In the Summertime…Mungo Jerry

This week Britain has been hot, hotter than it’s been for a long time. We don’t know whether to be excited or scared, the weather forecasters are putting a brave face on it but also, we are beginning to realise that Global warming might actually be happening no matter how many plastic bottles we put in the recycling bin.

And Boris Johnson is our new prime minister; its like the very gates of hell have been opened!

It’s tempting to want to return to a simpler time where temperatures were manageable, we still had an ozone layer and you could take your girl out in the ford Cortina, sink a few pints of Watney’s  and drive back without the nanny state raising an eyebrow . (talking of which I’d had enough advice about sunscreen and staying hydrated by the end of May).

The summer of 1970 belonged to Mungo Jerry. ‘In the Summertime’ was about the only record on the radio for months. The good time jug band feel was at odds with the band’s inception. An early gig had been with anarchic proto punks The Social Deviants and a breakthrough festival gig saw them sharing the billing with Black Sabbath and the Grateful Dead.

But the early 70’s were like that, on one hand the bands had got heavier but there was also space for goodtime skiffle like Lindisfarne and McGuiness-Flint. The Beatles were gone, we were in uncharted territory.

The really notable thing about Mungo Jerry was not the music but the appearance of main man, composer, guitarist, harp and kazoo player and singer Ray Dorset. Dorset possessed a formidable afro but also the best mutton chop sideburns ever seen on Top of the Pops (and there was plenty of competition in the early 70’s). Lets face it, no one was too worried about who was playing double bass, Dorset was Mungo Jerry, in fact at one point his band tried to replace him which must be one of the most deluded group decisions ever. Management sidedwith Dorset and from that point him and the band were the same.

 

The band’s website, yes, they are still a concern today, features an iconic graphic of Dorset, he’s 73 now, I suspect he has changed a bit but Jerry/Dorset are still a brand after all these years. 

 

Subsequent records tended to rock out a bit more, in fact at one-point Dorset was in Kathmandu who worked with Peter Green during his wilderness years. But it was ‘In the Summertime’ that we will remember them for. Superficially it’s a simple blues sequence with lyrics essentially about taking a girl out ’in the summertime’. Somehow it captured the public consciousness, I’m not really interested in sales but believe me, it sold a lot, I mean really loads and loads.

Dig a bit deeper there’s some interesting elements to the song. It sounds like the bass is played by a jug, this was popular in the ‘rent bands’ of the 20’s and 30’s where groups of ‘musicians’would gather to have a party to pay the rent. Blowing across the top of the jug was a cheap substitute for a proper bass. There is also some vocal percussion on display, an early British appearance of beatboxing. Similarly remarkable is Dorset’s voice, its not impossible to conclude that his success would pave the way for us accepting the bleatings of Marc Bolan in a few months’ time.

So, to wrap it up here are some Mungo Jerry/ Ray Dorset fun facts

The band got their name from TS Elliot’s book of practical cats

In the Summertime was such a shock hit that Dorset had to ask for time off from his factory job to appear on Top of The Pops

The ‘have a drink have a drive’ line was used in a drink drive advert.

Fans include Tom Yorke of Radiohead

In the Summertime was originally an early Maxi Single

Dorset wrote ‘Feels like I’m in Love’ for Elvis but it was a big hit for Kelly Marie in 1980

Dorset is a freemason who has suffered irritable bowel syndrome for 45 years (the two things are not necessarily related)

Here’s the song

https://youtu.be/iygufAtkrOo

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Cheap as Cheese..Camembert Electique

camembertCamembert Electrique the third, but first real, album by Gong was released in 1971 when, to be honest I wasn’t really ready so I missed out on the offer of a whole album for 59 pence. However a few years later I came across the record in a junk shop for, wait for it 59 pence.I was probably provoked into a decision to purchase by the fact that the record hadn’t lost value and so I bought it. It wasn’t an easy decision after all it still represented two hours of sweated labour in my Saturday job but in the end it represented money well spent.

