Listening to Jade Warrior…..

Promoting records was always a bit of a dodgy business.  My mate Terry, who knew more about it than most, often got landed with some desperate gigs, none more so than when, back in 1978, Island sent the two guys who comprised Jade Warrior out on a regional tour, promoting their new album ‘Way of the Sun’. 

Consider this; Jade Warrior were just these two blokes – Tony Duhig and Jon Field.  In the studio they would overdub layers of instrumentation – mainly guitar, flutes and percussion – on top of one another until they arrived at the finished article; two sides of an LP record, two 20-odd minute long pieces of instrumental music – essentially in the rock idiom, but with elements of jazz  and what people were starting to refer to as ‘World Music’.  Field had in fact played flute on Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ , and for anyone looking for a hint as to the nature of Island-era Jade Warrior, Oldfield’s early albums, especially Hergest Ridge, would be a fair point of reference. 

‘Way of the Sun’ was the fourth album that Jade Warrior had made for Island since 1974’s ‘Floating World’ and they had all followed a similar pattern (even down to the distinctive artwork on the cover); Duhig & Field would provide most of the instrumentation and draft in guests -notably Duhig’s brother, Dave, on raucous electric guitar – to add some colour to the arrangements.  The band had been together since the early 70’s and, as a 4-piece, had  previously made three albums for Vertigo.  They had also collaborated with some of London’s ex-patriot  South African musicians (Dudu Pukwana, Louis Moholo etc) in Assagai, an afro-rock band in the Osibisa mould.  Vertigo cancelled their contract after the third Jade Warrior album and the band (by this point a drummerless trio) were on the verge of splitting when Island approached them.  Seemingly Steve Winwood had heard the Vertigo albums and had recommended JW to Chris Blackwell. 

Jon Field and Tony Duhig in the mid-70’s

Blackwell, perhaps having seen the fortunes Virgin were making from ‘Tubular Bells’, told the trio that he was interested in developing the instrumental side of the band’s make-up and expanding on some of the oriental and African influences they had explored previously.  This meant an early exit for bassist and singer Glyn Havard, who would have been rendered somewhat under-employed by this move.  Duhig and Field continued as a duo, producing ‘Floating World’ in 1974, ‘Waves’ in 1975 (with Steve Winwood guesting on piano and keyboards), ‘Kites’ (for some reason only available as a U.S. import) in 1976 and, finally ‘Way of the Sun’ in 1978.

JadeWarrior-WayoftheSun-1978.jpg image by pauldoyle

Which brings us back to the promotional tour of 1978…..so what do you do with a band who  play 20-minute long pieces with prog-rock overtones  at a time when the charts are dominated by spikey-headed punks and post-punks?   They don’t have a single out, so you can’t play that, they haven’t played a live gig for at least 5 years and they are obscure, even to mainstream rock fans.  The answer is that you grab hold of your mate who works in a record shop and is a self-confessed fan of the band and you take him and the band out to a Manchester restaurant and hope that they hit it off….which I’d like to think we did.  Tony and Jon were very gracious; they seemed in a way to appreciate how hard it was to promote them…and yet, once you got people past the window dressing, the band’s music was very evocative and accessible.  There was talk of a big prestige London gig, possibly at the Albert Hall, with Steve Winwood heading a lengthy list of guests and filming the whole thing for a possible screening on TV – I think they understood that you needed Mike Oldfield’s sales figures to sustain a project like Jade Warrior indefinitely. Sadly, I don’t think they ever got their big prestige gig; poor sales and changing times meant that ‘Way of the Sun’ was the final Island album produced by Jade Warrior.

After that the band seemed to disappear until the mid-80’s, but they had a noisy and persistent fanbase who campaigned long and hard for the re-release of the Vertigo albums (including 2 that were unreleased at the time) and, once we got into the CD era, for the realease of all the Island albums on CD.  All of these things duly came to pass and the band are still working.  In fact I spent some time today listening to ‘Now‘ from 2008, which is I think their most recent release and is not half bad either.  The band had to overcome the shock of losing Tony Duhig, who died very suddenly in 1990, but Jon Field subsequently recruited original singer Glyn Havard and the revived  band have gone on to produce at least 4 albums of new material since then.  Frankly, none of it is quite as arresting as the 4 Island albums, but with a steady flow of new releases and a strong  fan presence on the internet, they seem likely to carry on for some years yet.

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