60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing Arthur Lee and Love live in 1974 and 2002.
There are some records that stun you when you first hear them, and one like that for me was ‘7 and 7 Is’ by Love. I think it was June 1968 when one of my best mates played it for me. I’d never heard anything like it and had to play it again at once. If you don’t know it, the song pelts along like an express train and culminates in a crack of thunder followed by a slow, almost Shadows-like coda. Much later, when it became easier to find information about distant bands like Love, I’d discover that it took over 40 takes to get the recording right, as the drumming was very exhausting and bandleader Arthur Lee had to keep alternating with regular drummer Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer.
My mate’s older brother had recently returned from working in the States and he’d brought back a heap of exotic albums and singles that we avidly devoured. I’d never heard of most of the artists involved and the cover of Love’s album ‘Da Capo’ with the seven band members set against the ruins of an old building intrigued me. Back then, the front covers of UK LP’s (I don’t think we actually called them albums yet) were shiny, but the US covers weren’t and that simple difference made them exotic.
The rest of ‘Da Capo’ sounded great to me, too, with tracks such as the opener ‘Stephanie Knows Who’, which was pulsing and dramatic, ‘The Castle’ and even the very long track ‘Revelation’, which filled the whole of side two. Most other Love fans I know don’t like ‘Revelation’, as it’s really just a pretty badly edited studio jam, but I don’t care. About six months after hearing ‘Da Capo’, we got our hands on a copy of Love’s follow-up album ‘Forever Changes’, which I loved even more.
By 1969, the band members that recorded ‘Da Capo’ and ‘Forever Changes’ had been replaced, and Arthur finally made it to the UK. Not long afterwards, but the first time I saw him, was at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park in May 1974. He’d already received some negative reviews of earlier gigs on the tour and one of the first things he said after coming onstage was: “We’ve been rehearsing. We’re gonna put on a good show for ya.”
I was excited to see Arthur after waiting so many years, but really the show was a disappointment. I’d never heard of the three other guys in the band and they were nothing special. There was very little subtlety and the main sound was of lots of buzzing electric guitars. At one point I got up close to the stage and had Arthur in the sights of my Kodak Instamatic when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was a security guy and having ascertained that I had no press pass, he told me to get back to my seat.
Steely Dan had been on at the Rainbow a couple of days before and I think I’d have been much better off seeing them. I don’t remember much about Love’s set list but there were a few tracks from ‘Forever Changes.’
The second time I saw Arthur was at the Newcastle Opera House in August 2002. As he slowly drifted onto the stage a minute or so after his backing band, he nearly tottered over, but this didn’t phase him in the slightest and this latter-day Love went on to deliver one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.
Until December 2001, Arthur had been in a Californian prison having served five and a half years of a 12-year stretch for a firearms offence. (By the way, it was later established that he’d been wrongly convicted.) The warm welcome from a packed audience finally faded and the band launched into the aforementioned ‘7 and 7 Is’. It was soon obvious that we were in for a great show as they captured the extraordinary dynamism of the recorded version. From there on, it was a continuous treat of Love favourites, 22 in all, including all but one track from ‘Forever Changes’.
Arthur himself was in good voice and played rhythm guitar on some songs, as well as blistering harmonica on ‘Signed D.C.’, a lament about the heroin addiction of original Love drummer Don Conka. He also played maracas and shook a mighty cool tambourine. It was no one man show, however, and the other four players, originally known as Baby Lemonade and none of whom had been born when the music they were reproducing so well was first recorded, were all outstanding.
Lead guitarist Mike Rendle was particularly impressive, as he managed to re-interpret the original brass, wind and keyboards, as well as perform guitar solos. Drummer David Green was as tight as shite; Dave Chapple on bass was rock solid throughout and recreated the solo on ‘My Flash On You’ to great effect. Rusty Squeezebox on rhythm guitar and background vocals was the subject of some good-natured banter from Arthur about which song to do next. He also chipped in well with some impromptu humming when Arthur forgot the words to ‘You Set The Scene’ – Arthur just laughed. That song incidentally was one of Ken Livingstone’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ selections.
As well as original Love fans from the 60s, many of the audience were under 25 and the overall reaction was fulsome throughout. Clad in an orange woolly hat and shades, Arthur was clearly delighted with the reception he received, but he still told us he didn’t do encores. He just said that the final song ‘Singing Cowboy’ was the encore and after much singing along from the audience it was all over. The band left the stage to the sound of Arthur’s guitar feeding back till a roadie crept on to switch it off.
Arthur continued to tour a lot, sometimes with former guitarist Johnny Echols from the early days, and he recorded a live version of ‘Forever Changes’ at the Royal Festival Hall in London, which is available on DVD. He received great plaudits and it was a fantastic comeback after years in the wilderness, but sadly he died of leukaemia in 2006. He’d been writing his memoirs while in prison and some of these were included in the authorized biography ‘Arthur Lee: Forever Changes and the Book of Love’ by John Einarson, which is well worth a read.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.