My book Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the ’60s and the Emerald Beyond is now completed. Huge sigh of relief… I’ve been proof-reading and making a few last-minute tweaks in recent days – though inevitably the odd typographical error will escape no matter how many times one scrutinises. Eleventh hour stuff has included getting to the bottom of whether the John McLaughlin version of the Tony Meehan Combo regrouped momentarily to appear on Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars in January 1964 (turns out they did) and finding space for Arjen Gorter’s just-in-time delivery of recollections from Gunter Hampel’s Time Is Now adventure of 1968.

The book will be published by Jawbone Press internationally around January/February 2014 in both print edition and eBook edition. It covers John’s career from its beginning in 1958 up to 1975 and the disbanding of the last Mahavishnu Orchestra. Essentially, it’s a ‘sixties book’ – the first two-thirds is a richly detailed journey through the many overlapping scenes which John passed through in the almost village-like creative cauldron of London during that decade. The final third documents John’s rise to international stardom from lowly foundations in New York.

I honestly, sincerely believe that it will appeal to anyone who is interested in the music world of the 1960s, particularly British music. That was my goal. Existing knowledge of jazz or pop in that era – beyond knowing vaguely of the Beatles, the Stones and not much else – is not required. Everything is introduced, explained and – fingers crossed – made interesting. Characters reappear throughout…

It’s amazing that there are still stones from that era to be upturned – with fascinating things underneath – although to an extent, of course, alongside substantial new research, the book is a work of synthesis, bringing together in a hopefully satisfying narrative a great deal of scattered, sometimes obscure and often very disparate strands of existing knowledge. British rock’n’roll, the 1963-64 R&B boom, the Flamingo club, the Scene club, the birth of British soul, the world of ‘60s pop sessions, jazz’n’poetry, the ‘Old Place’ generation, the Little Theatre Club, ‘free improvisation’… and then on to New York and ‘jazz-rock’ (though it’s not a phrase I care for and it wasn’t one McLaughlin himself used during the Mahavishnu era)…

There were around 60 interviews for the book – from Gunter Hampel to Petula Clark, Rick Laird to Sir George Martin, Big Jim Sullivan to Carol Shive, Spontaneous Music Ensemble veteran Trevor Watts to Wishbone Ash man Andy Powell – along with extensive use of previously published interviews (often sourced from rare publications) with many other ‘persons of interest’ in the tale.

The print version will have around 210,000 words of text and a painstakingly assembled photo section; the eBook will replicate this text and add a further 105,000 words of bonus chapters and appendices. Hopefully that bonus content will also be available separately for download at a modest price for those who prefer, as I would myself, to buy the print edition and who don’t wish to have to buy the whole thing again just to get the extra content. A print edition above 210,000 words was simply not possible, so the ebook bonus content idea seemed a decent solution. It’s entirely possible to read just the print edition – it’s not like an Agatha Christie novel where the last chapter is missing! – but for those who read it and enjoy it there’s the option of complementary chapters and vast discographical and concert-listing appendices within easy reach. The full story of the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, especially, is found in the bonus content. The photo section will include, among much else, many superb previously unpublished shots from Jak Kilby and Val Wilmer. Many of the interviewees and participants in the tale will be illustrated. I’ll give the chapter headings for the print edition and eBook bonus contents at the end of this update.

In due course (before the end of the year) there will be a book-specific website, designed by ‘Exciteable’ Dave Mullan – which will, I hope, be exciting. Whenever the book is ready to be published my friend Cormac O’Kane (Wizard Of Sound) is keen to facilitate a launch event at his studio in Belfast, his idea being to involve some of his new-media pals and broadcast it live on the net. If it happens – and I’m game – then it will certainly involve live music, an onstage Q&A, readings, invited (in the room) audience. I don’t know if anyone other than me buys books any more, so I’m going to do what I can to get the word out and give it a fighting chance, even if it means shameless self-publicity. Up to a point.

Meanwhile, in other news…

Hux Records release, at the end of this month, a fabulous remaster of the self-titled Joe Farrell Quartet album, from 1970. Somehow I’m credited as ‘project co-ordinator’. Pink Floyd associate Ron Geesin has done a sterling job on the mastering, from audio supplied by Sony US, and design legend Mark Case (who will also be designing the cover and photo section of Bathed In Lightning) has designed the 6-panel digipak based around replicating and enhancing the original LP gatefold sleeve. We’ve gone elegantly minimal on the textual content: rather than a full sleevenote, which we reckoned unnecessary, we’ve excerpted two period reviews of the album, from Down Beat and The Gramophone, and presented a line or two of period quote apiece either from or about each of the players – Joe Farrell (sax, flute, oboe), John McLaughlin (guitar), Chick Corea (keys), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums). It’s basically Joe Farrell with Miles Davis’ band of the time – and it’s a magnificent record.

Hux’s license from Sony was non-exclusive and, unfortunately, US label Wounded Bird have also licensed the album and also release it this month. I haven’t seen Wounded Bird’s packaging nor heard the mastering so I can’t compare. And I’d probably be biased anyway. But, well… take it from me, the Hux reissue is lovingly crafted!

I’m delighted to report that Hux have also just received the go-ahead to reissue, as a 2CD set, the two Howard Riley Trio CBS albums from 1969 and 1970, Angle and The Day Will Come. Howard had mentioned to me, after an interview for the McLaughlin book, that he’d love to see these alums available again and specifically as a 2CD package so he’s very pleased about Sony agreeing. The pair were previously available on CD, separately, in the ’90s but even these are now rare (let alone the original vinyl). As above, Ron Geesin will be doing the mastering.

