My Pop Life #133 : Sun King – The Beatles

Sun King   – The Beatles

Questo obrigado tanto mucho cake and eat it carousel

After 18 long and eventful months after being asked by John Lennon to imagine there’s no heaven I dropped my first acid trip.  It was the beginning of summer 1973.   School had almost broken up and the fifth form was abuzz with the plans.  We’d all completed our O Level examinations at Lewes Priory and there was a sense of freedom in the air.  Most of us would stay on for the sixth form, not all.    Before the summer holidays started, Tat’s girlfriend, the mysterious gypsy-eyed Elvira, invited what felt like the entire school to her house in Ashdown Forest for a midsummer night’s dream.  We travelled by bus then walked.  It was balmy and dry.  We were stoned and happy.   I travelled with Simon Korner I think.  Also present were Conrad Ryle, Pete Smurthwaite, Patrick Freyne, Chris Clarke, Martin Elkins, John Foreman, Adrian Birch, Andy Holmes and some older kids.  We lay around on the vast lawn of Elvira’s parents’ house.  Presumably they were away, but they may not have been.  A large set of speakers on the terrace blasted out The Beatles’ final album Abbey Road.  It was everyone’s favourite LP.  It seemed like an impossible piece of confectionary that went on forever and had the most satisfying last piece.  It still feels like that to me.  It has been varnished by time into a shiny antique pop marvel, but at the age of sixteen it was just 4 years old, and already a classic, an album for the ages. It was perfectly natural to be selected to play as the sun went down over a raggle-taggle gang of groovy student wannabees smoking dope and nodding wisely at each other’s amusing observations.  It was uncontroversial and universally admired by the cognoscenti.

The Beatles : Abbey Road

Elvira and Tat were like the alternative hippy royal couple that summer.  They both had curtains of long hair, flared jeans and embroidered tops.  They should have been on an album cover.  Elvira wore dark kohl eye make-up and flowing beaded skirts and she looked at everyone with witchy suspicion and a twinkle.  Her party was guaranteed to be a hit.  Tat – or Andrew Taylor – played guitar in the band Rough Justice (see My Pop Life #80) and wrote songs, had a sweet easy-going nature, a dry and pleasantly absurdist sense of humour, laughed easily and was slow to anger.  He’d become a closer friend of mine when he introduced me to his favourite band Gentle Giant, (for another post naturally).   He lived with his parents on South Street in Lewes, under the chalk drop of The Cliffe and the Golf Course which would be the location for our second acid trip.  Elvira was mysterious to me yet friendly, I can’t remember having a conversation much longer than a minute with her.  Who were her parents?   We didn’t talk to each other’s girlfriends much to be honest.  She was Tat’s girl.

There must have been food at the party but I can’t remember it.  Perhaps a barbecue.  The sun was starting to set.  We drank cider and lager.  Wine. Then the acid was handed out.  Tiny black microdots of  LSD.  We all took one and swallowed.  “It will last twelve hours” someone said.   Perhaps Space Oddity was playing…Memory Of A Free Festival

“the sun machine is going down and we’re gonna have a party…”

Before the light disappeared completely we all walked into the forest.  About a 20-minute walk ?  I do remember that Patrick still hadn’t arrived and we wondered how he would find us.   He did.  We found a small clearing, a small stream, a few rocks amid the trees and made a base camp.  Something weird was happening.  I felt nervous.  I looked around.  Someone winked.   Someone laughed.  It echoed with a ghoulish chuckle.   Shit – what?    A host of golden daffodils were flowering inside my stomach up through my veins through my fingertips, an unmistakeable rush of gold surged through my nerves, my skin, my eyes, like a huge chord with an impossibly large number of notes swelling lifting quivering getting louder and louder like a motorbike coming straight towards me.  Rather like falling off the top of a fairground ride with no brakes or a bunjee jump, except going upwards.  Can be fun.

here comes the sun king?

It’s entirely possible that not everyone was tripping, that we had a guide vocal, but I can’t remember who it was, even if I knew at the time.  Later on, in subsequent acid adventures we always used to have a guide on hand to hold our hand in case things went weird.  When things went weird.

because,

well,

they always did.

But not this time.  This being my first trip I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted hallucinations mainly.   I remember laying down on the rock in the stream to get a stereo effect of running water.  I remember looking at the trees dancing at dawn for about an hour, their branches wavering together in choreographed vibrations.  I remember staring at my hand for about an hour.  My eyes couldn’t focus properly for hours.

everybody’s laughing

       I remember laughing a lot with Conrad, Pete, John, Simon and Patrick.

everybody’s happy

It felt safe.   We smoked and drank.