Gong, the real Gong not the jazz funk Gong of later years centred on Daevid Allen a man for whom the words ‘one off’ just cant do justice. Allen was Australian which probably allowed him to get away with the sort of hippie bollocks that Gong traded in. Allen had already had an amazing life having travelled Europe, made some influential connections in the art world, formed Soft Machine and then being deported from England for being an Australian Hippie. He ended up in France where his weirdness was allowed to blossom

Despite not being the greatest guitarist, singer or songwriter on the planet he had no shortage of like minded people to play with and perhaps more surprisingly to fund his creativity. Camembert Electrique was recorded at Chateau d’Herouville near Paris. Virgin eventually issued it for 59p which meant an awful lot of people seemed to have it and a few actually liked it

There was a lot to like, the music varied from riff based rock enlivened by ‘space whisper’ (Allen’s partner Gilli Smyth) and flute (Didier Malherbe) to tape experiments. The amazing thing about this music though was that like a lot of 60’s and 70’s music it seemed to have no precedent at no point could you really say ‘this sounds a bit like….’

But music aside (and like the Grateful Dead Gong were always about so much more) what really impressed me was the record sleeve. On the front was a proper drawing made with real pen on real paper but it was a simple black and white photo on the back that used you grab my attention while listening to ‘Fohat Digs Holes in Space’.

The band are posed against what I assume is their communal farmhouse in the wilds of France, its a bit muddy, there’s even rabbits in hutches behind themcamembert3

On the far left is Didier Malherbe (Bloomdido Bad De Grass) saxophone and flute player. He’s almost out of the picture but at this point he’s a major force in making Gong Gongier  not yet 30 he looks a lot older but being French that’s of little consequence.

Next in line is Christian Tritsch (Submarine Captain) who plays Bass but really wants to be a lead guitarist which means he will soon be a footnote on the Gong story. I always liked the Submarine Captain largely because in this picture he’s got a cool hat and seems to be wearing jodhpurs..crazy guy.

The next band member is really just passing though which means he never gets a a nickname. Its Pip Pyle, a great drummer and part of the Canterbury scene. Allen never really understood drummers and over the next few months they come and go (Pyle actually returns later). Pyle looks like he’s tripping over Sam Wyatt, son of Robert who, strangely enough, is the only one actually looking at the camera.. Luckily Sam’s positioning hides the fact that Pyle is actually wearing stockings which is horribly apparent in the colour out takes of the session.amembert

Daevid Allen (Bert Camembert) is kind of centre stage casually dressed in tights, boots, headband and carrying a big stick, strangely he doesn’t look posed or ridiculous its just Daevid .

Eddy Luisse is the mystery keyboard player who again wont stay and wont have a nickname.He is the only one who looks a little uncomfortable despite being the most sensibly dressed.

Last, but not least is Gill Smyth (Shakti Yoni) who will always be on hand if you need a space whisper, Gong seemed to need quite a lot of it.

Gong went onto greater things for a while, due in no small part by the additions of Steve Hillage on guitar (who of course played with Alex Harvey at Glastonbury) and Tim Blake on synthesiser who both made the band distinctive and musical.

What I really really liked about Gong though was the fact that they existed outside the norms of music. They never got proper hair cuts or tried to record a breakthrough album or got stupid drug habits. For a long while they looked hopelessly out of time but they just stuck to their guns and inevitably they looked good again and managed to avoid and embarrassing history. Daevid Allen continued to make the music he wanted and appeared a remarkably active and able septuagenarian until his death from liver cancer earlier this year (2015)

this is another recycled post, please enjoy responsibly

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The Stick Thing and Other Weird Instruments

OneManBandMusical instruments were expensive in the 70,s relatively speaking. I wore out a guitar catalogue just gazing at the impossibly expensive instruments for hours on end. A cheap electric guitar could set you back £70 in the days when I hadn’t even started earning 30p an hour. My dad, ever keen to save a few pence ,decided we could make an electric guitar. We never finished it of course, the body weighed a ton and as the neck proved too difficult to construct he took the neck off a cheap and useless acoustic which was woefully adequate. I was over 30 before I owned an electric instrument.

For financial reasons alone I was always interested in what might be called novelty instruments In the days before sampling, new sounds were a novelty and the we loved a bit of novelty between strikes and power cuts.

With the Beatles out of the way music was up for grabs, it might go in any direction, it might implode or just give up, bear in mind we had had only had 15 years of ‘pop’ and we still weren’t sure it was going to hang around.So every sound that was new potentially signposted the future of popular music.

On of the big hits with a novelty sound was Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. Here was a group with a name that was hard to spell with a twin piano attack and a 60 year old band member. The thing that grabbed me however was the ‘penny whistle’ which pianist Robert Woodward would whip out to provide a bit of relief from the plonking pianos and growling drummer.