My instrumental EP – begun in early 2012 then more or less set aside, as book activities took over, until a couple of months ago – continues to progress as time allows: mine, studio boffin Cormac O’Kane’s and that of others involved. There are four tracks: ‘Blues For The End Of Time’ (an early Fleetwood Mac kind of thing, featuring Australian bluesmeister Shane Pacey on electric guitars); ‘Blues For The Mahavishnu’ (featuring Shane and former Mahavishnu sax supremo Premik Russell Tubbs); ‘Blues For A Green Earth’ (a brooding quasi-baroque acoustic track which will have strings added); and a shamelessly full-on Mahavishnu-esque electric thing currently titled ‘Between Failure & Frustration’ (but that may change). Aside from Cormac and myself, bass player non pareil Ali McKenzie features on three of the above.

One of the great by-products of writing the McLaughlin book has been becoming friendly with some of the people one meets along the way. I’ve very much enjoyed, on two occasions each, travelling to see (momentary) 1967 McLaughlin collaborator Gary Cox’s bebop act Jazz Gazette playing live in Strabane, in the wild west of Northern Ireland, and 1960-66 McLaughlin bandmate (with Georgie Fame, Ronnie Jones, Herbie Goins and others) Mick Eve playing at The Constitution pub in London with ’60s soul/ska legend Ronnie Gordon and a splendid band of happy collaborators. (Their recent CD Ronnie Gordon Speaks His Mind is fabulous – seek it out.)

Anyway, the point being that I’ve been delighted to have had two of my interviewees, Premik Tubbs (soprano sax) and Steve Kindler (violin/string devices), help me out (on very generous terms) on the EP. It’s nothing to do with their past, just their playing – at which they’re rather good!

I’ve always liked my composition ‘Blues For A Green Earth’ but never felt I’d recorded it properly before. So… I thought I’d try and nail it last month, at Cormac’s fabulous newly-built studio in Belfast. (It’s a pretty exclusive/elusive enterprise: ultra-high specs and yet the only place the name – Red Box Studios – appears is on the inside of the toilet door. ‘We’ll work outwards…’ says Cormac.) Anyway, I try to record it and… disaster. I find – or rather Cormac does, in an afternoon defined by his irascible/tough love approach to record production/my confidence – that I can’t actually play it! I went home that night, disconsolate, and wrote/demoed ‘Between Failure & Frustration’, determined to go back with something I could actually play.

But it all ended well: not only did Cormac and I record a blistering studio version of ‘Between Failure…’ but, on examining the multiple previous takes of ‘Blues For A Green Earth’, we were able to piece together a really nice version – tight enough for him, loose enough for me. Turns out the blighter is more or less in 3/8 time (who even knew there was such a thing?), except that I drop or add bars all over the place – because it feels right. It’s now up to Steve Kindler – who has been a huge help (though he might think himself a hindrance!) during the late stages of the book – to come up with a suitably magisterial and understated string arrangement for it. No pressure, Steve… 

When the EP tracks are complete I plan to make a short run on CD appending the whole 2010 all-instrumental Titanium Flag album plus a handful of demos associated with both EP and album. I’ve pretty much run out of copies of the album so I might as well make use of all that extra space on the new CD.

Those chapter headings:

Print Edition & E-Book Main Text Contents:

Chapter One:    Beginnings: 1942-58

Chapter Two:    London: 1959-62

Chapter Three:    Fame: 1962-63

Chapter Four:    Graham Bond: 1963

Chapter Five:    Modernism: 1964

Chapter Six:    Swinging London: 1965

Chapter Seven:    Power: 1966

Chapter Eight:    Money: 1967

Chapter Nine:    British Jazz: 1967-68

Chapter Ten:    Freedom: 1968-69

Chapter Eleven:    New York: 1969

Chapter Twelve:    Faith: 1970

Chapter Thirteen:    God’s Orchestra: 1971-73

Chapter Fourteen:    Apocalypse: 1974

Chapter Fifteen:    Resolution: 1975

Afterword

 

E-Book Bonus Chapters:

1. Big Pete Deuchar: 1958-60

2. The Tony Meehan Combo: October – December 1963

3. Pirate Radio, London Mods, British Soul: 1964

4. Arjen’s Bag: 1968

5. Mahavishnu Orchestra 2: On The Road 1974

6. Mahavishnu Orchestra 2: Visions Of The Emerald Beyond: December 1974 – June 1975

7. Mahavishnu Orchestra 3: Resolution: June 1975 – November 1975

8. Postscript: Do You Hear The Voices That You Left Behind?

9. The Texts Of Festival: Star Truckin’ ‘75 by Charles Shaar Murray

(reprinted from NME 23/8/75 by arrangement with CSM)

 

Appendix 1 – John McLaughlin Discography: The British Recordings 1963-69

Appendix 2 – John McLaughlin: Known Concert Appearances 1963-68

Appendix 3 – John McLaughlin Discography: The US Recordings 1969 – 1975

Appendix 4 – MO2: Known Concert Appearances 1974-75

Well, there’s nothing like writing a book to keep one from updating websites, is there? I have a few pieces of news on CDs and suchlike, which appear at the end, but first the book…

At the moment I’m over 200,000 words into a project which has become more involved and perhaps more significant than was at first contemplated. My concept a year or so back was for a short book focused on the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, with a prologue covering the first Mahavishnu Orchestra and an appendix covering the essentials of leader John McLaughlin’s path through the 1960s. The first piece of writing I completed, after a serious trawl through primary print sources, was the prologue: a 10,000 word breeze through MO1 ‘as it happened’. The second piece of writing I attempted was the appendix.

