Monday, September 29, 2008

Reading Festival 1973: Free Testament, Dio and Hendrix

The Reading And Leeds Festivals of today are the UK’s longest-running events of their type, and evolved out of the National Jazz And Blues Festival, which was born all the way back in 1961. Not much jazz on the bill these days and, in truth, by the early 1970s it was on the outs – although there was a brief outbreak of syncopation in 1973 with the cultish booking of the stripey jacketed libertine George Melly.

But the 1973 event at Reading, the subject of our retrospective this week, was a significant event in the history of UK (and Irish) rock for several reasons. It saw Rory Gallagher at the top of his game, Rod and The Faces when it was clear that the former had outgrown, (if that’s the word for a man who would two years later release ‘Sailing’) the latter, as well as foreshadowing the rock-fan-as-intimidating-wide-boy vibe of the later Seventies with the football-scarf wearing Faces fans.

It also featured Genesis who were by now fully immersed in their revolutionary, pastural progressive rock , the tremendous Commander Cody, Pete York back with Spencer Davis and, of course, heads down, no-nonsense boogie from The Quo.

The event, as the National Jazz And Blues Festival, was organised by Harold Pendleton, the manager of The Marquee Club where the Stones played their first gig and which would go on to have such significance in the Punk movement. This was the third year at the Reading site and organisation was pretty solid. The crowd a mixure of hairy students in trench coats with their girlfriends in Afghans and wild-haired sheet metal workers on the drink looking to head bang themselves to oblivion. Rightly so.

The late August three-dayer was an eclectic mixture, with less hard rock than punters had been accustomed to, and a not insignificant smattering of folk. Poor Tim Hardin, bloated and sick, played his ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ but found not all of the crowd as benign as his legendary performance of the same song at Woodstock. The endlessly inventive John Martyn, whose brilliant and sad, career-defining ‘Solid Air’ - the title track written for and about Nick Drake of course - had been released a few months previously, also put on a strong show with little more than an acoustic guitar and an echoplex....and the genius of Danny Thmpson on the double bass.

George Melly, that great English eccentric was also booked and proved a hit, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, his blend of trad jazz and bonkers-ness going over well with a rock crowd not necessarily predisposed to outsized, camp jazz singers. Chris Barber - the legendary jazzer also played.

Reading has never been a festival especially noted for its broad taste. I remember going there in 1994, and seeing Ice Cube (!) last but one on the Saturday – near 15 years before the hoo-ha about whether Jay Z was an appropriate Glastonbury headliner. The crowd, and the former NWA frontman, really didn’t know what to make of each other. Reading, of course, is also famous for its bottling off of, well, almost anyone really. Apparantly the ones that really hurt are the ones full of still-warm bladder contents. Poor old Bonnie Tyler. And 50 Cent. You shouldn’t laugh.

Anyway, back to 1973, and the crowd wanted to see blues rock, and that is what Rory Gallagher gave them on the Friday night. The Cork man was on peak form, full of energy and drive – and unseen material from his forthcoming Tattoo album. He was without doubt the Friday highlight, and maybe the weekend as a whole. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen gave great value with their rockabilly, especially on that excellent monument to low times in the highlife, ‘Down To Seeds And Stems Again’.

Cometh the Saturday, cometh The Quo. In the special guest role, they opened for Rod and company. Rossi and Parfitt were well on their way by then – ‘Piledriver’ had set the formula for their hard boogie sound that would propel them into the strata of the rock super-rich. In fact, it was the album released just a few weeks after Reading, September’s ‘Hello!’ that would give them their first UK album number one.

Saturday night’s headliners were Rod and The Faces, the biggest draw of the weekend – and the magnet for a huge group of football scarf-wearing fans. Clad in Tartan scarf, Rod The Mod opened up by kicking footballs into the crowd as he always did. Laddishness was in full force as per usual but though The Faces were a fine band, and one of the best live acts of the era, this maybe was not one of their best gigs.

They had been together for the best part of four years by then, and superstardom was beckoning for their Rodney, whose solo career – 1971 saw him achieve massive success with ‘Maggie May’ and 1972's utterly brilliant album Never A Dull Moment(one of rocks' forgotten classics) – was eclipsing that of the band, even though, ironically, the Faces played on most of his solo stuff anyway. The summer of '73 saw the release of his greatest hits Sing It Again Rod - the cover was a die cut whiskey glass - The Faces were a beer drinking band, but Rod was already on the shorts - that was how it was seen by the rock press at the time anyway. Like drinking shorts and wine is a socially aspirational way to get mullered!

