Sunday, August 9, 2009

Greg Manson's Memories of Magma in 1974

Magma in the early 70’s was a band that had a reputation in our part of the world that seemed to come from nowhere based on not much: the albums were impossible to get in Australia and it was purely the name “Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh” that seemed to promise something. I had not read any of the famous articles from the 73 tour that I can recall, although I seem to have copies of them now.

It would have been Jan 74 when I finally saw a copy of MDK, and in the crowded record shop the tinny stereo just didn’t do much for me with the opening bars, and the vocals…well, no thanks.

A few months later I was in London, and saw that they were playing Chalk Farm Roundhouse on a Sunday night in June. It was only a couple of tube stops away and tickets pretty cheap so me and my mate thought we’d go check it out for want of anything better to do. I still don’t know why, possibly just curiosity engendered by the artwork on the poster.

We arrived at the venue to find that there wasn’t much of a crowd so we were able to go right to the front and sit on the floor about 10 feet from the drumkit, which was on a very low stage. The first thing I noticed was that the entire kit was sitting in the middle of a virtual battlement constructed of iron (or lead) stageweights of the kind used in the flies of a theatre. These things weigh a good 10 kilos each and they were piled up around the kit in their dozens, the hi-hat alone was being held down by at least six of these things…even the supposedly mighty John Bonham, who I’d seen in action from the front row, had nothing like this around his kit.

I began to think that this fellow must hit it very hard indeed…as it soon proved.

The band came out all dressed in black…a good sign at that time, mumbled a few things in French, and then the barrage began.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened: the aural onslaught was both amazing and shocking at the same time, the ferocity of the playing is something that you had to have seen to believe. As the famous article said...the whole place was screaming, underpinned by the thunderous roar of Vander’s assault on the kit, and most notions of what drummers usually did or were capable of. I swear to god he was doing kick-drum rolls, and at one point he was doing ONE HANDED rolls around the kit while singing like a demented figure from some De Sadeian opera. It was actually terrifying to see such power delivered. It transcended anything I’d seen before by many dimensions. I should point out that I’d previously seen Carl Palmer, Pierre Moerlen, Bonham, Franz Di Cioccio from PFM who is no slouch, and various other notable drummers in concert, but there is or was no possible comparison. Vander was tectonic in scale.

The rest of the band of course were suitably energetic and demonstrative, Jannik Top stormed around the stage like some biker from outer space blowing piercing shrieks from a postman’s whistle while playing brutalistic bass such as has never been heard before or since, Blasquiz gesticulated, howled, and roared, and the entire spectacle was truly of a monstrous intensity.

The most bombastic and aggressively “heavy” gig I’d seen up to that point had been Black Sabbath on the Master of Reality tour, and they were pretty bloody good by any standard applicable at the time, but they were kids playing with their own doodoo in a sandpit by comparison.

I can’t remember the exact songlist, and not through any of the drug use so prevalent then, we had no hashish at the time for forgotten reasons, so I saw the show as straight as can be, and I think the impact was all the greater for it.

I walked out of there, and I say this seriously: walking 2 feet off the ground, a feeling I’ve never experienced since: it was, I suppose, an authentic ecstatic state.

I can honestly say it blew any belief I had in established religion out of the door forever as well, because the level of energy, musicality and discipline had a spiritual dimension without doubt, and showed me that music has another level to it that can connect you to the numinous. It was no doubt a religious experience…..of course I didn’t go to the level of the blackclad marchers I saw in the south of France later that year who had giant Magma banners and were in a procession for some feast or other of the Magdalene, but I became a big fan and it heavily influenced my tastes to this day.

It was the most amazing performance of any kind I’ve ever seen.

The sad thing was though, the records I rushed out and bought the next day just didn’t transmit what I’d seen to other people, and they scoffed at my wide-eyed tales when I returned home to my old haunts after “seeing the world”. Hhai, again impressive when it came out, wasn’t any real indicator of the majesty of the 74 line-up, and generally I was assumed to be a bit of a deluded bullshitter with an unhealthy taste for theatrical exaggeration whenever the subject of “great gigs” came up. I caught the band again in 1977 a couple of times, and while still very impressive, it wasn’t the same; whatever demonic fire they had bottled up 3 years before had dissipated to some extent, even though they still could blow nearly any other band in existence over the hill and far away.

The BBC Londres CD justified my original impressions and brought it all back to me, although most of those I knew who would have been interested are dead and/or gone.

There are only a few occasions you can truthfully say you will remember clearly for life and most of us know what they are…this is and was, definitely in that category for me.

UZ at the first RIO concert was up there though, but that’s another story!

PS I know this is riddled with clichés, but really they’ll have to do, because the experience was really beyond words, or ones that I know anyway.

1 comment:

  1. parles français !

    on comprend rien !

    it was just a joke , marc !

    bravo for this blog !

    tell me if I can help you !

    mais bon .... parles français , quoi !