Well we don’t mean anyone any harm…

I’ve been trolling my way through the sordid underbelly of the Jethro Tull canon. Failed t.v. shows, stage shows and rock operas abound.

I do however have to admit a soft spot for Too Old To Rock’n’Roll, Too Young To Die. It’s a little unpleasant in places, bawdy and uncompromisingly Jethro Tull at times but somehow a whole lot of fun. It’s uncomfortable as you follow old Ray Lomas on his merry adventures, just a little sad and maybe as I age my way along a little too close to home.

I also remember the glee I had several years ago stopping at the service station at the junction of the A1 and A66 at Scotch Corner. I may have stood on the tarmac and had a moment for myself and Ian Anderson and thought of old Ray speeding his way along on Doris to his less than fatal collision.

And at the end of the day it’s a great album cover.

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Exorcise the beast…

There are finer Tull albums without doubt. There are even better albums in general I am sure. This however was my admission to all things Tull. It all began in a murky bedroom in West Derby as John the crazed bearded red head fanatic took the time to explain to me how this was the greatest album I would hear this year, the year being 1982. I am sure that it was not true that this was the greatest album I ever heard in 1982, it did however result in me going to see Fairport Convention at the Southport Arts Center as Dave Pegg was in both bands and then to Cropredy.

John convinced me to go see the band live. I was enthralled at the time by the willingness of a grown man to prance around the stage in a codpiece and gurn his way through one legged flute playing. The tour also had the most absurd pirate ship stage set and was actually the epitome of everything punk had been angry about, this only made it more enjoyable on some level. Over the following years I saw more members of Fairport Convention play in both bands and enjoyed Mr Anderson’s appearances at Cropredy.

So if you want to hear a Tull album that is entirely competent, hits all the Tull buttons, sometimes too hard. You can even take the time to air guitar your way through some of Martin Barre’s rockier moments you don’t need to go further than Broadsword and The Beast. It also has some nice folkier elements throughout.

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Gimme some more…

Every day I drive past a house with a confederate flag flying in the yard.

Every day I wonder what this means to the owner and ultimately to me.

Every day I think something along the lines that there will always be the ignorant out there flying their flags of hatred and intolerance.

I don’t buy the idea that flying that flag is a gesture of defiance to a government that does not represent the people, although watching the orange man on t.v. I may have to reconsider exactly who is being represented by whom these days.

Today as I drove past that very house Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo’) by Taj Mahal was playing. I came home and put The Real Thing on and basked in the brilliance of a blues band playing with  four tuba’s as a stone cold genius whistled over the whole mess of blues.

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I am not sure if music can make all things better but the very best records can make you forget for awhile and give you the strength to stand up and be counted.

The Real Thing is one of those albums that just make you smile from start to finish. It is a joyful celebration of the blues, it’s bawdy, raunchy and raw and a whole lot of fun in a swaggering mess of music.

The brilliance of this album is encapsulated in the 19 minutes of You Ain’t No Street Walker Mama, Honey but I Sure Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff. Which while being an epic jam is not your noodling deadhead version of the blues but the type of blues that drags your whiskey soaked soul through the swamp to leave you sobbing at the crossroads and wondering what type of lost soul flies the flag of hatred for all to see.

I truly believe sometimes late at night that if we just managed to get the hateful to hear the right records we would have hope as a species. We would be able to fix the planet heal the rifts between people and feed the hungry. We may even manage to dance a little and sing what we really need though is more tubas…

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If you want to get into it, you’ve got to get out of it…

In a fit of nostalgic insanity or fanboy lust, whichever makes the most sense I just managed to acquire Choose Your Masques by Hawkwind.IMG_6758

I believe this may be the result of the regression caused by too much Dungeons and Dragons or a physical real time in the moment acknowledgement that Hawkwind are actually in my DNA and I will always have some amount of affection for just about every album.

Of course the albums from the 80’s while not even close to the peaks of the early 70’s are the albums I bought on the day they came out. These are the concerts I went to three or four times a year until the early 90’s. This is the band that I saw at countless festivals and despite their silly name I still mumble as my favorite when asked by anyone who your favorite band is.  This causes some puzzled looks in the USA, of course my back up favorite does the same with Airport Convention.

