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Bebop Spoken There

Sonny Rollins: "I work very hard. I wear out suits playing." - (Downbeat May 29, 1969.)

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Bob Brookmeyer: "The group's philosophy? We're saving to buy new uniforms - the ties wore out." - (Crescendo March 1965).

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Archives.

Today Saturday March 25

Afternoon

?????

Evening

James Harrison (solo piano) - Cherry Tree Restaurant, 9 Osborne Rd., Jesmond, Newcastle. 7:30pm. No cover charge.

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To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: Bathed in Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond by Colin Harper, Jawbone Press.

(Review by JC)
I can still remember the excitement as a teenager of hearing the Mahavishnu Orchestra's album the Inner Mounting Flame for the first time. Obviously the speed of playing was staggering but so also was the fusion of jazz and rock and Eastern and Indian influences. And then there were some really weird, but memorable, time signatures. We knew about John McLaughlin from his recordings with Miles Davis, particularly Bitches Brew, but this was something else. The album was much played over the following months. Even now when some of us from those days meet up, a few MO tracks are usually played again.
So a number of years ago I was intrigued when I read an interview with John McLaughlin from the 1980s where he described moving with his mother from a village in Yorkshire up to Northumberland to somewhere he says was 'close to the Scottish border'. I have always wondered where this might have been - maybe his mother ran a B&B in Seahouses - but never came across any further details. However this new book by Colin Harper provides the answer - apparently it was 54, Warkworth Avenue, Monkseaton. Some may argue about whether this qualifies as 'close to the Scottish border' but then he had travelled all the way up from Doncaster.
As well as writing a good deal of music journalism over the years, Harper has published a well received biography of guitarist Bert Jansch containing much interesting detail of the folk and blues club scene in London in the early 1960s which provides the background to show how Jansch developed into the highly influential guitarist's guitarist that he later became. Harper adopts a similar and even more detailed approach in this book. Beginning with McLaughlin's first musical efforts in Monkseaton on a guitar handed down from his brother, at the age of 15 was turning up at a local jazz club in a pub on Sundays nights and asking to be allowed to sit in (where was that, I wonder?). Then at 16, having bought a second hand guitar in Windows, he joined Pete Deuchar's 'Professors of Ragtime' and quickly ended up in London.
At the time London was the melting pot for musicians of all kinds and most of them survived by doing sessions as backing musicians during the day and then playing in jazz, blues or folk clubs at night.
It is a bit strange now to find out that McLaughlin played on pop hits such as Herman's Hermits No Milk Today, Donovan's Mellow Yellow and Englebert Humperdinck’s Release Me, as well as records by Tom Jones, Petula Clark and many others. Harper's level of research is highly impressive and covers these activities in exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) detail and I must admit there were times when I wasn't really bothered whether it was McLaughlin, Big Jim Sullivan or Jimmy Page who had played rhythm guitar on a Petula Clark single that never actually got released. However, where his research and interviews with musicians really come into their own is in the fascinating descriptions of the other musical activities and collaborations that were going on. In the 1960s the London music scene was the place to be for musicians of all styles and influences (from Brian Auger to Zoot Money as BSH might say). The list of people who were there is a Who's Who of later jazz, blues and rock greats: Graham Bond, Alexis Korner, Eric Clapton, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Dave Holland, Danny Thompson and Jimi Hendrix were just a few of the musicians McLaughlin played with at this time. Ian and Mike Carr also feature, as well as other members of EMCEE 5 and Jacky Denton.
Everyone played with everyone else at clubs like the Flamingo and the Marquee and, of course, Ronnie Scott's. The original Ronnie's became the Old Place for younger experimental musicians when the main club moved to Frith Street. Round the corner John Stevens and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble were operating an open free-jazz house in the Little Theatre Club. Groups formed and evolved and dissolved in the space of a few weeks. People shared houses and flats and everyone jammed with everyone else. According to Harper, McLaughlin was both a part of this scene and a bit outside it. Other musicians saw him as different but also recognised that he was something special as a guitar player. Eventually both for personal reasons and because he could no longer endure playing as a session musician, McLaughlin left London in early summer 1968 and returned to his mother's house in the North East. When he returned to London a few months later a musician called Howard Blake, who hadn't seen him for some time, asked where he'd been and apparently McLaughlin replied (with some artistic licence) 'I've been up in Whitley Bay for two years. I've been playing on the beach, working out my own guitar style'. (Maybe this explains why he started to play so fast - it was an effort to keep his hands warm while sitting on the Long Sands). Then, on February 16 1969, McLaughlin went to New York and two days later he was playing with Miles Davis on the recording of In A Silent Way.
The last few chapters of the book deal with the various manifestations of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the influence of the guru, Sri Chinmoy, on McLaughlin's life and music at this particular time. There is a nice story of a gig that the Mahavishnu Orchestra played in Newcastle City Hall in 1973. Some local fans got to talk to John McLaughlin after the show and were amazed to learn that he had grown up in Whitley Bay and was going to see his mother there the following day. The next day one of the fans started ringing all the McLaughlin phone numbers in the local directory. After some wrong numbers, a woman's voice answered. 'Is the Mahavishnu there?' the fan asked nervously. 'Hang on, I'll get him' Mrs. McLaughlin replied and shouted 'John' in the background. As a male voice said 'Hello?', the fan's courage deserted her and she put down the phone. This exchange has a surreal Monty Python feel to it and one could imagine the possibly long-suffering Mrs. McL thinking to herself 'He's not the Mahavishnu, he's a very ............'
This book is a fascinating read as well as a great reference book of a special musical time and place, and as a major bonus there is a dedicated web site - www.bathedinlightning.com - with extra material, pictures and rare audio and video of John McLaughlin playing with various groups.
JC

2 comments :

  1. This is a great book. I was honoured not only to have my interview with John for Prog magazine mentioned a couple times but also my account of my sister ringing up him also included in the book, as JC mentions above. You can read the original blogpost which Colin Harper quotes here here

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, what an insight!!

    ReplyDelete

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About this blog - contact details.

Bebop Spoken Here -- Here, being the north-east of England -- centred in the blues heartland of Newcastle and reaching down to the Tees Delta and looking upwards to the Land of the Kilt.
Not a very original title, I know; not even an accurate one as my taste, whilst centred around the music of Bird and Diz, extends in many directions and I listen to everything from King Oliver to Chick Corea and beyond. Not forgetting the Great American Songbook the contents of which has provided the inspiration for much great jazz and quality popular singing for round about a century.
The idea of this blog is for you to share your thoughts and pass on your comments on discs, gigs, jazz - music in general. If you've been to a gig/concert or heard a CD that knocked you sideways please share your views with us. Tell us about your favourites, your memories, your dislikes.
Lance (Who wishes it to be known that he is not responsible for postings other than his own and that he's not always responsible for them.)
Contact: lanceliddle@gmail.com I look forward to hearing from you.

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