Tony Wren

Photograph of Tony Wren

Photograph copyright Gus.

Born Rio de Janeiro, 1947; double bass.

Teenage years immersed in Ayler, late Beethoven, Coltrane, Shepp, Stockhausen, Webern and Zappa led briefly into composition (some SPNM [Society for the Promotion of New Music] performances in London) and out the other end. Wren met the members of the future Chamberpot in 1969 at Durham University, where he took up the bass and was at first seduced into the world of indeterminate/graphic/text performance by Phil Wachsmann (Yggdrasil) before persuading him that improvisation did not actually need written prompts at all.

Chamberpot (with Wachsmann, Richard Beswick and initially Simon Mayo) flourished throughout the seventies, generating only two LPs and a cassette but becoming one of the most enduring improvisation groups of the period. At the same time Wren was exploring string ensembles and more jazz-oriented groups, pursuing through improvisation the sound-worlds of his early influences. He formed the London Bass Trio in 1976, with Marcio Mattos and Marc Meggido, a group which was still active after more than a quarter of a century, with Simon Fell later on the third stool. Voicings featured two cellists (Georgie Born and Dave Roberts) with three singers (Maggie Nicols, Marj McDaid and Ros Plotkin), touring in Europe around 1980; Mama Lapato was Wren’s not-quite-free-jazz experiment through the late seventies, with Larry Stabbins, Marc Charig, Martin Mayes and Paul Burwell. Three Fish and a Bicycle featured Sylvia Hallett, Marj McDaid and Akemi Kunioshi. A small but important aspect of his work involved dancers, notably Shelley Lee, Caroline Rogers (with Chamberpot); Carol de Vaughn (in Bow Jest, with Hallett and McDaid); and Joanna Pyne (a two-couples quartet with Mike Cooper and McDaid). Overseas collaborations included work with Logos (Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge), LaDonna Smith, Milo Fine, Jack Wright and others. Wren was a director of Bead Records from its early years and a founder member of the London Musicians’ Collective.

By the mid-eighties Wren had withdrawn from playing for a variety of personal reasons, and remained out of circulation (with rare exceptions, such as an unbilled appearance at Company Week 1988 at the invitation of LaDonna Smith) until late in 1997. By that time his urge to play again was too strong to resist, and his career resumed in collaborations with Mark Wastell, who introduced him to Chris Burn and Rhodri Davies, and with David Ryan who was working on graphic scores and text pieces - thus does the world move in spirals. Wren went on to form the string quartet Quatuor Accorde (with Phil Durrant, Charlotte Hug and Mark Wastell), an idea which derived from his earlier string quartet projects involving Wachsmann, Mattos, Born, Susannah Ferrar, Ivor Kallin and which was inspired by Martin Davidson of Emanem. Meeting Howard Riley again after more than 20 years set off a chain of thought which resulted in a quartet that also brought in Wren’s old friend Larry Stabbins: three musicians who had all experienced a quiet decade or so, together with drummer Mark Sanders who had come to prominence during that same period. A spontaneous duo with Martin Küchen at All Angels in 2001, at the invitation of Mark Wastell, led to the formation of the Unsolicited Music Ensemble, a trio with Raymond Strid, which has worked in Sweden and around the UK.

Wren’s other later work has involved Phil Wachsmann, Matt Hutchinson, Steve Noble, John Butcher, Maggie Nicols, Gail Brand, Tony Bevan, Alan Tomlinson, Roger Turner, Paul Rutherford, Harry Beckett, Marj McDaid and many others in the UK, and with LaDonna Smith, Bruce Eisenbeil and Stephen Flinn in the USA. An updated string quartet, Quatuor Encorde, with Wachsmann, Hug and Mattos, can be heard on Milo Fine's 2003 Emanem recording Ikebana but has not yet released any of its studio recordings.

Another period of forced inactivity caused by an injury to his left wrist early in 2004 led Wren to re-examine his role as a performer and promoter, and he seems likely now to remain in retirement.

The monthly improvisation event Free Radicals, which he founded and ran for three years at north London’s Red Rose on the first Wednesday of each month, continued for some time under the benevolent supervision of Gerard Tierney though Wren's shade may still have been felt periodically as he passed along Seven Sisters Road driving a 254 bus towards Finsbury Park and Bethnal Green. He is no longer on the buses, improvisation being rather discouraged in that context (as in many othersÉ).

e-mail: tony_wren@hotmail.com

Recordings

1976, Chamberpot, Bead 2.
1976/77, Live, Bead Cassette 1. London Bass Trio.
1977, Sparks of the desire magneto, Bead 7. Chamberpot.
1979/1981, Mama Lapato, Bead 20.
1997, Danish intuitive music, Intuitive Records IRCD 003. Three tracks by Edges.
2000, Angel gate, Emanem 4050. Quatuor Accorde.
2001, Four in the afternoon, Emanem CD 4067. Tony Wren/Howard Riley/Larry Stabbins/Mark Sanders.
2001, Freedom of the city 2001: small groups, Emanem 4205.
2001, Keep the meter running, 9 Winds NWCD 0246. Stephen Flinn/Bruce Eisenbeil/Tony Wren.
2002, Bulbs, Slamcd 250. Unsolicited Music Ensemble.
2002, Sleeper, FMR CD196-i0506. Larry Stabbins/Howard Riley/Tony Wren/Mark Sanders.
2002, St Cyprians 3, FMR CD331-0212. Howard Riley/Philipp Wachsmann/Tony Wren.
2003, St Cyprians 2, FMR CD320-0811. Larry Stabbins/Howard Riley/Tony Wren/Mark Sanders.
2003, Freedom of the city 2003: small groups, Emanem 4212.
2003, Ikebana: London encounters, Emanem 4213. Milo Fine.

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