Chiswick Unbound – Tribute to Peter Green

By Keith Richards

Keith Richards, writer and resident of Chiswick, documented his Corona lock down, living on his own, in a weekly blog from 24 March to 7 July 2020 called Chiswick Confined – My Corona. Now he’s free to roam at will, the blog has mutated into Chiswick Unbound.

“It’s not just the ‘Grammys’ that I’ve pulled out of. I also pulled out of the English awards as well. The reason that I wanted to pull out was because I believe very much that the music industry as a whole is mainly concerned with material success.”

Alanis Morisette

Tuesday 28 July 2020

It was March the 8th 1969 so I would have been fifteen. At the time I was playing rugby for Middlesex Schools and training hard. I was the same height as I am now so I didn’t look my age at all. I spent a great deal of time with my mate Stuart, also a Middlesex rugby player and his older brother Grant. Their father was a lecturer at Borough Road College, now part of Brunel University so maybe he got us tickets to this gig. Anyway, four of us, probably all under age, including Grant’s girlfriend, went ostensibly to see a band I recall as the Joyce Bond Review.

Joyce Bond was a Ska singer from Jamaica who was on tour over here and obviously playing student gigs. I certainly was in my skinhead phase and had a ‘crop’, which I kept with for some time even when going to rock gigs and getting plenty of comments as most people at those venues had long hair. So, here we were in the College’s main hall off Ridgeway Road and much to our surprise, supporting the headline act that hardly anyone today will remember was a scruffy bunch in vests and flared loons (*) that have been selling millions of albums ever since.

The line up of Fleetwood Mac that surprised us at that gig was Peter Green – front man vocals, guitar and harmonica, Jeremy Spencer – guitar (predominantly slide), Danny Kirwan – the newest addition and still only 19 or 20 on guitar and the powerhouse rhythm section who are still the core of the current band. John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on Drums. In fact, until just a few months before, the band had been called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac as it has been Peter who had led the defection from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, taking Fleetwood (already sacked by Mayall for his heavy drinking) and later on, McVie.

In a sign of his later reticence for the spotlight he dropped his own name – how many lead men called their band by the names of the rhythm section? I also have a memory of a lone Blues musician ‘Duster’ Bennett playing some harmonica on that set but I have not been able to verify that. He was a friend of Green’s and often hung out and played with the band even appearing on their second album.

Needless to say it was the death of Peter Green on Saturday that inspired this blog. There will be so much written about him in obituaries and replays of various documentaries but there is no doubt that in his prime he was one of the great blues/rock guitarists. Over use of psychedelic drugs clearly exacerbated existing tendencies as he also looked increasingly towards eastern spiritual philosophies to cope. Mick Fleetwood has spoken about the times when he tried to persuade the band to give away all their money. His last event with the group was in May 1970 and apart from a few guest appearances he lapsed into professional obscurity.

In the mid-seventies he had electroconvulsive therapy that has been discredited since as an unsuitable treatment and has been attributed to him becoming sluggish and trance like. A friend of mine, Jane, remembers him during this period soon after he was arrested for threatening his accountant with a shotgun. They had connections from when Green went to school in Putney and she recollects him then (1977) as overweight and lethargic. Though he eventually recovered enough through the help of friends, including Cozy Powell of Slade, to have a moderately successful band, Peter Green’s Splinter Group, it was sadly clear he was never the same musician that wrote and played on some many great tracks.

At this point I usually post a picture of the relevant Vinyl from my album collection but I am afraid I have none. To be honest, after about their third album, while Green was still with them, I had started to go off them. It was their Blues period that I most enjoyed and though I had the singles ‘Albatross’ and ‘Oh Well’ for me that was the start of the slide towards the schmaltzy confection that has made Fleetwood and McVie so much money. Oh, and good luck to them by the way as they certainly did their apprenticeship. When I saw them in March 1969 they were in the middle of a run of over 50 gigs in three months that ranged from a US tour where they supported Creedance Clearwater Revival and Albert Collins at Filmore West San Francisco (Jan16 to 19), a Scandinavian tour (Mar 20 – April 1) with several small English Colleges and pubs in between.

