The Ogun Story

Hazel Miller, Ogun founder, recounts the story of the label:

Forty years ago, Harry Miller and I started a record label. Harry was working with several bands and a friend had convinced us that we needed to do this in order to give them wider exposure. The major record companies had no interest in documenting this music and a record release could only help to promote the bands and this vital new music, too. As manager of these bands, Brotherhood of Breath, Mike Osborne Trio, Elton Dean’s Ninesense, and Isipingo. I knew exposure was necessary, so we thought: why not ?

Several friends helped us. The label was set up with the financial help of Dick Hodge, and recording engineer Keith Beal and his wife Liz contributed their skills. Dick Hodge named the label. He had studied African History and told us about Ogun, the Yoruba deity connected with work who is worshipped by millions. We wanted a short, punchy name, because we represented dedicated people whose work could speak for itself, it seemed a good choice. Ogun was launched in September 1974 with a recording of the Brotherhood of Breath playing ‘ Live ‘ at Willisau, Switzerland. Having pushed us into action, Dick moved on because of his other commitments. I thank him for his insight and encouragement.

As a recording engineer, Keith was a great asset. He dragged equipment to venues that were totally unsuitable for recording, and managed to capture the essence of these live gigs, producing some exceptional results, as evidenced in these Ogun releases: ‘Border Crossing’ Mike Osborne Trio (OGCD015), Blue Notes In Concert Vol.1 (now part of the box set (OGCD024-028)), The Brotherhood of Breath (OGCD001), Ovary Lodge (OGCD021 ) recorded live at Nettlefold Hall, South London, Stan Tracey / Mike Osborne Tandem live at Willisau Festival ( OGLP 210 yet to be released on CD), Louis Moholo’s Viva-La-Black – Live In South Afrika (OGCD006) from the first British Council-sponsored South African tour of a mixed group in 1993, recorded by Damon Miller. Ogun became a family within the European jazz community, with many ‘live’ releases such as Unlimited Saxophone Company [ OGCD002] led by Elton Dean , recordings from the Covent Garden Festival, 1989. Blue Notes Legacy (OGCD007) is a rare opportunity to hear the Blue Notes in concert in Durban, just before leaving South Africa for Europe, and comes from a tape provided by Maxine McGregor. This is an important part of the history of South African music.

Not all the Ogun recordings were ‘live’. Blue Notes For Mongezi (OGD001/2) was recorded in a studio overnight , courtesy of John Martyn & Chris Blackwell, following the memorial service for trumpeter Mongezi Feza who died suddenly. A musical dedication from his band-fellows in the South African tradition, this is now part of the 5 CD box-set BLUE NOTES – The OGUN Collection (OGCD024-028). Ogun promoted concerts, too. We presented Keith Tippett’s ARK at the Roundhouse in 1978, then recorded the orchestra in the studio; this was first released as a double LP then as a double CD (OGCD010/011) in 1996.

Nik Troxler, promoter of the Willisau festival, contributed artwork for some of the sleeves. He had provided the live recording of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath, (OGCD001), and Mike Osborne/Stan Tracey duo Tandem ( OGLP210) , from the festivals. Another member of the Ogun family was photographer George Hallett, a South African exile whose memorable photographs of his fellow countrymen, and his designs, were part of the recognisable Ogun image that was developing.

Ogun Promotions organised concerts and tours for our artists, even a series of nine weekly Jazz Riverboat specials on the Thames. It was quite an achievement getting a grand piano on board, but it was a rare experience to hear the kind of jazz/improvised music not usually associated with the riverboat tradition: Compered by Lol Coxhill, with the participation of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Mike Westbrook, Stan Tracey, Keith Tippett, Elton Dean, Harry Miller, Willem Breuker, and Mike Osborne, this was a great success.

The 1970s were a busy and productive time for Ogun. Jackie Tracey and I organised Grass Roots, a weekly jazz club in Stockwell, South London, jazz summer schools, and Town Hall concerts, then in 1973 we presented a festival of three concerts in the gardens of the Victoria & Albert museum, to complement Val Wilmer’s photographic exhibition, Jazz Seen: the Face of Black Music. These featured John Stevens with Steve Lacy and Steve Potts, Albert Nicholas, with Sandy Brown, and the Brotherhood of Breath; supporters from the V&A’s mailing list wondered why they were unaware that this wonderful music existed.

Ogun was part of all these activities and the label’s survival continues to represent the convictions that Harry and I had at the beginning. We were not aware of the extent of commitment that running this would require, especially when it took over our lives. Harry was a musician and that came first, so getting out the albums and hustling gigs at the same time as running a family involved co-operation: with piles of records in every room, the kids still remember the freshly printed smell of the sleeves.

Whenever there was a delivery, the albums, a thousand a time, had to be carried up three flights of stairs, to our flat. It was a total takeover of our lives but at the same time, we were gaining an international reputation as the Ogun family covered new aspects of the music and added more

The late sixties and early seventies were a truly creative period for musicians in Europe, with the influence of the South African musicians and the development of European improvised/jazz music. We all agreed that this music should be recorded . As it turned out, thank goodness we did, for otherwise, this music would have been lost. Instead, it is safe in our archives, eventually to be released on CD.

Of the South African Family of musicians, Louis Moholo-Moholo is, sadly the sole survivor. In 1991/92 Ogun, Hazel Miller, John Jack, Evan Parker, Steve Beresford, and Louis formed the Blue Notes Memorial Trust. We put on concerts by the Dedication Orchestra , and produced two CDs, in order to raise funds to help young musicians in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa, their homeland, in memory of all the musicians who died in exile and in recognition of their contribution to the music. The musicians involved in the Dedication Orchestra and many friends contributed to make this possible, another example of the family feeling of Ogun and of our commitment. As a result of this work a bursary has been established at Cape Town University’s Jazz School, where the first student is now studying.

At the beginning of the 1980’s, Keith and Liz moved on. Their needs and requirements could no longer be ignored. Harry was living and working in Holland but I was determined that Ogun would continue. To date we have re-issued a number of gems from the archives , McGregor, Blue Notes, Elton Dean, SOS, Miller, Louis Moholo-Moholo and Keith Tippett, and several new recordings, mainly from the members of the Ogun family. As part of the celebration of Ogun’s fortieth Anniversary in September 2014, we issued a live recording from the musician who has been with Ogun since the beginning, Louis Moholo-Moholo Unit for the Blue Notes ( OGCD042).

Further productions have included works by Louis’s 4 Blokes and 5 Blokes bands, two volumes of Harry Miller archival works – aptly named Different Times Different Places – music from the wonderful Italian collective Canto General with Pino and Livio Minafra and the Roberto’s Ottaviano and Bellatella, and a recording of the Elton Dean Quintet live in Brazil.

With the introduction of Ogun to Bandcamp we have been able to make available in the digital format various out of print titles including the sought-after Blue Notes – The Ogun Collection (some of which has also been released on vinyl by our friends at Cafe Oto on their Otoroku imprint) and the Harry Miller Collection. Future plans include further reissues of Ogun LPs that are yet to see the light of day on CD plus some treasures from our extensive archive of unreleased recordings. The historical connection between Ogun and the Cadillac label and with Cadillac Music Publishing is being maintained.

Oh, did we mention we have a new website?


Hazel Miller

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