steve beresford



Gary Todd Quartet: Gary Todd / tenor saxophone, Nigel Coombes / violin, Steve Beresford / piano, euphonium, violin, guitar, drums, toys, etc., Roger Turner / percussion, piano, violin, etc.


David Toop / flutes, bass recorder, etc., Steve Beresford / piano, euphonium, violin, guitar, drums, toys, etc.


Steve Beresford / piano, euphonium, violin, guitar, drums, toys, etc., John Russell / guitar, Roger Turner / percussion, alto sax, piano, etc., Carlos Alves / violin.

“We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.” Edward Sapir

I thought it might be interesting to look at the work of Steve Beresford through his participation in three groups, none of which he was the “leader” of (if that term carries any meaning any longer in improvised music). His playing is perhaps the most “controversial” of the English players involved in free improvisation, and it certainly forces the listener to re-evaluate what he thinks might be going on in terms of “communication”/creation. My remarks on his playing in a recent review as “…a continual setting-up and dismantling of musical situations which the other players may or may not respond to” seem to hold up on seeing him perform live; the setting-up and dismantling together create the loosest of musical structures, yet perhaps that causes the other players (and audience) to work that much harder in creating an overall form to the piece (not that Beresford doesn’t work at this as well, and also to the opposite effect). This fact may be seen as a possible example of the music moving out into areas beyond those normally explored in free improvisation.

The Todd quartet proved a study in opposites. Todd and Coombes stood in one place, never moving, playing just one instrument each, while Beresford and Turner were all over the performing space, playing on a multitude of instruments. Todd’s playing has a lot of thought behind it, always asking questions, answering some and leaving others for the listeners to ponder over; if listened to closely, he has a knack for coming out with an unexpected phrase at just the right moment – in short, an important saxophonist. nigelcoombes.jpgCoombes, playing violin, was unfortunately on the low end, volume-wise (though strangely enough he is often a “loud” player). There were moments of lyricism (for example, three players on violins, simultaneously) that he shone on, but most of the time he was essentially inaudible to me (two weeks later I had the pleasure of playing with Coombes in a quartet, and his playing was extremely inventive in this instance ). Turner was a name new to me, and though at times he seemed to be suffering from a slight case of Han Benninkitis, his playing was quite good and ever-changing; a welcome new voice. Beresford never seemed to keep at one thing very long, continually trying to take the music into something new.

His piano playing was assaulting, and he carries a similar approach to his other instruments (at one point Turner joined him at the piano for a tender four-hands improvisation). He would switch places with Turner, playing Turner’s “kit” while Turner played piano, and again this new turn of events had a definite effect on the other players. It should be remarked that Todd responded quite well to the challenges set forth to him, as did Coombes, when I could hear him. In no way did I view Beresford’s actions as a “threat” to the continuity of the music (he has been labeled anything from “destructive” to “distracting”) though, obviously fascinated by his playing, I found him to be occupying my attention for a great deal of the time, and it was then difficult to get back into listening to the group as a whole. When I did, I felt that I had really gone somewhere with them.


The Toop/Beresford duo was something different altogether. Evan Parker once remarked, on his playing with Paul Lytton, that they were trying to “…set up several different layers of activity simultaneously, …to work with ambiguity or ambivalence…,” and this to me was evident here, as Toop’s more “studied” work, in exploring the relationship of his flutes and whistles to the column of air within them, and this in turn to the performing space (environment), contrasted sharply with Beresford’s continual shifting from piano to euphonium, to a pile of toys on the floor, back to piano, to guitar, etc. Though I didn’t feel Beresford’s work was as sharp as in the previous concert – at several points he seemed uncertain and a few things seemed forced (perhaps due to the hostile nature of the college audience, some of these “contrived” actions were actually planned, to bring out a reaction? – which they assuredly did) – he seemed an ideal partner for Toop for the simple fact that he was so unlike anyone else Toop has worked with, so much so that a reinvestigation of playing in this context was undertaken by Toop during the performance. One hopes they will play together again soon.

eman4010.jpgThe last concert began as a series of duos. John Russell and Roger Turner worked together very well, a series of rapid, low volume sounds, quickly moving along and establishing a good interplay. Beresford and Turner played next, and their approaches were seen as widely sympathetic in many areas. Turner does not hesitate to leave his drummer’s seat and play at distant ends of the performing space; he also revealed his talents as a fine altoist, and possesses what must surely be in the running for the title of “World’s Most Beautiful Alto Sax” (I stand guilty of turning it into a fetish object). carlosalves.jpgA surprise guest of the evening, Carlos Alves, a Portuguese violinist who has worked with Lacy, Hampel, and Kent Carter, showed his talents quite well in a duet with John Russell. A skilled training and technical comprehension of the instrument showed through all his improvisations, giving added credence to his “letting go” (not that this is necessary, but in Alves’ case it showed plainly and seemed to aid his improvisations, unlike others whose classical training would hinder their attempts at playing free). I would have liked to have seen a duet with Alves and Beresford to see how their playing styles merged. Russell’s playing was quite strong in this instance, ranging from a near-inaudible gentle plucking to fierce attacks with a loose guitar string on the other strings. All four players performed together as a quartet for the second set, and the energy level reached was quite high – largely through Beresford’s piano and Turner’s percussion stoking the flames.


