Recorded on: Fleetwood Mobile
Mixed at: Blackbarn Studios
BLUES FROM THE ROAD
The Story, So Far, of the Splinter Group with Peter Green
Ever since Peter Green chose a musicians life without the hassle of fame as the original Fleetwood Mac's visionary leader and hit-maker, rarely has the music world stopped talking about the man, his ideas, and rich legacy of music. Which goes some way to explaining why even twenty-five years later in 1996, and just ahead of Peter's long-overdue return to performing, MOJO magazine voted him one of the top three guitarists of all time - along with Jimi Hendrix and Steve Cropper.
But Peter himself would be the first to shrug off this and other accolades focusing on his legendary past and instead insist on sticking to the present the music that he plays together with Nigel Watson (gtr), Neil Murray (bs), Cozy Powell (dms) and Spike Edney (kbds) - The Splinter Group with Peter Green.
This album marks the culmination of The Splinter Group's 1996 European Tour. When the Fleetwood Mobile studio rolled into town and recorded four UK concerts in December, the band had honed its sound throughout a crowded schedule of well over 50 gigs in the second half of the year. These took place in Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Germany and Poland, very early on in mid-August, came the band's well received showcase headlining the Guildford Folk and Blues Festival before a crowd of 6,000.
From intimate and smoky blues clubs, to cavernous concert halls, to anphitheatres - entries in the diary of this band include every type of venue. Notably there were four sell-out nights in the acutely attentive jazz club ambience of Ronnie Scott's in Birmingham, three sweaty nights at South Shields' renowned Cellar Club... packed to the rafters with Geordies determined not to go home until they got another encore. The band have enjoyed Italianate splendour performing outdoors in Pistoia's city square, then there were wild scenes in the aisles when they played the Warsaw Concert Hall... and even wilder post-gig party scenes, where stunning Polish table dancers stripped down any remaining East/West cultural barriers with some... em.. In-your-face body language.
But because this album took shape on the road it's not only a product of good times, adoring audiences and first rate pro performances - it's also about getting through the bad times and coming out the other end a bit bruised and battered with your humour still intact. Last autumn, weeks at a time were spent on motorways, autobahns and in air corridors not surprisingly took it's toll: waking up with the flu again; near misses on car journeys, driving against the clock to the sound-check for that night's gig. And then arriving only to discover that the house monitors system is down... at times, these were the blues facing the band, management and crew.
Unquestionably though, The Splinter Group were fit and everything was in perfect working order when these 10 live cuts were recorded in December at Wolverhampton, Cambridge and the Shepherds Bush Empire, London. Amongst them are 1930's country blues by Robert Johnson; more modern 1950/60's classics by Otis Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson and Freddie King.
This album in essence is all about a group of versatile musicians clubbing their talents together and focussing on the blues: before Whitesnake, bass player Neil Murray started out as a drummer and then played bass in various 1970's jazz-rock outfits, keyboardst Spike Edney, alongside his Bob Geldof and Queen credentials, played trombome in Dexy's Midnight Runners, guitarist Nigel Watson toured with a pre-Rumours line up of Fleetwood Mac, playing congas, and collaborated with Peter Green in the early 1970s. Cozy Powell? Well, as a drummer he'd done an awful lot by his mid-twenties, notably with Jeff Beck and Mickie Most's RAK label, and so after his worldwide smash 'Dance With a Devil' in 1974, for a while he became a successful Formula Three racing driver instead. Session work and many tours notably with Brian May, Whitesnake and Black Sabbath - have kept him off the racetrack and on the road ever since.
But without for a moment detracting from the group as a unit, for many people the theme underpinning this album's release is Peter Green's return to the music business after a twelve-year uneasy silence. As he walked out on stage at the Alexis Korner Memorial Concert in Buxton in May 1996, the 2000 strong crowd welcomed him back with a two-minute standing ovation - before a note was played. Then in Norway, as Peter and band boogied into Freddie King's 'The Stumble' - his calling card from the John Mayall days - some of the audience began to cry tears of joy. Why? Well, let's not forget that only a couple of years ago all that is happening now seemed out of the question. Forever.
Yet inevitable comparisons were soon being made with young Green in the 1960s. So-called smart money in the business was surprisingly quick to criticise. After hearing this album, perhaps these hasty sceptics will take the time to reconsider.
Listen now to the wordliness and soul of Peter's vocals on Robert Johnson's 'Travelling Riverside Blues' - recorded in the studio along with 'Hitch Hiking Woman'. It was Chicago pianist Eddie Boyd who back in 1967 remarked that Peter was "Like a negro turned inside out". What was presumably a light-hearted quip made by Boyd back then, now rings almost hauntingly true: Peter's voice doesn't just imitate a black singers timbre...somehow it's as though he is black.
'Dark End Of The Street' switches the limelight to Nigel Watson in a performance which captures his forceful presence on stage, whilst 'Steady Rollin' Man' highlights Green's melodic blues, harmonica and the close interplay between him and Watson.
Finally, if then-and-now comparisons must be made, dig out the guitar-gunslinger version of 'Homework' recorded in 1969 by Peter with Fleetwood Mac at Chicago's Chess studios. Keeping an open mind free from rose-tinted nostalgia - no easy thing in itself - now compare it to the subtle rhythms of the 1996 version created by Powell, Murray and Edney, over which Green and Watson solo on vocals and lead guitar.
Having done so, perhaps you will agree that there is no one single vintage Peter Green... There is the latest vintage. And the next.
Martin Celmins 4.3.97
Special thanks to:
Steve Parker, Sue Watson at M.P.I. James Rubinstein, Cathy Fehler, Phillip Loveday, Julia and Sarah at Trice + Co, Phillip Goodman, Jon Beecher, Dougie Dudgeon, Nicola O'Donegan at Snapper
Misty Music Management
Michelle Reynolds - Stuart Taylor
Fax: 01767 650100 - 0181 657 4006
Design by Al @ Spot On
(P) (C) 1997 Snapper Music
Artisian Recordings/Loudwoof, A Snapper Music Label
Compact Disc Digital Audio
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Japan Issue Notes:
Nippon Crown Co. Ltd.
Made in Japan
97-9-26 Y X 99.925