I thought it might be a good and right thing to take note of an event that happened thirty-seven years and one day ago today: the June 1, 1974 Rainbow Theater, London. concerts featuring Kevin Ayers (headliner) plus guest artistes John Cale, Nico (both former members of the Velvet Underground) and (Brian) Eno (ex-Roxy Music).
These two shows (early and late; that’s how it used to be done) marked a wonderful time in late 20th century art history where resplendently decorative, beautiful and eccentric birds of a (sort of) feather briefly flew together. Like a sunspot eruption that wreaks havoc with terrestrial radio signals or a powerful summer shower, which briefly confuses but also clarifies everything, the June 1st effect was palpable and temporary (like Achilles). It seemed to offer the best hope since the Beatles that rock could both be taken seriously as a powerful and sophisticated part of avant-garde art and also succeed commercially by attaining a broad, committed audience.
Kevin Ayers’ extraordinary band, The Soporifics, backed all the acts. When the June 1, 1974 story is eventually and inevitably re-written by our descendants, it’s entirely possible that the musical talents of Soporifics’ lead guitarist, Ollie Halsall, will be the only subject deemed worthy of discussion and "how did Ollie manage that?" symposia will be held in temples and under triumphal arches displaying his image and Gibson SG guitar in colossal effigy. That would be regrettable, however, because a lot of talent was on display that evening.
The rush-released live album of the event was sort of weirdly produced and omitted some key moments of the show. But the track selection: Driving Me Backwards (Eno), Baby’s On Fire (Eno), Heartbreak Hotel (Cale), The End (Nico), May I? (Ayers), Shouting In A Bucket Blues (Ayers), Everyone’s Sometime And Some People’s All The Time Blues (Ayers), Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes (Ayers) and Two Goes Into Four (Ayers) is basically sound and captures the essence of each artist's work at the time, i.e., Eno breaking in to his future, Cale breaking out of his past, Nico burrowing into her image and Ayers blossoming as an artist and "rock star".
I eventually had the privilege of discussing the background of the concert (rehearsal period through post June 1st UK mini-tour) fairly extensively with two of the principals, Kevin Ayers and Ollie Halsall. It was, naturally, the usual “truth is stranger than fiction” story related by two differently gifted and temperamentally disposed raconteurs. As good as the performances were, and as committed as each of the artists was to the truth of their art, the performing arts world always ends up resembling a soap opera that reminds me of the old New Yorker cartoon, which said something to the effect of "In the future, hatred will no longer be based on race, creed or gender; Everyone will hate everyone else for purely personal reasons." Fortunately, most of the artists who played at the concert are still alive (I believe we've only lost Nico and bassist Archie Leggatt) and many scaled great heights after June 1, 1974. For others, crevasses opened; some climbed out and some didn’t. At least, the rest wasn’t silence and it's nice to report that Kevin Ayers recently made his finest record, The Unfairground.
Seemingly soul mates, these artists were all approaching their creative maturity on June 1, 1974. I’m certain each of them changed many other lives than just my own, which they affected decisively.
Note: The official June 1, 1974 concert recording pictured above is still available both in its integral, original version, as well as an anthologized selection of material from the show, which is included in the Kevin Ayers' collection, Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You. Completists can also obtain fairly poor quality audience recordings of the "missing" songs (e.g., Cale's Buffalo Ballet and Gun, Nico's arresting Song Of The Germans, Ayers' rude, but funny and tuneful I've Got A Hard-On For You, Baby, and his magnificent anthem whatevershebringswesing, featuring a spectacular Mike Oldfield performance) from various sources. These recordings are not available on Youtube in the US for copyright reasons, but Youtube contains other excellent performances of these songs by each artist. This morning, poised on the cusp of "Recovery Summer 2", I'm feeling like a cross between Kevin Ayers' Shouting In A Bucket Blues and John Cale's rendition of Heartbreak Hotel, with a dash of Eno's Baby's On Fire thrown in, seasoned with a soupcon of Nico's version of the Doors' The End.