Though not wishing to slight any of the other players in the above concerts, my decision to emphasize points of Steve Beresford’s playing has perhaps led me to generalize a bit and not say as much as I wished to on their work. Yet perhaps more importantly, I felt that many played the way they did in these instances because of the context changing/shaping role adopted by Beresford, which forced many into a continual reinvestigation of their roles which may or may not have prompted changes in their playing. When asked why he includes “silly tunes,” purposely banal playing, etc., in his performances, Beresford replied that it was all part of his vocabulary, an expansion of his vocabulary, and that he would not want to exclude any of it without first trying/testing it (not by any means an exact quote of his). I see his importance largely in the effect he has on his fellow players, and the choices put to them for response or non-response. And in creating this role as builder/dismantler, he reveals himself as a performer who leaves no stone unturned/unplayed.

Charles K. Noyes, 1978

more on The London Musician’s Collective here…

Steve Beresford biography:

71-beresford.jpgSteve Beresford (born 1950) is a British musician. He has played a variety of instruments, including piano, trumpet, euphonium, bass-guitar and a wide variety of toy instruments, such as the toy piano. He has also played a wide range of music. He is probably best known for free improvisation, but has also written music for film and television and has been involved with a number of pop music groups. Beresford was born in Wellington, Shropshire in England, studied at the University of York, and stayed in York after graduating, becoming involved in theatre as well as arranging various free improvisation concerts in the city. At this early stage, he was playing a wide variety of music, playing the Hammond Organ in a soul music covers band, featuring on Trevor Wishart’s early work Journey Into Space (1973) and free improvising.

In 1974, Beresford moved to London, where he played in Derek Bailey’s Company events and in the groups Alterations with David Toop, Terry Day and Peter Cusack, and the Three Pullovers with Nigel Coombes and Roger Smith. He was also a member with Gavin Bryars and Brian Eno of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Beresford has continued to play free improvisation with a number of prominent musicians, including Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, John Zorn and Han Bennink. He has also worked with a number of popular musicians, including The Slits, Frank Chickens, Ted Milton and The Flying Lizards. During the 1970s, Beresford was a co-founder and co-editor of the magazine Musics, which dealt mainly with free improvisation, whilst during the early 1980s he helped to set up the somewhat glossier publication Collusion, which had a wider musical remit, covering fields such as rap, heavy metal, classical music, film music, pop music as well as the avant-garde and free improvisation. Along with David Toop, Beresford was also a prime mover of the London Musicians Collective.

selected Steve Beresford recordings:






David Toop biography:

toopportraitklein.jpgDavid Toop is a musician, composer, writer, musicologist and sound curator. He has published three books: Rap Attack, Ocean Of Sound and Exotica. His first album, New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments, was released on Brian Eno’s Obscure label in 1975; since 1995, he has released six solo albums: Screen Ceremonies, Pink Noir, Spirit World, Museum of Fruit, Hot Pants Idol and 37th Floor At Sunset: Music For Mondophrenetic – and he has curated five acclaimed CD compilations for Virgin Records: Ocean of Sound, Crooning on Venus, Sugar & Poison, Booming On Pluto and Guitars on Mars..

He has worked with musicians including Brian Eno, John Zorn, Talvin Singh, and collaborated with artists from many other disciplines. As a critic he has written for many publications including the Wire, The Face, The Times, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Village Voice. He also has curated Sonic Boom, the UK’s largest exhibition of sound art displayed at the Hayward Gallery, London, From April to June 2000.

more on David Toop here…

selected David Toop recordings:







Carlos ‘Zingaro ‘Alves biography:

Carlos Zingaro (or Carlos “Zingaro” Alves, b. Lisbon, Portugal, 1948) is a Portuguese violinist and electronic musician active in free improvisation. He studied classical music in Lisbon and began working with a number of leading improvisers in the mid-1970s. He has worked with such musicians as Richard Teitelbaum, Joëlle Léandre, Peter Kowald, Barre Phillips, Daunik Lazro, Derek Bailey, Jon Rose, Ned Rothenberg, Rüdiger Carl, Dominique Regef, Evan Parker, and Paul Lovens.

Zingaro has performed at new and improvised music festivals in Europe, Asia, and North America, produced several film scores, and collaborated with dance companies.

selected Carlos ‘Zingaro’ Alves recordings:






One Response to “steve beresford”

  1. Please can I ask you to correct Steve Beresford’s biography. An erronious fact has crept in – Steve does not play the double-bass. He does play the bass guitar. Such is the meme of the internet that incorrect facts tend to spread. I have just corrected his Wikipedia entry which repeated the double-bass thing!

    Thank you

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