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The Beatles At Woodstock
A W o r k I n P r o g r e s s
While George Martin was recording the string arrangements for the »Abbey Road« album in London, the Beatles flew to Los Angeles. Graham Nash had told them about the forthcoming »Three Days Of Peace & Music« festival that was to be held in upstate New York. During the recording of their supposedly ‘final album’ they had discussed vague plans to promote it (or not promote it at all…). Nash’s enthusiasm convinced them to try (after the rooftop gig in January) another return to the concert stage.
Two days of rehearsals at Nash’s house in Laurel Canyon didn’t bode well – at one point Stephen Stills had to show Lennon the chords to ‘Rain’ – but when news of the size of the festival showed up on radio and TV, everyone was convinced they couldn’t miss this. They also rehearsed a few back-up musicians in case John got cold feet at the last minute.
Although a contract had been signed the week before, the promoters weren’t allowed to mention or allude to the Beatles; instead a slot for »Crosby, Stills & Nash« (whoever that would be) was scheduled for the last day.
Paul McCartney and George Harrison arrived at the site of the festival on Sunday afternoon (and witnessed Joe Cocker’s interpretation of ‚A Little Help From My Friends‘). They hung out with The Band until John and Ringo arrived in the evening. When Paul realized that they were scheduled to appear after Blood, Sweat & Tears, he talked to their horn section and had an idea for the perfect opening number. John went along – »I was happy I didn’t have to do anything on the first song!«.
So, finally, Wavy Gravy’s announcement of »Ladies and gentlemen, four boys from England…« was cut short by the Motown-style intro of ‚Got To Get You Into My Life‘, played by the Blood, Sweat & Tears horns, with The Beatles on a concert stage again after three years: Paul with his Hofner ‘violin’ bass, John (dressed in white) standing behind an electric piano, George in T-shirt, jeans and Fedora, and Ringo bashing away in the background.
The song had barely ended, as John leaned forward to the microphone to snarl the classic »hello people… believe me, we’re scared shitless.« Ringo told reporters afterwards, »It was night when our helicopter arrived. It was pitch black, you couldn’t see anything. After the first song, we still weren’t sure if there was anybody there. It was quiet, and it was getting late, and everybody’d had a long day. When John made the first announcement, somebody, from way out there, yelled, ‘We’re with you!’ Okay, well, that’s the lad the concert’s for.«
A B a n d I n P R O G
Broom „Hephaestus“ Upshaw: electric & acoustic guitars, lute, mandolin, violin |||| Cyril Fitton: organ, piano, harpsichord, viola |||| Marcella „Sheherazade“ Derringer: 4 & 6 string electric bass, bass pedals, acoustic bass, cello, backing vocals |||| Neil Woodyard (aka „Uther Pendragon“): drums, tuned percussion, druid’s triangle |||| Solomon „Ignatz“ Upshaw: vocals, acoustic guitar, violin, trumpet |||| plus (1969-1976) the legendary Adamcos: lights & vibes
From The Word: „Fog swirls. It is the season of the moonsnake. Observe him in his lair: silent, watchful, holding down the „flute“ setting on his Mellotron. Scheherazade (sic), his lady fair, shakes loose her long tresses as she alternates between four- and eight-string basses and bass pedals. An assortment of lutes, mandolins, acoustic and electric guitars is plucked by Hephaestus, god of fire, voted Best Guitarist in the 1972 Melody Maker Readers‘ Poll. At the back, we have Uther Pendragon on drums and tuned percussion.
These days, copies of Season Of The Moonsnake are incredibly hard to find. Encased in a lavish triple-gatefold sleeve that hissed when you opened it, the long forgotten masterpiece was released in 1973, one of prog rock’s key years (the other, of course, being 1892 – the birth of Tolkien).“
From All Music Guide:
»Balrog typified, in many ways, all that was good and bad about progressive rock. They wrote sprawling epics full of inventive harmonies and beautiful melodies, but they also gave in to soul-less musicianship just for the sake of their instrumental skills. They were open to US avantgarde music and European free jazz, but they could also spend half a gig playing covers of one-hit-wonders from the top twenty. They could put six tempo-changes into a three-minute song and make it to the top ten – and they liked to jam on motorik krautrock rhythms for half an hour.
