Selection: Scarborough Fair (trad, arr. P Simon)
.. . . .
Harold McNair, flute, alto saxophone, electric sax; Danny Thompson, string bass; Ric Grech, bass guitar; Terry Cox, drums; Tony Carr, percussion; Colin Green, guitar; Alan Branscombe, Keith Tippett, piano; recording engineer Vic Gamm at Sound Techniques, Chelsea; producer Sandy Roberton.
WARNING: encyclopaedic knowledge of late ’60s Britsh Pop Music is essential beyond this point. However any without may find it “educational”.
The line-up on The Fence is a veritable who’s who of the then-new generation of young British jazz, blues, folk, R&B and rock musicians. Notables include Keith Tippett– session piano for prog-rock kings King Crimson, 1970. Another 60’s/ 70’s supergroup represented is Pentangle, in the form of of Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums). Colin Green (guitar) a feature of Georgie Flame and The Blue Flames, and Alan Price – who is also associated with Tony Carr (percussion). Alan Branscombe played sideman with Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey, Paul Gonsalves, Ben Webster, and toured in Europe with Stan Getz, some of whom you may have heard of.
According to various record reviewers, the uncredited organ player is one or other of the contributing pianists – Branscombe or Tippett. In fact the most likely suspect is Stevie Winwood , fellow bandmate of bassist here Ric Grech (both in Eric Clapton’s Blind Faith). Stepping out of his previous incarnation, Traffic, he sounds the part, cooking away in a cheerful manner. Perhaps there were contractual issues with Winwood’s name appearing, or, Occams Razor, someone just forgot.
Immediately I heard Harold McNair I was blown away. He has a driving rhythmic pulse with high energy ideas and attack. His solo lines are structured devilishly like Jimmy Smith Hammond organ, rapid-fire sorties punctuated with stabbing climaxes in the upper register, cascading notes scattering in every direction. It is a helter-skelter fun-fair ride with no safety rail.
McNair is flute like no other, not to say there aren’t similarities with Roland Kirk, of course, but he’s an American. Completely different.
The selection Scarborough Fair lays down the familiar Paul Simon opening, much as you might with the similar traditional tune Greensleeves (but Coltrane as Freddie Krueger, lurking in the background) The tune quickly gives way to a modal vamp based loosely on the melody, opening up large scale solo space. Characteristically modest, McNair gives solo space first to the other musicians, who aquit themselves well.
Only once the other soloists are done, flute steps in and warms up. In first gear, McNair is bubbling and expressive, twittering and tweeting. As tension mounts, McNair moves up a gear, starts vocalising through the flute, a fiendish reincarnation of Roland Kirk. When tension has become almost unbearable, a screaming banshee wail rips out, when I first heard it caused me to jumped out of my seat In climax, the power and the timing is incendiary!
McNair was a genius who turned that harmless piece of plumbing into a military-grade assault weapon. You have to love him, so sad we lost him so soon, but so glad his music is preserved forever on vinyl.
Vinyl: B&C Records CAS 1016
Gatefold: large expanse of wasted space (typical ’70s) with small inset pictures of various characters in possesion of pink balloons. Remember this, pink balloons, it will become useful to you later on in the story of The Fence.
There is just one essential item missing with my copy of The Fence. See the little pink pocket at the top left corner? Can you see how the value of the album is enhanced when this item is present in the pocket? This seller has a great line in sharp patter, (shame his caps-lock appears stuck!) worth a read:
I have to say, this was in the Seventies, a different social climate. Today, that pink flaccid lengthy balloon looks like something I can’t mention in a family-oriented blog. So it’s probably just as well it is missing. Anyway, how could you authenticate it as genuine ’70s original rubber? Blow it?
Thinking of Harold McNair, Marc “Jazz Wax” Meyers (an excellent jazz writer) featured The London Sixties Soho Scene in his daily post the other week. Someone looking over my shoulder,or is it a case of great minds think alike? Screen grabs from Jazz Wax. (Health Warning: contains pictures of people smoking)
I’ll omit the plug for the Jazz Goes Mod series CD as The Evil Silver Disc is banished, this is a vinyl site,but you can find it yourself if you really try. Just ask Alexa.
Harold McNair – a picture I’d not seen before, deserves a place, one not sitting on The Fence.
Proof British jazz is alive and well, the other Sunday it was my great pleasure to enjoy a couple of sets by our very own Simon Spillett Quartet. Not quite Soho, Croydon actually, in South East London. The formidable tenor saxophone of Simon Spillett; Alec Dankworth, son of Johnny Dankworth, on bass; Spike Wells (alumnus of the Tubby Hayes Quartet) on drums, Robin Aspland on piano, (highly regarded in jazz circles, apparently spent years touring with Van Morrison)
The quartet’s reading of Alone Together (Schwartz/ Dietz) was particularly fine. Bravo Simon and the boys.
Among all the bluster about audophile this and that, “musicians in the room,” stereo soundstage, a live club (OK, pub) performance is a useful reminder what the real thing sounds like, musicians actually in the room about six feet in front of you. All-acoustic apart from the piano, electric of necessity. The deep resonance of an upright string bass is like nothing I hear on records, the crisp attack of the tenor, and the sizzling sibilance of the cymbals. Oh, and everything else. Fabulous.