Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joe Boyd goes Soft (BOY!)

This is being dashed off as I'm in the thick of prepping to go off to Austin, TX for the SxSW Music Conference tomorrow, but wanted to spiel a bit about this performance...

'twas Joe Boyd talking about about his experiences in music in the 60's, reading from his "White Bicycles" book as well as reminiscing extemporaneously. Meanwhile unapologetic psychedelic revivalist Robyn Hitchcock performed songs by some of the artists Boyd mentioned on acoustic guitar:
"Back In The 1960's" Incredible String Band
"I Can Hear The Grass Grow" The Move
"It's All Over Now" Bob Dylan
"Closer to The Aisle" Cleftones (I think)
?? Fairport Convention
"Arnold Layne" Pink Floyd
"Riverman" Nick Drake
"The Yellow Snake" Incredible String Band
and there could have been others

Hitchcock also kibbitzed occasionally during Boyd's segments.

Joe Boyd has one of the most amazing resumes in modern music history:
Having been sensitized to Afro-American pop in the 50's by the pre-Dick Clark American Bandstand television broadcasts outta Philly he became obsessed with folk blues and jazz, eventually landing a job as tour manager for a blues and gospel package tour of Europe boasting artists like Reverend Gary Davis and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. This turned into a gig as production manager for the Newport Jazz festival and then Folk festival -- rubbing elbows with musical giants like Skip James, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin' Wolf as well as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan etc.

Eventually Joe bolted for England where he arrived when the British folk revival was hitting its stride with clubs like Le Cousins being thick with seminal musicians like Bert Jansch, John Renborn, Ralph McTell, Sandy Denny. He'd managed to wangle the position of running the London office of Elektra Records -- then the preeminent (meaning the most visible to mainstream audiences) American folkie label. While trying to launch his career as a producer and sign acts to Elektra Boyd wound up helping found the UFO Club, the crucible in which London's psychedelic scene was formented. He soon wound up producing: the first Pink Floyd single, the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Soft Machine, Shirley Collins, Vashti Bunyan, John Martyn, Nick Drake - most of these folks being signed to his Witchseason production company.

Eventually he was lured back to the U.S. in the '70's taking a job in the film music divion of Warner Bros., reputedly WB top exec Mo Ostin's means of taking revenge on Island Records' Chris Blackwell for backing out of a distribution deal -- Boyd being one of Island's main A&R resources. While at Warner Bros. he produced a hit album for a former folk crony Maria Muldaur (originally outta the Jim Kweskin Jug Band), discovered and produced the McGarrigle Sisters; he also helmed the sessions for "Duelling Banjos" though he eschewed taking credit, feeling it was just too damned corny. After his label stint, Joe would start his own labels in the 1980s, Hannibal and Carthage which re-issued many of his classic 60's productions ala Nick Drake, Fairport Convention etc -- the original office was in Rocky Hill, NJ close by his native Princeton. He'd eventually produce commercially successful albums for R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs. He also pursued a growing interest in the indigenous folk musics of other countries and began releasing titles by Trio Bulgarkas, Ali Farka Toure, and Martya Sebestyen -- this last artist scoring a freak hit when "En Csak Azt Csodalom" was featured prominently in the film "The English Patient."

In recent years, Boyd has been primarily producing tribute concerts celebrating the music of deceased former associates like Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and most recently Kate McGarrigle...

So he's got a lot to talk about!

The show was about 2 hours in all -- not nearly enough to really give a thorough review of his escapades over the decades and he very wisely cherry picked some key events to talk about, a somewhat surprising selection if truth be known:
* the sacking of original American Bandstand host Bill Moore on trumped up moral's charges (of which he was eventually formally acquitted -- by which time Dick Clark was firmly enscounced in the gig and Black artists had been largely replaced by the likes of Fabian)
* Dylan going electric at Newport in '65 -- a very different account than the popular legend, with most of the attendees expecting SOMETHING big happening at that show, but not really knowing what; this marking the death of the American folk revival as a popular music movement...for better or worse
* seeing The Move when they were the house band at the Marquee
* The Incredible String Band being introduced to former Kweskin Jug Band members David Simons, who in turn introduced them to Scientology (marking the beginning of their artistic decline)

For someone who was an impressionable teenager in the 60's, it was a thrill hearing these stories recounted -- even though a lot of them were read straight from his book -- and by the man who was instrumental in so much of this music happening and being recorded, and recorded so masterfully. There were a lot of interesting insights shared.

As per Mr. Hitchcock -- his love of these songs was powerfully apparent and it was great fun to hear some of these tunes dusted off and played publicly. What was most striking at times was -- how much of the power of some songs were totally due to the power of the original musicians, their arrangements and the overall production of the recorded versions. Dazzled by all those factors I'd never noted how simple and stupid the lyrics of the Move's "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" actually were! In other cases, hearing Drake's "Riverman" stripped of his breathy, jazzified voice and masterful picking left you truly confronting the spectral, otherworldly lyrics. Likewise the Fairport song (wish I had time to look up which one it was). As you'd imagine his performance of "Arnold Layne" was utterly masterful with his voice and unashamedly thick British accent being the perfect evocation of Syd.

If you have a chance to catch this revue I'd highly recommend it!

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