1969: A Blast from the Past

“Well it’s 1969 OK all across the USA
It’s another year for me and you
                                      Another year with nothing to do”  — 1969, The Stooges

I was 7 going on 8 in 1969.  But my brother was ten years older — and Detroit was a prime location to explore rock as it turned psychedelic, then progressive, still with plenty of punk attitude.  Our cousin from Lansing was about the same age as my brother — so they did a fair amount of concertgoing together.

The other day, out of the blue I got a letter from our cousin, reproduced below with my random thoughts interspersed:

Dear Cousin Rick,

I’m sending along a copy of the program from the festival I attended in the south of England summer of 1969.  I thought you might it interesting.

plumpton festival program(Hmmm … The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival.  Waitaminute: Pink Floyd?  King Crimson?  Peter Hammill performing solo before the first Van Der Graaf Generator album? Yes?  The Who?  Keith Emerson with The Nice?  Not to mention Soft Machine and Pentangle?  And he was there? Doggone straight I find it interesting.  Please continue, cousin!)

I’d seen both The Who and The Nice at the Grande Ballroom in the spring before.  The Who played the entire Tommy opera both times.  The Nice as I remember had some kind of revolving organ at the Grande.  At the Plumpton fest they closed the show on Sunday backed by a large orchestra.  At the final song the stage opened and a regiment of bagpipers marched off the stage and into the crowd.  Those were heady times.

isle of wight 1969There’s also a copy of the Isle of Wight festival flier which I missed as it was the weekend which we were heading home.  Such fond memories.

(Bob Dylan & The Band?  The Moody Blues?  More from King Crimson, The Who and Pentangle?  Stop torturing me, cousin!!!  Actually, no — please continue as I wrestle with envy and wish Doctor Who’s TARDIS was real.)

The day we arrived in London the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park celebrating the life of Brian Jones who had just passed.  Couldn’t quite get there but almost.  (Another King Crimson show!!)

I’d like to hear more about your music blogging/reviews.    P.S.  We didn’t arrive at the fest until Saturday so we missed all the Friday acts.  Booo!

Fortunately, the sounds of the Plumpton Festival aren’t completely lost in the mists of time; I plan to direct my cousin to Soft Machine’s and Pink Floyd’s sets online, and send him a copy of King Crimson’s set.

detroit rr revival 1969And talking with my brother later, I heard the story of how he and my cousin somehow got permission to go to the 1969 Detroit Rock’n’Roll Revival (with the MC5, Chuck Berry, Dr. John, The “Psychedelic” Stooges and many more acts) the night before my sister’s wedding.  Maybe I should rethink missing Yes’ 50th Anniversary Tour when it hits Grand Rapids.  Not to mention Wayne Kramer’s MC50 Kick Out the Jams 50th Anniversary Tour and Soft Machine’s world tour coming to Progtoberfest IV

— Rick Krueger

soundstreamsunday #112: “The Poet and the Witch” by Mellow Candle (1972) and Stephen Malkmus (2003)

Mellow-Candle1The CD reissue spree of the early 1990s benefited those lonely, cobwebbed corner obsessives who thought the longhairs of 70s British Isles folk rock had something good going.  Those of us who scuttled after the bones the sinister Shanachie label threw to the U.S. through the ’80s were conditioned to nonexistent liner notes and brainwashed into believing the trad arr groups of the previous decade could be described by creative English anachronism on the one hand and Irish rebel songs on the other.  Also-rans, like Mr. Fox or Mellow Candle or Trees, who were allowed to make records in the wake of Fairport’s and Steeleye’s success, and were good for an album or two before promptly dropping off the map, were roundly ignored in the States, to the extent that first, and typically only, pressings of their albums fetched exorbitant sums.  So when the CD stamping plants got their head of steam and allowed for an economical digital reissue of Mellow Candle’s lone album release, Swaddling Songs (1972), listeners rejoiced and collectors, who’d dropped multiple benjamins for dog-eared decades-old vinyl, grumbled a bit but bought their infinitely copy-able copy so they could listen to the damn thing.

