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fromheadtoheart flag England - Full Moon 218 - 06/13/14

From head to heart
Ayers, Cale, Eno and Nico: June 1 1974

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar shuttle once again goes 40 years backwards, to 1974, to revisit a 40-year-old platter. This time focusing on a concert gathering of four prominent artists from that time. Plus a bunch of friends, important and well-known as well. Avant-garde meets rock and roll. Imagine The Velvet Underground, Soft Machine, Roxy Music, plus, plus, plus.

This is the second part of a three-headed, 40 years old Canterbury scene special. The first piece presented Kevin Ayers, born in Herne Bay, a little to the north of Canterbury, in Kent, England. This piece sees Ayers teaming up with friends from England, Wales, and Germany, for a special evening in London.

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Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico
June 1 1974
Island Records

All the above artists, shortened ACNE, had newly signed to Island at the time. Brian Eno's solo debut Here Come The Warm Jets had been released the previous January and Kevin Ayers' debut for the label, The Confessions Of Dr. Dream, was brand new, released the previous moonth. Albums by Cale and Nico for the label had been recorded, but not yet released. Island's A&R man Richard Williams thought it might be a good idea to gather the ACNE gang, a sort of super group, for a one off, or maybe a few offs. Kevin Ayers had established a new band, The Soporifics, to tour and promote his new studio album and they backed Eno and Cale this evening as well. The Soporifics included Kevin's new buddy Ollie Halsall (guitar, piano), Archie Leggatt (bass) and Eddie Sparrow (drums), the latter two members of Kevin's live and studio outfits earlier, and John 'Rabbit' Bundrick (organ and piano). In addition Kevin had invited his old band mates Robert Wyatt (percussion) and Mike Oldfield (guitar). And the three female singers Liza Strike, Irene and Doreen Chanter, that contributed to Cale's first Island offering Fear, were also present to make the evening even more spectacular. Incidentally, June 1 1974 was exactly one year after Robert Wyatt had fallen 'out of the window with confetti in his hair' (as Tom Waits put it later) from the fourth floor being paralyzed from his waist down. This was his first public appearance afterwards.

Brian Eno had recruited a live band back in January to promote his debut. He didn't feel comfortable being the star of the show and luckily he punctured a lung after just a couple of gigs, was hospitalised and had to cancel the remaining dates of his tour. The ACNE concert was a different matter, with several main attractions, and he got to perform with members of his old favourites Velvet Underground. Kevin Ayers was probably ready to rock, a new start with a new label, a new celebrated studio album and a new tour ahead. John Cale was up-tight. He had hardly performed live after his Velvet Underground days, being mainly occupied with recording his own or producing other artists studio albums in the meantime. This might have been his debut on stage as a solo artist. And Nico, who knows... she had probably started her nasty heroin habit at the time and kept with the flow. The band rehearsed for a couple of weeks before the show at a sold out Rainbow Theatre in northern London.

The concert was dominated by Kevin. Some think of the event as an Ayers concert with guests. Twelve of his songs were performed whereas the others were brushed off with two or three each. Well, Eno's "Baby's On Fire" was played twice. The single LP album from the event was released before the end of the same month, on June 28. It includes the two Eno songs, one cover version each by Cale and Nico on side 1 of the original LP, whereas five by Ayers occupy the entire side 2. The show opens with Eno's "Driving Me Backwards". The song is at least as claustrophobic as the studio album version, with a splendid scratchy viola from John Cale added for good effect and that backwards sounding guitar from the studio album intact. Splendid! "Baby's On Fire" doesn't work quite as well. It lacks some punch at the start, but picks up with the first short shrieking guitar solo and some more Cale viola midway.

John Cale's contribution is the old Elvis number "Heartbreak Hotel". He turns it into something quite different compared to the original. Slower, as depressing and desolate as can be. Even though that siren synth at the start is missing and the power chords of the chorus are less powerful compared to the studio version recorded for Cale's second Island offering, Slow Dazzle, this early version fares very well. There is a short ominous Eno siren midway through. And the female singers add to the desperation. Some says it's the best cover version in the history of rock. Well, I can't think of any better right now. It's the highlight of the album if you ask me. The lyrics says that 'If your baby leaves you, ... you can walk down Lonely Street to Heartbreak Hotel', but Cale comments that he never will...

Next up is Nico and her version of The Doors' "The End". She, too, turns the song into something different, not better, but very much her own. Her hymn, sort of, to her late soul brother, and lover for a short while, The Doors' front man Jim Morrison, only armed with her harmonium and with a few bleeps from Eno's synth, hardly audible. It's slow, monotonous and drone'ish and marked by Nico's stern and German flavoured broken English. Still, she manages to get a cold grip around my heart. It's a very different version compared to her Island studio album of the same title released later in 1974 where Cale's piano and organ dominates. The song was later a staple in her live repertoire, based on the stark June 1 1974 harmonium arrangement.

