|Happy End was a twenty-one-piece big band formed in 1983 by Matt Fox.
There were 25 of us in all, a mixture of men and women getting together
to perform political songs from around the world. The band specialised
in the music of Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler. Sarah Jane remained the
band's singer until 1989.
The band released two albums, There's Nothing Quite Like Money for
Circus Records (an offshoot of Oval Records) and Resolution for Cooking
Vinyl Records. Over the course of the next few years the band played all
over the country in venues as diverse as The Queen Elizabeth Hall and
The Glastonbury Festival. The Happy End played over 150 benefit concerts
for the miners.
It broke my heart for a while when I left this band because it was like
losing a family. But life had got too complicated, with the success of
The Communards and a solo career looming. All good things have to end! A
|Danny Manners, one of the original band, writes:
‘The band was started in 1983 by Mat Fox with the slogan "making
politics swing". Inspired by Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra,
it swiftly became a large, loose and freewheeling ensemble. Despite the
instrumental line-up (saxes and brass, plus vibes and accordion - up to
24 musicians at its largest - ), it was never a jazz big band as such.
But it drew on that tradition - occasionally satrically, always
humourously. In its more organised moments it could echo Basie or
Ellington's classic hard-swinging punch, in its more disorganised ones
Sun Ra's high-energy and joyful cacophony.
Source material was drawn from the political left: the songs of Bertolt
Brecht (with both Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler), Maoist anthems, Chartist
protest songs, Cuban rhumbas, miners' anthems, South African township
jazz, Irish jigs. The essence of The Happy End was in delivering this
music with humour and energy rather than dourness or overt preaching.
Many early gigs were part of the mid-eighties anti-Thatcher movements,
the Miners' Strike and the GLC (Greater London Council) included; the
band was also involved in the burgeoning alternative comedy circuit,
especially at Roland Muldoon's Hackney Empire. At its best, a Happy End
gig was a genuinely celebratory experience. In a spirit of musical
collectivism, the band contained less-experienced players alongside more
polished ones, and combined skilful arrangements with organised chaos
so that both could thrive. The musicians were also evenly balanced
between men and women. (Belonging to a big band that wasn't for once
all-male should have made life on the road more civilized, but often
The original vocalist was Sarah Jane Morris, a singer with an
extraordinary contralto range who left the band in 1988 to work with The