Tuesday, December 02, 2014

White Bicycles by Joe Boyd (book, 2006) review


After jumping out of John Lennon's car, I walked down to Abbey Road studios on my way to record The Pretty Things and who should pass by but Margaret Trudeau, the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister.  She offered me a lift in her private plane as she was flying off to see Mick and Keith. Who should be on the back of the plane but The Byrds who said they were between managers. I said that was lucky, I was between bands to manage, so I managed the Byrds starting that Saturday. One day a month later I was offered the job as the head of Biggo-Vastola Records and I said to the Byrds, I said, I have to take this lads. They were all sad about it as they'd just recorded Eight Miles High and thought it would be a hit. It went platinum five minutes after I left in Ringo Starr's biplane piloted by Hilly Kristal but that's the breaks. We had only just landed when Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman came round and asked if they could join Fairport Convention. "Sorry, I had to stop producing Fairport records three minutes ago," I said and they were all dejected. Luckily Nick Drake and John Martyn were outside, waving through the window for me to go for a drink with them, so I did...

That's not actually an excerpt from Joe Boyd's White Bicycles, but it's pretty damn close.

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I bought the book because it was subtitled 'making music in the 1960's' and all I knew of Joe Boyd was that he'd managed the UFO club in Swinging London. Alas, suckered again, because like Rob Young's Electric Eden it's actually about the Great Folk Scare. It's another chance to read about what Pete Seeger said or didn't say to Albert Grossman about Bob Dylan's electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where all of that happened. (For the record, Joe Boyd does not agree with the chopping-the-cable-with-the-axe story.) It's a lot shorter, though, and Joe Boyd really did know absolutely everybody who was everybody, from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee to Pete Townshend and literally everybody in between. There is more about the Incredible String Band and Danny Thompson, than about Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols, though, but there must be no one else in the world who has worked with so many people - from Dudu Pukwana to Reverend Gary Davis - nor anyone who was in the thick of it for so long. It's fascinating stuff.

He's not Boswell, so I found there was quite a lot of starting an incredible anecdote about someone - Hendrix, or Devon Wilson - and then going into the next anecdote. After a while you realize the first anecdote isn't going to peak. Maybe he'll get back to it, but maybe he won't. The only one I remember actually coming to a punchline was the story about the Incredible String Band, who get left behind talking to a waiter in California, and later get picked up again having learned something from the waiter Our Gracious Host was not happy they had learned.

I needed to know some deeper things about the Summer of Love for my NaNoWriMo novel, and I wanted to check a few opinions about folk music for it, which this book amply supplied. It mentions Mick Farren, who mentioned Joe Boyd a couple of times, a couple of times. They're not very complimentary, but Swinging London was a complicated time. Boyd dates the Sixties as stretching from the Summer of 1956, peaking on 1st July 1967 and ending in October of 1973. And I'd agree with him, before and after reading the book.

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