Forever drinking

Forever drinking

Dave Broom talks music with seminal 60s band and whisky drinkers, Love.

News | 04 Jun 2004 | Issue 40 | By Dave Broom

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Brighton 2003. We don’t quite know what to expect. I mean, Arthur Lee and Love are about to play Forever Changes, in total, with horns and strings, something which is scarcely believable for those of us who take the view that Love’s third album is one of the great records, a touchstone of west-coast psychedelia.But will it work? Is it just going to be a nostalgia trip? Is it going to be so note perfect that we might as well have just stayed at home? Can it be done live anyway? It’s a studio record. It’s never been played live. It’s from 1967 for God’s sake. We should be out there watching the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.It is note perfect, but it is fresh. There’s something which has made this music new, believable, contemporary. That line: “there’s a man who can’t decide if he should fight for what his father thinks is right.” it makes you wonder if Iraq is our generation’s Vietnam.Then there’s Arthur Lee himself. The man Jim Morrison took as a role model, the man who had only recently been released from a 12-year gaol sentence for allegedly firing a gun in the air who is now singing with such soul, who has such presence.It’s not just him though. It’s the band. In their other guise they’re called Baby Lemonade. These are young guys who were not even born when the album came out who play with care with, dare I say it, love but not reverence. They take possession of the music.It’s encapsulated on a moment on Live and Let Live (which being a Love song is about anything but) where the music suddenly switches and the dirtiest guitar solo shrieks out.It’s a classic, twisted, Love moment which needs perfect timing. Tonight it’s done impeccably by this young guy with short blond locks. His name is Mike Randle.London 2004. I’m sitting with Mike in London whisky bar Salt for an afternoon dram or five. Somehow Chivas’ Jim Long had discovered that he is a huge whisky fan. It seemed only hospitable for the pair of us to meet him for a few. Mike’s looking remarkably fresh given he’s been on the road for the best part of a year.We order up a Glenlivet Cellar Collection ‘83 and the talk turns to LA and how it seemed to produce some of the most singular music of the 60s. Mike puts it down to what he calls his “sunset philosophy”, which I interpret as being how the west coast (and by extension a sunset) is contemplative, expansive.What did New York produce in the 60s when LA and San Francisco were slugging it out for supremacy? The Velvet Underground. He’s got a point. We wonder, idly, if the same goes when you compare Islay to Speyside.I mention the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and how I’d just seen the first full rendition of his ‘lost’ masterpiece, Smile.“I’ve been thinking about Brian’s music,” says Mike. “There’s three pillars behind his genius. Burt Bacharach for melody, Van Dyke Parks for the psychedelia and Phil Spector for the sheer direct joy of music.”And what of Love? “The lyrics and melodies are Arthur’s, but don’t forget Bryan (MacLean, Love’s guitarist) who did all the arrangements. Arthur’s pillars are Burt and Herb Alpert. No-one mentions Herb, he’s been written out.”Think of that next time you hear those sweet horn parts. It’s a very South California sound then?“Yes, but it transcends that. Love records are Hollywood lifestyle records.”True. Love have always struck me as a true LA band. Their music has an intricate, shifting quality that makes you both uncomfortable and expectant, waiting for the next twist. When the lyrics are menacing, the music is serene.“Sitting on the hillside. Watching all the people. Die.” Arthur sings on the The Red Telephone as the strings sweep gently above. Their music had an edge, a cynicism that set it apart from the dreamier psychedelia coming out of San Francisco.“It was easier for bands to make it in San Francisco in the 60s, because there were real music fans in LA. If you couldn’t cut it, you were out the door. Remember, Love were never a hippie band, the Doors were never a hippie band.“In San Francisco people got all caught up in ‘the movement’. In LA it was different, the bands were independent, it was tougher. I think of SF bands as being like dogs, that pack mentality. LA bands were like cats!”And Love? The band which The Doors aspired to become? Outsiders.“If you want to count me. Count. Me. Out.” Arthur sings on The Red Telephone, which is a pretty clear statement of intent.Love dipped into mariachi, garage punk, classical, jazz, created the demented carnival waltz that The Doors picked up on. They might have been about a lot of things, but they weren’t just about love.It’s one reason why the music hasn’t dated. It didn’t have the naive, sunny optimism of so much psychedelia, it spoke of universal truths – and they aren’t always pleasant.I tell Mike how fresh and relevant the music seems. “You have to remember that 80 per cent of Forever Changes was never performed live until we did them. In some ways it is new.“Man, this is a cool way to spend an afternoon,” he says as we try a Loch Dhu (it seemed an appropriately mind-warping choice). Jim promptly breaks his glass and Mike remembers how a fan in Spain had given the band some home-made whisky.“It was like gasoline, man.” First great whisky moment?“When I graduated from High School a friend’s older brother gave me a bottle of Wild Turkey. I haven’t touched it since! Right enough, I’m not big on JD either.”That’s almost sacrilege in the rock community. Surely the first sign a band has made it is when they put a bottle of Jack on their rider?“Yeah that’s a strange one. It must be a southern thing.”First real whisky moment then.“That’s down to Barry from Belfast. I’d only drunk blends, but once he gave me a Bushmills single malt there was no looking back. Now on the road it’s Bushmills and Glenlivet for me.”This pleases Jim no end.“Rusty (his co-conspirator in Love and Baby Lemonade) he’s a Maker’s Mark fan. I don’t touch blends anymore.”By now we’ve discarded the Loch Dhu and moved onto 15 year old Caol Ila from Adelphi. I’m thinking of that sunset philosophy and anyway he seemed wary about peaty malts.“Wow! It hits you before you drink it. That flavour! It just gets better and better. There’s no tailing off. It hits you straight away, but then you stop and think and you notice how it changes.“It’s like records. I tend to make instant decisions, but my friends persuade me to listen again and the best are often the ones which you have to work at. This whisky is like that. If you hadn’t suggested it I’d never have thought of ordering it. I hadn’t heard of the name, I’m not sure about peaty whiskies but.. .man.. .this is good.“You know,” he says taking a sip of Longmorn 15, (Jim was back in charge), “whisky teaches you to be patient and in today’s rat race its nice to be able to just sit and chill and appreciate. It’s good for the nerves, for the mind – and it’s the opposite of what we’re doing all day long.”It’s the other way round for me. That night I’m relaxing by going to see him working. Music’s my release valve, that’s what takes me to that other place. But he’s right. Life is complex.Whisky people find each other. Usually in bars. In the afternoon. Or very late at night. Same with music people. We make connections, help each other through. Mike has Belfast Barry to thank for whisky, I had Douglas to thank for Love.We all need people like that to take us by the hand and lead us into new experiences. Over a swift final Dalmore Cigar Malt Mike tells us of how back in LA he and his friends all drink whisky, where it seems to have fitted the same niche as Cognac has in the hip-hop fraternity.That night Love make the Forum their own. There’s no strings, no horns. Mike plays those parts on guitar. It’s stripped down, tight, inspiring. On the way home I wonder whether whisky makes you a better musician. No. Just as it doesn’t make you a better writer. Or a better person.In any case Love don’t play whisky music: the blues, or country or that loose limbed boogie perfected by the Stones. Love are still in their world. Whisky is just a way to make a connection. That’s all.
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