Label focus: Club Inégales

6th September 2021

Features Club Inegales

Ahead of their new release Expect the Unexpected, composer, founder, and musical director Peter Wiegold retells the origin story of one of our partner labels, Club Inégales.

Standing at the bar in the basement of law firm Hodge Jones and Allen at Euston, with Senior Partner Patrick Allen, he turned to me and said, “this could be your home”.

It was a moment that every musician dreams of. We had just given a charity gig for Patrick in his bar for the local University College Hospital, through his friend, and our associate director, Martin Butler. Suddenly a whole vista opened up.

We wanted the new home to be a club. Our established band/ensemble had the name 'Notes Inégales', not the easiest name, but perfect in concept because it means ‘swing it’ in French Baroque music, and the whole psychology of this work has been swing - shift - shuffle - between contrary points. Notes Inégales means ‘unequal notes’ and for me the inclusivity envisioned in the project comes from that sense that balances are always able to shift. So, Club Inégales!

I had two immediate thoughts. Firstly, the audience should enter through the side of the building, down the metal steps into the basement, not through the posh main entrance of the law firm, and secondly that we needed a neon sign! The wonderful Barbara Palczynski, our first manager, created our distinctive cranky sign with an old-school East End firm.

The band was well established, but we wanted to work with guests through the club seasons, and from as wide a background as possible. And so, the three-part form of the evenings was established from the very beginning: resident band and guests each show their work in sets one and two and then we perform something new together in set three, usually after just a brief rehearsal in the afternoon, and sometimes extending into the night.

The whole concept was inégales. Do we call it a band or an ensemble, gig or concert? Did we have set lists or programmes?  And then there was question of dress. We wear black, but with a dash of red (a tie a sock, a belt etc.). Mixing the formal and individual. The colours of the club were established, black and red with blue lighting.

People have sometimes characterised the club as being about ‘improvisation’, and improvisation is an important part. Sometimes free, but I also often signal changes and roles. For me, it is the tension between all the different polarities that is the real interest. We do use scores, but usually just part-scores: ‘backbone’ or one-page’ scores, that were to be, in that splendid Baroque term, ‘realised’. It was always great to keep making, realising, different versions of pieces.

The foundation for all the work has been the resident band Notes Inégales, who on the 'Expect the Unexpected’ CD, alongside the guest players, typically move from the tight fast 5/4 groove of Byron Wallen's piece to the Korean graphics of Hyelim Kim and the text score of Pat Thomas. The band has evolved over the 10 years of the club and developed its own character. I think, for example, of Ben Markland’s insistent bass figures that suddenly change, turning all the harmony in a moment, Simon Limbrick’s gamelan/minimal vibraphone riffs holding the centre, Joel Bell’s guitar solos, and Martin Butler’s ever eloquent rich piano harmonies. The first track of the CD features Christian Forshaw’s exquisite spontaneous melody for Alex Roth’s The sky drops a tear; It landed in the ocean.

Other key members have been Hyelim Kim, Korean taegum flute, Rowland Sutherland, flutes, Max Baillie and Jackie Shave violins, Jon Banks accordion, Torbjörn Hultmark trumpet and Graham Lee trombone.

Through all this development of the club and it’s values I was joined by the wise Associate Directors Martin Butler and Andrew Ward. Later we also hosted sessions for our sister organisation the Institute of Composing and for Academy Inégales for emerging artists, and collaborated with many industry friends including the Aldeburgh Festival, Sound & Music, Spitalfields Festival, The House of Illustration, NMC Recordings, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Nest Collective, Arts Council England, BASCA, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Brunel University and the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Now, almost exactly 10 years later (we opened 27th Sept. 2011), we have seen 21 seasons of club nights, featuring guests from many world music traditions, along with writers, poets, comedians and visual artists all collaborating with, and performing alongside, Notes Inégales.

The more than 100 guests have included Shri Sriram (India), Cheng Yu (China), Sura Susso (West Africa), Maya Youssef, (Syria), Lionel Loueke (jazz, New York), Horo Horomona (Maori shaman, New Zealand) Leveret (British folk), Jill Purce (recorder), the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ria Lia (comedian), Woodrow Phoenix (cartoon artist) and Benjamín Zephaniah (poet). Two of our previous NMC releases arose from ideas generated on club nights, With writer Will Self (‘Kafka’s Wound’) and folk singer Sam Lee, (Van Diemen’s Land’).

And I should thank our audiences, loyal, warm, enthusiastic, close-up in that basement space, often returning many times. They have been diverse, young and old, from many backgrounds and cultures. I am very grateful to all our supporters and funders, especially Arts Council England and Brunel University, and thank you once more to Patrick Allen for that evening in 2011, without which none of this would have happened.

Notes Inégales were joined by 22 guest musicians, each bringing a newly composed one-page score, in two marathon recording sessions in the Club to celebrate 25 years of the EFG London Jazz Festival. The result was Expect the Unexpected - a genre-hopping, free-wheeling selection of live recordings featuring some of the best jazz musicians in the UK (and beyond.) Find out more and preorder Expect the Unexpected here

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