Sunday, December 7, 2008

History Of Festivals 20: Knebworth 4th August 1979

I was 18, mad for rock n roll and it was summer. What better way to spend a hot August day than in a field with 100,000 other hairy people? What better way to test the strength of your bladder than having a 30 minutes walk to use a latrine that would not have been out of place in Hades itself?

Me, my brother and his girlfriend had driven down from the north of England through the night. Going to the Home Counties was still an adventure in those days; a trip into the exotic south of England. It seemed to take forever. It probably did. We kipped in a service station overnight, which was no fun in a space as small as the Mini we were crammed into but hey, it was all for rock n roll and that made it alright.

The 4th August dawn came early and sunny. Signs to Knebworth House were everywhere and traffic seemed to be being sucked into the place in long crawling lines.

What we didn’t know as we parked the Mini in a field along with tens of thousands of others was that behind the scenes disputes between promoter Freddy Bannister and Zeppelin’s management were already causing problems. The 1979 gigs, on 4th and 11th August were eventually to bankrupt Bannister’s company. The stage had cost a fortune to build and ticket demand for the second show wasn’t high enough for him to turn a profit. On the other hand it was claimed that the 4th gig was attended by 200,000 rather than the 100,000 Bannister had claimed. Being there, it was impossible to tell how big the crowd was, only that it was bloody big. So big that when we got into the gig we were at least 200 yards from the stage and were still in the front third.

It was a sea of rock n roll refugees in denim, t-shirts and with lots of hair. Looking at photos of the event now what strikes me is how no one in the pictures is fat. If you took a photo at any gig today you’d see a sea of blubber. How did that happen? Mind you, in 1979 I’d never eaten a pizza – hey, it was foreign food – so maybe that had something to do with it!

So we settled down with carriers bag of cans of Harp lager – dreadful weak, thin lager that despite the ad claims did not stay sharp to the bottom of the glass. It was cheap though and cheap mattered.

First on, and I kid you not, were cockney knees up merchants Chas & Dave. They did their bass & piano schtick to an uninterested gathering crowd. Often forgotten is the fact that Chas & Dave were in the excellent country rock band Head Hands and Feet with the brilliant and highly influential Albert Lee; an unsung hero of the British guitar history. All three of their early 70s albums are good, the self titled first one especially so.

Admittedly any band on first at a gig like this is going to have it rough but I seem to recall Chas & Dave were merely ignored. Next up was the current incarnation Fairport Convention. Now, a couple of years later I went to the first Cropredy Festival and Fairport were brilliant in that smaller, bucolic setting. Here they seemed quiet and distant. It’s hard to play delicate, subtle folk music at one end of a field of 100,000 or more people.
Commander Cody hit the stage early in the afternoon, now shorn of his Lost Planet Airmen, they were another band largely ignored in favour of drinking or planning a route to the toilets.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes brought their horn drench slabs of R & B to the stage mid afternoon. I would have loved them now, back then it wasn’t heavy or rock enough for me and I finally left to dispense the lager that had been consumed.

Getting out of the crowd took half an hour, plucking up the courage to use the toilets took half an hour more – we’re talking trenches here people. I seem to recall someone selling burgers right by the evil miasma. Health & Safety didn’t exist back then!

There was almost no merchandise on sale – a couple of stalls with t-shirts and sweat shirts but it was about as far from the vast corporate rock venture that you would experience today as you could imagine, even though, at the time, we thought it was a very organized, big business, un-hippy type event.

The tricky thing was to find your way back to your mates. Flags were popular way to do it. But we didn’t have a flag. Instead I drew a map on the back of a label peeled off a can of baked bean. It didn’t help. I spent the next hour and a half wandering through acres of sprawled rockers but eventually found my way back in time to see Todd Rundgren & Utopia take the stage.

Todd looked like a giant banana dressed in a yellow jumpsuit. He also appeared to have a banana in the jump suit, even from 200 yards it was easy enough to spot much to the excitement of a couple of biker chicks near us.

They were playing most of the Ooops! Wrong Planet album – one of my favourite Utopia albums full of taut riffs and great melodies. I loved Todd, especially when he cranked up the guitar. I craved loud guitar like food. Then and now.

Utopia was the first band to really get an enthusiastic response from the crowd, in fact I recall quite a few people with Todd & Utopia embroidered onto their denim jacket and on t-shirts too.
But clearly, it was Zeppelin we were all there to see. Their first show in the UK for two years.

Apparently waiting for the sun to go down, they didn’t come on stage till around 9.45pm, which meant a two hour wait. During this period, the tension that grew was palpable. Zep, then as now, attracted a fiercely loyal and passionately devoted legion of fans. They had an almost mystical atmosphere around them even in 1979. It’s worth remembering that we had almost no media in 1979. No videos, no rock on TV to speak of except on Whistle Test and no rock magazines.

We devoured the music press instead. In 1979 the NME was in the tank with New Wave and punk, Melody Maker always seemed to be for 40 year olds to me, so I read Sounds which actually seemed to like rock and the emergent NWOBHM.

A band like Zeppelin felt distant and glamorous precisely because we knew so little about them and we also just didn’t travel much – or at least the working class didn’t – so if they didn’t play at the local Town Hall or City Hall then we didn’t get to see them.

The impatience at the delay and excitement at seeing these four mythical musicians meant by the time they took the stage, the air felt electric, the vibe was febrile, wild, almost scary but very definitely thrilling.

All of the tension was released as soon as they came on as they were greeted with a wave of noise and energy. You can look up the set lists and of course some of both gigs is on the How The West Was Won DVD but what no one seems to recall, perhaps it was local to where we were, but the sound was terrible for about 20 minutes.

The opening number, Song Remains The Same seemed to phase, wow and flutter like it was one of those cheap C60 cassettes you could buy from Woolworths. PA Systems that could deliver the power and volume required in the open air were still being developed but this was certainly loud enough, later we heard people complaining about the noise to the police three miles away in Stevenage.

When the sound quality did clear up, which was at the start of third number, the crushing Nobodies Fault But Mine, I remember Robert introducing it by saying something about it being NME journo Nick Kent’s favourite. This may have been ironic, I never did find out.

During the gig more space seemed to open up as people crushed forward towards the stage, thus allowing for more dancing and general boogying. I was especially delighted to find myself next to a half naked biker chick(the one fascinated by Todd’s banana) with substantial breasts on display, freaking around during Kashmir. We’re talking Russ Meyer big here. To my teenage eyes they were almost super-natural and briefly distracted me from the music. Teenage lust super-cedes even great rock n roll if you recall! But Kashmir and Trampled Underfoot were the musical highlights for me. As that curling riffs kicked in, it was like the top of my head had come right off.

Remember, by this time Zeppelin were deeply unfashionable in certain quarters. They were not classic rock back then; they were old hat, along with other geniuses such as Steely Dan! Even some heavy metal fans had decided the newer, more aggressive, punchy music of the likes of NWOBHM was preferable to the full musical palette of Led Zep. I knew in my heart even aged 18 that this was just wrong; that brilliant music prevails over fashion and so it has proved. There were at least 100,000 there that day that probably felt the same way.

They played until after midnight and incurred a £50,000 fine for the promoters by doing so but it passed by in a blur. Having listened to many Zeppelin live shows, Knebworth isn’t the best gig they played but it was still streets ahead of most bands you could ever see.

Interestingly Plant later said

“Knebworth was useless. It was no good at all. It was no good because we weren't ready to do it; the whole thing was a management decision. It felt like I was cheating myself because I wasn't as relaxed as I could have been. There was so much expectation there and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn't kill it. It was good, but only because everybody made it good. There was that sense of event.”

I don’t recall anyone offering any negative opinions of the gig at the time; not of the music anyway. We had a great time and came away feeling we had really witnessed an important event.

This may be fanciful retrospective thinking, but looking back, I think we knew this was the end of an era. The end of what we might think of now as the classic rock era. We couldn’t know or imagine how it would all end for Zeppelin but it coming away from that field in the middle of the night it was hard to imagine them still doing this throughout the coming decade. That’s one of the reason’s it was so special.

I feel genuinely privileged to have seen Zeppelin. It was an awesome day that helped shape this 19 year olds life forever.

That wraps up the history of festivals series. A lot of people have written and said nice things about it – and suggested I put together a book along the same lines, which is a great idea, I just wish I had the time to do it.

I’ll be starting an new series soon, as ‘Great Moments In Rock History’ in which I’ll, unsurprisingly, be looking at great moment in rock history; discussing music, bands, albums and general rock n roll culture. So keep tuned in for that.


This week I’ve got five utterly brilliant DVDs to giveaway. These would be ideal for Christmas gifts – especially if you’re either a bit skint or just very cheap.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live At The El Mocambo
Watch the master rip through an hour long gig in 1983. It’s got Pride & Joy, Texas Flood and a dozen more. Simply stunning blues.

Frank Zappa: Classic Albums Apostrophe & Over-Nite Sensation
This is a compelling documentary covering two of his best and most popular albums, Interviews with all concerned are backed up with loads of home movie footage, music and live performances of Montana, I’m The slime and Camarillo Brillo. For anyone interested in Zappa or in brilliant music. This is one you need to have.

The Band – The Last Waltz.
Scorsese’s classic movie of thee bands classic farewell gig in 1976. You get an expanded version of the album – 32 tracks in total plus unseen footage of outtakes and jams. There’s not a bad performance here but for me it is the magnificent Paul Butterfield that gives me goose bumps every time. Butterfield was magnificent on the old mouth iron.

The Who: The Kids Are Alright.
I told you we had some good stuff didn’t I? The best documentary on The Who coming in at 95 minutes and featuring all the bands best moments it is always compelling. Moon’s exploding drum kit on the Smothers Brothers show is killer stuff and the Shepperton Studios live stuff shows a band still rocking harder than most.
The Who are bloody brilliant. If you need proof, this is it.

Dickey Betts & Great Southern
This is a brilliant package for anyone who loves Southern Rock. A DVD live show of the band - yes Elizabeth Reed is on there! – and then you get a live CD too. Dickey Betts is an irresistible player; both melodic and yet powerful. The DVD runs for 152 minutes so its great value too.

I’ve got three of each of these to give away. For a chance to win just email me your address with SRV, Zappa, The Band, Who or Dickey Betts or any combination of those in the subject line. Alternatively just write ‘Gimme Free DVDs’ if you don’t mind which one you win.

