John Mc Laughlin
The Heart Of Things
in Cambridge (UK)
Regular visitors here may remember Dave Phillips' narrative re his
trip to all four 'New Shakti' gigs in the UK, September last year.
Here's his story from Cambridge this year.
Arriving in Cambridge & driving round in ever dwindling circles trying to
'Lion Yard' car park supposedly adjacent to the historic 'Corn Exchange',
time ticking away, I was beginning to panic. Relief as I lock the car &
the exit stairs & come face to face with the venue's sign-board. 7.10 PM, 20
spare I thought!
Not too many people in the foyer as I walk in to be greeted by very friendly
jacketed security. Bar to the right, a table set up to the left with two
McLaughlin Verve CDs. I wander over & engage in conversation. They were in
a favour for Verve Records tonight. They were actually over here on behalf
to promote Jan Carbarek. I noticed two RFH posters hanging behind them &
got my face
down for one of them after the show. I explained the irony that at the RFH
I had asked if I may have one of their two posters. They politely refused
was allowed to touch them ... the logic passed over me! Anyway these ECM
bods had been to
the RFH themselves & had secured the said posters to bring over to
covering up the misleading venue & support act info.
The head security guy, a jolly person indeed, who said he was a big
at one time, told me the venue took approximately 700 people & that tonight
it was not
sold out. I was surprised.
As it neared 7.30 PM an announcement was made that there would be a delay.
had arrived late from Ireland & would need time to set up the stage
equipment. The lobby
began filling up to bursting point until we had to spill out onto the street
freezing night air, which was somewhat a relief as it was getting a bit
astonishingly many people were still arriving. Several announcements later
led to the
understanding that the band had yet to do a soundcheck. Understandable I
there were a small number of people, latecomers at that, who almost
minor verbal fracas regarding the delay. A couple who threatened to go home
I whispered G'Bye to myself. Johnny Mac's concerts today seem to attract a
'supposed' intellectuals, of the grey-haired type, musicians, avid fanatics
& a weird
cult of folk who either seem to be there from either curiosity or by
jolly security chap was directing people to a pub on the corner promising to
at the appropriate time... I was'nt taking that chance.
Glancing in the foyer again I suddenly noticed high to the left of the bar,
a tv monitor,
showing all the proceedings inside the hall in exceptional clarity. No
sound though, bar
the muffled acoustic emanating through the walls. However I forced my way
back in &
stood transfixed at the screen. John was waving his arms about & roadies were
scampering about the stage. He was dressed all in white. I asked is this
tv always on?
'Yes' I was told. I said 'Someone's got some good videos then?' The
hall manager, inbetween pacifying the public, laughed ..... I was left to
Another announcement that the band would just run through one number before
I thought, this could mean half an hour with McLaughlin! Taking my feet off
& discovering I was still being held up, I decided to get a final breath of
After 8.00 PM now, & yes, some folk still arriving! Finally the doors
opened & I was
sucked in to make my way to my seat, tiered position, dead center with
I hadn't been to this venue before & was surprised how small it was. An old
roof, church like, caught my interest, along with the rather amusing
looking occasional box seating on either side. These were literally boxes,
bereft of any
decor or embellishment. Loose seating on the stall level in the same livery
staff's jackets, supported the mostly patient audience. It was obvious
would be no spectacular lighting effects as in London for the Jazz Festival,
looking spots were in place flickering in last minute checks.
On walks the band to gentle applause & the occasional 'whoop'. John was in
trousers now with a brownish overshirt hanging loosely, dragged to one side
from the weight of his guitar. They launched straight into 'Seven Sisters',
or two concert goers still plodding in. The sound was quite good, but not
least from my high position. As was the case with all the set, the musical
ations had marked differences to Wednesday's show, which endlessly
fascinated me. John
put in a great pair of solos, well on par with the RFH gig, but the closing
of the number seemed to lack the unbearable excitement & tension of the
Matthew's lines did'nt seem to gell so well, however effective. it was good
John apologised in a stumbling way for the show's delay.
'Mr D.C.', as strong as ever, with Otmaro's participation proving
invaluable, but still
I felt this was the weak spot of this tour's playlist. Dennis hurled a
sideways to the wings with a thirty foot throw. The applause was fairly
mooted & I
noticed a great lack of movement & response this night from the crowd. Some
during this number! I think maybe many expected a performance leading on
from the last
two years ventures, but were unable to take the strong influence of Gary's
sax & the
intermittent heavy nature of the music. It was heavy tonight, amid the
synthesis of the quieter moments.
It seemed to me John didn't look too happy overall this first set at
times... perhaps the
audience ... perhaps the sound? After a fairly run of the mill rendition of
(If that's possible?) John strode to the mike & announced, 'we'll take a
Great conversation with two bods down from Rochdale filled the interim. The
'Zakir' faintly wafted from the stage area .... more on that later.
The band returned & I noticed some of the crowd didn't! Three elderly folk
same row & the guy directly in front of me (fortunately) disappeared into
I wondered if I had a personal problem!!
Now what proceeded was a stunning second set lasting around 58 minutes, as
It was like a football team having had a good talk by the coach returning to
put in a
match-winning performance. Everyone was sublime.
