Sunday, December 13, 2009

Joe Boyd - White Bicycles

I just finished Joe Boyd's book White Bicycles - Making Music in the 1960's. I agree with Eno's review on the cover, definitely one of the best books about music I've read in years. Anyone interested in Nick Drake, early Floyd, early Fairport, the UFO club or the social history of the 1960's should read this immediately. Totally gripping.

Some of the most interesting bits which come to mind involve Boyd's descriptions of:
  • booking Lonnie Johnson to play in a friend's front room in New Jersey when still a teenager (LJ hadn't gigged in years - was working in a hotel kitchen, and Boyd and friends found his number in a Philadelphia phone directory)
  • visiting the islands off the coast of South Carolina where the Gullah people live in the early 60's and hearing their music (I didn't realise that James Jamerson, the bass player in the Motown house band was a Gullah - Boyd suggests that the Motown sound can be traced pretty directly back to Africa via his basslines)
  • managing a UK tour for the "Blues and Gospel Caravan", including the Reverend Gary Davis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, et al. (the last night, at The Dome in Brighton, is definitely on my "list of gigs to attend should time travel get invented in my lifetime!)
  • being at Padstow Mayday in 1965, the year "Cyril Tawney showed up with his hippies" as I've heard a disparaging local describe it (the "hippies" included the likes of Anne Briggs, the Watersons, Martin Carthy, Maddy Prior,...)
  • witnessing the Ayler Brothers starting a riot in Paris '66 with a free jazz rendition of "La Marseillaise"
  • seeing the original line-up of The Move several times at The Marquee Club (sounds completely explosive, much to my surprise, having associated them with mediocre flower-pop!)
  • a fortnight in Brixton Prison in '65 (on a fabricated drugs charge)
  • meeting Hamish Henderson in Edinburgh, the "last Pictish speaker on the planet"
  • Caroline Coon, who set up the Release organisation, as well as being the subject of Matching Mole's lovely "O Caroline"
  • his role as stage manager during Dylan's controversial gig at Newport Folk Festival '65, when he shocked the folkies with loud electric blues-rock set
  • why he thinks the British tend to have such an aversion to their own folk music (something to do with the fact that Britain is has been, generally unacknowledged, a Norman colony since the 11th century)
  • how the Incredible String Band ended up getting sucked into the Scientology vortex
  • John Cale's reaction to hearing Nick Drake for the first time (while working on Nico's follow up to The Marble Index at Boyd's studio in London
  • Nick Drake's mum Molly's unpublished piano compositions (of which she was humbly dismissive) which appear to be largely responsible for her son's style of composition


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