Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UFO reunion for March 2012 is shaping up

The UFO was an itinerant 'underground' club which briefly dominated the scene of '67. A good argument can be made for it being the cradle of the British psychedelic scene as it featured bands such as Pink Floyd, the Bonzo Dog Doh Dah Band, Arthur Brown, the Pretty Things, Procul Harem and Soft Machine. It was certainly (with OZ magazine) at the epicenter of the counter-culture, 'hippy' movement that came out of the London suburb of Nottinghill Gate.

It existed in part to fund the counter-culture newspaper IT, which perennially needed cash not only to ensure it came out regularly but to fight the numerous attempts of the 'establishment' to close it down.

Around the UFO gathered any number of now semi-legendary names of the British underground; Joe Boyd (Floyd's first producer), John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, artists Michael English and Nigel Weymouth (famed as 'Hapshash and the Coloured Coat'), poet Michael Horovitz and poet and lyricist, Pete Brown (check out Cream's 'Disrali Gears').

UFO gigs were 'happenings' in the true sense of the word; little was planned, anything could happen including mild chaos. A Beatle might turn up,and did, ad so might the 'fuzz' - and did! Naturally, as a hippy movement, they lost money but club nights at the Blarney on Tottenham Court Road, All Saints Church, Nottinghill, Chalk Farm's Roundhouse and the '14-Hour Technicolour Dream' at the Ally Pally, left an indelible mark on London’s musical heritage. The influence of the UFO cannot be understated.

One scene regular, ex-roadie legend, Mouse O'Brien, has had the brilliant idea of a UFO 'reunion'; a 'happening' for 2012 with three bands full of legendary 'musos', an original oil-lamp light-show projection, magic, art, Jeff 'Isle of Wight' Dexter as MC/DJ, an exhibition of original IT and UFO artwork, and what ever else transpires... he has already lined up all sorts of interesting performers, and many of the old 'faces and heads' have confirmed they'll be along.

It's not often that you get advance notice of a 'happening'. Generally there's a press report, and maybe a TV arts show, and you're left thinking 'Jeez, I'd like to have been there! How come these things are always only for those 'in the know?’ So, take a note of he date and place; March 24th, the Tabernacle, Nottinghill Gate. There will be a website 'Zeigeist' and look out ofr collectable publicity materials appearing as the event approaches. You read about it here first!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Freddie's 20th Anniversary 24th November 2011

Touching scenes outside of Garden Lodge yesterday as people came to his last home to pay their respects to the memory of Freddie Mercury, dead now 20 years. There was a steady stream of individuals all day, many laying flowers or sticking affectionate notes to the Perspex sheets that now prevent graffiti from soiling the walls of Logan Place.

In some ways it was like an international fan club meeting. In the short time I was there, I talked with Brazilian, Argentinean, Japanese, American, French and British fans. There atmosphere was subdued rather than somber with fans swapping Freddie memories, some sporting classic tour T shirts, others carrying mementos.

The media has naturally been full of biographies of the man. Most portraits were flattering, but also many truthfully including 'warts and all' assessment of his character.

The amount of attention will no doubt attract a new generation of fans, previously unaware of Mercury or even Queen. It may sound surprising and even unlikely to long-term Queen fans that there can be people out there who don't know the band. I had a group of 30 plus French students (from Brittany) out for the day and probably less than 20% had any real knowledge of the band. A couple of weeks back I was helping Bebe Contemponi of Argentinean Canal 11 for a documentary. We were filming at Freddie's Felltham family home, now lived in by an Estonian immigrant. She had been completely unaware of the house's history, or even of Queen, until the TV cameras pitched up outside her door!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Abbey Road saved on its 80th Anniversary?

One wonders how long Abbey Road can last as a recording studio? One the one hand, it is great news that its 'mothership', EMI, has been bought back from the bankers by the French-owned, Universal Music Group (tinged with a bit of sadness that there was no British company able to buy the company). On the other hand, what place has a traditional studio in the scheme of things when recordings can now so easily be made in bedrooms and mixed on mobile phones?

To date it has been great to be able to visit the studio (or at least the location as you can't get inside unless using it professionally) and to talk not only about its 80-year history and place in rock's pantheon, but also its current activities. It's a buzz to see the artists wondering in and out, and occasionally to see a real star (hats off to Taylor Swift incidentally, who came out of the studio to meet her fans earlier this year, creating crowd scenes last seen during its Beatle heyday).

But technology is evolving, as it has throughout the history of recording. Abbey Road was arguably the world's first purpose built studio (arguably as there may have been a few already in Italy) but its pre-eminence was constantly challenged by rivals acquring more advanced equipment. EMI artists might have preferred going to other facilities to record (as indeed the Beatles famously did on occasion) had they not been tied by their recording company to using the studios.

The days of a music company tying bands to its own studio are long gone. To survive in the modern world, a studio needs to offer a combination of the greatest technology, affordability, and that certain intangible 'something' that somehow feeds the artistic muse.

Abbey Road can fulfill the last criteria in spades; everyone wants to 'feel' that Beatle or Pink Floyd magic. Kate Bush might be an exception to this ... she liked Abbey Road because it is apparently situated on leylines. So much for technology. Maybe the studio doe shave a future and that would be magic indeed.