'Mother Tongues' was ace, particularly the easy, floating finale with gentle
jections from Gary & John in unison. The remainder was almost beyond
The highlight of the show, for me, was 'The Divide'. Otmaro turned in a
incredibly fast stint with Gary & John standing to his left. Gary watching
with great interest, & John visibly listening to every twist & turn, then
shaking his head at the beat & understanding of where Ruiz was taking the
turn for a solo. WHAT a solo! In the live situation I was open-mouthed. I
did'nt want this
to end .... the whole band rocking in that fractured rhythm..,fantastic episode.
This was as good as I've seen from John in many a moon. This band I feel is
for the Millenium. At times it reminds me of the original M.O.'s raw
freshness & ability to surprise & push G-force at the audience. I didn't
could hear what was happening ... that sheer power mingled with delightfully
passages. Not too much of a ripple of applause followed Otmaro's solo
above, & a telling
glance from Gary to John said many words. However those open enough in the
were beginning to make themselves heard thankfully. In my little section,
bar one or
two, it was a morgue.
The most beautifully fitting finale to the show followed.... the tribute to
The musicians left the stage while Otmaro unwound the lovely piano melody
tender brushing of his rack of bells. A contrast to the RFH, which was
perhaps even more
visibly touching, with the non-involved musicians posing in quiet repose &
The piece builds & the band congregated once more in harmony before Dennis's
the night. With Dennis's rapid snare rising to a crescendo from silence,
took their leave once more. Mr D.C. let rip one bitch of a solo, his
arms giving him the appearance of a percussive octopus.
He put everything into a massive climax.... then stopped dead to silence &
for breath! A Mahlerian moment for those of classical bent amongst you if
ever there was
one, The effect was all but hidden by the whistles & cheers from the stalls.
pause hung before his comrades returned ushering back on to deliver this
rending passage in time to its softly breathing coda.
This was the end of the show. The band huddled on stage as if discussing an
but no, they start to play each other up, gesturing & laughing.
(I noticed this tour there seemed an in-band joke regarding how to respond
with a funny variation of clasped hands, bows, dances etc. Schoolboy
glances at each
other's antics, often behind John's back were most amusing. At one point
while Victor was soloing, Dennis & Otmaro, both in the similar peaked hats,
formation from the left side of the stage virtually doing the conga, before
laughing. They were still giggling at each other when back at their
to be continued
... To return..John took Dennis's towel & twice wrapped it around his
shoulders' dabbing the sweat off this muscle-bound maestro. I should think
so too, after
such a solo! They bowed, final words from John, & walk off still larking
about. A final
return to a good ovation (at last). Matthew took to John's mike & shouted
Gentlemen ... John McLofflin', in an odd pronunciation. It's over ... or is it?
An observation: This 'new' '98 model of McLaughlin, chewing gum, grinning
like a cheshire
cat, demonstrating minor bouts of head-banging, is great to see. He seems
to be getting
younger with his skipping around, almost tap-dancing at times. I wish I
knew his secret.
It's patently obvious he's happy with life, & more so with this band. Not
but I personally hope Ruiz is a permanent substitute for Jim Beard, & that
Wayne Shorter project is a lengthy one.
On the way out I zoomed towards the CD desk to request the promised poster
.. I get it,
along with some other enlarged posters for this particular gig, sporting an
'88 pic of
John (well he certainly is getting younger on his posters) boldly stating
'One of the
hottest bands on stage ever' ....could'nt agree more! A fistful of flyers
my bag & I linger by the bar watching the stage being dismantled again on
Otmaro still wandering around stuffing items into his own bag. I asked the
if there would be any signings. He said hang on a while, that the band
would be resting,
but are attending an after show party over the road through the box-office.
another council building exactly opposite & the band had to cross the road
.. so out I go.
The halls doors were locked behind & I'm in a perhaps fobbed-off mood. I
wait with two
women & two chaps from Torquay, perhaps in their fifties, & a guy barely out
of his teens
which was nice to see. It was cold & walking up & down we noticed another
standing up an alley alongside the venue. Someone opened the door for them
& in they
went. We looked at each other & in a synchronized movement we started in
One of the ladies tried the door it opened .... in we went, half expecting
an alarm to
sound our intrusion.
Inside everyone had dissapeared; odd! Not a sound. Several doors are pushed
The last door opens to reveal some five people (fans?) lounging against the
They are in total silence, as if outside a confessional. Tiptoe-ing in we
see no officials
no-one connected with anything. There's just a very low conversation in
a door to the right up a few steps lined by two other people. I felt like I was
trespassing a little. But this one guy, an ex-musician-bassist & myself
steps to the door. I froze to see John, but four feet away just ending a
with a fan with 'Which part of India was that?'. I was maybe invading his
was glued to him. The musician guy entered next, rambled something about
the poor bass
sound, I did'nt catch John's response ... then it was me facing John!
