henry Cow on several occasions, having known the band's drummer, Chris Cutler, from school. Leigh accepted Henry Cow's invitation to join the band in 1972, and he played on their first album Legend (1973). After a tour of the Netherlands at the end of 1973, and his preference for playing composed as opposed to improvised music, Leigh left Henry Cow.[1] (Leigh himself insists it was the other way round – he found the composed music becoming more complex for the sake of it, and the improvisations too contemporary classical for his essentially free jazz approach).[citation needed] The band's timeline of its history in the 1991 CD of Legend stated that Leigh left because he was "apparently unhappy with [the] increasingly total & scheduled group life."

As Henry Cow were, at the time, signed to Virgin Records, Leigh took advantage of Virgin's network of artists and performed and recorded with a number of their musicians and groups, including Slapp Happy and Hatfield and the North. In November 1973, Leigh participated in a live-in-the-studio performance of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells for the BBC, with Mick Taylor, Steve Hillage and members of Henry Cow, Gong and Soft Machine. It was released on Oldfield's Elements DVD. He also guested on Henry Cow's album In Praise of Learning (1975).

Radar Favourites[edit]

In 1974, Leigh formed Radar Favourites, with Gerry Fitzgerald (vocals, guitar), Cathy Williams (keyboards, vocals), Jack Monck (bass guitar) and Charles Hayward (drums). After only a few months, musical differences led to Monck and Fitgerald leaving, to be replaced by Charles Bullen (guitar), and Alan Möller (bass). The group disbanded the following year after Virgin Records turned them down (for purely financial reasons[citation needed]) – Hayward and Bullen went on to form This Heat, one of the most seminal and influential groups of the time.[citation needed] Leigh and Williams then embarked on a long musical relationship – their first project was a duo, Rag Doll, followed by Red Balune, a music theatre collective they formed in 1976. Red Balune grew over the next few years and attracted a number of musicians, including Colin McClure (bass), Robin Musgrove (drums), Henk Weltevreden (keyboards), Aloijsius van Saus (industrial sounds and performance), and Anne-Marie Roeloffs (trombone).

In December 1977, Red Balune toured the Netherlands and returned to England in January 1978 to begin recording an album. The album was never finished, but they did release a single, "Spider in Love" c/w "Capitalist Kid", in 1978, on their own MCCB record label, which became a "seminal underground classic".[2] In April 1978 the band relocated to the Netherlands, recording the EP Maximum Penalty in early 1979, which featured guest appearances by ex-Henry Cow members Fred Frith (guitar, violin), Tim Hodgkinson (keyboards, alto saxophone, clarinet), Chris Cutler (piano scrapes and general burning ideas), and Aksak Maboul founder Marc Hollander (bass clarinet).

Univers Zero and the 1980s[edit]

By then Leigh was spending more time in Brussels, playing with experimental bands Aksak Maboul and Univers Zéro, and after the release of his highly acclaimed[citation needed] solo EP Chemical Bank in 1979, played solo performances for almost 18 months, mainly in Belgium and France. In 1981 Leigh moved back to Rotterdam and formed the Kontakt Mikrofoon Orkest, featuring once again Colin McClure, Aloijsius van Saus (vocals, guitar, alto sax, keyboards, electronics), Gert van Seters (drums), and Jos Valster (saxophones and clarinets). This very short-lived group recorded one single on the MCCB label, "Living In Rotterdam" / "Do The Residue", before splitting in late 1981. But the seeds of the most infamous[citation needed] of all the MCCB groups were already sown – Black Sheep, with Colin McLure and Aloijsius van Saus. In 1981 they released a 12-inch maxi single, Animal Sounds, and contributed "Strangelove" (on which Zeena Parkins made her recording debut, as backing vocalist) to a Recommended Records compilation disc, and toured extensively in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Sweden, and former Yugoslavia.

After leaving the Black Sheep in 1982, Leigh formed several bands which owed more to world music than any of his previous work, the most long-standing being Random Bob, featuring once again Colin McClure, Henk Weltevreden, and percussionist Asad Oberoi, later replaced by drummer/percussionist Coen Aalberts.

