According to composer Michael Nyman – who performed with his Band at Band on the Wall on 12 October 1982 – the person who single-handedly introduced Latin American music to English audiences, was Trinidadian Edmundo Ros. Hugely popular for decades from the 1940s, he introduced the cha-cha-cha and became one of the wealthiest musicians in the country. At the opposite end in terms of fame and wealth, was the jazz musician Kenny Graham* who formed his Afro-Cubists band in 1950, merging African and Cuban rhythms with bebop and modern harmonies, and produced “unique exciting jazz, breadline money, a pile of debts and a load of fun”.
The long-lived Edmundo Ros (died in 2011, aged 100) and the short-lived Afro-Cubists (disbanded after two years) emerged from the dance band scene in London where, even between the wars, there were Latino communities. These communities expanded considerably in the 60s and 70s when political refugees and economic migrants arrived in large numbers from the dictatorships of Latin America. Exiles to London for a few years included Brazilian musicians and political activists Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. The Latino sub-culture in London would soon have an impact throughout the country, including in Manchester, and would infiltrate many areas of popular music (and restaurants, bars and dance clubs). But by the 70s this movement had not yet reached Manchester:
I was not aware of any Latin American community in Manchester in the 1970s. As for Latin American music, a band I played in, Both Hands Free, and Loose Change, that performed regularly in Manchester, played some Latin rhythms but there were no Latin music bands as such performing in the city at the time. – Manchester percussionist Dave Hassell
That would change in the 1980s as Band on the Wall would become the focus for Latin live music. Dave Hassell, an inspired percussionist and inspiring educator, was an important catalyst whose influence extends far beyond the city and the North West. Author of four drum tutor books, Dave holds teaching posts at the Royal Academy of Music, London, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the University of Salford. He remains a passionate live performer – on kit drums and timbales.
Dave’s first drum heroes were American jazz players, Gene Krupa, Shelley Manne, Joe Morello, Tony Williams and Elvin Jones. In the 1970s, he discovered the giants of Latin percussion, including Tito Puente, the Cuban Mongo Santamaria and Ralph McDonald, from Trinidad & Tobago. In visits to New York and Cuba, he developed his own Latin percussion skills and in 1984 formed the Latin-jazz group Apitos that played its first-ever gig at Band on the Wall. For many of the Manchester session players who were members of Apitos, this was their first opportunity to play genuine Latin music charts. Apitos was – and is – part band, part academy. In the 80s, Dave also began Latin percussion classes at The Band, with regular performance/workshops in the main venue; subsequently the classes continued, led by percussionist Chris Manis. Apitos played Band on the Wall several times in the 80s, 90s and into the 21st century.
For those seeking the first-hand, so-called ‘authentic’ Latin sounds, Band on the Wall in the 80s was the only place in the city to hear, and dance to, live bands from overseas. The visiting bands included Cubans, the Alfredo Rodriguez Band1and Los Soles de Cuba; and, from Brazil, bands led by Hermeto Pascoal, Nana Vasconcelos and Egberto Gismonti, also the music of the Andes, by Bolivians Rummillajta.
The phenomenal multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo appeared twice at Band on the Wall in the 1980s. They performed Pascoal’s music of staggering complexity and virtuosity yet maintained a joyful connection with the audience. Described by Miles Davis as “the most impressive musician in the world,” Pascoal delighted audiences at Band on the Wall by playing a solo by blowing on a half-empty wine bottle and – on one occasion, after an interval – playing a trumpet solo on a kettle he had found in the kitchen: novelty diversions, perhaps, but also remarkably convincing solos in their own right.
The 80s programme at The Band also reflected the burgeoning Latin American scene in London with appearances by Roberto Pla’s Latin Ensemble, El Sonido De Londres and the Latin-jazz of Cayenne. The Latin tinge could also be detected amidst the repertoire of UK visitors The Guest Stars and Chucho Merchan’s Macondo, as well as local upcomers, Kalima.
In 1986, one of the early indoor performances by a new Manchester community band, Inner Sense Percussion, took place at Band on the Wall. More commonly, this large percussion group could be heard in the street – outside Marks & Spencer, Cross Street. The collective group was formed by percussionist and bassist, Colin Seddon, who was inspired by the London School of Samba. Inner Sense specialised in Brazilian samba batucada, toured extensively and was active until 2000.
We did more samba workshops in schools and colleges than most people’s ears could withstand. This was the beginning of a continuing legacy of community samba in the UK. In 1985 there was only us and the London School of Samba.
Soon, samba groups began to crop up everywhere: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh….Colin Seddon2
Latin American music by the close of the 80s was now firmly established, alive and well and living in Manchester.
*Kenny Graham died in London in 1997; his most recent job had been as caretaker of a block of flats in Putney.
1 Alfredo Rodriguez, pianist, born 1936 – not to be confused with the other Cuban pianist of the same name, born in 1985
2 Manchester & District Music Archive; Colin Seddon is now (2017) music lecturer and subject leader at City College, Plymouth.