It was one of those quiet evenings, with musicians and performers scattered throughout the pub, but I did eventually begin the session. I had brought my keyboard. Having been unable to join in for the 60s evening last time, I thought I would contribute the two pieces I had intended to play then. I seem to remember electric pianos and organs being a distinct sound in the sixties, so I began the evening with a song from either end of the decade and made my belated contribution to the 60s vibe. The first, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ (1969) and my version of Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I say’ from 1959 both featuring electric piano.
By way of tidying up the loose ends I have brought forward from 60s night, I have done some research. The Hammond organ, an electric organ, cheaper than wind driven pipe organs was invented in 1935, to be used in churches. It became popular with jazz musicians. Jazz club owners began to use Hammond Organ Trios rather than employ Big Bands. Its popularity was accelerated into the realms of rhythm and blues, rock and reggae moving into the 60s and 70s, largely due to Jimmy Smith. He used a Hammond B-3 and released a series of successful instrumental recordings which inspired a generation and created a link between 1960s soul and jazz improvisation. The electric organ became a common feature of much 60s music.
Electric pianos were invented in the 1920s and Duke Ellington and Sun Ra recording in the mid 1950s, led the way to its growing popularity. The electric piano became part of electric-amplified music as it developed. Ray Charles song ‘What’d I say’ played an important part in promoting the popularity of the instrument. I was unaware of the history of this song, but listening to it just said ’1960s’.
The other 60s song: Woodstock, was written ten years later. It’s a very distinctive song and sums up the Woodstock festival phenomenon. Joni Mitchell wasn’t there. She was told by a manager that it would be more advantageous to appear on the Dick Cavett Show. Her then boyfriend Graham Nash told her all about the festival and she wrote the song in a hotel room in New York City watching televised reports. She said: ‘The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock’. David Crosby later said that Joni had captured the feeling and importance of the Woodstock Festival better than anyone who had been there.
And so we leave the 60s behind us and return in the Six Bells Tardis to a July evening in 2017.
Lloyd and Liz took the second spot of the evening and sang a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair’. It was a first outing of this song for them and it had some very nice harmonies going on. Liz was being somewhat intimidated by the microphone, and was going to return later in the evening for another song, but in the event, decided to leave it for another time.
Simon followed with a Grateful Dead song: ‘The Monkey and the Engineer’ repeating the verses to compensate for the absence of a Jerry Garcia guitar solo. We were on a warning that he might run out of air because the song is continuous and persistent, chugging along like a train. His next song was a Kate Wolf country song and very wistful it was: ‘Nobody lives here anymore’, complete with cracked window panes and grass growing high around the cabin floor.
Our next performers gave us a poetic interlude. Peter gave us a poem about his dislike of opticians, followed by a poem about teeth which ventured into lurid dental detail: ‘My child do look after your choppers’.
Sylvie followed Peter with a poem about her Cleaning Lady, the Sugar Plum Fairy: ‘you cannot tell my cleaning lady has been …….. she was a ballerina and skips lightly on her feet’. She completed her spot with more health and personal hygiene, continuing, it would seem, from Peter with a poem about a Razor Tree, looking like daffodils in a jar.
Mike Aldridge had missed 60s night, but apparently had a sick note. He sang songs older than the sixties: ‘Midnight Special’ a Huddie William Ledbetter (better known as Leadbelly) song, with his distinctive blues fingerstyle. There have been many interpretations of this song, (including an instrumental I found on YouTube by Jimmy Smith on the famous Hammond B-3). Then he gave us a Prince Buster song from the 40s: ‘Enjoy Yourself’ (it’s later than you think) which reassures us we’ll find something funny when we read our epitaph. It’s good to see him back on form. Mike sings amusing songs, and is running the next Six Bells evening: Comedy Songs.
Clive took the stage and sang ‘Summer in the City’, a hit record by the Lovin’ Spoonful in 1966: ‘In the summer, in the city ….. cool Cat looking for a Kitty‘. Hang on ……. Clive’s in the 60s. The next song was from the Incredible String Band’s ‘The 5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion’ which came out in 1967: ‘Painting Box’. Having completed a song about every colour in his painting box, Clive saw red, and had an uncharacteristic outburst in the direction of part of the audience which had been chattering fairly consistently throughout the evening.
I had asked certain people to be more respectful towards the performers and keep the chatter down, when I opened the evening. It’s incredibly distracting when you’re singing a quiet or folky song accompanied by a single instrument, to have a lot of background chat going on. So as Clive left the room briefly, I reinforced his sentiments more diplomatically and drew our attention back to the music, and Chris Martin came to the mic with his usual casual composure, and sang one of his songs from 1991: ‘It ain’t Easy, I know’, a song from his rock band days. Apparently, Jim Steinman, who composed and produced for Meatloaf had said that any composer worth his salt, should write a song about having sex in a car and crashing. Chris had both themes in his next song: ‘Little Red Car’. Another song written for the rock-band era. Chris was waving a cassette tape to remind us what they look like (I think).
Nikki and Mick aka The Alleycats, joined us from the other bar and Nikki sang two very strong rock covers to Mick’s guitar accompaniment: ‘Creep’ by Radiohead and ‘Zombie’ by the Cranberries. Listening to Nikki’s voice as she slipped in subtle interval shifts, I’m not sure whether that’s vocal inflection or not, but it’s the kind of vocal style which came to prominence with the advent of Florence (Welch) and the Machine.
Manus followed the Alleycats with some of his fluent jazz/blues guitar style, singing ‘Georgia on my Mind’ a Willie Nelson song. His second song was the title track from blues/soul singer Robert Cray’s 1983 album ‘Bad Influence’ and it rolled along very nicely indeed.
Jim Daniels, a newcomer, was due to get up to play some boogie-woogie on the piano next, but he asked Manus to give him some blues in A and proceeded to play harmonica. They improvised some very nice blues and it took a while to find a good moment to end the piece. Jim then played sat at the piano and started on ‘Saturday Night and I just got paid’, stopped abruptly, then went on to play some lovely boogie-woogie in the style of Cripple Clarence Lofton.
Everyone on the list had taken their turn. Liz decided not to sing again tonight and Simon gave us his version of Woodstock. By this time the place had become pretty quiet, as it usually does by the end of the session. Chris gave us his song ‘Guardian Angel’ from 1989 and Manus went on to play a Duke Ellington piece on guitar, without the big band, and brought the evening to a close with a tribute to Chuck Berry, who left this mortal realm in March this year.
An evening of interesting content, contrasts and spontaneity. Thank you everyone for turning up, to Simon for setting up, Chris Martin on the sound desk, Clive for assisting where assistance was needed and everyone for tidying it all up at the end. We were still talking about the sixties until we finally left.
Come and join us for Mike Aldridge’s Comedy theme evening on the 8th of August.
See you soon J Ella
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