"The social-cultural implications of jazz could be seen as a melting pot of black and white on both the stage and in the audiences of the 50s and 60s, at a time when racial discrimination was rife. Jazz musicians played from their hearts, which might be seen as being spiritual."
David Punshon: Guru Jazz Experiences
David Punshon is a renowned Jazz-Pianist and composer. He is part of the well-known band 'Babe Ruth'. He's also composing music for the film and computer game computer industry. David, at the age of five years, remembers knocking at neighbours’ doors in search of a piano to play. His parents bought him a small toy piano, for fun, which sounded like an African harp! A good classical training ensued for the next five years, at which time a school friend played David some Miles Davies, and that was the beginning of a jazz love affair! On leaving school, David joined the Cherry Cam Band. An apprenticeship and thorough induction into the world of professional musicianship came about. After about a year he left the band, having learnt valuable lessons about playing with others. Pete Sutton, a local singer/songwriter, invited David into Bob Flag’s Balloon & Banana Band, a comedy band which had him living at a Hippy commune in Crouch End, North London and paved the way for the first of a few psychedelic experiences.
The psychedelic trips, and one in particular, changed his perspectives on life and music, to the extent that he wished to explore the inner psychic realms, having seen beyond a doubt that there was more to life than an otherwise grey, mundane world of limitations, rules and regulations. A (life long) Hippy was born! Alan Shacklock, the guitarist/producer contacted David at the commune, and asked him to join ‘Shacklock’, after a few gigs the band secured a recording deal with EMI Records Harvest Label and the band’s name was changed to ‘Babe Ruth’. Babe Ruth recorded their albums and singles at Abbey Road Studios and toured the world playing the best venues. They made five albums throughout the 1970s and David left after the second one. He felt a huge desire to explore his spiritual side and found a Guru to help him. The next years David worked too many different projects and recordings. Currently, David is developing the ‘King Hippy’ project with David Sye, in addition to music for meditations and for David’s poetry. Occasionally the Dave Punshon Trio (jazz) plays live gigs and David plays keyboard sessions for others.
What do you learn about yourself from jazz music and culture and what does 'poetry' mean to you?
I learn to be more spontaneous in my life through learning and practicing jazz improvisation. Poetry to me is anyone's expression of their feelings through an abstract collection of words.
How do you describe David Punshon sound and songbook?
My sound could be described as an eclectic mix of jazz and orchestra, and the songbook is very much comprised of the songs that I write with David Sye, my partner in my other band, 'King Hippy' (kinghippy.com)
My feelings have led me along a path which has enabled me to learn from great teachers. From them I have learnt interesting traditions of various musical styles. To name a few; Jazz-wize; Miles Davis, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Marcus Miller, Classic-wize; Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Samual Barber, John Cage, Bernstein, Zappa, Film Composers; John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, there are many more. Also my personal teachers in both jazz and composition/orchestral technique.
What were the reasons that you started the spiritual, political and psychedelic researches and experiments?
They started with a very powerful psychedelic LSD trip, which showed me that there is a lot more to life than that which is taught by the government and its schooling system. It was an extremely profound insight into the nature of consciousness and the universe. The experience prompted me to look into various spiritual paths. After a while I left 'Babe Ruth' in order to pursue the life of a celebrate renunciate (monk) within an ashram with a Guru. I spent eight years living with many different people, and actually learnt more about human politics than I did spirituality. The LSD experience, to this day, was the most powerful. This ashram adventure was, of course, an experiment - one of countless others. So, the quest for natural spiritual growth was born from the psychedelic trip, and the main consequence was to learn about the nature of politics.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences?
There have been far too many meetings with various people to be able to even remember them all. Starting with my parents, who (for good and bad) presented me with a system of values. Certain school friends taught me to focus on particular interesting subjects - literature, jazz, classical music - subjects that have been the mainstay of my intellectual life. Meeting my colleagues in 'Babe Ruth' and playing music with them has certainly been an absolute joy. When I started writing music scores for computer games, my writing partner, Richard Wells taught me a lot about music production over the course of ten years and 30 games. David Sye, my current writing partner and dear brother, has taught me so much about life in general. We met in the 80s and are still writing songs together. He is a Yoga Elder who is promoting peace around the world through 'Yogabeats Conflict' (play on words) (yogabeats.com). My girlfriend Keiko is a very special healing influence in my life.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My uncle Ted was a professional drummer, and when I was a little boy he used to say to me, "be a professional musician Dave, it's better than working” That somehow made a big impression !
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past?