Just prior to glam Lieutenant Pigeon used the familiar to sound quite futuristic, a bit like some of Joe Meek’s work in the 60’s. Of course they were just a group of lad’s from Coventry (and their mum) who got lucky, they scraped another hit before we tired of them and they sloped off to earn a crust round the working men’s clubs. Their legacy lived on with me as I bought a penny whistle, not quite a penny but certainly in my price range. I learned to play the theme from the ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ and moved onto something a bit more rock.

Another exotic sound from 1972 came from Chicory Tip. Like all the other bands at the time they were 60’s survivors, in this instance  from Maidstone Kent, who had been around for the last five years trying to make a living from the music business. Amazingly their big hit ‘Son of My Father’ was written by non other than Giorgio Moroder which is probably why it features an early sighting of the Moog Synthesiser. It sounds great although to this day I still don’t know most of the lyrics to the song.

The band recorded in this commercial vein for a while but apparently at their dark hearts they were rockers who rather fancied themselves as Deep Purple. As we already had Deep Purple we didn’t want another one but the band did manage to record ‘The Future is Past’*before the public totally lost interest and they were forced to dust off the Moog to preserve their ever diminishing returns.

For strange instruments you couldn’t beat Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs who hit the ‘big’ time with ‘Seaside Shuffle’ another 1972 hit (what was going on!) which always conjurers up pictures of grey seas and fish and chips despite the Cajun shuffle. Terry Dactyl was a cover name for Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, famous for having Jona Lewie (!?!?!?) and being quite a well respected blues/jug band on the London circuit.

In this clip though they hit the jackpot,mandolin,accordion,washboard,bass drum,euphonium and beer bottle stick thing, the blueprint for Mumford and Sons !

Finally though it wasn’t just 60’s chancers who had an eye for the unusual. Here is the Who, guess the year, you might as well because I cant be bothered to look it up

Here Townsend proves he’s in charge by taking the harmonica off Daltrey who is demoted to Jews Harp, or Jaws Harp if you’re worried that might be a bit racist. I was really impressed by the J harp (as we’ll call it) and on the strength of this performance purchased one myself. The trouble was no one knew how to play it and as ‘Join Together’ wasnt a massive hit there was not much chance to learn from Daltrey as one appearance of Top of the Pops seemed to be it.The consequence of this was I spent a lot of time with the instrument vibrating painfully against my teeth. When I did discover the correct method of playing I found I was getting very dizzy and therefore didnt stick with an instrument that made me permanently nauseous. Amazing despite it’s great sound the J Harp never bothered the charts again.

It was all a brave experiment, after 1972 rock settled back down to proper expensive instruments, and the moog, which was really expensive became a novelty no longer.

* yes really!, I got the name from this blog from a Chicory Tip single

This post was first published ages ago, don’t worry you won’t have read it before.

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10 Saxophone Solos from the 70’s

After a break for Glastonbury its back to the world of 70’s saxophone. This week it’s 10 memorable sax solos  from UK Artists (America you can wait). As Greenpete58 observed on my sax in the 70’s feature the Yanks invented Jazz but the Brits integrated it into rock music (probably because we invented prog).

Here are some good old fashioned sax solos though from popular songs, no jazz rock, no prog rock just prime British rock -with added saxophone.

 

Year of the Cat -Al Stewart. A great bug shiny lump of fairly lightweight pop.A triumph of production for Alan Parsons featuring all sort of instruments  such as cellos and violins, it was inevitable that Parsons would squeeze in a sax solo and he did. Phil Kenzie got missed off my last saxophone feature because I had never heard of him. In fact he’s been on loads of records both in the UK and the States so I would imagine he’s gutted not to be included.

 

Apparently, Kenzie was watching a movie and was only dragged away as a favour to Abbey Rd. The story that he did two takes and then went back to his film seems a bit far fetched logistically but let’s just assume he wasn’t that committed to the song.

 

Walk on the Wild Side- Lou Reed. Yes I know he’s American but this was recorded in Trident studios London and featured the baritone sax of Ronnie Ross. Ross creates a wonderful fluttering solo because he was a proper jazz player who as well as Reed played with the Beatles and um ..Matt Bianco. Equally interestingly he taught sax to the following.

 

Sorrow- David Bowie. This is actually not a great song, but it’s lifted into the stratosphere by Bowie’s solo. Here is a saxophone solo you can whistle, its an essential part of the song now and Bowie’s alto is backed by a bit more baritone by Ken Fordham. It’s a timely reminder, as if we needed one, of the influence of producer Ken Fordham, Bowie’s own George Martin, an average song becomes a great record.

