A Short Bio:
The son of a Welsh dancehall bandleader, John Greaves was born in 1950 in Prestatyn, a small village in the North of Wales, near the seaside resort of Rhyl, but grew up in Wrexham, the native town of his mother. Very soon, he was initiated to music by his father, who offered him a bass guitar for Christmas at age 12. Six months later, John was playing every night with his orchestra, and spent four years doing it. A year before he left to study litterature in Cambridge, his younger brother Michael, an aspirant drummer, also joined. By that time, Greaves had acquired the necessary skills, both as a musician and an arranger. The very varied mix of musical styles played by the orchestra, playing every night from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., and the opportunity to open for pop groups like the Big Three and Gerry And The Pacemakers proved an invaluable context for learning quickly!
Once in Cambridge, in 1967-68, Greaves discovered politics, canoeing and... cricket! In 1969, he met the members of Henry Cow, which he joined. For two years, following which he received a Master of Arts from the university, he combined these different activies, before concentrating on his work with Henry Cow, recording and touring with the band until his departure in early 1976.
Having developed a strong collaboration with Peter Blegvad during the shortlived (but very creative) Henry Cow/Slapp Happy amalgamation in 1974-75, Greaves flew to New York with him to work on the Kew Rhône project with funding from Virgin. The pair spent three months putting words to Greaves' compositions, then jumped on the offer of Carla Bley and Michael Mantler to record these in their Woodstock studio. Many musicians guested on the album, which was eventually credited to Greaves, Blegvad and singer Lisa Herman.
Back in England, John Greaves spent a year working for theatre, both as composer/arranger and actor (!). Then, in early 1978, he accepted an offer to join National Health, staying until the band's demise in the spring of 1980. Meanwhile, he'd also joined part-time jazz band Soft Heap, with Elton Dean, Pip Pyle and Alan Gowen (later replaced by Mark Hewins), a line-up still active to this day.
The 80's were the decade of many solo projects and one-off collaborations. First was the The Lodge project with Peter Blegvad, which took seven years to materialize in the form of the "Smell Of A Friend" album. Then his first solo album, "Accident", recorded in Paris in 1981-82, and released in 1983 on Jean-Pierre Weiller's independent Europa label. In 1984, he settled in Paris, and formed a touring band which included Kristoffer Blegvad (vocals), François Ovide (guitar), Denis Van Hecke (cello) and Mireille Bauer (percussion). This line-up was featured on his second solo album, Parrot Fashion (1985, Europa).
At this point, Greaves was already in demand as a session player, and worked extensively with the Michael Nyman Band, also meeting ex-Flying Lizards frontman David Cunningham, with whom he started a long-term musical association.
A short European tour with an all-star Michael Mantler Band (which featured Jack Bruce, Rick Fenn, Don Preston and Nick Mason) in 1986 preceded the formation of a new The Lodge line-up, which toured around Europe during the next three years (and recorded the above-mentioned album).
In the late Eighties, John Greaves started working on a third album, which he recorded in Paris in 1989-90 with a band that consisted of François Ovide (guitar), Sophia Domancich (piano) and Pip Pyle (drums). "La Petite Bouteille De Linge" (1991, La Lichère) ('the little bottle of laundry'...) was a critical, if not commercial, success. The band that toured in 1992 sometimes included Paul Rogers (double bass) and Mireille Bauer (vibraphone/percussion). Almost simultaneous with the release of "La Petite Bouteille...", John's first collaborative album with David Cunnigham, "Greaves-Cunningham" was issued on the Japanese Wave label (and more recently reissued by Voiceprint).
In 1993, a more improv-oriented John Greaves Band, with Elton Dean (sax), Jean-François Pauvros (guitar) and Pip Pyle (drums), played a few gigs. Greaves also started work on a new project which consisted of new, acoustic/jazzy arrangements of songs from his various albums. Knowing Robert Wyatt had liked the "Kew.Rhône" album very much (to the point of buying two copies of the album when it originally came out, just in case the first got worn out!), Greaves asked him to sing on a few tracks, which he did. The core of the band was now Ovide (acoustic guitar), Domancich (piano) and Rogers (double bass), and the cast of singers included Kristoffer Blegvad, Susan Belling (a.k.a. S'Ange) and French radio/TV/pop star Caroline Loeb. Finished in 1994, the magnificent result, "Songs" (Resurgence/Voiceprint), was only released in the autumn of 1995. In the meantime, new collaborative efforts with Peter Blegvad (leading to extensive touring in Europe, the USA and Japan since 1996) and David Cunningham had been issued.
The autumn of 1997 saw the CD reissue of Greaves' first two solo albums, Accident and Parrot Fashions on Voiceprint, and the release of Michael Mantler's new work The School Of Understanding, on which he was one of the featured vocalists. In January 1998, Greaves gave two rare solo voice/piano performances at Paris' Hôtel du Nord, followed by more in Japan in June of that year (a CD recorded during that tour has been released).
In May 2001, Greaves at last released his new studio album, The Caretaker, on which he'd been working since 1998 with François Ovide (guitars) and Manuel Denizet (drums). Although its working title was Songs 2, it is very different to Songs - largely electric, and featuring him on lead vocals and, of course, on bass. In keeping with the album's sparser instrumentation, Greaves stuck with the trio format for his subsequent live gigs; for a year, the guitarist was Patrice Meyer, who was then briefly replaced by François Ovide, before the line-up settled again with the arrival of Frenchman Jef Morin. The trio has a live album in the can.
Greaves has also recorded an album of purely instrumental music, as well as an album of jazz standards with pianist Marcel Ballot and Patrice Meyer, On The Street Where You Live, which was released by Voiceprint simultaneously with The Caretaker.
In 2002, Greaves decided to return to acoustic music (while keeping his rock trio going), and formed the JazzSongs trio with old friend Sophia Domancich and more recent collaborator, cellist Vincent Courtois. The result of a prestigious deal with high profile French label Harmonia Mundi, The Trouble With Happiness, released in September 2003 to critical acclaim, contains old favourites and a handful of new songs, including the title track.
In addition to his own albums and bands, Greaves is involved in countless projects. In November 2003, he participated in the Robert Wyatt tribute concert "Dedicated To You" in Charleville-Mézières (N-E France), alongside Karen Mantler, Dominique Pifarély, Sylvain Kassap and others. That project is now known as "Dondestan", and several other performances have taken place. 2004 saw the release of Chansons, a French language album with lyrics by Christophe Glockner and lead vocals by Elise Caron, a former collaborator of Albert Marcoeur, with guest appearances by the likes of Robert Wyatt and Louis Sclavis. In 2008, he released his own musical settings of poems by Paul Verlaine.
A John Greaves discography:
Cow - Legend (1973, Virgin)