And thus, almost everything mentioned in the June 2015 update came to pass… The one exception, at the time of writing, is the Record Collector feature on Peter Eden and British Jazz circa 1970. Maybe next month…
My two books, The Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers (with John McSherry) and Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior (with Andy Powell), were both published, by Jawbone Press, in late 2015. The official publication dates were September and October, respectively, but they both ended up in the shops during September – a rather remarkable situation of having two books published in one calendar month, which I can’t see being repeated!
The reception for The Wheels of the World has been tremendous, with a number of generous reviews and some fun appearances on radio shows in Belfast and Dublin, along with, from memory, eight or nine public events involving readings and music. John McSherry was able to join me for some of these, when his gig diary allowed, bringing along his ace piping cohort Frances McIlduff – appearances of this trio at sister Tíona’s trad festival in Castlewellan and at Dublin’s splendid Hodges & Figgis bookshop were really enjoyable. Hodges & Figgis had very kindly gone to town with a week-long window display. At some other events, I was joined by either John’s unperturbable nieceMiadhach Lughain O’Donnell with her pal Jamie (on flute and pipes, respectively) or by Aaron O’Hagan (pipes), and a good time was had by all – hopefully! Authors aren’t necessarily natural raconteurs, but it’s a case of feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and I enjoyed this block of public speaking more than I have done with similar events in the past. It’s a matter of thinking, ‘Well, what’s the worst that can happen?’ During October, Tíona very kindly organised three concerts to promote the book: in Belfast, Westport and Strabane. Piping legend Paddy Keenan headlined, with John McSherry and Francis McIlduff also on the bill. I was at two of the three and they were fabulous evenings. Paddy was on form and John and Frances enjoyed playing with him onstage as much as the reverse, I think.
Adapted extracts from the book appeared in The Irish Times, The (Belfast) News Letter and fRoots. The Irish Times extract can be found here:
Because of funding niceties, the book is a limited edition of 2000 copies and almost half of that print run has now been sold. Hopefully a second edition (and eBook) will prove possible.
Here’s a link to John and myself appearing on RTÉ’s Arena show in August 2015 with presenter and all-round good guy Jim Lockhart:
Eyes Wide Open, Andy Powell’s memoir with my assistance, has, curiously, yet to receive much in the way of print reviews, although an extract was featured in December’s issue of Record Collector. It was a total pleasure working on the book with Andy – how he manages to juggle all his commitments (including periodic bursts of energy working on the book, in between horrendous touring schedules wherein he often drives the van himself) – and remain so full of energy and so positive I don’t know. Aside from touring, there were a number of other projects fighting for his attention last year, including a terrific three-night run, filmed for a DVD (now out), at a theatre in Paris and a direct-to-vinyl live recording at Metropolis Studios in London (also now out). Work on the book went right up to the wire, with Andy delivering extra content above and beyond expectations. I don’t actually know how long the book ended up being, but it is well beyond the anticipated 120,000 words.
The CD projects I detailed in the last Update – Chris Spedding’sSongs Without Words (Hux) and the 3CD box set Turtle Records: Pioneering British Jazz 1970-71 (RPM) – both appeared in late 2015, featuring extensive CH sleeve notes. Indeed, Mark Stratford at RPM really grasped the nettle with the Turtle project and commissioned a perfect-bound luxuriantly illustrated and designed mini-book format for the 17,000 word essay and discography I provided. It was, again, a delight to be involved with, and the reviews have been generous and widespread. Off the back of that, I was interviewed in December for a prospective film documentary on British folk, pop and jazz producer Peter Eden’s career, along with jazz expert Linley Hamilton. Peter Eden and Mike Cooper had already been filmed in interview, and other great musicians are lined up. Sadly, they won’t include pianist John Taylor, who passed on unexpectedly only a few weeks after I had interviewed him for the box set notes. His album for the Turtle label, Pause… and Think Again remains a magical piece of work.
At short notice, I also contributed a 2,000 word note (alas, I was restricted to eight pages…) to the Wishbone Ash 4CD live box set Road Works (Talking Elephant), which was released in December. This set is terrific value for money, gathering up four previous merchandise-stand-only short-run live albums spanning 2010-14 and giving them wide availability. I made a point of interviewing all four of the current Ash members. It’s a great way to hear the latest (and longest-lasting) of the band’s many line-ups.
Back in September I was asked by the arts editor of the Irish Times if I fancied interviewing Stereophonics when they did a one-off show in Belfast. ‘Why not,’ I thought. I don’t want to get back to doing routine journalistic stuff, but the idea of doing the odd thing if I fancy it, if somebody asks, is fine. I’d reviewed Stereophonics live for the IT back in 1999 or thereabouts, and couldn’t quite see what the fuss was about. I saw a bit of their live show this time around and, while their stagecraft has improved, it was still not quite my thing. Still, I enjoyed the new album they were promoting (better on record than live, for me – more nuance and variety) and I liked them as people. Here’s a link to the resulting feature:
My album Sunset Cavaliers is released nationally through Market Square on February 19. The great Mick Houghton is very kindly helping with PR to radio. Early feedback from a few friends suggests that my notion of an album hanging together with an autumnal/evening sort of feeling seems to be holding water. Which, I suppose, makes it a wet weekend in November. I’m very pleased with the album, and honoured to have had so many wonderful players on it – not least my regular collaborators Cormac O’Kane and Ali MacKenzie. The album is dedicated to Duffy Power. I’ll be appearing on Radio Ulster’s Arts Show on February 12 to talk about it, with punk legend Mickey Bradley asking the questions (no doubt kicking off with: ‘Progressive rock in 2016 – why?’).
The exciting project of early 2016, for me, is a forthcoming 2CD set of unreleased Quintessence studio recordings from their Island Records era (1969-71). Band members Phil Jones and Maha Dev are in the loop, as is original producer John Barham. The project has required a lot of (expensive) tape research, with 16 two-inch multi-track reels and 7 quarter-inch mix-down reels (out of 32 that we had hoped to access) digitised at Abbey Road, based on the sometimes cryptic scribblings on the tape boxes. The next stage is searching through those reels for unreleased performances of high quality. At the time of writing, the mixing is almost complete and over 100 minutes of remarkable content – six hitherto wholly unknown compositions and a number of breathtakingly good alternate takes of familiar songs – will be included across the two discs. The set is provisionally entitled Spirits From Another Time: Island Studios 1969-71 and will hopefully appear around May 2016. I take my hat off to Brian O’Reilly at Hux: this will be his most expensive archive CD project to date, out of 150 releases. I think I’ve been involved in around 20 of those releases – some of which have been good sellers, others less so. Fingers crossed for this one!It’s a privilege to be involved in bringing (yet more) unheard wonders from the glory days of Quintessence into the world, and I’ll be doing everything I can to get this release noticed. With a fair wind, there may well be another Quintessence project in due course.
In a more semi-detached way, I’m involved in a couple of projects from Earth Vinyl, a boutique vinyl label. Their forthcoming deluxe vinyl reissue of Bert Jansch’s sublime 1979 LP Avocet looks amazing. It will include my mid-2000s Sanctuary CD reissue notes. Over the past few weeks I have digitised a lot of my 1990s photos and soundboard recordings of Bert towards a future 4-LP vinyl box set comprising his three mid-90s albums and a disc of rare and unissued recordings, compiled by Adam Jansch.
Not before time, and taking merciless advantage of web-meister Uncle Spike having a bit of unexpected time on his hands, I have updated a fair amount of content on the rest of this site.
In the Books section, I have created new pages for Bathed in Lightning, The Wheels of theWorld and Eyes Wide Open plus an additional page featuring the December 2015 fRoots adapted extract from the piping book, on the great Séamus Ennis.
In the Musical Projects section, I have updated the intro page and added a new page and retail link for Sunset Cavaliers.
In the CD Reissue Projects section, I have updated the intro page and updated the Quintessence page.
I have also revamped the About section.
After all that, I have a feeling Uncle Spike will be expecting a very serious high-end coffee shop experience, huge muffin included.
