Catalogue No.


How can you not love Ron Geesin? Trad jazz man, electronic pioneer, inventor, writer, collector, adjustable spanner expert. I’ve bumped into his records over the years – library music, private presses, Pink Floyd – but never really imagined I’d be working with him. Well here we are. With Potboilers, the early 1960s scores for Steve Dwoskin. I’ll leave Henry K. Miller and Ron himself to do the honours.

Thanks for listening

Jonny Trunk 2020.

Steve Dwoskin arrived in London in 1964, aged 25, with several 16mm films in his trunk, shot in the cold-water flats of Greenwich Village. He had been on the fringe of the Factory scene, and some of his films starred Beverly Grant, ‘the queen of the underground’. But they had scarcely been seen, and they didn’t have soundtracks. For almost a year they stayed in the trunk, and stayed silent. Then he met Ron Geesin, somewhere around Portobello Road.

‘Slept last night, completely dressed after working over 12 hours on sound tracks at Ron’s,’ wrote Dwoskin in his diary for 29 July 1965. ‘My films are not anywhere near being anything. I need more energy, more concise and positive ideas and less inhibition. And of course space, money and people.’ Dwoskin, who taught and practised graphic design by day, had recently decided to stay in London beyond the term of the Fulbright scholarship that had brought him there.

Ron, living with Frankie in a basement flat in Elgin Crescent – they would marry the next year, with Dwoskin as best man – was about to leave the Original Downtown Syncopators, the trad jazz band he had joined aged seventeen-and-a-half, and was trying to go solo. On stage he would make vigorous use of piano and banjo; at home Frankie had bought him a new kind of instrument – a tape recorder. ‘Soon I had one tape recorder, two tape recorders, three tape recorders.’

Ron, wrote Dwoskin in his unpublished autobiography, ‘loved to record, and to cut and splice the quarter-inch recording tape to make new sounds. This triggered in me the idea of getting back to my films and finishing them’. Soon he was living in a dank basement in Denbigh Road, a few minutes’ walk from Elgin Crescent. Ron’s soundtracks for Dwoskin’ films, recorded in the Geesins’ flat, encompassed Ron’s very eclectic range of styles – madcap piano and fretted banjo as well as tape manipulation.

Aside from Ron’s soundtracks, some of which belong to films that no longer exist (including Pot Boiler), Frankie would act in one of the films that Dwoskin either lost or never finished during these years. He was disabled, having contracted polio as a child, and Ron and Frankie were both carers and collaborators; Ron had met him when he was struggling into his car.

There was no London equivalent to the underground film scene that Dwoskin had known in New York, and his films remained unseen until such a scene began to come into being, in the autumn of 1966. Some of them made their debut at the Mercury Theatre, near Notting Hill Gate, that September. Dwoskin wrote that Alone, starring Zelda Nelson (from Ron Rice’s Chumlum), and Chinese Checkers, with Beverly Grant and Dwoskin’s friend Joan Adler, went over best.

Soon both Dwoskin and Geesin became involved in the nascent London Film-Makers’ Co-op, which put on screenings in Better Books on Charing Cross Road – ‘if you can call them screenings,’ Ron recalls; ‘I’d call it fifteen blokes in various stages of disarray, peering through the smoke’. One or more of the films had been ‘striped’ with magnetic audiotape; with others ‘we had no means of direct syncing to the picture, so he started the film and I started the tape recorder’.

In the same autumn, Dwoskin moved into a flat almost opposite the Geesins on Elgin Crescent. More collaborations followed, including Naissant, on which Gavin Bryars, whom Geesin had met during a stint on the northern club circuit with novelty act Dr Crock and His Crackpots, played double bass.

Around the end of 1967 Geesin released his first solo LP, A Raise of Eyebrows, and Dwoskin won recognition the Fourth Experimental Film Competition, aka EXPRMNTL 4, an occasional film festival staged at Knokke-le-Zoute in Belgium. By now the films had optical soundtracks.

It was only after this that Dwoskin completed his first ‘British’ films, including Me Myself and I, with Barbara Gladstone, an American dancer who had appeared in Barbara Rubin’s Christmas on Earth, and with whom Dwoskin and Geesin had at one point devised a stage show, never produced. For Moment, a single-shot film, Geesin provided his most experimental score yet. At the time of its debut in 1970, Dwoskin and the Geesins were sharing a house in Ladbroke Grove.

By then, Ron was working with Pink Floyd, and soon afterwards he and Frankie moved out to the country, to be replaced by Bryars both in the house and as Dwoskin’s principal collaborator.

Henry K. Miller 2020

Geesin-Dwoskin Memories

While researchers interpret scraps of paper and old diaries in attempts to work out Steve Dwoskin's early London days, I give you my memories.

Somehow we met in early 1965 when Steve was in his first lodging in Talbot Square, Paddington; possibly introduced because I had just started making film soundtracks using magnetic tape and he was looking for ways of putting sound on his first films. I was coming to the end of my 4-year journey with the very vintage jazzband, The Original Downtown Syncopators, emerging from the cocoon of Edwardian clothing and horn gramophones to become a modest butterfly in futuristic electronics and sound machinery - living with my wife-to-be, Frances Reid, in the damp basement flat of 34 Elgin Crescent, W11.

Steve, 4 years and 11 months older than I, was very much the master instructing the student, but only on some levels, those of experience in creativity and of knowledge of influential prototypes. He was disabled from polio and had to move about locally in a wheelchair or on crutches with leg braces: a considerable and relentless daily hindrance. Some of his Stateside training had been in graphics and he found work initially designing book jackets to supplement his Fulbright Scholarship that had sent him to England. Here, I became his legs. When he secured an appointment with a publisher, I would go ahead, sometimes the day before, to check all the access to and in various labyrinthine buildings. My other practical duties were those of building shelves, moving things about and even adjusting the mechanical coupling on his automatic car. In return he taught me Letrasetting, the standard typographical way of laying down larger type for book jacket spines and front covers. I got good at that, working into the early hours of the next day: also serving as a rehearsal for managing the many film soundtrack deadlines that faced me later.

We were obviously getting on so well together that he agreed to be Best Man at our wedding on the 27th August 1966.

As part of our master/student relationship during the graphic sessions, Steve saturated me with the works of one of his favourite composers, Mahler. This started to wear me down and I later worked out why: Mahler never knew how to finish, "Has it ended? - No, here it comes again! - This time. - No, wait a minute. - Oh, no! Oh, peace!" I was more used to the crisply clasped cymbal crash ending a Duke Ellington 78rpm record.

All this time I was self-educating in music by imbibing everything from Balinese Gongs through Romanian Cymbalom to Indian Classical and all the, other, great composers from the 16th to the 20th Century, usually recording and storing them off BBC Radio3. Arguments began to erupt between master and student and I retaliated with Gershwin, Schönberg and Varèse!

The next move was to buy a house together! Steve's then girlfriend Liz Bennett encountered an old couple towards the north end of Ladbroke Grove who needed to sell their house. A deal was struck in 1969: Steve had to have the lower two-and-a-half floors and we the upper. Frankie was already pregnant with our first son, Joe. I was becoming a father and getting high-profile work in The Media. The Dwoskin-Geesin 'master/student' relationship was breaking, assisted by baby equipment fouling up the foot of the stairs. A second son, Dan, was born. Steve's girlfriend's hysterics, coupled with Ladbroke Grove dogshit and a looming nervous breakdown convinced us that a move to the countryside was essential, so we gave Steve our half of the house for what we had paid for it and left in the Spring of 1971.

Ron Geesin 2019/11