The draw is totally random and I’ll do it on 12th December. All other free stuff below has already been drawn and sent out so there’s no point in you emailing in for that now! I always say this but still people do! So don’t, or I’ll have to come round there and spank you with an old Jethro Tull album!


Lemmy - White Line Fever.

I've got 3 hard back copies of Mr Kilminster's autobigoraphy to give away. A cracking read, especially about the early years, pour yourself a glass of Jack and enjoy the ride. How can one man consume so many drugs and live? I know a man who has snorted speed off Lemmy's world war II, German knife!

Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon

I've got 3 copies of this 550+ page epic by Tony Fletcher. It's hilarious, complusive and ultimately very sad book that documents in details Moonies madness. It gets closer and goes deeper than any other book on the man that I've read. A brilliant read for the holidays.

For a chance to win these email me with Moon Book or Lemmy Book in the subject line or just 'books please' will do fine.
The draw is totally random and I’ll do it on 12th December. All other free stuff below has already been drawn and sent out so there’s no point in you emailing in for that now! I always say this but still people do! So don’t, or I’ll have to come round there and spank you with an old Jethro Tull album! Good luck!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

History Of Festivals 19 : Charlton 1974

The Who played two gigs at Charlton Athletic’s football stadium in the mid-Seventies. The second, in 1976, was one of three one-day festivals hosted by the band that summer on their Who Put The Boot In tour (the other being Glasgow and Swansea). But the 1976 gig was spoiled by ticket forgery and gatecrashers, although unlucky punters who were turned away – despite having tickets – were given a free bus ride to Swansea, which was a nice gesture, if a bit of a hike. But it was the 1974 gig at the South London football stadium that sticks in rock’s memory.

The Who had released Quadrophenia the previous year and had most recently been touring around France playing it. They had, typically ambitiously, been using backing tapes with sound effects and atmospherics in a series of winter gigs that were at best a qualified success and sometimes bordered on the shambolic. For this Summer 1974 tour, they got back to a more traditional sound. Pete played a solo show in the April and the band did a low-key event in Oxford – playing their old classics, not the Quadrophenia material – and this May 18 gig at Charlton was the biggest event signifying a move away from shows based fundamentally on their great rock opera.

The Charlton 1974 might not have been their most technically accomplished, but in terms of a joyous celebration of what made them one of the most thrilling live bands of the time, and indeed of all time, it was a great showcase. There are lots of bootlegs available of the gig, and a good recording by the BBC that was broadcast on Radio London at the time.

Mention must be made without further ado of Keith’s drumkit, which is absolutely, hilariously massive. He has 11 tom-toms and – because you never know if one will be enough – TWO huge gongs. They don’t make them like that any more.

Anyway, the day. Some 50,000 arrived with doors at noon to see support including Lou Reed, Humble Pie, Bad Company, Lindisfarne, Maggie Bell and Montrose. The weather was pretty decent, although there were quite a lot of fights in the crowd throughout.

Maggie Bell got things underway with a warm and bluesy little set. Her solo albums Queen Of The Night and Suicide Sal are both excellent blues records. We'll be doing a Maggie Bell t-shirt soon I think. She really is one of finest blues singers ever.

Lindisfarne played a rollicking romp of folky, funky groove notable for a policeman trying to get on the stage and members of the band chucking beer at him. Roll on Ruby was just on the market - an over-looked album of theirs but the band was already coming apart - with half the band soon to split into Jack The Lad.

Bad Company laid down some nice heavy stuff – Boz Burrel’s bass in great form through a monster PA. Bad co was out and everyone loved it. Those first three Bad Company albums contain some of the best riffs of their genre. Mick Ralphs seems to get forgotton as a riffmeister possibly because rodgers is such a brilliant singer. We have a t-shirt of them both here.

Montrose played a great set, and the version of Space Station Number Five they did is still remembered fondly, screaming feedback and wild noises that continued for about two minutes after the band left the stage. Awesome stuff. That first montrose album is one of the miost influential in mid 70s rock n roll I think. That blend of muscular riffing and rawk vocals from Sammy Hager set a template for bands such as Van Halen. In fact I seem to recall they were produced by Ted Templeman. Jump On It - a good album - has one of the worst covers ever - a big pair of red panites.....always embaressed me in front of the parents that!

Lou Reed was embarking on his ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ tour and this was his third show of that run. The great New Yorker was rocking that rather alarming bleach blonde look he had and was pretty knocked out loaded by all accounts, but his band were real tight. The crowd weren’t that taken with him – maybe a football stadium isn’t really the venue for his wonderful, complicated, contrary brand of late-night spermy glamour and two-sided stories. Our Lou shirt is drawn from a shot from that period.

The highlight of the support acts was definitely the Humble Pie set, opening with Watcha Gonna Do About It. Steve Marriot was absolutely magnificent, a perfect blend of showmanship and musicianship, a real quality performance. There were plenty at Charlton 1974 who felt that the Humble Pie set topped The Who, but sadly recordings of their set are hard to come by. The Pie remain one of early70s best hard rock bands with Performance; rockin The Fillmore being one of my top 3 lives albums of all time. Also worth getting are Rock On, Smokin' and Eat It.

The Who came on stage at 8. 45 and launched into a medley that kicked off with I Can’t Explain, Summertime Blues and Young Man Blues. The version of Baba O’Reilly, next, is terrific – and not just for Pete’s Irish jig. There’s some powerful harp from Roger and some typically chunky, balls-out base from The Ox on a soaring, storming, urgent celebration of desperate youth. Substitute is another corker.

From Quadrophenia, they played Drowned, Bell Boy – which got a riotous reception for Keith Moon’s vocal (for which read: “bonkers shouting”) – and 5.15, although the last of those was pretty ropey and, along with I Can’t Explain, was left off a lot of the recordings of the event. Pete said that he was dead drunk for this gig – as he was for all of their sets at Madison Square Garden later in the summer – and also that he did not enjoy the atmosphere much at Charlton. He has said he felt there was a violent atmosphere in the stadium and does not regard this as among their finest live shows. And it’s true that, in terms of musical virtuosity, this does not necessarily show the band at the very peak of their powers.

That being said, the crowd absolutely loved the set and the sheer passion and energy they transmit to the band nevertheless inspired a thrilling performance. The highlight of their one hour 45 minute show was the medley of Naked Eye and Let’s See Action right near the end, which is blinding stuff, a real gem. They closed with the first-ever performance of what the band knew as My Generation Blues, a slowed-down, dense and dirty 12 bar blues take on their famous hit.

Although Quadrophenia was a groundbreaking, brilliant piece of work, this Charlton gig marked a pronounced move away from attempting it live in any depth. For the next quarter century, The Who gigs would take on more the format of a greatest hits package. Anyone at Charlton in 1974 would feel that they saw a hell of a show from one of the most important and exciting British acts of all time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

History Of Festivals 18 : Bickershaw 1972

He will be forever emblazoned on the British public consciousness for the inane Beadle’s About (for our US international readers, this was an Eighties TV show where the host played “hilarious” hidden camera jokes on members of the public), but Britain actually owes the late Jeremy Beadle, who died earlier this year, a debt.

For Jeremy was the organiser of the 1972 Bickershaw Festival. Among the attendees was a 19-year-old Joe Strummer, who said that Captain Beefheart’s performance there was a lifelong inspiration to him, and a 17-year-old Elvis Costello, who said that the set he saw from The Grateful Dead made him want to form a band.

Aside from playing a part in the development of two British powerhouses, Jeremy and his co-organisers also ensured that the North West had its first multi-day music festival. The Deeply Dale festivals in Bury picked up the baton in 1976, but this event just outside Wigan was a little bit of a local groundbreaker on 5-7 May 1972.

There was some concern prior to the event about the suitability of the site: there were worries that its location in a valley would provide problems with drainage and water. But a local fanzine The Mole Express hit back at the doom-mongers: “Pay up, shut up – or piss off and pass the oars!” People were ready to party.

More spectacularly, there were also fears that punters might fall into disused coal mines (!) but fortunately nothing like that came to pass. However, the weather played pranks on Jeremy Beadle and unfortunately Bickershaw was a legendarily wet one.

The stage was one of the most innovative yet seen, big screens on either side offering decent views from a long way back, and an efficient backstage set-up allowing relatively small delays for band changeovers.

Things got off to a fairly quiet start on Friday, all a bit folky rock, with sets from Jonathan Kelly and Wishbone Ash.

We called them, simply, ‘Ash.’ And for a while they were one of those great rock bands who had enough melody, folky twists and muscular boogie riffs to satisfy both the hairy male and his ‘lady.’ Girls who flinched at ELP’s radical noise would embrace Argus and, God knows, music aside, we should all love them for that.

Argus was huge. Sounds voted it album of the year. Everyone bloody loved Argus and its no wonder. Folky, proggy and rocky, it satisfied on so many levels. It was one of my most played albums of the 70s. We worshipped Ted Turner. For us he was somehow a slightly mystical character…and no, he didn’t set up CNN! The twin guitar sound with Andy Powell was the most liquid and melodious combo to date. No Ash, no Lizzy, I’m saying. Anyone with me?

Their set At Bickershaw was, for the record, Time Was; Blowin' Free;, Jail Bait;, The King Will Come; The Pilgrim; Warrior; Throw Down The Sword; Phoenix.

As you can see, its Argus heavy. If you get hold of a bootleg of this gig – and they’re out there – for me it’s still Throw Down The Sword that gives me chills. Ambitious and unique sounding, it’s a band on the top of its game.

Hawkwind really got everyone going, in more ways than one, as Stacia danced nude on the left of the stage through great versions of Silver Machine and others. A Lancashire crowd hadn’t seen naked gyrating like this since George Formby overdid it on the brown acid prior to a gig at the Free Trade Hall, freaked out during Chinese Laundry Blues and ripped all his clothes off “because there were ukuleles crawling all over me, mother”.

This was, for me, the classic Hawkwind era. The era covering In Search Of Space, Doremi Fasol Latido, Space Ritual and Hall Of The Mountain Grill when they performed a kind of spaced out trance vibration that was both futuristic and compulsive. Listening to it now is to hear something beyond time and fashion. Like all the greatest art, it transcends.

They were hairy sonic warlords creating a musical architecture that somehow managed to be atavistic and yet sophisticated. There’s a good argument to be had for saying that Hawkwind is the motherlode from which all the dance/trance music of the last 20 years has sprung. I’d buy that deal.

