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Turning Turtle

Peter Eden

Of all the performances I was able to catch at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, the one that will probably stay with me longest was the evening at Cadogan Hall titled An Evocation of Kenny Wheeler, featuring Dave Holland, Norma Winstone, Ralph Towner, Stan Sulzmann, Nikki Iles, John Parricelli, Henry Lowther, Evan Parker, Steve Beresford, Percy Pursglove, Louis Moholo and others, including the members of the London Voice Project. The proceedings began with a group of half a dozen trumpeters playing from the gallery above the stage and closed with a poignant recording of Wheeler playing solo, that softly burnished trumpet sound and those vaulting phrases bringing tears to more than a few eyes.

A significant absentee was the pianist John Taylor, whose death in July came 10 months after that of the trumpeter, his collaborator for four and a half decades. I went home and played Taylor’s debut album, Pause, And Think Again, released in 1971 on the Turtle label. Wheeler is prominently featured on this elegant and still striking record, recently reissued as part of a box set called The Turtle Records Story: Pioneering British Jazz 1970-71.

As that subtitle suggests, the story of Turtle Records was a short one. The box contains its entire output: just three albums. Taylor’s is one; the others are Mike Osborne’s Outback and Howard Riley’s Flight. Together they provide a valuable snapshot of British modern jazz at a particularly interesting stage of its evolution.

If Taylor’s music is characteristically considered and lyrical, Osborne’s — with Harry Beckett on trumpet, Chris McGregor on piano, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums — is much looser and more overtly impassioned. Riley’s trio, with Barry Guy on bass and Tony Oxley on drums and electronics, is a more cerebral unit, its music offering a greater challenge than that heard on the pianist’s earlier albums for CBS, Angle and The Day Will Come.

Turtle was founded in London by Peter Eden (pictured above), a record producer whose credits already included the early Deram albums by Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Alan Skidmore and Mike Gibbs. He moved on to Dawn, a Pye subsidiary, where his artists included Mike Cooper, Mungo Jerry, and the Trio, as Surman, Barre Phillips and Stu Martin called their group. And then, frustrated by the inadequacies of the major labels, Eden made what must have seemed the logical next step, striking out on his own.

All three Turtle albums had the benefit of excellent recording quality, good pressings and almost excessively lavish packaging. The gatefold sleeves of the Riley and Taylor albums featured semi-abstract artwork, making them look like the products of the progressive rock bands of the time. Eventually, not surprisingly, they became collectors’ items. The new box set miniaturises the original artwork and contains a booklet featuring highly detailed sleeve notes by Colin Harper, incorporating the views of several of the participants.

Eden was a modest and unobtrusive man of great discernment. He chose to work with highly creative musicians and let them get on with it. The contents of the box set show how well he succeeded, even if the market did not agree.

* The Turtle Records Story is released by Cherry Red.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mick Steels #

    It maybe small but Turtle Records catalogue takes some beating from the perfect combo perfection of ‘Pause’, special mention for the massively underrated Stan Sulzmann still playing beautifully to the fiery ‘Outback’ with Mike Osborne in coruscating form with Chris McGregor as sideman! Top that with Riley’s explosive trio with Oxley, replacing the admirable Alan Jackson, adding a new dimension to the piano trio format
    It is breathtaking music which I’ve been listening to for over 40 years and it is good to see it is back in circulation now and heartfelt thanks to Peter Eden for his foresight in recording these artists

    November 23, 2015
  2. Riccardo #

    Turtle box is one of the most important and great British jazz record producion ever.
    It’s a “Must Do” box for all British jazz lovers.


    November 23, 2015
  3. Colin H #

    Thanks for drawing attention to the box here, Richard. Apart from John Taylor’s LP, the content was unknown to me when I was asked to write the booklet – I was around three years old at the time – but I thoroughly enjoyed trawling the MM for 1970-71 and interviewing and/or corresponding with many of the musicians involved: Barry Guy, Howard Riley (several of whose other records I did know), John Taylor, Norma Winstone, John Surman, and others, not least Peter himself. His modesty and diffidence is, as you say, remarkable.

    Peter’s son-in-law, Ben (a pro film-maker) is currently working on a documentary about Peter, who produced just over 20 British jazz records between 1968-73, almost all of them now classics. It’ll be a welcome doff of the cap.

    I know you’re too modest yourself to mention it , Richard, but the booklet does of course include extracts from several of your own (and of some of your colleagues) interviews with many of the musicians involved, from the MM circa 1970-71.

    Just as a ‘heads up’, if anyone’s interested, I’ve written a spin-off feature for ‘Record Collector’ on Peter Eden and his jazz catalogue, including interview content (mostly unique to the feature) with Chris Spedding, Norma Winstone, Mike Westbrook et al. It should appear in January or February 2016.

    November 23, 2015

    I agree; the Kenny Wheeler appreciation event at Cadogan Hall last week was quite unforgettable. After the concert, I made my way to the area where LPs and CDs by Kenny were on sale and came away with the ‘Around 6’ LP on ECM. I cannot tell you how thrilled and delighted I was to discover on playing the album the following day that the sublime solo trumpet piece which provided such a moving coda to last Thursday’s concert, and to which you refer, is one of the tracks on the album; wonderful.

    November 23, 2015
  5. John E #

    I bought the FMR Legacy CDs of the John Taylor and Mike Osborne albums, and am now wondering whether these were ‘official’ releases.

    November 23, 2015
  6. Colin H #

    They were not, John. It’s explained in the booklet in the new set…

    Osborne’s 1971 ‘Shapes’ album, though (also released on FMR – a debut release as it never appeared at the time), was in fact a Turtle production and would have been their fourth release had it appeared at the time. Again, it’s explained in the notes.

    November 23, 2015
  7. Jeffery Gifford #

    Thanks for the heads up on Turtle Records, Richard. I was not familiar with the label but so many of the names ring a bell that it about has to be good. British Jazz has always held a special place in my listening since discovering it via Dawn Records – WHERE FORTUNE SMILES, while looking into some auxillary John McLaughlin music in the early 70s. Always something open, burry and wild, yet grounded about British Free Jazz and 70s British Jazz that reeled me in. Taught my ears there wasn’t a big chasm between Jazz and Rock to begin with. That one could love both and it wasn’t an either/or proposition in all cases Even at some of its most bizarre it rang true and made sense and was close to the psychedelia I liked so much. And then there ‘s the likes of Kenny Wheeler who made trumpet’fluegelhorn sound like a human voice without effects like a wah-wah or studio gimmickry. Hope someone videoed the Kenny Wheeler Tribute.

    December 1, 2015

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