Author: Dale Nickey
Jethro Tull w/Glenn Cornick played The Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970 to an audience of between 600 and 700 hundred thousand people (Guinness book estimate). It was Britain’s answer to Woodstock only bigger; however, feel good vibes were definitely in short supply. A large mob who had not paid for admittance to the event took exception to being fenced out. They set about tearing the large corrugated steel fence down. Police and fans squared off. It was the music that calmed nerves and avoided a riot.
Tull played the fifth and last day of a very long festival. And similar to Woodstock, they faced a large, cranky and sleep deprived throng. Tough crowd. Woodstock looked like the beginning of something. Unfortunately it was the beginning of the end. The bitter end was Altamont and finally the Isle of Wight Festival. The Isle of Wight was the last festival of its kind for decades.
Tull took the stage with a tough brief and blew the doors out of the place with an electrifying performance. Glenn Cornick was throwing flames in particular. He gets some bass/face time in the second half of this performance. It’s worth the wait.
Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65. Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes. Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death. Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history. In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career. Reviewed by: Dale Nickey A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news. Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack. The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs. The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad. Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book. The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact. He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims. The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group. His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway. However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”. The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it. The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending. “Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for the slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better.
Author: Dale Nickey
The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame carries a stink. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is also co-founder of the R&R Hall. And it is common knowledge that his personal musical taste dictates the nomination list. The list fails to include some of the more accomplished British Bands or any artist he ‘don’t cotton to’. He seems to have a particular distaste for British artists in the progressive wing of rock music.
The Moody Blues:
70 million albums sold
Hits, sell-out tours, zillions of records sold, classic rock evergreens (Nights In White Satin, Ride My See-Saw, Tuesday Afternoon, Question). Not enough to elbow aside The Dells I guess. Another band that was body slammed by Punk and New Wave in the late 70’s, only to pick themselves up in 1981 and answer with more hits and an updated sound “Gemini Dream” and “The Voice”. Early purveyors of stoner rock, who issued very prescient and preemptive musical warnings about corporate rape and environmental disaster as early as 1970 “A Question Of Balance”. Traffic beats them in because Stevie Winwood had a slew of solo hits and swings a big dick in the American record industry.
Early on The Moody’s displayed a rebel spirit that should endear any Hall Of Fame voter to their cause. Their greatest album “Days Of Future Past” was a bold and defiant work. Deram Records gave The Moody Blues the task of recording Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in a rock context for the purpose of demonstrating their new ‘Deramic’ Sound innovation. The Moody Blues had other ideas and surreptitiously recorded the epic song cycle “Days Of Future Past” instead. The corporate listening session was the first time Deram executives became aware of the bait and switch concept album. They grudgingly put it out anyway and it went mega. The single from that record “Night’s In White Satin” became a classic rock standard.
(Jethro Tull, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, YES, UK, King Crimson, Curved Air)
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If Mozart were reincarnated as a rock musician he would most likely come back as Eddie Jobson. Like Mozart, Jobson was precociously talented on both keyboards and violin from an early age. He was the featured soloist at the age of seventeen for B-list proggers Curved Air before Roxy Music snapped him up and made him a star member ( at age eighteen) of their studio and touring band for the next three albums. Due in part to Jobson, Roxy became one of the biggest bands in Europe. His trademarks were a decidedly androgynous sex appeal and a custom made see-through Plexiglas violin. Onstage, Jobson brought a glammy, confident swagger that enhanced the appeal of the electric violin as a Rock instrument. After Roxy Music, Jobson said thanks (but no thanks) to an offer from Procol Harum and joined the finishing school that was Frank Zappa’s road band in 1976. After Zappa, he then established his own brand as both electric violinist and world class multi-keyboardist in the progressive all star unit UK. After three albums, UK folded. Jobson remained in the Prog elite-league as a member of Jethro Tull and was breifly a member of the 1983 platinum version of YES; going as far as to appear in the video for “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” before ultimately turning down the gig. King Crimson fans can also enjoy his work on the live album “USA”, where he surrepetitiously replaced much of the violin work of previous bowsman David Cross.
Jobson’s first legendary burst of genius was his epic electric violin solo on Roxy’s “Out Of The Blue”. After all that had gone on before, this 1975 electric violin solo finally demonstrated -once and for all- the boner inducing potential of the instrument in a Rock context. Eddie’s solo comes at the end of this video and is worth the wait.
David Swarbrick – Fairport Convention
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David LaFlamme was America’s electric violin pioneer during the late sixties. In Britain, it was David Swarbrick. ‘Swarb’ was already folk royalty in Britain when the call came to join Fairport Convention in their desperate attempt to retool and recover after a road accident that claimed the life of drummer Martin Lamble. Swarbrick took the gig just in time to feature on the band’s 1969 masterpiece, “Liege And Lief”. Suffering and conquering the agonies of stone-age electric violin technology, Swarbrick found his inner rocker and became a star attraction in the band. He even multi-tasked as Fairport’s lead singer after the departure of Sandy Denny. Eventually, ear problems and other health issues forced his retirement from the band and active touring. He’s cheated death twice. Once after a premature obituary was published in the “The Daily Telegraph” in 1999; and again after a risky, but successful double lung transplant in 2004. A living legend and a huge influence on British music.
For a brief time during the late sixties and early seventies, British Folk-Rock threatened to make a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic. It was old music played by young guns at high volume. This outdoor perfomance from 1971 is a period curio that captures the genre and Swarbrick at their peak. This performace could also well be the precise time and place where the spirit of the sixties died…..