Silent musician Billy Jenkins celebrated in Greenwich

It can be all too easy, running an arts venue, to assume that audiences share your taste. It can be equally easy to return year after year to the same artists to populate your programme. At Greenwich we avoid a lot of that risk by working with some of the industry’s most exciting new theatre companies, so the programme is endlessly refreshed by new people and new ideas. However, we also welcome suggestions for programming throughout the year.

One such suggestion came from local writer and journalist Peter Cordwell. The writer of our international production One Georgie Orwell, which played in both London and New York, Peter came to me with the idea that we celebrate Lewisham based musician Billy Jenkins with a special studio event. I met Billy and we talked over a possible event, and so The Silent Musician was born.

Jenkins doesn’t perform live any more – hence the title – but described by comedian Stewart Lee as “a kind of genius on our doorstep” he still holds an important place in the history of the local music scene. Therefore on Sunday 29 September, we are delighted to be showing Antonio Rui Ribeiro’s singular 2014 documentary The Religion is The Blues and Phil Vallentin’s’s Blues Al Fresco, a recording of Jenkins’ glorious lunchtime show with the Blues Collective at Embankment Gardens in 2003

There will also be an interview with photographer, podcaster and Jenkins collaborator Beowulf Mayfield, hosted by BBC Radio 3 jazz presenter and writer Kevin Le Gendre.

“The idea for the film show came from a long-term fan of mine and I’m very happy about it,” said Billy, 63, who lived and worked at Wood Wharf Rehearsal Studios in Greenwich for ten years. “I’m silent now as there comes a time when a musician has to reduce their carbon footprint, both ecologically – by not travelling – and aurally by reducing the noise I make. There’s too much of everything in this world but, as someone who has taught music to others, it is only right that the next generation have their chance to communicate.”

Born in Bromley, Jenkins sang in occasional choirs at St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. As a teenager he toured and recorded for legendary record label boss Clive Davis with art rock band Burlesque, followed by alternative comedy duo Trimmer and Jenkins, and a spell with drummer Ginger Baker before founding the Voice of God Collective.

Since then he has produced over 40 recorded albums which regularly feature his South London background, including Sounds Like Bromley, Greenwich, Still Sounds Like Bromley Suburbia and the anthemic I Am A Man From Lewisham.

Bizarrely to some, Billy spent seven years up to 2014 creating and conducting humanist funerals before returning to composing and recording. But his over-sensitivity to sound and chronic physical and psychological issues put a stop to live playing. Even so, two recent album releases were selected by Mojo magazine as a Top Tern Underground Album of the Year in 2014 and 2015. Then, in 2016, his album True Love Collection – released in 1998 – was voted by BBC and Jazz FM presenters, jazz musicians, critics and journalists as one of the 50 Greatest Ever Jazz Albums.

Having brought the idea to us at Greenwich Theatre, Cordwell said “His music is incredibly left-field but also others have pointed out that there’s an almost deep sense of morality about it. He obviously wants the world to be a better place but it’s slowly driving him mad that it’s not happening – and that comes across in his music.”

Billy Jenkins, The Silent Musician is at Greenwich Theatre on Sun 29 September.

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