Roger McGuinn, Roy Harper, Julie Felix, Toots & the Maytals et al: Hyde Park, London

Peace and paranoia: The Metropolitan Police Force’s Gala Weekend Outing at Hyde Park

IT SEEMED quite on the cards that the Metropolitan Police might be on their way to attempting to emulate the dubious exploits of their colleagues in the Thames Valley Constabulary at Windsor two days earlier.

Those mildly unnerving green buses that carry the bringers of law ‘n’ order to any Possible Confrontation were scattered about the roads inside the Park in batches of twos and threes and at strategic and none too unobtrusive vantage points on the grass itself around the concert area close to Speakers Corner.

Paranoia Gulch, no less.

In actual fact the police kept a very low profile, as they say, throughout most of the afternoon. The actual concert, not untypically, started late due, it was said, to a blown power pack.

And, indeed, when things did get under way it was obviously not immediately apparent to quite a few members of the audience, who were completely taken in by Les Pryor’s parody of any given mixture of Woodstock raps and hooted for all they were worth when he announced it was a free concert and that they should keep away from the bum acid.

Pryor, is, in fact, a member of Alberto V Lost Trios Paranoias, and although nine members of the band (troupe?) hadn’t shown up, he and Lee Kershner, who offered a beautifully surreal Beefheart impersonation, managed to give quite a few of the jaded heads of the audience a full 360 degree turnaround despite their Absurdism having to be drastically truncated.

The first true band of the day was Kokomo, and the audience (BBC figures put the attendance at 10,000 while ITN had 15,000 people at the concert. Such are statistics) would have had to go a long way to hear as strong an opening set.

Like a mid-sixties r’n’b road show that’s been bounced through every existing soul and funk influence going in the past decade, the ten piece stormed the ear drums in the Park with a sound that was at times like a cornucopia of rhythm, yet always allowed each instrument to keep its own identity.

On Bobby Womack’s ‘I Can Understand It’ Mel Collins — who is now in the band only on an occasional basis — let his sax growl and spit behind the textured looseness of the free fitted sound in which Jim Mullen, like a guitar playing Colossus of Rhodes, put down slow-burning chord structures through which Neil Hubbard filtered his lead guitar twirls.

Over on stage left Frank Collins, mincing slyly camp in a pair of rhinestoned shades and a nifty little electric blue denim number, delivered his up-pitched Sly Stone-like vocals whilst Dyan Birch and Paddy McHugh, the two other ex-Arrival singers, twisted and turned their harmonies around his voice and ultimately created such a delicious buzz that Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers, who followed Kokomo, almost had difficulty in maintaining the charge.

By the time they’d scaled their second number (Jesse Winchester’s ‘Midnight Bus’) however, Chilli Willi’s country and rock had started to act as an energy divining rod and there were moments when it seemed as if every member of the public out there might suddenly find a close affinity with southern fried bar-room prancing.

The band should beware, though, of the worrying visual similarity to Dickie Betts in the laid back note picking of Martin Stone.

Before Toots and the Maytals’ set there was an announcement from the Windsor Festival committee about the next day’s protest rally, and there were rumours of an attempted stage take over by the committee though nothing was seen to develop.

In a blood red set of threads that would’ve been the envy of every cat in Kingston, Toots and the Maytals — or one Maytal, to be precise — leapt on stage after a suitably lengthy James Brown build-up by Skin, Flesh and Bones, the Jamaican band who’ve provided back-up on their British tour.

Unfortunately the mikes went dead as soon as they were touched (which led their manager to mutter later about sabotage) and whether it was that that put the two singers out of their stride or whether it was simply a case of an unfamiliar audience versus a largely unfamiliar band, the Maytals’ set never seemed to catch alight.

Glinting and pristine in her white shirt and blue jeans, Julie Felix adequately performed her Hampstead liberalism despite valiant attempts by a slightly somnambulistic looking Ollie Halsall to elevate the set into something more concrete than a succession of pleasant songs.

She smiled more than anyone who was on stage that day and quite a lot of people seemed to enjoy her.

Roy Harper, second on the bill to Roger McGuinn, is something of an enigma.

His songs, when the lyrics can be made out, have doom poured all over them and even on ‘Me And My Woman’, from Stormcock, he managed to transcend any possible optimism in the title with his lugubrious, bassy and pained vocals.

Joined by Heavy Friends Dave Gilmour, John Paul Jones (dressed like a first year law student) and Steve Broughton (!?) for the second and third of his three lengthy numbers Harper’s set was, any misgivings apart, indubitably successful as far as the vast majority of the audience was concerned.

Gilmour once again proved his capacity for brain-cell twisting as he ran his guitar screams around the Park whilst John Paul Jones didn’t appear at all rusty from lack of stage practice.

By the time Harper’s set had finished it was well after six o’clock — the time the concert was scheduled to have ended. Wisely, though, there were no authoritarian coups attempted and, in fact, by the time the Roger McGuinn Band had played their last number it was way past 7.30.

Perhaps McGuinn has some omniscient musical power that draws only impeccable musicians towards him.

Richard Bowden, Greg Attaway and David Lovelace have all the visual appearance of lobotomized Giant Pandas yet they give out a sound that would surely give them each a Ph.D in any college of musical knowledge or ability.

The band’s material was, it goes almost without saying, a collage of Byrd’s numbers and songs from Peace On You, McGuinn’s new solo album.

Roger McGuinn picked his Rickenbacker with equal ease whether celebrating its delights on ‘Gate Of Horn’, from the new album, or coming on with the facts on ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’, whilst Bowden gritted his teeth and eyes shut and complemented his boss with trebly guitar licks as all five musicians took up the chorus lines to produce soaring, faultless harmonies tinged by McGuinn’s nasal whine.

The only act to play an encore, the McGuinn band pushed up the adrenalin to speed freak level when they returned with ‘Eight Miles High’ and, with a jam of spiralling notes and floating chords still hanging in the air, the audience left the Park of its own accord.

The green buses were never really needed.

© Chris SalewiczNew Musical Express, 7 September 1974

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