Sunday, May 08, 2005

Anagogy in the UK

poster for Gary's Aberdeen show at The Tunnels | poster for Gary at the Rubin Museum NYC

Tunnels poster photo by André Grossmann | Click on an image to enlarge (hosted by flickr)

The gloomy mists of Walpurgisnacht melt into May Day, the mental terrain transfigured (verklarte walpurgisnacht) after much brooding on past tensions and releases... and I awoke last Sunday refreshed to embark on a lightning quick trip to the UK instigated by my old Yale friend Francis Xavier McCarthy, a screenwriter, playwright and philosopher of fearsome capabilities, possessor of a first class mind and a sharp ironic sense of life's absurdities (my kind of guy in other words).

I met Francis in Cutler's Records in New Haven in 1971 where I toiled for awhile part-time, he came into the store one day and we got into a protracted discussion about the relative merits of The Kinks (his alltime favorite band, just about mine too) and I whipped out my official Kinks Appreciation Society Card (this was in my high Anglophile period)... and we bonded bigtime.

Anyway Francis treated me to a ticket to see the Cream reunion at Royal Albert Hall with him and I thought I'd put on a gig or two while I was over in the UK. And thus I managed to play a couple of intense solo acoustic shows in London and Aberdeen Scotland this week, and also managed to catch the Van Der Graaf Generator reunion at Royal Festival Hall on Friday night in the company of my friends Claudia Brucken, the lovely and charismatic singer from one of my favorite groups, the magisterial Propaganda, and Paul Humphreys, a seminal British voice and one the principals in the enigmatic electropop duo OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark). It was quite a jam-packed week to put it mildly.

I had dinner with Paul and Claudia on Monday after I arrived in preparation for collaborating with them on their cool new duo project Onetwo...Francis X turned up round midnight after a long flight from California, leaving his wife and kids back in El Dorado Hills California in search of Cream, and we had a post-prandial aperitif in a little Indian joint in Belsize Village near the good old Swiss Cottage Hotel. Next night we caught the second of Cream's 4 night reanimation,,,and they were pretty damn good truth be told, alot better than I had expected-- I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical that Eric Clapton (one of my original guitar heroes, and hey he told Joan Osborne that "Spider Web", our co-written song from her "Relish" album, was his favorite on that record) would be able to turn on the juice as in days of old, but he mainly manfully mostly rose to the occasion on his maple neck Strat, while maybe not exactly hitting the heights of his "Clapton is God" period, he definitely played well indeed-- as did Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, the latter being my favorite player of the night, he looked simultaneously fit and cadaverous (didn't he always) from where I sat (Francis had obtained excellent seats in the center of the front stalls) ...and he whacked and thunked away with fiery precision and power on his skins despite what the press there reported as arthritic hands (could have fooled me). And Jack Bruce looking trim albeit a bit frail sang his heart and new liver out and coughed and whooped up cascades of harp and bass. They played most of their recorded repertoire over a couple hours to an ecstatic sold-out house and if the tempos were a bit slower than the old days and the manic improv tone toned down, most folks there were of the firm opinion that they gave very good value for money indeed (although of course I didn't pay for my ticket, don't know what I would have thought quite honestly had I shelled out 700 bucks!)....saying that, The Magic Band can definitely give Cream a run for their money as far as reunion projects go (although we have yet to approach the pay scale of a million per man per night).

My solo acoustic show at the Spitz the next evening was a pick in Time Out London and the Evening Standard...and the show went very very very well, sometimes the music pores out of me like I am a mere vessel for " the chief commander who rules this world" (Dylan to Ed Bradley)-- I have over 300 acoustic pieces in my kit bag to choose from and for all the fans who turned up old and new I laid some new tricks on 'em, again pace Dylan (the new vocal version of Fata Morgana elicited much favorable comment)...the next night up in Aberdeen was even better and may well rank as my favorite UK show ever to date. Thanks to John Beverly for bringing me up to one of the most beautiful cities in Scotland, where mystical healing ley lines abound in concentric rings around their impressive harbor and stone granite edifices. The crowd was particularly warm in that way special to Scottish audiences and I turned myself inside out on my J-45 and National steel. The opening acts, sisters Amy and Catherine Sawer doing separate solo turns, were really amazing, both had very distinct voices and cool songs to boot. Hope to get back up there really soon, Scottish audiences rule!

And lastly, Van Der Graaf Generator were beyond good, they were totally incandescent...they hadn't played for nearly 30 years together, but they breathed as one and Peter Hammill convinced me once again that he is one of our greatest singers and performers and we are lucky to have him with us, he is still in his prime as far as I'm concerned. Forget their records (which honestly I haven't listened to since about 1974), in concert they absolutely came alive and proved their mettle and sounded like they had never stopped playing together, they were that tight. I had met Peter Hammill on my first trip to England in 1973 after playing lead guitar with the Yale Symphony Orchestra performing Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" in Vienna (which kicked up such a row of blasphemy in the staunchly conservative Catholic heirarchy that hundreds of Austrian prelates formally protested our performance)--I went up to see him play solo at the Friar's Club in Aylesbury (where I was staying with my mate Pete Frame, the editor of Zig-Zag magazine and creator of the Rock Family Tree charts) and came backstage and met and kibitzed with him after the gig (I also remember that opening that long ago-go summer night was a one-off collaborative project of Phil Collins and Peter Banks called Zox and the Radar Boys). I have a tape of this solo set somewhere, circa his "Chameleon in the Shadow of Night" album. But this VDG show was something else again...about as good as music gets, frankly.

ps. the crowds for both Cream and VDG were filled with fans who had trekked many a mile from all ofver the world for these historic reformations...including web mistress Tanya and her husband Bob Strano, although I missed seeing them :-(

pps. I ran into my old friend James Truman in the foyer of Royal Festival Hall, who I hadn't seen since the Roxy Music after-party at Radio City last year, and he admitted to being a rabid Van Der Graaf fan (I first met James at a recording session for Phillip Glass' first Masterworks album--he used to be a journalist for The Face, and later was major creative domo for Conde Nast here in NYC, now living in Spain--but the irresistible sway of VDG brought him to his native London once again).

Anyhow it was a wonderful week for music in the UK, a magical mystery tour de force of taking in great music and giving it back--especially gratifying were all the fans who came up and said hello to me, at the gigs, at the airport, on the street (one of the perks of doing this for so month marks 15 years I've been a fulltime musician). Now I'm home furiously rehearsing The Magic Band songbook as I leave to head back to England a week from Thursday to start our 3 week tour of the UK; meanwhile, I have 4 gigs upcoming here before then, one with Michael Schoen acoustic at the Living Room Thursday, a return to the Rubin Museum solo steel guitar on Saturday (see my earlier blog about this fabulous joint), and two improv gigs, one Sunday at CBGB's Gallery with Dee Pop (Bush Tetras), Ernie Brooks, Felice Rosser and Jason Candler, and one Monday at the Bowery Poetry Club with Lukas Ligeti and James Ilgenfritz...should be fun, I played with Lukas (the son of Gyorgy Ligeti, whose music made an indelible impression on me when I first saw the film 2001) in St. Petersburg last spring and he's a marvelous drummer and improviser, so it's great that we get to have a meeting of spirits again.




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