Sunday, August 31, 2014

At home with the Lennons, 1967

Another picture of domesticity, but one that was to come to an end soon afterwards. It is the Spring of 1967 and John Lennon is putting his feet up at the family home he shared with first wife Cynthia and their son Julian in Weybridge, Surrey.  Surrounded by the traditional framed pictures and ornaments are the tell-tale signs of someone who has turned on to a new way of life, but has not quite let go of the old one. He's reading a copy of the counter-culture newspaper International Times and the cabinets are festooned with promotional stickers for Captain Beefheart's new album.
John's mind was clearly miles away from here. But while Paul McCartney was living in the heart of London, close to Abbey Road studios, John was cut off from all that and was going through what Cynthia described as his 'neurotic phase'. She said, "He didn't know where his life was going and he was fed up with being a Beatle. He'd spend a lot of his time in bed with a notepad. When he woke up he'd write a few words down and then maybe go over to the piano. He was basically dropping out. Everything he was doing outside the home was pretty high-powered."
As Derek Taylor attested, John also seemed to spend a lot of time taking acid, even once remarking one morning, as he was driving Taylor in his psychedelic Rolls Royce, that he had it for breakfast. 1967 marked a real turning point for The Beatles. Having unveiled their crowning achievement as a band, Sgt Pepper, in June, they had shed the final layers of their moptop image and were in full experimental mode musically. Though they were forced to keep the whole Beatle gravy train on the rails, they had become disillusioned with it all. They had stopped touring, so it was only in the studio where they were still in any sense a band. As it was, they "battled on against overwhelming oddities" through 1967 and 68 with Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album. John's pursuit of something to make sense of his life brought about his fateful meeting with Yoko, the encounter that would lead him to, as he said, "break up a happily married state of boredom". In the meantime, the Beatles sought spiritual enlightenment from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
with son Julian, 1967
As Philip Norman writes in his biography of Lennon: "All four Beatles, kaftaned and beaded, sat at the yogi's feet to listen to his Buddhist wisdom. This was mysticism in an easily digested, tabloid form, instantly appealing to young earthly gods for whom real self-denial was unthinkable. His route to spiritual regeneration involved no special training, no memorising of complex prayers or incantations, and next to no personal inconvenience. It was bliss without the effort. "John wanted to take Yoko, but since the pilgrimage included wives, he had no choice but to take Cynthia. They stayed in a village on the banks of the River Ganges (Rishikesh) looking towards the snow-flecked Himalayas, though their living conditions were far from spartan. Their bungalows had hot water and western plumbing, and a handful of two-rupee notes bought extra home comforts, from chocolate bars to booze and hash. For all the Beatles, it was an enforced slowdown from the lunatic pace that had not let up for seven years, since they left Liverpool for Hamburg and their careers suddenly took off. Day after day, there was nothing to do but sit and think.
"John seemed happy, strumming guitars with Paul and George in the balmy sunshine and even holding hands with Cynthia. She was convinced their difficult marriage was entering a new phase of companionship and mutual tolerance. What she didn't know was that John was all the time receiving postcards from Yoko, which his minders had strict orders to forward to him in plain brown envelopes so she would suspect nothing. Often they consisted of a single thought, in Yoko's tiny, arty script: 'Watch for me - I'm a cloud in the sky.'"

Laserium - the Planetarium for stoners

In a galaxy far, far away, there existed a time when UK rock music fans could treat themselves to an evening at The London Planetarium for what was described as 'The new cosmic laser rock concert'. It was a fairly simple concept - take a bunch of rock and classical tracks and set them to entertaining laser visuals. Sit everyone down in a darkened room and project the images on the Planetarium dome. It was, of course, tailor-made for anyone who happened to have smoked a jazz woodbine or two before the show. The music, a mix of American rock (Joe Walsh, the Doobie Brothers), popular classical music (The Planets, the Blue Danube) and generous helpings of prog rock (Yes, ELP, Utopia, Genesis). I went to the London show on two or three occasions in the late 70s and also went to a one in New York around the same time (which I seem to recall was called the 'Eye See The Light Show'). The Laserium idea was actually developed in 1973 by an American filmmaker, Ivan Dryer. The Laserium shows  played in 46 cities worldwide and were viewed by over 20 million people. The Los Angeles show continued until 2002, a run of 28 years. It was great fun and a real treat to hear the music played through a good sound system too.

I have managed to find some footage from the original shows, including this one, the pening number of the 'Laserock' show, Automation Horroscope, by Nektar

Although the original shows at the London Planetarium only lasted for a while, from about 1977, the Laserium franchise is still going, though they tend to held in larger theatres nowadays in special events. Here's some vintage footage of those early Laserium shows and how they were put together.

And here is a radio advert for the London Planetarium show:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

At home with the Bolans, 1971

For a time in 1971 and 1972, before he was overshadowed by Bowie and the other Glam Rock bandwagon jumpers, Marc Bolan was unquestionably Britain's biggest pop star. In my archive I found these black and white photos which capture Bolan and his T. Rex band mates Mickey Finn, Steve Currie and Bill Legend as they are about to release the album Electric Warrior.
The photos were taken by Kieron "Spud" Murphy, who was also responsible for the original photo used as the image for the cover of Electric Warrior. The original photo, taken at Albert Hall, Nottingham on 14 May 1971, can be seen on the wall behind Bolan in the band photo. These interior photos and the colour photo here were all taken at the flat in Clarendon Gardens, Maida Vale, London, where Marc lived with his wife June Child. The band photo with Marc in the foreground was available as a poster with the album and has since been used as a gatefold sleeve and on the cover of a T. Rex greatest hits album.
Following on from the success of Hot Love, the Electric Warrior album contained the hits Get It On and Jeepster, which cemented Bolan's new rock style and created the greatest teen music craze since Beatlemania. But not everyone was taken in by Bolan's new direction. John Peel said his friendship with Marc and June effectively ended because Peel refused to play the new T. Rex single when it arrived at Radio One. He didn't specify which single it was, but having been such a fan of Tyrannosaurus Rex, he had to ask himself whether he would have played the record if he and Marc were not friends. He concluded that he wouldn't have.
It may seem strange, given that those early T. Rex songs were pretty good, that Peel would take that stance. But he obviously felt that Bolan had sold his soul to the screaming hordes. Whatever the merits of Marc's new direction, it was a hugely successful one and in 1972 the run of hits continued with Telegram Sam, Metal Guru, Children of the Revolution, Solid Gold Easy Action and 20th Century Boy. That he wasn't able to sustain it shouldn't detract from the sheer quality of his output in 1971 and 72. It's a wonderful legacy.  But as the photographer in the colour shot here (who is not credited so I can't name him/her) says, Marc was extremely vain and convinced of his own genius. Combine that with copious amounts of cocaine and it's not hard to see why he was destined for a short time at the top.

Here is a live studio version of Jeepster which I think captures the excitement of the T. Rex sound at the time. There's some contemporary footage included at the end of the video too.

and here's a version of Life's A Gas from the Electric Warrior album

and while we're celebrating this music, let's have some more. Probably my favourite of the 1972 singles. And Mickey Finn is a riot on this.

Here's an article from the Daily Telegraph that summarises Marc's life and career, warts and all: