Thursday, 21 May 2020

My old David Bowie RCA CDs - the only ones of value

Probably the only CDs I have of any monetary value are the five David Bowie albums from the batch released in the mid 1980s, and then withdrawn by RCA after they lost the rights to the Bowie catalogue.

I haven't played them for years, since my born-again vinyl conversion. Well I've just played the Ziggy CD and blow me, it sounds great!

That got me thinking: I wonder if their stock has risen, or whether they are just worthless bits of plastic, like most CDs.

I searched online and discovered there is no end of discussion on the relative merits of the German and Japanese RCA Bowies (Nerd fact: mine are the German versions ). Also, it turns out the RCAs have stood the test of time in terms of being faithful to the original vinyl, because subsequent versions messed with the formula.

As one reviewer on Amazon commented, "the original RCA Bowie CDs from the 1980s were lambasted at the time as sub-par, but actually did a pretty good job of staying faithful to the sound of the original LPs. They have held up very well in light of the reissues that followed: the anemic and overly bright Ryko reissues of the late 1980s and the bloated, heavily compressed Virgin/EMI remasters of the late `90s, which remain the standard versions available today.

Oh gawd 
"However, it was the 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust that represented the nadir of all Bowie remasters: it sounded worse than even the '90s EMI remaster; worse yet, it actually removed portions of the music and reversed the stereo channels."  Bowie himself said the CD remaster sounded 'weedy'.

OK, so while that makes the case for the original vinyl even stronger, it should at least make these RCA CDs more collectible.

From a quick scan of various blogs and online resellers, it appears each of the CDs is worth at least $100 (US) and perhaps more given they are in good condition.

But hey, it's not about the money! What pleases me the most is they actually sound really good.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Music while you work - Lockdown special

I'm sure many people are having trouble adjusting to the reality of Social Distancing and Working From Home (WFH). This lockdown has made us all think much more about how we structure our lives and what's important to us. Ironically, as it unfolds, we are discovering new ways to communicate. Being forced to isolate has actually brought us together.

Working from home certainly has its advantages - it can actually make you more productive, as long as you keep the distractions to a minimum. Easier said than done, but I'm living proof that it's possible.

One key component in the balancing act is music, so I've put together some suggestions for how music can make the home/work situation more enjoyable.

My working life in the last 20 years has involved extended periods of travel, mostly around Asia, followed by several weeks of relative isolation in my workroom in Auckland, New Zealand.

At home, I've got plenty to distract me - guitars, big TV and hi-fi all within easy reach. So it's important for me to have structure and to build the distractions formally into the day. So, for example, a 10 minute break, morning and afternoon, for some reading and guitar practice. 

In a home/work environment, some music sits better than others. If what I'm doing doesn't require too much creative concentration, I'll go for something tuneful and engaging. In most cases, where I'm writing, it's music without a beat. As a drummer in another life, I find it hard not to home in on the beat and if I've got rock or funk music going on in the background, that's definitely a distraction - something to put on in the middle or at the end of the working day.


If you want to have some music going on, but nothing too distracting, ambient music is ideal.

Maybe 15 years ago I put together a lot of what were then known as 'chill-out' music playlists, including soundscapes from the likes of Kruder & Dorfmeister (The K&D Sessions), albums like Mark Isham's Vapor Drawings and classic 1970s synthesiser music by Tangerine Dream (the Phaedra, Zeit, Rubicon albums), plus film music such as Lalo Schifrin's sountrack to Bullitt, the 1980s French film Diva and Brian Eno's Apollo Atmosphere & Soundtracks.

I bought all the Buddha-Bar boxes and found most of their CD Ones were suitable as background for a work situation, while the CD Twos were better for the gym.

But that stuff paled after a while - or maybe there just wasn't enough of it that rose above the mediocre; too many 'Spirit of Asia' and similarly-named cheap-but-exotic compilations.

I kept coming back to one consistent source of ambient quality, the San Francisco radio station Hearts of Space. Their soundscapes are designed mainly for stoners and those seeking transcendence, I imagine, but they are also suitable for the home worker who likes their ambient sounds to be on the cosmic side. I highly recommend it.
The Hearts Of Space website - slow music for fast times

Here's a link that shows their various ambient music sub-genres:

Their slogan is Slow Music For Fast Times. Their shows are all themed and typically last around 40 minutes to an hour. There are free programmes and a subscription streaming service.

The quality of the music, to these ears, is always high and they have the added bonus of chief DJ Stephen Hill, otherwise known as The Voice of God.

This was the very first Hearts of Space show that I heard back in 1990s - Drifter, which gives you a good idea of what to expect:

Alternatively, for a more varied ambient menu, you could try Flow State, a service that sends out two hours of ambient work-friendly music every weekday. Artists they’ve highlighted include Johann Johannsson, Khruangbin, David Borden, Steve Reich, and Ludovico Einaudi.

ECM Records

Acoustic, contemplative, analogue ambient music. My collection of ECM records is mostly on vinyl and is largely from the label's classic period in the 1970s, when it still had people like Chick Corea and Pat Metheny on its roster. My favourite ECM artist is Ralph Towner, such a beautiful and uplifting guitarist, whatever mood you're in.

ECM's catalogue, especially from that era, is music that bears repeated listening over many years. ECM has been described as 'the most beautiful sound next to silence'. What separates it from run-of-the-mill new age doodling is the quality of the composition, the playing and the recording.

The constant factor in the 'ECM sound' is Talent Studios in Oslo, Norway, where most of the classic albums were recorded by sound engineers Jan Erik Kongshaug and Martin Wieland. The catalogue is huge but here are some recommendations based on my own collection:

ECM - the most beautiful sound next to silence
John Abercrombie/Ralph Towner - Sargasso Sea
Gary Burton/Steve Swallow - Hotel Hello
Gary Burton Quintet - Ring
Chick Corea/Gary Burton - Crystal Silence
Chick Corea - Return To Forever
Egberto Gismonti - Sol Do Meio Dia
Charlie Haden/Jan Garbarek - Magico
Zakir Hussain - Making Music
Keith Jarrett - My Song / Belonging
Keith Jarrett - Nude Ants
Pat Metheny Group / Offramp / First Circle
Enrico Rava - The Plot
Ralph Towner - Diary / Solstice
Ralph Towner -  Solo Concert
Ralph Towner/Gary Burton -Matchbook
Eberhard Weber - Fluid Rustle
Kenny Wheeler - Gnu High

The Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays album 'As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls' is another wonderfully sequenced LP that evokes various moods but which is again varied and largely uplifting. But it can also be contemplative, if listened to away from your desk.

Acoustic guitar music

I can get enjoyment from it as a pure listening experience, but it can also float around behind me while I work.

There's a lot of really good acoustic guitar music around, but I'm definitely old school. I tend to listen to the technically gifted folk players from the past, such as Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, John Fahey, Stefan Grossman and Leo Kottke, with the odd exception like kiwi guitar genius Nigel Gavin.

Recommended while you work:
Anne Briggs - The Time Has Come
John Fahey - Of Rivers & Religion
Stefan Grossman - Guitar Instrumentals (Memphis Jellyroll)
Michael Hedges - Aerial Boundaries
The Bert Jansch Sampler
Pentangle - Sweet Child
The John Renbourn Sampler
Alan Stivell - Reflections
Nigel Gavin - Visitation

Guitar legend John McLaughlin is making his latest album with Indian musicians Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir Hussain available free on bandcamp. Could be just the thing as background music while you work. Here's the link:


Some people take inspiration or motivation from their background music. Depending on where I am with a project, or how much focus I need to have on the work, I might put on some jazz in the background.

The Japanese author Huraki Murakami says he almost always works listening to music. Murakami used to own a jazz bar in Tokyo and has at least 10,000 vinyl records, mostly jazz. He has a nice work life situation too, as you can see below.
Murakami's study room
My collection ranges from the gentler ECM records to things like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and the classic Mahavishnu Orchestra records of the 1970s. It's all over the place really. Weather Report, jazz fusion stuff, big bands. I've got a fair bit of jazz funk too, so it really depends on what kind of a mood I'm in.

I'm less likely to put on those more 'out there' records during work hours, though.
Jazz - all great albums regardless of the situation

Here's a list of jazz recordings I'll play while I work:
Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else
Ron Carter - All Blues
John Coltrane- Blue Train
Chick Corea - Piano Improvisations Vol 1 and 2
Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
Miles Davis - Jack Johnson
Kevin Eubanks - Spirit Talk 1 & 2
Bill Evans Trio - Portrait in Jazz
Stan Getz - Reflections
Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage / Empyrean Isles
Charles Mingus - Tijuana Moods
Modern Jazz Quartet - Blues at Carnegie Hall
Wes Montgomery - So Much Guitar
Steps Ahead

Other things

The closest thing to rock music I will play during work time would be Santana, classic era stuff which means the peerless trilogy of Caravanserai, Welcome and Borboletta.

I hope you get something out of these working from home tips. It's a great lifestyle if you can work your other passions into the daily mix. It looks like we are all going to have plenty of opportunity to experiment with the concept as this whole lockdown plays out.

Here's an interesting take on what working home might mean post-COVID19

Keep calm and stay safe, wherever you are. Enjoy the music.
On the stereo, Fripp & Eno. On the TV, Joni Mitchell's Shadows & Light.
The guitars are by Sigma, Taylor and Seagull
See also: Pat Metheny - live in 2020 and back in time

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Pat Metheny - Live in 2020 and way back in time

It is a rare thing to find an individual musician who can move effortlessly from gentle acoustic playing to frenetic and 'challenging' jazz freak-outs. Over his long career, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has explored many different musical landscapes and he manages to find a purety of expression in each of them.

He is best known for his work with the Pat Metheny Group, which for many years included his closest musical partners, pianist Lyle Mays, who sadly died last month, and bassist Steve Rodby.

Outside of the group, he has collaborated with vibraphone legend Gary Burton, bassist Charlie Haden and with Chick Corea, among many others. Metheny began recording professionally in the 1970s alongside the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius, another player who had that ability to shift from the tender to the jarring.

Metheny's recorded work is often melodic and played with a distinctive style that once heard is seldom forgotten. But he has also wandered off into darker areas, taking influences from free jazzers like Ornette Coleman. On many of his albums, over the last 20 years especially, there are moments that jolt the listener. He doesn't always play safe and has never been afraid to push the boundaries.

Now 65, he has reached a point where he feels able to revisit some of his most popular tunes, with the help of his three-piece band, consisting of Gwilym Simcock on piano, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums.

For his audience, many of whom are here for the nice tunes, the good news is that Metheny will be playing reasonably familiar material. He told the audience he started out with a short tour two years ago ‘playing the hits’, which he admitted was unusual. It’s gone down so well with audiences, he has just kept going, extending the tour into places like NZ, where he has only been once before in his almost 50 year career.

So the audience on Tuesday in Auckland were treated to a set full of familiar tunes, for those with the Pat Metheny Group albums (songs like Phase Dance, Bright Size Life, Last Train Home, Have You Heard, Better Days Ahead) and the ‘As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls’ album he made with Lyle Mays in 1981, a favourite of mine.

As the concert began, Metheny sat alone at the centre of the stage holding a very strange looking instrument - a many headed monster called a Manzer Pikasso. incorporating 6 and 12 string guitars and various other strings spanning across its body - 42 strings and he utilised them all, to great effect.

The set also featured material from his various collaborations, plus a piece from the solo acoustic album ‘One Quiet Night’. And in the acoustic medley for the encore, there was even a snatch of his one genuine hit ‘This Is Not America’, the song he recorded with David Bowie.
photo: Zed Pics
Metheny is still one of the most accomplished and versatile guitarists I’ve ever seen. I once saw him and the group up-close at the Half Moon pub in Putney (London) playing Ornette Coleman 'tunes' and jazz standards as a warm up for his UK tour. To this day, I don't think I've ever seen a virtuoso musician in that close proximity and it remains one of the most mind-blowing shows I've seen.

If you're in any doubt about his abilities, just check out this short clip promoting the 2020 tour.

His latest band, of quite a different generation to Metheny himself, are energetic and certainly accomplished in their own right, with Simcock proving to be a powerful and nimble-fingered piano player. It was fitting to see his strong performance in the week we lost the great McCoy Tyner.

I was also especially struck with upright bassist Linda Oh, who showed once again how women have come to the fore as bass players in recent years. I’m thinking Esperanza Spalding, Tal Wilkenfeld and Rhonda Smith, in particular. Linda was a delightful presence on the stage and added a particular lyricism on the bass during the more reflective pieces.

photo: Zed Pics
Here, Metheny plays the song Slip Away, accompanied by Oh and Antonio Sanchez.

Sanchez has a percussive approach to the drums; he's a kind of instinctual, reactive drummer in the style of Brian Blade. Impressive. Anyone who has seen the movie Birdman may recall the soundtrack, which was composed and played by Sanchez.

Towards the end of the show, Metheny duetted with each member of the band in turn. He and Sanchez were the last of the duets and began by playing the Metheny tune Question and Answer. But the tune soon became less recognisable as they built up a dissonant crescendo of sound - Metheny playing his guitar synth in a frenzy and Sanchez at the end scraping the edge of his cymbals. It was exciting to watch, but would certainly have freaked out some of the more conservative members of the audience.

Listening to the set, I realised I have a lot more Pat Metheny on various media than I thought, including some on cassette that I haven't listened to for years. These include a wonderful album called 'Beyond The Missouri Sky' recorded in New York in 1996 with bassist Charlie Haden.

Metheny grew up in Missouri and his more reflective acoustic music, of which this is a perfect example, is inspired by the remote and often desolate landscapes of that part of America.

The album also includes the theme music from the movie Cinema Paradiso.
A selection of my music and video featuring Pat Metheny
I have several of Metheny's 1970s and 80s ECM albums on vinyl, which are played fairly regularly. My favourites are a couple of his albums with Gary Burton recorded before he formed the Pat Metheny Group, and a more recent Burton album, Like Minds, where Burton reunited with early collaborators including Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, who had never previously played together.

My other favourite of the ECM era is the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. It features the song September 15th, which pays tribute to one of their heroes, Bill Evans. It's an almost meditative album, full of atmosphere and reflection, while also managing to be uplifting. 

Other regulars from the CD era were Imaginary Day and the live album, The Road To You. The song 'Have You Heard' from that album drew one of the biggest cheers of the night from the Auckland audience. The DVD We Live Here mirrors the material on The Road To You and gives a good illustration of the Pat Metheny Group in the mid 1990s, when they were probably at the height of their popularity.

The other DVD in the collection pictured above is of Joni Mitchell's Shadows and Light tour in 1980, which featured Metheny and Mays alongside Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias on drums and Michael Brecker on saxophone. Metheny plays a fittingly ethereal solo on Joni's song Amelia.

Here's another live beauty - The Gathering Sky, which features a solo by drummer Antonio Sanchez.

In this interview, Metheny talks fondly of working with Bowie.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Memories of seeing The Sex Pistols and The Clash, 1977

New York, 1977 - I did my first trip to America during the 'Summer of Sam'; that was certainly a jolt of reality. A serial killer, Son of Sam, was at large in New York City. There were blackouts, the city was on its knees, virtually bankrupt. It was a dangerous place back then, with vigilante groups policing the subway. It was like being transported into an episode of 'Kojak'.

The search for Son of Sam was a mystery that gripped everyone. The killer, David Berkowitz, taunted police and the media, leaving notes for them at the scene of his crimes. The killings went on for over a year. Local newspapers carried headlines saying no-one was safe in the city. Then, in bizarre circumstances involving a parking fine, Berkowitz was finally caught in August 1977.

While New York was a city on the brink in the '70s - massive potholes even on the most affluent streets - it was still an incredible spectacle for an 18 year-old from England. American culture was the stuff of legend - the books, the music, the language, the architecture, the food - all very different and fascinating back then, in the days before there were even McDonalds restaurants in the UK - before US culture engulfed us all. 

That process of cultural homogenisation began in 1977, with cheap transatlantic travel, thanks to the pioneering Laker Airways. Star Wars was the big hit movie of the summer in the US, but it wasn't until December 1977 that my friends at home finally got to see this movie I had been raving about. The cultural chasm across the Atlantic was so much greater back then. 

While my friends in New York were all listening to Boston, Kansas and Aerosmith, back in the UK, punk had reared its ugly head, just in time to stick two fingers up to one of Britain’s historic events.

"The air turned blue"
Earlier that year in the UK - During the early summer we had the Queen's Silver Jubilee, celebrating her 25 years on the throne. Right in the middle of all that, punk rock hit the headlines and became the alternative jubilee.

The Sex Pistols had been goaded into four-letter infamy on teatime TV in December 1976. The public outrage was intense: "Who are these punks?" said the Daily Mirror. Suddenly we had a new youth cult - a riot of our own!

Although the Pistols were seen as punk's chief provocateurs, their notoriety prevented them from being full-time players on the actual music scene.

After the Today Show controversy, their record company, EMI, severed their contract and concert bookings around the country were cancelled by local councils anxious to avoid having punks raising merry hell on their high streets.

This footage of a Thames riverboat party, where the Pistols performance is cut short by a police raid, shows quite clearly how the Pistols were targeted by the authorities and frustrated at every turn. A young Richard Branson is seen remonstrating with the police before the party is dispersed and Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren is arrested.

Without the Sex Pistols as a regular presence, the punk gig scene was made by bands like The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks and hundreds of others with typically nihilistic names like the Snivelling Shits. They were out there in the clubs, bashing out their songs just as fast and loud as they could - and getting gobbed (spat) on by their frenzied audience. What a time it was to be the frontman in a band.

I wasn't a punk - I never gobbed at anyone. I was just along for the ride, like most teenagers if the truth be told. I did dress up in a black bin liner and spray beer and shaving foam around in my 6th form common room, but that was just part of a 1976 pre-Christmas show skit about punk rockers.

Real punks were in the minority at most gigs; they were the hardcore. Just look at the old film footage. There are more people with long hair and wearing flared jeans than there are actual punks in bondage gear, ripped t-shirts and safety pins through their noses.

Anyway, it wasn't about a uniform way of dressing so much as an attitude, a classic youthful rebellion. And it was exciting going to a gig and having the feeling that things could kick off at any moment.
That nervous energy was palpable at The Clash gig I went to at The Rainbow Theatre in London on 13th December 1977.

Extra security had been brought in, to make sure the punks didn't rip the place apart, as they had done the last time The Clash played there earlier in the year.

The sense of menace was stoked up even further by the skinhead elements that attached themselves to punk gigs and to bands like Sham 69, who played support for The Clash gig at the Rainbow.

Sham were no more menacing than any other punk band, but for some reason they attracted the mindless hooligan elements, and never really shook them off.

The Clash meanwhile, were the real thing, an edgy and more than competent rock band with a rebel image and songs that reflected the bleak outlook for many people in the 1970s. They had the same kind of explosive stage presence as The Who. Not as musical, but spiky and combustible. Their songs were not overly complicated, but that was the ethos, of course. Three chords, no boring solos, three minutes and out.
The Clash at The Rainbow

I remember being impressed by how good they were as a band. Topper Headon especially, who propelled the band in the way all good drummers do.

We were close to the front, nobody stayed in their seats, it was a free-for-all. But security was heavy-handed and people were being beaten. The atmosphere was us-against-them.

The Clash's songs, like White Riot, London's Burning, Career Opportunities and their cover of Police and Thieves reflected this conflict between young people and the authorities, especially in the cities around Britain in those days. The economic environment in the late 1970s was fairly depressing and young people in the inner cities generally felt there was no future. Police brutality and corruption was out of control at this time. The Clash's stance wasn't just a pose in the service of their punk image, they lived it and the devotion of their fans was largely due to the fact that The Clash really did mean it, man!
The Sex Pistols, meanwhile, had lurched from one disastrous record deal, with EMI, to another one with A&M, who dropped the band before the second single God Save The Queen, was even released. A copy of that unreleased single will set you back over £10,000 today.

Virgin Records picked up the Pistols' contract and released God Save The Queen just in time for the celebration of the Queen's Jubilee in the summer of 1977. It was an era-defining moment. A perfectly timed kick up the ass to the older generation.

It was all good clean fun really, even if it was underpinned by real disaffection. But the establishment didn't see it that way.  The Pistols were deemed a menace to society and by mid-1977, they had been run out of nearly every town and city in England. They were public enemy #1 and couldn't get a gig.

Three days after I'd seen The Clash, the Pistols did have a rare gig scheduled at Brunel University in Uxbridge. But it was a totally different experience from the Clash gig.

The Pistols arrive at Brunel University
Brunel was a regular haunt for us in the 70s, as we only lived a few miles away and could get there easily on the underground. The university had two main concert areas, the student union for smaller gigs and all-nighters and the sports barn, a gymnasium that served as an arena, for larger shows. That's where the Pistols played.

This was their first big gig for months, so tickets sold out instantly. It was hot and sweaty inside but there was a great sense of anticipation as we waited for the Pistols to take the stage.

A lot was riding on this for the Pistols. They'd been hyped up by the music press, but there were questions about whether they were still relevant, or had they gone soft?

When they came on stage, the crowd started jumping around - to say they were pogoing is probably a stretch, because it was so crowded in there you couldn't move around much.

In terms of their stage presence, there was a clear difference between the Pistols and The Clash. The Pistols displayed little of the collective nervous energy of The Clash. The focus was very much on Johnny Rotten and, to a lesser extent, their very own cartoon punk, Sid Vicious.

They ran through their set and it was quite fun, for a while, with Rotten giving the crowd what they came for, a large dose of sneering cynicism.

Here's some rough audio of them playing God Save The Queen

Then it just became a bit samey, there was no real tension - no sense of punks against the world. Rotten started to berate the audience for being too tame.
The Sex Pistols at Brunel University
But the nature of the venue and with so many people crammed in, made it a bit of an endurance test for the audience.

And where the Clash were a stage-hardened and reasonably tight band, the Pistols looked a bit laboured in comparison. The Pistols' edgy but typically basic punk rock just felt a bit lame in comparison to the drama and tension generated by The Clash.

Sid's bass was turned right down to mask his shortcomings. Steve Jones gave it plenty of attitude, but really it fell to Johnny Rotten to carry the show on his own.

The NME's Chris Salewicz, reviewing the Pistols at Brunel, said the atmosphere at the gig was one of utter alienation. "The most total lack of empathy between a band and an audience I've ever seen." Maybe the Pistols wanted it that way, he mused.
Like me, Salewicz had just seen the Clash at The Rainbow and noted the contrast of "two utterly polarised extremes of positivism and negativity".

The NME review of The Clash by Cliff White tells you more about his dislike of all the hype around punk (he had a point) than it does about the gig.

I've also pasted here part of the Lester Bangs series of articles about his time on the road with The Clash.
NME's review of The Clash
The Clash review part 2
The Clash continued to evolve as a band. For punk rebels, they played the music business game very well, backed of course by the coffers of major label CBS.

Their cleverly manufactured image as the 'last gang in town' served them well and they worked hard to demonstrate that they believed in what they were doing.

Sadly, The Sex Pistols didn't evolve beyond a short and chaotic US tour. They split up soon after in 1978. McLaren exploited their fame and notoriety by putting together a movie about their rise to fame, The Great Rock N Roll Swindle. Sid became an unlikely pop star in his own right, but it wasn't to be a happy ending for him.

New York City police arrest Sid Vicious
at the Chelsea Hotel on Oct. 13, 1978
New York, 1978 - Holed up in the seedy Chelsea Hotel in New York City with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, feeding their respective heroin habits, Nancy died of stab wounds in what appeared to have been an argument with Sid. Indeed, he confessed to the killing, though he subsequently denied it. But before he could stand trial, he died of an overdose in February 1979.

The more positive and enduring legacy of those early punk days is the music that came later, including The Clash's classic double album London Calling and the various albums John Lydon made as part of Public Image Ltd.

Punk music itself was throw-away and not meant to last, though it's good, now and then, to listen to songs like The Damned's New Rose and those early singles by The Sex Pistols and The Clash, to be reminded what a unique movement it was.

Further viewing:
The Clash - BBC Documentary

Rebel Truce - The History of The Clash

The Sex Pistols - Pretty Vacant, at the Riverboat Party, 1977

The Sex Pistols - A five minute history lesson

More rough audio from Brunel - I Wanna Be Me & Seventeen

The Sex Pistols - Liar, from their legendary show at the Screen On The Green, Islington

The Sex Pistols - Steve, Paul and Glen revisit their old Soho haunts

Monday, 3 February 2020

Little Feat at The Warner Bros Music Show - 1975

I've been thinking of writing about the 1975 Warner Bros Music Show for a while.

Now would seem to be the ideal time, because I've just discovered a recording of the legendary concert at London's Rainbow Theatre, when Little Feat stole the show from headliners The Doobie Brothers.

For once, the legend doesn't lie; they really did blow the headliners off the stage!

To begin at the beginning, this sampler album (59p, how could I refuse?) pointed the way for me, in terms of new musical discoveries in 1975.

The Warner Bros Music Show was released to coincide with a European tour of the same name in January 1975. Each band - The Doobie Brothers, Graham Central Station, Little Feat, Montrose and Tower of Power - were given two tracks on the promo album. As a result of hearing this sampler I bought records by all of them. So well done Warners, you got me!

The back cover of the Warner Bros. Music Show sampler
The 1975 tour included dates in Germany, France and the Netherlands, plus shows at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and London's Rainbow Theatre.

On the last day of the UK tour, Sunday 19th January, two shows were scheduled. The afternoon show had The Doobie Brothers as the headline act, supported by Little Feat. In the evening, the support act was Graham Central Station.

History doesn't record how GCS fared, but Little Feat's exploits have become truly the stuff of legend.

Clearly, Little Feat were not unknown, because from the recording it's obvious the audience was in a state of deep excitement from the word go.

Their music had snuck into the UK through various means. I can remember hearing DJ Nicky Horne play Willin' and Dixie Chicken on his Capital Radio program, 'Your Mother Wouldn't Like It'. The band were already a favourite of hipster music journalists and fellow musicians, including the Rolling Stones. Mick and Keith were at the Rainbow shows, as was Rod Stewart.