Nevertheless, it was a decent show – and, in terms of the fans, their vibe and the attitude – a good example of how the rock and roll aesthetic would later mutate into a punk sneer

Very much not punk at all were Sunday night’s headliners, Genesis. An immensely elaborate stage set took over two hours to put up, but eventually Peter Gabriel appeared in that mad ‘pyramid-with-eyes’ thing that heralded their magnificent Arthur C Clarke-inspired ‘Watcher Of The Skies’. Little green men aside, though, these were serious musicians, at a ceative peak, and they put on a fine, layered musical feast.

As the festival program of the day declared of Gabriel, “there’s got to be something spiritual, perhaps evil, about a man who has got seven cats.” And indeed there probably is.

Melody Maker called their show “startling”, but they was plenty more to them than just the portentous stage sets. They played ‘The Musical Box’, ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’ and ‘Supper’s Ready’, which came in at a punchy 23 minutes. This was Genesis as pioneers of new music; a staggeringly original period for the band as they set about creating a brand new aural experience.

So that was Reading 1973: gay jazz singers, football scarves, Gabriel on alien invasion and Rory playing the living daylights out of a battered Strat. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.
There's a live album of the show but its a bit inadequate really, featuring Rory doing Hands Off - brilliant, Strider, Greenslade, Quo, The Faces, Andy Bown, Lesley Duncan and Tim Hardin.

The full line up across the three days was this;

A J Webber who?
Alex Harvey SAHB released Next this year - a stone cold classic album
Alquin eh?
Andy Bown - top notch jazz rocker now forgotten
Ange - never 'eard of ya
Capability Brown - a great Charisma label band who did Tull-ish style rock. Did a great cover of Rare Bird's Sympathy and The Dan's Midnite Cruiser.
Chris Barber Band - 50s jazzer
Clare Hammill - she was from Middlesbrough you know. Wasn't she later bizarrely in some weird incarnation of Wishbone Ash?
Commander Cody - whacko rockabilly outfit with great album covers.
Dave Ellis - anonymous Dave as we like to call him.
Embryo - if you say so lads
Faces - the famous Faces
Fumble - nah don't know them
Genesis - ah yes
George Melly - goodness me
Greenslade - Greenslade were great keyboard led prog and even had Roger Dean album covers. Dave Greenslade went on to do loads of TV theme music.
Jack the Lad - spin off from Lindisfarne. Beer, fiddles and sing-a-longs. Excellent.
Jimmy Horowitz Orchestra - who he?
Jimmy Witherspoon - old blues man
Jo'Burg Hawk -Another Charisma label band. From South Africa
John Hiseman's Tempest - Ah the beginnings of jazz rock fusion here with Holdsworth on the first album and I think Clem Clempson on the second. Great for noodle lovers.
John Martyn and Danny Thompson - stoned immaculate I should think.
Lesley Duncan - folkyness
Lindisfarne - Geordie folk rock. They were magnificent - their first three albums are classics
Magma - Christian Vander's madness - he inveted his own language!
Mahatma - i'm guessing they were hippies
Medicine Head - long forgotten but excellent duo doing that folk/rock hybrid. They evenhad hit singles.
PFM - Italian prog rock.oh yes. Chocolate Kings is a stunning album - on ELP's Manticore label.
Quadrille - i bet there was four of them
Riff Raff - sounds like a punk band
Rory Gallagher - The Man
Roy Buchanan - legendary telecaster technician. Get his live albums and be amazed
Spencer Davis - R & B old school style
Stackbridge - came on stage with rhubarb for some reason.
Status Quo - Down down deeper and down
Stray Dog Stray were a great band. Not sure who Stray Dog were though
Strider - 2nd division-coming-to-your-local-small-venue-every 6-months type touring rock band. Good but not great
Tansavallian Presidency - if you say so squire.
Tim Hardin - folk legend.

Free Stuff

This week I've got nine copies of Testament's 2005 Live In London album to give away.

I've got 6 copies of Dio's 1996 album Angry Machine

Finally, I have 6 DVD's of the 1973 biographical film 'Jimi Hendrix' and fascinating stuff it is too with performances from Monterey, Woodstock, The Marquee, Fillmore East and Isle Of Wight plus interviews with Jagger, Townshend and other legends. 98 classic minutes of genius. Not to be missed.

To be put into the draw for these just email me with your address and put Testament, Dio or Hendrix, or any combination of those, in the subject box.


milo said...

Rory was the greatest. His song "Hands Off" from the live cd of the '73 Reading Festival is awesome. John, why not do some t-shirts from the old posters of these concerts!


Democritus said...

I was there on the Sunday and remember it as a wonderful day's music. The standout performances were John Martyn, Tempest for sheer volume and energy, George Melly for the capturing the audience with outragiously expicit performances of old jazz songs and Genesis who came on late and played at a surprisingly low volume but presented an intense theatrical set.

Barleyman70 said...

No Clem Clempson on Tempest second album, but the late Ollie Halsall.