Peter Green’s End of the Game
Peter Green and the End of the Game
Material referenced in my Work in Progress ‘What’s Sex got to do with it?’ Ex Friar looking for love, discovers this icon.
I had missed the early years of the British Blues Boom as I was a young Friar in a monastery. A few months after I left in June 1968, out of the corner of a community centre came an experience which changed my life. Some ethereal music was playing with the most plaintive singing and a heart rending wail of ‘I just wish I had never been born’.
It moved into a rock section which warmed me, before settling down and the singer finished with the line, ‘And I wish I was in love’.
By that point I was hovering over the Juke box and learnt that the track was ‘Man of the World’ by Fleetwood Mac.
After being cloistered away from ‘the world’ for the whole of my teens, the song stirred something in me. Yes, I had ‘missed the sixties’, and I did wish I was in love.
I needed to hear more, so I played the B side. I could have lost out so much. ‘Earl Vince & The Valiants – Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite’? It seemed like Fleetwood Mac must be a novelty band, having a B side not by them: they must have so little material as to be a one-hit-wonder band.
It was from that same Juke box that I first heard Jimi Hendrix with ‘All along the Watchtower’. Luckily I was taking Melody Maker occasionally, so checked both – Mac and Jimi.It took a while to delve into the history to find what I had missed in music: Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, West Coast rock, the British Blues Boom all getting a grip on me.
In early 1969 I was elected Member Leader of our new Youth Club – Greyfriars, Oxford – whilst also suggesting ‘dances’ at the College of Further Education. During a steep learning curve, over the coming year I became Social Secretary, Soc Sec – and was invited to Melody Maker’s Battle of the Bands final. The show was memorable to me only for the act who covered the judging interval – singer of the novelty hit, Space Oddity and its even stranger B side ‘I’m a little Gnome and you can’t catch me’, David Bowie.
I had promoted Anarchy rock sensation The Edgar Broughton Band three times – Out Demons Out was their politics – Steamhammer, Gypsy, Gracious and Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments among many others. So I did get deep into the burgeoning Rock Music scene.
I bought up the sparse back-catalogue of Fleetwood Mac, and soon realised that I was moved only by the tracks written and sung by Peter Green. This fitted because ‘Vince’ of the Valiants, was Jeremy Spencer who seemed to have only one tune and style – that of ‘Dust my Broom’ and I would soon be skipping those tracks.
I then needed to find where Peter had started. This led to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ A Hard Road album, with the spine tingling instrumental The Supernatural. That became a live staple even with Splinter group thirty years later. And the singles – there it was, a B side, what was to become my song – Out of Reach – deep, sad blues singing, and spine tingling guitar – by an eighteen year old! The last line ‘I’m Out of reach, can’t take no more’, brought me up to date with Man of the World’s – ‘I wish I was in love.’
The search was now on for any opportunity to catch Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac live. An opportunity soon arose – the centre of my home town, Oxford, was leafleted for a concert by Fleetwood Mac, supported by Tyrannosaurus Rex. I could not attend, luckily as it happened to have been a hoax: money was taken on the door, a band arrived on stage, neither of those billed – Love Sculpture, known only for single hit, a rock guitar version of Sabre Dance.
Then they were gone – or Peter was. He had left Fleetwood Mac, but fortunately had gone straight into the studio and released an album – The End of the Game. I bought it on release – the face of a beautiful leopard on the cover.
I rushed home with it on the handlebar of my bike to get it straight onto the record player. I don’t think I was ever more under whelmed. What was going on? Peter did not use his famous guitar feel at all. The whole album seemed to be one long jam, faded in and out to make a track list. There were no tunes, no proper beginnings or ends, and no singing. I loved Peter so much, I had to give him the benefit of the doubt, but over several plays during the next few days, I concluded that the title did indeed hold a message – it was the end of Peter’s game with music. This was his swansong and probably was done simply to fulfil a contract. More sympathetically, I thought what is wrong with the poor lad?
My main opportunity was going to be the Summer of 1970 – Peter was lined up to play four festivals – I could surely make one. It was to be on the 8th August, 1970 the Jazz, Blues and Pop festival, at Plumpton racecourse in Sussex. After a nightmare train journey alone from Oxford, with several changes and a bus, I was inside on a big field, before discovering that Peter Green had cancelled. It would be fair to assume that the headline act, moving one up the bill, would be a suitable replacement – a three piece power blues band which I had not listened to – Taste. But flashy speed guitar was not to my taste. I remember only that by sundown, with a pain in my arse, I felt only sadness. Did I get the milk train home?
