John Greaves (musician)

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John Greaves
Greaves with the Peter Blegvad Trio at a RIO Festival in France, 2007
Greaves with the Peter Blegvad Trio at a RIO Festival in France, 2007
Background information
Born (1950-02-23) 23 February 1950 (age 72)
Prestatyn, Wales[1]
GenresProgressive rock, experimental, jazz, pop
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Instrument(s)Bass guitar, keyboards
Years active1969–present
LabelsHarmonia Mundi

John Greaves (born 23 February 1950)[1] is a British bass guitarist and composer who was a member of Henry Cow and has collaborated with Peter Blegvad. He was also a member of progressive rock band National Health and jazz-rock supergroup Soft Heap, and has recorded several solo albums, including Accident (1982), Parrot Fashions (1984), The Caretaker (2001) and Greaves Verlaine (2008).


Greaves was born in Prestatyn and grew up in Wrexham in northeast Wales. At the age of 12, he was given a bass guitar by his father, a Welsh dancehall bandleader, and within six months, he was playing in his father's orchestra. He continued playing in the orchestra for four years, during which time its varied musical styles gave Greaves valuable musician and arranger skills. He was educated at Grove Park Grammar School in Wrexham from 1961 to 1968.

In 1968, Greaves entered Pembroke College, Cambridge to study English, and at Cambridge, he met members of the burgeoning English avant-rock group Henry Cow in 1969. The band had been established the previous year by fellow Cambridge students Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson and had undergone numerous personnel changes up to that point. They were looking for a bassist and after several months of persuading, Greaves joined the band in October 1969. After juggling his time with the band and his studies, Greaves completed his Master of Arts degree in 1971. By the end of 1971, Henry Cow settled into a permanent core of Frith, Hodgkinson, Greaves and Chris Cutler. Greaves remained with the band until March 1976, toured Europe extensively with them (with his wife Sarah doing the sound-mix at many of their concerts[2]), and appeared on five of their albums (including two with Slapp Happy). Greaves also contributed several compositions to the band's repertoire, including "Half Asleep; Half Awake", recorded on their second album, Unrest (1974). In November 1973, Greaves (and other members of Henry Cow) participated in a live-in-the-studio performance of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells for the BBC.[3]

Greaves left Henry Cow to work on a project, Kew. Rhone. with Slapp Happy's Peter Blegvad in New York City. Greaves had met and worked with Blegvad during the brief merger of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy between November 1974 and April 1975, their first collaboration, "Bad Alchemy", appearing on the two bands' joint album Desperate Straights. Kew. Rhone. was a song cycle with all the music composed by Greaves and the lyrics written by Blegvad. In addition to bass guitar, Greaves also played keyboards and sang. The album was released in 1977 and credited to Greaves, Blegvad and Lisa Herman, the lead vocalist. It was well-received by critics: AllMusic described it as "An unfortunately neglected masterpiece of '70s progressive rock ...";[4] and Robert Wyatt reportedly liked it so much he bought two copies "just in case the first got worn out!"[5]

After Kew. Rhone. Greaves returned to England to work in theatre as a composer, arranger and actor. In early 1978 he joined National Health and remained with them until the band split up in 1980. He toured with the band, appearing on the album Of Queues and Cures, for which he wrote the instrumental tour-de-force "Squarer for Maud", the later reunion effort DS Al Coda (1982) and the archive release Play Time. During this time (1979–88) he also performed with a free-improvising group, Soft Heap with Elton Dean from Soft Machine, Pip Pyle from National Health, and maverick guitarist Mark Hewins.

In the early 1980s, Greaves began a series of solo projects and collaborations. Having secured a deal with independent French-American label Europa Records, he recorded his first solo album, Accident in Paris in 1981–82.[6] He moved to France permanently in 1984, and formed a touring band with François Ovide (guitar and trombone), Denis van Hecke from Aksak Maboul (cello), Mireille Bauer (formerly of Gong) (stand-up drums and percussion) and Blegvad's brother, Kristoffer Blegvad (backing vocals). This line-up also featured on Greaves's second solo album, Parrot Fashions (1984). During this time he also recorded and/or toured with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the Michael Nyman Band. He reunited with Peter Blegvad again on The Lodge project (alongside Kristoffer Blegvad, Jakko Jakszyk and Anton Fier) which produced an album, Smell of a Friend in 1987 (but only ever made a couple of attempts at performing live).

