Stationed in New York for most of 1975 and all of 1976 I missed UK punk but felt its blast from The Ramones and their ilk down at CBGBs. Nevertheless I caught a whiff of what was happening in the UK in August of 1975 when, briefly relieved of my job as Melody Maker’s US Editor, I was exposed to Dr Feelgood during a three-day festival that MM editor Ray Coleman sent me to cover at Orange, near Avignon in France.
Staged in a spectacular Roman amphitheatre where gladiators once fought, it promised much but delivered less due to several star name no-shows, bands running late and interminable delays between sets. Coupled with the hard stone seats, it’s not surprising there were outbreaks of ill-feeling amidst the crowd. Still, a few incidents stick in my memory and I was reminded of my trip to Orange when the other day I chanced on my review of the Feelgoods on the website Rock’s Back Pages, of which more later.
I recall watching a set by Fairport Convention but whatever enjoyment I felt was tempered by an altercation I’d had earlier in the day with their bass player Dave Pegg in the backstage bar. Pegg, not in the first flush of sobriety, took exception to an MM review of his group’s last LP, and decided to vent his spleen by pouring a pint of beer over my head. I too had drink taken and this emboldened me to retaliate, not least because I wasn’t the author of the review that had so inflamed him. So I bought a pint and went over to where Pegg was sitting and poured it over his head. He was restrained from thumping me by others in his party. I think we made up later.
The Fairports appeared on the first evening of the Festival, a Friday, and they were followed on stage by John Cale who was billed to appear with Nico. In the event Nico elected to perform solo later in the evening, but I liked Cale whose acquaintance I’d made in New York. I also felt that he, and not Lou Reed, was the key musician in the Velvets. Idiosyncratic to a tee, Cale wore what today would be called a onesie, loose and unbuttoned to the waist, and after his set he walked straight off stage and carried on walking, striding purposefully past everyone backstage, out of the arena, up a hill and on into the town. I alone decided to follow him, maybe 20 or 30 yards or so behind, curious as to his intentions. When he reached the town he went into a bar, ordered a drink and sat down. He was still dressed in his distinctive stage wear but no one gave him a second thought, so I went into the same bar, ordered a beer and sat down alongside him.
John Cale on stage at Orange
“Hello Chris. What are you doing here?”
“Hello John. Taking a break from New York. I enjoyed your set.”
“Er, what’s with leaving the arena and heading straight for this bar.”
“I didn’t like the crowds backstage.”
“Fair enough. I didn’t like them much either. I have to go back though. I’m supposed to be covering the show for MM.”
“Rather you than me. You don’t have any money do you? I forgot to grab some on my way out.”
I handed John a few francs. “Thanks. Bye.”
I walked back to the arena, which wasn’t far, but was refused entry by the guardian of the backstage door who didn’t believe I was from MM. Fortunately my plight was noticed by Patsy Collins, who worked for Artists Services, bodyguards to the stars, who knew me from past encounters, and he eased my entry in a manner that comes naturally to straight-talking Cockneys built like brick shithouses. That night he was working for Bad Company, the headliners, whose customary professional but rather predictable set was sadly diminished by a surfeit of the local speciality, full-bodied red wine. I heard later that some of their entourage were involved in a bust-up in a restaurant in the town. No doubt Patsy sorted it out.
Back at the festival the following morning I was wondering what the day would bring after yesterday’s adventures. I wasn’t to know it but I was to be knocked sideways by an act I hadn’t seen before, so to finish this little post I’ll quote my MM review verbatim:
Wilko and Lee on stage at Orange
On paper, Saturday night looked to be the least attractive evening of the festival but it was, in fact, a triumph for Dr Feelgood, who received the biggest ovation of any act throughout the three days. Unfortunately, I missed John Martyn's opening set, but the general consensus of opinion was good by the time I arrived and the Feelgoods took the stage.
The band, who had flown over in a small plane chartered by the festival promoters, were an absolute knock-out, providing an object lesson to bands who flounder in complexity for complexity's sake.
The Feelgoods were so damn simple you just had to prick up your ears and listen as three-minute (!) songs were punched out with fire and drive and a certain amount of self-parody.
The crowd erupted as they thundered along, never hesitating for a second, like an express train on a quick inter-city route. 'Doctor Feelgood' itself brought the audience to their feet, and they stayed up for the closing sequence of 'I'm A Hog For You Baby', 'There's A Riot Goin' On' and the closer 'Route 66'.
For five minutes they cheered, but the Feelgoods never returned, and when the crew began to dismantle their equipment the cheers turned to hostile jeers and whistles. Procol Harum had the unenviable task of following, but the immediate danger was forestalled with a seemingly interminable pause between the two acts.
Thus, when Procol finally appeared, well over an hour after Dr. Feelgood left, they were welcomed with a certain feeling of relief.
The next day, the Sunday, Lou Reed failed to appear which was a shame as I’d like to have contrasted his set with John Cale’s. Even better would have been them appearing together, but I’d have to wait until 1993 to see that.
All images sourced from the internet.