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
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