Thursday, 29 January 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 19 (Top Five): Notable One-Off AAA Gigs

And now, in honour of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ ‘rooftop’ performance we celebrate five weird and wonderful one-off gigs from AAA groups:

5)  The cream talents of the day from around the world (including the Moody Blues and The Who at the peak of their powers) and a huge fan following gathered together to celebrate the AQuarious age of peace, harmony and rock and roll during a festival at the only backdrop that could possibly hope to reflect their amazing talents – The Isle Of Wight. No, honest, that isn’t a mis-spelling – and yes it really is the English Isle of Wight! No more muddy American fields for these intrepid travellers – just one big muddy English one instead and a chance to show rock fans from all over the world just how much it really does rain on our shores! Add in the fact that bands, fans, roadies and equipments all had to be transported by boat, the fact that ‘paid’ festivals were becoming deeply unpopular by 1970 (‘Woodstock’ started a trend for ideas that ‘music should be free’ which lead to one section of the audience tearing down the fences round the site to get in without paying) and the fact that nobody had really bothered to check with irate local residents if it was OK and this quirkily English idea of simplicity suddenly turns into a recipe for disaster. See the ‘Message to Love – The Isle of Wight Festival’ DVD for more on what a social disaster this festival proved to be (but also how good the music was!)

4) There are tiny ewoks on the stage, furry creatures who seem to love dancing in-between fetching and carrying things, dwarfed by the biggest examples of speakers and microphones you will ever see. Most people disbelieve me when I tell them, but yes these funny little ‘roadeye’ creatures really were based on ewoks - their tame cousins the ewok ninjas live in Mike’s closet so I should know one when I see one! The artist is, of course, Neil Young and the venue is the Cow Palace, USA during the Young ones’ 1979 ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ tour. Much as I don’t want to spoil the magic for those who haven’t yet seen the DVD, we at the AAA can reveal that the creatures involved were actually the lesser-spotted roadie dressed up in furry costumes and hoods. One of those who took part at this concert and others on the tour gave what I consider to be one of my favourite musical quotes of all time: ‘You know, Neil’s the only goddamn guy I’d ever wear this hood for – then again, Neil’s the only goddamn guy who’d ask me too!’

3) Re-named the Beatles, they thought nothing to playing crowds of 30,000 screaming fans and held the record for the biggest single rock and roll crowd of all time for five whole years (Shea Stadium 1965 – beaten by CSNY during their 1970 ‘stadium tour’). Yet just a few years earlier, back in 1957, the Quarrymen were struggling to stand up-right in the back of a moving truck, playing to a small handful of locals, three dogs and some of the band members’ mothers. The Woolton Village Fete of 1957 is now surely the most famous village fete in history (for those who don’t know, it was the gig where the 16-year-old Lennon and 14-year-old McCartney met for the first time) – but at the time being only the seventh most important event of the day (behind the local brass band and a dog show) must have hurt. The gig sounds like a difficult if mildly triumphant one - Lennon forgot the words to the Del Vikings’ ‘Come Go With Me’, forcing him to improvise some lyrics about a trip to a ‘penitentiary’ and the truck carrying the band drowned out their skiffle-playing for anyone not standing right next to it – but despite all that, what Beatles fan wouldn’t book this event as one of their top ten time machine visits of all time?

2) The ruined Roman auditorium in Pompeii must have seen some amazing sights during its two-thousand-year lifespan, not least the eruption of their volcano that claimed the lives of all its citizens and the discovery of their remains a ridiculous amount of centuries later. However, perhaps the strangest event of all was Pink Floyd’s concert there in 1972, right on the eve of the release of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. There was no audience, just a small camera crew (a decision taken deliberately in order to distinguish the film from the Woodstock film and its many copy-cats, each one with festival audiences numbering in the thousands/ millions). But somehow the ghostly, haunting music is the perfect match for the sleeping auditorium, one where Roman remnants became re-born in the twinkling of Rick Wright’s Hammond organ (sorry if I’ve gone a bit misty-eyed here, but have a listen to this concert recording of 20-minute masterpiece ‘Echoes’ and then ask yourself if there isn’t something magical happening here?!)                       

1) The Grateful Dead always struggled with prestigious gigs. Most fans would nominate both their record-attendance breaking ‘Monterey’ and ‘Woodtsock’ festival sets as among their worst recorded performances, till the late 70s at least (and let’s face it, from 1969 onwards the Dead or their fans recorded everything!) Sadly the same nerves/ typical career destruction continued with the Dead’s most infamous gig – a performance right next to the Egyptian pyramids in 1978! The concert was recorded for an intended live record but was made available for the first time just a few months back as a DVD/CD set called ‘Rocking The Cradle’. Sadly the performance of ‘Fire On the Mountain’ from this show that I know from the ‘Beyond Description’ box-set is awful – and is one of my all-time favourite Dead songs to boot so I haven’t got round to buying the full (and expensive) set just yet! Still, however bad the audio result, the sight of seven of our most spiritually-minded musicians playing in front of some of the oldest structures known to man (and, in my opinion and many other unofficial ones, the pyramids are far far older than they’re given credit for) just as the sun sets must have been a sight to behold for the handful of lucky Americans/ Europeans who travelled there to witness the event. And – to the best of my knowledge – the Dead remain the only group of any sort to have ever played in front of any of the pyramids; how the heck did the Dead of all bands manage to get clearance to do that?!

That’s all for this week, except to leave you with a message from our resident thinker Philosophy Phil – ‘The only people who don’t see the rain are the ones who have their heads in the clouds…” (we hope he’ll be feeling better soon!) Happy rocking AAA fans, we’ll see you next issue (if the Mamma Mia fan club don’t get to me first!…)


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