Back home I longed for Peter Green, the man I knew, my man of the world. I was working on creating an image of him for myself. I loved the Jesus look he had developed, the long hair and beard, fully complemented with white robe and sandals – ‘Jesus Boots’. I had worked up the image of Peter Green in Blue, above. I made one with silver glitter on black. I settled on my favourite of rainbow colours radiating from his mind – the forehead.
I had finished college and was set on becoming a Youth Worker. I had a few interviews and accepted at post at Potters Bar Youth Centre starting in November 1970. I would be able to catch all the bands I wanted – when I could afford to. Our hall was the Venue for The Farx Club, and I saw many famous bands as they were up and coming, however I was never star struck by any except Roxy Music and Curved Air, but that’s another story.
I was soon able to catch Peter in the flesh. He was to play the Roundhouse, which I could not make as I was working, but a week later,
The Country Club, Haverstock Hill, a great pre-Christmas present from my hero.
Alex Dmochowski had played on End of the Game, and I did expect the set to be a promotion of the album, only recently released. I did not recognise any of the other names so thought Peter and Alex with a band were the headline act I came to see.
On arrival, as a short person, I was glad to find it was a small venue, smaller than the two I had promoted gigs at in Oxford – Greyfriars (church Hall) and the Co-op Hall (now O2 Academy).
As usual, there was an unheard of support band; as usual not listened to. Though it was an audience of perhaps only 150 for this Rock God of only 2 years previous, many, particularly blues fans, may have been sincerely put off by Peter’s first solo album. Nevertheless, there was still an air of anticipation, not to say self-congratulation at getting tickets to see this superstar at such short quarters.
The band shuffled onto the low stage, all clearly visible in the house lights, to us seated on stacking chairs. A few were allowed to stand at the back. That Alex and Peter were there, did indicate that we should not raise our expectations beyond a set list based on the very recently released End of the Game, but we would surely get at least of couple of our hero’s big numbers – Black Magic Woman or the still recent Green Manalishi, perhaps.
The band started off with the keyboard player as the ‘band leader’, playing trills and holding a chord on a Farfisa type organ, popular at the time. I have always taken this to be Zoot Money from the ‘End’ session – actually famous in his own right as a jazz musician. It was a jam, Peter on Wah Wah pedalled guitar as on the album. They did stop and start numbers, ‘Zoot’ counting in and out with his head.
It soon became evident that Peter was not going to sing.
An unexpected dimension was a sax player, where there was not one on the album. Might we get ‘Need your love so bad’ – the Mac hit featuring the horn which most sympathetically complemented blues guitar?
Did Peter even have a microphone? No numbers were introduced; the music would speak for itself. Hope remained – ‘Albatross’ and ‘Supernatural’ would not be out of place alongside ‘Timeless Time’ or ‘Hidden depth’.
The jam continued, Peter showing occasional irritation at where to fit his contribution into the mix. I was unfamiliar with the working of jams, but was open to learning. Prog Rock tracks did often have large amounts of improvisation and I knew Mac liked to play out into sections that would surely have arisen from jamming – Green Manalishi and Rattlesnake Shake, even a quiet one like part two of ‘Oh Well’. But they were built round a tune and always came back to it. That was not happening tonight. On stage a battle for position, competition for dominance, seemed to be playing out, sax and organ vying for supremacy with even bass giving an overall jazz feel. I had caught John Mahavishnu McLaughlin who I thought I ought to like, and Yes too, but all that noodling was not what I wanted from my guitarist. I was not at all comfortable.
There was a need for a change of gear. A female singer was invited, apparently out of the audience. A statuesque black woman in matching African headgear and wrap-around dress. Peter came alive. The band set off into ‘I’ve got my Mojo Working’. Peter’s eyes never left the singer in front of him as she gave a Muddy Waters style driving rendition. The house was on fire. The Mojo was working.
At the end of that one song the vocalist left the stage to return to the audience. I do not recall her name, though it must have been mentioned for a round of applause.
Directly the band set off into yet another jam, and all eyes were back on Peter. However, what they saw was a man positively deflating, until he peremptorily turned to his combo, switched it off, unplugged his Les Paul and stepped off the stage into the audience.
