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10 October 1968
AN EVENING OF GO-AHEAD POP
For those who have been sufficiently interested to ask "Whither pop?" part of the answer lay in Olympop, the pop concert staged at the Fairfield Hall on Sunday [29 Sept].
Compered by Britain's new top D.J. John Peel, it featured what, for want of a label, I must call progressive pop.
Naturally it could not possibly show every direction in which pop music is progressing, but it did give a good indication of the way in which some of the best new names in this field are thinking, and how they are using their individual talents.
For the real enthusiasts all this is very serious. The Fairfield audience held no screamers (although one couple in the stalls had a silent freak-out during a Brian Auger solo) and applause came only at the end of each song.
The real noise came from the stage, and the result on Sunday was something of a marathon — nearly four hours of mind-blowing, ear-shattering music, accompanied by cohorts of lights and cameras filming the whole proceedings in glorious B.B.C. 2 colour.
Apart from a late start there were virtually no hitches. Some pop stars have gained bad reputations, but on Sunday the professionalism of all the performers was never in doubt — not only do they all play their instruments, they also play them very well.
I should also mention that on this occasion they were playing free of charge, since the concert was in aid of the British Olympic Appeals Fund.
The evening began with Jethro Tull who, on quieter reflection, seem to have been one of the best groups of the night.
They're a four-man blues group with a farmyard image — apt, since they have chosen the name of an agricultural equipment inventor for their title.
Their excellent drummer, for instance, wears a squashed, manure-coloured felt hat and a dead-pan expression; and their lead singer is an incredibly-dressed exhibitionist who looks like a tramp with his long wild hair and shapeless calf-length overcoat, a picture he encourages by constant scratching of his person during other people's solos. He plays wild harmonica and Roland Kirk-influenced flute, moving his legs around like a demented pantomime horse, while his mouth is apparently pivoted on the microphone.
The resultant music is loud, clear and disciplined blues. My only complaint is that I couldn't hear a word during the up-tempo numbers, but I am not at all sure whether this is really important.
From Jethro Tull to the next group on the bill was an interesting contrast in influences.
The Eclection, a five-piece group, brought the bright clear colours, lights and sounds one associates with American West Coast music.
Vocal harmonies were shared by three boys and one girl, Kerrilee Male, who has a pleasing dark voice. Instrumentally they are less exciting, although there was some nice work on a 12-string guitar. I felt, however, that they were over-amplified for the type of music they were producing.
After these two amplified acts, singer/composer David Ackles came as a quiet surprise.
He looks like a gentler, smoother Bob Dylan, with a piano instead of a guitar, and backed by a quartet; but his smokey voice and sad, bitter songs of life and love belong to the longer tradition of French chanson.
He is obviously talented, but Sunday's concert was quite the wrong atmosphere for his act and the audience quickly lost interest. He aggravated the situation by failing to introduce any of his songs, a surprising attitude since one presumes he must be perfectly articulate.
The first half ended with the Alan Price Set, seven young musicians led by Alan Price, the former Animals organist. Now he is boss of his own group, and it is clear from the beginning who's in charge.
He still plays organ, and the line-up also includes two saxes and a trumpet, as well as the regulation guitars and drums. He has tremendous flair as an arranger, and knows how to balance these different sounds along with his powerful rough-edged voice.
He also introduced us to the group's new lead singer, Paul Williams, who will be replacing Alan when the latter takes time off for his other musical interests.
After the interval came the five-man Spooky Tooth, who look exactly like a parents' nightmare pop group, complete with fringes, frills, fur, lace, long wild hair and crotch-tight trousers.
Their blues-based musical talents were sometimes too scattered, but all three singers seem to have virtually the same quality voice which gave the vocals tremendous depth.
A well-stirred mixture of classics, jazz and pop was the offering from the Nice, four men of action who believe in visual as well as musical excitement.
They didn't actually repeat their infamous burning of the American flag during Sunday's concert, but the organist stuck knives in his instrument which was also played from a great many unorthodox positions. The fact that he plays it very well often seems irrelevant.
The group is full of new ideas, such as plucking piano strings and drawing a bow across guitar frets, but often one becomes so fascinated by what they are doing that one forgets to listen to the sounds produced.
And so to Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity, who never quite overcame the disadvantage of being the last act of a long evening. Apart from appearing before a rather jaded audience, they also had to contend with people leaving to catch their last buses home.
The set began with two incredible jazzy instrumentals, then Julie herself appeared in a black crepe maxi-culotte suit and high Russian boots.
I found her less exciting than expected. Her voice lacks depth on occasion, and she is often unable to put things across to an audience. She is obviously an integral part of the group at present, but the talent is there, and it will be interesting to see how she develops it.
A final word of praise must go to John Peel, who sauntered on stage in cord jeans and jersey introducing the groups, throwing away lines in his usual dead-pan voice, and generally holding the show together.
Thanks to Pete McHugh for this article.