When I get my time machine working, this will be near the top of my list of musical moments to go back to and witness live. It’s right up there with The Beatles at the Cavern or on the Apple rooftop in Savile Row. One of my very favourite TV clips, it is glorious for so many reasons and on so many levels.
Aside from the bragging rights at being privileged to witness a legendary moment in rock history, imagine what a sheer mind-blowing experience it would have been! Sitting in Lulu’s audience towards the end of a comfortable Auntie Beeb peak-viewing programme (it preceded The Morecambe And Wise Show) when the Experience took over the airwaves would have been truly awesome. The studio crowd (polite, white, middle-class) seemed stunned and uncomprehending. This fact and frequent lazy journalism have given rise to “wild man” descriptions which are difficult to credit from our perspective. It’s certainly a powerful performance and would have seemed shockingly loud to the sedate theatre audience (at one point Hendrix warns the audience to plug their ears) but it is also controlled and extremely nuanced.
Brian Eno once revealed that he was a fan of this clip. At the time I was a bit surprised by this as Eno’s reputation for studio innovation and disinterest in virtuoso technique appeared to be the antithesis of what Hendrix was about. On second thoughts, however, Hendrix shared a healthy inquisitiveness and desire to experiment sonically while Eno, in his Roxy Music days, embraced the theatrical glamour of the look and lifestyle as an integral part of rock presentation. More importantly, Eno’s ethos as a producer often focuses on creating fresh sounds by bypassing routines to tap into a more intuitive creativity beyond established habits. That freshness could not result from slavish regurgitation of generic styles nor the egotistical demonstration of virtuosity at the expense of honest musicality. And so it is with Hendrix as much as Eno.
I remember Eno admiring the moment at the end of the first line of vocal in Hey Joe when Hendrix’s guitar goes out of tune. Hendrix smiles and simply starts turning the machinehead to retune the slackened string while seamlessly continuing to play. When a live performer has that sort of natural musical talent by the bucketload, technical matters are not an issue and the musician is directly connected with the music. You can hear it (and see it in Hendrix’s facial expressions) as he feels his way through the bending of those huge sustained notes.
If you want to hear this on CD, it comes right at the end of the BBC Sessions album. It’s at the end because, legend has it, Hendrix was banned from the BBC thereafter. The stories of Hendrix’s uncooperative behaviour may or may not be apocryphal. It has been said that heads rolled the following morning because the programme was allowed to overrun when Hendrix ignored signals to stop playing. You can see him gesture and pull a dismissive face at the key point. He was clearly scheduled to play Hey Joe, however, as it was introduced by the hostess herself. What the BBC didn’t know was that the band would quit this version of their breakthrough single after two minutes in favour of an instrumental take on The Sunshine Of Your Love as a tribute to the newly disbanded Cream. This section lasts a minute and a half. It reaches a conclusion of sorts but only after Hendrix has claimed “We’re being put off the air!” It is said that he pulled this stunt to avoid having to perform a contracted duet with Lulu for the last part of Hey Joe. There are those who claim that the show should have concluded with a routine closing number from Lulu as well so it’s a puzzle how this would have fitted in before Eric and Ern. One possibility is that they were meant to do All Along The Watchtower (as published in the Radio Times’ schedules) instead of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) which might have been a minute shorter.
The live, full-on Strat/Marshall sound on the Cream number shows how far lead guitar had come since the original version less than two years earlier which now sounds a bit plodding and tame but certainly wouldn’t have done at the time. Other than that, it’s a fairly routine Experience take on the famous riff and the vocal tune both played on guitar. The version of Hey Joe is more interesting with a great extended intro where Hendrix blurs the dividing line between rhythm and lead guitar. After the tuning incident, the second vocal line is followed by a guitar fill on the E chord where Hendrix neatly quotes the riff from I Feel Fine. He doesn’t do this on either of the other two live versions of Hey Joe on the BBC Sessions so, if he did this spontaneously off the top of his head, it’s so staggering that he must have had a musical brain the size of a planet. If he planned it and worked it out in advance, it’s still pretty cool. Between this witty nod to The Beatles and the abrupt halt, however, he promptly forgot the lyrics which possibly further convinced him to go with his intention to break off early with “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish…” The real winner is the uptempo rip through Voodoo Child (Slight Return) where the rhythm section is clearer and Noel Redding’s bass is more active and driving than on the studio version while Hendrix is simply majestic.
