The London Improvisers Orchestra: A Subjective Review by Martin Vishnick

Equality In Isolation: Virtual Mobility, Accessibility and Belonging by Pei Ann Yeoh


More beautiful than the chance encounter of a
light bulb and an egg slicer on a jumble sale table.

I have been a regular listener to LIO concerts pretty
much since their inception at the Red Rose Club.
I can't remember how many years ago this was but obviously
there must be something that always draws me back to this music.

Every LIO "gig" is a unique experience for the audience and orchestra alike.
Due to the seemingly inexhaustible invention of the musicians/conductors
I have never felt as though the band were repeating itself or in any way
was dealing in musical clichés.

As far as I am aware the LIO have never played their greatest hits more than once.

For me the essence and excitement of the music is in its diversity and delightful surprise,
in the best sense of the word the music is unpredictable.       
I often feel that I am overhearing musical discoveries that the players are making for the first time. This certainly is not due to inexperience but rather because the musicians are always pushing their own boundaries and also challenging the expectations of the audience.
In this way the band and their listeners become a group of
likeminded people gathered together with a common purpose.
 In this context then it did not seem to be wholly inappropriate one evening to be handed a hymn book and asked to sing together with the band.
 This is something I certainly would not do under any other circumstances.
You could compare the LIO to a benign mythical multi - headed beast, each head as we know has its own individual brain and voice yet somehow all
these musical brains and voices seem to be
connected and able to think together as one entity.
When some heads are missing or new ones are added the beast will subtly change its character and reveal new facets of itself. The orchestra of course
never has exactly the same personnel from one concert to the next.
(In which other band might you hear up to
FOUR bass players playing together in one evening?)

As a non musician listening to players improvising I am continually astonished by the degree of musical empathy that can exist between different instrumentalists.
In the case of the LIO this seems to be especially true and must be partly due to the number of years that the regular musicians have played together.
This musical telepathy is evident in both the freely improvised and the conducted pieces played by the orchestra.
Such dialogues or conversations in sound often seem to me to be much more eloquent and purposeful than what normally passes for "communication"
between human beings. This is not to suggest that the music is always serious, rather it often contains great humour and joy.

In a very positive way the music made by the orchestra defies categorisation. You could say that it was simply pure sound and rhythm, the essence
of music torn up and reassembled in ANY way that the conductors/players have the vision and desire to re invent it. As I said earlier this capacity for invention is seemingly boundless in the orchestra and as a result of this of course it has also produced many offspring

Really there is no way to describe or explain what this music is like,
the only way to "get it" is to HEAR IT!

In attempting to write a little about The London Improvisers Orchestra
I can't fail to mention the great musicians that have sadly now departed from its
ranks but have left behind a great deal of their spirit, these were
Paul Rutherford, Harry Beckett, Lol Coxhill and Tony Marsh.

Robert Flather, April 2013.



What is it about the LIO?  Something brings a diverse and ever-changing collection of musicians together for monthly concerts, concerts that bring plenty of reward in the artistic sense, but are not paying gigs for the musicians.  And that something is a different way of working, rather a different series of ways of working.  Let’s be clear: they may not be the only ones who do what they do, but the LIO have still produced a pretty unique body of work.  I’ve sat on the door for almost all of their 140-odd concerts, attended their two studio visits, and indeed seen many of their rehearsals.  I know how much effort goes into the production of their music.  When it comes to conducted improvisation (conduction), the musician is not just learning a bunch of hand signals and then looking out for them – no matter how easy they sometimes make it appear.  Conduction – like the free improv at which LIO also excel – is the result of concentrated listening. 

It’s well-documented that forms of conduction for creative musicians have been around for some decades, although Butch Morris was of course responsible for codifying a number of procedures, and making his take on conduction a working method around the world.  Out of his 1997 UK tour came a group of players who set up three trial concerts at the Red Rose, and have ended up playing from ten to a dozen each year, almost all in London.  The line-ups vary a fair bit, yet so often there is something wonderfully unexpected but just right.  And perversely amusing, too – a sold-out concert at no less a venue than Ronnie Scott’s Club in 2010 made no special concessions to jazz.  A month earlier, in a pub ballroom in East London, a very different line-up gave one of the jazziest, most blues-drenched LIO performances I’ve heard in years.

One annual LIO concert has been a Freedom of the City performance in May – and at Conway Hall in 2010 the beautifully balanced line-up on this CD included frequent visitors Christof Irmer and Charlotte Hug in the strings, and other welcome returners like Jackie Walduck and Louis Moholo-Moholo.   That’s a daunting-looking line-up, even before it’s augmented with two terrific guest soloists.  Nevertheless it’s expertly shaped by the players - whether improvising or in collaboration with the conductors - the whole thing combining in a riot of orchestral colour and vivacity. 

Conducted improvisation is just one way of working with a large group of improvisers.  When it’s in the hands of people like this, on a day like May 2nd 2010, conduction is a valid and a vital example of how to get huge rewards out of a fused totality of remarkable individuals.  Above the stage at Conway Hall an inscription reads “To Thine Own Self Be True”. 
Here are up to forty people doing just that, yet co-operatively.

Gerard F Tierney, LIO Treasurer 1998 - present


London Improvisers Orchestra, 8th June 2018

(whether you like it or not)
(whatever the weather)
(yelled from the sidelines)
a lament for lost time arguing
hunt in packs
sing in choirs
give us a task
(the wind has its whistling)
let off steam
drown in sorrow
waterlogged pitch
when to come in?
pain passes (stretch) weep
organ pipes a song collective a whale
from the depths deep blue
a dance on your doorstep (incorrigible flirt)
two mice playing cat and mouse
on a first date
this mechanism enables a decision
to be made in a matter of minutes
if you knuckle down
you can easily learn
to live as a bat (sway shattered shrieking sniff
stiff-necked) it cannot be ignored
(the knocking on the door)
a bracelet
lurching plant pot
night on the terrace
drunk in charge of a duck farm
no pressure then
now a lot of pressure
(fucking loads of it!)
only one can go through

Poem by Phil Smith