My Pop Life #194 : Shhh/Peaceful – Miles Davis

Shhh/Peaceful – Miles Davis

*

Probably late 1977, or early 1978.  Second year of my Law Degree at LSE, having spent the summer at the Edinburgh Festival with the National Student Theatre Company and realised I was at the wrong college, studying the wrong subject.   A summer recorded faithfully I think in My Pop Life #140.  Nick Broadhurst was the only other LSE student in that summer group, in the year above me at college;  a world-weary air of cultured ennui, smoking Hamlet mini-cigars, wearing real shirts, real shoes, a wry smile playing around his mouth, an authoritative disdain for other people’s opinions, stupidity and bad art.  I both liked him and thought him a little arrogant, although I was exactly the same I think.   He’s an opera director now.  We’ve lost touch.  I tried a couple of times recently but he’s scorching his earth.  Once again.

My 2nd year at LSE looking out at Fitzroy St aged 20

photograph by flatmate Norman Wilson aged 20

A Manchester lad without the accent, Nick introduced me to Miles Davis when I was still a teenager.  I was glittering with punk spikes by then, eye-make-up and nail varnish, but that was just a pose, in reality I didn’t know who I was.  A pop tart.  Jack of all, master of a half.  I’ve still got no idea really.  But getting stoned of an evening was a serious business in those days and the soundtrack was key.  The LP in question was called In A Silent Way, the sleeve was perfect for rolling joints on and it was Nick’s LP of choice, the first selection.  The ultimate cool sound for coming up.  You can talk across the music without feeling that you’re missing anything.  You can play the same side of the album twice or three times in a row without feeling any damage.  It’s a groove, only limited by the length of the LP side – there’s a song on side A : Shhhh/Peaceful, and another one on side B : In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time.  Which makes it sound like 4 songs.  They’ve blended into two, trust me.  The Wiki page says there’s three on each side but Whatever yeah.  It’s continuous ambient sound.  Although the record is undeniably cool it has an urgent, insistent vibe which the trumpet notes of Miles Davis puncture with their sweet sharp tones.  It’s a very thrilling thing.  I’m sure people who know about jazz have written at length about this album, for me it triggers a time and a place, and a person.

So we were back at LSE doing our academic degrees.  We decided to do a play to keep up morale (all the other students of that Edinburgh summer had gone back to RADA, Bristol Old Vic and Drama Centre etc) and we settled on Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett.   We read it aloud once with Christian Hodiege, an economics student who would play Estragon, and a woman called Shelley ? I think who played the slave Lucky.  Pozzo was played by an American student whose name has evaporated into the mists of the late 1970s, and I was Vladimir.   It was funny, mysterious, simple and yet ambiguous.  And possibly obvious too, although I think we missed that.  The next stage was a two-week series of improvisations based on the material facts of Godot – two men waiting by a tree for Godot, who never appears.  Only Pozzo and his slave Lucky appear. Then leave.  Essentially nothing happens.  Our improvisations were hopelessly useless and brought us no nearer to this play or how to approach it.  I can say with authority now that improvisation isn’t a way in to Beckett.  Hahaha.

With some relief we returned to the text and stood it on it’s feet immediately.  The intricate stage directions concerning the bowler hats gave us a mighty clue to the silent comedy of existential horror which the play examines.  Or, Laurel & Hardy.

We staged the show in the Old Theatre at LSE – probably 3 performances in all, and it was generally felt to be a success.  We did a version of the play.  All the actors had whiteface and I have pictures of it somewhere, but not here and not now.

The following term we decided to stage another play, this time John Guare’s, absurd off-broadway hit Muzeeka written in 1968.  I cannot remember any of the rest of the cast, but I think Christian and Shelley were both present once more.  I played the lead chap who at one point visits a prostitute and pays for a ‘Chinese Basket Job’.  This involved me climbing onto the top deck of a bunk bed while a spinning basket (rather like an upturned chinese conical hat with a hole in it) containing a semi-naked woman is lowered from the ceiling onto my thrusting sexual organs – thankfully not exposed.  On the first night, the rope snapped and the Chinese Basket containing Shelley dropped down onto me, thankfully missing my gonads by millimetres but causing extreme mirth and merriment in the audience and utter humiliation for myself.  I decided in that horrible second to manfully act on and make impotent pumping movements into this blasted basket containing my poor fellow actress. Yes, I’m the Great Pretender.

Thankfully the rest of the show was more acceptable, and my old schoolfriend and drummer Patrick Freyne said he particularly enjoyed the bit when I said I leaped onto the 3rd rail to see what electricity tastes like.  I think the simple fact that my public humiliation in front of peers students and academics did not put me off acting for life is a testament to my newly-awoken vocation.   We all drank and smoked that night – in my memory Christian (who was from Freiburg in der schwarzwald) was a great lover of jazz, and he and Nick both enjoyed Miles Davis.

I had many other adventures at the LSE of course, such as detailed in My Pop Life #113  when the Sex Pistols were the only game in town; or the fun I had down on the Thames with the late great Viv Stanshall before he played the Old Theatre (is it Rococo? in My Pop Life #77 ) with others still to come no doubt.   If I can remember them.  Such a long time ago.  Before my time really.

Nick left LSE the summer of 1978, and I had one year remaining, the year when traditionally the slacker student puts some effort into their studies to grapple back those lost years and get themselves a decent degree.   I directed a play and took part in an Occupation of the Registry over School Fees.   “We saw you in there Ralph Brown” said the Registrar after the whole event was over – we’d slept in the Registry for days at a time and brought the administration of the college to a complete standstill.   Can’t remember the outcome at all.  However : sticking with absurd one-act plays from New York I’d selected Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, set on a bench in Central Park and cast Christian as the tormented lead character Jerry.  He was brilliant, but then did his finals and left LSE to become an economist back in Germany.  I’ll always remember that strange sense of helplessness on the first night, my job as director done, the cast taking over and delivering the show, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.  It’s completely organic.  Although the director is lauded in the theatre, they all feel the same on first night.   There are notes sessions of course in the days that follow but they can’t be too dramatic or revolutionary.  The show is now set.  The grip has to be relinquished.  Of course there are always exceptions to this rule as I discovered when I played Macbeth in Liverpool (see My Pop Life#108).

Nick was very supportive of my directing endeavours and came to see The Zoo Story.  He also came to see another production that I directed with Jenny my wife back in 1990 in Ladbroke Grove – another NY play called Danny & The Deep Blue Sea.  I’m wondering if that’s the last time I saw him.

Nick Broadhurst

Our shared ambition back at college was to leave the London School Of Economics behind, but only after completion of our respective degrees, and it was a solid glue to base our friendship on.  I was going out with Mumtaz, born in Aden (now Yemen) of Pakistani heritage, schooled in Kashmir and the LSE.  Nick was courting Kalsang, born in Tibet but exiled when a young girl to Dharamsala, India, then taken to boarding school in England and thence to the LSE.

Mumtaz Keshani around 1980-81

They would visit us under the eaves in Taj’s loft space in Finsbury Park and watch Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe battle it out for Wimbledon, Taj and I supporting McEnroe and Nick & Kalsang supporting Borg.  Things got quite frayed I recall the year that McEnroe won.   Taj would cook keema peas with naan bread, basmati rice & daal with aloo gobi, yoghurt and salad.  We would get stoned.  Nick would smoke his blasted Hamlet cigarillos and we’d be on Silk Cut or Benson & Hedges.  Kalsang never smoked.  We’d listen to Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Earth Wind & Fire and The Clash.  We’d laugh.  We’d argue.  Nick liked to argue.  So did I.  He was extremely rude once talking about Kalsang.  Horrible, really humiliating. He defended it too.  So weird.  They got married soon after that in Hackney and bought a house, had two children.  Mumtaz and I lasted another few years then I left her at the age of 29 and moved out to a council flat in Bow (via my friend Simon’s).

Kalsang and Nick definitely stayed in touch with Mumtaz, and I recall less so with me, but perhaps just a judgemental word or two left that impression, but in any event, Nick started a small opera company doing perfectly-formed studio productions with a string quartet and actors who could sing.  It was called Music Theatre London and Nick asked me to be on the board which I was happy to do.  For another post I suspect.

I hope he’s OK.  Mumtaz still sees Kalsang now and again.  The kids are all grown up.  Probably got kids themselves.  Maybe they’ve already discovered Miles Davis.

In A Silent Way was recorded in one session by producer Teo Macero on February 18th 1969.  In addition to Miles’ usual band of the previous few years – namely Tony Williams on drums, Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano (Chick Corea also contributes) and Dave Holland on bass (who’d replaced Ron Carter the previous year) – the young John McLaughlin is on electric guitar who’d flown in from England the previous day, and Joe Zawinul appears on electric organ.

Tony Williams

Dave Holland

Wayne Shorter

Miles Davis & Herbie Hancock

Tony Williams went on to form his own band and the remainder stayed to record Bitches Brew in 1970, with the addition of many more players.

The music they played that night sounds like early electro-ambient groove, way way ahead of its time – neither rock nor jazz, moving towards fusion like his previous albums but not quite there yet.  Bitches Brew was just around the corner, but In A Silent Way is quieter, and for me at least, more affecting.

 

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My Pop Life #140 : The Right Thing To Do – Carly Simon

The Right Thing To Do   –   Carly Simon

And it used to be for a while
That the river flowed right to my door
Making me just a little too free
But now the river doesn’t seem to stop here anymore

Spring 1977.  I’m nearing the end of my first year at LSE.  I’ve got a decision to make, because during the long summer break I won’t be able to stay in my lodgings, the Maple Street flats on the corner of Fitzroy St, London W1, because they are owned and run by the LSE and in the summer we can’t stay there.  Most of my gang are going home to Glasgow, Sussex,  Barnsley, or Bedfordshire.  I actually hadn’t worked anything out, but going back to Hailsham and that sin city council estate wasn’t even an option.  But I was no longer going out with Miriam, so the Ryles wasn’t an option, Simon Korner was going abroad and going back to Lewes somehow didn’t seem right anyway.   Then I spotted a notice on the college noticeboard :

ACTORS WANTED FOR NEW PLAY GOING TO EDINBURGH FESTIVAL
JUNE – AUGUST
AUDITIONS BLAH BLAH BLAH

I scribbled the phone number down and called it up and booked an audition.  I cannot remember a single detail of the audition, either where it was, what I had to do, anything. But I got it, and made immediate plans to stay in London for the rehearsals.

Only one pupil from Lewes Priory had gone to Drama School (Drama Centre I think?) – Helen Lane, who was in the year above me.  I knew her because I’d done a few plays at school – rehearsing after school usually with kids older than me.  So many stories there – but – I enjoyed it.  I knew I’d enjoy Edinburgh – although I’d never even heard of the Festival before.  During my first year studying law down on the Aldwych there were a few competing social activities – and after some thought I’d decided to play football on Wednesday afternoons.  It clashed with Drama which was also on offer.  But I’d played football for Lewes every Saturday morning for years, and subsequently played centre-half for the LSE.  The home games were in New Malden so some commitment was required !  But the point was, that I treated playing football and drama as the same kind of thing.  Like playing pool.  Things that you did for fun, in the evening and at weekends.  So a whole summer of that was cool by me.

Anyway, I told Helen about Edinburgh and she was very supportive and offered her floor for me to sleep on for rehearsals.  I think she lived in Camden Town or maybe Kentish Town.  Rehearsals were near Russell Square somewhere in Bloomsbury which was my route to college anyway, familiar.  Weird this – by now I was going steady with Mumtaz, and she was running the student accommodations so why didn’t I stay with her ?  The memory is no help once again.

Carly Simon, London 1972

Now it’s all going to go vague. I think a fella called Murray directed the play.  we did weird stretches and warm-ups in the mornings and played some drama games which I would remember for my National Youth Theatre Days a decade later (see My Pop Life #7).  I was playing a recruiting Lieutenant for the US Army.  The play was called The Death Of Private Kowalski.  The National Student Theatre Company, run by Mr Clive Wolfe was producing it at their inaugural season at Edinburgh.  We were in a theatre or perhaps it was a Church Hall in Broughton St ? York Place ? in Edinburgh.  Near Leith Walk ?  I think we shared it with a deaf theatre company.   I remember an altercation one night, just the silent fury of sign language.  I think an American actor called Tom played Private Kowalski.  I remember little very clearly.  But I’m absolutely certain that every single one of the cast EXCEPT FOR ME was at Drama School – either Rada, Drama Centre, Ealing, Mountview or the Old Vic.  I was an object of curiosity.

“What are you going to do when you leave college?”

I’m going to be a barrister.

“Oh.  Really?”

Yes.  Really.  Why, what are you going to do?

“What do you think?  I’m going to be an actor of course.”

