My Pop Life #141 : Jig A Jig – East Of Eden

Jig A Jig   –   East Of Eden

1971 – my magical musical year of sentience.  13 going on 14 (baby it’s time to think; better beware, be canny and careful, baby you’re on the brink).  Actually that quote is ’16 going on 17′ and is about a girl and is from The Sound Of Music but hey – that’s the kind of thing I accepted universally up until the age of around 12/13.  Then I started my baby steps of discernment.  It is a precious age, because we are still unformed and big changes are afoot.  Baby you’re on the brink.  And Wouldn’t It Be Nice if never was heard a discouraging word ?  But life is not like that.  The übersensitivity of the teen can lead to major mistakes in taste, music, fashion, hairstyles, choice of friends and piercings, drugs, drinks.  Maybe some of these are already pre-destined, but my point is that a missed cue, dropped word, or sniffy remark goes a long way when you’re thirteen.

East of Eden’s 1970 LP – Snafu

We all know that we enjoy the lessons when we like the teachers.  The subject is a very distant 2nd.  Thus in 1971, I loved English, History, Geography and Art, liked French, Chemistry, Biology, PE and Maths.  I did not like Physics or Music.

I’ll repeat that : I did not like Music.  What a missed opportunity…

Mr Richards taught music to unenthusiastic oiks in the 3rd form of Lewes Priory Middle School and he may have even been my form teacher.  I was in 3R I think.  He was a florid-faced balding man who wore tweedy jackets and had a distant distracted manner.  It was much much later that I realised (or was informed by John Hawkins who did Music A-level) that he was an alcoholic.  The Latin teacher Dai Jones was also a drinker, and was drunk pretty much 100% of the time, but in his case it was bleeding obvious.  Richards kept his sinful excess under manners. Anyway his class was all minims and breves, crotchets and quavers, sharps and flats.  There was no joy in this class.  Until he asked us to bring in a piece of music for the class to hear !  WOW.  This unlikely spasm of musical democracy was true excitement.  I had a number of choices – all singles which I’d bought recently with my pocket money, all discerning 13-year-old choices.

Let’s see.

John Kongos – He’s Gonna Step On You Again,  magnificent chaos

Dave & Ansel Collins – Double Barrel, a recent Number One (!)  immense

George Harrison – My Sweet Lord  eternal and glowing

R. Dean Taylor – Indiana Wants Me.    this is the police. give yourself up!

Mum had also bought singles, Mum always bought singles:

The Kinks –  Apeman – was that a faux-west-indian accent?  I didn’t notice

Elton John –  Your Song – absolute stone-cold classic. We knew it even then.

Melanie – Look What They Done To My Song Ma – honky tonk angel americana

I think they’re all better than East Of Eden’s Jig-A-Jig which is the 45rpm single on Deram Records that I took into school.  But maybe that’s unfair.  It’s a legitimate snapshot of my 13 and three-quarter-year-old musical taste in spring 1971.  Perhaps I instinctively knew that Richards would look down his bulbous nose and spit venom on any actual pop music.  Jig-A-Jig I knew had elements of Irish music, albeit rocked up.  I didn’t know it then – and neither did he clearly – but the song is composed of three traditional reels glued together in the fairly normal way of Celtic music, namely “The Ashplant Reel“, “Drowsy Maggie” and “Jenny’s Chicken“.  All well-known to traditional Irish musicians, and recorded many times over by different groups and players, but never troubling the UK Pop Charts before this moment, as far as I knew.

East Of Eden were a progressive jazz-rock outfit who had emerged from the post-hippy era along with bands like Colosseum, The Nice, Soft Machine and Caravan and they had appeared at the First Paris Music Festival alongside all of those bands with Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Yes and Frank Zappa in 1969.

Subsequently signed to Deram Records they released the LP Snafu in 1970, then the single Jig-A Jig.  It wouldn’t chart in the UK until the following year, and eventually reached number 7.  There was nothing like it around at the time, and certainly hasn’t been since I would venture. Certainly it is nothing like the rest of their output which is experimental prog fusion.  The band’s image wavered in that between-era 1971 way with cashmere kaftans, tank tops, beards and fedoras, caught between the hippy dream, the prog indulgence and the glam pop escape.  They almost fitted into a fashion box with McGuinness Flint, Atomic Rooster, Curved Air and The Moody Blues.  1971 would deliver further riches from unexpected sources.