My friend Jane saw them on April 11 at the Top Spot Ballroom in Ross on Wye. Touring as intensively as this was what made British groups of the era so tight musically but also put a lot of strain on mental health. Just as an example in May 1969 alone they played 23 gigs in the following sequence – Manchester, Redcar, Stafford, Tolworth, Kennington, Nottingham, Bangor, Wembley, East London, BBC Studios Maida Vale, Newcastle, Sunderland, Yardley nr Birmingham, Grays, Norwich, Abergaveney, Folkestone, The Roundhouse (Camden), Plymouth, Belfast, Dublin and finally, Parliament Hill Fields London. Much of that would have been in the ubiquitous Ford Transit. They talk about ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.’ It is not surprising that this schedule encouraged musicians to fall back on drink and drugs but I don’t where they found the time and energy for the sex!

Talking of local gigs and connections. John McVie is actually a local lad as he was born in Ealing. His first band played Shadows covers in the area and rehearsed at a friend’s house in Lammas Park Road. In addition, Christine McVie, John’s wife and Fleetwood Mac member since 1969, (though her voice is on earlier album tracks) first played as Christine Perfect in Stan Webb’s band Chicken Shack. Webb is a Fulham lad. I have a memory of Chicken Shack playing the Farx Club in Southall sometime around this period when Perfect’s rendition of the Etta James classic “I’d rather go Blind” was probably the band’s most well known song.

Stan Webb used to have a very long guitar lead and I remember him walking up to the bar while playing and ordering a pint. There were many local venues and these bands regularly played in Ealing Blues club, Toby Jug at Tolworth, Southall’s Farx Club, The Ricky-Tick in Hounslow, Eel Pie Island, Kew Boathouse, and Richmond Athletic Club as well as at several pubs and colleges in the area. Oh that we had such live venues now! All but a few have closed down and those that remain struggle with fewer numbers, complaining local residents and tighter council restrictions, not to mention more aggressive landlords! The Bulls Head in Barnes and The Half Moon in Putney being two of the old guard that I fear may not survive the Covid crisis.

Ultimately, rock music is a brutal moneyed game. So many genuine souls have fallen by the wayside with mental health problems resulting in deliberate or accidental drug overdoses. Pushed over the side of the gravy boat by the ruthless pressure of the industry, artists need to either have the mental fortitude of granite or acquiesce and become a part of the behemoth themselves. From Hendrix and Joplin, Hathaway and Drake through to Cobain and Bennington the history of the music industry proves that many of the most creative artists could not take that pressure. Peter Green was one of them.

In choosing a You Tube clip there are so many too choose from. I was tempted to go for an early bluesy song that shows how good the whole band was between 1968-1970. However, I have gone for one less likely to pop up on immediate searches as it is not one of the hits. Though it is one of the early songs he wrote for the first eponymously named 1968 album, this clip is from the 1970 US tour when Peter Green was close to the end of his tether and was apparently doing a lot of acid. Just before he left the band he tended to avoid the limelight but Kirwan had just broken a guitar string and this was an impromptu solo version of ‘World Keeps Turning’. I thought it reflects his great artistry and at the same time something of his pain.

Peter Green made it to 73 years physically but bore the mental scars of the pressure. His struggle was clear in the lyrics to ‘The Green Manalishi’. Written in 1969 and released in 1970 just as he left the band, this was his last ever song with Fleetwood Mac and, as a single, it did make the UK’s Top Ten. In interviews he made later it was clear that the Green Manalishi was the devil representing the greenback US dollar and the song was about his struggles against it.

“Cause you’re da Green Manalishi with the two prong crown
All my tryin’ is up – all your bringin’ is down
Just taking my love then slippin’ away
Leavin’ me here just tryin’ to keep from following you”

Peter Green (Peter Allen Greenbaum)
29 October 1946 – 25 July 2020
May your gentle soul Rest in Peace.

* Who can remember ‘loons’? Thin cotton or velvet bell bottomed trousers with no side pockets much favoured by hippies as they were so cheap – probably less than half the price of jeans. Almost de rigeur for rock bands, worn tightly they gave great definition to any lead singer’s ‘tackle’. Just check out pictures of, say Robert Plant at the time.

Read more blogs by Keith

Read the next in the series – Chiswick Unbound: A Postcard from Bristol

Read the previous one – Chiswick Unbound: What’s Going On?

See all Keith’s My Corona blogs here.

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