Dark Star Orchestra

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Dark Star Orchestra
The Garage, London
18th March 2012

Show: The Lyceum 23rd May 1972

Set 1

The Promised Land
Sugaree
Mr. Charlie
Black Throated Wind
Tennessee Jed
Next Time You See Me
Jack Straw
China Cat Sunflower>
I Know You Rider
Me And My Uncle (Not played)
Chinatown Shuffle
Big Railroad Blues
Two Souls In Communion
Playing In The Band
Sittin’ On Top Of The World
Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu
Mexicali Blues
Good Lovin’
Casey Jones

Set 2

Ramble On Rose
Dark Star >
Morning Dew
He’s Gone
Sugar Magnolia
Comes A Time
Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
Not Fade Away >
Hey Bo Diddley >
Not Fade Away

Encore
Uncle John’s Band

Filler
Brokedown Palace – with other drummer

So I went to see the Dark Star Orchestra’s first ever UK appearance tonight at the garage in Highbury, London. They’re a Grateful Dead cover band but one which is well known in the US for playing whole shows taken from the 30 years or so that the Dead toured. As 2012 is the 40th anniversary of one of the Grateful Dead’s most (in)famous tours – their tour of Europe which spawned their triple album Europe 72 it seemed only fitting that the band come over and play some of the 72 shows in the cities where they were originally played. It doesn’t look like we’ll get a visit from the latest incarnation of post Dead bands Furthur so we’ll have to do without any of the original members.

It was obvious from the pre-show blurb that they would be playing one of the four Lyceum shows but which one? There were two which had huge versions of Dark Star and the other two had great versions of The Other One so either way we were in for a treat. There was speculation in the pub before hand with the 23rd May and the 26th May being the favourites. Unless it was the 24th it was going to be difficult to spot which show at first as the other 3 nights all opened with the same song. In fact the two nights mentioned shared the same four songs at the beginning of set 1!

As it turned out the show in question turned out to be the opening night of the run at the Lyceum back in 1972. The Garage was actually a lot fuller than I thought it would be as the band kicked off the show. I was quite close to the front in the middle so I had a good view of the band. Unfortunately I also had to put up with some drunken idiot dancers too and one in particular seemed to think it was a good idea to celebrate the end of a song by throwing his beer up in the air, something he did twice during the first set.

I’ve seen a few GD cover bands over the past few years, The Cosmic Charlies and Workingmen’s Deed from the UK and Deadicace from over the channel in France/Belgium. I have to say though that I found DSO to be a lot tighter and sounded more together than any of the other’s I’ve seen. This could be that they play together on a much regular basis and as the market for GD cover bands is so much bigger out in the States there are far more opportunities for them to play and earn money. I obviously can’t comment on how authentic they were to 1972 Grateful Dead as I wasn’t at those shows as I was only 11 (thank you to the person who asked me that down the front!). My only comment on that score was I thought DSO were a lot rockier that I would have expected from listening to the recordings from that era. I did get a comment from an old timer at the bar during the interval who said they were “too loud and lacked finesse” but obviously that’s his opinion and I don’t know if he was at the original show.

I guess that’s the thing about the Grateful Dead there are so many reasons why people like them. I, for example like the extended jams in songs like Dark Star or The Other One but other people like the danceable rock numbers, there is even one friend of mine who swears that 1995 Dead is the best there is, whereas most people think their final tour was awful. Some like to listen to the music, other like to dance the night away and of course there are all stations in between! This also means that while some people liked some of the above mentioned cover bands others saw different aspects to them – I still think the one I enjoyed the most was Workingman’s Deed as to me they were in the right area musically but other’s didn’t like them because of their vocals.

I was pretty sure I had the right date at the end of the first set but not being someone who memorises set lists so a quick check on deadlists during the interval confirmed what was to come in the second set. They kicked off again with Ramble on Rose before heading off into my favourite piece of Dead – Dark Star. Sadly I never got to see them play it and have only really seen it played live by the Cosmic Charlies and as a short jam by Workingmen’s Deed so I really enjoyed seeing it played right in front of me. It never ceases to amaze me what can be made of something that is essentially a riff and two verses of words. The only studio version that exists last a mere 2:40 and yet the live versions lasted 20, 30, 40 or even in one case on the Europe 72 tour 50 minutes.

The song was just reaching a crescendo when the drunken dancer suddenly re-appeared next to me. Now I wanted to listen to the song and the last thing I wanted was to have my enjoyment spoiled by someone sticking their drunken face into mine and starting to stroke my beard! So I brushed him away and when he came back I lifted my arm and basically shoved him away from me. Luckily for him he didn’t come back again otherwise I might not have been responsible for my actions! In fact I didn’t see him again for the rest of the night although his legacy remained as my feel stuck to the beer sodden floor!