It soon became obvious, though, that there was a great deal to be said about John McLaughlin in the 1960s, and about the worlds he inhabited then – British rock’n’roll, the London modern jazz world, the British R&B boom, Mods, the pop session scene, ‘free improvisation’, London psychedelic clubs, and more besides. It’s remarkable that no one has attempted this before – but then it’s also remarkable that there are so few books on British jazz in the 1960s. It is, for some reason, the last great under-known empire of that cultural abundant decade.

During the latter half of 2012 it increasingly became clear that what I was writing was not an appendix but the most significant part of the book in itself. My own interviews with John’s peers and associates from this era were combined with an exhaustive trawl through the key British music paper of the time, Melody Maker, at the British Library, along with reference to many other sources (Jazz Journal, Jazz Monthly, NME, Rolling Stone, Down Beat). Many memoirs by, and biographies of, other musicians from the era, and other reference books, have also been consulted.

It has been my overarching focus to write a book which not only chronicles the central subject (John McLaughlin) but also the world in which he moved: London in the 1960s. Above all, more than anything, I want this book to be readable by anyone interested in the decade and its culture. It is, determinedly, not a ‘jazz book’ – though it contains a great deal of information and adventure from that sphere that isn’t easily available elsewhere, that will delight jazz buffs – but simply a book about people making music in the melting pot of ‘60s London, coming at it from all sorts of directions, interacting with each other, making a living playing to people, striving to make individual statements at the cutting edges whenever they could. Genres – jazz, rock, soul, blues, pop – were not so rigidly codified in those days. A fundamental error of many writers/books is to treat a genre, and the goings-on within in in the 1960s, in isolation. Yes, it can be done. But it’s like singling out a tree in a forest. It’s so much more interesting to see the whole forest, to watch the squirrels and birds moving freely from tree to tree. It was a heady time, before the modern era in many ways but within it in terms of retrievable data.  

Much of the historian’s art is first finding the fragments of fabric and only then weaving the garment. Irish intellectual Fintan O’Toole once wrote that John McLaughlin, emerging into international prominence with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971, ‘was a rock star who seemed to owe nothing to the ‘60s’. This was pertinent on two levels: firstly, the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s music was not obviously based on anything which had gone before in popular music; secondly, John McLaughlin appeared to have sprung into the spotlight fully-formed, having barely left a trace on popular consciousness prior to his involvement in Miles Davis records in 1969.

Nevertheless, John McLaughlin had a professional, very active and richly varied career in music from 1958. All one need try and do is retrieve the information. There may be no records with the words ‘John McLaughlin’ on the front cover prior to his own LP debut as leader, Extrapolation, recorded early in 1969 just prior to departing for New York and what would turn out to be an international career (after an ‘apprenticeship’ longer than the Beatles’ whole existence), but the threads are still there to be found and woven together. And yes, the name ‘John McLaughlin’ (in many variants of spelling) does indeed grace the small print of the Melody Maker more times than one might have imagined during the decade. In itself, this is still only a small part of reassembling the jigsaw. But it’s a bit like finding the bits at the edges. Testimony from associates, knowledge of the context and landscape of music, people and places of Britain and Europe at the time, plus the scattered recollections on his pre-fame past from John’s own many interviews of later years form the picture within.   

A contract has been agreed with the excellent Jawbone Press and publication planned for early 2014. The book will be called Bathed In Lightning: Mahavishnu John McLaughlin And The End Of The Sixties – or something similar. The main title was inspired by a 1975 Mahavishnu review from the legendary Charles Shaar Murray in British magazine NME:

‘Playing as he does in a state of transported ecstasy – God playing through him, as it were – his music expresses a view of religion as heroic, epic, large-scale, of almost unbearable passion and grandeur. His YMCA swimming instructor features either wreathed in a beatific grin or contorted with the righteous efforts of a Good Man wrestling with the Devil, he radiates an incongruous air of preternatural calm in the midst of the unbelievably violent electronic/percussive sturm und drang of the music – like a man serenely bathing in lightning because he knows that it’s on his side and will never hurt him.’

The section of the book covering Britain and Europe up to 1969 comes to around 170,000 words at present, including two substantial appendices: one listing known concert appearances from 1963-68; the other a discography/sessionography (which adds/clarifies a great deal of information to existing discographies of the period). The second section – covering the Miles Davis and Tony Williams Lifetime era (1969-71), the MO1 era (1971-73) and the MO2 era (1974-75) – is currently being written, but will be significantly shorter than section one – less than half its length.

An option of dividing the book into two books was discussed with Jawbone and with my agent, the splendid Matthew Hamilton, over Christmas, but it was ultimately felt that one long book would be preferable to two shorter ones.

So, because of the likely length of the (single) book it’s been agreed with Jawbone mainman Major Tom, and with Agent Hamilton – over a long cup of coffee and amidst much bonhomie at a sub-zero St Pancras train station café – that there will, in effect, be two versions of the book.

The first, in hard copy, will come in somewhere below 200,000 words. (Jawbone’s longest title to date is 180,000 words, I kept being told…) The second, the e-book edition, will be longer: not an alternative ‘cut’ of the book, as such, rather the same basic text as the hard copy – but with the addition of bonus chapters and appendices. This seems to me a very acceptable compromise: I want the book to be available to as many people as possible, price wise, and I don’t want it to be uncomfortably bulky to hold. (I wonder how anyone can possibly read, for example, Johnny Rogan’s latest version of his increasingly Biblical Byrds biography – it’s hard to lift let alone open, hold and read.) On the other hand, I would hate to waste material that has taken a long time to corral and which is, to the best of my ability, fashioned into a narrative designed to engage the general public.  

