Monday 15 October 2012

Edinburgh Folk Festival '63 & The Bogus Live

The way some people dream about sex, I dream about music. This might be a good place to keep my musical dream diary, if that’s not being too self-indulgent. Anyway, I can keep it fairly simple: Gladys Knight last night. 

I was playing LK 4546 and LK 4563 yesterday, that is (for those not discographical minded), Edinburgh Folk Festival Volumes 1 and 2, on Decca, and my thoughts turned to the bogus live album, that peculiar phenomenon that once flourished and is now, thankfully, as dead as a doornail. 

They  come in different varieties and there are several ways that the trained ear can spot them. 

Applause that starts before the song ends. This runs counter to nature but is a handy ploy to conceal the studio fade-out. A textbook example is ‘Marieke’ by Jacques Brel (Music for Millions, Philips 6395 216). If you only know the song as a Judy Collins lullaby, Brel’s vitality is exhilarating. Crescendo follows crescendo, until Brel is yelling enough to drown out the orchestra belting with full fortissimo (the presence of a full orchestra in modest club surroundings is another sign of the bogus live album). The applause enters at the peak of the tumult, which is unlikely, unless it was a spontaneous collective act designed to prevent Jacques from exploding the galaxy with incandescent energy. 

But even if they decently wait for the song to end, the applause on a bogus live album always enters too soon, because record producers, like broadcasters, can’t abide long pauses. 

Nina Simone’s Nuff Said (RCA, RD 7979) is a bona fide live album which inexpertly splices current studio-recorded hit ‘Ain’t Got No - I Got Life’ (1969) into the proceedings. The joins show, to say the least.   

Then there’s the bogus live album in which the artist is complicit in the deception. The classic example here is Charles Mingus pointedly telling a non-existent audience to be quiet (Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Barnaby Records, BR 5012). Contrast with the genuine live album where the audience is so silent they may as well not be there. I would offer Tokyo Concert by the Maria Kalaniemi Trio (Amigo, AMCD 754), recorded in Japan so the polite silence might be culturally engrained. And there are numerous jazz albums where the audio is as perfect as a studio creation, and the sound of clapping always comes as a rude shock.

Presumably, live albums are more economic to make than studio albums: so why pretend to be live at all? To garner a few sales from those who attended the 1963 Edinburgh Folk Festival?

Live noises may be grafted onto studio recordings by way of musique concrete. I dimly recall the kerfuffle when David Bowie appropriated a Faces audience at the beginning of Diamond Dogs (RCA, APL 1-0576). 

Oddly enough, the audience noise on Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 1 and 2 is treated more as abstract sound than a means to hoax the listener, so is closer to David Bowie than Jacques Brel. And what about those albums made in the studio but with a small, handpicked audience to ensure a relaxed atmosphere? This category includes The Dubliners (Transatlantic, TRA 116) and Bright Phoebus by Lal and Mike Waterson (Trailer, LES 2076), with Anne Briggs in attendance.

But going back to Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol 1 and 2, in 1963 Anne Briggs was the incarnation of purity and beauty. ‘She Moved Thro’ the Fair’ comes from Vol. 1 and ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’ from Vol. 2. Let’s get the chronology right. Briggs was discovered when the cultural bandwagon Centre 42 rolled into Nottingham in 1962. She made her record debut in ’63 on The Iron Muse (Topic, 12T86) (I shall have to return to her contributions, ‘The Recruited Collier’ and ‘The Doffing Mistress’, both sublime, and very different in spirit from anything else on The Iron Muse); an EP, The Hazards of Love, appeared the same year she played Edinburgh.  

Of the other participants: Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson’s appearance predates their christening as the Incredible String Band and finds them in embryonic jug-band state. Archie Fisher and Ray Fisher impress. Archie, like Derroll Adams, has one of those voices that exude warmth and assurance. Rugged, fierce Scottish pride spreads like wildfire across the two discs, especially when Hamish Imlach essays the old Jacobin song 'Johnny Cope'. 

And here's the clincher. On a bogus live album the audience behaves like a good child from Victorian days: you address it once and then it shuts up. Compare Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 with Folk Festival (Waverley, ZLP 2033; reissued on World Record Club, ST890), which is a real live recording of the 1963 Edinburgh Folk Festival - specifically, Usher Hall - with the same artists (Nadia Cattouse, Ray and Archie Fisher: the Dubliners appear on the Waverley and are absent from the Decca LPs, presumably for contractual reasons). There’s an inordinate amount of singalongs, and clap alongs, and verbose introductions on the Waverley: all the things that give live albums a bad name.  Whereas the Decca pair are more intimate and self-focussed, with audience interaction at a minimum (and no wonder: my contention is that they didn't exist). 
There might be a third category: the faux-bogus-live-album-from-Edinburgh. Fortuna from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1976, proclaims the sleeve of Sweet Folk and Country, SFA 058, with the explanation: ‘Folk songs, poetry, music and humour from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1976.’ But the title is deceptive. There is no attempt to conceal the fact that this is a studio date with Miriam Backhouse, Dave Goulder, Irvine Hunt and Brian Miller, collectively known as Fortuna, who perform singly more than as a group. The small is quite open: "Recorded at Mid Wales Sound Studios/ Producer: Joe Stead". This is another jewel from the Ian Chappell collection. Miriam Backhouse beguiles with ‘Fairy Tale’ (a John Martyn song new to me; is it from his first LP?), and as for Irvine Hunt; well, I was reminded of the time I saw the late avant garde sound poet Bob Cobbing in Birdyak, which is the last thing I was expecting from a gentle folk waxing. 


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