All the way from Memphis-Mott the Hoople. Possibly their greatest song when the band were moving into a big glam sound and honking saxophones were invited to the party. It may be Roxy Music’s Andy MacKay offering sax on this, details are sketchy and it kind of sounds the work of someone who first picked up the instrument 20 minutes ago. It all part of the fun and it’s a gonzo display by everyone.

Avalon-Roxy Music. What is it with Andy Mackay ? Is it low self esteem? having to work with Brian Ferry? maybe he’s just not that good but he always seems reticent about letting rip. Both Ends Burning is a good example, a fiery sax riff but then he’s off for a cup of tea while Phil Manzenera takes over the solo duties. With Avalon he had the opportunity to take the band into the 80’s but although he noodles away quite pleasantly  he could have created Spandau Ballet’s ‘true’ five years early

 

Money-Pink Floyd. The band had wised up to the fact that the more solo’s they had the longer their songs could be and so a saxophone was recruited. It often amazed me that in the 70’s there just wasn’t a global pool of musicians at the click of a mouse and recruitment was usually word of mouth or friendships. Dick Parry has played with Dave Gilmour in Joker’s Wild and so he got the call and a whole load of subsequent PF work. It was a good choice, his honking tenor adds a change of mood and pace before a change in time and instrument takes us to another part of the song.

 

The Logical Song -Supertramp. John Helliwell’s solo is a minor masterpiece with a solo that is part of but also very different from the song. Like with ‘Sorrow’ it’s more than a solo. Heliwell ought to get some composers credit, but he wont.

 

Mirror in the Bathroom- The Beat. Yes, Saxa’s solos all sounded a bit the same but when he played the song somehow took off in a different direction and he seemed to float over the chord changes.

Miss You-The Stones. In the 70’s the band clearly wished they were American and a bit of sax would edge them closer to the dream. Bobby Keys is pretty essential to their Sticky Fingers period but here the Sax is a bit cooler as befits their flirtation with Disco. Mel Collins is the player.

 

The final Sax solo of the 70’s, yes you guessed it, it’s got to be..

 

Baker Street- Gerry Rafferty.

Eight bars of solo from the late Raphael Ravenscroft netted him £27 and made Rafferty considerably more. To add insult to injury Ravenscroft considered his playing was out of tune.

 

I cover this in more detail here.

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2015/10/11/unsung-heros-raphael-ravenscroft/

I’ve missed someone -do let me know !

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Glastonbury 1979

In 1979, when is seemed that the hippie dream was pretty much over, the music press announced that there would be a Glastonbury festival that summer.

In fact, I think it may have been announced there would be a Glastonbury Fayre because that was what the previous two festivals had been called. The first two fayres had been real ‘bongos in the dirt’ affairs, as distant culturally as rock and roll or Merseybeat from the slick new pop of the late 70’s.

 

The hippie hopelessness stuck a chord with me and my old schoolmates Dunc and Phil. There really wasn’t a lot of festival action around, the only real alternative being Reading where you could have cans of piss thrown at you by weekend bikers from Burnley. There was a sense that festivals were a thing of the past, we were no longer stardust or golden, we were savy street kids from Norwich! Glastonbury sounded a bit of a soft option compared with the hell of the average British festival, and so we agreed to send off our cheques and hope we got some tickets sent back.

 

I can’t remember how much a Glastonbury weekend was, but I have heard the sum of £5 quoted. If this was the case it was still an incredibly good deal, you would be lucky to get a couple of LPs for that price and our tents and sleeping bags cost a whole lot more.

 

What ever the cost it was more than I could really afford. I had just finished my first year of polytechnic and would presumably have made acclaim for dole money. Phil and Dunc were still at university finishing off their second year. It was agreed I would go to Birmingham where Dunc was and we would hitch down from there. I couldn’t face the prospect of solo hitching from Norwich and so I blew a load of money on a train journey, spent a night in Birmingham and we set out hitching as early as we could face on a Friday morning.

Travelling was surprisingly good, there was a heart sink moment when we were dropped at a service station to find a long queue of hippie types waiting to depart. No matter, soon a car stopped next to us and we jumped the queue and we were off again, by tea time we were handing over our tickets and finding a place to pitch our tents.

 

Now, this may be stating the bleedin obvious but compared with today this was a very small festival. There were quite a few tents but nothing too daunting. I cant remember fences, the usual countryside barriers of hedges and ditches seemed enough to prevent us wandering too far. The hedges also doubled as toilets, for reasons that I will explain later.