Here comes the Sun King

There was undoubtedly speed in the acid which kept us keen.

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice corazón

It wasn’t cold, and we had sleeping bags and coats.   I can’t remember any music, amazingly.

Mundo papparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol

Just the wind in the trees, the stream, the birds, the snatches of conversation.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

 It didn’t change my life.  But I would do it again, and I did.

Sun King, like most of Abbey Road, is inspired by the music of the late 60s.  The Beatles had their ears open for the people around them, and this song is inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross with its heavy dreamy guitars.  Lennon put the chords together and he and McCartney added the nonsense lyrics at the end.  It is the second song on the medley which completes side 2 of the band’s last LP.  The story goes that Paul McCartney, keen to leave the legacy on a high, spent hours in Abbey Road studios with producer George Martin polishing and reworking the “Huge Medley”as it was known on the tapes and later bootlegs.  But the studio out-takes, some of which are available on Youtube, show a band working together to learn each other’s songs, as they had been doing for years. Both versions are probably true.  The Huge Medley,  almost all ‘Paul songs’, opens with You Never Give Me Your Money the song about the break-up of the band, and what Ian MacDonald (in the magisterial Revolution In The Head) called “the beginning of McCartney’s solo career”. It contains the immortal harmony and lyric

Oh that magic feeling : nowhere to go

and the song finishes with a spiralling guitar lift into

one sweet dream

and the three chords:   C   G/B   A  which will return at the end of the Huge Medley for the finale, but this time we have a whispered

one two three four five six seven, all good children go to heaven

and a bluesy guitar solo fades slowly into the faint sounds of an organ and bells, gongs and cicadas, a lush exotic other-worldly sound which ushers in the lazy guitar shape inspired by Peter Green and Albatross and played by George Harrison.  Sun King is a minor John Lennon song which can’t be imagined outside of the context of the Huge Medley, but which is quite magical inside it, especially the G 11th chord which bridges the E major section and the C major section – very lush, very Beach Boys.

The song ends abruptly and punches into Mean Mr Mustard, another Lennon snippet which wouldn’t stand on its own as a single or album track, but which gives the Huge Medley its charm and delight and keeps us interested and entertained.

When The Brighton Beach Boys chose to perform Abbey Road live at the Brighton Festival in 2011, Sun King presented a variety of tricky problems and we spent a fair amount of time on the 2 minutes and 26 seconds of this song, not least the vocal harmonies, particularly that G 11th chord on 52 seconds.  I actually bought a small gong which played a shimmering E from the percussion shop Adaptatrap on Trafalgar Street where I used to get the kazoos for Lovely Rita and bought the tambourine for Polythene Pam.  Good shop.  Since The Beatles are largely unrepresented in their original form on youtube I will post a version of  by the Fab Faux who are the best Beatles tribute band out there I believe, having not just the accurate notes and tempos but the feel too.  Tribute bands, so low in status, will be the classical music players of late-20th century pop in the future.  We always played in black suits for that reason.

It wasn’t the most difficult song on the album, but it was close.  But for me it’s less about the song, more about the feeling and the memory.  I can’t remember how we got home from Ashdown Forest that midsummer night’s morning, but Andy Holmes remembers a group singalong of Here Comes The Sun at 5am.   I suspect I caught a bus in Uckfield and ended up in Kingston with Conrad Ryle and his family.  Buzzing faintly, getting shivery electric echoes of the vision interference.  Strange taste in my mouth.  Slept all day Sunday.   Was this the same Uckfield bus trip that Simon Korner and Patrick Freyne took, or were they on the bus in front ?  They were threatened by a man with a large head, a kind of combine harvester of a neanderthal, who, taking exception to their stoned and strung out giggling, told them that: “If you don’t shut up, You’re Gonna Die.  BY ME.

The following acid trips wouldn’t be quite so simple.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

*lyrics websites hilariously have this as “Que Canite” rather than “cake and eat it”…

Advertisements

My Pop Life #47 : The Great Gig In The Sky – Pink Floyd

Featured image

The Great Gig In The Sky   –   Pink Floyd

There are no words.    Just the wonderful sound of Clare Torry‘s voice rising and falling like the pure instrument it is over the shifting chords of Floyd’s keyboard player Richard Wright.    Track 5 on their magnum opus Dark Side Of The Moon, released in 1973, it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and probably always will.    This was a monster LP by any standards, probably the only LP at Lewes Priory School to rival Abbey Road in school corridor sightings per day.   Others had their moment and faded, these two giant records were beyond fashion and cool, beyond fortune and even taste.  They just WERE, like the stones of Stonehenge.

Featured image

Dark Side Of The Moon became a cliche quickly due to ubiquity, but it never stopped being good.   We all loved how sonically rich it was.  We loved how it took its time.    It was anti-war and anti-money, had wisdom in the mouths of fools and mental patients, it was druggy, paranoid and alive.    We all loved the muttering voice at the beginning of The Great Gig In The Sky, “And I am not frightened of dying…why should i Be, there’s no reason for it…you’ve got to go sometime..” mainly because, of course, we all are terrified of dying;  we loved a character who returns chuckling at the end of the LP on Brain Damage “the lunatic is in my head…” ;   we loved the early electro wobblefizz of On The Run which appears to end in a helicopter crash;  the line in Time which would have meant little to a group of teenagers: “…and then one day you find, ten years have got behind you….” but which haunts every adult I know.   The production is immaculate: those liquid slide and pedal steel guitar chords, blissful Hammond organ, crisp drum breaks, whispered cymbals, tasteful vocals and major sevenths in abundance.  The Great Gig In The Sky was added right at the end of the LP sessions, when the band decided to append an instrumental track of 4 minutes.

The opening chords are rather lush  :     Bm     F(-5)     Bb     F/A

play it on the piano then you can almost hear that pedal steel guitar  Gm7 to C9  sweeping in which is the bulk of the song.

But of course the reason why it stands out is the voice.  Clare Torry was a songwriter and session musician (ie paid by the session, or by the day)  and the original song was just a group of chords.  Pink Floyd’s engineer Alan Parsons suggested Torry,  she said no, she had tickets to see Chuck Berry, but came back a few days later and improvised over two and a half takes the track that we hear today.

We listened to it straight, we listened to it stoned, we listened to it tripping.   I’ll always associate it with the Ryle’s house “Waterlilies” in Kingston where I had taken refuge from my family, was playing in a band called Rough Justice with Conrad Ryle and going out with his sister Miriam.   Miriam was tall, elegant and beautiful, and when she smiled at me it was like the sun coming out.   They had a shiny wooden record player with large speakers that you could lie down between if you so desired.  In the summer of 1975 Miriam decided that we could not go on dating, mainly due to her parents splitting up – I had become “part of her past” overnight.   Miriam and Conrad’s mother, dear Rosemary Ryle (who sadly passed away in 2013) in retrospect took pity on me and said I could stay on at Waterlilies, since I had a summer job at Sussex University Library just down the road in Falmer, but some 30 miles from Hailsham where my family were.

Featured image

From Kingston Ridge towards Waterlilies, Juggs Lane, and Lewes

 Miriam wanted to stay friends and didn’t object, the house was quite a large bungalow so we weren’t exactly on top of one another, but it was a strange and melancholy summer, sprinkled with contentious trips home to Mum, Paul, Andrew and now, aged 3, my new sister Rebecca. “You treat this place like it’s a hotel, only coming back to change your clothes”.   Change clothes and pick up that Jimi Hendrix single.    Back to work on the train to Falmer.    Back to Waterlilies.    I remember lying down between those two speakers one afternoon and playing The Great Gig In The Sky at Top Volume when everyone else was out, tears streaming down my face.   Miriam was my first love, and she’d broken my heart.

Featured image

Clare Torry in 1973

But hey, I survived to listen to another Pink Floyd LP.  1995’s Wish You Were Here was the last one of theirs I liked.   Call me weird.    I spoke to Clare Torry a couple of years ago in relation to a documentary I was trying to raise finance for about Session Musicians – she was reluctant to speak of this song on camera again after so many years, a court case, regular interview requests and so on and so forth.    But she was very sweet about it.    It’s not hugely unlike what I do for a living – the session musician, the character actor –  the Lee Van Cleef image of the hired gun – ride into town, hitch the horse, set up in the saloon, shoot some bad guys, ride into the sunset with a bag of coin.   Not the whole bank.   No glory.  Hit and run.    And then the chance, now and again, to really nail something with some great people, play a lick, set up a groove, do a twirl, hit a bullseye.   Then glory, then love.   Then.    Then wait for the phone to ring.   Feed the horse.   Keep your eye in.

This really is the most incredible performance.

The Making Of The Great Gig In The Sky

Clare Torry being hilarious on making The Great Gig In The Sky