Tag: Jimi Hendrix

HistoryMusic

Podcast 11. Dick Taylor – S.F. Sorrow & beyond

SF Sorrow cover

The cover of S.F. Sorrow 1968. Taken from the 2009 Madfish reissue.

On the 4th of March 2018, on a very cold and snowy English Saturday morning, I was delighted to speak to Dick Taylor, guitarist and founding member of the Pretty Things. I wanted to specifically ask him questions about the period of 1967/68 and the band’s psychedelic masterpiece album – S.F. Sorrow. I was keen to know more about the circumstances around it, and its making. You listen to it now and while embedded in the musical culture of the time it was clearly decades ahead of its time.

S.F. Sorrow unfortunately, at the time it was released – did not receive the full attention and credit it deserved, due to various record label machinations. It has been progressively rediscovered over the last 20 years or so as new generations discover it, and marvel over its inventiveness, spirit, and innate sense of adventure/experimentalism. It is a record that helped define the period and broke new ground in its musical forms and structures, utilising the best studio in the world at the time, Abbey Road, and made while the Pink Floyd and the Beatles were also making classic albums – A Saucerful Of Secrets and The White Album at the same time at Abbey Road.

For some background of my interest in the Pretty Things work – I first read about their name as a youngster in New Zealand circa 1980/81 via David Bowie’s 1973 album Pinups, which features some stonking covers of the Prettie’s tunes ‘Rosalyn’ and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’. Bowie’s liner notes on the back cover explaining his song choices for that album expressed his obvious love and enthusiasm of the London R’n’B music scene he shared with the Pretty Things circa 1964. However it wasn’t until the mid 80’s as a teenager I actually heard the Pretty Things for the first time via a cassette of their 1960’s BBC sessions. This tape came from a well informed 60’s music aficionado based in Hamilton in the Waikato. The same guy who turned me onto the Charles Lloyd Quartet, The Creation, and the Misunderstood. Cheers Jim!

I played the cassette wondering what to expect and was verily blown away by the attitude/vibe, melodies, rhythms, and sheer power in their songs. It was timeless music with that instant transcendent mojo – that indefinable loveliness that all great music has – that can that lift one out of one’s immediate experience and consciousness – and take you someplace else instantly. And in the conservative and generally dull, intellectually hostile, conformist, and spirit-less suburban existence of Auckland in the 1980’s that kind of musical revelation was a heaven-send.

However in those days as a teenager investigating lots of new things I was moving into my own odyssey to discover the NZ music of the time a la Fetus Productions, the Doublehappys, the Bats et al. Alongside figuring out how to coax feedback out of my guitar and making my first excursions into recording my own work. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally got a copy of SF Sorrow and discovered a record that instantly astonished and moved me – much like the first time I heard Ege Bamyasi by Can, Funhouse by the Stooges, or White Light White Heat by the Velvet Underground. S.F. Sorrow was part of the real deal.

Pretties 67.68

The Pretty Things circa 1967/68. From top L-R Dick Taylor, John Povey, Phil May, Wally Allen, Skip Alan (photographer unknown)

The Pretties were the leaders of the bunch in their time yet for reasons that have been covered in detail by several other writers the Pretties never became as commercially successful as other important bands of their era like the Kinks, Small Faces, Who, and the Stones. Nevertheless their influence is massive and the explosion of punk rock with its many off-shoots would have been very different had the Pretty Things never existed.

The sessions for S.F. Sorrow started in late 1967 and the album was released in December 1968. And what a year that was – revolution was in the air and a palpable atmosphere of dissent was about, especially amongst many young people around the world. The Viet Nam war was raging and the Nice were banned from the Albert Hall for burning an American flag. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and a string of incidents of state repression reverberated around the world from Ireland, France, Mexico, the USA and elsewhere.