Jig A Jig opens with the fiddle playing of Dave Arbus.   But soon it becomes a rock song with the electric guitar joining the violin and drums.  Within 30 seconds the freakout has begun and soon we are at a free festival at dawn with the sun rising through the mist over the trees, hundreds of swaying raggle taggle gypsies and nodding heads, bonkers percussion, heavy rock and guitar solos joining the merry fiddler as he dances us into a frenzy.  Before we go completely bananas on bad acid we get the hoe-down finish with hand-claps and we’re out.

Mr Richards hated it.  He sneered as the orange and white Deram logo span on the turntable.  He muttered something unintelligible and ungenerous as he handed the 7-inch single back to me.  I’ve erased the quote.  Music lessons and I were finished.  I didn’t even do it at O-Level.

Listening to it now I think it’s quite mental.  Bold, true to its time, and an unlikely chart hit to be sure.  But a snapshot of the charts in Spring 71 will show a huge variety of music, from Motown to glam, rock to classical mash-ups, ballads and one-man bands, early funk, solo Beatles, bubblegum, ska and hippy pop.

Music For Pleasure Spring 1971

 In those days session musicians would get a gig covering recent chart hits which would then be compiled as Music For Pleasure compilations – rather like That’s What I Call Music except they weren’t the originals.  Famously Reg Dwight played on a few of these LPs in the 1960s before he became Elton John.   So some session player had to recapture the fiddle playing on this track.

East Of Eden still exist in some form and make the occasional record.  The violin player Dave Arbus would go on to play with The Who on the opening track of their great album Who’s Next known as Teenage Wasteland, credited as ‘Baba O’Riley’.  Later he would be a founder member of Fiddler’s Dram, but left before their unusual chart hit Day Trip To Bangor in 1979. He then left music and became a cabinet maker, now he is a painter and lives in Eastern Long Island.

I have never learned to read music “off the page” in particular I have difficulty with rhythm – 4/4 is easy, 3/4 is waltz time, but 7/8 or 2/4 get me confused, as do dots after crotchets.  It’s just maths but the block is still there.  As a result I play by ear.  I hear it, I play it.  Nevertheless, when performing with The Brighton Beach Boys I would always be handed a chart by Stephen Wrigley to read on the alto sax, and it was a useful aide memoir, and often in a live situation I would find myself reading along.  Of course I already know the music so it is not the same as playing something from scratch.  Particularly difficult to play in our repertoire is the song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Roy Wood and Wizzard.  The brass part is unforgiving and relentless, and I found that I couldn’t play it from memory and actually needed the sheet music to guide me through the mountain ranges of that incredible song.

If I’d become a professional musician I would of course have gone back to school or evening class and learned the whole thing properly.   Or would I ??

The single :

and um, Actually a rather incredible and disturbing TOTP play-out clip from 1971 :


My Pop Life #103 : Focus II – Focus

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Focus II   –   Focus

Summer 1972, end of the the 4th form, Lewes Priory, three O levels finished.   I’d taken Maths, French and Art a year ‘early’.  I only remember the Art exam, which I did with Simon Korner.  We had to paint “Decline” in two hours.  There were girls from the actual 5th form in the room doing their O Levels.   I was a virgin still and pretty inexperienced in the ways.  I painted a soldier being shot and falling down, seven or eight different figures all overlapping, the colours getting paler and paler with each figure on the same piece of ground.  By the time he hit the earth he was a skeleton.  I think I got a “3”.  So that left History, Geography, English Literature, English Language, Latin and Biology/Chemistry….hmmm any more for any more…for the following year ?   I got ten all together including one I took in the Lower Sixth, Geology.   And I failed Latin.   So that makes nine.   HA !  I’ve forgotten a whole O’level !!   I didn’t take German that far, or Religion, or Music (for reasons I’ll discuss with you later), or Physics (yuk!) or Woodwork, Metalwork or PE.   So what is the lesson that has disparu??  Humanities ?  Was that an O Level ?

Oh well.

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A small gang of us – all 15 years old – decided we were going to go to Reading Festival in August – or The Twelfth National Jazz Blues And Rock Festival August 11th -13th to give it its full name.   And yes.  The poster got it wrong !   Not the 11th.  No one cared.   Wish I hadn’t mentioned it now.   It had been advertised in Melody Maker and the New Musical Express.   Tickets were available on the gate priced £3.50, first come first served, so did we hitch hike up to Reading on the Thursday to make sure we got in?   To be honest I can’t even remember who I was with.   I’ve asked a few likely culprits but everyone is as vague as me pretty much.   So candidates are :  Martin Elkins, Adrian Birch and Martin Cooper.   Possibly all three.   We’d have probably smoked dope and drunk cider all weekend.  Dope being hasish, Paki black or Red Leb, possibly Moroccan gold, whatever we could have scored.  The Thames Valley police were all over the event, especially going in, searching people, busting hippies who’d come for some peaceful music vibes.  Pigs.