June marks the end of a particularly busy period, with a number of obligations needing delivered at more of less the same time. I’ll keep it brief:
- The Wheels Of The World: 300 Years Of Irish Uilleann Pipers is the final title of my book with John McSherry. It’s around 240,000 words long and I’m very pleased with it. The contents are listed below. Indexing will be completed in mid-June and it will be printed immediately thereafter. It should be available for sale within two or three months, published by special arrangement with Jawbone Press and internationally distributed. The print run is strictly limited, given the niceties of our external funding arrangement with National Lottery, to 2000 copies and RRP will probably be £17.95. John and I are hoping to put on a few concert/reading events around Ireland later in the year to promote it. If there seems to be enough demand for the book, we’ll try and fund a second print run ourselves.
- John McSherry
- Introducing Finbar Furey, Paddy Keenan and Liam O’Flynn
- Finbar & Eddie Furey: A Dream In Their Hands
- Liam O’Flynn: The Quiet Man
- Paddy Keenan: Rakish Paddy Blues
- Introducing Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy
- Leo Rowsome: Keeper Of The Flame
- Leo Rowsome At The BBC
- Séamus Ennis: The Master Outside
- Séamus Ennis At The BBC
- Willie Clancy: The Minstrel From Clare
- Johnny Doran: Along The Road Forever
- The Only Patsy Touhey
- Uilleann Piping Before 1900
- Piping In Ulster
- Brian Vallely & Armagh Pipers’ Club
- Appendix: Melody Maker Interviews, 1976 & 1978
- Eyes Wide Open: True Tales Of A Wishbone Ash Warrior is the Andy Powell autobiography which I’ve been assisting with. That one is also being published through Jawbone, by a normal publishing arrangement. Nigel and Tom at Jawbone are terrific people to work with. That one will – we all hope – be delivered on June 19, to be published in time for Wishbone Ash’s October 2015 UK tour. Andy has been tied up with a particularly gruelling US tour during April/May, followed by a few European dates, which has delayed the finalising of the text. We’ll get there. The book will be around 120,000 words long, a standard size for a memoir. Andy has given a great deal of attention and thought to the book and it will, I believe, appeal to general readers of music histories and memoirs as well as the WA faithful. I went to Paris in late May to see two of three dates at Le Triton, a small theatre, which were being filmed for a DVD. Lots of previously unfilmed goodies, old and new, were performed.
- The Turtle Records Story (RPM) is the title of a forthcoming box set encompassing the three rare but classic progressive British jazz albums released between 1970-71 on Peter Eden’s Turtle label: Howard Riley’s Flight; Mike Osborne’s Outback; and John Taylor’s Pause, And Think Again. I’ve enjoyed writing an extensive booklet for the set, around 17,000 words worth, including fresh interviews with Howard Riley, Barry Guy, John Taylor, John Surman, Norma Winstone, Mike Westbrook, Mike Cooper, Mike Gibbs and Peter Eden and a detailed trawl through the Melody Maker for the whole year of 1970. It was an exciting time for British jazz, with major labels (CBS, Decca, EMI, RCA, Pye) and their progressive rock imprints (Harvest, Vertigo, Dawn, Neon) all taking a punt on the new wave of British jazz, jazz-rock and ‘free improvisation’. Peter Eden produced 20 albums in this ‘golden age’ period of 1968-72, two of them for his own label – the third, John Taylor’s album, being produced by his loyal lieutenant John Surman. The three Turtle albums – which would set you back over £800 for decent second hand copies – offer a terrific snapshot of the various styles and directions being explored by Brit jazzers at the time and they are remastered here officially, from the master tapes, for the first time. Researching the booklet has been a lot of fun. It may even have given me an idea for another book.
- Songs Without Words (Hux) is guitar legend Chris Spedding’s 1970 jazz-rock album, originally recorded for Harvest – at a time when he was regularly playing variations on a jazz-rock theme with Nucleus, the Mike Westbrook Concert Band, the Mike Gibbs band and others – but shelved at Chris’ request when he decided he’d rather pursue a more down-home rock sound. Somehow, the unedited but completed album slipped out in Japan before the end of the year. Chris has edited the original masters to create, amusingly, a reissue with less on it than the orinal (albeit with a bonus track to mitigate the missing minutes). The final edit, though, is seamless and the music fantastic. I’d recommended Richard Williams for the sleeve-noting but seemingly it was a busy time. Chris asked me to have a go and a 6000 word note, including contributions from Chris, producer Peter Eden, Barry Guy and Mike Gibbs, resulted. Hopefully the CD will be out in a couple of months.
- A forthcoming Record Collector piece on British Jazz: The Peter Eden Productions 1968-72. I was delighted to be given the chance to distill the above work around Peter Eden’s jazz productions, but with much additional material, into a 3000 word RC feature. Chris Spedding, Howard Riley and Norma Winstone are the key interviewees, along with Peter, in the piece, with several of his rarest productions highlighted. One single, by the Mike Westbrook Concert Band, is valued at £400, which prompted Mike to point out that it ‘seems like a lot of money to pay for a riff!’ Norma’s splendid LP Edge Of Time (Argo, 1972) has recently been reissued by the similarly splendid Peter Muir at Market Square/Dusk Fire. And yes, it was produced by Peter Eden. Hopefully the piece will run in the next couple of months.
In other news… I was delighted to receive a copy of the extraordinarily lovingly assembled 3CD set Jackson Frank: The Complete Recordings, released by Ba Da Bing Records. The Bingmeisters asked to use my Sanctuary Records Jackson Frank CD note from the mid-90s, which I tweaked and updated for the purpose. I was also able to supply good quality off-air copies of three of Jackson’s five 1968 BBC session tracks for John Peel’s Top Gear (Ba Da Bing had the other two already, in slightly lesser sound). The compilation spans 1958-97 and the mastering, even on tracks that have been issued before (and many here have not), is stunning and the price remarkably low. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in 1960s folk music or tortured-soul singer-songwriters. It’s also available in a 6LP set, again at a remarkably competitive price. Check it out here: http://www.badabingrecords.com/jackson-c-frank-the-complete-recordings-track-listing/
And finally… my long-gestating instrumental album, provisionally titled Sunset Cavaliers, will hopefully be completed this month. There’s only some mixing and the mastering to be done, the last parts having been recorded by guitar-maestro Brooks Williams when he visited Belfast (for a sensational Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival show with the Mighty Mojos backing him) early in May. The album features my regular collaborators Cormac O’Kane (multifarious keyboards, drum programming, general sound wizardy) and Ali MacKenzie plus Louise Potter (Cardiff Lou) from Wookalily on drums on a couple of numbers. I play guitar and a bit of mono-synth throughout. Guest players, aside from Brooks, include Premik Russell Tubbs (soprano sax), Shane Pacey (guitar), Steve Kindler (electric 9-string violin), Chris Spedding (guitar), Linley Hamilton (flugelhorn), Andy Powell (guitar). Most tracks are new (from the past three years), but I’ve included a couple from the vault, featuring Duffy Power and Bert Jansch, because it felt right.
The Piping Book
After an eight month process, a tranche of Arts Council funding – for which I applied in April with piper John McSherry and publishers Jawbone Press – was delivered last week. It will make The Wheels Of The World, our book on the history of uilleann piping, possible. It has not been a process which I would be in a hurry to repeat, but the result will be a book which I hope will be not only a major contribution to the literature of Irish traditional music but a fascinating and accessible read for anyone interested in music biography and music history.
The structure of The Wheels Of The World is such that the book will progress backwards from the present. Chapters on John McSherry, the Belfast piping maestro of the present era, will book-end the volume: a chapter on his career at the start; a chapter on a year in the life of a 21st Century professional Irish trad musician at the end. Following the first chapter on John, there will then be detailed chapters on his three piping heroes when he was growing up: Finbar Furey, Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band) and Liam O’Flynn (Planxty); then huge chapters on three of the giants of the generation before them – Séamus Ennis, Leo Rowsome, Willie Clancy. Beyond that, we go back to a chapter looking at the whole history of the instrument from its origins (c.1000BC as wind-blown pipes, c.1700 as elbow-blown distinctly Irish pipes) up to Johnny Doran, the ‘Jimi Hendrix’ of the instrument whose sole 1948 recording is still the benchmark, and including the era of Patsy Touhey, the remarkable New York vaudevillian who was releasing wax cylinders of his piping years before the first jazz or blues records.
