Dave MacRae

Born : April 2nd, 1940 - Auckland (New Zealand)
Past Bands : Caparius (1971), Nucleus (1971-74), Just Us (1972), Matching Mole (1972), WMWM (1973), Pacific Eardrum (1974-79), Back Door (1974), Soft Machine (1984)
Current Bands : Dave MacRae/Joy Yates duo

A Short Bio:

Although his main claim to fame as a 'Canterbury' musician is his few months in Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole and his performance on the band's two albums, New Zealander Dave MacRae was also involved in various related bands, such as Nucleus, Elton Dean's Just Us, WMWM (Wyatt-MacRae-Windo-Matthewson) and his own Pacific Eardrum. Robert Wyatt once said of MacRae that he was "the single most talented musician I've ever worked with".

Dave MacRae was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1940. Apart from some study at Sydney Conservatory, he is self-taught as a musician, having started playing at 17 when he went on the road with a rock'n'roll band. Moving to Australia in 1960, he worked as an arranger/producer for a record company (Festival) turning out half-a-dozen pop singles a week, and he also wrote a jazz ballet which was performed in Melbourne by the American Dance Theatre. In 1969, he went to the USA where he worked for the next two years. He became involved in the Los Angeles community, playing mostly with various kinds of experimental bands, and he spent a year on the road with the Buddy Rich Band, touring US and European festivals. Rick Laird (later of the Mahavishnu Orchestra) was the bass player in the band at that time. MacRae also played with Duke Ellington at the Monterey festival in 1970. He arrived in England in the spring of 1971, soon working with many American jazz musicians at Ronnie Scott's, notably Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Jon Hendricks and Gil Evans.

Soon after arriving in England, MacRae joined Ian Carr's Nucleus, staying for a couple of years. "He brought a new dimension to the band", Carr later wrote in his book "Music Outside", "because he has a thorough understanding of electronics and their use in music. His conception is rooted in the jazz and rock tradition, but it is also devastatingly original". When John Marshall left Nucleus in October 1971 to join Jack Bruce's band, some potential replacement drummers were auditioned, including Robert Wyatt who had just parted company with the Soft Machine (and, ironically, would eventually be replaced by Marshall...). Wyatt was very impressed with MacRae's abilities, and invited him to guest on Matching Mole's debut album, which was recorded in December 1971 and January 1972. Very soon, MacRae would join Matching Mole, first doubling on keyboards with organist David Sinclair, then alone after Sinclair decided to leave. Of MacRae, Wyatt said at the time : "Dave MacRae is an antipodean from another planet, and my life started out with them. He's such a total musician - equally happy in Australian jazz groups, knowing his Cecil Taylor, doing a Coca Cola ad or grooving behind Buddy Rich or Sarah Vaughan. The most important contribution he made to the record was being there, tuning up his piano and talking and putting on little odd plinking noises through all the instrumental things, and just creating the atmosphere of being in a room with all he can do but not doing it. It's not so much what he plays but of how different the record would have been if he hadn't been there".

Prior to joining Matching Mole, Dave MacRae had briefly played in an embryonic version of Elton Dean's part-time (soon to become full-time) jazz band, Just Us (debuting at London's Bedford College in early February 1972). Eventually, this proved too much and he left, being still involved in Nucleus - although the latter band was undergoing a period of semi-inactivity because of management problems which had made it impossible for them to record. Finally, Nucleus went back in the studio in July 1972 to record Belladonna, an album which was released under the name Ian Carr and Nucleus. Guesting on a few tracks was one Allan Holdsworth, an emerging and promising British guitarist with whom MacRae would later work again.

In August 1972, the second and final Matching Mole album, Matching Mole's Little Red Record, was recorded, with MacRae's writing and performing skills well to the fore. Unfortunately, the band ground to a halt shortly afterwards, following a final tour in September 1972. Our pianist however kept busy in the following months with Nucleus back on the road and in the recording studios. In the spring of 1973, shortly before Wyatt's tragic accident, MacRae played with him again in an informal jazz quartet also featuring saxophonist Gary Windo and bassist Ron Matthewson. As a sideline, MacRae began to be involved in a lot of session work, notably with jazz-rock band Back Door (with whom he toured Britain as guest in 1974). He eventually left Nucleus in February 1974 to concentrate on this and his own band project, Pacific Eardrum (1974-79), which he co-led with his wife, singer Joy Yates.

Meanwhile, MacRae kept involved, albeit more marginally, in the Canterbury scene, notably with Robert Wyatt (playing piano on his charting single "I'm A Believer" and appearing with him on "Top Of The Pops") and Richard Sinclair, playing in the shortlived Sinclair/Coxhill Band at the Reims Jazz Festival in November 1975, alongside Lol Coxhill (sax), Dave Arbus (violin) and Phil Howard (drums).

In the early 80's, Dave MacRae kept a little quieter, with temporary involvements in various Canterbury related projects : he was briefly a member of False Alarm, a band led by Allan Holdsworth which eventually became I.O.U. with the addition of vocalist Paul Williams; he collaborated with his old friend Robert Wyatt on a few tracks (recorded in the Spring of 1982) which appeared as b-sides on singles, including versions of jazz standards "Round Midnight" and "Memories Of You"; and he doubled on keyboards with Karl Jenkins in a reformed Soft Machine that played a few gigs in London in 1984.

Shortly thereafter, Dave MacRae decided to move back to Australia with his wife. Little has been heard of him since, except for an album with his own jazz trio, and a residency at Ronnie Scott's club in London in January 1998, in duo with his wife Joy Yates.