The album was rare but it was also more than just okay, meriting the whispered celebrations of the pre-internet folky cognoscenti.  Swaddling Songs is a folk-inspired progressive rock gem, the brainchild of Clodagh Simonds and Alison Williams, whose Irish roots inform the record but never sink it beneath the weight of Heritage.  And in this sense the album has more in common with Aqualung or Tubular Bells (Simonds, appropriately enough, would go on to work with Mike Oldfield) than The Tain or Morris On, as original, mostly keyboard-led tunes organically hang together around Simonds’ and Williams’ winding, commanding vocals, seamless, with contemporary touchstones like Joni Mitchell making themselves felt but also casting into the future toward Sinead O’Connor, Cranberries, Heidi Berry, Helium, Florence + the Machine.  Framed by solid songwriting, unfussy arrangements and production, and outstanding musicianship, there’s a comfortable cosmic warmth to the album’s entirety.  Of many prescient moments on Swaddling Songs, a favorite is “The Poet and the Witch,” the album’s rave-up palate-cleansing show-stopper, adding fierceness to the beauty.

Pity the poet who suffers to give
Sailing his friendship on oceans of love
Strange harbour soundwaves break out of his reach
Love is a foreigner to the Queen of the Beach
Queen of the Beach

Moonfilled and thunderful star-staggered eyes
She broke away to be one with the skies
She feeds his love to the nightmare she rides
Suffers her hunger to inherit the prize
Queen of the Skies

Thunder-stricken tempest strikes fire in the sky
Beacons of flame for the Queen as she flies
Blind to his ocean and deaf to his cries
She’s blind and she’s deaf but she’s Queen of the Skies
Queen of the Skies

King of the Seabed he sleeps on his own
The fishes have found him, the seaweed has grown
He slipped through the waves and he sank like a stone
Queens who have nightmares must be Queens on their own
Queens on their own

I’d picked up my CD copy of Swaddling Songs sometime in the mid 90s, and it was on heavy rotation for a while, in and out and around Can and the Incredible String Band, Amon Duul and Lal Waterson.  Even as these pieces fit together in their way, Swaddling Songs seemed miles distant from anything approaching musical with-it-ness at century’s eclectic end, and yet as I stood at the back of the crowd at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina in 2001 and watched a muscular set by indie-rock cover boy Stephen Malkmus, late of Pavement, there was a deep, jaw-dropping sensibility to his cover of “The Poet and the Witch.”  It was a surprise and a gift.  Malkmus’s work is never less than genre-bending — he may be his own genre — and his sympathy for progressive rock is plain in both word (name-checking Geddy Lee in Pavement’s “Stereo”) and deed.  He thought enough of his jaggedly jumbled, charming Mellow Candle cover to release it as a live bonus track on 2003’s Pig Lib.  Leave it to Malkmus, and to a worldview acknowledging the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #111: “The Gay Goshawk” by Mr. Fox

1200px-Mr.FoxBob and Carole Pegg formed Mr. Fox in 1970 in the wake of Ashley Hutchings’ early rehearsals for Steeleye Span (having I suppose not passed that audition), made two eccentric albums that writers on the British folk revival still can’t really sum, and were done in both their marriage and the band by 1972.  Critics claim it was uneven live performing, a hard-to-parse new music approach to folk rock, or lack of vocal heft that singers like Sandy Denny or Maddy Prior brought to their respective groups… I put my money on a general learned restlessness you can hear in the music itself, in their very Reynardine-esque name.  Oddball northern England raps butted up against drones, earthy fuzz bass and respirating bellowed instruments, and original songwriting.  Decades later these would earn the band a reputation among acid folk revivalists, but Mr. Fox were less Trees or Mellow Candle, more John Cale as filtered through the Yorkshire dales, even as Bob possessed the patented nasal drawl requisite to any respectable folk act of the period and Carole’s fiddling was appropriately rustic.

A gay goshawk came to my window sill,
The snow it fell fast and the stars stood still,
Oh, won’t you take me in from the storm,
Won’t you take me between your sheets so warm?’
Gold was the colour of his wings so fair,
His eyes they were bold and of silver so clear,
As I laid his brown body upon the pillow,
He became a man, live as a willow.

‘Don’t breathe a word, don’t scream, don’t shout,
Or I’ll turn the whole world round about,
I’ll lay the moon flat on the land,
Twist a rope out of flying sand.’
Whispering women say I have been beguiled,
Now the deed’s done, she must care for the child,
Jasmine’s the colour of his hair,
A nut brown boy with a silvery stare.

The night has gone and the seasons slip by,
Knowing seducers still give me the eye,
But on cold winter’s evenings alone I walk,
I watch and I pray for my gay goshawk.

