DVD Review of:
THE PETER GREEN STORY:
MAN OF THE WORLD
A Dougie Dudgeon and Henry Hadaway film
Scanbox Entertainment (WIENERWORLD) www.wienerworld.com
Where is Peter Green now?
‘It was an incredibly short run’ says Mick Fleetwood, ‘and yet we’re still talking about it, nearly forty years or so later.’ And he’s correct. Peter Green was with Fleetwood Mac two years and eight months. In the vast cosmic scheme of things, that’s not long. Yet that’s where the kernel of the legend exists. This valuable documentary, directed by Steven Graham for the BBC, thoroughly details that arc of years, across a generous 150-minutes. It takes a bemused Peter Greenbaum wandering back to where it began, all the way to ‘my very first memories’ of Flat 18, Antenor House, off Old Bethnal Green Road E2 6QS, ‘coming across this road here, and then up there’. Shuffling along the pavement, beside black railings and neatly-spaced saplings, indicating up at the white first-floor balcony of his childhood flat. He’s a survivor, who’s been to hell and back. Yet, ‘It’s nice to revisit yourself’ he adds brightly.
Brothers Mike and Len Green take up the story of Peter’s first guitar. Born 29 October 1946, he honed his skills through skiffle and the Blues, his debut single came as a twenty-year-old part of Peter B’s Looners, a four-piece led by Peter Bardens. An organ-led shuffle-instrumental version of Jimmy Soul’s risqué calypso, “If You Wanna Be Happy” c/w “Jodrell Blues” (1966, Columbia DB7862), it makes an inauspicious start for Peter Green, despite the stinging guitar solo on the B-side. Yet, produced by impresario Rik Gunnell, Mick Fleetwood also happens to be there on drums, billed according to his previous group as ‘ex-Bo Street Runners’.
Then Peter was playing with the Bluesbreakers at ‘The Flamingo’. John Mayall explains how ‘Peter in his prime in the sixties was just without equal, he was a force to be reckoned with.’ Replacing Eric Clapton in the line-up was a poison chalice, which he accepted decisively by not replicating what ‘Slowhand’ had done – avoiding playing the hard fast virtuoso style, but taking his Les Paul down other routes. For the ‘A Hard Road’ (Decca, February 1967) album – with drummer Aynsley Dunbar and John McVie on bass, Peter sings lead on “You Don’t Love Me” and his own “The Same Way”, but it’s the haunting instrumental “The Supernatural” that stands out, playing what journalist Keith Altham defines as ‘ethnic Blues’, a spirit that underpins it all. Many years later, after the maelstrom that swept him away, Peter would play “The Supernatural” again, with the Splinter Group. And it still sounds magical.
‘There’s no word for it’ Peter struggles to explain to me, ‘I copy them (the Blues Masters) as best as I can. I’m Jewish. So I’ve got a little trapdoor there. The old Hebrew Testament thing, right back to Moses. It could be worse, couldn’t it?’
Soon Mick Fleetwood replaced the ‘too technical’ Dunbar, and the core of Fleetwood Mac was in place, initially freelancing without Mayall on dates with bluesman Eddie Boyd. Jeremy Spencer gets recruited into Peter Green’s new venture from the Midlands-based Levi Set, following just the exchange of names ‘Elmore James, BB King’. Encouraged by Mike Vernon, their debut album together – issued in February 1968, is a ‘plug-in and play’ exercise according to Mick Fleetwood, cut at the New Bond Street CBS studios with Vernon producing. Apparently the name Fleetwood Mac was Peter’s deliberate legacy to his friends, in anticipation of further adventures – although he could never have imagined how those further adventures were to play out, and he was outraged when Blue Horizon choose to promote the record as ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’. It was preceded by debut single – Jeremy Spencer’s “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” c/w Peter’s “Rambling Pony” (November 1967, Blue Horizon 3051), followed by the startling classic “Black Magic Woman” (c/w “The Sun Is Shining”, March 1968, Blue Horizon 57-3138). With the song’s background story narrated here by celibate girlfriend Sandra Elsen. It climbs to no.37 in the UK chart, but soon gets taken up as a key recording by Santana.
Blue Horizon had a community feel to it, and as part of the label house band both Peter and Mick sit in on sessions for Duster Bennett’s first LP ‘Smiling Like I’m Happy’ (1968), and Peter helps out on the Brunning Sunflower Blues Band’s ‘Trackside Blues’ (1969). Studio jams and back-up sessions from this phase continue to be released under various guises for a number of years, from ‘Blues Jam At Chess’ (1969) with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, to ‘The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967-1969’ (1999) 6CD box-set with previously-unreleased outtakes, studio talk and alternate takes.
