LIVING LIKE BURT REYNOLDS
ON A MAC DAVIS INCOME
by Tony Rettman
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. 'We
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
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
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