Doctor John was the other stand-out of the first day. Clad in top hat and tails, sliver jewellery in his beard, he looked the business. His nine-piece band, complete with horn section and hot gospel singers, were pretty awesome too. The Doc played lead guitar on Walk On Guilded Splinters and piano on some terrific R and B belters like Let The Good Times Roll. A stonking performance that saw him show off his total command of several different genres.

Thar first Dr John album, Gris Gris, is a spine-tingling voodoo album. And essential for anyone who wants to feel that edgy ju-ju vibe. Gilded Splinters is probably the highlight but call me a philistine, I think Humble Pie’s version on Rockin’ The Fillmore is the primo version; electrified by Marriott and Frampton’s up-to-ten guitars and some incendiary lead breaks, its 27 minutes of pure joy, man.

Linda Lewis also played. you remember her, right? A great servant to the session muso community, she played on co-Bickershaw performer Family’s album Bandstand, and she richly deserved her brief chart success with ‘Rock-a-doodle-do’. Check out the 1973 album, Fathoms Deep its chock full of some of Britain’s best musicians at the time including Family’s Jim Cregan who she was married to. Check her on the Stomu Yamashta Go albums too. There was a brief moment when Stomu was fashionable – Stevie Winwood played on those excellent jazz/rock/fusion albums and if you enjoy a bit of Japanese based noodle, those albums are a spicy treat. Still out there singing 5 octaves, she’s a rare treat and much overlooked. We should have an LL t-shirt. She’s that good!

Saturday had a brilliantly diverse line-up, from jazzers like Brotherhood Of Breath and Mike Westbrook to the Incredible String Band and Donovan (nicely laid-back greatest hits package). The Kinks also played but were a little bit stinky and a very bit pissed, by all accounts. Still, they did throw a piano off the stage.

Though their glory days of cutting edge R & B were behind them, The Kinks were still making great music and having hits. The first single I bought with my own money was the 1972 hit Supersonic Rocketship from the Everyone’s In Show Business Album; an excellent double album that is a mixture of live and studio

Cheech and Chong. They played Bikcershaw, man! I know, how weird is that?

Captain Beyond got their boogie on and got the crowd going, as did Sam Apple Pie.

Sam Apple Pie. If you like late 60s British blues bands then SAP will tickle your blues bone, featuring Malcolm Morley who would later come to marginally greater prominence with the incestuous Welsh stoner collectives of Help Yourself and Man who all produced wonderful records of stoned blissfulness, rambling soloing and drifting melodies better for the smoking of the home grown. Ah you know what I’m talking ‘bout.

Family played a typically roistering set, complete with microphone-stand abuse from Roger Chapman. Leicester’s Family didn’t make anything even approaching a bad album. By 1972 they were coming to the end of their lifetime but still had produced Bandstand – a classic rock album featuring hits like My Friend The Sun and the intense Burlesque. The fact that a band as eclectic and downright odd as Family made it big in the UK and Europe is a testament to the broadmindedness of the rock audience of the early 70s, hungry for any rock in any genre. Hairy people of the early 70s we salute you.

They were a surefire hit at any festival of the era, but an act probably less well-known to the crowd were the Flaming Groovies, who played a fun set of covers including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Sweet Jane and Heartbreak Hotel. Music paper Frendz called them “a jukebox with balls”, which is a great description.

The Flaming Groovies had started in the late 60s and hadn’t amounted to much despite always being interesting but they got a second wind in ’76/ ’77 when they were kind of lumped in with the emergent American new wave of the Ramones. The 1976 album Shake Some Action was produced by Dave Edmunds and slotted right into the American new wave/power pop/proto punk or whatever other meaningless label you want to use, groove. And they have to have had one of the best band names ever, right?

But none of the above, with respect, could hold a candle to Captain Beefheart. Don and the gang did not get on stage until 4am, when bass player Rockette Morton, smoking a cigar, emerges alone for a throbbing, heavy and acid-dipped bass solo of brilliance and intent. The rest of the band join him - Zoot Horn Rollo in giant hat and tights, Winged Eel Fingerling in shades and quiff, Ed Marimba drumming with panties on his head. Beefheart enters into a spot and When It Blows Its Stacks roars in. Clad in his Sun and Moon cape, he leads his band through a performance of unremitting energy, verve and invention: a master at work. His a capella singing on Old Black Snake is just incredible. They close with Spitball Scalped A Baby.

1972 was Captain Beefheart’s commercial year releasing accessible killer R & B albums Clear Spot and The Spotlight Kid, the former produced by future Van Halen studio man Ted Templeman. Zoot Horn Rollo is on fine form. Check out Big Eyed Beans From Venus if you wanna get your guitar groove on.

Pity the band – Pacific Gas And Electric – who came on after them. As many of you who have known me for a while know, I collect vinyl big, and within that I collect 60s and 70s singles by West coast and blues bands. So I have a complete collection of Steve Miller, Electric Flag, Blues Project and PG&E singles…to name just four. I love them. For me records are art. The labels ; the logos; the font of the text; the black grooves. It’s all good to me. Like, its history in your hands dude. The romance of the 7 inch has never left me.

PG&E were a tasty band. Not that heavy, not that acid, but just good laid back rock with a bit of country & folk in the mix. Anyone who loves today’s type scene e.g. Neal Casal etc. you’d dig them. Worth getting a good compilation and sucking down a good taste of them.

The highlight of Sunday was the performance of the Haydock Brass Band. Only joking: the stars of the final day were, of course, The Grateful Dead. Country Joe and Brinsley Schwarz got things going.

Brinsley Schwartz were a very good band who were badly managed; there was the classic hype gone bad thing – flying loads of journos to the Fillmore for their USA debut went badly wrong. But BS were to be one of those under-the-radar- influential bands whose work would echo later in the 70s in the work of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker as well as, obviously, Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm. Pub rock with some country licks, yeah I’ll drink to that.

And then the New Riders Of The Purple Sage warmed the crowd up for the Dead. Seeing the NRPS out in the rural north of England must have been a trip all in itself. Panama Red is my fave album of theirs. Still satisfies.

They played a blinding, four hour masterclass, opening with Truckin’ and including stellar versions of Casey Jones and a lovely Dark Star. Pigpen rocking out on Good Lovin’ was another joy; and they played new songs Ramble On Rose and Tennessee Jed. Summer of 1972 was one of this great band’s most perfect eras; and the crowd knew they had seen something very special.

Over three days, it is estimated that about 60,000 attended the event and Jeremy Beadle said they took around £60,000 in gate receipts. As the tickets were priced at £2.25 each, even allowing for the traditional attendance exaggeration, it’s clear that a lot of people didn’t pay their way in. People were coming in, getting a pass-out, and then flogging their ticket back to someone else for a knock-down price.

Worse still, the event cost £120,000 to put on. They should have paid more attention in maths class. The blokes doing the gate were the usual “wolf in charge of the sheep pen” chancers, reselling tickets back to people, trousering takings – and all done with not so much a smile, more the threat of a busted head.

But there were just 32 drugs arrests, a few drunk and disorderlies and 18 Hell’s Angels nicked for breach of the peace outside. The weather was disgusting, and the site, in all honesty, was simply unsuitable. Nonetheless, Bickershaw was great for the region – and begat the well-loved Deeply Dale festivals later in the decade. Best of all though, were the two belting performances from the Cap’n and the Dead – inspirations that day to Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer, and to millions before and since and still.

Bickershaw rocked rightously. Part of the the UK's greatest rock days; it deserves its place in history.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

History Of Festivals 17 : Knebworth 1985

1985. Deep Purple are back – and so is rock at Knebworth.

1980 had seen Santana and the Beach Boys play at the Hertfordshire pile, then came two years of jazz / blues – including Ella, BB and Dizzy – before a couple of years of the Christian Greenbelt Festival including, erm, Cliff Richard.

Fortunately, in 1985, normal service was resumed.

Paul Loasby, who had promoted the Donington Monsters Of Rock in 1980 (Rainbow, Priest, Scorpions) that we talked about a few weeks ago, was among the organisers of the 1985 event.

In some ways, it was more of a Deep Purple gig than a festival as such: the main aim was a showcase for the reformed band, back now with their classic early-Seventies line-up of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice.

Those personnel had released Perfect Strangers the previous October, while not being a totally successful return to their former glories, it was still an album filled with killer Blackmnore riffs such as Knocking At Your Back Door, the album opener and standout track, and it had whetted UK appetites for more from this definitive Purple line-up.

They embarked on a reunion tour that began in Australia and went to Europe and the USA, making a lot of already rich men even richer and what better way to do it? But, strangely, they chose to play only one UK gig that year: at Knebworth. sujrely they would have cleaned up in the UK where, thanks to tommy Vance's Friday rock show, their flame had been kept well and truely alive. Hairies everywhere then and noe still gobbled up everything they put out and every gig they played.

A licence was obtained for 100,000 and a truly astonishing PA was set up – capable of belting out 250,000 watts! The Who had set the record for the loudest British concert ever with Charlton 1984 and Purple were determined to break it.

“No camping, no bottles, no cans, no cameras, no tapes” proclaimed the flyer for the one-day event in June. And you thought you were here to have fun! In addition, there was no booze licence for the event. Thankfully, people managed to smuggle drink in. Naturally, this was consumed with the minimum delay possible, which meant that everyone was steaming early doors, which in turn lead to the old “piss in a bottle and chuck it” manoeuvre that was a staple of lots of outdoor rock events, but not so much in keeping with previous vibes at Knebworth.

But there was a problem besides being hit with a bottle of wee: it was raining. Really chucking it down. The weather was so awful that only 80,000 turned up, and it poured almost all day. Not for nothing did they call it ‘Mudworth’.

The first band to play, on stage about 11am, were Alaska, remember them? Like a more northerly Asia I seem to recall! They made for a quiet start, which no one could ever accuse the next band on of doing; Mountain – who had been supporting Purple on their tour.

As I write this i've just seen Mountain supporting Joe Satriani, with Corky back on the drums and am happy to report Leslie West is as loud and bone-crushingly heavy as they ever were. I still love mountain but i feel they're at their best when they had Brian Knight on keyboards. He fleshed out the sound on Nantucket Sleighride etc and gave it all more texture for the guitar to pound through.

The highlight of their set at Knebby in '85 (and last night as well) was Jack Bruce's Theme From An Imaginary Western - I came to the original after hearing Mountain's version - its on Songs For A Tailor and it is probably Bruce's finest vocal; epic stuff from a much under-rated singer if not bass player.