For his next album, 1991's La Petite Bouteille de Linge (Little Bottle of Laundry), Greaves retained the services of Ovide on guitar, adding his old mate Pip Pyle on drums and the latter's then-partner, Sophia Domancich on piano. Over the next few years his music took on a more acoustic flavour and Greaves eventually settled on a drum-less line-up comprising Domancich, Ovide (now on acoustic guitar exclusively) and double bass player Paul Rogers. This resulted in the 1995 album Songs, which consisted largely of acoustic arrangements of songs from his previous efforts, going back to Kew.Rhone. Greaves himself only handled lead vocals on one track, "The Green Fuse" (based on a Dylan Thomas poem), leaving the spotlight to Robert Wyatt, opera singer Susan Belling, Kristoffer Blegvad and French variety singer Caroline Loeb. During the 1990s, Greaves also embarked on one-off collaborations with David Cunningham from The Flying Lizards, on 1991's greaves, cunningham album, and Peter Blegvad on 1995's Unearthed. He also played bass in Blegvad's own trio alongside Chris Cutler on drums, which recorded two studio albums.

In the early 2000s Greaves chose to divide his time between two contrasting bands, an electric trio named Roxongs with François Ovide on guitar (later replaced by Patrice Meyer then Jef Morin) and Manu Denizet on drums, heard on 2001's The Caretaker, and an acoustic trio named Jazzsongs, with Sophia Domancich on piano and Vincent Courtois on cello, heard on 2003's The Trouble With Happiness, once again a mixture of old and new songs, but this time with Greaves himself singing all the way through.

Originally intended as a follow-up of sorts to the acclaimed Songs, 2004's Chansons saw Greaves team up with lyricist Christophe Glockner and vocalist Elise Caron for a collection of all-new songs with predominantly acoustic instrumentation, including guest spots by Robert Wyatt and Louis Sclavis.

During the same period, Greaves appeared as the featured vocalist on a number of projects. He contributed lyrics and vocals to two songs on saxophonist Julien Lourau's acclaimed Fire & Forget (2005), to much of Sophia Domancich's Snakes & Ladders (2010) sharing the microphone with Himiko Paganotti and Robert Wyatt, and sang all the vocals on Alain Blésing's Songs From The Beginning project, revisiting 1970s progressive rock classics by King Crimson, Soft Machine, Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North among others, Catherine Delaunay's Sois Patient Car Le Loup (2011), the French clarinettist's settings of texts by Malcolm Lowry, and Post Image's In an English Garden (2012), a special project celebrating the jazz-fusion group's 25th anniversary. Having had two of his songs used by the Daniel Yvinec-led edition of the Orchestre National de Jazz's tribute to Robert Wyatt, Greaves fulfilled a lifelong dream by fronting the ONJ at the legendary Theatre du Chatelet in Paris in January 2011, singing several Billie Holiday songs either solo or alongside Sandra Nkaké.

From the mid-2000s, a significant focus for Greaves was a series of projects centred on French poet Paul Verlaine (1844–1896), beginning with 2008's, Greaves Verlaine, his own settings of Verlaine poems with a decidedly un-retro aesthetic conceived in cooperation with French multimedia collective Les Recycleurs de Bruits. In addition to his Roxongs bandmates, the album featured regular collaborators Jeanne Added (vocals) and Scott Taylor (accordion, trumpet), as well as appearances by Karen Mantler and Dominique Pifarély. Concerts promoting this release saw Greaves accompanied by line-ups ranging from just Taylor on accordion to a full electric septet. A second volume saw the light of day in 2011 but received very little media attention due to nonexistent promotion. Instead, Greaves embarked on yet another Verlaine project, this time composing an original libretto by Emmanuel Tugny. "Verlaine, Les Airs" saw Greaves team up with a trio of French vocalists, Elise Caron, Jeanne Added and Thomas de Pourquery. The work was premiered in December 2012 at Le Triton following a residency at the venue, has since been performed at the Orléans Jazz Festival and at Les Sables-d'Olonnes, and a studio album was released in April 2015 on Bruno Letort's Signature label.