In 1986, Leigh once again headed back to Brussels, where he became even more closely involved in the world music scene, performing with Algerian singer Hamsy Boubaker, and Moroccan oud players Hassan Erragi and Abid. With Abid he co-composed and performed the music for a one-woman theatre production with Tunisian-Belgian actress Sabra Ben Arfa, produced by Moroccan actor-producer Amid Chakir, a close associate of Belgian film maker Chantal Akerman. The play was performed many times in Belgium, as well as in Tunisia and Egypt. Around this time Leigh also had a long-term musical partnership with Moroccan guimbri player, vocalist, and percussionist Jalil El Afra.

Leigh also continued working with Rotterdam-based percussionist Asad Oberoi, composing and performing music for several dance productions. Via his contacts in Brussels he worked with film maker Alain de Halleux on many TV and movie ads, including an infamously groundbreaking[citation needed] trilogy of ads for Perrier. Several short-lived but artistically creative duos and one-off projects from this period included musicians John van Rymenant (saxophones, electronics, programming), Peter Beyls (self-designed software, controllers, interfaces, electronics), Claude Janssens (alto saxophone, trombone, programming). Leigh played with Pierre Jacob (keyboards, flutes, percussion, vocals) in the fusion group Sables from 1988 until 1992, and in 1988 formed the Morton Fork Gang with British saxophonist Joe Higham - the band included Daniel Denis (drums) and Guy Segers (bass guitar) from Univers Zéro, cellist Jan Kuijken, and saxophonists Mark Bogaerts and Daniel Stokart.

Illness and semi-retirement[edit]

In 1992 Leigh was diagnosed with dystonia, an incurable neurological condition, contracted after a badly performed dental operation some two years earlier, which affected his performing capabilities to such an extent that he eventually stopped playing altogether. He managed to fulfil some concert obligations with Morton Fork and Sables in Brussels in early 1993, and after returning permanently to the UK, rehearsed and performed in small venues with original Radar Favourites bassist Jack Monck and Moroccan percussionist Lahcen Lahbib, as the Highly Irregulars.

But the medication Leigh was prescribed (Trihexyphenidyl hydrochloride, formerly known as Artane) did actually work – only about 1 in 10 sufferers can tolerate this medicine, and the chances of it having a long term positive effect are very slight. Throughout the 1990s he slowly regained sufficient control of the condition to resume work.[citation needed]

Back to work[edit]

In 1999 he formed the ethno-fusion band Ex-Wise Heads with bass-guimbri player Colin Edwin from progressive rock band Porcupine Tree. The band have to date[when?] released three CDs on their own Hard World label; an exclusive download five-track EP Grounded has been made available from Burning Shed; an exclusive vinyl release is due[when?] for release on Rotterdam-based Tonefloat Records; and a new CD Liquid Assets was released in September 2007.

A chance meeting in 2002 with Berliner Tom Zunk (waterphone and Indonesian percussion) led to the formation of the duo Men Working Overhead, which performed several concerts in Germany and London between 2002 and 2004, often augmented by dancer-video artist Elke Postler.

Since the re-release in 2005 of the entire MCCB back catalogue on Ad Hoc Records (a subsidiary of Recommended Records USA), the Black Sheep have got back together and recorded a new album, Out Of Quarantine, featuring both previously unreleased material from 1981–82, and recordings from 2005–08 – this will initially only be available as a download. As a result of renewed interest in the MCCB release, Leigh and Cathy Williams have also started working together again - Cathy has been involved with Indian music and musicians for many years now, and a CD of their new project Mirage was released on the Hard World label in December 2006. They released their second CD Child's Play in 2007, augmenting the group with Sam Christie (percussion), and Gem McSweeney (mandolin and various strings, flutes, and percussion).

In July 2005 Leigh played a one-off concert in London with Faust founder members Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, then played with Lucianne Lassalle (voice, electronics) as Henrico Reed & Lulu at the Faust Avant Garde Festival near Hamburg in September 2005. The duo performed again on the 2006 festival, and also contributed to the Faust UK tour in October/November 2005 - a three-CD/1 DVD box set, Faust....In Autumn was released on Dirter Records in December 2006, featuring the band plus both Leigh and Lassalle. Leigh performed solo at the 2008 Faust festival.