Penned by Carole Pegg, “The Gay Goshawk,” from Mr. Fox’s self-titled 1970 debut, with its pounding tom and killer fiddle drift, is a lesson in folk-inspired songwriting and in shrugging convention.  No other British folk rock outfit could touch it in terms of both originality and faithfulness to the spirit of the tradition being upheld, although Brass Monkey’s “Fable of the Wings” dwells in a similar landscape.  Evidently the song had staying power for Carole, who recast it over four decades on with, naturally, Tuvan throat singer Radik Tülüsh.  Sly Mr. Fox.

*Image above, Mr. Fox live, circa 1970.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #110: “Twa Corbies” by Steeleye Span

twacorbiesThe power in “O Fortuna” — last week’s entry on the infinite linear mixtape — is in its performative setting, the text from Carmina Burana, enlivened, engulfed, by Carl Orff’s score.  Liquored- and sexed-up Goliards may have written it, may have given it a chant or two in its 12th-century time, but it was Orff who saw its dark potential and thus defined it.  It’s the magic in the most successful pieces of music, and why the idea of performance (whether it’s a live rendering of a piece or a feat of studio engineering), the act of putting on a mask, is such an important counter to its parallel, authenticity, with its passing and uncaptureable fire.

The conceits of performance make any “folk” revival possible, and while the makeup may be thickly applied at times — whether it’s a young Bob Dylan doing his best to carry himself like Woody Guthrie or Gillian Welch’s plaintive approximation of Appalachia — it’s a path to something deeper, a striving towards the elemental.

When Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention in late 1969 to form Steeleye Span, something like this may have been on his mind.  In bringing together two couples rooted in Britain’s folk music scene, Maddy Prior and Tim Hart, and Gay and Terry Woods, Hutchings was continuing a search to find a balance between the traditional and contemporary, which would soon lead him to form another keystone of the revival, the Albion (Country) Band.  The Woods’s left after the first record, 1970’s Hark! The Village Wait (Terry would go on to be one of the essential Pogues), and increasingly over the next decade Steeleye would be vocalist extraordinaire Maddy Prior’s vehicle, but the debut captures the spirit of the BritFolk moment, with Hutchings and Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks giving a rock anchor to traditional flights.

“Twa Corbies” brings the darkness, recounting a conversation between two crows about making a meal of a dead knight.  Based on “The Three Ravens,” the song was first published in 1611 but in all likelihood has a far deeper past.  Steeleye makes the most of it, Prior’s clarion call washed in the ragged-but-right chorus of her bandmates.

As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t’other say,
‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’
‘In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.
‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s taen another mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.
‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.
‘Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken where he is gane;
Oer his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.

The chunky lo-fi crash apropos a murder of crows murks in the background, conjuring its medieval vibe as baldly and surely as Orff might, electric guitars not detracting from the proceedings.  We’re there, with the band, with the corbies, pikin’ at the bonny blue een.

*Image above by Sam Black.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

 

“A song to the stars…” The progressive folk of Honeysuckle

honeysuckle album

Like Thelonious Monk, I like everything. But a little bit of everything — not everything of everything. Within about 30 seconds to a minute of hearing a track someone is “showing” me for the first time I decide whether I’ll invest time exploring the artist.

The other evening I was reading an article while my wife was listening on her phone to a band that had appeared earlier that day on the WDVX (Knoxville, TN) Blue Plate Special. Twelve seconds into “Deep Blue Eyes,” I heard what I figured to be the familiar affectation of a young contralto voice. “No. No, no. Not another hipster band.” Already, my mind was conjuring images of the group — bearded men with goofy hats and suspenders; she, probably wearing some 1920’s floral print with loud lipstick and hairstyle to match.

At 47 seconds, however, something unusual happened with the mandolin. It climbed the scale, ripping open an attic of dense harmonies. The driving instrumental break, pausing to get its breath before again lunging forward, signaled something beyond my first impression.

I don’t know
Which way we are being pulled
But the stars are sewn into the sky
To guide us on our way

And then, “Down, down, below the waves…” By the 2:20 mark I had minimized whatever forgotten article I was reading and was Googling, “…who is this, honey?” “A band called Honeysuckle.”

My sincerest apologies to Holly McGarry, Benjamin Burns, and Chris Bloniarz for my prejudice. I promise that when you guys come back down South we will be there in the front row to see you.

Catacombs (Oct ’17) is the latest release from this Boston-based trio. How did I miss them? Liking everything sometimes devolves into too much time around the fringes: not bluegrass but traditional bluegrass; not progressive music but proto-prog, etc. Traveling the gaps are artists that pull together everything you love with unexpected dash and capacity.

