April 2012 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.

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