Always a self-deprecating man of fragile sensitivities – the lines ‘I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin’ reflects Peter’s own sense of bewilderment and lack of self-worth, he was already caught up in destructive contradictions. Always prone to reflective moments, even in the studio recording of the straight-Blues ‘Mr Wonderful’ (August 1968), amid the band’s bawdy excesses. “Rattlesnake Shake” on ‘Then Play On’ (September 1969) is Peter’s ribald commentary on Mick Fleetwood’s masturbation habit. Yet he’s deeply troubled by white-liberal guilt over the band’s accumulating wealth, when contrasted with TV images of the Biafran famine. Seeing real human beings starve to death on-screen, with the same sense of moral outrage that would later power Bob Geldof to kick-start Band Aid. Resolving not only to channel his royalties into charity, but to persuade other members of Fleetwood Mac to do the same. Suggestions not always sympathetically received.
Those anti-materialist tendencies were exacerbated by meeting Jerry Garcia during the band’s first American trip, as well as the Grateful Dead’s chemist LSD-guru Stanley Owsley. Initially suspicious, Jeremy Spencer was the first to sample the new lysergic-acid wonder-drug, then Peter drank laced kool-aid. The textbook version is that he was unaware the drink was spiked. The way he tells it now, with an amused twinkle, he was more than a willing accomplice to the pretence. ‘I didn’t talk to god’ relates Mick Fleetwood, ‘just felt a bit strange’. They play ‘The Warehouse’ in New Orleans with the Dead, all stoned. ‘I did feel a bit… effervescent’ recalls Peter, about LSD. The tour climaxes into acid-horror in the Frisco Gorham Hotel after jamming with the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore. Mick hallucinating every band member as skeletons as they sit around the floor holding hands, phoning Owsley to talk them down, in vain. It was ‘horrible’ concludes Mick.
The continuing John Mayall kudos had Fleetwood Mac rated as the most authentic Blues outfit around, with ‘Mr Wonderful’ rarely straying from the Elmore James blueprint despite a ‘dirtier, gutsier’ horn-section and Christine Perfect (soon to be McVie) on piano, but by 1969 their restless creativity was taking them way beyond such genre restrictions. Blues was the spine, and would continue to be, underpinning diverse new bands and evolutions across the seventies. But it was already becoming porous, flexible, open to positive mutations in the light of new lifestyles. The single “Need Your Love So Bad” (c/w “No Place To Go”, Blue Horizon 57-3157), a cover of Little Willie John’s 1956 original, antagonises purists with sweeping strings offsetting Peter’s raw pleading vocal lines. Yet it climbs to no.31 on the chart, and is successfully reissued a number of times, collected onto the compilation ‘The Pious Bird Of Good Omen’ (August 1969), alongside both sides of the earlier singles, plus two tracks from Eddie Boyd’s ‘7936 South Rhodes’ (Blue Horizon, 1968) album on which the Mac play back-up. A re-jigged version of this album becomes ‘English Rose’ for the US Epic label, with a fright-wig cover-art photo of Mick Fleetwood in drag. He’d already appeared naked but for battered hat and strategically-positioned shrubbery on the ‘Mr Wonderful’ gatefold cover!
Danny Kirwan was brought in (from Boilerhouse) as third guitar in time for what Peter calls the ‘Santo and Johnny’ sound of the next single, “Albatross”. Peter plays his Stratocaster lap-style, plucking the title from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, months before Procol Harum use the epic poem as the base for their “A Salty Dog”. Although the label was initially dubious, an appearance on the ‘Simon Dee’ TV-show shoves it into the charts, and all the way up to no.1. There were two charts in general use. In ‘Record Mirror’ it was no.1 for the single week 29 January 1969 – but would return on re-issue to no.2 in 1975! In ‘New Musical Express’ it nudges Marmalade’s Beatles-cover “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” from top slot and stays there three weeks until 8 February, when it’s dislodged by Move’s “Blackberry Way”.
Then the achingly-heartfelt “Man Of The World” single was ‘the first cry for help that we heard from Peter Green’ opines Altham, direct-to-camera. ‘Almost like a suicide note’ agrees a pensive Jeremy Spencer. The voice, ‘I’m not saying that I’m a good man, oh, but I would be if I could,’ is painfully autobiographical. Issued through a one-off deal with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate records, it peaks at no.2 – just below the Beatles “Get Back” (24 May 1969). Although it’s stop-start loud-soft structure makes it impossible to dance to, I recall playing it in a sense of awed wonder to other students at the Hull College Of Technology, frustrated that they can’t see how starkly revelatory it is, the chillingly confessional line ‘I just wish that I had never been born’ is still spine-tingling.
