GOING OUT ON A HIGH – A MAGICAL SWAN SONG
As I write, it’s exactly one month until Christmas eve. This year has whizzed by and I can’t help but feel that time is slipping through my fingers in the run up to Christmas. As I walk to my bar shift at the Arts Centre, it’s cold and I notice that Head Street is lit with sparkling lights to mark the festive season.
Tonight’s gig is The Magic Band and, in truth, I know nothing of what to expect. I understand that they have something of a cult following and that it’s a pretty big deal they’re playing in Colchester. But that’s about it.
I soon find out that The Magic Band are known as the musical accompaniment to musical creative Van Vliet or his better known stage name, “Captain Beefheart”. Under his strict direction, The Magic Band created an oeuvre of music throughout the 1960s and 70s known for its distinct and often chaotic sound. This, as well as the famously cantankerous personality of their lead singer, earned them a cult-like status both in their native United States and in the UK.
We set up the bar and chat about how we think the gig will go. When the great big wooden front doors are opened to let the public in I notice there are queues of people waiting to come inside. There are a mix of ages but, for the most part, the people coming in are generally older than me – maybe in their 50s and 60s – and everyone seems incredibly excited and very happy to be there. The lead singer of the band comes to the bar to order a brandy, chatting to some of the audience while he waits.
The music starts and we are all captivated by The Magic Band’s performance. What enthralls me the most though, is the fantastic event that is unfolding before me. These guys on stage are totally killing it and having a whale of a time in the process.
The audience love it and they loved it before the band even started playing because this is the infamous Magic Band. And they’re here in Colchester Arts Centre!
I see people my dad’s age rocking out and completely absorbed in the music, genuinely head banging, singing along to every word of every song. It’s as if when the music starts, someone covers up all of the clocks and we collectively become ageless for the rest of the evening. Before one number, John French, the lead singer, comments that it was written 50 years ago when he was 18 – before launching into it with gusto. The music we hear is punchy, confident, confusing at times and totally unlike anything I’ve heard before. It sounds as fresh and zingy now to my ears as I’m sure it did 50 years ago.
The whole thing makes me feel topsy turvy sentimental feelings about the passing of time. This is the final tour for The Magic Band and clearly they’re going out on a high. I hear one man say that this is the fifth gig he’d been to on this tour. A few people have brought hefty books awkwardly propped under their arms for signing. Another customer talks me through his favourite Captain Beefheart albums while we wait for his Guinness to settle.
The night I saw The Magic Band, music transcended time and everyone in the room came together as one to see something amazing take place. The band went over their scheduled set timings, signed autographs in the interval and gave not one but two encores after the audience refused to budge, stomping their feet and yelling for more. The whole experience has left me, like the audience, wanting to hear more – and I’m left with the knowledge that somewhere in Captain Beefheart’s music lies the elixir of youth.