Drummer Corky Laing battered the hell out of a large black box for reasons that remained unclear at Knebworth

Mama’s Boys - who were going to be the next big thing if you recall - they were Irish weren't they? Well they played a short, loud set next – unfortunately so loud that it blew out a third of the PA system! The Who’s record would stand. The Southern boogie of Blackfoot was next – they played a grooving, fun set and the sun shone for 40 minutes, the only time it stopped raining all day. Ricky Medlock now sings for Skynyrd but Blackfoot were an awesome band in their prime capable of out-booginig everyone.

A set from NWOBHM stalwarts UFO – featuring new member Atomik Tommy on guitar – came next - this was a bit of a quiet time for UFO who had risen so high in the late 70s and early 80s.....if you;'ve not checked out 2004 You Are Here then do so, it's killer stuff and their best for a decade.

Then it was time for the strangest booking of the day: Meatloaf. The Loaf got a pretty iffy reception from a crowd unhappy with the rain and his music. And the poor bloke had a broken leg! To his credit, he made a decent fist of things, including a commendably surreal rant about the crowd reaction which likened it to drinking a kettle full of boiling water but urinating ice. If only he had soared to those heights of imagery on I Would Do Anything For Love.

The final support act was The Scorpions, who played one of the gigs of their career. Onstage from 6.30, they defied the rain with their World Wide Live Set and closed with a blistering version of Still Loving You. They were at the peak of their powers and were a real joy: a right rocking effort from the Hanover lads.

But the main event was Deep Purple.

This was not a love-in of a reunion, by a long chalk. The tensions that split the band up were already back to the fore, leading to one of the great rock and roll tantrum stories. Unwilling to socialise with each other backstage, the band had individual portacabins. But legend has it that they took it one step further – insisting that the cabins be turned around so as to not have to look at one another when leaving or entering!

Still, they all made it onto the stage one way or another – Ritchie famously shielding his guitar with an umbrella. Have their been any other instances of the lead guitarist of a major group taking to the stage in a pair of Wellington boots? Let us know if you can think of any! Mind you given a choice between 250,000 volts shotting through a wet stage and into your legs and wearing non rock n roll wellies i know which I'd take!

The ill-feeling between the band, and the general annoyance about the crappy weather, seemed to charge Ritchie’s playing with an urgent, driving anger. He’s fast and furious throughout, really hammering on the guitar and beating the notes out of it like a man possessed. His solos on Highway Star (the opener) and Smoke On Water (the closer) are crackers – even on the smoother numbers like Lazy he is still tearing into it.

Blackmore is an astonishing player. A revolutionary who I feel is sometimes held in less esteem than the likes of Pagey and Beck...but they things he does are jaw dropping. That arabesque tendency he has is all his own and the way he could wrestle noise out with the whammy bar before slamming back into a riff has always been masterly. Even going back to Black Night, the solo on that - a number 2 hit - was incredible.....starting with howling noise and finishing in a blues scale...I fimd his work tirelessly fascinating and there's a good argument to say he was the UK's all time riff-meister. From 1970 to 1985 he didn't make a bad record and wrote a whole canon of riffs that have stood the test of time.

They played a weird and wonderful take on (Rainbow’s) Difficult To Cure where Lord chucks in some of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy on the organ and Ian Gillan – whose voice was in fine shape – breaks out into Jesus Christ Superstar on Strange Kind Of Woman. Check out the ‘In The Absence Of Pink’ live album for a fine record of the day.

For many of the fans there, who had got into the band post-1976 break-up, seeing the classic line-up together was a dream they thought would never happen, and for that reason this has rightly gone down as a seminal, and much loved, Purple gig – even in the pouring rain.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

History Of Festivals 16 : Glastonbury 1971

When Noel Gallagher called the decision to book Jay-Z for this year’s Glasto “wrong” he was right, but for the wrong reasons, if you see what we mean. Noel reckoned the festival should be about guitar bands, not hip-hop, which is a point of view – albeit one contrary to the eclectic origins of the event. But really, it’s Jay-Z’s brand of remorseless ultra-capitalism, misogyny, slick marketing and corporatism that goes against the spirit of Glastonbury… as we shall now demonstrate, with help from our beautiful assistant Claude. Claude: the history books and the magic table, if you please. Isn’t Claude lovely?

There was a small festival at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset in 1970, famously headlined by T-Rex. Eccentric folk/proggers Stackridge(still on the road this year I noticed depsite all members now being 98 years old - do they still involve dustbins and rhubarb in theri stage sets I wonder?) earned a little footnote in history, being the first to play. But the Glastonbury Festival proper was first held the following year, on the 22-26 June. It represented many things about the hippy ideal that seem very dated, a bit silly even, today – but it also stood for some things which are still rather wonderful and which, maybe, the world could do with a bit more of.

The 1971 event was organised by an unlikely triumvirate of local farmer Michael Eavis, Arabella Churchill (Winston’s granddaughter) and the activist and writer Andrew Kerr. The last-named, inspired by the 1970 Isle Of Wight occasion, was determined to put on a free festival. He wrote at the time:

“Man is fast ruining his environment. He is suffering from the effects of pollution; from the neurosis brought about by a basically urban industrial society; from the lack of spirituality in his life. The aims are, therefore: the conservation of our natural resources; a respect for nature and life; and a spiritual awakening.”

Deep stuff, man! The dude was ahead of his time. But Kerr and company were serious. Bill Harkin designed and built the famous pyramid stage – a 1/10 scale replica of the Great Pyramid in Egypt! – in the lovely Vale Of Avalon, where the ley lines are said to converge, the pyramid-shape being the most effective receptacle for receiving the earth’s energy. Ley lines were very popular in the 70s. The old straight tracks and all that. Most of Steve Hillage's songs are about them. Can't be something to do with taking LSD can it?

Also converging on the free event around the summer solstice were around 7,000 festival-goers, looking forward to a week of music and love in the Somerset countryside. It was a perfect venue: hills on both sides, channelling the sound (and the energy man!) and loads of woods around to camp in.

The bill did not have the massive names of, say, the Bath Festival of 1970, but nevertheless included superb bands Fairport Convention, Melanie, Quintessence, The Edgar Broughton Band, Family, Traffic and David Bowie.

The very good Glastonbury Fayre film of the event shows Fairport in fine fettle on songs like Angel Delight, but sadly the Bowie stuff doesn’t make it due to legal reasons. Check out the film if you can – it was shot by Nicolas Roeg, who was then on the middle of a great creative period that saw him shoot or direct several classics of the time, including The Man Who Fell To Earth and Performance.

Another creative force who also very much encapsulate that era were the band Quintessence, one of the performances here which most define that sort of musical style and hippy vibe of 1971. They played a superb set here. There's not enough flute in rock these days. Melanie also captures the spirit of the times, playing Peace Will Come and a surprisingly punchy set. Both Melanie and the Edgar Broughton Band could be relied on to pitch up at almost any festival in the early 70s.

Family gave a typically exhilarating and bizarre performance: has there been a more idiosyncratic voice in rock than Roger Chapman? The singing goat I used to call him - but not in a bad way. His vocal here is amazing: the trippers must have been made of stern stuff; it’s bloody terrifying in places. The Pink Fairies, fixtures at free festivals, rocked their Uncle Harry’s Last Freak Out and Arthur Brown (whose birthday it was) cranked up the madness with a typically weird and wonderful late night slot. Traffic’s Gimme Some Loving was another festival high point. Traffic were having a bit of a resurgence thanks to their excellent john Barlycorn Must Die and Shoot Out At The Fantast Factory albums. albums of high quality they are too. Their jazzy influenced rock with a splash of folk and blues thrown in is never less than joyful. 1973's On The Road is one of my all time fave live albums. So much so that I once got into a fight at a party in 1978 when someone took it off to put on The Damned's new single! Oh the punk rock wars how we miss them.

The audio of the Bowie performances sounds really good, too. He played at dawn on the Friday and wowed the crowd with Oh! You Pretty Things and did Memories Of A Free Festival (how could he not?). The Supermen also sounds like it was excellent as well – what a treat to have seen such a legend, on the up, in such a setting.

Perhaps the absence of any truly megastar names help contribute to the atmosphere: there was less of the rampant egotism, and the eclectic nature of the festival encouraged dancers, jugglers and other loons. There was free food, and plenty of dope, and lots of naked dancing. Almost everyone who was there speaks of a peaceful, relaxed, loving vibe – even the Hells Angels were alright! There were litter patrols, there was a ‘Hassle Van’ driving around in the night to help people sort out any hassles – there were even (naturally) claims of a UFO sighting on the night of the Solstice.

If it all sounds a million miles away from Oasis fighting with Jay-Z about who’s more suitable for Glastonbury… it is. But what an amazing thing Glastonbury has been and still is, thanks to Michael Eavis and company. Hopefully a little of the spirit of 1971 still survives – and who knows, maybe the environmental concerns of today plus some sort of reaction against the X Factorisation of modern music could see an appetite for similar events return.

Monday, October 27, 2008

History Of Festivals 15: Weeley 1971

Woodstock, Isle Of Wight, Glastonbury and… Weeley? Where the hell’s Weeley?!

It’s 1971, Ted Heath is Prime Minister, Arsenal have done the Double and Britain has just gone decimal. A festival is announced for the August Bank holiday weekend in a little-known Essex town, just outside of Clacton-on-Sea. When people hear the line-up, everyone wants to go.

The Weeley festival of August 27 – 29 1971 was organised not by a rock impresario or a sharp promoter, or even by a group of hippies: it was the brainchild of the local Round Table. Nothing to do with King Arthur, the Round Table is a sort of Rotary Club-type social / charity organisation, whose stated aims are to “To Develop the acquaintance of young men through the medium of their various occupations.” It all sounds very Mr Cholmondley-Warner, post-War austerity and not letting the side down old boy.

But fair play to them: they pulled off one of the most fondly-remembered of all British fests, and they did it against the odds.

The Round Table used to organise a Donkey Derby (!) every summer to raise money for charity, but this year, they decided to think that little bit bigger. They managed to get a licence for 10,000 to come to a pop concert, as they no doubt called it, in some fields outside the little village. Everyone looked forward to a local festival for local people.

