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What A Pair Of Cults

August 14, 2018

June 1 1974 – Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico, Eno and the Soporifics with special guests Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt (Elemental Digipak CD, released May 2018)

The Death of Rock’n’Roll – Peter Holsapple vs Alex Chilton (Omnivore CD, to be released October 2018)

These two CDs have formed my summer listening thus far. None of the parties involved has ever had anything as vulgar as a hit record but there is some fine music to be found herein.

I was 17 when the June 1 ACNE gigs took place – there was a free Hyde Park gig in addition to the Rainbow concert recorded here – and exams prevented me from going. However the LP that resulted was a lynchpin of my teenage years and accordingly my copy is now rather tatty so the chance to get a limited-edition pristine remaster was not to be missed. Sound quality is terrific. No extra photos or added sleeve notes but decently done.

I like the Kevin Ayers side best. His studio LP’s are maddening, each featuring one or two good-to-great songs interspersed with sub-Soft Machine dissonance or limp balladry. So taking five of his best songs and putting a rocking band behind him really ups his game. And what a great band were the Soporifics: Rabbit on keyboards, rhythm section of Archie Leggatt on bass and Eddie Sparrrow on drums, plus Robert Wyatt on percussion and Mike Oldfield and Ollie Halsall on lead guitars. Here Stranger In Blue Shoes sounds even more Velvetine than the studio original, whilst Halsall’s solos on Shouting In A Bucket Blues are simply marvellous. I was too young to see Halsall in Patto and although I subsequently saw him in Boxer the spark had gone by then. The fluidity and precision he brings to his playing makes his under-recognition bewildering. Mike Oldfield (ex-Ayers bandmate) also plays a career-best solo on “Everybody’s Sometimes And Some People’s All The Time Blues.”

On the Other Side the brace of Eno tracks are treasurable since so little live Eno material exists – only Derby 1974 (unlistenable audience tape), a Peel Session and then much later 801 Live. And this was Eno at his poppiest and most playful. Driving Me Backwards benefits from John Cale’s viola, Baby’s On Fire features Cale on piano. Both feature two bass players with Ayers joining Leggat. So there are a lot of people on stage but somehow it all works. Eno lends effective synth to the other tracks here, Nico doing The End and Cale doing a slow-burn Heartbreak Hotel: both striking if not exactly The Chuckle Brothers. The onstage drama was matched backstage with Ayers seducing Cale’s wayward Cindy the night before the gig (remember “The bugger in the short sleeves f*cked my wife…” ?). So the tension manifest here may come from more than just the tunes.

Some kind soul has put together an audience-recorded CD of the songs played on June 1 but not released on the initial LP. If Island still have the original tapes it would be great to stick the whole thing out as a 2CD set. That said, listening to the out-takes does support the initial track selection selection that producer Richard Williams made 44 years ago. Ayers’ Whatevershebringswesing has a lovely Oldfield solo but meanders at over nine minutes: Nico singing Das Lied der Deutschen is not something you would play too often, and Cale has done Buffalo Ballet and Gun better elsewhere. The only omission I would reinstate would be rousing set-closer I’ve Got A Hard On For You Baby.

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Not sure what my 17 year self would have made of Alex Chilton as I did not discover the wonders of Big Star ‘til much later. I think Alex would have enjoyed at least some of June 1 – not sure if he ever came across Kevin Ayers but he was a big fan of Eno and once got thrown out a bar for humming Here Come The Warm Jets too loudly. He covered Velvets tunes – Femme Fatale, Candy Says – and coexisted with Cale on the NYC club circuit. And he would have appreciated Nico’s sense of humour.

Omnivore are to be congratulated on releasing The Death Of Rock, a real rock’n’roll exhumation. The tapes were found amongst the late Richard Roseborough’s possessions. Richard had been engineering at Sam Phillips Recording Service studio, Memphis in the summer of 1978 when these tracks were recorded with him on drums. The other musicians are a pre-dBs Peter Holsapple and a Like Flies On Sherbert-era Alex Chilton plus Ken Woodley on bass.

Just as with June 1, the players may be consistent throughout but the record splits very noticeably into a Chilton side and a Holsapple side. Some tracks we have heard before – Holsapple’s Bad Reputation was a dB’s career highspot and We Were Happy There and The Death Of Rock (later I’m In Control) have also been released elsewhere. Four of the excellent songs that Alex sings – Tennis Bum, Marshall Law, Train Kept A Rollin’ and Hey Mona – were released in lesser quality on the Beale Street Green CD, Punk Vault somehow missing Heart and Soul (Carmichael/Loesser) from the same session. The remaining tracks are largely inessential – Holsapple should not have been allowed anywhere near Baby I Love You. Instrumental rehearsals of In The Street and O My Soul can only interest Big Star obsessives and power-pop karaoke singers.

However if you don’t have Beale Street Green this is highly recommended to LX fans, and the two version of Bad Reputation here are well done. Holsapple contributes insightful sleeve notes with Robert Gordon and previously unseen photos with Pat Rainier.

London 1974 and Memphis 1978. In both places the musicians get real gone, make fascinating music and sell zero records. Forty years later the tunes they made still resonate. Maybe this brace of re-releases indicates an appeal that is becoming less selective…

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From → Gigs, Music

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