Alan Tomlinson (1947-2024)

The trombonist Alan Tomlinson, who died on 13th February, was a major figure in the world of free improvised music. Born in Manchester in 1950, he got interested in classical music as a teenager, after hearing Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. He bought his first trombone when he was 17. Even though he’d only been playing for a year, he got a place on the jazz and light music course at the City of Leeds College of Music, where he developed an interest in contemporary music. He became involved in free improvisation and experimental music in the early 1970s. He played with John Stevens’ Away and Tony Oxley’s Angular Apron and, around the same time, was a member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia (he appears in the trombone section on their 1974 album, Hallelujah). He also played with Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra and Keith Tippett’s Celebration Orchestra. His first solo album, Still Outside, came out in 1981. In the same year he appeared on Pete Brötzmann’s album, Alarm. He has appeared on numerous albums since and Scatter Archive in particular are still curating and issuing recordings of his work. As an improviser, he worked with many musicians, including Steve Beresford, Roger Turner, Jon Corbett, David Toop and Phil Minton. He toured Europe, North America and even Siberia, on some occasions performing as part of an ensemble and, on others, solo.

Like many improvisers of his generation, Tomlinson could be very funny. As Clive Bell said, writing in The Wire, ‘Is there some synergistic link between UK improv and comedy? To the headphone-clad listener deeply immersed in an AMM album, the answer might be no. To the audience chuckling at an Alan Tomlinson trombone solo, it’s clearly yes.’ He worked with The  Electro-Acoustic Cabaret and had a real sense of theatre, performing, for example, dressed as a US general, his chest full of medals, delivering a speech – on his trombone. (It’s a sense which seems to have extended beyond his musical performances: it was Tomlinson who suggested fellow trombonist the late Paul Rutherford’s trombones be bequeathed to the Cuban People, which they duly were). In 2013, he agreed to perform in Brawby in Yorkshire stood up to his knees in sewage escaping from a neglected and decaying Yorkshire Water treatment plant in a whimsical, but deadly serious musical-theatrical protest. As for the humour, Tomlinson himself (quoted in The Wire) said that although he was a humorous guy and liked comedy: ‘I’m very serious about playing the trombone. I don’t fuck about – well, I do fuck about, but I do take it seriously. You’ve got to find the moment to do it. It’s not humour, it’s putting another element in there that happens to be humorous.’

Since 1992 and until quite recently, Tomlinson, alongside other projects and commitments, had been playing with the Alan Tomlinson Trio, which comprised of himself, guitarist Dave Tucker and drummer Phil Marks. The trio performed widely, and recorded three albums, the most recent to be issued being Live at the Klinker Club (2023).

Tomlinson was not only involved in the free improvisation scene: he also worked in the field of contemporary classical music.  He was part of New London Winds and Sounds Positive, a contemporary music group which commissioned over sixty works from British composers as well as doing educational work in schools and colleges. He performed works by Vinko Globokar, Xenakis and Berio, among others. Several composers have written works for him. His death will be felt not only in the world of  free improvisation but across the wider musical community, too.

Alan Tomlinson, born Manchester, 1947, died February 13th, 2024, aged 76.


Dominic Rivron


The Alan Tomlinson Trio:

Alan Tomlinson with Lawrence Casserley:

Alan Tomlinson solo:–X940xs

Boggart Hole Clough – a track from Still Outside (1981):

This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.