It was pretty exciting, if scarcely believable, to see the small press adverts at the start of the summer announcing Michael Nesmith’s concert at Oran Mor in late October. Tickets were duly purchased, perhaps with limited expectations, for that last Friday in Glasgow and we prepared to make our way to the dear, green place.
Nesmith’s music had been a huge influence on me and my contemporaries as teenagers in the seventies. I think where I started was with a Radio 1 In Concert programme in May 1976, which I suspect was a repeat of an earlier broadcast; Nesmith was the first of two acts in the broadcast (I can’t remember the second) and I taped his half of the show on a hulking great Sanyo radio-cassette machine I had been given the previous Christmas. (The cassette tape I used had probably also been a Christmas present…these were different times.)
And it was lucky that I taped it, because it provided sustenance for a long time afterward. I haven’t actually listened to it for ages, although it was of course transferred to CD years ago; but I can still hear the opening, dead slow, dead low version of “Silver Moon”; the run-through of “Joanne,” prefaced by an idea of humour going well over the audience’s head; and the last song of the “hits” section, “Some of Shelley’s Blues,” in the same slowed down vibe as “Silver Moon.”
The bit that really stuck though was when Nesmith explained what he would be doing for the rest of his alloted space and began to explain The Prison. This was his current project at the time, a book with a soundtrack – the idea was that one read a book supplied with the album while listening to the music therein, in order that the music would complement the images suggested by the words on the page.
In reality, that worked about as well as that last sentence did; there are not a lot of words in the book, so I tended to find myself having finished the text while there was still music playing. However, in the context of the live broadcast I’ve been discussing, the story of The Prison was seductive to my young mind and soon led me to Alan Watts and reading about Taoism, which I’m pretty sure was one source of the idea behind The Prison.
In the meantime, my friends and I had found that you could buy cut-outs of just about all of Nesmith’s records up to this point for less than a pound in Bruce’s or latterly GI (the economics behind the developments of one’s musical taste in the seventies was necessarily important.)
These six albums did turn out to be money well spent, as there is barely a foot put wrong throughout the body of work. On these records, Nesmith arguably invented (or more probably refined) the notion of country/rock and although, one the face of it, they seemed to be pretty straight ahead, there was a consistent undercurrent of weirdness; strange time signatures, sound effects, sleeve-note ruminations on the craft of songwriting; even a whole album that was a duet of Nesmith’s guitar and vocals with Red Rhodes’ pedal-steel.
The release of The Prison in 1974 seems to have stopped any commercial momentum which had been built up, however, and it was more than two years until Nesmith recorded his next album which yielded a hit single in “Rio,” which is really all most people know about him apart from his being in The Monkees. After one more album a year later, he effectively seemed to retire from music, which seemed to me at the time a rare and laudable example of an artist having said all he had to say (very well) and then becoming silent.
There were later releases in the nineties, but I lacked the curiosity to keep up and have only recently heard them. It’s a funny thing, but as I mentioned before in reference to the BBC Concert, as loved as these records were, they are rarely played.
However, reverence and gratitude made me want to see Nesmith now. He had last played in this country under his own banner in 1975, apart from participating in a Monkees reunion tour in, I think, the early noughties.
I was not alone in the reverence stakes at Oran Mor on the evening of 26 October; obviously, Nesmith’s audience would never have been comprised of curious by-passers, but the sense of delight among the audience when he took the stage was palpable.
The next couple of hours pretty much flew by; I for one couldn’t take my eyes off Nesmith for the whole show. Admittedly, there wasn’t much competition – as he pointed out, the stage was like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, his two associates on stage can’t really say “band”) operating a number of laptops to accompany Nesmith’s Martin 12-string.
One of my friends didn’t like this synthesised-music approach, but I felt it worked OK – this was the man, after all, who credited a Roland drum machine on his 1974 album and whose late seventies albums were firmly in the AOR field, with all that entails for the specific sounds which were in fashion at the time.
Nesmith presented his songs chronologically, but linked them with an fictional narrative which gave the evening a nicely rounded feel. I think everyone had a good time; Nesmith was even due to add a second concert in London due to the demand for tickets for the first.
Thanks to Phil for the picture.