“As a musician, bandleader, teacher and friend to countless young players, he was an inspiration, a builder of bridges to get people over the awkward gap that divides inertia from doing.”
Mat Fox, who has died of a heart attack aged 57, made things happen for people. He was an enabler and a generous one at that. As a musician, bandleader, teacher and friend to countless young players, he was an inspiration, a builder of bridges to get people over the awkward gap that divides inertia from doing.
His principal work in recent years was as head of instrumental music at St Gabriel’s college, in south London (and at its predecessor school, Charles Edward Brooke), and as musical director of the Kinetika Bloco street band, which he encouraged into all kinds of uproarious escapades around the globe. He was as committed to his teaching and bandleading as he was to his political and communitarian beliefs, always looking to enhance the lives of others through music.
Mat was born into a musical family and grew up in Manchester. His father ran a youth orchestra and was head of local music services; his mother sang and was the orchestra manager of the Royal Northern College of Music. Mat took an English and politics degree at Leicester Polytechnic. But it was music’s relationship with politics that got him up and running.
By the mid-1980s, when I first met him, he was living in London in Vauxhall’s storied squatopolis, Bonnington Square, and steering the Happy End, the delightful “Brechtian big band” that lent musical support to a variety of leftwing causes – including the striking miners, for whom the band played more than 150 benefit gigs.
On a good night, the Happy End were terrific and, on a bad one, good fun – and they gave the world an early sight of the singer Sarah Jane Morris. If the world was not changed irrevocably by their belting renditions of the works of Weill, Eisler and Ives, then the lives of the players themselves were certainly made livelier for the duration.
Mat played a variety of instruments, including drums and sax, but it was as the hammer dulcimerist at the front of his eclectic world-folk acoustic combo, the Barely Works, that he made his next impact, in the early 90s. He was also involved with the saxophonist Gail Thompson’s communitarian Musicworks big band and then, in 2000, he created Kinetika Bloco, a sort of musical division of Ali Pretty’s Kinetika street-culture project. In full spate, the Bloco band are a tumultuous river of sound with Sun Ra, Fela Kuti and the Clash all pushing the current. Mat’s were the smiling eyebrows at the front of the parade.
“The groove was what he cared about,” says his son and fellow Blocista, Ruben. “For the fun of it and for the way it speaks. My dad lived for bringing people together, and he was proud that the Bloco were a completely eclectic operation, involving people from every area of society.”
He is survived by his sons, Ruben and Misha, and their mother Caroline Hall.