In 2018, he released Life Size with guests including Zeena Parkins, Jakko Jakszyk, and Annie Barbazza.[7]

Private life[edit]

John Greaves presently lives in Paris with artist Laura Buxton and their two daughters, Ailsa Grace and Millie.[8] He also has a son, Ben, from his first marriage.


  • 1977 – Kew. Rhone. (Virgin) (with Peter Blegvad and Lisa Herman)
  • 1982 – Accident (Europa)
  • 1984 – Parrot Fashions (Europa)
  • 1991 – La Petite Bouteille de Linge (La Lichère)
  • 1991 – greaves, cunningham (Eva) (with David Cunningham)
  • 1995 – Unearthed (Sub Rosa) (with Peter Blegvad)
  • 1995 – Songs (Resurgence)
  • 2001 – The Caretaker (Blueprint)
  • 2001 – On the Street Where You Live (Blueprint) (with Marcel Ballot and Patrice Meyer)
  • 2003 – The Trouble With Happiness (Harmonia Mundi)
  • 2004 – Chansons (Harmonia Mundi) (with Elise Caron)
  • 2005 – Tambien 1–7 (Resurgence)
  • 2008 – Greaves Verlaine (ZigZag Territoires/Harmonia Mundi)
  • 2012 – Greaves Verlaine 2 (Cristal/Harmonia Mundi)
  • 2015 – Verlaine Gisant (Signature/France Musique)
  • 2015 – Piacenza (Dark Companion)
  • 2018 – Life Size (Manticore)
  • 2020 – Passage Du Nord Ouest (Dark Companion)


With Henry Cow

With The Lodge

  • 1987 Smell of a Friend (Antilles)

With National Health

  • 1978 Of Queues and Cures (Charly)
  • 1982 D.S. Al Coda (Europa)
  • 2001 Play Time (live 1979) (Cuneiform)

With Pip Pyle and Philippe Marcel Iung

  • 2001 The Pig Part (Blueprint)

As guest[edit]

With Peter Blegvad

  • 1983 The Naked Shakespeare (Virgin)
  • 1985 Knights Like This (Virgin)
  • 1988 Downtime (Recommended)
  • 1995 Just Woke Up (Recommended)
  • 1998 Hangman's Hill (Recommended)

With Catherine Delaunay

  • 2011 Sois Patient Car Le Loup (Les Neuf Filles de Zeus)

With Sophia Domancich

  • 1991 Funerals (Gimini Music)
  • 2010 Snakes and Ladders (Cristal/Harmonia Mundi)
Echoes of Henry Cow by the Michel Edelin Quintet with John Greaves

With Michel Edelin Quintet [fr]

With Julien Lourau

  • 2005 Fire and Forget (Label Bleu)

With Michael Mantler

  • 1987 Live (Watt/ECM)
  • 1997 The School of Understanding (Watt/ECM)

With Michael Nyman Band

With Pip Pyle

With Post Image

  • 2012 In an English Garden (Aqui Label Musique)

With Silvain Vanot

  • 2009 Bethesda (Coopérative Music/Pias)

With Robert Wyatt



  1. ^ a b Larkin, Colin (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of 70s Music (3rd revised ed.). Virgin. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-85227-947-9.
  2. ^ Cutler 2009, vol. 1–5, p. 21.
  3. ^ "Mike Oldfield (with Mick Taylor, Steve Hillage and members of Henry Cow, Gong and Soft Machine) – Tubular Bells (Live BBC Video 1973)". MOG. Archived from the original on 23 August 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  4. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Kew. Rhone". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 March 2007.
  5. ^ "John Greaves". Calyx: The Canterbury Website. Retrieved 28 March 2007.
  6. ^ "Dark Companion | Records - DC003".
  7. ^ John Greaves, Life Size, 2018, liner notes
  8. ^ "Ruined Landscapes". Retrieved 13 April 2014.

External links[edit]