Recent work[edit]

In 2009, Leigh was involved in several projects, including solo performances, a duo with Simon Crab (laptop processing, ex-Bourbonese Qualk), and several on-line collaborations. He also has several archive releases in the pipeline, including a Radar Favourites CD release, and possibly a CD from the Morton Fork Gang. A CD with Japanese pianist-vocalist-composer Yumi Hara Cawkwell is planned for release in June.[when?] He has become something of a regular at Hastings Electric Palace Cinema, recently voted one of The Guardian's Top Ten UK arthouse cinemas, contributing live improvised soundscapes to short experimental movies. Other activities in 2009[when?] included a solo performance at the Kraak Festival in Brussels in March, five concerts and two workshops in Japan with Yumi Hara, plus a guest appearance with Japanese psychedelic rock band Acid Mothers Temple. Leigh and Yumi Hara were joined by Japanese drummer Tatsuya Yoshida for a concert in Tokyo. Saxophonist Ryoko Ono also guested on one concert. In August, Leigh performed at the annual Avant Garde Festival in Schiphorst, Germany, with Yumi Hara and ex-Henry Cow members Chris Cutler (drums) and John Greaves (bass and vocals), which led to them forming The Artaud Beats. He was also invited to perform with Nurse With Wound. In late October 2009, Leigh played solo at the Nodutgang Festival in Bodo, Norway, and several concerts in Sweden with Magnus Alexanderson (guitar and electronics).

In 2010, after playing a short tour of Italy in February with guitarist Adriano Lanzi, Leigh decided to take a break from live performances due to ongoing dental problems, which have obliged him to temporarily stop playing saxophone. However the year saw a handful of local performances, including two appearances at Brighton's Spirit Of Gravity, one with the Warrior Squares, the second with cellist Bela Emerson. Three new CDs were released: Radar Favourites, Ex Wise Heads, and Uwe Bastiansen's Stadtfischflex, featuring Leigh alongside Jean-Herve Peron and Zappi Diermaier (Faust), and Tim Hodgkinson (Henry Cow).

2011 - Three concerts in Italy and three in France with Stadtfischflex; various ensembles at the Schiphorst Festival; a solo performance in St. Petersburg. The Artaud Beats play in Norway.

2012 - Ex Wise Heads play in Ukraine, Estonia, and Holland; The Artaud Beats play ten concerts in Japan; Leigh plays in various ensembles at the Schiphorst Festival.

2013 - The Artaud Beats play fourteen concerts in Japan. Leigh records material with guitarist Mark Hewins.

2014 - The Artaud Beats play the Fort Process festival (their UK debut), and two concerts in Japan, including the first Rock In Opposition Festival in Tokyo; Leigh plays seven other concerts there, with various line-ups including guitarist Makoto Kawabata (Acid Mothers Temple), Max Manac'h (Faust), Rie Miyazaki, Morhide Sawada, Shizuku Aosaki, and Yumiko Yoshimoto. A new project, Jump For Joy, with Leigh, Jean-Herve Peron, Zappi Diermaier, Chris Cutler, and Yumi Hara headlines the Schiphorst Festival.

2015 - Concert/radio broadcast in Rome (Italy) with K-Mundi Trio (Adriano Lanzi, Filippo Okapi, and Marco Ariano); The Artaud Beats present their new CD "Logos" at Le Triton in Paris; Leigh plays a festival in Lille (France) with Max Manach, Valentin Carette, and Ciro Martin as "Haricot Massacre". Concerts in London include a trio with Max Manac'h and Jean-Herve Peron, and various combinations with Yumi Hara, Guy Harries, Chris Cutler, and Tim Hodgkinson. Jump For Joy (2014 lineup plus Geraldine Swayne) play in Gothenburg, Sweden. The concert was recorded for Swedish Radio.

2016 - Ongoing projects >> Jump For Joy, Artaud Beats, duo with Makoto Kawabata, Haricot Massacre, Warrior Squares, solo performances


All Ex-Wise Heads & Mirage cd's available from


  1. ^ Ansell, Kenneth. "Dissecting the Cow". Calyx: The Canterbury Music Website. Archived from the original on 2008-08-04. Retrieved 2009-12-22. 
  2. ^ "Geoff Leigh". Calyx - The Canterbury Website. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Geoff Leigh at Wikimedia Commons