Mungo Jerry, whose easy-going, loveable groove had seen In The Summertime go to number one the previous year, were booked. And then it all began to snowball from there. Festivals at both Canterbury and the Isle of Wight were cancelled that year, and as more bands started to show an interest, more and more people from around the country saw that Weeley (“Where’s Weeley?”) could be THE event of the summer.

Once people found out where Weeley was, they started to make their way down there, some folks coming down weeks beforehand to camp out. The locals were by and large friendly and happy to have Weeley put on the map and the event was also distinguished by some sensible, low-key policing. A nice vibe grew up between the festival-goers and the locals, with very little trouble, and spontaneous outbursts of random kindness from both sides.

It was soon clear that there were many, many more people there than the 10,000 who had paid their £1.50 to get in. Estimates are that around 110,000 came, although claims have been made for as many as 150,000 people. In the end, so many bands had been booked that the music just ran constantly, round the clock for the three days from midnight on Thursday/Friday with Hackensack, who were excellent, getting proceedings underway.

The line-up was a very strong one included T Rex, Rod Stewart and the Faces, Mungo Jerry, Status Quo, Lindisfarne, Mott the Hoople, Rory Gallagher and Barclay James Harvest. The Pink Fairies turned up and played for free in the surrounding campsites. Sweet Irish folksters Tír na Nóg played and invited everyone back to theirs for tea! My introduction to them was through that double Island compilation album El Pea which not only had a big pea on the cover - oh the wit - but also had the bright idea of having two hard clear plastic sleeves to put the records in thus ensuring the records developed a fine mist of scratches across them!

One thing anyone who was there will never forget is the toilets, just long trenches with a bit of sack curtaining and scaffolding and truly horrific even by outdoor festival standards! Julie Felix – who played – remembers:

“It was one of those festivals that happened before people really got into the commercialised side of things. It was very spontaneous and special and a real privilege to be part of it. But I had never been in such bad loos in my whole life. Or since, thank goodness!”

And those were the artist ones, backstage! At least one poor devil fell in the public bogs.

The festival is fondly remembered for it’s “Where’s Wally?” chants, a trend started at the Isle Of Wight and carried on here, where the audience, sometimes thousands at a time, would start shouting for a mysterious figure called Wally. The number of people claiming to have been THE original Wally still grows by the year, like pizza houses in New York claiming to be the inventor.

The 'Wally' cry would echo throughout any rock veneue throughout the 70s and early 80s. It was a strange thing to witness as it had no point other than the joy gained by bellowing Wally at the top of your voice. There was even a band called Wally I seem to recall. One of those second division solid dependable riff merchant bands

Much less fun, though, was the trouble that flared up between Hell’s Angels and the catering staff. The Angels, as was their wont, had appointed themselves the event’s security and were throwing their weight around. Opposition came in the unlikely shape of the various stallholders and catering workers, who did not take kindly to the bikers’ behaviour. They not only smashed up several bikes, but also smashed up several Angels’ heads. There were serious fights, with iron bars and sledgehammers – witnesses say that there was blood everywhere, really bad scenes – and the Angels were driven away.

A lot of the bikers that didn’t get their heads busted in got arrested, and were taken to nearby Colchester police station where, one copper recalls, they were hosed down with a spray borrowed from the local cinema’s cleaners! There’s a very good BBC Radio Essex documentary called something like ‘Weeley – 35 Years On’ with some great recollections from locals and festival-goers, including a hilarious anecdote from some old girl who lived in the village and saw one of the Hell’s Angels leaders arrested by police and made to strip. She says that this tough biker burst into tears and refused to take his clothes off, until he was forced to reveal a spanking, sparkling clean white undershirt and underwear, which he considered – according to this old girl – to be a deeply shaming display of personal hygiene.

This same woman also recounts that Marc Bolan came round to her neighbour’s house to have a bath and that he gave her a quid for the privilege. It was a strange festival for Marc: there was a row with Rod and the Faces about who was going to headline, and it turned out a bad argument to win for T-Rex. Rod – resplendent in a pink satin suit – ended up going on before them to riotous acclaim and played five encores. This was The Faces at their peak, around this time they did a live show on the BBC which youcan still see on YouTube and their version of I'm Losing You stands alone as one of early 70s rock's finest moments.

Marc, though, was thoroughly booed – the feeling at the time, of course, being that the beloved acoustic pixie had sold out and gone electric and commercial. John Peel attempted to quieten the crowd by threatening: “If you don’t stop heckling, Marc is going to walk off.” Not the great man’s wisest choice of words: the booing grew even louder and was joined by a hail of bottles and cans. The balls on Marc – he taunted the crowd: “Hi, I’m Marc Bolan – you may have seen me on Top Of The Pops.” In the end though, he won them over to a degree, especially with Hot Love and a nice version of Debora.

The 'he's sold out' thing was a constant issue throughout the early 70s rock. The division between pop and 'proper' rock music was a huge divde that few could breach. It was a false division though as clearly bands such as Slade, The Sweet, Mott and many others were hard core rock bands who just wrote fantastic singles and thus got put in the pop column by some. And its also worth noting that the emerging prog rock movement saw the likeso f T. Rex as mere fluff. Why listen to the simple riffs of Hot Love when you could listen to a complex 25 minute piece by Van Der Graaf Generator seemed to be the argument ?

History has erased much of this artificial divide and thankfully so. Good music is good music, right?

More universally enjoyed were strong sets from Status Quo and Lindisfarne. The Geordies’ drummer Ray Laidlaw remembers being blown away by Weeley:

“We climbed this ladder to get on the stage and looking out, the crowd just seemed to go on for ever. I got stage fright for a moment. But we got intoxicated from it, an amazing reaction. The band was just starting to happen and we didn’t realise how popular we were until Weeley.”

Lindisfarne, it may be forgotten, were a top band in 1971 and had provided Charisma with that labels first number 1 album. Their wistful, beer fuelled folk rock remains a pure delight. In Alan Hull the North East produced perhaps its finest ever songwriter. He left us way too early. Do dig out his solo albums, especially Pipereams - there's hidden gold in those grooves.

Other highlights were the little-known Stone The Crows, who played a magnificent show. Maggie Bell was described as being “like a Scottish Janis Joplin” by one fan and rightly so. All the STC albums are worth finding - a tremendous blues rock band, Maggie should have been an even bigger star than she was. Jimmy Dwear played bass in STC and went on to sing and play the 4 strings for Robin Trower. The finest white soul/blues singer these lands have ever produced, Jimmy Dewar had THE voice.

The Edgar Broughton Band - a festival regular with thier Out Demons Out chant and the always dependably brilliant Rory Gallagher, touring his Deuce album at the tie I should think - also put on good shows – and Mungo Jerry stuck in the mind for turning up in a double decker bus!

But probably the perfect moment belonged to early adopter prog band, Oldham's finest, Barclay James Harvest, who played at dusk on Friday. They were a hot band then and eagerly anticipated; even the 90-minute delay while their 30-piece orchestra set up didn’t dampen enthusiasm. Woolly Wolstenholme remembers:

“The sun was going down and the stage lighting was just starting to have an effect. The timing was perfect. We just went on and filled the air with melodic sound on Mockingbird. We kind of stole the event.”

I saw BJH on the Octoberon tour - an album I loved - and they didn't disappoint. A lovely combination of folky acousticness with some searing electric guitar and symphonic melodies.
Their double live was essential for an Army coat wearing hairy man of the mid 70s.

Weeley is fondly remembered by those who attended. Afterwards Weeley slipped back into obscurity and didn't dip its genteel toe into the river of rock n roll history again. But briefly it had rocked.

Monday, October 20, 2008

History Of Festivals 14: Altamont

ALTAMONT 6th December 1969

Last week, we touched on the bikers at Bath 1970 getting Fairport Convention to the stage on time by clearing people out of their way with motorbikes. But that sort of mild bullying was playground stuff compared to the mad, thrilling horror of Altamont 1969.

Everyone knows, or thinks they do, about the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of Hell’s Angels during the Rolling Stones set at Altamont Speedway in December 1969.

39 years on, it’s almost impossible to fully apportion the blame, to sort out the motives of the people involved. Was it wise to hire the bikers as security just as had been done at The Human Be-In, Monterey Pop and Hyde Park fests? Would they have been there causing even more trouble if they hadn’t been hired? Was it on the Stones’ insistence, or the Grateful Dead’s? Were they really paid with $500 worth of beer?

Why did 18-year-old Meredith have a handgun at the concert? Was he getting hassled by the Angels because he was black and with a white girlfriend? Was he planning to shoot at Mick Jagger, as some have claimed? Had he fired a shot? Did he even have a gun?

The only thing you can really say for certain is that, having stabbed Meredith once, and taken him to the ground, he shouldn’t have been stabbed a total of five times (coroner’s report) and kicked / beaten to death, which ain’t much to say about the end of a kid’s life, but there it is.

The murky legal aftermath saw Angel Alan Passaro cleared on grounds of self-defense; there was talk of a second assailant, scared witnesses, the whole sorry nine. The case was not finally closed until 2005.

Anyway… so other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

The Altamont Speedway Free Concert of December 6th 1969 was set to feature a line-up of Santana; Jefferson Airplane; The Flying Burrito Brothers; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Grateful Dead and the Stones. Now that is a bloody good line-up isn’t it? Hey and its free so you and me are both going, right? Too right we’re going dude and we're gonna get real high. What’s the worst that could happen man?

The venue was only chosen 48 hours before the event – amazingly slack preparation for an event that 300,000 would attend. And the racetrack was a run down bleak place, appropriately enough only now used for demolition derbies. Facilities were minimal. It should never have happened. A free festival put together in 24 hours was a recipe for disaster and disaster was what they got.

The festival was advertised on local rock radio stations on the Friday and even as early as Friday night people were turning up in their thousands. A lot drinking heavily and whacked out on STP, a combo that is guaranteed to end in tears even if you’re just sitting watching TV let alone if you’re in a desolate speedway track with a gang of angry Hells Angels.

A Saturday dawned, streams of hairy people, looking like refugees from a nuclear war, trudged in lines up to seven miles long to get to the racetrack. By 11am there wasn’t a foot of space within 75 yards of the hastily built stage. Chip Monck was the best stage manager in the business at the time but with so little time available the stage he built only seven feet high and easily climbed by anyone with a mind so to do. It should have been at least 12 feet. He knew it could be a problem. He was right.

