50 Years Ago Today – Jose Feliciano at The London Palladium
by Dec Hickey.
When I was in my early teens I was a bit mesmerised by alive alive-O, the double album that subsequently encored this concert. It’s not my favourite Feliciano album but it’s a startling release capturing a unique artist. I hadn’t been to ANY gig, so trying to get my head around the ‘size’ (on a few levels) of this one was a bit futile. It would have been lost on me at the time – and I had no comparisons – but RCA had pulled out all the stops on the production.
A ‘No Dogs Allowed’ face-off Jose and his collie, Trudy lost with the Ministry of Agriculture’s quarantine laws at Heathrow Airport eighteen months earlier had meant that, come his breakthrough hit, Light My Fire in late ’68, Jose was refusing to visit the UK. A change of heart however then helped to set up the Palladium concert (a one-off) to be Britain’s first sighting of the singer/guitarist as a chart act. Right at the epicentre of his breakthrough in the UK, apart from a festival appearance in Staffordshire (following the Grateful Dead!) six months later, it would though be his only UK date for three and half years! Trudy got her own back though, as she appears on the alive alive-o! album sleeve, along side her master, on a stage and bowing to an audience… just, errr… not actually the Palladium audience.
This prestigious ’debut’ (Jose had played £50 club gigs, practically anonymously, in the ’67 UK visit) didn’t phase the young Jose, as he seemingly spent the earlier part of the day (along with The Who) recording a TV slot for Tom Jones’s new ATV series in Elstree… and quite possibly managed to get back to be in the Dog and Trumpet pub in Carnaby street before his own starring role. His regular drummer, Paulinho de Magalhães… hired-in-for-the-day double bass player, Brian Brocklehurst and percussionist, Peter Aherne (who barely knew each other)… a run through of two or three songs in the dressing room, a 3 minute soundcheck on stage and the 24-year-old would breeze onto the stage to open with a gentle and solo God Save the Queen.
Brocklehurst (now sadly departed) once recounted his ‘audition’ to me. “We were in the pub before the gig… with a great gang of people, fans and lots of musicians of course, guitar players… (then) just a quick blast in his dressing room and we spent most of that talking! We had a ‘rehearsal’, in quotes. We rehearsed about three tunes and Jose said; ‘OK, Brian, that’s fine man, that’s fine.’ And I said ‘Oh, this is going to be a public audition’. And on the night, out of the two or three we rehearsed, I think he only played one of them… and practically ninety eight per cent of the stuff he performed I hadn’t even heard before. That’s the first time I’d done a public audition, especially at the Palladium!”
Maybe not unconnected with the public outcry that had surrounded a supposedly ‘unpatriotic’ version of the Star-Spangled Banner Jose had performed at baseball’s Fifth Series in Detroit a year earlier, the sold out Palladium audience (mixing fan and music biz glitterati – and rumoured to include a Beatle, a Monkee and some Bee Gees) started chuckling at God Save the Queen, to which Jose queried over the mic, ‘What’s so funny?’ Not much, as RCA proceeded to then leave the rendition off the UK version of the album, but include it on the US pressing, so as to maybe poke at some more twisted ‘patriot’ thinking – just maybe in the wrong country. Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’ here shows things more than pick up and whether a fan or otherwise Alive Alive-O! is a stunner of a recording, and of a musician at the height of his powers.
When I did eventually get to see Jose live (Royal Albert Hall, 1973), the 15-year-old me broke into tears, so I would have been even more useless back in ’69. So, to celebrate ‘the gig that got away’, today I’ll be playing the whole of Alive Alive-o! in sequence, something I haven’t done for a couple of decades, at least… and maybe I’ll be transported back to my Heronscroft, Putnoe, Bedford bedroom… Mum in the kitchen, or knitting in the sitting room… Dad quite possibly in the shed… sis, Yvonne maybe reading Jackie magazine… and as cool as Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’ sounds on a summer’s morning, the neighbours wishing I’d close my bedroom window. xDec
A Note to Dec – thank you for letting us share a special part of your youth here on this page…a full fifty years later. Hard to believe, but really sweet memories. Thank you.
Rick Jarrard, the esteemed producer of alive alive-o!, as well as the Feliciano! and Souled albums, which produced Light My Fire and and many of the aforementioned ‘unrehearsed’ gems from that concert, told us that RCA was frantic about getting him straight back to the States (no sight-seeing allowed) as the unique double-album recording has already gone Gold…he recalls the feeling of sitting there aboard his flight home and the feeling of having those precious, albeit raw, tapes on his lap. Jetting home to mix, and master was his only priority so RCA could package and distribute the album for the Christmas market.
Of course, you know, Rick and Jose have remained friends – indeed brothers – all these years and have just completed yet another project together. Oh Dec, I can’t begin to tell you…wait for this one, my friend…omg. Seriously. So cool. Suz+