There will also be a chapter on ‘Piping In Ulster’, simply because that’s where John and I come from and it seems intriguing – to try and pull together disparate threads from across 300-odd years to show that while Ulster, in uilleann piping lore, may have been the runt of the four provinces of Ireland it’s never been totally barren. Dublin has been the world centre for piping since the days of Leo Rowsome – whose dedication as a Dublin-based teacher, performer and pipe-maker basically saved the instrument from extinction – in the first decades of the 20th Century, but some of the most interesting characters in the instrument’s past and present have still happened to have been Northern. The book will also include a couple of substantial Melody Maker features from the 1970s on The Bothy Band and Liam O’Flynn, with the generous permission of their author, Colin Irwin – plus a colossal appendix on the discographies, sessionographies and broadcasts of the artists profiled (plus one or two others).
I aim to deliver the manuscript by the end of March 2015, or at worst a month later. Publication will be in Autumn 2015. I can promise a massive amount of new documentary research and interviews and hopefully a tale well told. In the back of my mind, I can almost already read the reviews by traddie die-hards lambasting me for not being ‘in the tradition’ or for the structural concept (which means, for instance, no stand-alone chapters on well-known pipers Davy Spillane or Paddy Moloney). But I might be wrong. I worried a little that I would be similarly lambasted by die-hard jazzers for Bathed In Lighting: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (published in March 2014), because I’m not a died-in-the-wool jazz writer and because I chose a structure for that book which saw the narrative end in 1975. I was, however, surprised and delighted to find that reviewers very largely understood the parameters of the book and were not at all precious about my ‘outsider’ status – in fact, it was never mentioned. I couldn’t have asked for more.
With all of the books and CD notes I take on – be they around British folk, British jazz, Irish trad, classic rock, progressive rock or whatever else – I come at them all as a fascinated outsider. If I’m interested myself in finding out things I don’t already know, then there’s a fair chance I can convey the subject with enthusiasm to the reader. Certainly, that’s always the aim. It should always be an adventure, with new discoveries along the way – for both a reader unfamiliar with the music/musicians in question and a reader who thinks they know it all backwards.
There are, curiously, very few substantial biographical books on Irish traditional musicians. There are any number of detailed and often brilliant biographical and historical tomes on the great names in pop, rock, jazz, blues, reggae and so on, with tremendous portraiture on the contexts they worked in, but books on Irish trad seem to be either academic/musicological or coffee-table/pictorial. Exceptions would be the autobiographies of Maire Brennan and Christy Moore and biographies of The Chieftains and Planxty. Offhand, I can’t think of any others. When Trevor Hodgett and I compiled Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History in 2004, creating a patchwork of essays around the subject either specially written or adapted from journalistic pieces, I was hoping it might prompt others to write more detailed books on some of the artists included. While that hasn’t happened (yet), there have certainly been a few more similarly thematic books surveying the history of what might very broadly be termed ‘Irish rock’. There’s time yet. In terms of traditional music artists, I’m delighted Leo Rowsome’s daughter Helena Grimes has been working on a full biography of her father, delighted that Andy Irvine is finally working towards a memoir of some sort and I believe that Finbar Furey is also working on an assisted memoir.
The Wheels Of The World will be loosely similar in terms of its depth and breadth of research to Dazzling Stanger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (2000) and Bathed In Lightning (2014). In other words, it will be rigorously assembled with full citations but readable and accessible. There are incredible characters in the history of piping, and if I can bring them alive to some extent on the page it will open up, I think, a whole world of new or renewed musical appreciation of their works.
The Andy Powell book
I’ve also been working, off and on since March, on assisting ‘classic rock’ legend Andy Powell, keeper of the flame for 45 years with Wishbone Ash, with an autobiography, to be titled Last Man Standing. I’m delighted to say that Nigel and Tom at Jawbone Press have come on board with this one too. Although the piping book is a special case, being almost fully subsidised in a run of 2000 with Jawbone very generously offering a not-for-profit distribution platform, this will be the third book I’ve written that will appear on the Jawbone imprint. I couldn’t be happier about this. I have tremendous respect for Nigel and Tom both as people and as publishers: I love their ethos, their sense of humour and I admire many of the other titles they’ve published. Their Bill Bruford autobiography is one of the finest books on music in the rock era. With regard to Jawbone, I’m always reminded of something English traditional singer Anne Briggs once said about signing to Topic Records in the 1960s when she had offers from other labels: ‘They never had any money, but you felt they had integrity.’
At the time of writing (mid December 2014), I’d say this book is two thirds complete and we aim to enhance that by the end of the month. At present, we’re working on it simultaneously and in collaboration: Andy in Connecticut, me in Belfast. Some chapters are initially generated by me, from extensive interviews with Andy; others are generated by Andy. Between the two of us we then work on these drafts. My key role is providing structure, both in terms of the concept of the book and the shape of each chapter. The content is very much a hands-on reflection of Andy Powell and we’re both delighted with the way it’s progressing.
It’s a new approach for me, helping someone else with what is essentially their book. I’ve taken the view that it’s Andy’s memoir, therefore its content has to be largely driven by what he remembers – what is, in other words, important enough to him to be instantly remembered. That’s the starting point. It’s not exactly a ‘Wishbone Ash book’, it’s an ‘Andy Powell book’ – although the prime focus of Andy’s career has of course been Wishbone Ash and Wishbone Ash is the heart of the book. That difference, though, frees us from writing the biography of a band; rather, it is impressions from a life.
Here and there, we’ve delved a little into secondary research to pull out additional recollection if it seems necessary. What is presented will be accurate but not slavish. In drafting the content we’ve not been working through a 45 year gig list and adding commentary, although where events or situations are mentioned I’ve checked all the dates. Consequently, the book will not be strictly an album/tour/album/tour narrative, although the backbone of it is chronologically linear and accurate. Every second chapter will be thematic – Andy exploring a theme, unencumbered by time. It’ll be published in Autumn 2015, in time for Wishbone Ash’s UK tour.
I’ve contributed an 8000 word note to The Eve Folk Recordings – a 2CD set from RPM, released in November. The set compiles three albums (by Mick Softley, Bob Davenport & The Rakes and Vernon Haddock’s Jubilee Lovelies) produced in 1965 for EMI by Peter Eden and Geoff Stephens, on the back of their management success with Donovan. Two Donovan singles, two Donovan covers of Mick Softley songs plus a Mick Softley single and two rare Bob Davenport live tracks are also included. In a month or two I’ll probably be contributing a 10,000 word booklet to RPM’s next Peter Eden related project – The Turtle Records Story. This will be a 3CD set including the three ridiculously rare British jazz LPs released by Peter on his own label, Turtle, in 1970/71.
Hopefully, this month I will complete the instrumental EP Blues For The End Of Time, which I’ve been chipping away at off and on for the past couple of years, when time has allowed (more a case of studio legend Cormac ‘Wizard Of Sound’ O’Kane’s time allowing than mine). It’s stretched into the realms of a ‘mini album’, I suspect. I went into Cormac’s studio a few weeks back with bass maestro Ali McKenzie, quirky drummer Louise ‘Cardiff Lou’ Potter and harmonica whiz Lee Hedley and we recorded the basis of one new piece and overdubbed new parts for a second, existing piece.
Guitar legend Chris Spedding very kindly lent me his skills on one track recently, which I look forward to mixing next week. Andy Powell and John McSherry will also be contributing parts, to a different piece, inspired by the Hebridean adventures of piping icon and maverick Séamus Ennis. The EP, as previously mentioned, also includes fabulous contributions from Premik Russell Tubbs, Shane Pacey and Steven Kindler.
Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone Press) is now available. Reviews so far have been very positive, bar one chap who found it ‘relentlessly detailed’. That’s the trouble with history: it comes with the blighters (details). But, joking aside, I’ve made the book as accessible as I could, while still corralling huge amounts of information and interwoven narratives, and I’m delighted that almost everyone, in print and in person, seems to find the balance right.
The book is available in print and in expanded eBook. Additionally, the eBook bonus content is available separately, with a custom designed ‘cover’ for a mere £2.97 (I think that might be a publishing first…). A fair amount of the text can be sampled at amazon with their ‘Look inside’ function, so do please check it out. If it’s too relentless, in any way, don’t buy it!
Work on the uilleann piping book The Wheels Of The World (see previous post for more info) continues, which I’m finding tremendously exciting – far more so than I imagined possible. Among recent interviewees and correspondents have been 1950s/60s London-Irish music doyen Reg Hall; Jenny Barton, organiser of London’s Troubadour Club 1958-64 and friend of Seamus Ennis; Irish folk legend Andy Irvine; and Helena Grimes, daughter and biographer-in-progress of piping legend Leo Rowsome. Helena has been a mine of tremendously helpful information and, hopefully, I’ve been able to reciprocate a little with material researched at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham last month.
Actually, one of the delightful things about writing non-fiction books is coming into contact, karmicly or coincidentally or perhaps inevitably, with other people writing books, in and around the same field or sometimes even when the overlap appears slight. Mutual assistance or at the very least mutual encouragement and moral support always occurs. In recent months I’ve been in touch with several other authors – people writing biographies of The Who and Paul Simon come to mind, as well as Mick Houghton, whose new biography of Sandy Denny I look forward to, and the excellent Peter Doggett whose book on The History Of Everything still requires a title, which any amount of brainstorming has thus far failed to deliver. Perhaps he should just go with The History Of Everything – it’s certainly an eye-catchingly outrageous title! A couple of other recent communicants have been Mike Barnes, working on an exciting Progressive Rock tome (and no, that wasn’t an oxymoron) and the astoundingly tenacious Mark Lewisohn, The Last Biographer the Beatles will ever need. Having read and been stunned (just stunned, not ‘shocked and stunned’…) by his first of three projected volumes, Tune In, I am not alone in hoping that he – and we – live long enough to see the rest of it.
It transpires there has, however unlikely it may seem, been a bit of crossover between the worlds of Bathed In Lightning and The Wheels Of The World and that of Mark’s forthcoming Beatles volumes. I was delighted to share a few bits of info and Mark was very generous in return. I’m honoured to have been even a tiny part of the process. However complex – nay, relentlessly detailed – my own books may feel during the writing process, they’re child’s play compared to Mark’s epic.
Mike Barnes had got in touch about the mighty Quintessence and, by happy coincidence, my Record Collector feature on the band has just appeared in the new issue (available till mid May). Unfortunately, it has been credited to someone else.
I had a very positive meeting, and beer-quaffing session, in Dublin last month with a ‘classic rock’ legend who shall not, yet, be named, concerning an assisted memoir. We’re both very positive about it and while my focus right now is to motor onwards with the various mini-book-like chapters of the piping book, we’ll be meeting again July to work on his book, all being well.
In a perfect world, the piping book will appear around April/May 2015 and the rock legend memoir around Autumn 2015. One can but try.
Sadly, Duffy Power passed on in February. I thought Duffy one of the truly great musicians and artists of the 1960s and I’m proud to have known him a little and to have helped on a couple of CD projects. I was asked to write obituaries for three publications – Record Collector, Mojo and the Guardian. With luck, there should be further Power CD projects via RPM Records and possibly a memorial event in London next year.
And finally… Fingers crossed… twice. In the last week I’ve had an Arts Council/Lottery Fund application submitted – which, if awarded in full or in part, will be of great assistance with the Uilleann Piping book (and associated media) – and I’ve also finished a PhD thesis. I should know about the success of the former in July and the latter in September.
It’s February 2014, all may seem quiet but there’s plenty of things going on. Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond is published by Jawbone Press in the UK and USA on March 1. A 3,700 word extract is in the current issue of Record Collector magazine; a further extract will appear in Shindig! Magazine in March/April; and a third will appear in US magazine Jazz Times. I’m hopeful that reviews will appear in a number of UK publications.
My friend ‘Exciteable’ Dave Mullan – known increasingly as ‘Unsinkable’ Dave Mullan, thanks to his titanic battles with the very latest gremlin-strewn website building protocols – has just achieved victory in the creation of a dedicated website for the book: www.bathedinlightning.com Folk songs are already entering the oral tradition, lauding Dave’s Herculean efforts in the face of seemingly impenetrable video-embedding glitches and multiple browser interface issues. But he won! Check it out…
At present, the book site includes: two extracts from the book; an unused Introduction; a web-exclusive essay on the Georgie Fame/John McLaughlin recordings; a mammoth 1963-75 discography/sessionography (which also appears in the eBook but not the print edition); audio rarities, with accompanying text; and several video rarities. Further material, and news updates relating to the book, will be added to the site in due course.
The first two (of 16) video installments from the November 21 2013 book promotional event, held at Cormac O’Kane’s Red Box Studios, Belfast, are online. The remaining parts will go online at Youtube roughly once a week. The event, compered by BBC Radio Ulster personality Linley Hamilton, included readings from the book, Q&A with myself and performances of eight pieces of music by a pool of 10 fabulous musicians – the music being tunes by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Sonny Rollins and songs cowritten by Duffy Power anfd John McLaughlin in the mid 60s.
Here’s the video clip of the first part: http://youtu.be/0s71DG7YvYM
The evening will also be available on SoundCloud in audio-only form in five roughly half-hour instalments. Here’s the first: https://soundcloud.com/redboxrecording/bathed-in-lighning-book-2
Additionally, Mark Stratford at RPM / Another Planet Music has very kindly created a montage with narration based on the book’s back cover blurb. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TweEo2-MYGA
Aside from the McLaughlin book, work continues with my book on uilleann piping, a joint venture between myself and Belfast piping maestro John McSherry and provisionally titled The Wheels Of The World: John McSherry and the continuum of Irish piping. It has a number of distinct, though interlinked, chapters/sections and consequently feels like writing several books at the one time, but it feels like an important contribution to the literature, as an academic might say. As well as John’s story, and transcriptions of his music, with contributions from his associates and collaborators (several significant names in Irish music), the book will include a substantial history of uilleann piping – which is far richer in documentation prior to the 20th Century than, for example, the blues or jazz in America – and chapters on John’s three piping heroes Finbar Furey, Liam O’Flynn and Paddy Keenan.
Working on the Finbar Furey story – of huge importance in making the uilleann pipes visible and familiar to the British and European folk club worlds via records, touring and broadcasting in the 60s and early 70s – has led me towards creating a further chapter on Bill Leader, the legendary producer who, uniquely, recorded several of the piping greats for British record releases during those Swinging Sixties: Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Finbar Furey, Liam O’Flynn (okay, that one was 1971…) as well as the McPeakes of Belfast (not piping greats, per se, but influential in bringing the instrument to the masses during the ‘folk revival’ in Britain). Bill has very kindly given me a detailed interview on his involvement with Irish music for the book and several British folk notables, so far including Martin Carthy, Roger Trevitt (Hunter Muskett), Dave Burland and Peggy Seeger, have also contibuted recollections regarding pipes and piping in the British folk world of the 60s. That decade was the tipping point between piping as an almost secretive, arcane pursuit in the backroom of Irish pubs and an instrument that could take its place as something thrilling and accessible on the world stage – albeit one that still demanded great dedication and skill to master.
I’m hoping to create chapters covering the four great pipers of the middle 20th Century – the era that straddled the oral tradition moving into the modern recording world: Johnny Doran, Leo Rowsome, Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis. The intriguing thing about uilleann piping, it seems to me, is that there are only ever a handful of individuals in any generation who effectively represent the instrument and carry its tradition. Perhaps largely this is because it is so difficult to play and, historically, there have only been a few makers of the instrument let alone teachers. The situation has changed in recent years, but up to the 1960s, certainly, the number of uilleann pipers in the world could have been counted on a few hands. Named practitioners of the instrument, incredibly, go back to the early 1700s, as do collected examples of its repertoire – that’s a good two centuries before the same can be said of the blues.