In retrospect, other than hiring the Angels, maybe that was the single biggest mistake. Loaded fans surged towards the stage – check out the great Gimme Shelter documentary for footage – and, to be fair to the Angels, they had legitimate concerns about the stage being stormed, over-run. Backstage a man, out of his mind on acid had run at Jagger shouting ‘I’m going to kill you’ which y’know, is like totally uncool brother, so everyone was jumpy from the get go.

Even during Santana, the first band on, there were already fights breaking out. Of course the fact that they’d been drinking beer and wine that was spiked with acid didn’t exactly help matters.

Second band on were Jefferson Airplane opening with ‘We Can Be Together’ to try and tone the mood down. But during ‘The Other Side Of This Life’ fights broke out, pugnacious singer Marty Balin tried to intervene and was promptly knocked unconscious by a biker. Paul Kantner understandably concerned that one of his singers was sparko stopped the music and pleaded with the Angels to stop beating people up only to have the microphone confiscated by one of them.

It took ten minutes to clear the stage before Airplane could resume their set. The show must go on. Now everyone was scared that a long gap without music might make the crowd even more restless so the Flying Burrito Brothers were ready to go as Airplane came off.

It worked. For a while. Their brand of proto country rock soothing jangled nerves. However the medical tents were over-run with people crazed on bad acid consumed in the spiked wine that was being passed around. Doesn’t sound very hygienic that does it?

CSNY were up next. Violence erupted again as the Angels beat up tripping people who were out of control. Like, dude that’s really not helping my buzz, I was hoping for naked chicks not naked aggression, maaaan.

The Dead refused to follow them as scheduled due to the excessive violence and later Robert Hunter wrote ‘New Speedway Boogie’ for the Workingman’s Dead album about the day. But The Stones had to play. God knows what would have happened if they hadn’t.

The Stones made everyone wait a long, long time before taking the stage, as was their wont in those days. They wanted all the lights out apart from a spot on Mick, it’s said that they even had the medical people turn out their torches. The vibe, at least that captured by the film-makers (young George Lucas was one of the cameramen!), is dark and ugly and thrilling.

Mick Jagger looks extraordinary, in a satin half-brown, half-black sort of… blouse, with these crazy long tasseled arm things, and his skinny little bum wiggling in mustard velvet trousers, alongside these hairy-arsed bikers. He appeals, in vain, throughout the set for calm, sounding like a sort of camp drama teacher who has lost control of the fifth form.

“People! Who’s fighting and what for? Why are we fighting,” he pleads. “That guy there (pointing) if he doesn’t stop it man, cool it man, or we don’t play.”

But it’s quite clear that the Stones don’t have much of a choice: there’s no way they could walk off without a riot. The version of Sympathy For The Devil, shown in its entirety on Gimme Shelter, is absolutely brilliant. There’s a real edge to the playing, like they know they are playing for their lives: it’s dark and exciting and urgent. There’s also a sense of ridiculousness, too – Jagger strutting, singing and snarling about being this ruthless and terrible Satanic figure, yet surrounded by these brutish blokes who could snap him like a dry twig and look like they wouldn’t mind trying, who are in their turn his only protectors from a surging, drugged-up mob.

At one point, bizarrely, this huge German Shepherd (dog, not human) trots across the stage. A fat, naked woman fights, really physically fights, her way to the front. All the girls are staring at Jagger, captivated, saucer-eyed. Yet they all look so young, really, just kids swooning at their favourite popstar, not some sort of social or political movement, no less naïve and star-struck as the kids you saw squealing at Beatles concerts five, six years earlier. Jagger is at once transfixing and ludicrous.

There’s loads of aggro all over the place now and it is not surprising that many people wrongly believe that the murder of Hunter took place during this all-too-fitting perfect cacophony of Satanic groove. But in fact it is during the next song, Under My Thumb, that it happened. The band stops, but the full extent of what’s happened is not clear, not least because the Hell’s Angels have formed a ring around the murderous action.

It’s after this that the famous moment between Keith Richards and Angels leader Sonny Barger took place. Keef said they were going off; Barger says he stuck a gun in Keef’s side and told him: “Keep f’ing playing or you’re dead.”

Meredith Hunter was not the only fatality that night: two people were run over, one drowned in a drainage ditch. Bad drugs, bad people, poor organization and massive egos added up to a disaster at what was hoped would be ‘The Woodstock Of The West’.

Altamont, partly through the fascinating and yet macabre Gimme Shelter movie, has become totemic for the death of peace and love. The end of the innocence and the prelude to a decade of excess and self indulgence. But that’s to ignore the fact that there had been bad festivals before Altamont and great ones after. Violence and aggression exist throughout society and when you stick 300,000 people in a racetrack and get them wasted on wine and acid, it’d be surprising if there wasn’t a few problems. I’m also willing to bet some people had a great time because The Stones were on their kick ass best form.

Those sort of pronouncements like “this was the day the Sixties was finally over” and so on always seem a bit of a stretch, but you can see why people have made the case. But, distasteful though it is to say, it’s one of the finest Stones performances. Writer Robert Santelli said when the Stones plugged that day they ‘set forth an avalanche of power and emotion that, in 1969, was rarely reproduced.’

In today’s world of ticketed seats and health and safety and corporate sponsorship and ‘zero tolerance’ policing, maybe we’ve lost sight of the fact that the best nights out, the ones you really remember, are the ones where there’s a crackle of danger, a thrill, a risk. Not to say that many people would have called Altamont a great night out, but safety isn’t everything in life, either. And this was, after all, rock n roll.

There was a bizarre coda earlier this year when it emerged that Hell’s Angels – in revenge for Mick Jagger blaming them for the violent fiasco of Altamont – plotted to murder him a few months later, by traveling to his Long Island home… on a boat! A severe storm disrupted the mission and saved Mick’s bacon. A case of crazy pirate bikers with cutlasses in their teeth and parrots on their hogs: not very pleased to meet you….

Free Stuff

Lots of interesting stuff to win this week

David Gray: A New Day At Midnight & White Ladder.

Two excellent albums by the wobbly-headed strummer.
Picture This- The Essential Blondie collection.

It's Blondie and its their essential stuff. Funny how we thought of them as New WAve at the time. Time reveals a kick ass band who knew how to write a melody. Hanging On The Telephone remains a classic of that era. And Debbie Harry remains as captivating as ever.

Aerosmith: Greatest Hits & Get A Grip
The hits album is the primo 'smith sampler with Drema on, Walk This Way and Sweet Emotino all prsent and very correct. My fave? Back in the Saddle - giddyup cowboy.

Get A Grip is now 15 years old! Ha! How old does that make you feel eh? To me, its like it just came out! Some good rockin' to be had though especially on the splendidly urgent Eat The Rich.

For a chance to win any of these email me with any combo on Aerosmith, Gray and Blondie in the subject box along with your address.

This will be the last draw of free CDs until the first week in December because I'm on holiday for the coming month.

All the other freebies below have now been drawn and sent out. So don't bother emailing me for them - a load of you still do - but you know there's really no point.

Rock on my lovely people.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

History Of Festivals 13: Bath 1970.

When they played the Bath Festival of Blues in 1969 , about 12,000 saw Led Zeppelin. By the 1970, the foursome had seen their UK popularity surge, and over 150,000 came to Shepton Mallet on the 27th and 28th of June 1970 for the Bath Festival Of Blues And Progressive Music. And a hell of a lot of that number were there for Led Zep.

Bath 1970 featured a really terrific line-up of US West coast bands and British music fans jumped at the chance to see them. Sadly, there is no footage of real quality available, and a lot of the audio out there is so-so amateur taped stuff from people in the crowd. The weather was pretty windy so the sound quality on a lot of the recordings is nothing to write home about. Various commercial disputes and technical snafus meant that such video as was taken has yet to get a commercial release.

It’s probably for this reason that Bath 1970 has not achieved the legendary mainstream status of the other big rock event that summer, the Isle Of Wight. The line-up at Bath compares very favourably to the IoW, or indeed to any Seventies rock festival you care to name. It featured the premiere of Atom Heart Mother and was the gig that Led Zeppelin themselves credited as their true UK breakthrough.

Bath 1970 was promoted by Freddy Bannister (later responsible for Knebworth, as we mentioned last week). The organizers had the advantage of staging the event on a designated campsite, so there weren’t the quagmire-type problems associated with having things in a farmer’s field. It’s just as well, because the English summer was in full effect: it was freezing and peeing down. There were innovations like film tents – showing the likes of King Kong – and large scale projections onto big screens. Sadly for Freddy, the security staff had some innovations of their own: pocketing a fair whack of the door take. On the whole though, it was a well-organised, if not lucrative event.

However, there were serious traffic problems with access to the site and a lot of the bands actually had difficulty getting there on time. Fairport Convention famously got an escort of Hell’s Angels to the site, bypassing the traffic, and indeed anyone else in their path. Some people objected to being cleared out of the way by a gang of bikers; they just made sure that they grumbled very quietly. But Fairport’s driving, up-tempo folky rock, on the Saturday afternoon, was the first band to get the crowd going, and the event was beginning to warm up.

Thins really began to get serious with Colosseum, who played next. The much under-rated John Heisman’s drum solo was a stormer: powerful and superbly accomplished, and was thought by many to eclipse that of Bonham himself later in the evening. The festival had caught light.

Riding the wave of the previous year’s Easy Rider, Steppenwolf were at the peak of their powers, going down a treat with the biker crowd and indeed everyone else. But the traffic delays and dodgy weather meant that the festival was now hours behind schedule and it was not until 3am that Pink Floyd began.

They had played it before under the somewhat less formidable title of The Amazing Pudding, but this was the first time that the Floyd performed Atom Heart Mother under that name. They had a brass section and a choir for AHM, and also played Careful With That Axe, Eugene and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

Faced with the unenviable task of coming on after Pink Floyd at FIVE AM was John Mayall, but those who were still awake were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime performance from something of a supergroup. Mayall had just arrived back from Morocco with all he needed to play a major rock festival... apart from a band. He quickly (very quickly) put together a line-up featuring Peter Green on guitar and Aynsley Dunbar on drums, as well as John’s brother Rod on the organ. Unrehearsed, they played a great set, despite the drizzle – and even managed to get away with playing It Might As Well Be Raining! This is interesting because Greeny had left Fleetwood Mac only a couple of months earlier and had just recorded his solo album End Of The Game - which you should check out as its kind of experimental jamming and not like anything else Greeny recorded before or since.