Consequently, from the 170,000-odd words of Section One (1942-69), two chapters and two appendices can be fairly easily removed to the e-book version without compromising the rest of the tale. The chapters in question are on two fairly ‘stand alone’ episodes in John’s journey: Big Pete Deuchar & the Professors of Ragtime and the Tony Meehan Combo. A few paragraphs summing up the essentials of each can be added to the hard copy version, with the full tales appearing in the kindle/iPad/whatever edition.

From Section Two (1969-75), similar appendices covering gig listings (for MO2) and discography/sessionography (for the whole period), can also become e-book exclusives. Whether there is also ‘bonus chapter’ material remains to be seen.

In Other News…

My old friend film director Jan Leman got in touch recently. Jan made a lovingly crafted, beautifully filmed documentary called Acoustic Routes in 1992. Anchored around Bert Jansch, it was, in essence, a document of many key people from the guitar-centric British folk scene of the 1960s, specifically focused on Edinburgh and London. Artists who were rarely-seen at that time were filmed in conversation, reminiscence and performance – Anne Briggs, Wizz Jones, Davy Graham, Hamish Imlach, Archie Fisher and others. It concluded with a terrific sequence where Bert got to meet and play with his old hero Brownie McGhee, in California.

The film was shown once on BBC2 in 1993 and appeared at a few film festivals but soon drifted from view. It was still a few years prior to Bert’s renaissance as an artist and a few years prior to the whole ‘60s folk scene being resurrected in popular interest as a mythical time. By the time BBC4’s Folk Britannia aired, around 2004 – well into the CD reissues era (which had barely begun back in 1993) – one could say that the most of the participants in Acoustic Routes were now better known and more highly regarded than they had been 10 years earlier.

So, in a way, what made Jan’s task as a film-maker so difficult back in 1992-93 (getting the funding together, getting a broadcaster interested), has since become a virtue: he caught great performances and relaxed, natural reminiscences from people still very much capable of delivering the goods, at a time when they were being more or less ignored by the media in general. One could say that a documentary about has-beens in 1993 has re-emerged as a time capsule of great musicians in exquisitely filmed performance 20 years later. It seems, perhaps, less ‘out of time’ now than it did then. In addition, though, Jan has gone back to his rushes and created a new 102 minute cut of the film (originally 70 minutes), with new grading and mastering. I understand it looks fabulous.

I was very peripherally involved in the film – I think I may have given Jan a couple of phone numbers, I certainly attended one of the filming sessions (a wonderful experience, at the old Howff folk club premises in Edinburgh) and later the cinema premiere at the Edinburgh film festival. I also wrote a lengthy sleevenote for the original soundtrack CD, released via Demon in 1993 – and now fetching absurd sums on ebay.

At Jan’s request I’ve unearthed that original CD note (possibly, after a while of searching, the oldest piece of writing I have in electronic form). It will appear, in very slightly tweaked form, in a 48 page book which will be part of the Deluxe Edition box set of Acoustic Routes: 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and the book. The second DVD is titled Walk On, being the full 50-minute session with Bert Jansch and Brownie McGhee. The 2 CDs are, I understand, the original CD soundtrack plus a second disc of previously unreleased recordings from the film sessions. Aside from the Brownie McGhee session – where they filmed until the film stock ran out – Jan shot very leanly, from what I could see, but even from the Howff folk club session I attended there were, from memory, at least two songs filmed which were not used in the BBC version, so I imagine this ratio of used/unused material was typical.

In addition to the original CD note, I provided Jan with a Bert Jansch/Davy Graham piece written for Mojo in 2000 plus, at his request, an edit of the section referencing the film from my Jansch biography, Dazzling Stranger (Bloomsbury, 2000). I also supplied around 60 B&W photos, taken around the time of the film, of Bert Jansch in concert with the likes of Peter Kirtley and Jacqui McShee, who are both also featured in the film. Jan has a lot of other content for the 48 page book – including several hand-written lyrics from various participants and some great photos of his own – but I daresay some of the aforementioned writings/pics will appear in it.

Acoustic Routes is in cinemas around the UK during March (details can be found elsewhere online) and other versions of the film and its soundtrack recordings will be released soon, including a 2LP vinyl edition and more basic editions on DVD and CD. It’s all highly recommended. Support it if you can!

Also on the CD front, I’ve been loosely involved in a few more projects with my friend Brian O’Reilly at Hux Records. Just out, or coming soon, are Just Like Yesterday: The James Griffin Solo Anthology 1974-77, featuring the former Bread maestro’s two neglected ‘70s solo albums plus two live Old Grey Whistle Test performances. The CD comes with a terrific sleevenote from Peter Doggett. Ron Geesin has done his usual good job on the mastering, but I think he excelled himself on the second project I wanted to mention: The Joe Farrell Quartet.

The Joe Farrell Quartet is a wonderful, 37 minute New York jazz LP from 1970. It pairs the sax and reeds man Joe Farrell with Miles Davis’ entire rhythm section: Chick Corea (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums) plus John McLaughlin (guitar) on two tracks. The stand-out performance is lead track, ‘Follow Your Heart’, written by John, in its definitive arrangement, but the whole LP is wonderfully evocative stuff. It’s been out on CD before, but not in recent years. The Hux release, aside from Ron’s excellent mastering, comes in a 6 panel digipak designed by the increasingly legendary Mark Case of Whitenoise Studios: based on a facsimile of the original LP gatefold, plus brief period quotes from all five players and extracts from period reviews of the LP. A beautiful looking, and sounding, artefact.

