February 12, 2010

"Time & Music in the Third Ear Band's experience" by Paul Minns (part 1).

During the writing of my book on TEB titled “Necromancers of the drifting West” (published by Stampa Alternativa in 1997), I asked Paul Minns to write his memories about the experience to play in the band.
Here's his important, disenchanted contribute written in December 1996, where we can read probably for the first time all the Paul's caustic vision of things:

"The Time
For me the music died around the time of the first Hyde Park concert (1969) with the Blind Faith. It was possibly for a variety of reasons - exhaustion (Sweeney and Blackhill were totally unware of protective management - I reckon we must have played on everage three times a week since starting), boredon or even for personal reasons but I believe there was an unmistakable climate change. Flowers were out - squatting was in - self determination was in the air and rightly so. Unfortunately it was the time of the supergroup which sounded better than the reality and no one seemed to be interested in Indian music or the like. After that Third Ear Band was staffed by various personnel with an air of the walking dead all directed by Sweeney.
I need to talk about him now because  he was both the founder and distroyer of the band.
He enjoyed the 'pop' limelight, despite its obvious lie, and totally fronted the band (I couldn't care as I was only interested in playing but Coff was sat on regularly). For Sweeney this was better than work but it didn't prevent him from behaving like a foreman. Really all we had done was to produce music quite unlike any other in the scene and we could be slotted-in as a contrast - but we were no pop. Much later when we were on the slide  he brought in vocals and we were just another band.
But to start at the beginning...

In 1968 I met Sweeney during his existential/Zen/modern jazz phase. A drummer, he had progressed through skiffle to full kit with a touch of the Orient thrown in. He prided himself on "not knowing the difference between a crotchet and a hatchet" and almost insisted on mispronouncing the names of the foreign writers, composers etc. à la Peter Sellers. He was on the  lookout for musicians and chanced on me. I lived in a garret in Notting Hill Gate (London) where I had lived for years trying to make sense of my life and getting nowhere.
Fed up with classical music (I had played the oboe years before and still dabbled), he encouraged me to join him at various venues. My early gig recollection is at Middle Earth (a prime alternative venue in Covent Garden) with a cellist called Brian, Sweeney and Clive Kingsley, and acid head guitarist who heard no one except himself - a sheet of sound.

These gigs didn't start until after midnight and I remember catching many times a night bus back home. Strangely these were perhaps the happiest times for me. There was a great feeling of belonging  to a movement quite unlike  m y classical days  when the only topic  of conversation was the make of one's instrument.
These gigs at Middle Earth were fairly hairy with one band regularily setting like to themselves (Tintern Abbey - are they still with us?), Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt in underpants crying with the effort of playing 11/13 on the drums and Bowie, doing mime and playing solo guitar (embarrassing).
There in the small hours continental film crew made ther way between the stages looking for confirmation of the Swingin' '60.
TEB at the Roundhouse (August 1968) for an Harvest showcase (L-R: Cartland, Coff, Sweeney, Minns) ©Robert Ellis-REPFOTO

Later, Middle Earth was closed down after The Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom held a purported sacrifice of a child. We were there and it was one of my funnies memories. 

White tuniced with with spears, the tribe had set up a dais and we were to provide the music. I think I glimpsed a young girl but before anything could start the doors burst open and in swept Covent Garden workers looking for the intended "victim" to be followed five minutes later by many police. Being pacifists the tribe offered no resistance thank godness but the child vanished into thin air in the following hilarious melée. It was the end for Middle Earth...

Other places we regularly played locally were The Crypt (St. Lake's Church), All Saint's Hall and a small basement cafè in Westbourne Grove. These gatherings amazed me in that audiences put up with such spartan surroundings - a cross between a folk music youth club was the nearest I had ever seen.
Les Cousins in Soho, I.C.A., the Arts Lab and the Roundhouse were more 'salubrious' venues and the last two brought us in contact with non-music acts on the scene such as The People Band, Will Spoor and The Living Theatre.
Somehow we were invited to play for The Alchemical Wedding - John Lennon and Yoko Ono in  a sack - at the Royal Albert Hall. We were the only music? I could hardly believe so.

The earliest virtually unpaid gigs surprisingly were with some of the biggest names - John Mayall at Southampton (it was a booking mistake, we played in the interval and a hat was passed around) and with The Who at Bournemouth. Our amplification was minimal - what a contrast.
John Peel gave us our first broadcast interview on "Night Ride" and organised a concert with Bridget St. John for those on remand in Holloway Jail - a shocking Victorian place. It took place outside on a square of asphalt with the inmates cheering and waving out of the cell windows. Considering the type of music it must have seemed to an outsider like a dream.

About this time Blackhill's Peter Jenner wanted to manage us. He and Andrew King had  a varied stable and we fitted in quite well. People like Roy Harper, Edgar Broughton, Peter Brown and Kevin Ayers. Kevin I remember told me that our band sounded like an oasis amongst everything else at a Roundhouse gig.
Back at the agency everyone seemd to hover as if expecting something. Something promised perhaps. Blackhill's fame rested as much on the bands they had lost as on those they had retained. There was something of the schoolboy in them, expecially King (called supercilious by some but to me more mocking).
Parallel to this was the EMI Harvest deal and our first experience of promotional tour with their artists. Later to their credit they organised the Hyde Park concerts, both of which we opened. We were politely received but the concerts as a whole were not a great success. After that followed tours with Al Stewart (who I had never heard of and then heard too much of) and John Fahey, the guitarist.
Fahey was an  ordinary American kid who played pinball and the guitar well. Stewart was a stupid link-up that did nothing for us as his audience was bedsit girls. He bordered on the saccharine and was as musically interesting as cardboard (unfortunately I never have listened to lyrics).

My best gig memories are of the Brighton Pavillon with Pretty Things and Floyd - we being the filling for a change; the other outside on Primrose Hill with Procol Harum and Soft Machine. The most unlikelky was a May Ball (Cambridge) where we were pratically locked up. Also we visited Kid Jenson at Radio Luxembourg on one of our forays to Europe!
In Nuremburg I was chastised one morning  by a female hotelier for wearing my 'pijamas' which I tried to explain was my Indian long shirt.
Understandably we were fairly unknown and I must admit we looked pretty  tame compared  to bands as  Amon Duul  at one Rhine gig. There was quite a bit of aggression around as it  was the time  of colleges unrest. Our rodies  was so important  that for years  they earned  more than us. Without the anxiety undercorrent of the band they were a breath of fresh air  with their banter. I liked very much the way one roadie called Paul related to the amps as they were people - "he doesn't like that" (after blowing something). With the unexplained need for greater volume, mikes went out and bugs were in. I managed to fit one in an alternative F vent but the tone changed for the worse. I also had my own H/H amp which had various  gadgets but my heart wasn't in it and they were underused.
Lastly, I was very proud to have done benefits and free gigs for organisations as diverse as a Buddhist retreat, White Rabbit's Aardvark scene in London's East End, LSE sit-in, the Druids and Release.
These were the cornerstone of my life".

©1997 Paul Minns
(end of part one)

no©2010 Luca Ferrari

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