The next morning dawned soggy, which wasn’t great, but worse was the apparent absence of a lot of the due-on bands. Into the breach stepped Donovan. The Scottish folk legend was re-emerging from the wilderness and had phoned the organisers a couple of days before to say that “he might show up.” He wandered onto the stage and asked the crowd if they might like to hear a couple of songs, super low-key, and after a cautious start, they warmed to the veteran folkie. He played some of his classics – Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow – acoustic and also showed off some new, heavy rock sounds with a tight band. He ended up playing for a couple of hours and was a surprise hit.

Back to the main events, as it were, and The Mothers were next on, playing a fine set in freezing weather. Zappa pelted the crowd with oranges during Call Any Vegetable and they closed with a strong version of King Kong. Our t-shirt here comemorates their appearance. Fellow US imports Santana - who with the recent release of Abraxas were increasingly popular and The Flock were also well received. The Flock are a great band - Jerry Goodman's violin driven rock.

With the schedule now hopelessly overrun, headliners Led Zep pulled rank and went on at around 8.30pm. They were hot and heavy, John Bonham aggressive and charged, and Jimmy Page using his bow. Their legend was growing in the USA thanks to a series of storming live shows and the band knew this was an opportunity to bring their UK profile up to speed. They opened with a debut for Immigrant Song and were a huge hit, playing five encores.

The gig is regarded as a key point in their career, which makes it frustrating that little decent footage survives. Ironically, that was in large part down to the heavy handed tactics of their own management. Peter Grant and the boys, as was their way at the time, confiscated various tapes and pulled film out of cameras. It was a big missed commercial opportunity,

However, Led Zep certainly got their timing right, as the rain was not long off. Hot Tuna followed Zeppelin with a blinding set, notably on the wild soloing of You Wear Your Dresses Too Short. Next on, Country Joe got a rousing reception for the Fish Cheer.

Jefferson Airplane, on stage at about 2.30am, were 50 minutes into a superb set – The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil was as soaring vocal performance and featured a killer solo from Jorma Kaukonen – when rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner got an electric shock from a rain-soaked mike.

They went off, and the Moody Blues didn’t come on. The Byrds, however, were made of sterner stuff and played an acoustic set – their first ever. They played for two hours-plus in the rain, classic after classic, from opener It’s All Right Ma through The Ballad Of Easy Rider to Wasn’t Born To Follow, they entertained until their fingers were shredded. Those who were still awake got a set from Doctor John, and the marathon was over.

For sheer quality of bands, both West Coast visitors and homegrown British talent, you could not say fairer than Bath 1970. So many of the bands that had played Woodstock, which had already passed into legend, were there. Seminal performances from Led Zep, Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane ensure that it will be talked of for a long time yet; it is just a shame there is not more footage out there for later generations to enjoy. Had there been so, undoubtedly this is one fest that would have passed into folklore as one of the biggest and best of all time in the UK. There have been occasional tantalizing snippets of goss about a documentary, though… Here’s hoping…

Free Stuff

Tim Buckley – Happy Sad

Originally released in 1969, this was Tim’s third album and the first he wrote all the lyrics for. It’s wistful and folky and jazzy and really quite magnificent. Produced by Jerry & Zal out of the Lovin’ Spoonful it actually feels a bit like a very spaced out and more literate version of the Spoonful with added vibraphone.
Buckley’s voice is as rich and enigmatic as ever and there’s some inspired jamming on it too which invokes an echo of The Dead to my ears.
Stand out track is probably ‘Love from Room 109 at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway) which clocks in at over 10 minutes.
This was his best selling album reaching a lofty 81 on the Billboard charts. I doubt anyone bought it in the UK but as with much of Tim’s work it’s a little gem. One of those albums which when you first hear it you go, wow how have I lived this long without this album. And he looks as cool as anyone you’ve ever seen on the cover.
Here’s a thought is Tim Buckley America’s Nick Drake?
We do a great t-shirt of Tim here.

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

The Dan’s debut album is impossible not to love. Joyous tunes, great harmonies, magnificent riffs and some great solos from Jeff Skunk Baxter and Denny Dias. Less jazzy and more rocky than their later outings, this one is a must have for any collection.

Crosby & Nash – Wind On Water

Recorded in LA with The Section – the best studio musos in the game - along with the likes of James Taylor and Carole King this is uber mid 70s singer/songwriter stuff and the best Cros/Nash collaboration – certainly their favourite one too I think. Carry Me is on this which was a minor hit in America but it’s the title track that has that epic ethereal quality that only their voices can deliver..
I saw Cros in a diner on Pacific Coast Highway last year just outside of Big Sur. I wanted to go up and say thank you man but I thought he must get that all the time so I didn’t. I sort of regret that now.
Anyway, if you dig any of the CSNY work you’ll dig this. Class stuff.

I've got 3 copies of each of these to give away. To win any of these email me with Tim, Dan or C & N in the subject box or any combination of those.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

History Of Festivals 12: Knebworth 1976: Free Blues

Knebworth Festival 1976

The Rolling Stones were booked to play at Knebworth and entered right into the spirit of the ‘Knebworth Fair’ vibe. Earlier in the summer of 1976, they hired two brave souls to dress up in Harlequin outfits – the symbol of the event – and run onto centre court at Wimbledon on finals day with a banner ‘Stones At Knebworth’. Even better, they got two topless girls to do the same at a (televised) Sussex cricket match. That must have caused some choking on pink gins.

The Stones came down to the North Hertfordshire stately home – probably quite to their taste – a few times before the August 21 event, in order to scope the venue out. They were especially keen on the idea of having jugglers and clowns around the place; and also had input into the stage design, which resembled a great big mouth with a long tongue-type walkway jutting out. Sound familiar?

On the Thursday night, the Stones soundchecked, but were interrupted by… an irate Girl Guide leader, who insisted that she had booked part of the park and “her girls” were unable to have a camp fire sing-song due to the racket of their esteemed satanic majesties. The promoter suggested she go and take it up with Mick Jagger. So she marched down to the stage, grabbed Mick by the arm and bellowed: “Young man, this noise must stop. My girls can't hear themselves sing.”

Sir Mick suggested that she “f*ck off”, as you would, but they make Girl Guide leaders out of tough stuff, it seems, as the world’s biggest rock and roll band stopped nevertheless.

1976 was that incredible hot summer, and promoter Freddie Bannister and owner/lady of the manor Chryssie Cobbold – who has written an excellent book on the Knebworth Festivals – expected many more than the 100,000 ticketed punters to turn up to see the Stones and five other bands: 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Hot Tuna, and the Don Harrison Band. Queen were originally booked to headline but got shunted when Mick and Keef fancied Knebworth – Freddie and company would show they could rock it outdoors with their superb Hyde Park show a month later.

The Don Harrison Band opened and found the crowd unmoved by their Credence-ish bayou rock, although that summer’s single ‘Sixteen Tons’ was a belter. Technical difficulties meant that there was a two-hour delay before Hot Tuna – Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady’s band formed as an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane – came on. They didn’t play many gigs outside of the US and were well received, as was the eccentric Todd Rundgren, who closed with a storming take on The Move’s ‘Do Ya’. At this time todd was emerging from his dense proggy rock and into shorter, snappy rock on Ooops Wrong Planet and the grandiose visions of Ra, both of which were to be released the following year. Todd, a still largely unsung genius of rock n roll was to return in 1979 for the Zeppelin gig. But the real highlight was to come next.

Lynyrd Skynyrd were awesome. The Knebworth version of ‘Free Bird’ has gone done as an absolute classic, and it’s easy to see why. Check out some excellent You Tube footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test (presented by Annie Nightingale when she was just plain old Anne, according to the credits. Wonder what happened with the name change?) It’s just totally blinding stuff – sad and heartfelt to start, then that lovely wailing guitar. The crowd are swaying a bit, sort of blessed out. Then it all goes off. Singer Ronnie Van Zandt, the archetype of hard-riding Southern rock in T-shirt and cowboy hat, drinking JD – takes to the front of the stage, down to the tip of the tongue bit, and apparently in direct contravention with the express instructions of Herr Jagger, who didn’t want anyone muscling in on his tongue action, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, so Ronnie goes back to the band and, arms around guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, leads them to the front of the stage for some of the most tremendous duelling, barnet shaking, jumping up in the air balls out rocking you will ever see. Skynyrd new-boy and rhythm man Steve Gaines joins in and the three guitarists tear it up. It should be mentioned at this point that bass player Leon Wilkeson is banging away on his bass wearing a policeman’s helmet. Artimus Pyle’s drums pound along, Billy Powell’s keys soar, three hot backing singers add to the raunch.

That passion and energy and virtuoso soloing above the chunky, totally simple blues riff… anyone who has ever yearned for a good time, or wanted someone or something really badly and been ready to fight for it: here it is expressed in pure thumping rock form.

For the obvious reasons, there’s always a bittersweet feeling when you see a band like Skynrd back in the day. Of the four rocking out on Mick Jagger’s stage lip, three are gone now – Ronnie and Steve in the 1977 plane crash, Allen from complications of the 1986 car crash that paralysed him.

Following Lynyrd Skynyrd on this Saturday would have been a tough ask for anybody and maybe 10cc with their blend of smart, wry, poppy rock were not the best choice. Their double live album proves just what a kick ass live band they were but they were beset by technical difficulties to boot and took two hours to get on stage. ‘I’m Not In Love’ went down a treat, but the organisers were by now seriously nervous, as the event was badly over-running.

The Stones started playing at 11.30pm – half an hour after the event was supposed to end. The crowd were drunk and tired and rowdy, but a few bars into ‘Satisfaction’, it was clear that this was going to be a good night for the Stones. Ronnie Wood, not long in the band, had given them even more impetus, driving them along and providing a sort of warmth and humour on stage that acted as the perfect foil to Mick’s high-energy sex appeal. They played a long, fine show with plenty of classics – ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ were standouts.

Looking at the footage, it makes you think how they were playing, really, to a new generation of fans, lads who were in the sandpit when ‘It’s All Over Now’ came out. But they were still the supreme entertainers, brilliantly paced and perfectly delivered. Could say the same even 32 years on from that, I guess. But excellent though the Stones were, the day belonged to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and there’s not many that can say, as Artimus did, that “they blew The Stones off the stage that day”.

Free Stuff

We’re in a blues mood this week with four great albums to win. Now, I’ve noticed a little drop off in the amount of people entering the weekly draw for free stuff, possibly because you think you’ll never win. Well, as we’ve never had more albums to giveaway, your odds are considerably better, so why not give it a go?