My conversation with Dick included: current recording activity of the Pretty Things; Life and renting in London in late 1967; Playing with David Bowie, borrowing his band’s van and sawing legs off a piano; In Paris with Jimi Hendrix 4th March ’67; Leaning a guitar on the wall and beautiful drones emerging; The lost great Pretties song ‘Reincarnation’; Arab and North African music; The guitars used, drum production, and the art of sub mixes during the recording of S.F. Sorrow at Abbey Road; Staying in tune on stage in the 60’s without tuning pedals; The wider effects of WWII, and an anti-war theme; The effect of LSD on 1960’s culture amongst all else that was going on; DT’s memories of producing Hawkwind’s debut album; The fragmentation of the modern music scene – and an observation of the current socio-economic milieu.

The tracks in the podcast are firstly the original uncut ‘Defecting Grey’ from the CD reissue of S.F. Sorrow, and secondly ‘Private Sorrow’ from the same 2009 reissue.

I’d like to say a big thanks to Dick for his time, and also to Lally McBride for providing extra research material for the interview.

 

 

Music

Jimi Hendrix at the Flamingo, London 1967

by Michael Canning

In 2014 I was given a recording of one of the earliest Jimi Hendrix Experience concerts in existence. It was recorded on the 4th of February 1967 at the Flamingo Club on Wardour St in Soho in West London. I’d known about this archive recording for a decade but this was the first time it came my way so I was pretty excited to listen to it, having a long-time interest in the sonic soaring and the syncopated grooves of the Hendrix Experience.

Jimi Hendrix 1967

Jimi Hendrix circa late 1966/early 67 (Photographer unknown)

The quality is as rough as anything and sounds like it came from a mixing desk feed into a small recorder from a primitive PA system in the Club. The vocals are almost nonexistent with Mitch Mitchell’s snare and Hendrix’s guitar dominating the mix. However, with the specifics of the recording aside what an absolute piece of magical history to hear, but holy hell it must have been LOUD that night, the tape can barely contain the signal!

The loudness of course was part of the act and enabled Hendrix to pull out his feedback and sculptural tricks, which alongside others of the time like Blue Cheer revolutionized how rock music would be done and presented. Frank Zappa, who witnessed Hendrix early on at an Experience concert in New York said that Hendrix played so loud it made him feel sick.

The setlist of the Flamingo Club show only features two of Hendrix’s tunes, ‘Can you see me’ and ‘Stone Free’. The rest of the set consisting of three covers he was to make even more famous, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, and ‘Wild Thing’, with blues standards ‘Killing Floor’, ‘Catfish Blues’, and a curious proto heavy metal version cover of ‘Mercy Mercy’. Hendrix introducing the latter somewhat sarcastically and/or stoned, “a little tune, a very straight, ha ha, top 40 rock and roll record, ‘Have Mercy’, have mercy on me, baby.” The ‘baby’ drawled with particular emphasis on the b’s.

It is a well known fact to how Hendrix was pushed and pulled in certain directions by his management during his brief career, and it seems highly likely that the inclusion of this popular tune at the time by the Dominoes would have been encouraged. An audio recording of an interview from the same year reveals Hendrix’s barely covered seething frustration and disdain at his management’s wishes for him to be an ‘Elvis Presley’. Hendrix was not a fan of some of the contemporary music of the time and is on record castigating on what he thought to be the ‘plastic sounds’ of Motown.

To what it must have been like in that small club in London that night 49 years ago though – this ragged recording certainly gives some clues. With what can be heard in the lo-fi murk the audience were going wild. They were seeing a new form of music being made in front of them, one that was perilous, heady, and a super-somatic experience with the band’s amps cranked to the maximum and Mitch Mitchell’s kick and snare drums thundering out. It had everything to do with the industrial scientific developments of the last war, and the social aftershock of the latter, that was still settling, not to mention another industrial slaughter going on in a place called Viet Nam.

The old order of the contemporary music world in London had effectively been kicked over during the first few performances by Hendrix in late ’66 and early ’67, and the pop cognoscenti of the time knew it. Little wonder that Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck formed a temporary support club, shaking their heads collectively, and wondering where they would fit into this new milieu with the Jimi Hendrix Experience having landed in London.

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