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In Underground London

Underground London 2

I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in recent days from listening to Underground London, a three-CD set that attempts to recreate, through a mosaic of recordings, the feeling of being a certain kind of person in London in the first half of the 1960s, someone either growing out of, or who had been a little too young for, the full beatnik experience in the 1950s, but looking for similar sensations in a changing time: free speech, free jazz, free verse, free love.

The first disc starts with Ornette Coleman’s “W.R.U.”, ends with Jimmy Smith’s “Autumn Leaves”, and includes Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading “Dog”, Allen Ginsberg reading “America”, a track from Red Bird, the jazz-and-poetry EP Christopher Logue made with Tony Kinsey, and György Ligeti’s “Atmosphères”. The second opens with Jimmy Giuffre’s “Jesus Maria”, ends with Albert Ayler’s “Moanin'”, and includes Ravi Shankar’s “Raga Jog”, Jack Kerouac reading from On the Road and Visions of Cody, and the Dudley Moore Trio playing the theme from Beyond the Fringe. The third opens with Cecil Taylor’s “Love for Sale”, ends with Thelonious Monk’s “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie” and includes Davy Graham and Alexis Korner playing “3/4 AD”, Aldous Huxley reading from The Visionary Experience, the MJQ playing “Lonely Woman”, Luciano Berio manipulating Cathy Berberian’s voice in “Visage”, and “A Rose for Booker” by the Chico Hamilton Quintet, with Charles Lloyd.

Add in Stockhausen, Don Cherry and John Coltrane, Annie Ross, John Cage and David Tudor, Sonny Rollins, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and Joe Harriott, and you get the idea. And to set up the mood for the sort of extended listening session the set deserves, I’d suggest candles in Chianti bottles, something vaguely cubist on the wall, the Tibetan Book of the Dead on the coffee table, and a black polo-neck sweater, or perhaps a chocolate-brown corduroy jacket. And if the party is going well, maybe a Beatle or two, in an adventurous mood, will drop by on the way home from Abbey Road.

But it’s not really a joke, or a caricature. There’s a lot of completely wonderful stuff here, some of it revealing new qualities when isolated from the context of its original full-album setting (an underrated virtue of anthologies or compilations). And practically everything is on the edge of something, some new discovery, some unexplored territory worth taking a risk to reach. How exciting was that?

* The photograph of Allen Ginsberg outside the Royal Albert Hall was taken in 1965 by John Hopkins and was used in the poster for the International Poetry Incarnation held on June 11 that year. It’s included in the booklet accompanying Underground London: Art Music and Free Jazz in the Swinging Sixties, which is on él records, via Cherry Red. 

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Peter Walker #

    After reading your excellent piece I popped on Albert Ayler’s “Moanin'”….hmm, it’s all the right notes, but not necessarily….Took it off and played Dudley Moore Trio, now I’m on firmer ground.

    May 25, 2020
  2. Alan Codd #

    You speak for me in this Richard in fact I am still obsessed about the same subject myself which you put very well in your first paragraph. (Me fit every category in your description of person type.)

    Thanks for the post and for bringing subject matter to my attention again.

    I won’t probably be listening to the record myself because it would only amount to my Life.
    Indispensable in the meantime to know that it is there.

    What a (comprehensive) description!

    You write about a very exciting and perhaps completely misunderstood time.

    Really and I mean it, Top Marks for being able to do that.

    Wow. Yeah. Dig. Cool.

    Not joking. This looks like the Biz.

    Nice photo.

    Zonky. – One to check out.

    May 25, 2020
  3. I arrived in London in 1970, to go to Ewny. This list of arteests is well known to me My head is my only house it often rains…

    Reading this reminded me that I lived for this stuff, and I was lonely. Still do, still am.

    Looking back I remember a feeling of having missed out on the hippy thing, too young and a few years late, thinking I’m too old for punk. Oh what shit music I listened to back then.

    Imagine only discovering Count Basie last week at the age of 68, via Jess thingy on Radio3 playing Lil Darlin. How hard it must be to swing at that funereal pace. Awesome in the actual sense of the word, not the ‘thank you for my froth in cardboard coffee’ sense.

    Lots more to discover. Unlike your other commentator, I will be buying this , because it’s a part of my life that I need to recall, a before my time time.

    Loved The Man in the Green Shirt, btw. Probably my favourite Miles book, apart from Tingen’s very flawed masterpiece.

    Keep on trucking, as no one I hung out with ever actually said.

    May 25, 2020
    • Paul Crowe #

      What about “The Blue Moment” written by, er, author’s name elusive right now.

      As for your latest post, Richard, I, born 1952, was just a little too young for all that carry-on but album sounds terrific.

      May 25, 2020
  4. Gordon #

    Sounds as if it’s worth a listen. In a similar(ish) vein it’s worth checking out David Toop’s “Ocean Of Sound” which was also all encompassing.

    May 25, 2020
  5. Tim Adkin #

    By an odd stroke of serendipity this last weekend I played the Logue and Annie Ross collaborations with Tony Kinsey (which are collected on a previous Cherry Red release ‘Loguerhythms’) and then the still astonishing Taylor track. All cracking stuff.

    May 26, 2020
  6. GuitarSlinger #

    Looking at the playlist of this eclectic and in my opinion brilliant album …. is like taking a look back at my life back in my NYC days when I listened to a station who’s call letters I’ve long since forgotten … who’s motto was ” the only music we play is good music ” . In fact … add some Dylan .. Debussy …. a little blues and bluegrass etc. ( not to mention a who’ll lot of Fireside Theater and philosophy readings ) to this set and you’d have three hours of listening to that beloved station which for better or worse shaped my entire musical future

    So to the youth that come here … if you ever want to truly comprehend why that era was so fertile for creativity … buy this set .. spend some serious time with it … and realize that for those of us with discernment and intelligence … this album is but a snapshot of what our daily lives were like back then … at least here in the ( not so ) US of A

    May 26, 2020

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