Saturday, February 16, 2008

Traffic: Getting it together in the country

Paul Linford has a terrific posting inspired by a Guardian article that asked various musicians to name the songs that, for them, define Englishness. His link to the article does not work and I cannot find it on the Guardian website. (Later. It's here - thanks, Paul.)

But never mind, because Paul lists 30 songs that define Englishness for him. And it is a terrific list, very much in line with my own tastes.

If I were suggesting improvements I would want to include the Small Faces, Jethro Tull, Blur and, because I am going through a Steve Winwood thing at the moment, Traffic.

A 1994 article from Q magazine, which interviewed Winwood and the late Jim Capaldi, explains. Beside half a dozen great albums, Traffic's

other most notable achievement was pioneering the concept - which was to become the 70s rock cliché - of "getting it together in the country". They retreated to a cottage in Berkshire to write their first album in 1967 and operated from there for the next two years. It's a time that Winwood and Capaldi look back on with particular affection.

"The cottage thing came about for practical reasons really," Winwood reminisces. "We were staying in a house in London and whenever we wanted to play, the neighbors would be banging on the walls. We wanted somewhere where we could just play whenever we wanted. We found this cottage in the Berkshire Downs. It was a big estate with a sort of hovel for the gamekeeper, which was what we rented.

"Actually, it was a beautiful place and we set up a sort of mud stage where we could just play in the open air. It was very cut off with no road to it, just a track, and there were only about three weeks in the year when you could get a car up there. The rest of the time it was just a quagmire."

"I think we endeared ourselves to our contemporaries," adds Capaldi. "People would come and hang out with us - Bonzo, Leon Russell, Stephen Stills, Ginger Baker, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton - the hours would just drift into days. I suppose, looking back on it, they were all in cities in hotel rooms, going to the Bag O' Nails and all those clubs and getting out to the country was a nice break for them. You'd call it a hippy commune now, but at the time it was just a practical thing, but very inspirational.

"When I hear Traffic records and look back on those years, I don't really think of festivals and clubs and rock 'n' roll, I think of tracks on the Berkshire Downs, crows over a coppice. It was a very powerful experience."

There is even a Traffic song called "Berkshire Poppies", which could equally be the title of a John Betjeman poem.

Capaldi died in 2005, and I like Winwood's comment on those years quoted in his Guardian obituary:

"Camping out, cooking over an open fire: it was like William and the Outlaws."


Iain Sharpe said...

Re: Jethro Tull - surely Ian Anderson is Scottish! I think this comes across in the music too. Possibly the 'Songs from the Wood' era had more of an English flavour.

Blognor Regis said...

John Barelycorn... what a great album. The title track and Every Mother's Son are awesome.

As for "getting it together in the country" I reckon Headly Grange must be the most famous location. It's a lot less remote than some though, as you can see.