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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
7 March 1970
JETHRO IN A SHOTGUN WEDDING?
It was the moment of truth in on Stage Two at the studio in beautiful downtown Burbank. Zubin Mehta, cool and sleek and looking like an advertisement for a Hollywood escort service, met Ian Anderson. There was a brilliant clash of colour as Mehta, tempestuous leader of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and Anderson, boss of Jethro Tull, held their musical summit conference. Anderson with his flowing hair and multi-coloured suede bush hat, bright, tight orange-brown trousers, and Mehta, natty in white tie and tails, the picture of brilliantined niceness, talked — and those privileged to be present listened raptly.
Mr Mehta asked Mr Anderson how he came to play the flute, and the lanky Scotsman replied:
"I've got a lousy voice and the flute's pretty handy — you can always stick it in your back pocket."
Said Mr Mehta, leader of one of America's leading orchestras:
"Do you still sing with your group?"
Ian nodded and whipped back:
"Do you still sing with yours?"
And so it went on as 'long-hairs' from two different worlds met to tape a TV special promoted by America's powerful Bell Telephone Company. The show may be seen in Britain later this year. They are calling it 'Switched On Symphony' after several titles like 'Pop Goes the Symphony', 'From Bach to Rock', and 'The Longhairs — Bach, Beatles and Beyond' were discarded. This latest classi-pop experiment is being put together by that brave if slightly unorthodox transplant from London, Jack Good. It was Jack who with shows like 'Six-Five Special' and American shows like 'Shindig' gave rock a national respectability on TV when Auntie BBC and others of that ilk frowned on anything more hectic than Victor Silvester.
Somehow Good's trouble all along has been that he's too far ahead of his time. In California he put on shows like 'Hair' — his was called 'Catch My Soul', a rock version of 'Othello' with Jerry Lee Lewis thumping and jumping on his piano. But somehow it didn't quite click. Two years later 'Hair' came along and everyone said, "Why didn't someone do something like 'Hair' two years ago?" Jack Good did.
Now here is the genial owl-eyed Englishman back on the experimental trail with a symphony orchestra, Jethro Tull, the Nice, San Francisco's Santana, and Ray Charles. They've even thrown in comedian Jack Benny so that the over-30s don't switch off before the switched-on symphony get underway.
Good has had problems. When he and co-producers Pierre Cossette and Burt Sugarman suggested it would be nice if they invited Paul McCartney to pop over to Burbank to host the show, the telephone company bosses nearly had a blue fit.
"Didn't Mr McCartney once confess he'd taken ... and in a world-wide magazine?" the big chiefs echoed. Exit one Beatle.
About marrying the symphonic set with the pop set, Good is enthusiastic but cautious.
"I think this is the music of the Seventies," he says. "We are going to see the disappearance of the big groups and the emergence of the soloists — back to the Presley, Cliff Richard era. The groups are disintegrating and there will be three kinds of music: concert, concert rock, like we're doing with Mehta, Jethro Tull and the Nice, and the revival of the solo performers who will still appeal to the teenybop crowd."
On the day of the taping, Good, who resembled a befuddled scout master who had misplaced his troop, bounced around in brown tennis shoes with a hole in one toe and a baggy blue tracksuit.
"We already have concert orchestras playing pop music — I call that lollipop music — but we're trying to get pop groups playing with orchestras — playing with them and not playing their music and vice versa. Their worlds are so separate, but we can still have a gigantic symphonic rave up."
One scene in the show has the 104-strong symphony orchestra under Mehta's baton joining the Nice in a pop-concert version of 'America' from West Side Story. There was Mehta and his men in their 'penguin suits' and organist Keith Emerson and his group perched precariously in opera-type balconies behind velvet curtains in front. They were a strange combination, the traditional musicians and Emerson — a dazzling figure in a skin-tight silver costume that made him look like a cartoon-strip spaceman.
After half a dozen tries at the one song everyone was happy. But there were a good few tense moments as Good shouted instructions to the Nice, who were miming to recorded music, and then Mehta persisted in getting his orchestra to reach perfection pitch.
If this one comes off, Good may be on to a winner. There's nothing to stop Mehta teaming up with Credence Clearwater or the Grateful Dead or any group, says Good. One orchestra musician commented:
"Somehow the mating of the two worlds isn't very logical. It's more like a shotgun wedding. After the marriage everyone will stand back to see if they really do live happily ever after."
Note: In the June 1967 issue of 'Life' magazine, Paul McCartney shocked the world's press by admitting to taking LSD.
Many thanks to Glenn Cornick for this article