Plans are afoot at Hux to release/reissue material by a couple of British jazz icons which I’ve had the pleasure to interview for the McLaughlin book: Trevor Watts and (pending Sony’s permission) Howard Riley. Fingers crossed.

Finally (for the moment at least), I continue to provide Barney Hoskyns’ excellent subscription website www.rocksbackpages.com  with gleanings from the archive. Most recently, in searching for the Acoustic Routes material, I came across a previously unpublished piece I’d written in July 2007, more or less on spec, and just out of interest at the time, on the ’50 year copyright issue’ in recorded sound.  To an extent, the story has moved on a little since then, but it remains an interesting piece, I think, and hopefully it will appear on Barney’s site in due course.

Myself and webmaster Uncle Spike talked about revamping the design of this site’s Journalism Archive a year or so back, to allow more new pieces to be added and accessed in easy fashion, but both of us became very busy at the time… In due course, hopefully this can be dealt with. Certainly, there are many more pieces which could be added.

When the McLaughlin book is closer at hand I hope to launch a directly-related website as a kind of online shop window for it, possibly including exclusive written content. All in good time.

Likewise, regarding my own musical activities, I’ve only recently started thinking about completing the instrumental EP referred to in the April 2012 Update. My good friend and Wiizard Of Sound, Cormac O’Kane, has been busy buying/building a new studio. I’ve been rather distracted with a book. At some point, our planets will align.

For the moment, here’s hoping it won’t be another 11 months till the next update. 

My retirement from writing about music becomes increasingly inaccurate: for the past couple of months I’ve been working towards a new book. It will be the story of the second Mahavishnu Orchestra (1974-75). Band leader/visionary John McLaughlin has very generously given me his blessing on the project. John’s history has been explored to date in a number of books and in regular magazine, radio and TV interviews, but the group was a major episode in the lives of all its other musicians and associated individuals. The book will be as much about them as their leader.

While the subject may seem like a niche one, my aim is to create a narrative appealing to anyone who has a fondness and fascination for the ‘classic rock’ era, the ‘70s, ‘60s idealism and so forth. It’s very much a human story set at a time when ‘giants walked the earth’ – a time when it was possible for an 11 piece band to tour the world playing largely instrumental music at high volume in multi-thousand-seater auditoriums, inspiring audiences and intriguing the media with an esoteric message and setting a standard of musicianship for peers to aspire to. It will not be a ‘jazz-rock’ book or a ‘fusion’ book (the F word, not even in general use at the time the story takes place, won’t even appear); it will be a book about music and musicians operating within the music world of the time, which was a world much less constrained by or concerned with categorisation than it later became.

I’ve already accumulated a great deal of primary source material from Britain, America and beyond and spoken at length with several of the musicians, collaborators, producers and promoters involved at the time. I hope to speak to many more in due course. The spirit I’ve encountered from those I’ve spoken with thus far has been overwhelmingly positive – in many ways it’s a labour of love project, but it’s nevertheless so much easier to do in both practical terms and in terms of one’s own morale given the warmth and generosity of the dramatis personae! 

I can whole-heartedly recommend Walter Kolosky’s existing Mahavishnu Orchestra book Power, Passion & Beauty (Abstract Logic, 2005). While Walter’s book does cover the second MO, it is principally concerned with the first band (1971-73), covering that period and the previous background of the five members – John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird – brilliantly, with extensive retrospective interview material from all five and their fellow travellers, along with commentary from other fusion musicians.

It’s my sincere hope that my book will complement Walter’s, not compete with it. While there will inevitably, unavoidably, be a certain amount of overlap (the first chapter of my book will deal necessarily with the rise and fall of the first band), the style, approach and resources used will be very different. Likewise, the style, approach and resources used in the main narrative on the adventure of the second band and its members. Hell, if the world can accommodate 1001 books on the Beatles it can deal with two on the Mahavishnu Orchestra(s)!

I envisage work on the book will be completed within this calendar year, circumstances permitting. In a couple of months I’ll pitch the project to a few publishers, though I’m already pondering the advantages of self-publishing a limited edition physical copy and e-book version. We shall see.

Meantime, if anyone knows the whereabouts of/ways to contact former members Steve Francewicz and Marsha Westbrook, please get in touch…

In other news…

I’ve been enjoying working with my regular, long-suffering ‘studio guy’ Cormac O’Kane – truly, a Wizard Of Sound – at odd moments over the past couple of months. At some point this year there’ll be an EP of instrumental music with a mostly mellow, late-night feel. I have in mind three substantial reworkings of existing pieces, one entirely new piece and possibly two original recordings of older pieces in similar vein added as bonus tracks. Australian blues guitar maestro Shane Pacey (of the Bondi Cigars / Shane Pacey Trio) has already recorded parts for two tracks and I’m very much looking forward to former Mahavishnu Orchestra soprano sax wizard Premik Russell Tubbs adding a part to one piece. As ever, Cormac’s schedule means things progress less speedily than one might wish – but I’m always grateful for whatever time he can manage!

Additionally, the long-awaited Duffy Power album True will finally appear at some point this year on the Market Square label, with a sleevenote from myself along with my instrumental involvement on a couple of tracks. I’ve said for years that Duffy remains an underappreciated talent and the quality of the songs and performances on True only underline that view.

Finally, I see that the Kindle edition of my Bert Jansch biography Dazzling Stranger (Bloomsbury) is now available over at Amazon. I understand that the new paperback version also appears this month. Both versions should contain the updated discography plus Pete Paphides’ new Afterword, covering 2006-2011.

Apologies for a lack of new pieces uploaded to the Journalism Archive in the past three or four weeks: webmeister Uncle Spike has been, like Jeffrey Barnard, ‘unwell’ – though, unlike Jeffrey, he actually has been unwell! Five new pieces are added this weekend: 1990s reviews of product/performances from Link Wray, Richard Thompson, Altan and Chris Smither; and an interview with Steve Tilston.

