The First Single (Part 3) – The Critical Reaction
This post inaugurates a new series, “From the Files of Bela Swardmark Stephens”. Mr. Stephens is the leader of the Swedish blues band The Blue Pearls www.thebluepearls.com
Bela first meet Fleetwood Mac on May 11, 1968 at the Club 700 in Orebro, Sweden at the age of sixteen http://www.thebluepearls.com/680511.htm and a disciple was born.
Two shows that have been circulating amongst collectors for years, the November 23, 1968 from Idrottshuset, Örebro, Sweden and the November 06, 1969 show from Konserthuest, Orebro Sweden, were recorded by Stephens and for this alone, we owe him our thanks
Now, he has been kind enough to share with me his treasure trove of contemporary press material related to Peter Green and allow me to mine it for nuggets of interest to share in turn with you.
The First Single (Part 3) – The Critical Reaction
In the November fourth edition of Melody Maker, Nick Jones defensively states that he remains unmoved by “…old-hat English blues”. He acknowledges the talent involved, but fails to see the point of the exercise, “…carbon copies of the blues are no use to me – it’s difficult to copy soul anyway.”
He approvingly cites Mayall’s “A Hard Road” and specifically Green’s ‘The Supernatural’ as a way forward, but despairs that with this release, “…we’re back on the back of someone else’s music.”
In the same day’s edition of Disc and Record Echo, Penny Valentine dismisses the band as, “One of those blues groups that has an elite following.” She goes on to say that the A-side is done with “…good old harmonica and faraway blues voice”, though I am not certain if she views this as a good thing or a bad thing; and then concludes by saying that, “It’s not enough for me though.” A sniffing dismissal seemingly aimed at their “elite following”.
The reviews appearing a week later, on November eleventh, took what the earlier reviews saw as deficits to be positive attributes.
An unsigned review in Record Mirror written in the punchy, grammatically stuttering style of the trade papers begins, “Whining harmonica, good bluesy sounds including bottleneck guitar.” They declare it to be “authentic…though essentially British in style.” Conceding the single’s lack of commercial appeal they (attempt) to end on a positive note by adding, “…but the boys have a very big personal following.”
The review for the B-side reads in full: “Flip: Off-beat use of guitar and vocal for starters.” (Sorry, I have nothing)
The “mini-review” found in the New Musical Express that same day, under the heading “Potted Pops” proclaims, “You won’t find a more authentic-sounding r-and-b disc made in Britain! Traditional 12-bar highlighting some mean blues wailing and great “bottleneck” guitar.”
The battle lines were drawn and would only become more entrenched as 1967 gave way to 1968.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac had less than four months’ worth of shows under their belt at the time this record was released and yet the reviewers talk of their “elite following” and “very big personal following”.
But artists don’t choose their fans; and regardless of his personal feelings about the matter, Green was now being measured and ranked against other emerging “guitar heroes” such as Clapton, Hendrix, Beck and Page. Melody Maker even add Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood into the mix.
This, despite the fact that Green’s music, especially as heard on his band’s first single, has nothing in common with the others.
More problematic from a career standpoint, it had even less in common with the music that was on the charts at that time.
A glance at the other singles being reviewed in the “Potted Pops” column illustrate how far outside the mainstream the record was: Al Stewart’s baroque-folk ‘Bedsitter Images’ and The Factotums’ cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cloudy’, and American C & W singer Hank Locklin’s ‘Country Hall of Fame’. Ideologically, Fleetwood Mac’s single has more in common with the already dated stylings of Locklin’s song, in its unapologetic embrace of the music’s traditions, than any of the others.
In the Record Mirror, it is placed among reviews for novelty records by The Scaffold, ‘Thank U Very Much’ and a spoken word comedy record by The Cocktail Cabinet (with a Harold Wilson impersonator) and three decidedly more “adult-oriented” offerings from Gene Pitney, Judith Durham (formerly of the Seekers) and The Righteous Brothers.
Also included were Shadows drummer Brian Bennett’s first single and the Nice’s debut, the prog-rock “Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack’.
All those involved must have known that commercially, the record was a long shot at best, and Green may have seen a lack of success as a badge of honor (though I don’t think he would have felt too sullied had it made the Hot One Hundred; it didn’t chart at all)
Green was fortunate to be working with a producer / label owner such as Mike Vernon who shared his passion for the blues and allowed him to record their first long player without concession to popular tastes. (See the shotgun marriage arranged by CBS Records between The Yardbirds and producer Mickie Most for a worst case scenario)
Green repaid him by crafting a song for their second single that stayed true to his roots (it was built upon the foundation of Otis Rush’s ‘All Your Love (I Need Loving)’ but had a far more “radio friendly” sound than their debut.
We’ll take a look at that one, next time around.