Story Of A Song: Bill Bruford’s ‘Palewell Park’ (1981)

The 1980s were a pretty good time to be a songwriting drummer; Sheila E, Phil Collins and Don Henley all flourished, and probably a few more too.

Not that master Yes/King Crimson sticksman Bill Bruford had any particular desire to match their commercial standing as the decade got underway. He was quite happy gaining harmonic knowledge (with the assistance of keyboardist Dave Stewart), making sizeable contributions to the percussion community and composing incredible pieces of music like ‘Palewell Park’.

In a way, it was the culmination of his work with the Bruford group which had released three studio albums between 1978 and 1980, two featuring the brilliant Allan Holdsworth on guitar.

Palewell Park, East Sheen, London

Palewell Park, East Sheen, London

This track has a special resonance for me as Palewell Park was a childhood hangout, site of many great cricket, tennis and football games as well as a fair few teenage hijinks. Bruford apparently lived nearby during the piece’s recording at Surrey Sound in Leatherhead (also the studio The Police used for their first two albums) and wanted to write an ode to the area.

Someone on YouTube very aptly described ‘Palewell Park’ as ‘a contemporary piece for piano and bass’. It doesn’t fit comfortably into any genre, but it’s a pretty remarkable composition coming from the pen of a ‘drummer’, and one who doesn’t even feature on his own composition (Stewart played the piano).

Jeff Berlin, Jon Clark, Dave Stewart, Bill Bruford in 1980

Jeff Berlin, Jon Clark, Dave Stewart, Bill Bruford in 1980

The 26-year-old Jeff Berlin lays down one of the great pieces of post-Jaco bass playing. With just a touch of chorus pedal, he sticks to the pretty treacherous melody in the first half and then stretches out to play a fantastic solo over the changes, a total lesson in melody construction, with no gimmicks.

Next up for Bill was a reunion with Robert Fripp and one of the great albums of the ’80s, King Crimson’s Discipline.


9 thoughts on “Story Of A Song: Bill Bruford’s ‘Palewell Park’ (1981)

  1. It is a fine trio of albums, that’s for sure.

    At present I am ¾ of the way through Bill’s autobiography, which is an excellent and enjoyable read (unless you are Robert Fripp).

    As I’ve been awaiting re-acquiring a vinyl Discipline before writing about it myself, I’ll await your post with interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff, I agree with you on Bill’s book, it’s a real treat though doesn’t pull any punches. Al Di Meola comes out even worse than Fripp (maybe not such a surprise there though…).
    And I look forward to comparing notes on ‘Discipline’. I played it very loud the other day for the first time in a year or so and it sounded fantastic.


  3. I still wonder why Palewell Park ist credited to Bill Bruford, while Dave Stewart and Jeff Berlin did all the playing, no drums here. Shouldn´t it be credited to one of them (respectively both)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Uli, and thanks for that. I spoke briefly to Bill about this great tune when I saw him at a book signing for his autobiography about ten years ago. He said he came up with the melody but Dave helped him out with the harmony and chords, and also transcribed it for Jeff. It’s pretty unique isn’t it?! Can’t think of any other drummer who has composed a piece on his own album that he doesn’t play on… What’s your favourite Bill era?


    • It’s credited to Bill Bruford because he composed it. He wrote the music which Dave Stewart and Jeff Berlin are playing. Pieces of composition are credited to the composer rather than the players. Hence, Beethoven’s symphonies are Beethoven’s symphonies rather than attributed to the tens of musicians in whichever orchestra has ever played any of them. Jeff Berlin plays a wonderful improvised solo over the chord changes — but improvisation is not credited as composition. In a jazz quintet say — each of the players may take a solo in their turn, expressing their musical ideas over the chord changes of a ‘standard’. This doesn’t change who composed the original piece of music upon which they are improvising. Say it’s a George Gershwin tune. Despite what anyone might play over it, or how far they may depart from the melody. Gershwin retains the credit as he wrote the piece. Hope that helps.


  4. Well I bought Gradually Going Tornado in 1981 and was a Bruford’s fan at the time. That was one of my favourite pieces from it. I used to listen to that melancholic piano tunes from my flat in Caballito, Buenos Aires, and used to look through my window on rainy days. I was 19 years old then. Sad but fantastic times.

    Liked by 1 person

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