The band was formed in late 1968 when members of two mildly successful British bands got together to make »serious« music. Cyril Fitton and Broom Upshaw were the main songwriters in The Slot, a mod band who were a Radio Caroline favourite with their single »Dream Connection«. The rhythm section of Neil Woodyard and American ex-pat Marcella Derringer had met in a Stax/Tamla-Motown cover band called Frank & The Sandalmen who mainly played US Army clubs around Europe. They brought with them Solomon Bayldon, son of a British Army soldier, born in Germany and raised in Canterbury (and who still spoke with a curious German accent). Their first album »Kites Ascending« (1969) was a collection of multi-part songs, showcasing their harmony vocals and standing apart from other contemporary albums by the sheer funkiness of Marcella’s fuzz bass and Bayldon’s crystal-clear rhythm guitar which was clearly modelled on unlikely heroes such as Steve Cropper and Bo Diddley. (A non-album single, »Comfortable Slippers«, was added to continental versions of the LP.)
By 1970’s second album »Branches« they had found a more integrated sound, a fusion of folk rock, classical music and rhythm & blues. Album opener »Friar’s Perfume« was used as the theme song for a short-lived TV show in Holland and became a major hit single all over Europe. The accompanying long-player, however, was a concept album about »Trees and their influences on all our lives« as the liner notes proclaimed. During the recording sessions the members of Balrog had discovered that all of them (except the drummer) had been treated to violin lessons in their youth and as a hoax they formed a string quartet, rehearsing cover versions of current chart hits like »Sex Machine« and »Whole Lotta Love« for a laugh (This would become a favourite stunt for encores in years to come). On »Branches« both LP sides ended with short string quartet tracks – although these were neo-classical drone pieces, influenced by their interest in composers like La Monte Young and John Cage.
Balrog’s crowning achievement was the 1972 double-album »Season Of The Moonsnake«, loosely based on the season’s cycle and housed in a lavish gatefold sleeve that opened up into a 24 x 24“ poster – and (as the advertisements promised) »it hisses when you open it!« (The inner sleeve also made full use of Balrog’s famous upside-down logo, apparently designed by a tripping art student who misheard their original proposition for their band name, »Bedrock«). Despite unsuccessful singles like »Exploding Truss« and »Portable Castle (Part 2)« the album was a big hit, mainly due to constant touring and their now highly entertaining live show, mixing 20 minute song-suites with short pop songs and lengthy instrumental jamming, by now clearly influenced by krautrock and European jazz.
It all came to an abrupt end in 1974, when Solomon Bayldon (due to circumstances never fully explained) was forced to return to Germany for National duty. The rest of the band followed him while he did his 15-months military service, and they even performed the odd gig here and there on his days off. (They allegedly recorded two albums for German avantgarde labels, but these were never released in America or the UK.) In 1976 they reunited full time for a new tour, and concerts in Europe were a big success. In the UK however, punk had happened and caught the music press’s attention, and they rarely got mentioned there. They recorded for a new album project, but only a single (”Wobbling Colums Up Above«) was released, which barely dented the charts.«
From Prog Blog:
„The extended suite on side three of SEASON OF THE MOONSNAKE („The Fire Dance Of Sirius In The Morning Of The Ancient Redeemer“) contains nothing less than the pure core – the Promethan life-spark – of what we know as prog. Here is the relentless ingenuity of Crimson. There is the public-school „otherness“ of Gabriel-era Genesis. Behold the rambunctious whimsy of Tull; no mistaking the suspended langour of Floyd. One also encounters the dark, existentialist foreboding of Van Der Graaf Generator. And lead singer Ignatz must be the only art school student from Cambridge with a German accent.“