Review: Fleetwood Mac – Before the Beginning 1968 – 1970 Live & Demo Sessions” (Sony Music) Part 3 – Surprise Partie & BBC Sessions
After the last set of tracks from their January 31st show at The Warehouse, Disc 3 takes us back in time, with tracks six through eight coming from a November 27, 1968 taping of the French Television New Year’s Eve special titled “Surprise Partie”.
The last of nine acts to appear on the show, including The Who, Booker T. & the MGs, Pink Floyd, Les Variations, Joe Cocker and The Troggs, this was taped just five months after the shows from The Carousel Ballroom.
Danny Kirwan had been in the band for four of those months, but he does not have a featured number here. Green has one, and Spencer takes the lead on the other two.
Green opens the set with a cover of Otis Rush’s ‘Homework’. There are only two previous recordings of the band performing the number before this, one of particularly poor sound quality, the other a very strong performance.
What makes this a standout (even with some of the later recordings) is the addition of Jeremy Spencer on piano.
The “mix” seems to isolate Green’s vocal, which is a bit distracting but the band is very strong, turning in a fine performance.
Note: the set’s booklet lists the running time for the number as 3:53 but it actually clocks in at 3:20.
Spencer is up next, easing into Homesick James Williamson’s ‘My Baby’s Sweet’. A set standard for almost a year now, the band has honed this to a razor’s edge. Spencer’s vocal is pleasingly relaxed and he luxuriates in the rhythm section’s warm support, gliding up and down the strings, squeezing out ringing notes as if blowing bubbles in a bath.
The last number in the set is an Elmore James cover utilizing the electrified riff he employed on his variations of Robert Johnson’s ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’, resulting in the song being mistitled on both the original broadcast and this collection.
The title on the screen on the original broadcast is ‘Dust My Broom’. The label uses the lazy discographer’s favorite, ‘My Baby’s Gone’ (the title given to James’ ‘Something Inside of Me’ on both the “Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968” and “Transmission Impossible – Legendary Radio Broadcasts From the 1960’s & 1970’s” sets. Christopher Hjort’s liner notes show that the correct title is ‘Please Find My Baby’.
From the audience reaction (which may have been “sweetened” here) the audience could care less what the song is called, they just want to hear Spencer tear into the familiar riff.
Spencer and the band are only too happy to give them what they want and attack the number with real vigor, closing out their set on a high note.
These three numbers are exclusive (commercially) to this collection but the set’s final four numbers, can also be found on “Transmission Impossible – Legendary Radio Broadcasts From the 1960’s & 1970’s” and “Original Live Broadcasts” along with fifteen other BBC performances.
It was one thing for the label to decide to not acknowledge the provenance of the other recordings, but by billing these final four as “Demos” is an unforgivable falsification.
When Castle Communications included BBC recordings on their two 2CD sets “The Vaudeville Years of Fleetwood Mac 1968 to 1970” and “Show-Biz Blues 1968 to 1970” they were said to be “Unissued Versions” which while not the whole truth, was at least partially true.
The first two numbers are taken from a show taped for the BBC’s “Top Gear” on August 27, 1968. The sound quality is noticeably rougher on these tracks than on the three preceding them.
First is Green’s cover of Muddy Waters’ ‘You Need Love’. The song had been covered by The Small Faces in 1966 and a month before this taping the new reformed Savoy Brown, (Kim Simmonds was the only original member remaining) released an almost eight-minute version of the song on their LP “Getting to the Point”.
Green tries to remain true to the original but the rhythm section feels restricted where the original flowed. Green and Kirwan’s guitars also lack the muscle needed to propel the number, the lead being shrill where it should command.
For me, Green’s vocal is one the weakest that he committed to tape. As if to make up for the limitations of the music, he sounds as if he “performing” as a swaggering bad man, almost tipping the number into parody.
A very rare mis-step for Green and the band.
The next song, Danny Kirwan’s ‘Talk With You’ also seems to find the singer “acting” a part, only this time it is an inexperienced you man struggling to negotiate liaison with a paid professional.
Kirwans’ lyrics often revolve around his difficulty in making himself understood and in understanding the words and actions of those around him.
His voice, sounding so young, bounces off the hard surface of the blues shuffle, which makes the second verse sound almost like an interior monologue, his voice rising as he struggles to remember how he had rehearsed what he would say and do beforehand.
The break almost offers a preview of ‘Jigsaw Puzzle Blues’ which wouldn’t be recorded for another five weeks. McVie’s bass work is the standout here, laying the foundation beneath Kirwan’s stinging guitar.
The song would come into its own in January of 1970 when Kirwan recorded it during the sessions for “Blues Jam in Chicago” with S.P. Leary behind the drum kit and the inimitable Otis Spann on piano.
The next number was recorded for the BBC session exactly four months earlier, on May 27, 1968.
This was the first session at which they were billed as Fleetwood Mac.
Both the “Transmission Impossible” collection and “Original Live Broadcasts” list this song as ‘That Ain’t It’, the way it was logged by the BBC when it was recorded.
‘If It Ain’t Me’ drops the parenthesized second half of the title, “(Who You Thinking Of)” from Jimmy Rogers’ original title.
The track here is billed as the “GK Edit”. Without admitting to just what was done, the label at least acknowledges that the recording has been altered. (as noted, this was not the case on other tracks on the collection where this was done).
The opening of this number is missing and “GK” splices little more than a second from the beginning of the first break onto the opening to paper over the abrupt start on the original recording.
The band takes the number at a faster tempo than Rogers’ played it at and the Green’s harmonica is especially shrill (Big Walter Horton played on the original and the number became something of a signature piece for him in later years)
Spencer’s piano work is a highlight, his left hand keeping the beat, the right hand’s glittering fills reminding one of Chuck Berry’s pianist Johnnie Johnson.
The last song is also the earliest on the collection, coming from a BBC session done on February 26, 1968.
This is a swinging version of T-Bone Walker’s ‘Mean Old World’ which most likely uses B. B. King’s recording of the song as its template.
The faults that I found in the collection, (and there are those who will feel I overemphasized some and went too easy on others) in no way outweigh the value, both monetary and entertainment, of this set.
The performances captured here (eleven of which are exclusive to this collection) are what the listener has come for and they never disappoint.
Purchasing the other 3CD set, Transmission Impossible” along with this one will fill in a few missing tracks with the added value of fifteen more BBC recordings.
For the completist, the only answer is to search out the original bootlegs of these shows, something easily done on-line or “trading” with other fans.