Phil was a late arrival, I think he landed a day later having got a lift down with some friends from Warwick University. He had invested heavily in travelling light, all he had was in a plastic carrier bag. It was a brave and foolish gesture, after a night nearly catching alight by sleeping next to a fire he had to share Dunc’s tent. It says something about the size of the festival though that he was able to find us without the need for mobile phones.

 

I think the first night featured Steve Hilliage. I had been a fan of his Green Album, I still am, Hillage had become a bit more muscular with the advent of punk but he was a natural choice being both ancient and a bit modern. Most of the bands were on at the main stage, not yet a pyramid but situated in a slight dip. It was easy to stake out a nice comfortable place on the grass and still see what was going on.

 

Until I did a bit of internet checking I had forgotten the Footsbarn Theatre Company who were a feature attraction, that was probably the limit of Glastonbury’s multi media experience, I had no desire to see them. There was definitely more than one stage because I remember seeing a set from the Lightning Raiders on a smaller stage but that was during the day,at night there was one stage and that had to close by the time it was dark (I think the festival was still being held during the summer solstice) as Michael Eavis  didn’t want to upset his neighbours.

 

So, bands I did see

Leighton Buzzards -A kind of punk/pop crossover-perfectly ok competent but a bit unmemorable

The Atoms- not sure if I caught them but mentioned here as they were a Nottingham band featuring Harry Stevenson from Plummet Airlines who still plies his craft round Nottingham pubs to this day.

The Pop Group- Challenging post punk from Bristol livened up by a guest appearance by the slits.

The Only Ones- probably the band of the festival- they blew the PA twice and had to abandon the stage on the second occasion.

Mother Gong-diluted version of Gong who I think were cobbled together for the festival, bound to be popular with the average Glasto fan of the time but I suspect I fell asleep during their set.

All star Jam- I remember this as being on the first night but it may have been on the last night. It featured Tom Robinson, Steve Hillage, Nona Hendrix, Alex Harvey possibly Peter Gabriel, John Martyn and Phil Collins. It was everything you might hope an all-star jam would be. There was an unintentionally hilarious moment in 2-4-6-8 Motorway where Robinson handed over the guitar solo to Hillage. Unable to manage a standard blues solo Hillage resorted to a psychedelic workout which was incongruous to say the least. Alex Harvey was a drunk as a skunk and pretty tedious in his efforts to involve the audience which led to quite a bit of abuse from him when we failed to comply.

 

Bands I didn’t see

Sky- a kind of classical fusion group featuring guitarist John Williams. I found them so uninteresting I couldn’t be arsed to make the 5 minute journey from my tent to see them

John Martyn- to this day I hadn’t realised he played, I think this was is Grace and Danger period where he had a band with Phil Collins on drums but in 1979 I wasn’t a fan (I am now).

Peter Gabriel-to this day I think that musically Peter G is a big shiney load of nothing so it’s possible I saw him and forgot it

 

After a nap one evening (I was probably lulled asleep by Sky) I swear I went for a wander and found a synth player set up (probably Tim Blake) officially he played the final set on the mainstage but I’m certain in this case he was just playing among the people.

 

It all sounds a bit low key, and it was. There was no 24 hour party going on. My main memory is sitting about a lot slightly exhausted by the camping experience. There was some food available because I didn’t starve but I can’t remember any bars. On the second day a guy came around on a tractor selling flagons of really rough scrumpy. One of the compares got a bit sniffy about this pointing out that people wouldn’t be drinking alcohol at Glastonbury Faye in the past. He had a point the crowd had got a bit leery but we calmed down once the cider ran out.

Being stupid young men, we had neglected sunscreen or hats. He still had an ozone layer in 1979 but being pasty after exams we were starting to burn which would have bad consequences later.

 

But back to the toilets, the facilities were basically a huge drum, Walls divided the drum like the segments of an orange, there was a door and a hole, and we sat suspended above gallons and gallons of human waste. I decided I could get around using them but simply not having a bowel movement for 4 days. Clearly a stupid tactic I was woken in the early morning with cramps and so made my way to the toilets of doom, which were thankfully deserted, (amazingly I had packed some toilet paper). Suspended over days of festival effluent I suddenly realised it was moving alarmingly. The organisers had taken the opportunity of an early start to empty the drum which they did by sucking everything out into a huge tanker. I had visions of being sucked down and either drowning or being mashed up by the suction action.

