Lol Coxhill RIP

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© Helen Petts

British saxophonist Lol Coxhill died in London on 10 July aged 79. He had been seriously ill for around the last six months.

Coxhill originally trained as a bookbinder, and only left factory work in the mid 1960s. His first break came with his TV appearance with Tony Knight's Chessmen, backing rock 'n' roll instigator Rufus Thomas doing "Walking The Dog" on Ready Steady Go.

In the 50s Coxhill was a member of Denzil Bailey's Afro Cubists, the Graham Fleming Combo (which toured US air bases in England), and Sonny G and the G Men, and also spent time "temporarily inconvenienced" by National Service in the Royal Air Force. He toured with Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Mose Allison and Martha & The Vandellas, as well as Jimi Hendrix. He kept himself out of the growing drug culture of the time, preferring to play sober ("unless I was completely ‘straight’ my ideas would be channelled into narrow specific areas," he said in The Bald Soprano, "…not necessarily a bad thing, but not what I want for myself.") However, he recalls in the same book, "one event which I remember involved Jimi Hendrix. The band met in a pub near the Cromwellian in South Kensington prior to the gig, and I excused myself to get some cold sore cure for my lip. On my return to the pub I was asked why I wanted it. I explained that it was very good mixed with beer and poured most of it into my pint, then drank it, expecting nothing.

"By the time I got on stage, with Hendrix in tow, the drink had taken its effect and I performed the gig on a stage which had grown from one to ten feet high. The audience was dancing in a pool of bloos and Hendrix had changed into a life-size cut out of himself. I was pretty ill for two days…"

Into the 70s Coxhill formed the group Delivery with Steve Miller, Jack Monck, Pip Pyle and Phil Miller, and toured with Chamption Jack Dupree, Alexis Korner and others. In the late 80s he began playing with The Damned, and in that decade also worked with Balanescu String Quartet, Moire Music, AMM and more.

In recent years Coxhill had been a regular at the monthly Boat-Ting Improv and poetry night in London, where he played in a duo with Alex Ward, and in a trio with John Edwards and Steve Noble.

Coxhill was noted as a versatile player, and a highly accomplished improvisor with a sense of humour. A retrospective of Coxhill's output was released by Martin Davidson's Emanem label. It tracks Coxhill's career from 1954–1999, beginning with a recording of Coxhill playing tenor sax in a London jazz club, and moving through R&B, free Improv, jazz and vocal pieces.

Steve Beresford says of Coxhill: "He was recognisable by a single note, and that was his intention. He sounded like Lol when he played with The Damned and he sounded like Lol when he played with Evan Parker."

Coxhill is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son and three grandchildren.

David Toop has written a tribute to Coxhill on his blog here, and Helen Petts has compiled a YouTube playlist of Coxhill performing below.

Thanks to Steve Beresford and Helen Petts.

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