I don’t get nostalgic for the 60s. Not much!
I came into the 60s with the chart sounds of Marty Robbins, Brenda Lee, the Miracles, Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, Rosie & the Originals. That’s the US chart sounds of course. It was the American charts that interested us – the songs you could only faintly pick up on your transistor radio from AFN (American Forces Network) and slightly less faint, but still crackling away, on Radio Luxembourg – not the wishy washy state of the UK pop charts at that time. We wanted the original records not the British covers.
A year or so later we were in thrall to rhythm & blues, and the country blues of the deep south, and urban and Chicago blues, and there was no looking back from there! Chuck & Bo, Sonny Boy, Muddy, Hooker, the Wolf, going to gigs in the UK – T-Bone Walker and Jesse Fuller and Jimmy Reed and Champion Jack Dupree and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. These were near-religious experiences; small smokey jazz clubs, up close and personal.
Apart from the dance halls and clubs and dives, it was all about one night stands in the early sixties, mostly at your local ABC cinema. Try these for the line-ups of just a couple of shows we saw back then; in 1962, Del Shannon, Bobby Vee, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, Tony Orlando, and it would be hard to beat this one from October ’63 with the Stones on their first major UK tour, fourth down the bill from Little Richard, Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers.
A year later, we stood in line overnight to get front row seats for Chuck Berry at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens (May ’64) in a bill which included Carl Perkins, the Nashville Teens and the Animals. At the interval, Alan Price came to admire our ‘Chuck Berry is The Greatest’ home-made poster (hand painted on a yellow sheet half-inched from my mother) and sat with us on the floor on the sheet to watch the great man’s show. And what a show – maybe not quite Beatlemania but a significantly male version with the crowd going nuts, duck-walking like crazy!
Then there was folk music in all its guises – Bob and Joan, Pete and Buffy, Bert and John, Roy and Davey, the American Folk Blues Festival in ’65 in Bristol and ’66 and ’67 in London, and that all took me to Clive, Robin & Mike, the Incredible String Band, the touchstone of the 60s for me. Saw them many times. Their concerts were happenings, their music electrifying, the vibe – far out man! The ISB played all the major venues in London, from the Palladium to the Roundhouse, and we were there at most of them, cash permitting. So different to anything that had come before, or that I had heard before, and after a lean time critically in the following decades, it’s really good to see their music now restored to its rightful place in the pantheon; a collision of musical styles, groundbreaking, inspirational, influential.
The music of the Incredible String Band drove bands at the time such as Dr Strangely Strange, Comus, Forest, Heron, Dando Shaft towards recording contracts and much later spawned a whole new genre now referred to as psych folk, the likes of Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Tunng, Trembling Bells…
Here’s a link to a playlist of 20 of the best songs from the ISB.
Moving on (as we did with some alacrity during the 60s), there were many memorable concerts and here’s just a few of them.
The first UK tour by Tamla Motown artists in 1965 was a joy, and one of the most anticipated events ever. Take a look at the line-up:
I’m almost ashamed to say that we walked out to the bar before Georgie Fame’s performance; some misbegotten protest about his inclusion on the bill, even though his credentials as a British R&B singer were impeccable. That’s how fanatical we were about the Motown sound!
And there were so many other fantastic occasions: the unique voice and spellbinding piano of Nina Simone in the haunting spotlight of the Albert Hall; the greatest soul singer of them all, Otis Redding, “for one night only” at the Hammersmith Odeon with Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd, Booker T and the MG’s; and then, the toppermost, the “hardest working man in show business”, James Brown playing Walthamstow in 1966! Yes, Walthamstow. Unstoppable showmanship and unforgettable excitement.
One big memory; an episode that these days it’s hard to believe really happened. On 28th September 1966 after a gig at the Albert Hall that meant missing the last train home from Waterloo, a couple of us went to a late nighter at Les Cousins folk club in Soho’s Greek Street intending to hunker down, hear some sweet music, and then head off for the milk train. Alexis Korner, the “founding father of British blues”, was headlining that night, but the highlight was a surprise guest spot some time around 2 a.m. The unexpected act, announced as a “sensational guitar player who was going to make it big”, had flown in from America for the first time just a few days before, and yes we were incredibly lucky to witness a jam session with Korner’s band and Jimi Hendrix. I can remember Hughie Flint on drums and an inscrutable Chas Chandler standing in back. As for the sensational guitarist? Yep, he was pretty damn good!
Recently on twitter, hashtag #50yearsoftunes, there was a challenge to recall your fave album for each year starting with 1965. Some interesting stuff with votes for Love’s Forever Changes, Safe As Milk by the good Captain, Pet Sounds, and Dylan of course … in the space of fifteen months in the mid 60s, three Bob Dylan soon-to-be-classics held sway: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde.
I’d have trouble putting together my own favourite LPs between 1965 and 1969 as the bulk of them would have to come from just one year; the summer of love, 1967. But how can you separate them and how on earth could you put them in order of preference. You can’t and that’s that. Let me try alpha by artist: Country Joe and the Fish – Electric Music For The Mind & Body; Cream – Disraeli Gears; The Doors debut and the follow up Strange Days; Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced; Love’s Da Capo (side one) and Forever Changes; Joni Mitchell’s beautiful first album Song To A Seagull recorded that year; and Moby Grape; and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn; and Mr Fantasy, and etc.
If push came to shove, the Incredible String Band’s The 5000 Spirits or The Layers Of The Onion would grab the 1967 No.1 slot, vying with their ’68 release The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter but then that would be a toss up with Roy Harper’s Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith and the bedsit album of choice, Songs Of Leonard Cohen. Then mix in a cotchel of Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, and from over there, Byrds, Spoonful, Dead, Airplane, Zappa. Impossible!
1969 gets a bit easier but how do you decide between Liege & Lief and Kick Out The Jams, Family Entertainment and Aoxomoxoa, The Band and Hot Rats. Truth is, you can’t, but it’s good fun having a go.
For a short while, music for free was everywhere in the 60s. It was where it’s at! “The one man band by the quick lunch stand…” The first free concert in Hyde Park (and the first one I saw there) was in June ’68 with the perfect bill of Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Roy Harper, Jethro Tull, and it was memorable: “I think it was the nicest concert I’ve ever been to.” John Peel
Pink Floyd were to play Hyde Park for free once again: “There was a really nice one when Pink Floyd premiered Atom Heart Mother with orchestra and choir, and the chap conducting had just commissioned me to write a piece for his choir, so it was my two worlds sort of mixing up. It was a really hot day and really nice, it was a good piece…” David Bedford
Trouble is, turns out that it was in July 1970 so it doesn’t count for this piece. Ah well, they say if you can remember the 60s you weren’t there.
The decade was drawing to a close. The counter culture was having its unwanted day in court; the International Times, the trials of Oz, John Peel’s “Perfumed Garden” on pirate Radio London, no more Technicolor Dreams at the Ally Pally, all were either going or gone. Then, at the end of the summer, Bob Dylan and the Band played the Isle of Wight (on the occasion of my first wedding anniversary!) along with the Who, Joe Cocker, Free, Pentangle, King Crimson etc. There was still hope. The music hadn’t died at all. It was all really just beginning. I came into the sixties a schoolboy and left them as a married man, still rockin’ and a-rollin’.
You see, I really don’t get nostalgic for the 60s. Just wish I could do it all over again!