60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing the Doors live a year after Jim Morrison’s death.
Early one Friday morning in July 1971, my mate Keith called at my home so that we could walk up to school together as usual. It was a lovely summer’s day, but I was quickly plunged into gloom when he informed me that out hero Jim Morrison had died in Paris almost a week before. In those days news travelled much more slowly than it does today. Jim had only performed in the UK on two occasions: as part of a two-night engagement with Jefferson Airplane at the Roundhouse, London in September 1968 and at the Isle of White Festival in August 1970. However, the Doors weren’t quite finished as, among numerous other gigs, the three remaining members did a five-date UK tour in the year after Jim died. I caught them at a great music venue, the City Hall in Newcastle, on 10th May 1972.
They’d played a couple of songs on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ the night before, but back in those days we only had one telly, and my Dad was very much in control of it and he wasn’t a Doors fan. So I missed out on seeing them and had to rely on the report of a friend, who told me he hadn’t been too impressed. On the day of the concert, Keith, another mate and I drove together from our homes in Sunderland and parked not far from the venue.
There was supposed to be one support act, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny, but when we got into our seats near the rear of the stalls, we were pleasantly surprised to see that Hawkwind would be opening the show. Hawkwind often turned up at festivals back then and played for free, and I suppose they couldn’t resist playing on the same bill as the Doors. I think the much-loved Lemmy Kilmister must have been with them, but I don’t recall anything about him, as he wasn’t a big name back then; ‘Silver Machine’ would be released a month later. They also had in their ranks Stacia, who was a dancer who inevitably divested herself of her clothes and pranced about naked. I have to say that I wasn’t expecting this and was a bit shocked, but rather excited, too.
DikMik (Michael Davies), who died in 2017, was sitting at the back, producing his proto-synth sounds on what was called an audio-generator. This was a pretty novel sound at the time and I enjoyed that mix of basic rock rhythms and spacey effects. I can’t remember much about Sandy and Richard, apart from Sandy evoking teenage tittering from the audience when she said something about twiddling the knobs on her guitar. I was really just waiting to get to the meat of the evening, the Doors.
After Jim’s death, the Doors released the album ‘Other Voices’ just before Christmas 1971 and had also received very good reviews for their recent US dates. I quite liked the album, but it wasn’t the same sound that I’d known and revered for three years or more. The line-up for the Newcastle show was Ray Manzarek on keyboards and vocals, Robbie Krieger on guitar and vocals, and John Densmore on drums. In addition, there was Jack Conrad, a well-built bearded guy on bass, and Bobby Ray, a youthful blond-haired Californian on rhythm guitar and tympanis. They started off with ‘Tightrope Ride’, a song about Jim and probably the strongest track on ‘Other Voices’, and it went down well.
They didn’t play any of Jim’s compositions and concentrated on songs from ‘Other Voices’, with a couple from the album that was to be their last when released that summer, ‘Full Circle’: ‘Verdilac’ and the rock and roll standard ‘Good Rockin’. They did play ‘Love Me Two Times’ and ‘Light My Fire’, which were basically Robbie’s songs. As he introduced the former, Ray said, “Now we’re gonna go way back,” to which a voice in the audience shouted, “L.A. Woman’!”. Ray replied, “No, no long before ‘L.A Woman’… This is ‘Love Me Two Times,” and Robbie launched into that great opening riff.
I seem to recall from a glowing review at the time that at a later gig on the tour, at Imperial College London, they did play ‘L.A. Woman’. I remember another intro from Ray: “Right now we’re gonna get stoned! And when we get stoned we all get a little horny. I guess you know it – ‘I’m Horny, I’m Stoned’”. At one point, Ray held aloft a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale, which was a good political move.
The highlight of the performance for me was another track from ‘Other Voices’, called ‘Ships With Sails’, which contained a lengthy drum section in the middle, consisting of John and Bobby swapping increasingly shorter and shorter percussion breaks to bring that section to a great climax before it rejoined the verse. A free-form ‘Light My Fire’ was the obvious choice for the set’s closer and it brought the evening to a suitable finale.
We recorded the show on cassette and played it in the car as we drove back to Sunderland. A few months later, Keith and I were listening to ‘Break On Through’ from the Doors album ‘Absolutely Live’ and he said, “They didn’t play anything like this when we saw them.” No, but it had still been a great show.
Below you can see a video of the Doors performing a number of the above songs at ‘Live at the Beat Club’, a German TV show filmed a week before I saw them in Newcastle.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.