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LOL COXHILL 19 September 1932 – 10 July 2012

Obituary by Kris Needs

 
During the late 60s-early 70s, Lol Coxhill was the epitome of cool, striding through Aylesbury with his sax-case, shades and shaven pate, often making for the train to London. Being born in 1932 made him older and wiser than the wide-eyed Friars crowd. One of the best qualities about the man was that he was happy to impart that wisdom, along with his beautifully surreal sense of humour, to anyone who would listen.


    When I became involved with the Aylesbury Arts Workshop around 1969, Friars just a few weeks old, Lol was like an omnipresent elder statesman and inspiration. He appeared solo several times at Friars Phase one and it wasn’t too long before he’d held a night at the arts lab in the catacombs below the old council offices [where Ben silkscreened the Friars posters]. Just Lol and a couple of mates, playing free jazz. I’d only encountered this strain of music on a couple of Sun Ra albums, but he took what often sounded inpenetrable, making it sound fun and emotionally-charged [Apparently, one of his career highlights was playing a solo gig attended by Sun Ra’s mighty Arkestra, who went and congratulated him afterwards, saying, ‘Man, that was HARD’.


    He became an integral part of the Canterbury scene which spawned bands such as Caravan and Kevin Ayers’ Whole Wide World, the latter playing both Pink Floyd’s 1970 free concert in Hyde Park, also one of the Aylesbury College dances I was involved in promoting. Legend had it that Peel had spotted him busking outside the Royal Festival Hall, signing him up to his fledgling Dandelion label, which resulted in The Ear Of The Beholder double album and added to Lol’s larger-than-life position in the underground family which seemed to orbit the Peel show, Friars and the London underground. But Lol had already been around, growing up in Aylesbury, acquiring his first sax in 1947, holding groundbreaking local club events playing his sax over the new jazz 78s coming from America, then cutting his musical teeth playing with mod bands, also backing the likes of Champion Jack Dupree, Rufus Thomas, Alexis Korner and even Tommy Cooper!      He seemed able to turn his sax to anything, playing on John Kongos‘ Tokoloshie Manin 1971, while unleashing a string of albums including 1973‘s The Story So Far…, 1975‘s Welfare State and Fleas In Custard [with guitarist G.F. Fitzgerald], 1977‘s Diverse, 1978‘s The Joy Of Paranoia and 1978‘s Lid, seeming to be able to weld the whole history of jazz sax playing into one set, laced with warmly surreal humour.


    In 1980, he created ambient milestone Slow Music with Friars hero Morgan Fisher, of Mott, British Lions and Miniatures album fame [contributing to the latter], where the pair pioneered looping and innovatory recording techniques, loosely based on Handel‘s Largo. He also played with Carol Grimes’ Delivery, and forged strong links with the Canterbury scene, becoming a vital part of Kevin Ayers’ Whole Wide World‘s classic lineup alongside Mike Oldfield and David Bedford [appearing on Shooting At The Moon and The Confessions Of Doctor Dream], also collaborating with Steve Miller, Soft Machine‘s Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt. He played ska with Jamaican legend Rico, appeared on the Damned‘s 1977 second album, Music For Pleasure, the following decade onwards recording with the likes of Fred Frith, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Steve Lacy, albums under his own name including Frog Dance and Alone And Together.
    Lol continued his uniquely personal aural odyssey through to the present day, whether 1989’s teaming up with our own Otway and Barrett around the same time as  producing The Bald Soprano Companion set, appearing as compere and performer at the annual Bracknell Jazz festival or 2004’s improvisational Out To Launch. Most recently, he had been working again with Evan Parker and the Glasgow Improvisational Orchestra, also releasing the Old Sights, New Sounds album on Incus.


    On July 10, we lost this local legend at the age of 79, a gigantic figure who seemed to have packed several normal lifetimes of music into his six decades of cutting edge voyaging. He leaves partner Ulrike plus son and two daughters from his previous marriage. Our sympathy goes out to them; I used to hang out with daughter Maddie during the halcyon early Friars-Dark Lantern-Aylesbury College days, remembering her being blessed with her father’s vibrant spirit and always pleasant demeanour. So that lives on, also embedded in seemingly countless records of pure, unfettered abandon.

RIP Lol.

 

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