Go ask Alice I think she’ll know

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell them a hookah smoking caterpillar has given you the call

I have to confess upfront that I’ve never been a big Jefferson fan despite being a somewhat obsessive about their San Francisco, Summer of Love contemporaries the Grateful Dead. It’s not for the want of trying and obviously I know the two big hits but they’re not a band I would normally reach over to put an album on by. I had the same problem a few years ago when Arthur Lee and Love came over to the UK I just don’t get it in the same way that I get the Dead or the Doors say. They’ve toured over here a few times recently and I haven’t gone to see them. I would like to have caught the tour when they had former Dead keyboard player Tom Constanten touring with them but I think I was on holiday at the time! So when I found out the were playing in of all places Chatham I thought this was the excuse I needed to get out and see them! A front row ticket helped as well!

However first i had to get there. I had it all planned out to get back from an event in London and get to the gig but it all started to go wrong and it was getting later and later. I rang the venue and was told that the band were expected to be on stage at 8 and as it looked like I wouldn’t get there till 8:45 it was starting to look like it wasn’t worth going. However as I getting back to the house I reasoned that if, as the woman had said, the support band were on at 7:30 it was in my mind unlikely that Jefferson would be on at 8. Even if the support band only played for 30 minutes there would still need to be time to move their equipment off stage. So I reckoned that even if I got there at 8:45 I’d still see at least an hour and a quarter of the gig. So I decided to drive down and hope I hadn’t missed anything good!

Eventually I arrived at the venue and just as I was walking up the stairs I heard the familiar opening notes of their mega hit White Rabbit so I dashed down to my seat in the front row. At least I assume it was my seat, there were two spare ones on the end so I sat in one of them, I never did check if I was in the right one and if I wasn’t then I wasn’t about to argue in the middle of White Rabbit! As if it wasn’t confusing enough to arrived so hassled, having missed the start of the show it was also a bit of a baptism of fire in my head to hear the singer Cathy Richardson sing White Rabbit as the first song but she has a great voice and fills the Grace Slick position in the band very well.

Obviously there’s a world of difference between the original Jefferson Airplane from those heady san Franciscan days and the Jefferson Starship I saw in Chatham! There’s only one original member from the Airplane left in the band in the shape of Paul Kantner and as it turned out the band were missing their regular guitarist Slick Aguilar who is quite unwell and was replaced for the tour by Jude Gold who is in a band with Cathy Richarson. The song choice were a bit odd at times given their back catalogue and that of David Freiberg who was also in Quicksilver Messenger Service. One of the things I missed before I got there was a rendition of Brain Damage from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon* and they did another Floyd number Set the Controls for the heart of the sun a bit later. Pink Floyd played at the Central Theatre with Jimi Hendrix back in the 60’s so maybe it was their spirit that forced their hand! Another oddity was the inclusion of David Bowie’s Space Oddity at one point. A more welcome interlude was David Freiberg singing a Robert Hunter song – his voice is still very good despite the passing years.

(*although not the entire thing as someone told me they’d played after the gig!)

He’ll be so kind in consenting to blow your mind
Fly Translove Airways gets you there on time
Fly Jefferson Airplane gets you there on time

On the far side of the stage Paul Kantner’s voice hasn’t travelled as well but he is still an interesting performer despite the fact that he has reached the ripe old age of 71. He occasionally had to prop himself up on a flight case behind him while playing but according to a friend of mine he doesn’t do this as much as he did a few years ago. He also headed off for a break in the middle of the set leaving Cathy and David to sing some songs as an interlude. One of the things I had worried about was that I recalled from reading a review of an earlier gig a week back that Wooden Ships had preceded White Rabbit but thankfully the set list had changed and it was later in the set. I know the song mostly from the CSN version but this was good too with some fine harmonies.

The only down points for me were the venue – not right for the gig with the audience seated throughout and the sound which was a bit wishy washy. Having said that there were no “bouncers” in the hall so once I’d plucked up the courage to get my camera out I could happily click away to my hearts content! I also thought the band could have extended the jams a bit on some of the songs as well, there were points where they just seemed to be getting going and then they’d change tack or the song would end. I think if they’d dropped some of the odder cover versions (the can keep the Hunter song and, if they work on it, Set the Controls) and spin out the songs from their back catalogue then they’d be outstanding.

After the gig I got talking to a guy who had just grabbed a copy of the set list off the stage who told me they’d played “all of Dark side” which did make me wonder how much I’d missed. I recently acquired a recording of the gig and it turns out that it was about 15 minutes during which they’d played a track I would have liked to have seen which was from Kantner’s 1973 “solo” album Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun. I think it may have been this track, Your Mind Has Left Your Body, which segued into Brain Damage that lead to the confusion about how much of Dark Side they played! Cathy Richardson was selling albums and signing things outside and while I waited I was accosted by someone, who’d obviously had too much to drink, who informed me that it was the best gig he’d ever been to! I decided, but didn’t say, that he probably hadn’t been to many! Another friend who was there, but I spectacularly managed to miss, told me it was the worst gig on the tour that she’d seen – so take your pick!

Riders of the rainbow
Let it grow let it grow
You can exercise your mind on where you want to go

If you want to see the full setlist click here and the rest of my photographs are in my photo album

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