The trick will be to make the book interesting and accessible to both casual listeners/readers and seasoned pipers. It seems curious to me that very few books have been written by or about individual performers/acts within the commercial end of traditional music – as compared with musicians within most other areas of ‘popular music’. Over the past 50 years folk music has existed within the broader popular music arena – the likes of Planxty, the Bothy Band, et al, by the 1970s were basically pop groups in terms of the environment within which they operated: they made records; they toured; they appeared in the music press; and so forth. And yet, even including books on English and Scottish artists from the ‘folk revival’ – including my book on Bert Jansch, first published in 2000, there doesn’t seem to be any great quantity of memoirs or biographies emanating from the folk/trad corner of the popular music world. Curious, isn’t it? John McSherry will be almost unique in being a professional Irish trad musician of the past 20 years with a book to his name. Let’s hope it’s a good one…
Hopefully, as I type, webmaster to the stars (certainly those of the jazz pantheon in Norway) ‘Excitable’ Dave Mullan will be working on the architecture of a forthcoming website dedicated to the similarly forthcoming Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond.
The textual content of the site has already been written, including: two extracts from the book; an exclusive essay on the Georgie Fame/John McLaughlin recordings; a ‘deleted scene’ in the form of an unused Introduction to the book; a Q&A with myself about the book; and an essay (with accompanying audio recordings) of rare Mahavishnu Orchestra repertoire.
There will also be a smattering of rare 1968-75 video clips (some not currently circulating) for viewing; some rare ‘60s recordings available to be streamed; and three Mahavishnu Orchestra audio concerts – two of which are not easily available and all three of which I’ve had newly mastered – available to be freely downloaded.
Extracts from the book may also appear on two leading jazz websites in due course and in one UK magazine. More details nearer the time. A first extract from the book was posted on the splendid Afterword site:
In the ‘old days’ people might take the trouble to write you a letter if they had something to say about your book. These days anyone can express an opinion at the click of a mouse. So if you don’t like a word that I’ve used, social media will help you express that view! On the other hand, it’s a great way to have genuine factual slips come to light (as has happened in this case, ahead of print publication). No one is infallible!
On November 13 I will be appearing in a rather ambitious ‘author event’, with small invited audience, at Cormac O’Kane’s studio in Belfast. Northern Ireland jazz colossus and local radio personality Linley Hamilton will compère and conduct a Q&A with me about the book with periodic musical interludes. The event will be filmed in black and white with multiple cameras and Cormac ‘Wizard Of Sound’ O’Kane on the mixing desk, with a view to a podcast shortly after.
The musical interludes will include three or four Mahavishnu Orchestra numbers performed by a specially assembled team under MD Pat Gribben (guitar), best known as songwriter for the Adventures, with Linley Hamilton (trumpet), Scott Flanigan (keys), Ali McKenzie (bass), Peter McKinney (drums).
Local blues legend Ronnie Greer (guitar) will also perform in R&B trio format with Ali McKenzie and Peter McKinney, with guest vocalists Tina McSherry and Triona Carvill, resurrecting three Duffy Power/John McLaughlin co-writes from the mid ‘60s.
In other news… I spend a feverishly busy day at the excellent Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin recently, collecting material for an essay on the history of Uilleann (Irish) piping. I’m at the early stages of working on a book with Belfast piping maestro John McSherry and the essay will form part of that.
My book Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the ’60s and the Emerald Beyond is now completed. Huge sigh of relief… I’ve been proof-reading and making a few last-minute tweaks in recent days – though inevitably the odd typographical error will escape no matter how many times one scrutinises. Eleventh hour stuff has included getting to the bottom of whether the John McLaughlin version of the Tony Meehan Combo regrouped momentarily to appear on Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars in January 1964 (turns out they did) and finding space for Arjen Gorter’s just-in-time delivery of recollections from Gunter Hampel’s Time Is Now adventure of 1968.
The book will be published by Jawbone Press internationally around January/February 2014 in both print edition and eBook edition. It covers John’s career from its beginning in 1958 up to 1975 and the disbanding of the last Mahavishnu Orchestra. Essentially, it’s a ‘sixties book’ – the first two-thirds is a richly detailed journey through the many overlapping scenes which John passed through in the almost village-like creative cauldron of London during that decade. The final third documents John’s rise to international stardom from lowly foundations in New York.
I honestly, sincerely believe that it will appeal to anyone who is interested in the music world of the 1960s, particularly British music. That was my goal. Existing knowledge of jazz or pop in that era – beyond knowing vaguely of the Beatles, the Stones and not much else – is not required. Everything is introduced, explained and – fingers crossed – made interesting. Characters reappear throughout…
It’s amazing that there are still stones from that era to be upturned – with fascinating things underneath – although to an extent, of course, alongside substantial new research, the book is a work of synthesis, bringing together in a hopefully satisfying narrative a great deal of scattered, sometimes obscure and often very disparate strands of existing knowledge. British rock’n’roll, the 1963-64 R&B boom, the Flamingo club, the Scene club, the birth of British soul, the world of ‘60s pop sessions, jazz’n’poetry, the ‘Old Place’ generation, the Little Theatre Club, ‘free improvisation’… and then on to New York and ‘jazz-rock’ (though it’s not a phrase I care for and it wasn’t one McLaughlin himself used during the Mahavishnu era)…
There were around 60 interviews for the book – from Gunter Hampel to Petula Clark, Rick Laird to Sir George Martin, Big Jim Sullivan to Carol Shive, Spontaneous Music Ensemble veteran Trevor Watts to Wishbone Ash man Andy Powell – along with extensive use of previously published interviews (often sourced from rare publications) with many other ‘persons of interest’ in the tale.
The print version will have around 210,000 words of text and a painstakingly assembled photo section; the eBook will replicate this text and add a further 105,000 words of bonus chapters and appendices. Hopefully that bonus content will also be available separately for download at a modest price for those who prefer, as I would myself, to buy the print edition and who don’t wish to have to buy the whole thing again just to get the extra content. A print edition above 210,000 words was simply not possible, so the ebook bonus content idea seemed a decent solution. It’s entirely possible to read just the print edition – it’s not like an Agatha Christie novel where the last chapter is missing! – but for those who read it and enjoy it there’s the option of complementary chapters and vast discographical and concert-listing appendices within easy reach. The full story of the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, especially, is found in the bonus content. The photo section will include, among much else, many superb previously unpublished shots from Jak Kilby and Val Wilmer. Many of the interviewees and participants in the tale will be illustrated. I’ll give the chapter headings for the print edition and eBook bonus contents at the end of this update.
In due course (before the end of the year) there will be a book-specific website, designed by ‘Exciteable’ Dave Mullan – which will, I hope, be exciting. Whenever the book is ready to be published my friend Cormac O’Kane (Wizard Of Sound) is keen to facilitate a launch event at his studio in Belfast, his idea being to involve some of his new-media pals and broadcast it live on the net. If it happens – and I’m game – then it will certainly involve live music, an onstage Q&A, readings, invited (in the room) audience. I don’t know if anyone other than me buys books any more, so I’m going to do what I can to get the word out and give it a fighting chance, even if it means shameless self-publicity. Up to a point.
Meanwhile, in other news…
Hux Records release, at the end of this month, a fabulous remaster of the self-titled Joe Farrell Quartet album, from 1970. Somehow I’m credited as ‘project co-ordinator’. Pink Floyd associate Ron Geesin has done a sterling job on the mastering, from audio supplied by Sony US, and design legend Mark Case (who will also be designing the cover and photo section of Bathed In Lightning) has designed the 6-panel digipak based around replicating and enhancing the original LP gatefold sleeve. We’ve gone elegantly minimal on the textual content: rather than a full sleevenote, which we reckoned unnecessary, we’ve excerpted two period reviews of the album, from Down Beat and The Gramophone, and presented a line or two of period quote apiece either from or about each of the players – Joe Farrell (sax, flute, oboe), John McLaughlin (guitar), Chick Corea (keys), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums). It’s basically Joe Farrell with Miles Davis’ band of the time – and it’s a magnificent record.
