Interview: Improv's Greatest Hits | LOUD Bristol Issue FourPosted on: 20 Apr 2022
This article was first published in the fourth issue of LOUD Bristol, 365Bristol's dedicated music magazine. Read LOUD Bristol Issue Four and browse our first three editions here.
Improv's Greatest Hits
Harrys Furniss and Irvine have positioned themselves as key movers within Bristol’s improvised musical community with their events brand-turned-record label, Improv’s Greatest Hits. Here, the pair discuss new creative frontiers and a drive to bring artists together
Harry Furniss and Harry Irvine - half of improvised jazz group Iceman Furniss Quartet - put on local artists including Bad Tracking, Run Logan Run and EP/64 in a string of regular shows under the name Improv’s Greatest Hits. After a temporary cessation in 2019, IGH is now back, reborn as a record label with a monthly night taking place at The Crofters Rights.
The two Harrys met at an Iceman Furniss gig when Irvine was recommended to attend by a friend of his dad’s. Their meeting came at the perfect time for Irvine, with the Quartet’s previous drummer leaving soon after. Furniss too was excited: “I listened to his Soundcloud, and I thought ‘Oh, where have you been?’” he tells me.
As well as becoming close friends, the two have formed a tight bond musically. “We both have a similar idea of the kind of music we would like to be playing, as well as having the same kind of sensitivity to the music,” Irvine explains. “It tends to be comfortable because of that.”
Andrew Neil Hayes at one of IGH's monthly nights (Image: Patrick Bate)
The new IGH operates in several ways. Firstly, Furniss says, they intend “to get into the position where we can hear a new band and say, ‘we really love what you do, can we record you?’”
Secondly, the duo strive to have a diverse multimedia output and have already released a massive sixty-track compilation (all proceeds of which are going to charity) and video magazine. IGH also acts as a vehicle for the musicians’ own material, with Iceman Furniss recently releasing their album, HardBoiled, through the label.
Speaking to them, it’s clear to see how highly they value both the music itself and the art of improvisation. “Without improvisation, I don’t know where I’d be musically,” Furniss says. “That approach has afforded me opportunities to meet loads of different people and play with loads of different bands”. Irvine shares the sentiment and expounds the beauty of improvised music. “For me, it's the moments where nothing is quite formed that's totally unique in music. I find it really expressive, and I feel much like a child when I play,” he professes.
Due to the immensely personal nature of this project, it feels simplistic to refer to IGH as merely a label. Throughout our interview, the Harrys lay out almost manifesto-like ideological aims. Furniss refers to the project as “bigger” and “more all-encompassing” than before, with musical and social diversity playing a pivotal role.
“I find it really expressive, and I feel much like a child when I play,”
- Harry Irvine
Continuing, he expresses a desire to be genuinely inclusive and “mix a lot of scenes”. Irvine echoes this: “I really want to play with lots of different musicians, and IGH has already attracted a wide variety of improvisers, some of whom I’ve arranged playing with since.”
This notion of inclusivity within the improvisation is key, and is evident in the diversity of their inaugural live line-ups and colossal first compilation that traverses everything from the wild noise punk of EP/64 to the serene psyche-folk of Tara Clerkin Trio. As Furniss neatly sums, “it’s more us to be non-genre anyway”.
Another fundamental aim is to afford opportunities to artists performing improv - a medium often ignored
by the wider music community. “It’s largely to do with promotion and saleability. It’s a tough sell in a world where music is a product that is valued on its predictability. It’s instant,” Irvine remarks. Projects like IGH are vital to the very existence of budding improv artists. However, Harry Furniss asserts that they’re not trying to be “purveyors of improvisation as an art form - “we’re just trying to bring different people together.”
Monthly 'Sound Cupboard' events, formed by a group of creatives including Furniss, other members of Iceman Furniss and Dali de Saint Paul, are a vital part of the IGH lineage. In its earliest iteration, the night was taking place around the same time de Saint Paul had played live music, before she “quickly ended up being the main one running it.”
Snuffler at one of IGH's monthly nights (Image: Patrick Bate)
When the night eventually ran its course and its founders went their own way, Dali kindly handed the reigns to Furniss, encouraging him to usher in the younger generation. Since the two friends took over Sound Cupboard, they have presented a slew of progressive improv acts, from Irvine’s own genre-bending spiritual jazz project Big Fuss to the post-rock strokes of Vostok at the most recent show.
This impressive diversity is echoed in the label’s first sixty-track compilation, a feat that they are aiming to repeat regularly – “maybe a bit smaller” Furniss jokes. An equally impressive creation is the hour-long first instalment of their video magazine, featuring the likes of Andrew Neil Hayes and Max Kelan among others. “It’s almost like a hypnosis tape or a podcast,”Furniss expounds. “You put in the background and find little gems here and there and then if you listen to it more than once you catch another bit.”
The duo has a unique and unusual vision for these videos. “This is going to sound a bit weird but do you like Sesame Street? They have in-person things and then they go to this abstract, weird animation and then into the music section and basically that’s the idea,” Furniss says. Unconventional ideas like these are indicative of the pair’s shared attitude to improvisation. Improv’s Greatest Hits perfectly encapsulates the medium in its radically open attitude towards its surrounding collective.
Head to Issuu to read LOUD Bristol Issue Four in full, featuring a selection of interviews with some of the city's best-loved artists, venues, labels and more.
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Stan is a born and bred Bristolian, recently graduated from studying English Literature in Sheffield. His passions are music and literature and spends the majority of his time in venues all over the city immersing himself in Bristol’s alternative music scene. A lifelong Bristol City fan, Stan’s Saturday’s are spent watching his team both home and away.