John Mayall: Turning Point

This is a great 2 CD set. The original album is actually a soundtrack from a 25 minute live film of the same name, which I’ve never seen and doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.
Anyway, recorded live at the Fillmore East in 1969 without a drummer, this is a different kind of Bluesbreakers record; much stripped down.
The original album is here plus 3 extra live tracks from the same gig and a load of interviews too.
We do a great John Mayall shirt here. You should buy one!

Gary Moore: Back To The Blues

Does exactly what it says on the cover. Gary turns up, wails the blues and goes home. I know some don’t like his blues, others prefer it to his hard rock, I love it all primarily because I love the tone he gets. Huge power but lyrical somehow.
We do a stonking Gary More t-shirt from the After The War tour here. You need one of them!

Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits

A classic album all on its own, it rolls all Janis’ special moments into one ten track album. Best track? Down On Me with Big Brother; riotous, spine-tingling stuff.
Have you seen our Janis T-shirt here?

Eric Clapton: Live In The Seventies

I have all Clapton’s 70s albums and my favourite has always been EC Was Here, so you’re getting the best of 70s EC solo on this I reckon.

The best stuff on here is the 2 Blind Faith tracks Presence Of The Lord and Can’t Find My Way Home, though a superb arrangement of Ramblin’ On My Mind pushes both of them on which Capton jus keeps calling out key changes and the band slide right into it. Hugely impressive to a shambling guitarist such as myself.

Our Clapton shirt captures him in the early 70s here.

I’ve got the of each of these to give away so if you fancy owning one email me with your name and address and put Mayall, Moore, Clapton or Janis in the subject box – or any combo of those that you’d like a chance to win.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reading Festival 1973: Free Testament, Dio and Hendrix

The Reading And Leeds Festivals of today are the UK’s longest-running events of their type, and evolved out of the National Jazz And Blues Festival, which was born all the way back in 1961. Not much jazz on the bill these days and, in truth, by the early 1970s it was on the outs – although there was a brief outbreak of syncopation in 1973 with the cultish booking of the stripey jacketed libertine George Melly.

But the 1973 event at Reading, the subject of our retrospective this week, was a significant event in the history of UK (and Irish) rock for several reasons. It saw Rory Gallagher at the top of his game, Rod and The Faces when it was clear that the former had outgrown, (if that’s the word for a man who would two years later release ‘Sailing’) the latter, as well as foreshadowing the rock-fan-as-intimidating-wide-boy vibe of the later Seventies with the football-scarf wearing Faces fans.

It also featured Genesis who were by now fully immersed in their revolutionary, pastural progressive rock , the tremendous Commander Cody, Pete York back with Spencer Davis and, of course, heads down, no-nonsense boogie from The Quo.

The event, as the National Jazz And Blues Festival, was organised by Harold Pendleton, the manager of The Marquee Club where the Stones played their first gig and which would go on to have such significance in the Punk movement. This was the third year at the Reading site and organisation was pretty solid. The crowd a mixure of hairy students in trench coats with their girlfriends in Afghans and wild-haired sheet metal workers on the drink looking to head bang themselves to oblivion. Rightly so.

The late August three-dayer was an eclectic mixture, with less hard rock than punters had been accustomed to, and a not insignificant smattering of folk. Poor Tim Hardin, bloated and sick, played his ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ but found not all of the crowd as benign as his legendary performance of the same song at Woodstock. The endlessly inventive John Martyn, whose brilliant and sad, career-defining ‘Solid Air’ - the title track written for and about Nick Drake of course - had been released a few months previously, also put on a strong show with little more than an acoustic guitar and an echoplex....and the genius of Danny Thmpson on the double bass.

George Melly, that great English eccentric was also booked and proved a hit, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, his blend of trad jazz and bonkers-ness going over well with a rock crowd not necessarily predisposed to outsized, camp jazz singers. Chris Barber - the legendary jazzer also played.

Reading has never been a festival especially noted for its broad taste. I remember going there in 1994, and seeing Ice Cube (!) last but one on the Saturday – near 15 years before the hoo-ha about whether Jay Z was an appropriate Glastonbury headliner. The crowd, and the former NWA frontman, really didn’t know what to make of each other. Reading, of course, is also famous for its bottling off of, well, almost anyone really. Apparantly the ones that really hurt are the ones full of still-warm bladder contents. Poor old Bonnie Tyler. And 50 Cent. You shouldn’t laugh.

Anyway, back to 1973, and the crowd wanted to see blues rock, and that is what Rory Gallagher gave them on the Friday night. The Cork man was on peak form, full of energy and drive – and unseen material from his forthcoming Tattoo album. He was without doubt the Friday highlight, and maybe the weekend as a whole. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen gave great value with their rockabilly, especially on that excellent monument to low times in the highlife, ‘Down To Seeds And Stems Again’.

Cometh the Saturday, cometh The Quo. In the special guest role, they opened for Rod and company. Rossi and Parfitt were well on their way by then – ‘Piledriver’ had set the formula for their hard boogie sound that would propel them into the strata of the rock super-rich. In fact, it was the album released just a few weeks after Reading, September’s ‘Hello!’ that would give them their first UK album number one.

Saturday night’s headliners were Rod and The Faces, the biggest draw of the weekend – and the magnet for a huge group of football scarf-wearing fans. Clad in Tartan scarf, Rod The Mod opened up by kicking footballs into the crowd as he always did. Laddishness was in full force as per usual but though The Faces were a fine band, and one of the best live acts of the era, this maybe was not one of their best gigs.

They had been together for the best part of four years by then, and superstardom was beckoning for their Rodney, whose solo career – 1971 saw him achieve massive success with ‘Maggie May’ and 1972's utterly brilliant album Never A Dull Moment(one of rocks' forgotten classics) – was eclipsing that of the band, even though, ironically, the Faces played on most of his solo stuff anyway. The summer of '73 saw the release of his greatest hits Sing It Again Rod - the cover was a die cut whiskey glass - The Faces were a beer drinking band, but Rod was already on the shorts - that was how it was seen by the rock press at the time anyway. Like drinking shorts and wine is a socially aspirational way to get mullered!

Nevertheless, it was a decent show – and, in terms of the fans, their vibe and the attitude – a good example of how the rock and roll aesthetic would later mutate into a punk sneer

Very much not punk at all were Sunday night’s headliners, Genesis. An immensely elaborate stage set took over two hours to put up, but eventually Peter Gabriel appeared in that mad ‘pyramid-with-eyes’ thing that heralded their magnificent Arthur C Clarke-inspired ‘Watcher Of The Skies’. Little green men aside, though, these were serious musicians, at a ceative peak, and they put on a fine, layered musical feast.

As the festival program of the day declared of Gabriel, “there’s got to be something spiritual, perhaps evil, about a man who has got seven cats.” And indeed there probably is.

Melody Maker called their show “startling”, but they was plenty more to them than just the portentous stage sets. They played ‘The Musical Box’, ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’ and ‘Supper’s Ready’, which came in at a punchy 23 minutes. This was Genesis as pioneers of new music; a staggeringly original period for the band as they set about creating a brand new aural experience.

So that was Reading 1973: gay jazz singers, football scarves, Gabriel on alien invasion and Rory playing the living daylights out of a battered Strat. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.
There's a live album of the show but its a bit inadequate really, featuring Rory doing Hands Off - brilliant, Strider, Greenslade, Quo, The Faces, Andy Bown, Lesley Duncan and Tim Hardin.

The full line up across the three days was this;

A J Webber who?
Alex Harvey SAHB released Next this year - a stone cold classic album
Alquin eh?
Andy Bown - top notch jazz rocker now forgotten
Ange - never 'eard of ya
Capability Brown - a great Charisma label band who did Tull-ish style rock. Did a great cover of Rare Bird's Sympathy and The Dan's Midnite Cruiser.
Chris Barber Band - 50s jazzer
Clare Hammill - she was from Middlesbrough you know. Wasn't she later bizarrely in some weird incarnation of Wishbone Ash?
Commander Cody - whacko rockabilly outfit with great album covers.
Dave Ellis - anonymous Dave as we like to call him.
Embryo - if you say so lads
Faces - the famous Faces
Fumble - nah don't know them
Genesis - ah yes
George Melly - goodness me
Greenslade - Greenslade were great keyboard led prog and even had Roger Dean album covers. Dave Greenslade went on to do loads of TV theme music.
Jack the Lad - spin off from Lindisfarne. Beer, fiddles and sing-a-longs. Excellent.
Jimmy Horowitz Orchestra - who he?
Jimmy Witherspoon - old blues man
Jo'Burg Hawk -Another Charisma label band. From South Africa
John Hiseman's Tempest - Ah the beginnings of jazz rock fusion here with Holdsworth on the first album and I think Clem Clempson on the second. Great for noodle lovers.
John Martyn and Danny Thompson - stoned immaculate I should think.
Lesley Duncan - folkyness
Lindisfarne - Geordie folk rock. They were magnificent - their first three albums are classics
Magma - Christian Vander's madness - he inveted his own language!
Mahatma - i'm guessing they were hippies
Medicine Head - long forgotten but excellent duo doing that folk/rock hybrid. They evenhad hit singles.
PFM - Italian prog rock.oh yes. Chocolate Kings is a stunning album - on ELP's Manticore label.
Quadrille - i bet there was four of them
Riff Raff - sounds like a punk band
Rory Gallagher - The Man
Roy Buchanan - legendary telecaster technician. Get his live albums and be amazed
Spencer Davis - R & B old school style
Stackbridge - came on stage with rhubarb for some reason.
Status Quo - Down down deeper and down
Stray Dog Stray were a great band. Not sure who Stray Dog were though
Strider - 2nd division-coming-to-your-local-small-venue-every 6-months type touring rock band. Good but not great
Tansavallian Presidency - if you say so squire.
Tim Hardin - folk legend.

Free Stuff

This week I've got nine copies of Testament's 2005 Live In London album to give away.

I've got 6 copies of Dio's 1996 album Angry Machine

Finally, I have 6 DVD's of the 1973 biographical film 'Jimi Hendrix' and fascinating stuff it is too with performances from Monterey, Woodstock, The Marquee, Fillmore East and Isle Of Wight plus interviews with Jagger, Townshend and other legends. 98 classic minutes of genius. Not to be missed.

To be put into the draw for these just email me with your address and put Testament, Dio or Hendrix, or any combination of those, in the subject box.