issue 10   october/november 2001
page 3



by Tony Rettman

from the cover art for the Live in the Attic CD-R

Among fat balding record collectors and soon to be fat balding record collectors (I like to think I'm somewhere in the middle) the words 'Mighty Baby' are spoken in hushed tones...And rightfully frickin' so. The two lp's the band made (s/t lp on Head in '69, A Jug Of Love on Blue Horizon in '71) are among the best to come out of the Peter North-like splooge of fine vinyl from the UK Underground rock scene in the late 60's/early 70's. 
       The roots of Mighty Baby lie in The Action, a major mod band from London who formed in 1963 and gained a healthy following due to their powerhouse live shows and a clutch of five fine finger poppin' singles released between the years 1965 and 1967 on the Parlaphone label. But as the mid 60's turned into the late 60's, purple hearts and parkas were being turned in for kaftans and acid tabs all around London. Musical barriers were being kicked down and conciousness was being broadened. The Action were there front and center in the blossoming of a new youth culture.
       'The change came about very naturally' says Michael Evans, bass player for Mighty Baby/Action, 'from both a personal and a musical perspective'. The intial change came when The Action acquired guitarist Martin Stone and pianist Ian Whiteman into their fold. Stone was fresh from a stint of trying to psychedelicize Savoy Brown and Whiteman was not only a fine ivory tickler, but he was a shit-hot woodwind player. With two highly proficent and willing new members, The Action saw their opportunity to loosen up on their R&B roots, stretch out and (here's that word y'all love so much) experiment.
      All the members of The Action had a love for Jazz since their schooldays. Mingus and Miles were all highly admired by the band, but the man they really adored was the king of freedom himself, John Coltrane. 'WeThe Action would take our Coltrane albums out on the road and listen to them' says Evans. 'We were really able to develop our playing when Ian Whiteman joined us and that's when we started playing our rock fueled version of "India".' Yes, you read it right. With a belly full of enthusiasm and a head full of blotter, The Action decided to tackle the beloved Coltrane piece 'India', confusing their remaining mod audience and pleasing the dope soaked hippies to bits.
       The final hook in the mouth to morph The Action into Mighty Baby came when the band scored a slot supporting The Byrds. 'We supported The Byrds just when they were on the verge of going country' sez Martin Stone. 'I was hooked..I wanted to be a country and western musician, fuck pop music! So (that's when) we changed our name to Mighty Baby.' This encounter not only inspired the name change but it took their take on 'India' into another strange route. Years before The Allmans would merge the stormy beauty of Coltrane with a down home groove, Mighty Baby were down in the murk of it all.
       Before now, the only (somewhat) publicly available recording of The Babe's version of 'India' was on the highly rare 'Glastonbury Fayre' triple lp set and that was only a portion of the performance. Those of us who weren't even an itch in their daddy's pants in 1969 could only dream and wonder what those THC-fueled marathon takes on 'India' were like. Well, it looks like some patchouli-stinkin' deity has parted the skies and bestowed upon us the release of Live in the Attic, a CDR released by Michael Evans and MB drummer Roger Powell on the 'Rolled Gold' imprint. This thing features two (count 'em, two!) unearthed live versions of 'India'.
       The first version is taken from a set the band played supporting Love and starts off innocently enough with some subtle flute/percussion interplay between Whiteman and Powell. Soon Stone elbows his way into the proceedings and drives Powell to pound a maniacal beat on the toms while rhythm guitarist Alan King harnesses waves of feedback to potent results. Soon enough, Whiteman finds his way back to the piano and we have liftoff. Everyone levitates a huge swelling ball of sound with fervent energy. Notes fly like shrapnel and lysergic madness prevails until Powell hits a groovin' shuffle and we're taken into the backwoods for a mountain jam of sorts. It sounds like Ian and Alan are singing about somewhere in Missouri. Although the boys are singing about a place they've never been physically, they certainly know it by feel, with Stone peeling off a shoulder-rolling lick that could of fallen from the fingers of any of your fave US players.
      The second version goes on forty minutes and seems to have looser limbs than the first 'un. Not only that, but it seems to have a strangely clean recording for something that was sitting around for thirty plus years. I almost wanna accuse the boys of 'cheating' and going into the studio and adding stuff onto it, but I know they wouldn't do that...would they? This time the jam starts out modal. Powell sounds like he's playing hand drums...King holds down the mode perfectly...and Stone allows space (not like 'deep space,' I mean actual space) to be the guide on his choice of tones while Whiteman allows the music to bubble up to the surface for air with his ascending piano licks. Soon enough, everyone is warmed up and ready to go, but it seems when we get to the 'meat' of the matter, the jam goes up and down like a roller coaster full of circus animals. The midway points come off pensive. The 'high' points are chaotic and relentless and fly off the handle way more than the former jam. Towards the end, the 'midway' points are moments created to regain composure so's to dive right back into the eye of the storm. If I was in the crowd for this one and on a large amount of drugs, I think I would been taken outta The Roundhouse or wherever in a straight jacket. Cripes!
       As a historical document based on the music alone, this thing obviously can't lose...BUT...taken as a whole product, I have to say I'm pretty disappointed. A meager CD-R with a printed-out cover doesn't cut it for a nerd boy like me. To think this thing could of been accompanied with liner notes by Nigel Cross or photos from Colin Hills' archives...Christ! it's enough to make a fanboy cry! It would've been the reissue of the year if I had it my way...but I didn't so I'll just shut my trap.
      According to Evans, more live recordings of 'India' are being dug up and considered for release. There might also be a proper CD re-issue of the second Mighty Baby LP A Jug Of Love which was bootlegged on CD a few years back and has gone for a king's ransom for some time on the collectors' market. For now, I suggest you just pass the pipe, create your own packaging for this sucker, and let it's beauty float around your crash pad, sir.

Mighty Baby still at it, with William S. Burroughs himself on drums


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Larry Dolman Live!