John was on his own, now dressed all in white again, looking totally
would never believe it was the same guy who minutes before was grinding out
cutting & flowing riffs, screwing his face into contorted effort, kicking
bending & arching to wrench the last ounce out of his solos. In fact the
astonishing. He must be extremely fit or maybe an expert in the art of instant
relaxation. He's stood in a narrow ante-room, outside the main artists
Before him on a shelf was a pair of head-phones & some some equipment I
recognise. I assumed he was already listening to a tape of the night's
illustrates the quiet dedication of the man, while the rest were partying
The two fans on the steps were waiting to see Dennis. With my heart
thumping (ok, when
others are with you, but with John one to one!) I excused my lurking at the
waved one of the posters & a laundry marker pen I'd grabbed before leaving
home on the
off chance. 'May I trouble you for an autograph John?'. This man off my
looking totally unruffled & harmonious in the situation quietly said 'yes,
of course, no
If John was previously listening to his reference recording, here's us
him, but you would'nt know it. When he speaks he instantly strikes up a genuine
rapport. He has this uncanny knack of making the 'knocking-knees'
year at Southampton he was in a rush, but this time he has the time. He was
a sandwich I think, but beckons me in.
As I enter John right away asked 'are you a musician?'. I replied 'No, but
maybe I am
in here', patting my chest, 'Ive got big ears'. (Nice one, Dave! - GRC)
He gave a cognitive stare for a moment
then bent down to sign the poster. He started to say soemthing but I cut
him off by
blurting out 'John I'd like to thank you for the wonderful music tonight
... it's a
great band I was as the Festival Hall the other night ... that was special too'.
Face to face John's got these eyes which are so innocently clear, they seem
to stare into
your soul when he fixes upon you. In fact he looks so damn young &
fresh-faced close up,
compared to the on stage person drenched by overhead lighting. He's not
quite so tall
as I imagined either. His eyes were not allowing me to take mine from his
.. odd feeling.
Maybe I'm just a groupie! In any case I'm almost un-tongue-tied now.
Still interrupting John's flow, I said 'I find it astonishing how different
arrangements were in detail compared to Wednesday.... two days ago! ... as
if... in the
day between you've been in rehearsals for a week'. He gave a broad beaming
nodded uttering 'well...'. I continued 'I'd like to thank you for the shows
too, they were incredible..I went to all four'. He looked puzzled for a moment.
I mention 'with Zakir ... and..'. 'Oh yes', he said.'Thank you'. I then
asked if the very
quietly played music over the house speakers during the intermission was
from that tour
& the new live album. John gave a most excited response & his face really
lit up, as if
I was the only person who had noticed it. 'Yes, yes it is', he said
I then get a mixed but interested response from John. First a stoney
glance, then a
joyous expression, when I make the statement 'John whatever it is you're
for... I hope you never find it because the journey you are sharing with us
rewarding!'. I think this took him by surprise. He was instantly searching
then put his face closer to mine & said 'what is anyone searching for ....
know? .... hmm!'. Time stood still for a moment here, because I had no
apart from peace of mind, contentment & enlightenment, all of which I failed
John nods, smiling at my embarassed silence. He was in the affirmative as
his head to keep his eyes on mine. He lingered at his question, eventually
with both hands open & a huge shrug of the shoulders you know?...'
This all seemed very deep & important to him. By the way I'm only
here, not reporting verbatim all that John said. Some things he talked
about are lost
in detail to my memory in the excitement of the occasion, so I don't wish to
I asked 'do you actually rehearse that much, or work many things out with impro-
visation in performance?' (John said things here, but my senility creeps in).
Again 'do you need an audience to really perform?'. He thinks..'well of course
it's better in many ways to have an audience, & I love doing that, but you know
sometimes in rehearsal the most amazing things can happen ...... at that
on your own .... in a crowd... adding unspoken words with gestures & facial
I felt this GENTLEman was beyond the normal music star, as he was going out
way to rationalise politely with an honest genuine regard, unlike the brisk
of others pacifying their 'moronic' fans with a 'brush-past' signature, if
lucky! Before leaving I make light & say 'oh well, a nice long drive now
Birmingham'. He instantly replied impishly 'and we've got a long drive down to
Heathrow tonight!' We both laugh.
I get a little over the top & flowery with my gratitude on leaving & part
hadn't. Anyway I offered my hand, still icy cold from the wait outside (or
John shakes it warmly. Halfway through the door I turn & say 'don't forget
next year or whenever'. He says he will, meaning not he will forget, but he
come. I do hope so!
Realisation dawns as I walk out, comparing my version of John's signature
musician guy still on the premises. When I left the London gig I had a
partly due to the squawking female support act, Maria Joao, not to say she
.. she was & had an incredible vocal range. But she followed my being stuck
traffic jam for 90 minutes because of a London derby football match that night.
However this night I was on an absolute high & hardly noticed the long drive
I was thinking of a million & one things I wish I'd said to John, & did I make a
complete prat of myself? Sorry for the long diary here .... my memories of
able evening for sure.
John signed the poster 'Thanks .... John McLaughlin'. To finish I must
Thanks .... John McLaughlin. Thanks for the five or six minutes you shared
Back to GRC here; As I mentioned last year, Dave Phillips doesn't have
E-mail access, but if anyone wants to get in touch with him, let me know
and I'll pass on contact details.