Flip the original LP and we're ready for Kevin. He is in fine form, but I don't think the selection on the LP of his songs performed this evening is up to par. It's a sort of best of his lightweight pop songs from his four most recent albums. Also, I don't think the inclusion of Rabbit Bundrick's organ with a flavour of mid 1960s Bob Dylan or The Band a few years later fits his songs, especially not on "May I". It's not my favourite Ayers-ballad. It smells too much of laid-back Mediterranean Adonis or sweet deceiver (check the dreadful cover painting of his second and last Island studio album the following year), for my liking. A blistering guitar solo from Ollie and a verse sung in French make it easier to swallow. "Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes" is a too overt attempt for a hit and the weakest in the line here. "Shouting In A Bucket Blues" is a different matter. A funny uplifting black humoured blues. But again, thanks to the Bundrick organ during the two excellent Ollie guitar solos, the studio version off Ayers' third album Bananamour or other live versions are preferable. The two offerings from the recent Dr. Dream album are quite faithful to their studio counterparts, only a little weaker as is usual with live versions of this kind of pop songs. "Everybody's Sometime And Some People All The Time Blues" is sweet and chastening. It starts to sparkle when Kevin introduces Mike Oldfield and his pure electric guitar solo. Oldfield at his very best! As with Dr. Dream the live album is rounded off with the short philosophical ditty "Two Goes Into Four" with a couple of Spanish sounding guitars and nothing else until the rest of the band joins for a grand final chord. Not the easiest song to sing and Kevin is slightly out of tune for a little while.

Was that it, you may well ask. Not the most memorable album to revisit 40 years afterwards, not even a spectacular live album. Well, it was a very special gathering of profiled solo artists at the time and/or in the years to come with an impressive history even then, especially if we include Robert Wyatt and Mike Oldfield. I guess we can count Robert's live appearances after his fall on the fingers of one hand. And the same probably goes for Brian Eno the singing artiste. And, it's even written a book about the event, by Dave Thompson, published (by himself?) as recently as last year. Well, the ACNE concert only occupies 12 pages of the 330 pages book. The rest include comments about the involved artists recorded output - official and unofficial - from the early 1960s with Cale's minimalistic and experimental recordings in New York pre Velvet Underground and the more crude pop demos of The Wild Flowers on the other side of the Atlantic - in or around Canterbury, Kent England - from the mid 1960s pre Soft Machine and Eno's art school experiments in Winchester a little later pre Roxy Music. Leading up to June 1, 1974 and finishes with Bowie's Heroes and Eno's own Before And After Science in the autumn of 1977. The book also deals with unique experimental events in London in the late 60s and early 70s that made a profound impression on some of the involved, and recordings by other bands and artists that the ACNE gang mingled and played with sooner or later.

The book tells about frictions and tensions the days before June 1. 'It was not four people working together, it was it was four people fighting for the spotlight', Nico later muttered. Cale's drug intake didn't ease the situation. It culminated when Cale found out Ayers had had an affair with his wife the night before the show. The album front cover photo, taken by Mick Rock shortly before the concert started, depicts a sheepish smile from Kevin whereas John's is not as friendly as it may seem. The latter described the incident in this way in the opening lines of the song "Guts" on Slow Dazzle recorded later the same year:

The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife
Did it quick and split
Back home, fresh as a daisy to maisy, oh maisy

And of course there were other songs performed during the evening that didn't make it to the album. The only one of them officially released later, as far as I know, is "Das Lied Der Deutschen" by Nico, available on the expanded version of her The End album from 2012. Her most controversial song ever; check our review of the expanded The End for further information. The other songs - in dubious audience recording quality - might be traced out there on the big bad web. Cale offers "Buffalo Ballet", one of his typical great piano ballads of this era and the guitar, bass and drums driven little rocker "Gun". They're not as sensational as "Heartbreak Hotel", but serves as great appetizers for his forthcoming Fear album, released exactly four months later. The remaining Kevin songs include "Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You", with far less of the ladybirds' backing vocals compared to the studio version, the short and sweet "See You Later", the long "It Begins With A Blessing/Once I Awakened/But It Ends With A Curse" with lots of female backing vocals, and a monumental "Dr. Dream Theme" the fourth part of the title track, sort of, all of them off his new album from the previous moonth. Especially the latter two is something completely different compared to what's on offer on the live album. Other highlights include "Whatevershebringswesing" with a long and unusual piano intro (from Cale?) and the mainly instrumental "Interview" off his previous two albums. As the encore he chose a very percussive "I've Got A Hard-on For You Baby", possibly written by an American called Guerney Dobb. This one is a curiosity that hasn't been released in any form. It isn't even known if Kevin ever sang it again in concert. In the light of the previous night's incident it seems like a bizarre choice. And yes, John Cale is present with viola and maybe even backing vocals. Nico tried to join as well, 'but realized it wasn't her, somehow', according to Ayers. At the very end, the gang did another go at Eno's "Baby's On Fire". Not quite the same as the first time. Eno: '... the instruments were incredibly out of tune you wouldn't believe it. But it sounds fantastic. There's one little bit in it where there's a riff between the guitar and one of the bassists, and they're so out of tune it sounds like cellos. Amazing!'

To conclude then, yes, it was a special occasion. Eno again: 'It was a great concert, the best concert I've ever played - easily. I've never enjoyed anything so much!' There were plans for further concerts in England, maybe even one in New York, but due to the tensions between the involved stars they were quickly abandoned. Cale was divorced the following year and he and Ayers later sorted things out and even joined forces on stage again. Eno and Cale participated on some of each others' subsequent Island studio albums and recorded the great duo album Wrong Way Up as late as in 1990. This, however, was a difficult collaboration and the last time the two of them teamed up. Cale also kept a protective hand over Nico and her musical career until her death in 1988. He later wrote the music of a ballet inspired by her. The June 1 concert was recorded by Island in-house engineer John Woods. What about a Deluxe version of the album that documents the entire evening with decent sound quality?

All quotes are taken from the book June 1st 1974 by Dave Thompson, 2013.

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