Review: The Act featuring Peter Green

Live at the Boston Tea Party 1970 (Middle Sun Media 2020)

For fifty years, devotees of the music of Peter Green have been patiently piecing together previously unreleased recordings as they surfaced: BBC performances, live concerts (often incomplete, with only a few stray tracks and occasionally, a lone song, their provenance unidentified, or worse, misidentified) to chart Green’s progression as a musician.

Beginning with the 1984 release of ““Live” In Boston” on the Shanghai label, (seven tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s three-night stand at the Boston Tea Party in February of 1970), unauthorized live recordings also began to become commercially available (unfortunately, often with the same deficiencies as bootlegs, with incorrect dates and song titles).    

Whatever their drawbacks, sound quality being the most frustrating, collectors have been able to construct a fairly complete portrait of Green’s development as an artist, from his earliest recording with Peter B’s Looners (three BBC recordings and their lone single) through his work with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (the release of “John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers ‘67” Volumes 1 & 2 in 2015 and 2016 filled a huge void, providing the opportunity to hear Green playing live at a very early stage) through his three years as the leader of Fleetwood Mac.

However, the period immediately after Green’s leaving Fleetwood Mac however was blank; aside from a few references to shows being played, the names of a few musicians with whom he is said to have played with, we had no pieces with which to even attempt to fill hole.

Green’s resignation from Fleetwood Mac in the spring of 1970 coincided with his desire to separate himself from all of the commercial aspects of making music.

Between June and December of 1970, he went into the studio on three different occasions attempting to record a solo album.  Once, with him playing all of the instruments himself, and then twice more, each time with a different group of musicians. 

He also played on a number of sessions for other groups.  

From these studio sessions, only the second solo LP session has been commercially released, “The End of the Game”.  To the best of my knowledge, no outtakes from that session or any recordings from the other two aborted sessions have ever been available on bootleg.

His guest session appearances (that we know of) were all released at the time, often uncredited, but his stage work during this time exists only in memory of those who were there and in written references.

Green’s biographer, Martin Celmins was the first to mention these live performances, but most frustratingly, there are few accounts of what was played or that the music sounded like.

Green is said to performed his first solo show (with Nick Buck on keyboards) on June 13, 1970 and he is said to have joined little known bands such as Noir and Little Free Rock and as famous as The Allman Brothers Band to jam when the spirit moved him, but again, we have only written references to these appearances. 

His last known on-stage appearance from this period was a one-off performance (Christopher Hjort, in his invaluable “Strange Brew: Eric Clapton and the British Blues Boom 1965 – 1970” lists only one confirmed show, on December 18, 1970, while Celmins wrote that they played “…a few London pub gigs”) with Alex Dmochowski, flutist Ray Warleigh, drummer Keith Bailey and most intriguingly a female vocalist Charlene Collins.   

For fifty years, not a single track, let alone a partial or complete show from any of these dates has surfaced.

Until now.

Released in October of 2020, these are the first, and so far, only, known recordings of Peter Green from this period of time.  For some background on how the recordings came to be please go to: https://smilingcorgipress.com/guest-blog-musician-andrew-kastner-his-early-years-his-friendship-with-peter-green-and-the-up-coming-release-of-the-act-featuring-peter-green-live-from-the-boston-tea-party-197/

That is the background, but what the eight snippets lack is context.   

Andrew Kastner has written elsewhere that The Act, with Peter Green, played three shows during Green’s time with them: at the Theater of the Cambridge YMCA, at Goddard College and at the Boston Tea Party.

The first two were very small venues; the YMCA held less than two hundred people and the Barnyard at Goddard could hold just over three hundred, standing. 

The Act may have been the sole performers at the first two, or they might have served as opening acts. 

I would have to believe that they opened, or were added at the last minute to the bill for their appearance at the Boston Tea Party* (the largest of the three venues with a legal capacity of four hundred).

The eight pieces that comprise this release clock in at thirty minutes in total.  Each is faded out before they reach any sort of conclusion and it would appear that they have been taken from a larger piece or pieces.  This may have been done to pull the best moments, separating the wheat from the chaff, or it may have been strictly practical; rather than one long piece, which risks losing a large segment of listeners, who now consume their music piecemeal, not even listening to an full album from beginning to end, and also, to have “more” to offer; eight pieces rather than one.

