Friday, August 18, 2006

White Bicycles. Making Music in the 1960's

They say that if you can remember the 1960's you weren’t there at all. Joe Boyd, famed producer and general man-about-music, definitely was there and, on the evidence of this fascinating book, his memory is perfectly intact. If, like me, you first got into music in the Sixties, White Bicycles will bring back stuff you’ve forgotten for years. (You'll also smile with satisfaction as you recognise the allusion in the book's title.) If you’re much younger, you’ll be captivated by how vividly it evokes the sights and sounds of that seminal decade.

Blues… Folk… Psychedelia... Pink Floyd at UFO (which, every night bar Fridays, was the Blarney Club run by an affable Paddy)... the Incredible String Band and their bad luck at Woodstock... Nick Drake… Fairport Convention… Bob Dylan (the account of Newport 1965 is the best I’ve ever read)… They’ve all come into Boyd’s orbit and are brilliantly brought to life here. Elswhere, he is scathing about digital recording; South African racism and white liberals; the narrow-mindedness of the Jazz scene and, in one the most striking passages, inspired by a bland performance by Aretha Franklin, he castigates those artists and their fans who settle for “self-congratulatory affection” where “the music is caught in the middle, lifeless and predictable”. The final chapter is a compelling comparison of the Sixties and our world today, and the book ends with an elegiac coda which fuses the intensely personal and the zeitgeist.


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