Quality, integrity and hope. These days I look and see a dismal music scene, in general. I won't go into the obvious except to say that when everybody can get music for absolutely nothing, where is the financial input back into the music business, for the musicians I mean. The record companies and their executives are always going to make the money, because they have become experts in screwing the musicians. That's always been the same. 'Babe Ruth' had a 4 percent record deal with EMI Harvest. A joke really. That's 4 percent split five ways! So, the quality of (pop) music in general these days is shallow and factory produced - all the same tat! There is also good music being made by people, thank goodness. The integrity of major record company commercial music is non-existent these days whereas in the 60s and 70s a lot of even commercial music had lots of meaning and depth - alongside the rubbish that existed ('Chirpy Chirpy Cheap Cheap', 'Tip Toe Through the Tulips etc. etc.'). ``Actually, the big record companies knew that music with integrity and meaning would make them money at that time (anti- Vietnam - war songs and psychedelic music). There is hope, regardless of the criminals who call themselves record companies, and this hope in in the pure creativity of musicians who make good music out of love and enthusiasm that can help lift the vibrations of the world. The world really does need love, and music can be a wonderful vehicle of love and good feelings.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I have only hope that music will continue to lift the spirits of people, regardless of the obstacles in the way of the creators. The main challenge as I see it is for musicians to be able to live financially in order to create good music. I am very positive that good music will survive along-side the so-called music poison spewed out by certain corporate morons.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would it be?
I would love to see the end of programs like 'The Voice' and 'X-Factor' which have turned music into a competition, and brain-washing young people with the thought that they have to sing or play in a particular way and all sound the same as each other. If most of the great old bands were to audition for the X-Factor they wouldn't get past the first stage, because of their individuality. 'The Who' etc...
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio with Babe Ruth you’d like to share?
Abbey Road studios of 1972 had a very simple canteen in the basement, run by Doris the tea lady. She used to invite us to help ourselves to milk from the fridge and teabags from the box. I remember there having been a small cooker, fridge and a couple of tables with a few chairs, and that was it! Not like now, where there is a sophisticated restaurant. Anyhow, Babe Ruth were cutting their debut album, ‘First Base’, and Pink Floyd were making ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ at the same time. We used to have tea breaks and sometimes share the canteen with Pink Floyd. They were really nice guys!
What are the lines that connect the Blues with Jazz, and continues to Rock ’n’ Roll and …classical music?
Beethoven, who represented the late Classical period, was a champion improviser. Musicians from around Europe used to visit Vienna in order to dual musically with him. Apparently, he won every time. Musicians were ‘making it up’, based on particular harmonic rules, also right back to early ancient music, 15th and 16th century and beyond. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that improvisation is popular in not only Classical music, but also Blues and Jazz. Both these later genres are using the same harmonic rules as in Classical music. The Harmonic Overtone Series is the common line that connects each of these genres.
What has made you laugh and what touched you emotionally from the Hippy commune and ‘acid’ era?
So many things made me laugh. It was such a happy time, that laughter was the main thing. Nothing was really taken seriously during that summer of 1971 in that commune. We were all artists. Emotionally, I loved the connection of love between the other Hippies and myself. Actually, when we acid tripped together there was no individual self, just one consciousness in a few human bodies, enjoying it all. We were, on occasions, ‘Merry Pranksters’ who got up to innocent mischief as part of the overall fun. Two of the commune were film makers who were amongst the few people at that time using video tape. In the road, there were only a few buildings that had not been demolished by property developers. There was our place, that was rented from an old lady. This house was joined to another house which we squatted a hole in the wall at the top of the staircase with a ladder on the other side leading down to the lower floor of the squat. Apart from these two remaining buildings there was a piano factory and a church. One Sunday, the film makers decided to wrap video tape around the lamp posts. Then the people turned up for the church service. The guys filmed their reactions on meeting with a road that was wrapped up with tape. This was really funny - especially from a stoned perspective!
"Quality, integrity and hope. These days I look and see a dismal music scene, in general. I won't go into the obvious except to say that when everybody can get music for absolutely nothing, where is the financial input back into the music business, for the musicians I mean."
What is the impact of jazz on literature; and to the racial, political, spiritual and socio-cultural implications?
The novel which immediately comes to mind is “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac. For those unfamiliar with this, it is based upon the travels of Kerouac and his friends across America against a backdrop of jazz, poetry and drug taking. This was set at the time of the Beat movement, on which jazz had a huge impact, during the late 40s and throughout the 50s. I guess there are countless works of jazz- inspired literature. I get the feeling, however, that Bebop jazz in particular - Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davies etc., - had the most impact on the 50s’ Beat culture and its writers/poets in terms of words, attitude and lifestyle.
The social-cultural implications of jazz could be seen as a melting pot of black and white on both the stage and in the audiences of the 50s and 60s, at a time when racial discrimination was rife. Jazz musicians played from their hearts, which might be seen as being spiritual. Politically, jazz is very ‘left bank’. Conservative right wingers would probably have a traditional jazz band at their wedding parties. Foot stomping with no heart. Real jazz will blast apart any conservative values because it is about playing spontaneously (the exact opposite of the general right wing aim of keeping things the same, unchanging.)
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Many places, but I’ll go for the Woodstock Festival on this occasion.
(King Hippy: David Sye & David Punshon - Photo: Richard Blanshard/Painting: Shatha aka Muse)
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