The truth is that at this age I am well past having to feel ashamed of the music I listen to, this is the realm of the teenager or adulting and not the grizzled veteran of the rock’n’roll wars I have become. So these days Graham Parker, the Grateful Dead, Hawkwind and Sabbath rub shoulders with Fleet Foxes and Iron and Wine and others happily filling the gaps between the constant hubbub that life sometimes feels like it has become.

So Hawkwind really are a part of my DNA, that part that confuses doctors and passersby.

 

You can imitate everyone you know…

So in a fit of Anti-Pepper, not the best album The Beatles made and not the start in any shape or form of the concept album, and it misses all the good songs off for second division filler, sentiment. I bought the Beatles albums missing from the collection in pretty new remastered versions. Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album and Let It Be. I deliberately avoided Sgt. Pepper in self righteous indignation at all the posters telling me I should get it. I strolled out of the store having claimed my 30% off the purchase and felt pretty good about myself in not succumbing to the pressure to buy the 50th anniversary one.

So on to this:

The unpopular last released album.

The contentious recording process, the awkward movie. The arguments about production. Did Phil Spector really ruin the album?

The geek in me wants to make all sorts of clever points. Scratch my beard and frown meaningfully and decide that one of the Get Back acetates is really the best version, or McCartney’s Let It Be Naked is the true classic.

The irony of an album that was supposed to be a return to some sort of semblance of live performance has become to be regarded as one of the most overproduced albums appeals to me.

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I have to admit though this is the Let It Be I grew up with, it is in fact one of my favorite Beatles albums, even the saccharine strings and choir on the Long and Winding Road are  essential to the listening experience, anything else is not right. Yes it is a patchwork album in feel, it never quite flows right and yet it flows exactly as it is supposed to do at the end of the day.

Also any album that has Get Back, Across the Universe and Let It Be on is a pretty good album as far as I can tell. Two of Us, Dig a Pony and I Me Mine are not too shabby either.

I found myself thinking as I listened to this newly bought version, as it’s cheaper than any original I could find, what a strange game listening to records has become. Is it the right pressing, is it mastered correctly is it remastered, what is the source tape, analog or digital and who cut the album. I have to admit it’s great fun and appeals to the inner geek. I do however long sometimes for the days when I was just happy to find a copy that I could afford new or used. Of course in the bad old days we only had one way of listening to records and our choices were limited and the word audiophile was reserved for those strange bearded men in the stereo store buying equipment we didn’t know what to do with.

To be honest after years of abuse at live shows I don’t think my ears can really tell some of the differences others claim to hear in all these exotic pressings. I like to listen to records because they are funner and I can read the lyrics and the sleeves are easier to enjoy. It’s also gratifying to see the jealous look my children give the shelves as they plot how they will split the legacy when I am gone.

Full disclosure. I got guilty when I got home and ordered the damned Sgt. Pepper album. I then felt better knowing the collection was complete in some way, I did not however get the super deluxe fab new version remixed, remastered and rewound. I got the mono version but now I think I may need the other…

 

Turning star projections, voices from the deep…

There’s something about the first time. Whichever first time it might be. The anticipation, the breathless rush to conclusion, the ultimate depression as it ends and then the relentless search for the next time.

Gigs are like that, especially if your 16 year old self has taken the time to commit to memory as much of the discography of a favorite band as you won. You desperately, buy the ticket, arrange the gig companionship and set off into the night full of expectation.

You take your seat and feverishly, drunkenly attempt to hold in the excitement. The band emerges through a cloud of smoke and then only play three songs you know from the twelve played and two of the twelve are weird electronic bleepy things that do not end in the expected chaos of guitars and drumming. It is however deafeningly loud and overwhelming and shit it’s Hawkwind right there on stage blowing your mind. Yes there is no Lemmy and isn’t that Gongs keyboard player up there but the Captain is there and all is well and that’s Simon King on drums so we are good, and wasn’t the guitar player on the first album?

Being hard up for cash I had only heard three Hawkwind albums at this stage, and the callow Joy Division fans at school would sneer at the mention of Hawkwind. Those being the first album, Hall of the Mountain Grill and Space Ritual so all the Calvert songs and the then unreleased songs from Levitation were strange creatures. However my tiny teen mind was duly blown and I hung on every word of the grizzled creatures around me who mumbled of the anarchy of gigs gone by. There was however no Time We Left This World Today, but the strange metal punk Brainstorm more than made up for any thoughts that this was not Hawkwind.