For me personally, I would have preferred to have heard the full show; to hear them the way the audience heard them when it was recorded.  But that is not what we have and it is unfair to judge a work based on what you want it to be; we must review what it is.

The Act

Andrew Kastner: guitar /

Steve Aiello: Hammond B3 /

Frank Welch: bass / Richard Ponte: drums

Special Guest: Peter Green: lead guitar & bass

Recorded live at The Boston Tea Party, October 12, 1970

Intro (0:10) / Greeny’s Mood (4:36) – perfectly titled as for almost two minutes Green’s watery wah-wah gently washes over the rock bed of Steve Aiello’s organ; the churn of the undercurrent exemplified by Richard Ponte’s drum and cymbal work as well as the rumbling bass and second guitar.

The number begins to flow a little faster but does not seem to be in a particular hurry to get to where it is going although Green’s guitar takes on a deeper tone the band coalescing into a more unified direction, steered by Ponte’s drums.  The number is just beginning to build when it slowly fades out –

Back to the Woods (4:32) – as the number fades up, we seem to have gone back somewhat to an earlier point in the previous number, once again, slowly building in intensity.  The music is very much like that released on “The End of the Game” but I find this to be far less aggressive, or abrasive.  Where the music on the LP was jagged, Green seems far more relaxed here, with The Act providing excellent support, matching Green’s mercurial ebb and flow.

Green’s Fire (3:16) – a thrilling display of Green’s improvisational playing, never captured in the studio and scattered across his live recordings (mainly on bootleg) with Fleetwood Mac, as with the exception of his slow blues, he almost always shared the spotlight with Danny Kirwan and sometimes Jeremy Spencer also.  Here, we can hear Green alone, moving away from twelve bar blues and rock, towards a new mode of self-expression.

Songbird (3:20) – from there, we segue to a quieter number, this one echoing The End of the Game’s ‘Timeless Time’ – Andrew Kastner has written that the title was inspired by his watching Green on an early morning, outside his house, attempt to play back on an unplugged Les Paul what the birds were singing – once again, Ponte’s drumming keeps the number focused, allowing Green to meander, creating a reverie. 

Six String Bass Man (5:15) – as with the opening two numbers, this, to me, sounds as if it was part of number preceding it.  Green has switched to his Fender bass (possibly mid-song, like he would on ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ when playing the number live with Fleetwood Mac) – the longest of the eight pieces, it earns its length, with Green sharing the stage Aiello’s organ and Ponte’s drums.  During the second half, Andrew Kastner and Frank Welch also have the opportunity to step forward and again.  One would never know that The Act had not been playing with Green for more than a few weeks.

Ponte’s Obsession (2:20) – Kastner has written elsewhere of his respect for Ponte’s playing and this brief solo generously offers a spotlight for those who hadn’t seen or heard him play – it was also most likely during this break that Green once again switched back to guitar from the bass.

Troubled World (Part 1) (4:20) – both The Act and Peter Green are pushing towards peak performance as they round the corner and lean into the number’s final stretch.  The rhythm section provides the traction, keeping the number from spinning out of control even as Green and Aiello push each other ever harder.  Early in the number Kastner mirrors Green’s lines like the cry of a distant locomotive, adding to the feeling of power and speed

Troubled World (Part 2) / (2:29) / Outro (0:25) – those feeling only increase during the final two and a half minutes.  Again, this is a rare opportunity to hear Green playing with this type of intensity by himself. 

This is different from the music that he made with Fleetwood Mac.  There is a sense of freedom not heard when he played with them, even on numbers such as ‘Rattlesnake Shake’.

There is also a sense of exploration, to see where the music may take him, not heard on “The End of the Game”.  Nigel Watson summed up those sessions as “…very introspective.  Peter was trying to find out what was making him scream, musically.”

Green seems at peace with himself here.  The music that he made with The Act was more open; lighter (aurally and emotionally) and more inviting.

One of the few good things to come of 2020, this is an invaluable piece of the puzzle of the music of Peter Green and an absolute must have for anyone interested in his music. 

*Kastner has dated the show October 12, 1970.  On-line sources (I was unable to confirm this information through other sources) indicate that John Mayall (touring behind his “USA Union” LP) was scheduled to play two shows that night at The Boston Tea Party at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm (it appears as if the club was trying something new at this time, booking shows on Mondays and featuring only one performer, where usually they had three)

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