The Word Magazine blog thread on The Mahavishnu Orchestra, mentioned in the October update, rumbles on and now features a very substantial CH review of the newly released ‘Complete Columbia Albums’ box set, including information on the recording dates for the set’s unreleased live tracks (in short: Sony got it wrong… but the tracks sound great!). The thread also contains a very detailed listing of all the known MO live recordings from non-official sources which are available via the web for download or streaming, in many cases for free. It was good fun pulling all the info together – I’m sure it’s not totally complete, but as it stands it would appear that nearly 20% of the Mk 1 Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 535 concerts (1971-73) survive in some form. Amazing…

Finally, I’ve been persuaded to reconsider Bloomsbury’s e-book suggestion for Dazzling Stranger. It will appear in that form in due course, including a discographical update and the new afterword from Pete Paphides.

Just a brief one this time: There’s now around 48,000 words worth of vintage journalism in the Journalism Archive section, with more stuff being added most weekends – this weekend, for instance, pieces on David Gates and Sweeney’s Men. Nothing if not eclectic.

Nothing was added last weekend as I was blissfully distracted by creating a vast discussion/lecture (!) thread on the Mahavishnu Orchestra on Word Magazine’s splendid forum. There’s a fair amount of CH text there, some from previous interview pieces with Duffy Power and John McLaughlin but much of it new. I don’t write much these days, so it’s been a lot of fun and also surprising how much interest there seems to be. Search for it here if you wish: http://www.wordmagazine.co.uk/

Restored graphics, an embedded video clip and several relevant newspaper pieces have been added recently to the Dazzling Stranger page in the Books section. Bloomsbury will be publishing a new imprint of the book soon with a new afterword by Peter Paphides. I turned down an offer for an e-book edition.

Yes, the unprecedented pace of recent updates continues! This one concerns further additions to the Journalism Archive and some new video representations of instrumental recordings.

First the Journalism Archive.  As of today, or shortly after, there should be 17 tranches of stuff uploaded there from the late ‘90s/early ‘00s: some, single features; others, themed collections of pieces. Among the mostly previously published pieces are a handful of commissioned but unpublished items. Here’s the list:

  • Leafhound – Mojo ‘Buried Treasure’ feature
  • Mellow Candle – Mojo ‘Buried Treasure’ feature
  • Steve Ashley – Mojo ‘Buried Treasure’ feature
  • Henry McCullough (Wings) – Mojo ‘Hello/Goodbye’ feature
  • Cropredy Festival 2001 – Mojo review
  • Vincent Crane – Mojo feature (unpublished)
  • Ashley Hutchings – Record Collector feature
  • Martyn Joseph – Record Collector feature (unpublished)
  • Duffy Power – Record Collector feature
  • Wizz Jones – Record Collector feature
  • Roy Harper – various pieces from The Independent and Mojo
  • Ralph McTell – various pieces from The Independent and Mojo
  • David Gray – various pieces from Folk Roots and elsewhere
  • John McLaughlin – Hot Press feature (unpublished)
  • Kulashaker – Irish News Feature
  • Leo Kottke – Irish News feature
  • 14 Irish Times concert reviews (including two unpublished)

That’s roughly 45,000 words of material so far! The process is ongoing, so more will be added as the archaeology progresses. Webmeister Uncle Spike has had his best man working solidly on the formatting/uploading job in recent weeks and while there have been constant delays due to ‘the wrong kind of snow’ on the tracks, half-day closing, implausible gardening incidents  and unexpected meteorite events in the Bangor area, we remain confident that progress will not be thwarted indefinitely…

On the music front, Ryan Kane of Whitenoise Studios has edited together visual accompaniments – using fabulous wildlife/nature film and CGI film of Great Auks – for six of my instrumental recordings, as follows:

  • The Last Place On Earth
  • Titanium Flag (6 minute edit)
  • Passing Away
  • Six Days North / Years Of Regret
  • Blues For A Green Earth

These are all available at www.vimeo.com and at least one (Six Days North / Years Of Regret) is available at www.youtube.com

Here’s a direct link to Six Days North/Years Of Regret: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-I4dNIcK8U

And here’s a direct link to Titanium Flag: http://www.vimeo.com/29170261

I’m hopeful that Ryan and myself will be able to create further videos for some of my music, using an ‘animated slide show’ format. Certainly. we plan on creating one soon for the 2009 Field Mouse Conspiracy track ‘Three Syllable Time’, featuring vocalist Sarah McQuaid, using a dozen or so images of Sarah in concert (supplied by Sarah), and I’m hopeful that the FMC track ‘Aztec Energy’, sung by Alison O’Donnell, might lend itself to a similar treatment, using stills of Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, subject of the song.

This has to be a record – two updates in one month! Some time ago Judy Dyble told me I should put a load of possibly interesting old journalistic endeavors on the site. I’m not sure why I didn’t get round to this sooner. Anyway, I don’t have too many distractions at the moment so it’s been fun to have just spent a few hours starting the process – first of all locating the stuff, secondly reformatting it from defunct word-processing software and thirdly finding out when and where a given piece was published.

I wrote professionally for various UK and Irish newspapers and magazines from 1994-2001 and then lingered on with a bit of spare-time writing for a couple of magazines up to around 2006. (I still, as anyone reading the infrequent news updates will be aware, enjoy a bit of spare-time CD sleevenote writing if the project interests me.)

