john mayall – the turning point

here lies my childhood, and my parents’ youth. amongst some of my earliest memories is hearing the flute and blues guitar on this album; being run off the vinyl through dad’s old dual record player and speakers he’d brought with him from america. it was played by them like it was historical when in reality it had only been released about 13 years earlier. that’s like thinking an album released in 2000 is of an altogether different era.

mum and dad were married the year this album was released. their love of music and its various qualities (not just what was popular) is, i strongly believe, where my own is founded; and why music means so much to me. along with perhaps two other people, i owe them so much for the gift they gave of having this music around my sister and i as we grew up.

as i got older and understood more, i was surprised to realise that john mayall was british, and what i knew of real blues was its roots in america. of course, john mayall also worked with eric clapton following his days with the yardbirds, so it should not have been that shocking. another case in point is cream which has connection to each of the above. but tell a child that the norm they’d been taught is open to genuine challenge. it takes a young person a while to work those things out for themself. at least mum and dad had worked out that eric clapton was a total fucking idiot.

on its own merits, this is a fascinating album for several reasons. firstly, it’s blues (almost jazz) music without a drummer – which isn’t to say that it has no percussion. take that modern minimalist bands! you think you’re cool cos you’re just drums and a guitar? noise is your compensation? the occasional solo amongst riff, drone and rhythm? i’ll bet anything there’s more in your production, and more in your live show. here, it is a live performance – in 1969 you couldn’t hide it like you can now.

there are beautiful contradictory elements of distance and presence in this music. that reflects some aspects of the recording quality, probably even the on-stage dynamics; but it’s like there isn’t a centre. and i love that about it. perhaps this is in part due to some of the band members being session musicians. i know there is modern use of session musos, but not really in the music to be found through this collection. the closest analogue is the boundary crossing musician who shows up in random, seemingly unconnected places. travellers.

john mayall also wrote about his intentions in the liner notes:

the time is right for a new direction in blues music. having decided to dispense with heavy lead guitar and drums, usually a ‘must’ for blues groups today, i set about forming a new band which would be able to explore seldom-used areas within the framework of low volume music. this album is the result of this experiment and it was recorded live at the fillmore east theater, new york after only four weeks experience of each other’s playing.

one of the most endearing components of the production is john’s description of each song on the back cover. this is down to individual song composers (mostly mayall himself), the key of each song, and a justification so glorious as this for the final song, room to move:

a musician’s need for personal freedom to love without entanglement

i’m sure dad would have explained to us in great detail what they were doing in this song. music passed down.

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