Clearly, I lived to tell the tale and, to be fair festival toilets have not improved that much.

 

Of course, festivals have become increasingly popular with fun for all the family, there are now phone charging points, saunas, massages, hot showers (at Glastonbury Fayre the only shower was to strip and tip a bucket of water over yourself). Killie Minogue is about to headline this year’s Glastonbury-it’s a far cry from Mother Gong.

In 1979 though, there was no violence despite no real policing of the festival, no one tried to sell me drugs and no one stole anything off me although arguably I had nothing to steal.

 

Leaving the festival was easy, the car to people ratio was a lot different to today in fact there was a concern all the cars would leave before I could get a lift. In fact, I was soon able to get away but it was a long journey from Somerset to Norwich. Mid afternoon I was stranded at a roundabout outside Swindon. In my memory this was Sunday afternoon as all the cars seemed full of three generations of families sailing past while I waited and waited. I must have been deluded, I’m sure now it would have been Monday but whatever, Swindon was dead. Alarmingly, the sun had awakened a dormant herpes virus which was starting on my lip but spreading alarmingly ( I don’t  learn, the same thing happened at a festival 2 years ago), I needed to get home before I turned into the Elephant Man and no driver would give me a lift. Such is the nature if hitching, as soon as I had reconciled myself to a night of rough sleeping I grabbed a lift that took me right across country and a final stage got me all the way to Norwich. I took to my room for two weeks raved by a giant cold sore.

 

Apparently Michael Eavis had to put up his farm as a guarantee to get funding for the 1979 festival. It absolutely beggars belief that a dairy farmer would take that sort of risk on a festival. I’m sure he didn’t make much money on the venture, it was an amazingly altruistic gesture on his part.

Today, or this weekend to be accurate, Glastonbury is the biggest festival anywhere ever. It reflects mainstream society, the BBC have been all over it for years, it’s now an event like Ascot or Wimbledon. There are loads of other festivals more ‘alternative’, festival going is now an activity for everyone. Things aren’t better or worse. Festival going was a real adventure in the 1970’s but all I did really was lie on the grass, sleep, drink some cider and have a really scary shit.

Perhaps things haven’t changed that much after all.

 

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Sax in the 70’s

Last week I made a case for the temporary death of the saxophone in the 70’s. This week with a bit of racking of the brain I have come up with a small tribute to the people who honked and parped their way through that decade. In an attempt to make my task easier I am totally ignoring the USA, sorry guys, you invented Jazz and had a more comfortable relationship with the instrument (and I don’t know enough about obscure American music).

So here’s a quick salute to the men (!) who kept the sax alive in the 70’s

 

Mel Collins

Collins was the player who took over the sax role from Ian McDonald until Robert Fripp decided he didn’t want a saxophone player anymore. Collins then went on to join the unfashionable pub funk band Kokomo by the time they disbanded he was ready for a sax for hire role with the likes of Dire Straits, Camel. Roger Waters and the Rolling Stones.

Andy Mackay

An important musical and visual element to the early Roxy Music mix of ancient and modern. Mackay’s sax could be heard honking away somewhere in the mix in the early days. By the Avalon period he was contributing more traditional saxophone breaks which left him with enough time on his hands to take a Batchelor of Divinity course in 1988

 

Phil Shulman

Having been born in 1937,10 years before his brothers Phil Shulman got the saxophone role in Gentle Giant while his younger siblings got the rock instruments. In a band that, between them, played over 60 instruments on one album there was a lot of instrumentation to compete with and when Phil left Gentle Giant became a bit more muscular and rock orientated.

 

David Bowie

A multi instrumentalist but saxophone was his first instrument and one that no one else around him could play. Its not unusual for a bit of sax to creep in in a Bowie record and very welcome it is too. Not having dedicated his life to the instrument Bowie has a distinctive tone, it’s a bit naive but also quite touching and always distinctive.

 

Didier Malherbe

Multi talented French person Malherbe contributed distinctive flute and sax to Gong from virtually its inception to the turn of the century.  He was interested in world music from an early age and he has adapted himself to whatever the band has served up from circus music to free Jazz. Nicknamed Bloomdido Bad De Grass by Gong leader Daevid Allen he’s a poet as well as a musician

 

Nik Turner

One time roadie turned musician with Hawkwind Nik Turner perhaps encapsulated the anarchic spirit of the band more than any other members. Luckily, at their prime the band had a monster rhythm section which made whatever Turner or guitarist Dave Brock play over the top relatively unimportant. Turner’s free approach to soloing over everything led to his expulsion from the band but he was a significant member for the glory years including the epic Space Ritual.

