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England: down south

The man's got style

The man’s got style

It was a very good year …

… and in the autumn Robin Williamson was singing his ‘October Song’. Term had started. Theory and ideas took centre stage. Up in London John Mayall and the Blues Breakers had begun to record ‘A Hard Road’. We had a Dansette record player and we listened (often quite seriously) to these different forms of music. We talked about the sounds and the words. The words sometimes opened out onto new ways of thinking – thinking that was off-centre – a kind of resistance thinking …

And when Robin Williamson sang one of the verses of ‘October song’ we understood a little bit more about the prime value and the ecstasy of thought and reflection. He remarked:

I used to search for happiness
And I used to follow pleasure
But I found a door behind my mind
And that’s the greatest treasure.

A door behind my mind? Onto what did the door open? And why ‘behind my mind’? Little by little we realised that we needed to distance ourselves from the chatter and buzz of ordinary consciousness, from the cage of convention.

Footnote: The album ‘The Incredible String Band’ which features ‘October song’ was released in Britain in June 1966. The original LP sleeve used in the UK features a photograph of the band holding up obscure musical instruments.

And Johnny came to Glastonbury

Buddha records (Stari Grad)

Buddha records (Stari Grad)

A few days ago Patti Smith gave a ‘masterclass in focused protest rock’ at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

I wasn’t there to see her (partly because I never seem to know when the tickets go on sale) but I did watch her on the BBC iplayer recording.

As I watched I saw that she improvised on one of her songs, ‘Horses/Land’ and developed its lead character, the famous ‘Johnny’. She took this Johnny ‘out of the hallway’ where he’s been assessing the state of the world for the last forty years (it’s a world still gone wrong) and brought Johnny to Glastonbury “because he wants to party”. Yes – Johnny’s crossed the Atlantic and come to England …

Later she declares “My generation had dreams and we’re still dreaming! We’re gonna change the f**king world!

As the music critic Alexis Petrifies noted, she gave ‘an astonishing, incendiary performance’ in which she ‘even manages to make falling over seem cool. “I fell on my ass at Glastonbury because I’m an ANIMAL!” she growls by way of explanation.’

Footnote: Patti Smith’s ‘Horses/Land‘ ends with ‘a man dancing around to the simple Rock & Roll song.’