My first Captain Beefheart concert in 1968
I was introduced to Captain Beefheart and the West Coast Acid Rock sound by a very long-haired friend of mine called Mike. His aim in life was to grow his hair as long as he could. To that end he lived in fear of split-ends so he refused to either comb or brush his hair. He would run his fingers through it.
Mike was also fond of LSD. He would take a tab and go up to London to Middle Earth or the UFO to catch Pink Floyd or any of the West Coast Bands. He would tell me about coming out of an all-nighter into the daylight while still tripping and seeing the mounted police morphing into centaurs.
Mike’s favourite bands were Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. He would play them to me incessantly and I loved them too.
At the time I was taking my A Levels. I had a place at university sorted. All I had to do was achieve the grades. Mike was a year older and was already away at college in York doing a history degree.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band came across for their first tour. I already had that first album ‘Safe as Milk’ which I thought contained some of the best music I had heard. I knew I had to see them. They were appearing a week prior to my crucial Biology exam. That was fine. I knew that I wouldn’t get back from the concert to two or three in the morning but that was alright. I had a whole week to recover and do a spot of revision. I wasn’t very good at revision. I tended to leave it to the night before.
Eagerly I went up to London to see them only to discover the concert was postponed. Rockette Morton was ill. They put the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation on in their place. Now I liked Aynsley but he was by no means my favourite Blues band. I was extremely disappointed.
During the concert they announced that they were going to do a special double-header the following week. Not only was Captain Beefheart going to play but they were putting on John Mayall as well.
Well that floored me.
John Mayall was a favourite of mine. He had Pete Green on guitar. When that was added to Beefheart it was a package not to be missed.
To be fair I did think it over for a day or two. I knew how important those exams were. If I messed up that was my whole future. My career was out the window.
But then I never messed up Biology. I had done well in every test. There was no need to panic.
You would think that I might have found a compromise and really put in an effort on the revision on the days leading up to the exam. Unfortunately my adolescent brain simply did not function that way.
I went to the concert. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band completely blew my mind. The album had been good but live they were in a different universe. I had never heard music like it. It was so exciting, complex and dynamic that it had me bouncing and beaming right through. It was so incredibly good that I only have the vaguest memory of John Mayall. They did all the best stuff off that first album – Electricity, Yellow Brick Road, Drop Out Boogie and Abba Zabba. I still think of it as one of the best concerts I have ever been to.
I did get back at three o clock and my Biology exam started at 9.00 o clock. But I was too excited by what I’d seen. I couldn’t possibly sleep.
Needless to say I missed my university place by one grade. That could conceivably have been one single mark. I ended up going to a polytechnic and not becoming a doctor.
I worked out at some point that the Beefheart concert cost me between one and three million pounds.
But it was worth every penny. You can’t buy memories.