John Helliwell

Another with his roots in the 60’s soul scene Helliwell joined Supertramp from the Alan Bown Set. He compensated for the lack of consistent saxophone action in the band’s set by playing percussion and keyboards, doing backing vocals and acting as MC and general joke teller. His personality was crucial to the bands survival, acting as the luke warm water between the ice and fire of Rick Davis and Roger Hodgson

John ‘Irish’ Earle

Despite starting his musical career with the ‘challenging’ Gnidrolog Earle was a fairly standard Rock saxophonist in big demand where any band wanted to sound American (especially if that band was Irish). Earle played in the brass section for Graham Parker and the Rumour as well as Thin Lizzie and The Boomtown Rats. He even played with Shakin Stevens, the Clash and Randy Crawford

 

Lol Coxhill

Coxhill was in his 40’s for most of the 70’s, impossibly old! Another eccentric character (there’s a pattern emerging here) Coxhill had played with visiting Jazz musicians as well as being on the fringes of the free improvisation music scene. He didn’t like to be tied down for long but he did have stints with Kevin Ayres which led to involvement with Mike Oldfield and even an appearance on the second Dammed Album.

Ron Aspery

Back Door were destined to be remembered for their Bass player Colin Hodgkinson who played his instrument as a lead to make the best of the trio format. Aspery was overshadowed but was a crucial part of the melody of the band. Back Door could almost be classed as forgotten now but they were musicians’ favourites in the mid 70’s. The band inevitably spit with the advent of punk but Aspery was good enough to go on to play with Jan Hammer.

Davey Payne

Member of Kilburn and the High Roads and then Ian Dury’s band the Blockheads. Another bohemian character with a love of all things Jazz especially in incorporating the techniques of Roland Kirk into hisd playing. Especially skilled in making the sax produce unusual noises and irritating Ian Dury.

Gary Barnacle

Barnacle took over the role of sax for hire from John Earle at the end of the 70’s. He was born in Dover and started out their playing with his father and brothers in local jazz bands, the drummer in these bands was invariably Topper Headon. When Headon Joined the Clash Barnacle became their go to Saxophone player. From there on he’s played with a list of people so huge I can’t be bothered to try to replicate it.

 

Lora Logic

I’m not actually certain if it’s Ms Logic playing on X Ray Specs’ ‘Oh Bondage’ but if not it’s her arrangement at least. One of the few times pure punk used a saxophone and it’s crucial to the uniqueness of the song. She had a short career, forming her own band which transported her directly from punk to post punk and then becoming a Hare Krishna.

 

Saxa

With the advent of Two Tone the sax was back. Saxa was even older than Lol Coxhill but the way his band mates and the press talked about him you would have thought he was 100 when he was only in his 40’s. Saxa had played with some of the original Ska and bluebeat stars before moving to England and waiting 18 years to join The Beat. Saxa was pretty essential to the bands sound although he plays pretty much the same solo every time. He died quite recently proving he couldn’t have been as old as we thought he was.

 

Lee Thompson

Unlike most Sax players Thompson has virtually no interest in Jazz preferring Reggae, Ska and circus music, therefore, unlike a lot of players he’s firmly integrated into the band Madness rather than occasional soloist.

 

 

So, what have we learned?

 

In a business that prided itself on being outside the norm it was the sax player who invariably was the real oddball. Apart from the few session players who were happy to fit in with others there’s an awful lot of strange people listed above. Perhaps it was something about playing an instrument which was out of step with everything else that was happening in music at the time, but in the 70’s the sax player could be the most ‘out there’ band member.

There’s still one more though, the greatest 70’s saxophonist/weird bloke of them all

David Jackson

As Van Der Graff Generator were essentially organ and drums any other instrument was going to have a lot to bring to the party. Jackson was an eccentric looking guy, even by prog standards who modified his instruments and would often play two at once and then modify their sound with electronics. The result was the sax as we had never heard it so far, squawks, shrieks, military fanfares and occasional moments of beauty. Years after leaving he developed the soundbeam technology which enabled disabled people to make music.

 

That’s it, its probably not an exhaustive list but I am exhausted after compiling it.