Honeysuckle play traditional folk instruments (guitar, banjo, mandolin) with a jazz rock intensity and chiseled focus. The wordless vocals of “Constellations” might put one in mind of Fleet Foxes; but the musicianship is so staid and majestic that it takes wing under its own power, without an updraft of reverb.

The title track features a fusionist breakdown, introduced by a riff reprised at the end of an atonal final chorus that swirls like angry hornets. “Watershed” has a complex cadence and vocal delivery that would be at home on Tull’s Stand Up. “Chipping Away the Paint” recapitulates and expands on the themes introduced in “Constellation” and “Catacombs,” with bits of “Deep Blue Eyes” linked by a psychedelic jam and — what’s this? — a throbbing electric guitar riff. A sign of things to come? [Update: the band informed us that it’s actually the mandolin with heavy pedal effects]

Okay, maybe the brief whistling on “Greenline” is just a tad hipstery. But for those who ramble on toward Proghalla this track, like the rest of Catacombs, points out an inviting, picturesque path under familiar and constant stars. One definitely worth exploring.

From Honeysuckle’s living room, the title track…

soundstreamsunday #93: “The North Star Grassman and the Ravens” by Sandy Denny

Sandy-DennyIn September 1971, Sandy Denny — on the heels of an incendiary contribution to “Battle of Evermore” from Led Zeppelin‘s upcoming fourth album — released her first solo record, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens.  It carried with it the strength and grace of her previous efforts, and featured many of the musicians with whom she had built her reputation, namely Richard Thompson from Fairport Convention and the entirety of Fotheringay.  It was a confident beginning to a too-brief solo career, and in its quiet power illustrates why Denny’s influence on the British folk and rock scenes was so profound.  Like other inhabitants of her world — thinking Thompson, Nick Drake, Lal Waterson — she was writing ahead of the curve, making deeper and contemporary connections to the wellspring of traditional folk while avoiding the easier middle earth sword epics so much of the rock world was obsessed with at the time (“Battle of Evermore” being a successful example of this).

A sailor’s life, a lament, an existential sea chanty, “The North Star Grassman and the Ravens” has everything describing Denny’s talent:  lyrical finesse, melodic beauty, the alchemical relationship of words to tune.  And of course, that voice, the kind of voice that could sing the traditional “Tam Lin” with menace and authority on Fairport’s Liege and Lief (1969), and turn on a dime to deliver something as hauntingly beautiful as “The Sea,” a song of her own devise, from Fotheringay (1970).

There are three striking versions of “North Star.”  The lovely studio original is shaded with classic early 70s British folk rock production (courtesy of John Wood), unfussy and earthy with a dynamic pop of bass and drums, Thompson’s restrained acoustic guitar not show-stopping but providing rhythmic chug while Ian Whiteman’s flute organ is suggestive of the hornpipe.  A solo live appearance on the BBC has Denny at the piano, owning the song without a band, a confident performer on her way to becoming a national treasure.  Denny recorded her last “North Star” in November 1977, just months before her death.  Here, with a full electric band, the song has morphed from somber reflection to country rock grandeur.  The recording was marred by technical difficulties in the guitar tracks and only released twenty years on, after Jerry Donahue (Fotheringay, Fairport) overdubbed new parts.  Even with this in mind, Donahue’s playing and his history with Denny wins the day, making Gold Dust: Live at the Royalty one of the better samplers of her work.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #89: “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean” by John Fahey

faheyBeginning in 1959, John Fahey’s “Blind Joe Death” excursions for solo acoustic guitar were the first to radically reconsider traditional blues and old-time music, extending by personalizing what Harry Smith did with the Anthology of American Folk Music (1952): rather than mythologizing what at that time was a largely unknown recorded legacy, as Smith did, Fahey made it breathe life, by quoting in his riffs on the traditional all manner of contemporary music.  There is not a folk or jazz or avant-garde or prog rock guitarist who doesn’t owe Fahey a debt for this, for not only breaking boundaries — with which he was hyper-literate — but making such things seem irrelevant in the music he made.

“On the Sunny Side of the Ocean” is from 1965’s Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death.  It is a masterpiece of droning open-tuned right-hand wonder, building steam and dimension until it opens up with an unexpected pull off that turns the entire ship eastward on its perfumed journey.  It is here, in this simple but everything phrase, that Fahey’s influence is apparent, as it would echo down the years through Popol Vuh and Opeth, just as Charley Patton and Mississippi John Hurt echoed through Fahey.

Transfiguration, certainly.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.