My friend over the back fence invited me to come and hear his latest LP. Greg was two days older than me and we’d been playmates since our Mums met on the maternity ward. But in terms of musical sophistication, Greg was years, worlds, away from me. Not in terms of understanding how music worked; having learned the piano for years I could follow the construction of ‘classical’ music just like piecing together objects from the Meccano set under my bed. But in our house, popular music was simply excluded.
Greg’s parents not only tolerated his bringing ‘dreadful noise’ into the home, they even paid for the records. It was a bizarre and unreal indulgence and, due to my complete ignorance of what was current, rather intimidating… but I went anyway.
How different from tinny snatches of tunes captured from passing transistors like smells drifting from strangers’ kitchens; this time I would actually hear an album on a real stereo. Well, his parents radiogram anyway. Although it was much the same as the polished veneer box in our lounge room the vital difference was that while ours only played Gilbert and Sullivan and light classics, theirs embraced the exotic sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix and of course The Beatles.
So over the fence I clambered, said ‘Hello’ to his Mum at the back door and headed for their lounge room. Greg was waiting impatiently. “You’ve gotta hear this,” he gasped, “a TEN MINUTE DRUM SOLO”. Even in my profound state of rock ignorance my heart sank slightly. But putting on a brave face I dropped to the carpet as he dropped the stylus onto the vinyl.
No percussive assault streamed out of the cabinet but a wonderfully melancholic voice singing with a soul-stretching longing that somehow bathed me in light and simultaneously broke my heart … ‘Waiting in our boats to set sail… The sea of joy’. Straining for the high notes like a hand reaching for a soaring seagull; the hessian tones of a violin providing a surprisingly reflective interlude before the riff returned with rolling tidal toms and the song faded over the horizon much too soon.
Later, much later, I learned that what transported me that afternoon was the opening song on side two of a flawed yet sometimes sublime album simply called Blind Faith. That this first ‘supergroup’ consisted of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech, all of whom had colourful histories even before they made this one album together. That the bass player also contributed the violin. That the cover I clutched in my hands while Rick then Ginger meandered through their interminable solos in ‘Do What You Like’ was not the startling one originally issued by their UK record company in August 1969 but a special ‘uncontroversial’ version for the colonies.
All I knew at the time was how much I needed this record. But how? Where? A real challenge for the inexperienced and penniless. Then I recalled, a couple of years previously, being dragged by my mother to a suburban shop selling sewing machines. A sullen and reluctant companion, I had stood morosely while she examined gleaming Singers and Elnas before noticing that the rear of the shop housed a record section. Astonishing! But not really, because I was in Bentleigh Sewing and Records, an unlikely emporium that changed my life.
That was where I went on my first vinyl hunt and that was where I secured my first LP, Blind Faith.