We should be grateful to the BBC engineer who put his job on the line by not pulling the plug on Sunshine Of Your Love even if it is the least enlightening of the three tunes. We should be especially grateful to the engineer who secretly recorded the whole thing. This was a live broadcast and would have been lost for all time if someone hadn’t had the foresight to stick it onto the nearest bit of available videotape. It was then completely forgotten about until it was rediscovered by accident in the 70s half way through some footage about trains which was about to get thrown away. We should be most grateful, however, to the BBC engineers who managed to cope with what must have been equipment and volume levels way outside their comfort zone a full twenty years before similar BBC boffins failed to do the same for The Stone Roses performing Made Of Stone on The Late Show (as seen on Pop Goes BBC Two and All About Two this weekend.)!
I’m fascinated by this image. It was totally unintentional, one of those scribbles you do to test the pen. I’ve left the text from the top of the Times puzzle page as a reminder of scale and context. Everybody laughed when I noticed it and felt compelled to rip it out and save it but I genuinely find it beautiful. Part of me feels at liberty to make such a declaration because I don’t attribute its attraction to any artistic skill on my part. It’s really a found object. I’m just grateful I recognised it. If you were so inclined, you could do a hundred semi-random scribbles on a page and pick your favourite but it seldom throws up anything as good. Believe me, I’ve tried it. Perhaps the intention negates the true surprise of serendipity. Perhaps the combination of fluency and precision can only coincide in completely uncontrolled, accidental ways. I love the way the continuous line starts as if it’s going to attempt a free-hand circle, morphs into an egg shape then veers off before doing a switchback into a reversed L or possibly a sort of 2 which perfectly touches back on itself before arcing up to finish by hooking onto the oval with another open circle, a small mirror-image of the start. You really couldn’t make it up let alone execute such a wonder! It’s at this point that I start to wonder about beauty and the eye of the beholder and question my sanity. But we’ve all been in awe of sublime combinations in nature, in landscapes, the seashore, skies, shells, stones and so on, which are unintentional and less precise in form. Perhaps I’ll get over it soon, come to my senses and realise I’ve been spouting a load of bollocks. But…it’s bloody good…I can’t stop looking at it.
What on Earth is going on at the new design Soundcloud? I tried to upload a track this evening and at the end there was no “Save” button. This is listed as a known bug in their troubleshooting pages as “an issue affecting older versions of Safari.” I have news for you guys, I’m using the latest version of Safari on a brand new top of the range iMac!!! Pretty shoddy, don’t you think?
T. Rex – Cadilac – The Slider (extended)
Pink Floyd – See Emily Play – 1967
David Bowie – Fashion – Scary Monsters
Electric Light Orchestra – Showdown – Greatest Hits
Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven – Doolittle
Cream – Strange Brew – Disraeli Gears
Goat – Goatman – World Music
Can – Vitamin C – Ege Bamyasi
Orange Bicycle – Last Cloud Home – Let’s Take A Trip
Dantalion’s Chariot – Madman Running Through The Fields – Chariot Rising
Love Affair – Bringing On Back The Good Times – The Best Of The Good Times
Talking Heads – Mind – Fear Of Music
Roxy Music – If There Is Something – Roxy Music
Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Chile – single
Fleetwood Mac – The Green Manalishi – single
Curved Air – Backstreet Luv – Second Album
Stevie Wonder – Superstition – Talking Book
Peter Hammill – A Black Box – album
Dr. John – Gris Gris – album
Melanie – Ruby Tuesday – The Very Best Of Melanie
The Beatles – White Album – album
The Who – Join Together – Rarities
The Who – Don’t Know Myself – Rarities
Humble Pie – Big Black Dog – The Best Of Humble Pie
Humble Pie – Strange Days – Rock On
The Foundations – Baby, Now That I’ve Found You – Number 1s
Aretha Franklin – 20 Greatest Hits – album
Traffic – Mr. Fantasy – album
Amon Duul II – Archangels Thunderbird – Yeti
The Raincoats – Shouting Out Loud – Odyshape
Bush Tetras – Too Many Creeps – Boom In The Night