> THUNDERSTRUCK <

Edinburgh 77

A trickle of an idea started to form in my left ear.  I didn’t dare speak it aloud, so daring , so brave and foolish it was.  One other student from LSE was in the Company, Nick Broadhurst who was studying Sociology.  I was quite impressed that he’d managed to snaggle the beautiful Tibetan student Kalsang as his girlfriend, but he listened to weird music like Elevator Coming Over The Hill.  He was helping Clive behind the scenes and secretly plotting a brave and dangerous idea of his own.   The other administrator was Jane who had curly brown hair and John Lennon granny glasses.  I think my digs were unremarkable, and all I remember of Edinburgh is the constant smell of sweetness in the air coming from the breweries.  Known as “Auld Reekie” Edinburgh was a cornucopia of delights, from the Castle to the Fringe club, to the streets full of actors and clowns and buskers all competing for audience.  This was 1977 remember, way before the comedians took over, and way before it became the commercial event it is today.  It was a theatre festival, and I remember seeing groups from Russia and New Zealand that year.

Edinburgh Festival 1977

Then, one afternoon, after the show (once a day at 3pm I believe) I was downstairs in the toilet having a slash.  Innocent, unformed and alive, I was about to experience what I would later understand was akin to a Damascene conversion.  In an Edinburgh toilet. Beside me a large man who asked me, in a strong Texan accent

“Where are you from in America son?”

Is it strange that I had my cock in my hand at this revelation, as the stars changed course and the earth swallowed my life up and spat me back out ?

I’m from England

I replied, shaking drips and re-corking the underpants.  “Well,” said the Texan,

“Fooled me.  Great Job !”

Thank you I said, covering my earthquake and zipping up the trouser.  It was a bolt of lightning which went to my very core and rewired my entire life.  At that point I realised that I could be like those other kids.  I could be an actor.

*

Why Carly Simon ?  Really ?  Well, it was ubiquitous that summer.  No idea why – it had been out for years by then.  But music lasted in those days.  This LP, No Secrets by Carly Simon, was an ever-present that summer.  I think Helen had it in her flat in Kentish Town.  Jane definitely had it.  I kept seeing girls carrying it.  It was a girls record.  All the girls I knew LOVED IT.  And I became exposed to it, there was a record player somewhere and on it went.  It is an amazing LP.  Of course I already knew You’re So Vain from Pan’s People dancing to it on Top Of The Pops and finding clouds in their coffee.  No Secrets was her 3rd LP on Elektra Records, making number one in the billboard charts for 5 straight weeks in 1972.  I love every song on this record.  Lovely chord changes on The Carter Family and When You Close Your Eyes and emotional bombs going off all over the place.  The Right Thing To Do is the opening song and has a lazy 70s feel that takes me right back to the joints smoked, the relaxed vibes, the flares, the girls.

Trident Studio (as was), St Ann’s Court

Later I would discover that No Secrets was recorded at Trident Studios in St Ann’s Court in Soho, now a Film Production house where I’ve done numerous voice recordings, ADR sessions and so on.  Transformer, Space Oddity and many other great albums were recorded there in the 60s and 70s.  The studio musician credits on No Secrets now reads like a who’s who of the London Sessions, about which I almost made a documentary a few years back.  Another story.  Andy Newmark on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass, Jimmy Ryan on guitars.  With contributions from my old friend Ray Cooper (from Handmade Films) on percussion (listen for the ripple of the congas after the first line of The Right Thing To Do), Jim Keltner, Paul Buckmaster, Paul & Linda McCartney, Mick Jagger, Lowell George, Bonnie Bramlett, James Taylor, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins, Doris Troy with Liza Strike and Vicki Brown doing the bvs for this song.  Richard Perry produced. Everything clearly just fell into place. There is an ease and a freshness to these songs, both in the writing and the recording.

*

I’ve often wondered in subsequent years, perhaps on a daily basis whether a career in acting was The Right Thing To Do.  I went back to LSE that autumn a changed man, but I completed the final two years of the law degree and I am indeed LLB or Batchelor of Law. So I have a complex relationship with my ghost career as a barrister, and often peek over to see how he’s doing.  How’m I doing ?  Possibly my least favourite question.  Gemini.  Always needs an option.   I sadly discovered while writing this blurry memory that Clive Wolfe passed away last year.  RIP.  He was at  least partly responsible for where I am today.

Live !!