In the mid-80s a good friend of ours, I shall call him Dave because…that was his name, made the reckless decision to ditch his music collection and build a new one from the technology of the future, the CD. I did not, like others in our gang, take advantage of his temporary madness and help myself to his vinyl. I thought he would want them back in less than 6 months. We did though buy his reel to reel tape deck for a stupidly low price. The deck came with a collection of around 35 tapes each with 6 albums of good music. That’s what ? About 82 new LPs in the house !
Dave had been meticulous in his compilation and there were 7″ boxes with collections of John Martyn, Tim Buckley, Bob Marley and others. We loved our old/new toy. A musical choice could be made early in the evening and, apart from a spot of old school spool threading at the half way point, a consistent atmosphere would drift through the house as we went about our business. Our preferred choice became, because it just lifted our spirits, the Taj Mahal tape, it was a treasury of rhythm and good vibes. A “why have I not heard this music before ?” thing.
I knew Taj as an electric blues player from his first LP but was unaware of the range of his music.I had seen him when he closed the Glastonbury festival in 1981. I remember the set as being solidly blues-based. This discovery of Taj’s range, of his lovely fluid rhythm and his vivacity was a surprising delight. We were indeed “Satisfied and Tickled Too” as he sings in this interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt’s song. I was exposed to country blues at an early age and had always been somewhat of a purist but Taj’s wonderful tone, in his playing and in his voice, brings a modernity and a humour to the music that I really liked.
In 1987 he played the festival again. All 3 of our household attended and we met up, after a typically inspirational performance by Van Morrison, to watch Taj together. This time he did play the acoustic blues and Caribbean rhythms we knew. Taj is a big man with an assured stage presence and a natural, delightful rhythm to his music over which his harmonic flourishes and nuances make a perfect sense. It was a fine ending to a weekend of live music. We still had a few hours in the Dread Broadcasting sound system tent to go.
This clip of Robert Johnson’s “Come On Into My Kitchen” is from 1985. The music says it better than my attempt to.
So, 5 days later I am in the pub with my workmates planning the weekend ahead. That Glastonbury feeling is still around but needs a little top up. Taj Mahal is playing in London on the coming Sunday evening. I decide this is just what I need and have a good idea who I would like to enjoy it with. Benedicte, a woman as lovely as her name, was a new friend and new to London. I called her, invited her to the gig and she said yes. We both knew it was a “date” not just a friend thing. Well alright…the weekend is sorted.
This time Taj was playing to his people, every song cheered from the intro. He could rock out as well as play those knowing acoustic blues. The Town and Country Club is an old Irish dance hall, there were plenty of bars around the large dance floor so it was easy to re-fill your glass without missing the music. I have had a lot of good nights there and liked the place a lot. Taj was just fantastic, playing requests and conducting a tour of his long career. The music, the venue, the very happy crowd. Do I know how to show a woman a good time ? Hell yeah.
Here is Taj when he was young from the LP “Happy To Be Like I Am”. He leaves the guitar to the excellent Jesse Ed Davis and just rocks “Tomorrow May Not Be Your Day” and he rocks that hat too.
It was past midnight when we left the Town and Country. We were flying but still a long way from home. A taxi from Kentish Town to Camberwell was just going to be exorbitant so we were at the bus stop. Even if our timing and luck was right we were still over an hour from home. If we were unlucky with both the night buses we needed then it could be three hours. Now the night had been as fine as fivepence but half the night on a bus or waiting for a bus yeah that’s a romantic way to end the proceedings. Still, what can a poor boy do ?
A car stopped in front of us, From the open near side window I heard “Mal ! Get in”. Now that’s my name and I did as I was told. It was Dave’s car. the very same Dave who had put me onto Taj Mahal with his tape collection. Of course he was going to be at the gig. Well, London is a village, innit ! I settled into the back seat , Dave knew where I lived. I had a comfortable drive through the West End night to my doorstep…result. We raved about the music but Dave’s lovely wife Carol was much more interested in meeting my, by now slightly bemused, companion. Benny was totally impressed that such friendly people had appeared, from apparently nowhere, with both the attitude and means of transport to assist a fine night out. It would have been rude to refuse an invitation for coffee with the 3 of us around my cosy hearth.
Good memories of seeing Taj Mahal twice in a week. His music has incorporated cross-continental influences and styles. He has played with many fine musicians and always found his own individual way into the rhythms. It is always good to hear. It’s unlikely that I will ever spend another lazy Sunday listening to 6 consecutive LPs of his music. It was a fine accompaniment to a relaxed, enjoyable time.