The single also spells goodbye to nurturing producer Mike Vernon. Leading to the Mac’s third studio album, ‘Then Play On’, arriving through a lucrative up-deal with Reprise. A stunning, complex, astonishing, conflicted, beautifully baffling, exquisitely problematic album, unlike anything they’d previously released, and nothing like anything that ever came after, anywhere in the vinyl cosmos. The soft-loud dynamic of their no.1 single “Oh Well” – both sides of which are included, is something of a touchstone, although the fourteen original (and four bonus CD) tracks range much further. The 54-minute playing time allows jamming-space, but Peter’s spiritually charged improvisations are always immaculately interplayed and never self-indulgent. A vital element of the album’s incandescence is its unstable fragility. It was Peter’s ‘last calling card’ according to Fleetwood. With his traumatic state of disintegrating mental health even more scarily explicit on “The Green Manalishi”, which not only reveals ‘the Brian Wilson side of Peter Green’ in its overdub builds, but shows him on the tipping-point of cataclysmic implosion. Jeremy Spencer was equally messed-up and soon to flee, alongside troubled Danny Kirwan’s first album contributions to the Mac canon, this line-up wouldn’t survive a moment longer. Leaving all these doors of potential wide open. This is one of the most breathtakingly mystifying albums of the decade.
Meanwhile, “Oh Well” completes a trilogy of Top Three singles, with Peter playing a Michigan guitar. It reaches no.1 for the single week of 15 November 1969, if only in the ‘New Musical Express’ chart – replacing the Archies cartoon-comical Bubble-Pop “Sugar Sugar”. Now, Peter dismisses the vocal lead-in verses, in preference to the more reflective instrumental passages following the mid-point storm (reminiscent of Love’s “Seven And Seven Is”).
By now there were strange scenes during a German tour involving a Munich cult, ‘weirding out big time’ according to Jeremy Spencer. Precipitating the crash into Peter’s dark years. ‘That was the fork in the road’ according to John McVie. ‘I had an ultimate respect for Peter’ adds Fleetwood wistfully, ‘and we had so much fun.’ Without Peter ‘we were all… lost’ admits Mick. Although soon after, Jeremy quit too – ‘I heard the voice of the lord say ‘go’’ and he went. In the sad burned-out come-down from the hippie loss of innocence there were any number of phony opportunistic cults on hand to offer spiritual solace, and Jeremy was seduced away by the Children Of God religious sect. Loyally, Peter returns to play the rest of the US dates, climaxing in an amazing version of “Black Magic Woman” at the Fillmore East in New York, which Clifford Adams recalls with a sense of wonder.
Now Peter was ‘exorcising the demons within him’ (according to Fleetwood) on an intense instrumental solo album called ‘The End Of The Game’ (Reprise, December 1970). Leading only to further mental collapses. ‘A lot of strange experiences inside my head’ he comments, straining to make sense of it all. Retreating into a kind of Syd Barrett ‘Twilight Zone’ of legendary limbo. As, after a confused directionless period, the rest of Fleetwood Mac hook up with Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham to go mega-global, Peter was sedated in psycho-house mental institutions, undergoing electro-convulsive therapy in a living nightmare, with myths and rumours multiplying. He was working as a hospital porter, or a gravedigger. He threatened his accountant with an air-rifle. He spent time in prison. ‘I was quite happy in prison’ he comments, totally without guile.
Interviewing Peter Green, sitting at a table in his back garden, was both the strangest and most touching experiences of my journalistic career. Afterwards, he shows me his guitar collection, lifting them down from the wall and passing them across to me, asking ‘Do you play?’ And I have to admit, no. Which is the closest I’ve ever got to jamming with a guitar hero.
By turn poignant, candid, always informative, with mesmerising electrifyingly evocative black-and-white clips, this DVD constitutes the definitive story. Noel Gallagher adds respectful comment, across the arc of those forty years.
‘I can outplay Sooty’ says Peter now with typically self-deprecating humour, ‘but that’s it, don’t put Sweep on that xylophone whatever you do.’ He was brought back into playing and recording through the recuperative process of the Splinter Group, with a supportive Nigel Watson – and initially drummer Cozy Powell. His ‘Me And The Devil Blues’ (Snapper 1998, 2001) remains a classic interpretation of the Robert Johnson catalogue, and one of eleven albums taking him from the late nineties into the new millennium. Although some unspecified altercation led to Peter leaving in 2004, he re-emerged in 2009 touring as Peter Green And Friends – around the time this DVD was compiled. ‘Whatever I’m expecting, it never arrives,’ he muses. Then, more brightly ‘It’s nice to revisit yourself.’
So, where is Peter Green now?
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
Bringins Multimedia Ltd 2007
Bonus DVD features:
‘Peter Takes Us Through His Guitar Collection’
‘Clifford Adams Reads Out Peter Green’s Letter From Hawaii’
‘Jeremy Spencer, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie Reminisce About The Old Days’
‘Rick Veto Tells How He Saw Fleetwood Mac For The First Time’