Unreliable Video and Earth Wind and Fire

Our school lessons in the 70’s were not exactly inspiring. Unless you were doing something ‘arty’ we invariably worked from exercise books or the teacher would talk a bit and write on the board after which he would ask you a question designed to highlight the fact that at some point you had stopped listening. Occasionally there would be a bit of blackboard rubber throwing to liven us up.

By the mid mid 70’s things began to liven up. Somewhere in the school we had a computer room. I never got to see it but according to my geek informer the computer actually occupied the whole room and was linked in some mysterious way to an even bigger computer at the university. Communication was apparently in binary code and apparently the more skilled programmers could spend all morning imputting data which would lead to it eventually printing the message


It didn’t really seem worth the effort to me and I couldnt see computers catching on.

Far more exciting was the video recorder. Once or twice a year one of the more enlightened teachers would announce that we would be watching a video. Our excitement was immeasurable, it seemed incredible that could be at school but still watching television, we might as well be sitting in a jacuzzi sipping cocktails so decadent was the concept.

The TV/video combo would be wheeled in by Igor the porter/lab assistant who would be wearing the porter/ lab assistant regulation brown overall. The whole combo was about the size of a milk float so it needed careful handling. The edifice  would be plugged in and then igor and the teacher would stand back expectantly…..


There then would be a bit of unplugging/plugging and scratching of heads, we might even get a bit of white noise but eventually the dynamic duo would have to admit defeat and the TV/video combo would be unceremoniously wheeled away. Our disappointment at missing what inevitably would have been an Open University clip from 1969 was tempered by the fact that we had wasted 20 minutes of lesson time.

Which inevitably brings us on to Earth Wind and Fire and the recent passing of leader Maurice White.

EWF were a proper group just like Yes or Jethro Tull except a million times more funky. A better comparison of course would be Funkadelic or Sly and the Family Stone but despite the brilliance of the individual musicians involved EWF never really got the same respect. White himself was from another generation, a session drummer with Chess records in Chicago he made the brave decision at the end of the 60’s to start his own band in another town.

Band leading is never an easy job and the early EWF lost and gained members but in the process gained their own sound with White shifting from drums to share vocals with Philip Bailey.

Not content with being a really good funk band the group started to incorporate all sorts of half arsed mythologies (astrology, Egyptology) into their stage show. So by 1975 EWF had one of the most amazing stage shows ever. This was due in no small part to their collaboration with magician Doug Henning and his assistant David Copperfield who introduced such illusions as the whole group disappearing into a pyramid which levitated and then fell apart.

So as well as flying pyramids there were the usual lasers and pyrotechnics. The show also featured one of the first real show off drummer stunts where Ralph Johnson would continue to play his drum kit as it levitated spun and eventually turned upside down

EWF were clearly a far bigger deal in the states than elsewhere and lets face it touring must have been a nightmare, just the size of the band would have been prohibitively expensive even without the levitating pyramid. In Britain they tend to be regarded as a disco phenomena which given the quality of tracks such as the mighty Boogie Wonderland is understandable.

Cant resist it here it is

As the 70’s ended they moved into a new phase of introducing a more electronic feel which was every bit as good if you like that kind of thing. Maurice eventually succumbed to Parkinsons disease and had to stop touring but the band are still around, presumably recreating their 70’s act, today.

But anyway, what about that fantastic stage show with the band at the height of their pomp and excess ? Well to all intents and purpose it no longer exists because no one bothered to record it.

No one bothered to record it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Amazing considering we live in a time where its considered normal to put a picture of your breakfast on Facebook no one in 1975 though that after employing one of the all time great illusionists and building a giant levitating pyramid it might be a good idea to record it for posterity. In the USA just like in my humble classroom video was too much of an unreliable media to make the effort to record anything.

So here we have Johnson’s show stopper Might Mighty without the levitating drum kit.

Still a great track though..




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2 Responses to Unreliable Video and Earth Wind and Fire

  1. Tangled Up In Music (by Ovidiu Boar) says:

    Interesting 70s story for a better perspective. I was born in the 90s so those things are always interesting for me to read. Cool words about EW&F, they indeed are way more obscure than the ever-appreciated Funkadelic and Sly & The Family Stone, but seem to come from the same type of funky-craziness mentality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This reminds me of the sadness of Nick Mason when reflecting that between In Pompeii and Delicate Sound of Thunder, Pink Floyd never bothered to pro-shoot a concert. So all those mammoth tours they did between ’73 and ’77 have gone undocumented as well as the original Wall shows. Of course nobody could have predicted the rise of home video, let alone the market for huge 4K televisions coupled with 5.1 surround sound or even the idea of reissues. And they had of course had a complete nightmare with In Pompeii’s cinema release. It’s a shame really, the tour support Animals would have been particularly interesting to view from what we know now.

      I’m also reminded of a day in about 1981 when my junior school had just purchased a single Sinclair ZX81 computer. It was decided that the weekly ritual of totting up the house points that had been assigned to each class in Friday assembly would be done not by the usual method of pen and paper but by the school’s resident geek and top-of-the-form in maths inputting the scores into this glorified calculator. The idea of this was that we could see a running total on the school’s only television as they had linked it to the computer. A bit like in Eurovision. Or something. Anyway, the teacher from every class read out the scores from the relevant houses in their form for geeky pants to input. The time came for him to finally hit the Enter key to get the final score but he happened to knock the table the Sinclair was standing on. This caused the thing to go into meltdown and decide to wasn’t playing any more. A pen and piece of paper were quickly found to work out the score. As you say, I thought to myself that these things will never catch on.

      Liked by 1 person

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