Thursday, 3 November 2011

Re-imagining The Beatles #2 - Richie Havens

Richie Havens had the honour of opening the Woodstock Festival on 15th August 1969. Or perhaps he just pulled the short straw as he had to extend his set and improvise new material to keep the crowd entertained while other artists on the bill struggled to get to the besieged festival site. No pressure then! This wasn't Altamont: I imagine that the blissed out Woodstock crowd was very receptive to Havens' brand of psychedelic folk. All three hours of it.

The only person at Woodstock not out of his tree
Just a couple of months prior to his epoch-defining spot of rural busking, Havens released his most 'electric' LP yet in the shape of Richard P. Havens, 1983 which, as was the norm for a Richie Havens LP, featured a plethora of covers of other artists' work. And, typically, he made the songs his own. Of the four Beatles tunes on this double album, I have chosen the seldom-covered She's Leaving Home to share with you here. While you're at it, check out that great psychedelic sleeve photography. 

The green hue to Richie's skin, his repose and the name and date format of the album title give the impression that this photograph is a memento mori, the album an epitaph, not a leaping off point for an artist who would shortly perform at Woodstock and would still be making music in 2011. Richie's corpse-like complexion is thanks to the vogue for infrared photography that was popularised by the photographer Karl Ferris on the cover of Donovan's A Gift From A Flower To A Garden boxset and the US version of Hendrix's Are You Experienced LP. The photos of Richie Havens here aren't by Ferris, but by Mark Roth, a multi-talented composer, producer and photographer who receives four co-writer credits on Richard P. Havens, 1983 as well as a co-production credit. With tracks of the quality of one of these co-writes, The Parable Of Ramon, it's somewhat surprising that Havens relied so heavily on covering other people's songs. See what you think of it. I apologise for the crackles and pops throughout these recordings. That's what happens sometimes when you buy a 40-plus-year-old LP for a quid. I don't find the background noise intrusive. If you do, I suggest you imagine yourself sprawled in the grass at Woodstock (adopting a similar pose to Richie on the LP cover) bathing in the beauty of his music with the gentle accompaniment of the pops and crackles of a campfire adding to the festival vibe. Enjoy!

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