I’m hoping to upload pieces pretty regularly over the next few weeks, so keep checking back if it’s in any way interesting. I’ve been lucky enough to have reviewed and/or interviewed some fascinating artists – folk, blues, jazz, rock and beyond – so there’ll be a fair amount of variety. Anything I upload to the site – which we’ll put under a new ‘Journalism Archive’ button on the home page – will be pretty much as-it-was-published, with just a brief introductory note of context if necessary.

It’s proved relatively easy to locate what appears to be the bulk of my writing from 1997 onwards. The 1994-96 stuff might take a bit more archaeology, but I think a fair amount of it should exist in some electronic form. I have physical copies of, I think, all the newspaper stuff – so if there’s anything really interesting that I can’t locate in electronic form, I’ll maybe type it up again from the hard copy. I’ve long since got rid of any magazines I contributed to.  Space: it’s not the final frontier, it’s what you need in your living environment!

The first tranche of pieces (available now in the new ‘Journalism Archive’ section) are indicative of the variety:

  • A previously unpublished 5,500 word John McLaughlin feature from 1996
  • A breezy 800 word review of Fairport Convention’s 2001 Cropredy Festival from Mojo
  • A 1300 word Mojo ‘Buried Treasure’ feature on Leafhound
  • A selection of 14 concert reviews from the Irish Times 1998-2001 – circa 300 words apiece on Cliff Richard, BB King, Martin Hayes, Divine Comedy, Don McLean, Andy Irvine, Capercaillie, Stereophonics, Hubert Sumlin, Andy Williams, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, the Esbjorn Svenson Trio and a godawful Riverdance cash-in

I’ve enjoyed re-reading this stuff and, with the concert reviews especially, I’ve used Clive James’ maxim (when he was selecting his TV criticism for anthologising in a series of books) and selected stuff that still seems readable to me – maybe it just has a few nice turns of phrase or maybe it says something still valid about the artist in question, some of whom are no longer with us, or maybe it just captures a moment now passed. Thankfully so, if one is talking about Riverdance cash-ins.

A couple of items of interest, perhaps: firstly, I’ve added a brand new Quintessence page (click the ‘CD Reissue Projects’ button on the home page to get to it); secondly, an update on the CH vocal CD Rust as promised.

The Quintessence page is 5000+ words of info on the five Quintessence related CDs, thus far, which I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in with Hux Records over the past couple of years. A couple of these have not had much traditional media coverage, so partly this is a response tyo that information vacuum: I can hardly be an unbiased reviewer of any of the CDs but I can at least provide a load of objective information on the contents, including extracts from the often substantial booklet notes and links to relevant video or audio on youtube. In fact, with the inestimable (he doesn’t provide estimates) help of Uncle Spike’s best man I’ve recently had one or two audio tracks from each of the Shiva’s Quintessence, Kala and Quintessence Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury releases uploaded to youtube with album cover graphics. If anyone out there feels halfway inclined to buy these albums, there’ll at least now be enough info out there to seal the deal one way or the other! Links are on the new Quintessence page.

My 2010 instrumental album Titanium Flag continues to generate quietly remarkable (to me) airplay figures. It’s given me the confidence to think I ought to do more in that vein. Hopefully so. In the meantime, some of the vocal pieces I recorded around the same time as the instrumental works have been collected on a CD entitled Rust. In the year that passed between the first sessions and the last, enough perspective had flowed under the bridge to reshape what might have been a set of songs defined by negativity into a shorter set with a bit more of a glass-half-full vibe about it. My friend Cormac O’Kane, wizard of sound, multi-instrumentalist and producer to the stars (and me) had insisted I cover the vocals myself this time – although the fabulous Carol-Anne Lennie sings lead on opening track ‘Squirrel’ – so I gave it a go. It’s still an album that reflects a lot of troubles I was dealing with at the time, albeit more obliquely than if I’d included three or four other tracks recorded at the same time. Still, it’s an album that contains a couple of the best songs I think I’ve written and hopefully a staging post towards making some more recordings with Carol-Anne in the fullness of time.

Rust is credited to Colin Harper & The Peaceful Minds. The rest of the band are: Karen Smyth (backing vocals); Cormac O’Kane (keyboards, bass, electric guitar); Ali MacKenzie: (bass); ‘Late-Night’ Tony Furnell (drums/percussion).

Plus special guests: Carol-Anne Lennie (vocals); ‘The Legendary’ Andy Roberts (electric guitars); Linley Hamilton (trumpets, flugelhorn )

Two instrumental interludes, ‘A Part Of Eternity’ and ‘The Last Place On Earth’, are new edits/mixes of tracks previously released on Titanium Flag.

Samples of all the tracks are available here:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/colinharperthepeacefulmi

  

Forthcoming site improvements!

Without wanting to tempt fate, I think I can say that there’ll be a few enhancements to this website over the next few weeks. Webmaster Uncle Spike has made the cardinal error of casually offering, with witnesses present, to refresh the look of the site, while I’ve also been thinking it’s about time I added a few pages of journalistic blasts from the past – reproductions of CH newspaper/magazine features on various people first published in the 1990s and early 2000s. I’ll see if I can dig up some goodies!

Also, if Uncle Spike continues to be in such a benevolent mood I’ll see if some more relevant CH-related audio and video can be uploaded to youtube with links posted here. We’ve recently uploaded audio of a couple of tracks from Janet Holmes Road To The West sessions (2004) – co-produced by myself – and there’s certainly some BBC NI TV material of both Janet and Tina McSherry which could be uploaded, the latter with myself on guitar.