All of this strolled through my mind as I played my newly purchased copy of Live ’79 that  memorializes this anarchic tour before Ginger ruined the gig with a drum solo. It also has one of the most awfully garish album covers of all time.

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After this show Hawkwind became a fixture of the calendar for me, if they played on a train or bus line I was there, screaming with the other idiots into the all encompassing noisfest that was a Hawkwind gig.

A holiday a holiday…

It’s that time of the year, the summer is upon us and thoughts of the idiot fanboy turns to one question alone. Do we go to Cropredy or not?

Now this used to be a fairly easy question, every year, buy a ticket through mail order, jump the train to Banbury, walk to Cropredy, camp and drink and listen. Then complications happened, marriage, children, moving 6000 miles away. Of course the yearly desire happened, the questioning until it settled into only the 5 year anniversaries and for some obscure reason involving early indoctrination, much children graduation from high school. It all seemed to make sense to the fan.

So as if by some magical alignment of the stars something happened this year. My precocious youngest child graduated a year early giving us the perfect excuse to go to the 50th anniversary Cropredy of Fairport Convention. That is the anniversary of the band not the festival. We duly purchased tickets, called a good friend in the UK who as if by magic is celebrating his 50th birthday this year as well and start plotting.

Now tickets are purchased, flights booked, car reserved in Manchester and the beloved parents informed of our impending arrival. Then it came crashing in on me, this will be very likely the last Cropredy for me. The festival over the years has changed subtly and not so subtly meaning that it is no longer the amateur affair it used to be. There seem to be more people than in the past or is it really the same people but they are larger?

Fairport Convention are a band that can be infuriating, they seem to have settled into a very comfortable groove that is safe and sound and impeccable in it’s performance. The last chance for something different for the fan is Cropredy when old and new members meld and reform into old and new configurations and hopefully Simon plugs in. If this happens we will all gush, if it doesn’t we will all sway along to the old favorites with a tear in the eye. Either way it will be fulfilling of some need that is deep seated in the fan, a connection with a band that is real and tangible.

In preparation this evening I have been listening to Moat on the Ledge, from Broughton Castle in 1981, the year before the Festival became fixed at Cropredy. It was also a time when Matty Groves was in the middle of the set and the band did not officially exist. The Full House lineup of Nicol, Thompson, Pegg, Swarbrick and Mattacks with the addition of Bruce Rowland on drums and Judy Dyble singing with the band for the first time since 67. A rough and ready live recording, no overdubs and at times without a net, it’s a band that didn’t exist performing like a band that has been playing together every day.

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The set list is one that could have been culled from those early albums, a Dylan cover, a Joni Mitchell cover a Thompson original or two a classic rock song and a medley along with a Swarbrick classic in Rosie. It’s an edgy album with some tracks at times sounding like they may fall apart as the band play faster and faster. It’s a reminder of what made Fairport so great and a foreshadowing hopefully of Fridays set with Pegg, Nicol and Mattacks backing up Richard Thompson in a throwback to the glory days.

Fairport Convention are a band that created a genre and then never managed to keep it together long enough to capitalize, other bands made British Folk-Rock their own while Fairport merrily sabotaged their way to being the greatest folk-rock band to never have a truly great album that captured them. Yes Liege and Lief is influential and created a genre, Full House is powerful and evocative and Tipplers Tales is a good time had by all, later albums hinted at greatness without achieving it, but there was always the live shows and particularly the Cropredy shows. Like the Dead they are  band defined not by their albums but by their gigs, relentlessly touring. Unlike the Dead they had so many lineup changes that it is dizzyingly difficult to maintain a sound, the Fairport you connect with is usually the one you first heard live.

So this year as I sit in that field in Oxfordshire, swaying with the other old farts and youngsters I will think about Trevor and Swarb and Martin and Jerry as he recovers and I will very likely say goodbye to a formative experience of my youth and young adulthood. I may cry and I may laugh but I am pretty convinced that I will not regret not going back to that field as the band I love inevitably thins itself out with the travails of time. I am going to remember the glory years and the howling solo’s and mud puddles and weirdness of the 80’s festivals that moved to the 90’s and then every five years or so. I will complain about the flags and chairs, while I look for a spot for my chair and I may hug the stranger next to me.