Hux’s license from Sony was non-exclusive and, unfortunately, US label Wounded Bird have also licensed the album and also release it this month. I haven’t seen Wounded Bird’s packaging nor heard the mastering so I can’t compare. And I’d probably be biased anyway. But, well… take it from me, the Hux reissue is lovingly crafted!
I’m delighted to report that Hux have also just received the go-ahead to reissue, as a 2CD set, the two Howard Riley Trio CBS albums from 1969 and 1970, Angle and The Day Will Come. Howard had mentioned to me, after an interview for the McLaughlin book, that he’d love to see these alums available again and specifically as a 2CD package so he’s very pleased about Sony agreeing. The pair were previously available on CD, separately, in the ’90s but even these are now rare (let alone the original vinyl). As above, Ron Geesin will be doing the mastering.
My instrumental EP – begun in early 2012 then more or less set aside, as book activities took over, until a couple of months ago – continues to progress as time allows: mine, studio boffin Cormac O’Kane’s and that of others involved. There are four tracks: ‘Blues For The End Of Time’ (an early Fleetwood Mac kind of thing, featuring Australian bluesmeister Shane Pacey on electric guitars); ‘Blues For The Mahavishnu’ (featuring Shane and former Mahavishnu sax supremo Premik Russell Tubbs); ‘Blues For A Green Earth’ (a brooding quasi-baroque acoustic track which will have strings added); and a shamelessly full-on Mahavishnu-esque electric thing currently titled ‘Between Failure & Frustration’ (but that may change). Aside from Cormac and myself, bass player non pareil Ali McKenzie features on three of the above.
One of the great by-products of writing the McLaughlin book has been becoming friendly with some of the people one meets along the way. I’ve very much enjoyed, on two occasions each, travelling to see (momentary) 1967 McLaughlin collaborator Gary Cox’s bebop act Jazz Gazette playing live in Strabane, in the wild west of Northern Ireland, and 1960-66 McLaughlin bandmate (with Georgie Fame, Ronnie Jones, Herbie Goins and others) Mick Eve playing at The Constitution pub in London with ’60s soul/ska legend Ronnie Gordon and a splendid band of happy collaborators. (Their recent CD Ronnie Gordon Speaks His Mind is fabulous – seek it out.)
Anyway, the point being that I’ve been delighted to have had two of my interviewees, Premik Tubbs (soprano sax) and Steve Kindler (violin/string devices), help me out (on very generous terms) on the EP. It’s nothing to do with their past, just their playing – at which they’re rather good!
I’ve always liked my composition ‘Blues For A Green Earth’ but never felt I’d recorded it properly before. So… I thought I’d try and nail it last month, at Cormac’s fabulous newly-built studio in Belfast. (It’s a pretty exclusive/elusive enterprise: ultra-high specs and yet the only place the name – Red Box Studios – appears is on the inside of the toilet door. ‘We’ll work outwards…’ says Cormac.) Anyway, I try to record it and… disaster. I find – or rather Cormac does, in an afternoon defined by his irascible/tough love approach to record production/my confidence – that I can’t actually play it! I went home that night, disconsolate, and wrote/demoed ‘Between Failure & Frustration’, determined to go back with something I could actually play.
But it all ended well: not only did Cormac and I record a blistering studio version of ‘Between Failure…’ but, on examining the multiple previous takes of ‘Blues For A Green Earth’, we were able to piece together a really nice version – tight enough for him, loose enough for me. Turns out the blighter is more or less in 3/8 time (who even knew there was such a thing?), except that I drop or add bars all over the place – because it feels right. It’s now up to Steve Kindler – who has been a huge help (though he might think himself a hindrance!) during the late stages of the book – to come up with a suitably magisterial and understated string arrangement for it. No pressure, Steve…
When the EP tracks are complete I plan to make a short run on CD appending the whole 2010 all-instrumental Titanium Flag album plus a handful of demos associated with both EP and album. I’ve pretty much run out of copies of the album so I might as well make use of all that extra space on the new CD.
Those chapter headings:
Print Edition & E-Book Main Text Contents:
Chapter One: Beginnings: 1942-58
Chapter Two: London: 1959-62
Chapter Three: Fame: 1962-63
Chapter Four: Graham Bond: 1963
Chapter Five: Modernism: 1964
Chapter Six: Swinging London: 1965
Chapter Seven: Power: 1966
Chapter Eight: Money: 1967
Chapter Nine: British Jazz: 1967-68
Chapter Ten: Freedom: 1968-69
Chapter Eleven: New York: 1969
Chapter Twelve: Faith: 1970
Chapter Thirteen: God’s Orchestra: 1971-73
Chapter Fourteen: Apocalypse: 1974
Chapter Fifteen: Resolution: 1975
E-Book Bonus Chapters:
1. Big Pete Deuchar: 1958-60
2. The Tony Meehan Combo: October – December 1963
3. Pirate Radio, London Mods, British Soul: 1964
4. Arjen’s Bag: 1968
5. Mahavishnu Orchestra 2: On The Road 1974
6. Mahavishnu Orchestra 2: Visions Of The Emerald Beyond: December 1974 – June 1975
7. Mahavishnu Orchestra 3: Resolution: June 1975 – November 1975
8. Postscript: Do You Hear The Voices That You Left Behind?
9. The Texts Of Festival: Star Truckin’ ‘75 by Charles Shaar Murray
(reprinted from NME 23/8/75 by arrangement with CSM)
Appendix 1 – John McLaughlin Discography: The British Recordings 1963-69
Appendix 2 – John McLaughlin: Known Concert Appearances 1963-68
Appendix 3 – John McLaughlin Discography: The US Recordings 1969 – 1975
Appendix 4 – MO2: Known Concert Appearances 1974-75
Well, there’s nothing like writing a book to keep one from updating websites, is there? I have a few pieces of news on CDs and suchlike, which appear at the end, but first the book…
At the moment I’m over 200,000 words into a project which has become more involved and perhaps more significant than was at first contemplated. My concept a year or so back was for a short book focused on the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, with a prologue covering the first Mahavishnu Orchestra and an appendix covering the essentials of leader John McLaughlin’s path through the 1960s. The first piece of writing I completed, after a serious trawl through primary print sources, was the prologue: a 10,000 word breeze through MO1 ‘as it happened’. The second piece of writing I attempted was the appendix.
It soon became obvious, though, that there was a great deal to be said about John McLaughlin in the 1960s, and about the worlds he inhabited then – British rock’n’roll, the London modern jazz world, the British R&B boom, Mods, the pop session scene, ‘free improvisation’, London psychedelic clubs, and more besides. It’s remarkable that no one has attempted this before – but then it’s also remarkable that there are so few books on British jazz in the 1960s. It is, for some reason, the last great under-known empire of that cultural abundant decade.
During the latter half of 2012 it increasingly became clear that what I was writing was not an appendix but the most significant part of the book in itself. My own interviews with John’s peers and associates from this era were combined with an exhaustive trawl through the key British music paper of the time, Melody Maker, at the British Library, along with reference to many other sources (Jazz Journal, Jazz Monthly, NME, Rolling Stone, Down Beat). Many memoirs by, and biographies of, other musicians from the era, and other reference books, have also been consulted.
It has been my overarching focus to write a book which not only chronicles the central subject (John McLaughlin) but also the world in which he moved: London in the 1960s. Above all, more than anything, I want this book to be readable by anyone interested in the decade and its culture. It is, determinedly, not a ‘jazz book’ – though it contains a great deal of information and adventure from that sphere that isn’t easily available elsewhere, that will delight jazz buffs – but simply a book about people making music in the melting pot of ‘60s London, coming at it from all sorts of directions, interacting with each other, making a living playing to people, striving to make individual statements at the cutting edges whenever they could. Genres – jazz, rock, soul, blues, pop – were not so rigidly codified in those days. A fundamental error of many writers/books is to treat a genre, and the goings-on within in in the 1960s, in isolation. Yes, it can be done. But it’s like singling out a tree in a forest. It’s so much more interesting to see the whole forest, to watch the squirrels and birds moving freely from tree to tree. It was a heady time, before the modern era in many ways but within it in terms of retrievable data.
