Mick Fleetwood - drums, percussion; Peter Green - vocals, guitar, six-string bass; Danny Kirwan - vocals, guitar; John McVie - bass; Jeremy Spencer - vocals, slide guitar, congas, percussion
After distinguishing himself and achieving a level of recognition in Europe, like Eric Clapton before him, Peter Green departed John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in 1967, freeing himself of employment and artistic restrictions. However, unlike most of the British guitar greats, Green was never concerned with flash or becoming a guitar superstar. This humble attitude and his approach to music, made him one of the most compelling of all the British guitar players of the 60's. Green could play incisive and clean style perfectly, but was equally adept at playing with tremendous power. His style was highly nuanced without ever relying on cliches. This made listening to anything Green had to say with his guitar a rewarding experience. Many of his originals have a timeless quality that still sound fresh and intriguing today. Green was the chief architect of Fleetwood Mac's music, providing the bulk of their original and pure blues material. His playing could be wonderfully restrained one minute and powerfully explosive the next, marked by a distinctive vibrato and economy of style. His haunting, sweet-yet-melancholy tone was quite distinctive and he had an inherent human touch that other British guitarists struggled for. Initially, Jeremy Spencer was the band's other faction. Spencer could authentically recreate Elmore James onstage and this novel ability, along with a ribald sense of humor (that the entire band shared), helped fuel the band's early stage shows.
In 1968, Green recruited Boilerhouse guitarist, Danny Kirwan, into the band, expanding the lineup to a quintet. Kirwan too had a guitar style that was utterly unique and his presence dramatically changed the sound of the band. Kirwan's presence increased the band's dynamic and Green's creativity level soared as a result. Over the course of the next two years, Green's playing would reach stratospheric hieghts as the group began exploring music outside the traditional blues format. As a result, the group's live intensity level increased dramatically, which captivated American audiences and enamored them to many of the San Francisco music elite. Green's innate apprehension toward the business side of the music industry and his obsessive nature regarding his music paralleled the musical vibe of many of the San Francisco bands and they soon became friends with The Grateful Dead and were exposed to the hippie culture of San Francisco. The musical and cultural vibe in San Francisco and his first exposure to LSD had a profound impact on Green and, as a result, his songwriting became far more diverse and creative. The group's live performances became more open-ended and Green and Kirwan began embracing heavy improvisation, taking their music soaring to new heights. When they entered the studio in mid-1969 to record the groundbreaking Then Play On album, Spencer was no longer involved, but both Green and Kirwan were armed with an abundance of exciting new material that was far more progressive than anything the band had done before.
This incendiary Fleetwood Mac performance, recorded at Gothenburg's Cue Club in November of 1969, shortly after completing the sessions for Then Play On, captures this magic moment in time perfectly. Right off the bat, Green pulverizes the audience with a rip-roaring "Rattlesnake Shake" that heads directly for the stratosphere. It's a fierce and forceful version that soon ventures off into a blazing jam featuring extremely impressive guitar interplay between Kirwan and Green. This is no warmup excersize as they go at it full boar for nearly 10 minutes. When this initial blaze of creativity begins waning, they transition directly into Green's instrumental, "Underway." Unlike the rather brief (under 3 minutes) studio recording, here this thrilling composition cooks for 14 solid minutes and clearly demonstrates what a crucial catalyst Kirwan had become. Both guitarists are overflowing with invention here, with Kirwan as the perfect harmonic foil to Green's breathtaking melody lines. Much the same can be be said about the much shorter Kirwan instrumental, "World In Harmony," which follows. Here, the infuence of Jerry Garcia is apparent with both guitarists harmonizing soulfully and featuring a hot little jam in the middle. It perfectly captures just how close the two guitarist had grown musically, now capable of soloing in unison as well as triggering off each other.
The next two songs provide Jeremy Spencer a showcase for his celebrated Elmore James-style workouts. Here, the band provides solid support while Spencer sizzles on slide guitar, first sinking his teeth into a ripping "Red Hot Mama" before settling into the the tasty relaxing groove of "Got To Move." Although Spencer's role in the band was diminishing by this point, these are both exciting performances that bring diversity to the bands repertoire.
Following Spencer's showcase, Green is ready for more experimentation and the group begins improvising. This next piece of music has never been heard before, not even on circulating live recordings of this era. It unquestionably has the sound of the Then Play On era sessions, but is utterly unique and may have been a work in progress that was ultimately abandoned. This features a wonderful call and response section between Green and Kirwan and another fascinating performance. Green's more introspective side is also on display here and his guitar playing is wonderfully expressive.
Kirwan's "Coming Your Way," the bluesy track that opens Then Play On, is up next. Here it is extended to nearly three times the length of the studio recording. Fleetwood and McVie, along with Spencer adding additional rhythmic support on congas, provide a propulsive backing that inspires yet another heavy rhythmic based jam from Green and Kirwan. Spencer then steps back up to change the set's texture with his reconstruction of Elmore James "Stranger Blues."
Following this Peter Green addresses the audience directly and introduces "Albatross" by stating "This song always brings great peace to everybody, including me." On this spiritual note, the band delivers a lovely version of this classic Green instrumental. This is a perfect example of less is more, with Green playing wonderfully delicate lead over the song's infectious floating groove. His restraint, combined with Kirwan's perfect unison lead lines make this performance even more touching than the original. There is zero superfluous playing here and Green squeezes deep emotion out of every note.
With merely a second of downtime afterwards, they close the set with a new composition, one that would soon go on to be a defining moment in Green's career, "Oh Well." Hearing this incredibly inovative song when it was this fresh is an absolute revelation. Here, it is not the nine minute opus they released over the two sides of their single, but what it lacks in length is more than made up for in sheer ferocious energy. It's hard to imagine any band that has ever squeezed such wide dynamics and pulverizing intensity into a mere three minutes. This performance is blazing with so much tight compressed energy that words cannot accurately describe it. It isn't surprising that this song would become one of the most imitated blues/rock workouts in modern music.
If there's any downside to the remarkable recording, it's that only an incomplete 10 minute exceprt of the "Green Manalishi" encore was captured and it begins and ends in progress. The recording resumes past the actual vocal section of the song, with the band again blazing into another ferocious jam. It stays at full intensity for the first several minutes, before everyone but Green and Fleetwood drop out, giving Green an opportunity to solo on six-string bass. The tape unfortunately runs out shortly afterwards.
Regardless of the incomplete encore, this recording captures the classic Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac at what was arguably the most intensely creative and focused time of their all too brief career. The telepathic communication between Kirwan and Green was elevating the music to incredible levels. It was performances like this one that devastated audiences and established Peter Green as one of the most original and compelling guitar players on the planet.
-Written by Alan Bershaw
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