THE GREEN GOD
Right, where was I? Ah yes, the guitarist whose career came off the tracks. This, you may recall, was the planned blog last month until the easily distracted yours truly went off in a different direction altogether. The man I’m talking about is Peter Green, the so called Green God and founder of Fleetwood Mac. I’d have thought it’s reasonable to assume there are a great many people unaware that there was ever a bloke called Green in the Mac or that they existed at all prior to “Rumours”. That’s one of the things that’s always fascinated me, that there are two very distinct Fleetwood Macs, both diametrically opposed to and different from each other. In a lot of cases bands go through personnel changes but remain essentially the same musically. Not so in this instance – we’re talking extreme polar opposites.
Peter Green, who turned seventy at the end of October, was part of that generation of British musicians swept up in the blues boom of the 1960s, playing with various little known R’n’B outfits around London before he got the call to replace Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Now this would rightly have been seen as a poison chalice by many guitar players but Green flourished, winning praise from critics, audiences and fellow musos alike. I’ve never quite figured out precisely what it was that made his playing so special – he didn’t have Clapton’s flash or speed of fingers up and down the fretboard but if I had to explain it as I see it I’d say it was his economy, simplicity, no flurry of notes when one would do the job just as good. If you were an aspiring guitar player he just sounded like he could be copied, quite unlike Clapton obviously. I am grossly over-stating this of course, it takes real talent to to make playing any musical instrument sound so easy.
Whatever, he left the Bluesbreakers after only a year to form his own band, Fleetwood Mac. Taking their musical style from the Bluesbreakers Green took to the role of front man and the songwriting responsibilities that came with it with some spectacular results. Albatross, Black Magic Woman (or Black Morris Minor as we used to call it), The Green Manalishi with the Two Pronged Crown, just some of the marvellous songs penned by Green but if pressed to name my favourite of his it would have to be Oh Well – Part1. If you’re old enough you’ll probably remember the riff being used as the theme music for Dave Fanning’s Rock Show on radio in the early 1980s. So anyway, all was going swimmingly in 1969/70 as Fleetwood Mac gathered up acclaim and hit singles but the clouds were gathering. Reports vary as to the extent of Green’s use of LSD at this time, but by early 1970 some band members had noticed a change in his personality and attitude. Things were soon about to hit the skids.
More than a few people cite the lyrics to “Man of the World” as an insight into Green’s mental state at this time and while I’m personally wary of reading too much into song lyrics if you go along with the idea that it might be in some way autobiographical then Green was a troubled man. Drummer Mick Fleetwood has spoken before of arguments with him about money and Green saying the band should be giving theirs away, an idea Fleetwood was understandably not overly keen on. In any case the general consensus by all concerned was that Green’s trip to a Munich commune whilst on tour in Germany was an LSD trip too far. Various band members and roadies were dispatched to bring him back to his hotel but found him reluctant to leave. After much to-ing and fro-ing they prevailed but the dye was cast – within a couple of months Peter Green had left Fleetwood Mac. The band’s manager at the time, Clifford Davis, singles out the Munich incident as a significant point in the decline of Green’s mental health and it does sound eerily similar to the case of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett whose dabbling in LSD is seen as responsible, at least partially, for the ravages wrought upon his own mental health.
The 1970s and 80s were a bleak time for Green. He was diagnosed as being schizophrenic, spending time in and out of various psychiatric hospitals and undergoing electro-convulsive therapy, a treatment which has confusion and memory loss among its side effects. Then there was the incident where he allegedly threatened Clifford Davis with a gun. The details of this are disputed to this day by both sides so it’s hard to know where the truth lies but it resulted in Green being committed to another spell in a psychiatric institution. He came back to recording in the 1990s albeit with indifferent sales and reaction it must be said. Still, it was nice to see him back, he could so easily have vanished from view like the afore-mentioned Barrett. The early 2000s pretty much followed the same pattern, on again off again, though as of the last few years he’s back touring again (just about) with his band, Peter Green and Friends. In interviews he seems a fragile character, which, given what he’s been through, is hardly surprising. I’ll say it again though – in a year where we’ve lost so many it’s pleasing that Peter’s still around in however limited a way.
A thought before I go. The B-side of “Man of the World” was a little ditty called “Somebody’s gonna get their heads kicked in tonite”, written by band member Jeremy Spencer (now there’s another wild and wacky character). Sometimes of an evening when I’ve got my feet up on the table and I’m gazing at the sun setting beyond the distant trees I imagine a parallel universe where the blissed out, coked up late 1970s version of Fleetwood Mac do this in concert. Can’t you just visualise Stevie Nicks wrapping her vocal cords around lines like ” It’s a Wednesday night, there sure is gonna be a fight. A fight! Somebody’s gonna get their head kicked in tonite. Well the joint is jumpin’, everybody’s shoutin’ for more. We want more! Well there’s gonna be a pool of blood on the dance floor On the floor! Cos somebody’s gonna get their head kicked in tonite”
You can’t? It must be just me then….
That’s it from The Queen Street Observer for 2016. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and be nice to those around you.
Talk to you next month!