If I’ve missed anyone (I’m sure I must have) do share

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The Joy of Sax

If you were a young man hoping to make your way in the world of popular music in the 1920’s and you wanted to be the star of the show there was only one real choice of instrument to play and that was the trumpet. Loud, portable and flashy the trumpet was the show offs first choice of instrument. Louis Armstrong was the most influential player of the day and a whole load of wannabes trailed in his wake.

 

Fast forward a couple of decades and the trumpet was still popular but there was a new kid on the block. The saxophone was a bit more versatile, a bit sexier and with the rise of Charlie Parker and Be bop not to mention the swing bands it was the saxophone that had the star potential.

And so, it remained into the 50’s. Obviously there were other musicians available but inevitably the band leader would be a sax player or a trumpeter, so they could stay at the front of the stage and let loose a blistering solo now and again. For 20 years the sax was king.

 

All that changed in Britain with the advent of skiffle. Instead of having to study embouchure for years Britain’s schoolkids had found an instrument that was rewarding to play from day one, namely the guitar. Strange to relate but the guitar was still an exotic instrument in the 1950s being generally the province of cowboys, flamenco musicians and inaudible jazz rhythm sections. The instrument was not even that easily available and generally existing specimens were of pretty poor quality but being British we persevered and eventually we were replete with guitars and guitarists some of whom went on to become Jimmy Page and John Lennon.

And that was the beginning of the end for the saxophone, it didn’t happen overnight, through the 60’s some bands realised the added value of the brass section. In order to get that genuine soul feel the likes of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers were prepared to accept the cost of having a couple of blokes at the back giving it that extra punch.

But there’s the clue, the sax had now moved to the back of the stage along with the bass and drums, the guitar was now at the front. The trouble with the saxophone is it can only play one note at a time so essentially it solos all the time. Most songs only have limited space for solos and the guitarist is going to want to have most of them. The sax has a distinctive sound but it always sounds like a saxophone and if our ears are crying out for new sounds then the saxophone is not going to provide them. Hence Traffic’s Chris Wood would spend a lot of time on stage poking about with keyboards because there was only so much sax the band needed (OK he played flute as well but there’s a limit to how much of that we can take). Even the big man Clarence Clemons used to spend more time underutilised as a tambourine player as Springsteen really didn’t want every song to have another sax solo in it.

And increasingly the sax player is having to multitask, a bit of percussion, some background vocals, even a bit of dancing just to justify their role in the band.

The 70’s saw the sax at a low ebb -more of that in another post, keyboards were opening up a whole new world, guitars were getting more effects there was a whole new sonic palette which didn’t necessarily need a sax parping away over it.

That wasn’t the end though, for some reason as the 80’s dawned the Saxophone crept back into popular music without us really noticing. I blame Spandau Ballet who moved their second guitarist over to Sax and had a huge it with True and marked the Saxophone down as a symbol of the Thatcherite upwardly mobile decade.

As a drummer it hadn’t escaped me that drums seemed to be becoming redundant as drum machines took over. There was also the practical issue that I didn’t have a car and just moving a drum kit about was a logistical nightmare. The saxophone looked appealing, and I could take it on the bus. I spent the next 5 years learning to play the instrument. Like a lot of instruments, it was easy to make a start on but hard to sound really good, but I practised and practiced. Ironically I also bought a car and drums didn’t die out completely so I could have saved myself the trouble really.

The main thing that brought my personal love of the sax as well as the audience’s tolerance of the instrument to an end was its limitation. I did join a band but as we didn’t have a bass player I usually had to fulfil that role instead and when that band mutated into another one there were so many songs where the guitar sounded better than the sax that it just seemed better to stick with the guitar.

For a brief period, the sax was back though, ABC, the Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100 all featured the instrument and were all massive for a couple of years. And if you didn’t have a sax player one would be inserted. I recently caught a clip of archetypical 80’s band T Pau doing their massive hit ‘China in Your Hands ‘on Top of the Pops.  At the end after all the histrionics   the producer has decided there’s just got to be a sax solo. The result is all members miming and trying to convey the gravitas of the song while ignoring the fact that a sax is coming from somewhere else.

 

It’s probably just me that finds that sort of thing entertaining but in the 80’s there seemed to be a whole lot of artists staring off into the middle distance while the mysterious sax was dialled in. From Wham to Whitney everyone wanted the sound that suddenly smacked of sophistication.

 

And, all of a sudden, the bubble burst, samplers became available and from the 90’s onwards a genuine sax solo had suddenly become a thing of the past.

 

Here on thefutureispast we are going to remember the days when the sax still had a role

 

Stay tuned

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