Much of the historian’s art is first finding the fragments of fabric and only then weaving the garment. Irish intellectual Fintan O’Toole once wrote that John McLaughlin, emerging into international prominence with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971, ‘was a rock star who seemed to owe nothing to the ‘60s’. This was pertinent on two levels: firstly, the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s music was not obviously based on anything which had gone before in popular music; secondly, John McLaughlin appeared to have sprung into the spotlight fully-formed, having barely left a trace on popular consciousness prior to his involvement in Miles Davis records in 1969.
Nevertheless, John McLaughlin had a professional, very active and richly varied career in music from 1958. All one need try and do is retrieve the information. There may be no records with the words ‘John McLaughlin’ on the front cover prior to his own LP debut as leader, Extrapolation, recorded early in 1969 just prior to departing for New York and what would turn out to be an international career (after an ‘apprenticeship’ longer than the Beatles’ whole existence), but the threads are still there to be found and woven together. And yes, the name ‘John McLaughlin’ (in many variants of spelling) does indeed grace the small print of the Melody Maker more times than one might have imagined during the decade. In itself, this is still only a small part of reassembling the jigsaw. But it’s a bit like finding the bits at the edges. Testimony from associates, knowledge of the context and landscape of music, people and places of Britain and Europe at the time, plus the scattered recollections on his pre-fame past from John’s own many interviews of later years form the picture within.
A contract has been agreed with the excellent Jawbone Press and publication planned for early 2014. The book will be called Bathed In Lightning: Mahavishnu John McLaughlin And The End Of The Sixties – or something similar. The main title was inspired by a 1975 Mahavishnu review from the legendary Charles Shaar Murray in British magazine NME:
‘Playing as he does in a state of transported ecstasy – God playing through him, as it were – his music expresses a view of religion as heroic, epic, large-scale, of almost unbearable passion and grandeur. His YMCA swimming instructor features either wreathed in a beatific grin or contorted with the righteous efforts of a Good Man wrestling with the Devil, he radiates an incongruous air of preternatural calm in the midst of the unbelievably violent electronic/percussive sturm und drang of the music – like a man serenely bathing in lightning because he knows that it’s on his side and will never hurt him.’
The section of the book covering Britain and Europe up to 1969 comes to around 170,000 words at present, including two substantial appendices: one listing known concert appearances from 1963-68; the other a discography/sessionography (which adds/clarifies a great deal of information to existing discographies of the period). The second section – covering the Miles Davis and Tony Williams Lifetime era (1969-71), the MO1 era (1971-73) and the MO2 era (1974-75) – is currently being written, but will be significantly shorter than section one – less than half its length.
An option of dividing the book into two books was discussed with Jawbone and with my agent, the splendid Matthew Hamilton, over Christmas, but it was ultimately felt that one long book would be preferable to two shorter ones.
So, because of the likely length of the (single) book it’s been agreed with Jawbone mainman Major Tom, and with Agent Hamilton – over a long cup of coffee and amidst much bonhomie at a sub-zero St Pancras train station café – that there will, in effect, be two versions of the book.
The first, in hard copy, will come in somewhere below 200,000 words. (Jawbone’s longest title to date is 180,000 words, I kept being told…) The second, the e-book edition, will be longer: not an alternative ‘cut’ of the book, as such, rather the same basic text as the hard copy – but with the addition of bonus chapters and appendices. This seems to me a very acceptable compromise: I want the book to be available to as many people as possible, price wise, and I don’t want it to be uncomfortably bulky to hold. (I wonder how anyone can possibly read, for example, Johnny Rogan’s latest version of his increasingly Biblical Byrds biography – it’s hard to lift let alone open, hold and read.) On the other hand, I would hate to waste material that has taken a long time to corral and which is, to the best of my ability, fashioned into a narrative designed to engage the general public.
Consequently, from the 170,000-odd words of Section One (1942-69), two chapters and two appendices can be fairly easily removed to the e-book version without compromising the rest of the tale. The chapters in question are on two fairly ‘stand alone’ episodes in John’s journey: Big Pete Deuchar & the Professors of Ragtime and the Tony Meehan Combo. A few paragraphs summing up the essentials of each can be added to the hard copy version, with the full tales appearing in the kindle/iPad/whatever edition.
From Section Two (1969-75), similar appendices covering gig listings (for MO2) and discography/sessionography (for the whole period), can also become e-book exclusives. Whether there is also ‘bonus chapter’ material remains to be seen.
In Other News…
My old friend film director Jan Leman got in touch recently. Jan made a lovingly crafted, beautifully filmed documentary called Acoustic Routes in 1992. Anchored around Bert Jansch, it was, in essence, a document of many key people from the guitar-centric British folk scene of the 1960s, specifically focused on Edinburgh and London. Artists who were rarely-seen at that time were filmed in conversation, reminiscence and performance – Anne Briggs, Wizz Jones, Davy Graham, Hamish Imlach, Archie Fisher and others. It concluded with a terrific sequence where Bert got to meet and play with his old hero Brownie McGhee, in California.
The film was shown once on BBC2 in 1993 and appeared at a few film festivals but soon drifted from view. It was still a few years prior to Bert’s renaissance as an artist and a few years prior to the whole ‘60s folk scene being resurrected in popular interest as a mythical time. By the time BBC4’s Folk Britannia aired, around 2004 – well into the CD reissues era (which had barely begun back in 1993) – one could say that the most of the participants in Acoustic Routes were now better known and more highly regarded than they had been 10 years earlier.
So, in a way, what made Jan’s task as a film-maker so difficult back in 1992-93 (getting the funding together, getting a broadcaster interested), has since become a virtue: he caught great performances and relaxed, natural reminiscences from people still very much capable of delivering the goods, at a time when they were being more or less ignored by the media in general. One could say that a documentary about has-beens in 1993 has re-emerged as a time capsule of great musicians in exquisitely filmed performance 20 years later. It seems, perhaps, less ‘out of time’ now than it did then. In addition, though, Jan has gone back to his rushes and created a new 102 minute cut of the film (originally 70 minutes), with new grading and mastering. I understand it looks fabulous.
I was very peripherally involved in the film – I think I may have given Jan a couple of phone numbers, I certainly attended one of the filming sessions (a wonderful experience, at the old Howff folk club premises in Edinburgh) and later the cinema premiere at the Edinburgh film festival. I also wrote a lengthy sleevenote for the original soundtrack CD, released via Demon in 1993 – and now fetching absurd sums on ebay.
At Jan’s request I’ve unearthed that original CD note (possibly, after a while of searching, the oldest piece of writing I have in electronic form). It will appear, in very slightly tweaked form, in a 48 page book which will be part of the Deluxe Edition box set of Acoustic Routes: 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and the book. The second DVD is titled Walk On, being the full 50-minute session with Bert Jansch and Brownie McGhee. The 2 CDs are, I understand, the original CD soundtrack plus a second disc of previously unreleased recordings from the film sessions. Aside from the Brownie McGhee session – where they filmed until the film stock ran out – Jan shot very leanly, from what I could see, but even from the Howff folk club session I attended there were, from memory, at least two songs filmed which were not used in the BBC version, so I imagine this ratio of used/unused material was typical.
In addition to the original CD note, I provided Jan with a Bert Jansch/Davy Graham piece written for Mojo in 2000 plus, at his request, an edit of the section referencing the film from my Jansch biography, Dazzling Stranger (Bloomsbury, 2000). I also supplied around 60 B&W photos, taken around the time of the film, of Bert Jansch in concert with the likes of Peter Kirtley and Jacqui McShee, who are both also featured in the film. Jan has a lot of other content for the 48 page book – including several hand-written lyrics from various participants and some great photos of his own – but I daresay some of the aforementioned writings/pics will appear in it.