So all in all a good night, bumped into lots of people some of who I knew and remembered and some that knew me but I couldn’t remember them (I’m hopeless!). I handed out a few leaflets for SoL at the end and even managed to give one to the band and tell them they should come and play next year. They did say they’d be coming back but then we’ve heard that before from American bands who then are not seen again. I can quite understand it though as I’m sure they enjoy playing here but suspect that once they get home and tot up the finances it doesn’t look as attractive as it did. The sad reality for most musicians these days especially those in bands.

Guess who just got back today

Thin Lizzy

A few weeks ago I discovered that the scanner at work was capable of scanning slides and negatives and ever since I’ve been wanting to find my collection of negatives which include loads of images from concerts in the late 70’s/early 80’s – mostly at the City Hall in Newcastle.

So I went off to the garage where we have lots of stuff still stored and looked through some of the boxes. I found them in an adidas box where they have been for the best part of 25 years! So I took them home and started to sort through them. Almost straight away I found the ones I took at a Thin Lizzy concert in 1979 which I decided would be the first set to be scanned.

So I took them into work and while I was digitising a 3 hour video tape I set about scanning them in on another computer. Once I had worked out how to work the scanning system which involved moving this, plugging that in and then putting the negatives in a frame I made the first preview scan. Then I had to work out how to make them bigger than 35mm by 25mm! Once I had scanned the first batch I was quite pleased with the results.

The first thing I noticed was how much better the colours were than the ones I had scanned from the original prints

Scanned from Print

Scan from Negative

It just goes to show how badly printed some of the photographs were back in the 1970’s – the colours just weren’t reproduced properly and a lot of the images had a red cast to them. I also noticed as I was going through packets of negatives how many images had been cut in the wrong place making it difficult to scan them in. So much for the golden age of photography!!

I think the problem was that photographs were developed and printed by machine and the machine would guess where black was and probably couldn’t cope with a huge expanse of it! So when I took my photographs into Boots, Turners or even Chas Eagles thinking they would be printed well they weren’t. I seem to recall that sending them away to be developed wasn’t much better.

Mention of Turners reminds me of a story. The problem I had was that sometimes, in an effort to get just one last shot out of a 24 exposure roll of film I would wind on the camera and feel a snap as the film came out of the cannister. When this happened I had a changing bag that I would put camera and one of those black film pots into. I would then take the film out of the camera and roll it up and put it into the cannister – quite tricky when you can’t see what you are doing!

Once I had got the film into the pot and the lid on I would then tape it shut and put a sticker onto it saying “loose undeveloped film – open in dark room only”. Anyway I took the film into Turners and handed it to the assistant and after I had  explaned about the contents I was somewhat dismayed to see him take the lid off, look inside and then hand it back to me saying “Sorry that’s probably no good now!”

Lindisfarne

There used to be a saying that “Film is Cheap” meaning that it was better to take as many pictures as you could rather than miss the “one”. Unfortunately what with all the other demands on my cash such as concert tickets, records and beer I couldn’t always afford to buy too many films and get them developed despite the fact that I did a morning paper round, an evening one, two Sunday rounds and a Saturday job in Woolworths in addition to my pocket money.

So you will find that on a standard 24 exposure roll of (400asa) film there will be one concert at the start of the film and another at the end – like the one I just scanned which started with a couple of shots of the support band, then there were some of UFO, then from the next gig there was Steve Hillage and finally some shots taken back stage that night!

There were negatives of shows I didn’t remember taking photographs at and ones where I had 2 sets of images of different shows (UFO and Lindisfarne for example). I wish I’d taken my camera to more shows but it really depended on getting good seats and the goodwill of the bouncers on the night. I do think I was lucky as the bouncers at Newcastle would only object if you used a flash which I didn’t.

Dire Straits

Two shows I regret not taking pictures of was Bruce Springsteen at Newcastle City Hall and Kate Bush at Manchester Apollo. I took my camera along to the Bruce gig but there was a sign on the door saying no cameras or recording devices that wasn’t usually there. So fearing I might have it taken off me I took it back to the car – of course there was no reason as security weren’t checking. The Kate Bush shows were openly hostile to photographers even before you got there. they had been saying in the press that photographs would not be allowed so I didn’t take my camera as we set off on the coach to Manchester. I did notice that the bloke next to me got a camera out of his bag, a serious camera as well, and took some shots. Seeing I had clocked him doing it, he just smiled and said “Well you have too, don’t you!” that was the night before the Thin Lizzy show that I took the photo at the top of the page at.

I really wish I had kept it up but after moving to first Manchester and then London I found it a) more difficult to get good seats and b) less camera friendly. I used to sell some of my photographs to the Durham Book Centre in Sunderland and I did at one point look into doing photography if I didn’t get into university. Still mustn’t grumble I end up doing something I love as a job anyway!

Alex Harvey

oh and I have already been asked twice about using my Thin Lizzy photographs on websites about the band – you can see them here or here on my Flickr site