1968. Mary and I were living in a top floor flat in Hampstead, London. Abbey Road a walk away; ‘Clapton is God’, still on the Tube walls, and in Soho, Rhytm n’Blues, Folk and Rock n’Roll flourished. Alexis Jorner, Martin Carthy, Long John Baldry and Cyril Davies. One time I watched the fledgeling Rolling Stones begin at Ealing Broadway, another Bert Jansch, Jaqui McShee and Danny Thompson in the line up they called Pentagle.
The music and the fashions were everywhere and I wouldn’t have believed then that Danny Thompson would play on our first LP and many more. It was time of dudes with John Lennon hats, Bob Dylan worn leather jackets, guitar shoulder slung, drifting in and out of the coffee houses. Slowly, I began to put together an idea based on so many influences down so many years.
Nothing is really new. It has been said and done and the secret is to turn it around to appear fresh and new. Dylan took Woody Guthrie to the ultimate and beyond. Paul Simon drifted through the English folk clubs to pen ‘Homeward Bound’ on Widnes railway station.
Folk roots had travelled to America and in the guise of Blues, Rock n’Roll and Country, came across the Atlantic to be re-shaped and sent back again.
In those days I still saw kids being beaten up because they had long hair. Dylan and the Stones attracted their fair share of animosity.
I cashed in my Rock n’Roll chips and turned to the acoustic guitar. I met Lyell who played a classic guitar and read music. I didn’t, but we put the two together and you got the Magna Carta sound. We listened to everything and took everything in that we could. I never learned anything properly and only half learned what I did, but it did lead to an idiosynchratic sound and way of playing.
This also applied to my songs. After not a few horrendous efforts I landed on ‘Emily thru’ the Windowpane’ and ‘Spinning Wheels of Time’. The basis of the first album was there. I knew then only what I know now – that I must always write from the heart otherwise I fall off the rails.
Influences were many. One time the heat lay like a blanket over a gasping London. I opened a window and put on ‘Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful’. How I loved that band and still do. Sat down mentally in the heartlands and after hearing John’s ‘Coconut-Grove’ I wrote ‘Midwinter’ the ‘A’ side of our first single. Mary looked wonderful but tended to sing under the note, so we advertised for a vocalist. We got and I jest not jugglers, comedians and three chord Dylan freaks.
Eventually this harlequin bounced in an Afghan coat, smelling of oil of patchouli and Glen had arrived. Talented and outrageous, he was an actor and we made magic and mayhem. Now I can’t quite come to terms with it, but I would not wish to see him again. Strange you may say, but his world was never mine and vice-versa. We were uneasy partners. He was, however, one of the greats. The road is harmony, acrimony, joy and hate, magic and misery, It’s the roar of a crowd to whom you are some kind of Icon to frost thick on grimy snow, egg n’chips in the small hours and the smell of diesel. One of us calls his old lady. There is no answer and you can see the doubts and despair in his eyes.
When Hans from Pseudonym played me these tapes I was stunned and memories came reeling back. There were ghosts of course, but alive and very good. The early days of folk clubs in inaccessible places, lovers, friends and cowboys. I like guitars and the way it all knits together.
Lyell left for Australia, sadly, for it need never have been. Thats the way it is. Davey Johnstone joined. He was and still is a hurricane. He’s Elton’s longest running musician and I love him as a brother and a friend. They’ve mixed him down a bit too much on these tapes, but his talent is still frightening.
Tracks 4 – 13 are Glen, Davey and I at John Dankworth’s Wavendom musicentre. John was a mentor and a friend who could never figure how I wrote ‘Seasons”.
Tracks 14 – 19 are at Cambridge in 1987. I listen and figure it’s a Magna Carta a little bit lost in terms of corporate identity but nonetheless on good form.
There is evidence here of a unit that has been through many changes, seen a lot of the world, been burned and still come back for more.
I met Linda Taylor in Pennine Radio in 1983 at which point I thought Magna Carta was over. We went to the Middle East to earn some money and figure out what to do next as my repective worlds were tumbling about my ears. we learned to play as two, Linda and I, just as it had begun. Full circle. The songs still arrive like new friends, to stay or depart. Wilfred Thesiger referred to the desert “rich in the silence we have driven from our world”. There is silence in these songs and time.
That is something I am running out of. I hope this collection doesn’t.