Sunday, February 5, 2012

Melody Maker, May 1971

It's May 1971, Andy Williams is top of the album charts and the front page of the MM announces that the legendary Fillmore rock venues in San Francisco and New York are to close. Promoter Bill Graham says he refuses to pay the increasingly high prices being charged by the top groups for what he sees as a decline in the quality of the music.

The front page on May 8 1971 also has details of a European tour by Rod Stewart & The Faces, including an appearance at the Crystal Palace Garden Party in August.

In the 'Pop 30', Double Barrel by Dave and Ansil Collins retains the top spot but Tony Orlando and Dawn are knocking at the door (or is it the ceiling?). The Stones are at 3, T. Rex's first big hit has peaked. There's some classic singles in there, and this being the singles chart, some odd ones too. The album chart is quite impressive for the sheer number of classic rock albums in the list.

What's interesting at this time is how different the British albums charts are from the US charts. Bands like Three Dog Night, Grand Funk, Chicago, Brewer & Shipley didn't make any impression in the UK. Elton John is obviously making his first breakthrough in the UK at this time (on the back of "Your Song) with three albums in the British charts.

Interesting, then, that on page 8 (below) in MM's news from America, it says that Elton is struggling to sell tickets. "Elton is dead in New York," says an unnamed observer.
Page 8 starts by noting the popularity of the all-girl band Fanny and the news that a film about Jimi Hendrix, called 'Rainbow Bridge' is about to be released. Further down the page , there's a report about The Doors having abandoned all future plans to tour. The report says, "Jim Morrison can be reached right now somewhere in France."  And sadly for Jim, he died there two months later.
Here's a couple of gig reviews from this week

In the letters page, the jury is still out on whether Led Zeppelin's new acoustic direction (on LZ III) is going down well with the fans. "Please leave the gentle songs to people like The Strawbs," says one. Further down, Stevie Wonder is referred to as an "abominable popcorn merchant". On the left of the page, John Peel gets a kicking for his criticism of Deep Purple. The letter says, "By dismissing groups like Deep Purple, ELP and more recently CSN&Y and at the same time applauding musical dullards like Medicine Head, Bridget St. John, Ron Geesin, Brinsley Schwartz etc, John Peel is influencing the hard-core of his non-musical followers with his worthless opinions."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Live music in NYC and a night with John Lennon

There is so much live music to enjoy in New York City that if I had to choose one place to live, this would be it.  

There have been times when I haven't been able to choose between two gigs in New York, but by going to an early evening show I have been able to get across town to see the other one too. You can do these things when you travel on your own. 

So, on my most recent visit, in October 2011, I saw one of the shows in the month-long season at the Blue Note jazz club in honour of Chick Corea. This one featured John McLaughlin. I then took a taxi ride a few short blocks across to see the lovely Shawn Colvin, one of my favourite singers, at the City Winery.

On another night, I went to see Robben Ford playing at BB King's club on 42nd St, and then hopped on the subway downtown to catch the late show by Kevin Eubanks at the Blue Note (by the way, you can see clips from all of these shows by clicking on the video bar on my blog page). 

In 2010, I witnessed a unique show in celebration of John Lennon's life and music. It was billed as ‘The Fab Faux present A Night In The Life’. If you have heard them at all, you will know the Fab Faux, led by session legend Will Lee, recreate the Beatles songs extremely faithfully.

I had seen the show advertised on the web, when I did my usual pre-trip check of what's on. This is the same trip where I saw the open-air show by Zappa Plays Zappa at the unveiling of an FZ statue In Baltimore. For the Lennon show, the added attraction was the venue, Radio City Music Hall, a marvellous Art Deco theatre in midtown Manhattan.

The show started boldly with Tomorrow Never Knows, the band successfully recreating the tape effects and vocal distortions (using a megaphone) of the original. The Fab Faux's attention to detail is legendary; the resonating guitar intro to 'I Feel Fine' was perfectly executed; flutes were present and correct at the end of 'You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away'.

Equally impressive was their ability to convey an intensity to match Lennon’s original performances. In particular, drummer Rich Pagano did a convincing job on the ‘Mama don’t go, Daddy come home’ section of 'Mother'.

Augmented by the Hogshead Horns and the Crème Tangerine strings, the Fabs got the measure of the psychedelic (trippy strings on 'I Am The Walrus') and the abstract (Happiness Is A Warm Gun). The Nutopia Choir added gorgeous backing to 'Across The Universe' and an immaculate 'Instant Karma'. The show reached a final crescendo with 'Revolution' followed by A 'Day In The Life' (see the clip below).

Had he lived it's possible John may not have attained such musical heights again. But I think he would have been a force for positive change in other ways. In any case, it was emotional, to see these classic songs brought to life and to be reminded that their creator was such an amazing and unique talent. 

Here is the complete set list:

Tomorrow Never Knows  /   Whatever gets you through the night  /  Nowhere Man
Across The Universe  /   I’m A Loser  /  Come Together  /  Norwegian Wood  / I Feel Fine
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away  /  Watching The Wheels   /   Strawberry Fields Forever  /   
No Reply  /  Happiness Is A Warm Gun  /  Rain  /  Cold Turkey  / I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Interlude: The (original) Quarrymen: Maggie Mae

Working Class Hero   /  Mother /  Power To The People   /   Instant Karma   /   Because
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite  /  Help!  /   Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds   /  Jealous Guy   /    
Mind Games  /  I Am The Walrus  / Yer Blues /   In My Life  /  Imagine  / Revolution  /   A Day In The Life

Encore: All You Need Is Love  /  Give Peace A Chance

 In Central Park West, across the road from the Dakota Building, is a small area dedicated to John, Strawberry Fields.