As promised in the last update, I hope very soon to be creating some video interpretations of instrumental pieces from Titanium Flag and earlier. Links to these as and when. Meanwhile, here’s Janet Holmes’ fabulous interpretation of the Beatles’ ‘Long, Long, Long’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBwXNQgUyic

Nine months since the last update – must do better! A fair amount has happened since then. The vintage Martin Carthy CD The January Man: Live In Belfast 1978’ was released in January on Hux Records, followed a couple of months later by two Quintessence-related CDs – all of which I was proud to have had various levels of involvement with. The Quintessence releases are Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury 2010 (a lavishly produced and packaged record of the one-off reunion of Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones and Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling along with original Island Records-era producer John Barham) and Only Love Can Save Us: The Anthology by ‘Shiva’s Quintessence, being a set of recent recordings by Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones and Swiss keyboard/production wizard Ralph ‘Rudra’ Beauvert, including fabulous reinterpretations of vintage Quintessence material. All three are highly recommended, as will be a forthcoming CD of 1970s recordings by the late James Griffin, which I’m also loosely involved with for the same label. Hux can be found here: www.huxrecords.com while a splendid 10 minute feature from BBC Yorkshire on Quintessence at the Glastonbury Festival can be viewed here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/colinharpervideo#p/u/6/omTqMfdy0k0

Titanium Flag, my instrumental album released last summer, has enjoyed a quietly remarkable amount of European airplay. It’s really very gratifying indeed, and a very pleasant surprise, to find that people seem to like it. Within the next couple of months I hope to be completing – with the aid of one of ace design maestro Mark Case’s associates at White Noise Communications – video representations of several of my instrumental pieces for uploading to youtube and vimeo. I’ll post links as and when…

In the meantime, an album of vocal pieces which were recorded during the same period as the Titanium Flag material is on the cusp of release (also via CD Baby – link to be posted when ready). My good friend, producer, multi-instrumentalist and all-round wizard of sound Cormac O’Kane (the secret of whose success is baffling*) was adamant that the vocal and instrumental pieces were two separate projects, best heard on two separate pieces of plastic. And he was absolutely right. Having said that, the content and feel of the vocal album, which is entitled Rust, developed significantly over the past few months. Several tracks were ultimately dropped and edits of two of the more winsome pieces from TF were added – the effect being to lighten the overall mood of the record. A small group of musicians were involved – Cormac O’Kane, Ali MacKenzie, Late-Night Tony Furnell, Karen Smyth and myself – with a trio of guests: Carol-Anne Lennie aka ‘Carol From Luton’ on vocals on the lead track, ‘Squirrel’; jazz maestro the one and only Linley Hamilton on trumpets and flugelhorn; and the legendary Andy Roberts on Beatle-esque electric guitar, also on ‘Squirrel’. In fact, a delightful home-made video for ‘Squirrel’ – featuring a bunch of squirrels – can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVsDrfmenus

More news on the Titanium Flag videos and the Rust CD Baby link in due course. Finally, some recordings I was involved in back in 2001 with the fabulous and under-appreciated British jazz/blues vocalist and songwriter Duffy Power are due to appear on Market Square Records fairly soon entitled Tigers. Myself, Janet Holmes, Ali MacKenzie and a few other friends were involved in three or four tracks on the album – which will be the first album of new material Duffy has released since the ‘70s – and here’s hoping it gets the airplay and attention it deserves.

(* he swears it’s all down to the quality of one’s moveable sound-proofing equipment)

Well, it looks like I’ve just released an album.

Titanium Flag is its name and its an all-instrumental album, including the seven-part Ice Museum Suite inspired by two books on Arctic travel and history: Joanna Kavennas The Ice Museum: In Search Of The Lost Land Of Thule (Viking, 2005) and True North: Travels In Arctic Europe (Polygon, 2008) by Gavin Francis. Joanna was kind enough to allow the use of her title, and kind enough to say she liked the music too!

You could describe the album as Mike Oldfield-esque. Mike, though, wasnt an influence on the music. The direct inspirations were Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman, the Mark 1 Mahavishnu Orchestra, the ambient music of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, British folk icon Martin Carthy and Estonian faith minimalist composer Arvo Part. The American Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron was also important in a more general sense during the creative period.

If theres a journey associated with the making of this music, its only a very small one. I was unwell for a long period – not in a life-threatening way, but in a way that put life on hold for a couple of years. At Christmas 2009 I took a friends advice, borrowed some money and bought, for the first time in my life, a really fine instrument: a handmade Avalon acoustic guitar. Its been a revelation and a catalyst. Having created no music – barely picked up an instrument – for two years, the instrumental pieces for Titanium Flag and also a host of vocal pieces (which will appear on CD soon) came really quickly. It was quite a cathartic experience, but thats only on a personal level – the music stands alone, failing or succeeding on its own merits.

In terms of previous instrumental work, Ive recorded duets with Duke Special, Martin Hayes, Brooks Williams, Jan Akkerman and Bert Jansch – although Ive kept my name very low in the credits, and off the sleeves, of the bits of plastic those pieces appeared on. Having been involved in writing about and reviewing music for much of the past 20 years the poacher/gamekeeper paradox held me back in terms of pursuing music-making more fully, and from using my own name when doing so. But, as Im now more or less retired from writing about music – certainly, from reviewing music in any way – and as the landscape and values of the music business have changed so radically in recent years, it really doesnt matter any more! Titanium Flag is consequently the first CD release under my own name.

Titanium Flag will be available physically from mid August 2010 via http://cdbaby.com/cd/ColinHarper where there are audio samples of each of the nine tracks.

Digital downloads are also available from CDBaby – and, I believe, from iTunes, Amazon and other people.

Three tracks can be heard in full at: www.MySpace.com/titaniumflag

Spread the word!