Venue: The Stables, Wavendon, MK
Support: Dot Allison
Okay kids: Rock History 101. If you might not know who Peter Green is, I guess that’s fair enough – I only knew the half of it myself. His stitch in Rock’s Rich Tapestry™ has often come unravelled. But in a nutshell, the bald facts are:
1. He formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967. This version of “the Mac” were not the FM-radio friendly soft-rock band you probably know and maybe mistrust - Peter Green’s version were a full-on blues outfit who had such hits as “Black Magic Woman” and “Oh Well”, not to mention luxuriant instrumental “Albatross” which was the band’s only ever UK #1 single in any incarnation.
2. The more successful the band got internationally, the less he liked it – often threatening to turn them into a “charity band” who gave all their money away to more deserving causes. At this time he was also taking “large doses” of acid and wearing long flowing robes. In 1970 he left Fleetwood Mac.
3. His solo career dwindled to a standstill as the 70s went on. He dropped out of sight, working as a cemetery gardener and a hospital porter (among other things), sleeping on people’s floors and jamming in pubs. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent electro-convulsive shock therapy. In the early 80s Green was well enough to release a few more solo LPs, but in 1984 he “retired” again and sat about for the rest of the decade watching TV and attending a day care centre for the mentally ill.
4. In 1996 he played his first music for over a decade. Since then he’s been touring and recording on and off with a variety of low-key bands - under the radar in a way which he’s clearly far more comfortable with than the pressures of international rock stardom.
And that’s where we come in. Yes, it’s another fine instalment of: Matthew Goes To A Dadrock Gig At The Stables With His Dad.
First though, a male/female acoustic duo came on and did a short set of pleasant if unmemorable songs. I was left wishing they’d talk to the audience though – at least to tell us who they were! Remarkably, we discovered the next day it was Dot Allison, 40-year-old ex-singer in mid-90s dance-pop act One Dove! Man, she’s looking good for 40! I’d assumed it was a local young singer-songwriter. Having said that, you’d think by now she’d have learned a bit of stagecraft… How are you supposed to buy their CDs if they don’t tell you who they are?
Then the real deal. More than forty years on, Peter Green seems barely able to walk, talk, stand up while playing, or in any way interact with his band – but when he gets a guitar in his hands, he still knows what to do with it! Backed by a selection of more-than-competent musos, it feels like he gets through a 90+ minute set almost despite the odds. As you’d imagine, the bulk of the music is largely Dad/Trad blues-rock, but somehow his fascinating presence lifts it up to something more.
The rest of the band are solid if unspectacular. Geraint Watkins on keyboard/organ is the standout, you can tell he’s been around himself (he’s played with Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and, er, Shakin’ Stevens among others). But “solid if unspectacular” is actually what they need to be – they are, after all, not the ‘star turn’ here. But it’s a peculiar vibe given that Peter Green himself isn’t willing or able to take centre stage - literally. Rhythm guitarist Mike Dodd fills that position (along with lead vocals on several tracks) and does all of the interaction with the crowd. He’s clearly trying his best – and you can almost feel the band looking out for Green (who’s on a stool off to one side) while they’re playing… making sure he knows where he is, that he’s still with them. And for the most part, he is.
It’s tempting to over-sentimentalise – to forego any criticism just for the very fact that Peter Green is still alive. And to the uninitiated he may look a little bit like a Pirate Henry VIII playing guitar. But I found it difficult to take my eyes off him nonetheless. Partly it’s the charisma of Living History, but partly too it’s the emotion in his playing. His voice is half-shot: at times a cracked whisper, a croak, a broken rumble. But it warmed up a few songs in and was largely fine. In fact, in the songs where Dodd took the lead with his perfectly standard blues/rock voice you somehow missed the damaged delivery of Green.
But it’s his guitar playing, while obviously not what it clearly once was – Eric Clapton once described him as “one of the best” ever and B B King said “he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats” – that’s worth the admission price alone*. Given the way he looks, how he moves, you just don’t imagine he’s able to play like he still does. I don’t know many of the songs, but most of them have a deadly cool bluesy solo in them, and Green still delivers pretty much all of them bang on. The standouts I guess are the ones I’m already familiar with – “Oh Well” is arranged into a welcome heavier number, and I find myself totally entranced by the gentle, forlorn “Albatross”.
The Stables audience, as you’d predict, is largely made up of fans old enough to remember Peter Green in his heyday. My Dad certainly remembers seeing him play a couple of times in the 60s – and I can only begin to imagine the comparison they’re able to make between the two Peter Greens. But even now, though his flickering star is burning ever fainter, it’s a star nonetheless. And there’s not many of those out here in the blackness of space. Far out.
* Well, my Dad paid for my ticket (cheers Dad!). But you know what I mean.