Archive for the ‘woodstock’ Tag

Havens to Heaven

When I was still half asleep this morning, the radio playing from some vague distance, I heard the sad news of Richie Havens’ passing on. I found myself standing in front of my Wall of Fame where a photo of Richie is among the select few. I looked out a non-existent window to the left and the top of a ship could just be spotted. As the news hit home it transformed into the top rigging and masts of a bright white ghost ship like Frank Hurley’s images of The Endurance.

Frank Hurley Endurance

Richie Havens first entered my life as the opener of Woodstock. I went to see Michael Wadleigh’s movie of the festival of festivals at the cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue near Seven Dials with my best man and music compatriot Stuart R. The big close up of Richie’s pounding sandal stays in my head – a true leg/end. He had to go on first, although he was originally billed fifth, because traffic was holding up other performers. He held fort and held forth for a couple of legendary hours until reinforcements arrived and his repertoire was entirely exhausted. He climaxed with an improvised medley of Motherless Child and a chant of Freedom (not sure where that comes from). The energy and deep soul is spell-binding and made his name for ever…
woodstock richie havens

I met him once – on a very special occasion. September 1995, Jazz Cafe, Camden Town, London. I took my mum out for a last night out with me still as her unattached boy. We had a chat with Richie after the show and he signed the picture which has since sat on my Wall of Fame. Alongside the likes of Michael Powell and Neil Armstrong and Dave Brubeck. He was the last man standing on the Wall – now they are all up there together again…

Richie Havens on the Wall of Fame

He sang a song called Adam on his 1988 LP Mixed Bag. It has his distinctive voice underpinned with its characteristic gruffness. It has the hippy vibe, more San Francisco than his native Brooklyn (I’m not sure why I associate him with San Fran, maybe he lived there in the 90s?) It has the strongly rhythmic approach. Echoes of Gil Scott-Heron, Cat Stevens and Terry Callier. A bit of Jefferson Airplane psychedelia. A wonderful mix all his own.

The sweat on the back of his monk orange kaftan as he walks off stage still singing Freedom at the end of his Big Moment at Woodstock says everything you need to know about what he put into his music.

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The Opposite of Digital

Camille at the Roundhouse

Camille at the Roundhouse

It started deep below Tate Modern. In three large circular spaces, formerly oil tanks for the Bankside power station, Will Gompertz, Director of Tate Media, mentioned he would love to do an event in the brick-walled space before it gets transformed into new gallery space for 2012. The acoustics were enchanting, a huge cylindrical echo chamber punctuated with iron pillars, and a low hum from the remaining generators which made me think of Le Fil, the album by London-based(?) French singer Camille. The name of the record – the Thread – comes from the single note which threads across the whole of it. So when I noticed Camille was playing at the Roundhouse I invited Will.

Le Fil I came across by chance. Just liked the cover. I was down in Brick Lane with the Enfants Terribles one weekend when I ducked into Rough Trade East. When we pass a record or book shop they habitually form up into a SWAT team to bar my way but on that occasion I was too quick for them. It was a good session of buying on instinct – I came across Burial’s Untrue for the first time that day too.

As things turned out Will couldn’t make it in the end (had to meet Steve McQueen of Hunger fame) and I ended up inviting James, my neighbour, on the touchline at Finchley RFC vs Harrow RFC U12s out in Stanmore on an autumnal Sunday morning.

Now James hadn’t been to the Roundhouse since ’69 when he saw Pink Floyd, of which there are colourful accounts in Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles, including a mention of Donegal’s own Henry McCullough, the only Irishman on stage at Woodstock (with Joe Cocker). So it was a pleasure to reintroduce them and resonant to be standing next to an iron column not dissimilar from that secret Tate space.

Camille‘s performance was the opposite of digital. In this age of easy copying, reproduction, recording, on demand, clones – it was a unique performance of an unpredictable singer in dialogue with the live crowd. She seems to have a thing about the colour orange which suits me as so do I (childhood bedroom colour at 2A Selvage Lane aka La Sirene, appropriately enough – lord knows why my parents called the house that (or anything) but the sign ended up being flipped around and having the even worse Popin added to the former reverse side at the next house where my mum still lives and Sirene still hangs hidden).

Camille in short hand is Bobby McFerrin meets Kate Bush with a bit of Swingle Singers, Marcel Marceau and Beardyman thrown in for a good measure of machine-free madness. So all voices and body beats with no instruments beyond a piano which she doesn’t really need.

The gig came to a collective climax and just to show how live it was she came on for one too many encores and an improv with Jamie Cullum which didn’t quite work and dissipated the hard-won energy. But that’s the beauty of transcending the 1s and 0s – you win some, you lose some, you can’t tell til you try, human fallibility seeps in alongside human spirit.

The best 0 of the night was when she came back on for the encore that took the performance to its high point. She’d changed from the LBD under her orange robe to a Longer Black Dress. Then at 1 point she turned around to reveal a large 0 cut into the dress at the base of her spine, revealing an expanse of back which recalled Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and a delightful toppest bit of bum, an emblem of that mad French sexuality we know and love from the likes of L’Ete Meutrier (One Deadly Summer) and 37.2 degres le Matin (Betty Blue). That threat of madness, that touch of unpredictability, the moment of unevenness, the ambiguous attractions among the band are the undigitalness we all need from time to time.

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