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Friday is a blur – I think Mungo Jerry played and Curved Air,  the highlight was Genesis but I don’t remember it much at all I’m afraid.  We probably slept in a large marquee where people without tents slept.  Did I have a sleeping bag?  Probably!

Saturday was better.   The Welsh band Man played in the afternoon, loved them, as did Edgar Broughton – wasn’t too bothered about them, Solid Gold Cadillac – cannot remember at all, The Johnny Otis Rhythm and Blues Show – very enjoyable, and, blowing us all away :  a band called Focus from Holland.   A kind of prog-jazz-classical fusion, they had the crowd of unwashed stoners on their feet cheering for more.  Headliners The Faces were preceded by the Electric Light Orchestra who were simply splendid.  It was a great day.

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The following day John Peel was DJ-ing between sets, mumbling away in gentle Scouse, and he not only played the Focus tune Hocus Pocus which we’d all raved at the day before and which was unlike anything any of us had ever heard before, full of Thjis Van Leer‘s yodelling, flute, accordion and nonsense, in-between Jan Akkerman‘s hard rock riffing guitar, it was a mighty sound and would be released as a single in the UK the following spring (!)   I distinctly DO remember Peel also playing my first hearing of Roxy Music’s ridiculous re-imagining of pop music Virginia Plain with the see-sawing Eno synthesiser finish, and it was a sensation.  Don’t forget we were all stoned of out tits, but we didn’t like Everything even so.  Other Sunday highlights were Status QuoVinegar Joe with the wonderful Elkie Brooks up front, Stackridge, Matching Mole and Wizzard fronted by the mighty genius of Roy Wood.   Blimey.

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Status Quo, Reading ’72

I had just turned fifteen years old.  Many of the other festival-goers were the same age as us, some were older, some younger.  I didn’t wash for three days obviously.  Latrines, holes in the ground for toilets.  Burgers and hot dogs, beer and sandwiches.  Can’t remember anyone throwing anything at the stage, or any fights or bad feeling.   Once the last band had finished people lit fires and sat around them smoking joints and drinking beer.  It was pretty damn good to be honest.

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At some point that autumn as I entered the Fifth Form and O-levels proper I bought the LP Moving Waves, with Hocus Pocus as the leading track.   But stealing the glory for me eventually is this beautiful piece Focus II which doesn’t flaunt its wares but quietly and beautifully makes me melt.   Fantastic subtle tempo changes.   I don’t think it was ever a single.   I had records by very few of the artists at Reading – and mainly singles :  See My Baby Jive, 10538 Overture, Stay With Me, Maggie May, Back Street Luv, In The Summertime and Baby Jump.  I would go on to buy Focus, The Faces and Man of the bands I saw that year.  And ELO later.   Even at that young age a group of people strumming away on guitars wasn’t really floating my boat (Faces and Man excepted – there’s always exceptions !!)  Well that’ll teach me to try and generalise.

Side two of Moving Waves was all one piece called “Eruption”.   This was fairly typical of the era.  Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson were doing similar things, it was the age of the LP.   And despite my memory of Reading 1972 being so fuggy, I clearly enjoyed myself because I went back the following summer…to almost the same line-up strangely enough.  Of which, more later.

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Focus split up then reformed a few times.  They are currently back together and touring the world.   Proper musicians making great music.   And they’re fun too.   It’s the only time I ever saw them live.   But whenever I hear this song, the sound and groove of it can only be 1972.   Don’t you think ?  Oh and incidentally – been searching youtube for some live clips of this track – they’ve either got Thjis Van Leer on gorgeous organ grooves but some fill-in guitarist who isn’t up to the precision and pure expressiveness of the original on guitar, OR Jan Akkerman smashing the searing guitar stuff and some horrible drummer rocking up what is a jazz break by genius Pierre van der Linden, and a perfectly good piano player.    For the record Cyril Havermans was on bass guitar – such a lovely way it comes in here on bar 16 after two rounds of Hammond…   So anyone who knows of good quality live versions of this marvellous tune with the chaps all doing their thing, then please leave a comment and I’ll add it later, easily done…