Little Feat's set from this time will be familiar to anyone who has heard the various bootlegs from their mid-70s concerts, such as Electrif Lycanthrope. Indeed, it was on the strength of that particular bootleg album that Little Feat's reputation had grown in the UK at this time.

The show started with a shout-out to Robert Palmer on his birthday. Lowell George had played on Palmer's first solo album, Sneakin' Sally Thru The Alley, alongside The Meters. And Palmer used Little Feat as his backing band on albums two and three (Pressure Drop and Some People Can Do What They Like).

George would often tell little stories between songs and for this gig he repeated the story, heard on one of the bootlegs, about meeting his hero, Howlin' Wolf.

It involved George asking Wolf to play a guitar he'd just bought. Wolf told him to 'fuck off'.

As Little Feat's show drew to a climax with Tripe Face Boogie, the audience acclaim was unrelenting. Remember, this was the support band, you're not supposed to get this kind of adulation and show up the headliners.
Skunk playing the steely guitar

Called back for their usual encore of Willin' they enlisted Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter from the Doobie Brothers (and formerly Steely Dan) to play pedal steel guitar on the solo. As far as I know, this is the only time Skunk ever played with Little Feat.

And finishing with Teenage Nervous Breakdown, the crowd would not let them go. The stage announcer tried to tell the audience they were running to a tight schedule and there was no time for a second encore. The crowd went crazy - Boo! More!!

So the Feat came back on stage and played Wait Til The Shit Hits The Fan.
Mick, Keith and Rod meet the Doobie Brothers backstage

And that's the story of how Little Feat blew the Doobies off the stage at the Rainbow. It's all true folks...

Hear it for yourself here, with grateful thanks to PMH5001 for taping it on his Philips cassette recorder back in the day, digging it out recently and posting it on youtube last month.

His memory of the show is "It was hard on the Doobies (who were actually pretty good) being completely upstaged by Little Feat. 

"I turned off the machine after a few seconds of Black Water, quite a few of the audience walked out at that point. After about three numbers the Doobies stopped, invited another round of applause for Little Feat and started again."

Here's the track listing for Little Feat's performance:

00:00:00 Intro/Dedication to Robert Palmer (birthday) and Howlin' Wolf
00:01:41 Apolitical Blues
00:05:17 Two Trains
00:09:54 Walkin' All Night
00:14:22 On Your Way Down
00:21:12 Spanish Moon
00:30:42 Fat Man In The Bathtub
00:36:33 Sailin' Shoes
00:41:13 Rock And Roll Doctor
00:45:16 Oh Atlanta
00:49:23 Cold, Cold, Cold
00:54:10 Dixie Chicken
01:01:54 Tripe Face Boogie
01:05:59 Bag Of Reds
01:07:01 Tripe Face Boogie
01:09:01 (Encore Applause)
01:10:49 Willin'
01:15:21 Teenage Nervous Breakdown
01:19:00 (Encore Applause)
01:22:24 The Fan
01:28:51 Intro Doobie Brothers
01:29:08 Black Water (The Doobie Brothers) 01:29:33 End

Footage of the Warner Bros tour is rare indeed, but there are a couple of very rough clips from the Paris show by Little Feat, playing Tripe Face Boogie and Willin'.

Tripe Face Boogie, live in Paris, January '75

About five years after buying the Warner Bros Music Show, I was working on Fleet Street in London. The record shop across the road from my office still had several copies of the album on sale. So I bought another one. I kept it in mint condition for years and continued to pay the first one to death. When I began playing vinyl again in this century, I put the mint album on the deck and it was just like being thrown back in time. What an amazing collection. I only wish I'd known about the tour sooner, I was too late onto that one.

Nonetheless, I got a musical education for just 59p.

Willin', live in Paris, January '75

Here's a compilation of footage of the bands from the Warner Bros Music Show tour, put together for an Old Grey Whistle Test Special in 1975.

See also on this blog: When Lowell George Was The Future Of Rock n Roll

A tribute to Paul Barrere