The band played on – or rather out. They rounded off the number and stopped as it if were planned that way. The applause from only half the audience, was at best, polite. All eyes were on Peter who stood bemused among us.
I was only eight or ten rows back, fumbling nervously with my rainbow portrait of Peter, right next to the aisle – and Peter the man – standing almost in front of me. The man beside him stood and effusively asked if Peter was going to play more sets like this. His reply is burnt into my heart: ‘I am never, ever going to do anything like this ever again.’
Somewhat apprehensively considering the state he must be in to say that, I simply thanked him and asked him to sign the portrait. He did, but distractedly looking around, adding ‘It’s not the sort of image I would use in any publicity, though.’ I had not considered it as anything professional – I am no artist, so rushed to say no it was only for me. Sadly I’ve since lost it.
It was the end of the game. I knew in my heart that the old Peter I had so rapidly grown to love in such a short time, was finished. He did not look well. He was a peer, only a couple of years older than me, and I felt for him. He would get home tonight and shake himself, he was out of reach. Could he take any more?
I was right. Peter Green disappeared after that night. I read that he had joined the Mac on tour in America to save gigs whence Jeremy Spencer had purportedly had his head turned by a religious sect.
And that was it. I scoured the press, and played my records.
Three years later Melody Maker had a wild picture of my raggedy haired laughing hero, bare-chested in open denim jacket. He was playing a trusty sunburst Les Paul with the promise ‘Green returns to recording’. Six albums over three years with his old Manager, the first of which was to be called … my heart … ‘Out of Reach.’
It never happened. None of it.
It was to be yet another six years until Peter would recover from various malaises and lifestyles, and mental health exacerbated by allegedly having his drink spiked with LSD. He delivered ‘In the Skies’ which I was very pleased with. It sounded like the old Peter. I don’t think he toured that album. A couple more workaday blues albums followed, which were with all lyrics written by his brother only tune one credited to Peter had the ominous title ‘Funky Jam’ – or ‘What shall we call this?’
Snowy White had played on ‘In the Skies’ and I went to see him with Thin Lizzy, purposely to meet him back stage to ask him about his work with Peter. He asked me which was my favourite track. ‘Slabo Day.’ ‘Who’s it credited to?’ he said, which I thought very strange. I told him Peter Green. He stretched his lips over his teeth. ‘It’s mine,’ he said. He didn’t seem bitter. He went on to tell me that Peter was not at all well, kind of schizophrenic, they would work on a track for a whole day and come the recording next day, Peter will have forgotten all about it.
After another album, ‘White Sky’, yet again with no original Peter Green numbers on it, a tour was promoted as Peter Green’s Kolors. I would go to see it. I would drive from my new home in Nottinghamshire to the West End, Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road, London.
It was a pleasant gig, Peter, big bearded still, and bigger overall, looked a bit lost, his voice was lost, and the set depended almost exclusively on his Fleetwood Mac hits. Nothing was new except for an instrumental, which I did have hopes for.
I had to wait for the band to unwind backstage before being let into a heavy marijuana fug. Peter was seated and seeing me welcomed me, his old friend. My heart leapt up and fell straight back down again. He could not possibly remember me. I was not the friend he thought I was.
I asked what the instrumental was called, a bit like an instrumental version of Black Magic Woman. He had a think – ‘Oh, it Supernatural! It’s in the same key as Magic Woman.’ One more question, why had he fallen back on the old tracks. He pointed to one next to him, the keyboard player/band leader ‘Oh Rennie and the guys like to play the old hits.’ Rennie was Emmanuel Rentzos.
I drove homeward, downhearted. I had not recognised one of my all time favourite tracks. Why? Because it was missing the key elements – lead guitar, and that spooky effect. Looking back over the set, I realised that it was all a bit muted, and when turning my gaze to Peter for the good guitar pieces, I saw he was lackadaisically strumming with occasional quiet notes picked out.
It was to be a few more years before I could see if Peter had retained the old magic. He has never created any more magic, for me. The Splinter Group aptly named as nothing like the whole piece of wood.
Thanks for the memory Peter. He is an old man, apparently sheltered from any more exploitation of the name he made in his youth. He is greatly loved for his fine creations and fans like me the world over, seek out lost and refurbished recordings by that beautiful icon.
I will have ‘Man of the World’ at my funeral.
Thanks to Christopher Kika Hjort, author of “Strange Brew: Eric Clapton & The British Blues Boom 1965-1970” for help with some details including gig advert.