Acoustic Routes is in cinemas around the UK during March (details can be found elsewhere online) and other versions of the film and its soundtrack recordings will be released soon, including a 2LP vinyl edition and more basic editions on DVD and CD. It’s all highly recommended. Support it if you can!
Also on the CD front, I’ve been loosely involved in a few more projects with my friend Brian O’Reilly at Hux Records. Just out, or coming soon, are Just Like Yesterday: The James Griffin Solo Anthology 1974-77, featuring the former Bread maestro’s two neglected ‘70s solo albums plus two live Old Grey Whistle Test performances. The CD comes with a terrific sleevenote from Peter Doggett. Ron Geesin has done his usual good job on the mastering, but I think he excelled himself on the second project I wanted to mention: The Joe Farrell Quartet.
The Joe Farrell Quartet is a wonderful, 37 minute New York jazz LP from 1970. It pairs the sax and reeds man Joe Farrell with Miles Davis’ entire rhythm section: Chick Corea (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums) plus John McLaughlin (guitar) on two tracks. The stand-out performance is lead track, ‘Follow Your Heart’, written by John, in its definitive arrangement, but the whole LP is wonderfully evocative stuff. It’s been out on CD before, but not in recent years. The Hux release, aside from Ron’s excellent mastering, comes in a 6 panel digipak designed by the increasingly legendary Mark Case of Whitenoise Studios: based on a facsimile of the original LP gatefold, plus brief period quotes from all five players and extracts from period reviews of the LP. A beautiful looking, and sounding, artefact.
Plans are afoot at Hux to release/reissue material by a couple of British jazz icons which I’ve had the pleasure to interview for the McLaughlin book: Trevor Watts and (pending Sony’s permission) Howard Riley. Fingers crossed.
Finally (for the moment at least), I continue to provide Barney Hoskyns’ excellent subscription website www.rocksbackpages.com with gleanings from the archive. Most recently, in searching for the Acoustic Routes material, I came across a previously unpublished piece I’d written in July 2007, more or less on spec, and just out of interest at the time, on the ’50 year copyright issue’ in recorded sound. To an extent, the story has moved on a little since then, but it remains an interesting piece, I think, and hopefully it will appear on Barney’s site in due course.
Myself and webmaster Uncle Spike talked about revamping the design of this site’s Journalism Archive a year or so back, to allow more new pieces to be added and accessed in easy fashion, but both of us became very busy at the time… In due course, hopefully this can be dealt with. Certainly, there are many more pieces which could be added.
When the McLaughlin book is closer at hand I hope to launch a directly-related website as a kind of online shop window for it, possibly including exclusive written content. All in good time.
Likewise, regarding my own musical activities, I’ve only recently started thinking about completing the instrumental EP referred to in the April 2012 Update. My good friend and Wiizard Of Sound, Cormac O’Kane, has been busy buying/building a new studio. I’ve been rather distracted with a book. At some point, our planets will align.
For the moment, here’s hoping it won’t be another 11 months till the next update.
My retirement from writing about music becomes increasingly inaccurate: for the past couple of months I’ve been working towards a new book. It will be the story of the second Mahavishnu Orchestra (1974-75). Band leader/visionary John McLaughlin has very generously given me his blessing on the project. John’s history has been explored to date in a number of books and in regular magazine, radio and TV interviews, but the group was a major episode in the lives of all its other musicians and associated individuals. The book will be as much about them as their leader.
While the subject may seem like a niche one, my aim is to create a narrative appealing to anyone who has a fondness and fascination for the ‘classic rock’ era, the ‘70s, ‘60s idealism and so forth. It’s very much a human story set at a time when ‘giants walked the earth’ – a time when it was possible for an 11 piece band to tour the world playing largely instrumental music at high volume in multi-thousand-seater auditoriums, inspiring audiences and intriguing the media with an esoteric message and setting a standard of musicianship for peers to aspire to. It will not be a ‘jazz-rock’ book or a ‘fusion’ book (the F word, not even in general use at the time the story takes place, won’t even appear); it will be a book about music and musicians operating within the music world of the time, which was a world much less constrained by or concerned with categorisation than it later became.
I’ve already accumulated a great deal of primary source material from Britain, America and beyond and spoken at length with several of the musicians, collaborators, producers and promoters involved at the time. I hope to speak to many more in due course. The spirit I’ve encountered from those I’ve spoken with thus far has been overwhelmingly positive – in many ways it’s a labour of love project, but it’s nevertheless so much easier to do in both practical terms and in terms of one’s own morale given the warmth and generosity of the dramatis personae!
I can whole-heartedly recommend Walter Kolosky’s existing Mahavishnu Orchestra book Power, Passion & Beauty (Abstract Logic, 2005). While Walter’s book does cover the second MO, it is principally concerned with the first band (1971-73), covering that period and the previous background of the five members – John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird – brilliantly, with extensive retrospective interview material from all five and their fellow travellers, along with commentary from other fusion musicians.
It’s my sincere hope that my book will complement Walter’s, not compete with it. While there will inevitably, unavoidably, be a certain amount of overlap (the first chapter of my book will deal necessarily with the rise and fall of the first band), the style, approach and resources used will be very different. Likewise, the style, approach and resources used in the main narrative on the adventure of the second band and its members. Hell, if the world can accommodate 1001 books on the Beatles it can deal with two on the Mahavishnu Orchestra(s)!
I envisage work on the book will be completed within this calendar year, circumstances permitting. In a couple of months I’ll pitch the project to a few publishers, though I’m already pondering the advantages of self-publishing a limited edition physical copy and e-book version. We shall see.
Meantime, if anyone knows the whereabouts of/ways to contact former members Steve Francewicz and Marsha Westbrook, please get in touch…
In other news…
I’ve been enjoying working with my regular, long-suffering ‘studio guy’ Cormac O’Kane – truly, a Wizard Of Sound – at odd moments over the past couple of months. At some point this year there’ll be an EP of instrumental music with a mostly mellow, late-night feel. I have in mind three substantial reworkings of existing pieces, one entirely new piece and possibly two original recordings of older pieces in similar vein added as bonus tracks. Australian blues guitar maestro Shane Pacey (of the Bondi Cigars / Shane Pacey Trio) has already recorded parts for two tracks and I’m very much looking forward to former Mahavishnu Orchestra soprano sax wizard Premik Russell Tubbs adding a part to one piece. As ever, Cormac’s schedule means things progress less speedily than one might wish – but I’m always grateful for whatever time he can manage!
Additionally, the long-awaited Duffy Power album True will finally appear at some point this year on the Market Square label, with a sleevenote from myself along with my instrumental involvement on a couple of tracks. I’ve said for years that Duffy remains an underappreciated talent and the quality of the songs and performances on True only underline that view.
Finally, I see that the Kindle edition of my Bert Jansch biography Dazzling Stranger (Bloomsbury) is now available over at Amazon. I understand that the new paperback version also appears this month. Both versions should contain the updated discography plus Pete Paphides’ new Afterword, covering 2006-2011.
Apologies for a lack of new pieces uploaded to the Journalism Archive in the past three or four weeks: webmeister Uncle Spike has been, like Jeffrey Barnard, ‘unwell’ – though, unlike Jeffrey, he actually has been unwell! Five new pieces are added this weekend: 1990s reviews of product/performances from Link Wray, Richard Thompson, Altan and Chris Smither; and an interview with Steve Tilston.
The Word Magazine blog thread on The Mahavishnu Orchestra, mentioned in the October update, rumbles on and now features a very substantial CH review of the newly released ‘Complete Columbia Albums’ box set, including information on the recording dates for the set’s unreleased live tracks (in short: Sony got it wrong… but the tracks sound great!). The thread also contains a very detailed listing of all the known MO live recordings from non-official sources which are available via the web for download or streaming, in many cases for free. It was good fun pulling all the info together – I’m sure it’s not totally complete, but as it stands it would appear that nearly 20% of the Mk 1 Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 535 concerts (1971-73) survive in some form. Amazing…
Finally, I’ve been persuaded to reconsider Bloomsbury’s e-book suggestion for Dazzling Stranger. It will appear in that form in due course, including a discographical update and the new afterword from Pete Paphides.