White Bicycles – making music in the 1960’s – Joe Boyd

Another essential rock read – this time an autobiographical account by Joe Boyd of his early years working with musicians.
This is a real page-turner, and each page is turned it’s more often than not accompanied by thoughts of incredulity. This guy drove round Sleepy John Estes, Big Joe Williams and Jesse Fuller when he was no more than a kid. He had a girl stolen from him by the young Bob Dylan. He tour managed a package including Muddy Waters, Rosetta Tharp and The Reverend Gary Davis with the Blues and Gospel Caravan through Britain in the early 1960’s, introducing their blues to the UK , and them to each other.
This alone would surely be worth the price of admission, and many writers have spun this kind of thing out for several volumes. Not so Joe Boyd, all this has happened by the end of chapter 5.
The narrative goes on to cover his production work and “discovery” of some psychedelic no-hopers called The Pink Floyd and his take on the demise of Syd Barrett, his founding of the highly influential UFO club, the creation of a boutique label on Island – Witchseason, and his production/management/nurturing career with the likes of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, John Martyn (no real love lost there I suspect) and his highly talented wife Beverley, Nick Drake (whose album Bryter Later Boyd rates as one of his best), and my own personal bete-noir, The Incredible String Band (I’m sorry Joe – I’ve tried, I really have, but I just don’t get ’em! Maybe one day!).

John and Beverley


Every page of this beautifully written volume is packed with fascinating and tantalising stories and allusions, I really wish he’d spread it out a bit and delved more deeply. I’d like to know more about the working relationship with the great John Wood, engineer, with whom he made so many great albums. More about Sound Techniques, the studio where they were made. More about Nick Drake’s out of hours activities playing games with minor gangsters in locations where you expect The Sweeney to burst through the door.
As the book draws to a close, with his repatriation to the US to work for Warners, and the likes of Maria Muldaur and The McGarrigles, there is a genuine sense of the end of an era, a period in which such great music was made, a time which would never be repeated, where everything came together in the right place at the right time, the right musicians, right producer, right studio to allow the creation of such superb music, the true value of which is only now being discovered, 40 years on.
Joe has a brilliant website crammed with fascinating stuff, including an unpublished chapter of the book, go have a dekko.

Here’s his discography from the period of the book –

1966 SYDNEY CARTER Lord Of The Dance
ALASDAIR CLAYRE Alasdair Clayre LP
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The Incredible String Band
VARIOUS ARTISTS A Cold Wind Blows
VARIOUS ARTISTS What’s Shakin’ – 3 tracks by Eric Clapton & the Powerhouse
1967 SHIRLEY COLLINS The Power Of The True Love Knot LP
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion
PINK FLOYD Arnold Layne / Candy and A Currant Bun
The PURPLE GANG (website) Granny Takes A Trip /
The PURPLE GANG (website) Strikes! – only Granny Takes A Trip
DAVE SWARBRICK, MARTIN CARTHY & DIZ DISLEY Rags Reels & Airs
1968 FAIRPORT CONVENTION If I Had A Ribbon Bow / If (Stomp)
FAIRPORT CONVENTION If (Stomp) / Chelsea Morning
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Fairport Convention
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Meet On The Ledge / Throwaway Street Puzzle
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Wee Tam & Big Huge
CHRIS McGREGOR GROUP Very Urgent
VARIOUS ARTISTS Kalpana – instrumental and dance music of India
VARIOUS ARTISTS Tonite Lets All Make Love In London – 2 tracks by Pink Floyd
1969 NICK DRAKE Five Leaves Left
FAIRPORT CONVENTION What We Did On Our Holidays
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Si Tu Dois Partir / Genesis Hall
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Unhalfbricking
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Liege & Lief
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Big Ted / All Writ Down
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Changing Horses
Dr STRANGELY STRANGE Kip Of The Serenes
1970 VASHTI BUNYAN Just Another Diamond Day
NICK DRAKE Bryter Layter
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Full House
FAIRPORT CONVENTION Now Be Thankful / Sir B McKenzie’s….
FOTHERINGAY Fotheringay
FOTHERINGAY Peace In The End / Winter Winds
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND I Looked Up
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND ‘U’
The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending
CHRIS McGREGOR’s BROTHERHOOD OF BREATH Brotherhood Of Breath
JOHN & BEVERLEY MARTYN Stormbringer!
JOHN & BEVERLEY MARTYN The Ocean / John The Baptist
GEOFF & MARIA MULDAUR Pottery Pie
1971 MIKE HERON Smiling Men With Bad Reputations
MIKE HERON Call Me Diamond / Lady Wonder
JOHN & BEVERLEY MARTYN The Road To Ruin
NICO Desertshore
Dr STRANGELY STRANGE Heavy Petting

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