The Wire

The world's greatest print and online music magazine. Independent since 1982


The return of The Wire Salon

After a four year hiatus, The Wire Salon returns to Cafe Oto on 16 July for a talk with photographer, author and black music historian Val Wilmer.

A familiar name to regular readers of The Wire (she has been a contributor to the magazine since issue one), Val has been reporting on black music and the musicians who make it in the US and the UK since the early 1960s – the list of musicians she has interviewed and photographed over the years reads like a roll call of the most influential figures in jazz, blues and R&B: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Howling Wolf, Aretha Franklin, Fela Kuti and many more.

A meticulous journalist, her writing has always combined a historian's concern for reporting the facts and a political agenda informed by her early contacts with black musicians and the emerging civil rights movement. Likewise, her portrait photography is reportage based, depicting musicians in informal, domestic or communal settings, emphasising the social dynamics that underpin their lives and music.

In the 1970s and 80s she became active in the women's movement, writing about the experiences of women in the music industry, and co-founding Format, the UK's first all-women photographers' agency. Her books include Jazz People (1970), The Face Of Black Music (1976), As Serious As Your Life: The Story Of The New Jazz (1977), and the autobiography Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This: My Life In The Jazz World (1989).

For this edition of The Wire Salon, Val has selected a number of photos from her personal archive, which will be projected during the talk and used as entry points to discuss her long and remarkable life in music, photography, politics and beyond. The talk will be hosted by Tony Herrington, while DJ Derek Walmsley will top and tail the night playing a mix of hard bop, soul jazz, free jazz and more.

The Wire Salon: An Audience With Val Wilmer takes place at London Cafe Oto, 16 July, 7.30pm.