Echoes From Then
Glimpses Of John McLaughlin 1959-75
by Colin Harper
Market Square 2017
Years ago there was a band in Berlin who showed up in unexpected places as support, or played small clubs. The five-piece was called The Paul Breitner Trio (of course) and they used to play slightly left-field cover versions – a note-for-note acapella „Bohemian Rhapsody“, or a raspily growling Tom Waits-take on „Bridge Over Troubled Water“. And they had a jazz-rock/fusion spot in their show: they would play a popular melody (say, „Egyptian Reggae“ or „Winds Of Change“) in unison – and really fast – and then take extended surrealistic solos each, while the others tried to find out in how many different time signatures you could play and still get to the chorus in time. They sounded exactly like the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Echoes From Then is a companion book to Harper’s John McLaughlin biography from 2014, Bathed In Lightning. It presents additional chapters, interviews and research, loosely divided in two sections: one on the early sixties London music scene, and the other with detailed accounts on the Mahavishnu Orchestra(s) in the studio, at home and on tour, plus much more – discographies, gig listings, music press clippings, etc. It seems one of these music books that you dip into for a few pages from time to time, but it’s a fantastic read!
You get a lively peek into the tedious and (at the same time) fast-moving blues/jazz/cabaret scene in the UK with Graham Bond, Georgie Fame, Duffy Power and assorted Shadows, and while the author’s discussions about certain dates border on the obsessive, you learn something new on every page – how BBC sessions worked, the real names of Ginger Baker and John Paul Jones, and what an „A ball“ gig is (I’m not going to tell you…).
The accounts from musicians and tour personnel on touring in the early seventies are worth a separate book, heartwarming and hilarious at the same time. We learn about traveling with a jet plane full of equipment (and Wishbone Ash) through pre-punk Europe, love affairs in the guru’s headquarters, and a 19-year old violin player buying white (!) platform (!!) overknee (!!!) boots as stage wear. And I have to confess: I hope I’ll never get into a situation where I have to listen to the Mahavishnu Orchestra II (I have the great „Columbia Albums“ box of the first MO, thank you very much).
400plus pages of small print, peppered with footnotes and acknowledgements, illustrated with probably hundreds of small ads from Melody Maker may not be everybody’s (scented) cup of tea, but I read it from cover to cover and had a splendid time. And I’ve even returned to it since, when listening to albums or reissued live gigs from the likes of Ian Carr, John Surman and the mighty Gunther Hampel. Speaking of German jazzers, here’s a rare poster from my vaults:
Two questions remain though: Where the hell was Lou Reed?? And where the hell are the Paul Breitner Trio?