The Roundhouse, London, UK – 17 May, 1976
We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together, Kimberly, Redondo Beach, Free Money, Privilege (Set Me Free), Pissing in a River, Pumping (My Heart), Ain’t it Strange, Radio Ethiopia, Land, Gloria, My Generation
Described as the “complete show from a brand new discovered master source,” Eat A Peach’s new Patti Smith CD brings us her “seismic gig” (as it is referred to on the eventindustrynews website) from the Roundhouse, the second of a two night stand. At the time Smith had only recently released her debut album, the critically acclaimed Horses. “First albums this good are pretty damn few and far between” was the view of New Musical Express reviewer Charles Shaar Murray and his Sounds counterpart Jonh Ingham reckoned it to be “the record of the year.”
Flying Saucers Rock ‘N’ Roll is, to my knowledge, the first release of the complete show and the first on CD. There have been, however, two partial vinyl releases.
The website a patti smith babelogue gives details of two vinyl bootlegs. The first single LP contained much of the show together with two songs from the previous night:
“Live in London (Farty XB 001)
‘Real Good Time Together’, ‘Kimberly’, ‘Ain’t it Strange’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Pumping (My Heart)’ – side 1
‘Free Money’, ‘Pissing In A River’, ‘Strange Reprise – Gloria’, ‘Time Is On My Side’ – side 2
The sound quality and performance are good to excellent. ‘Real Good Time Together’ and ‘Time Is On My Side’ are both from Patti’s May 16, 1976, Roundhouse concert. The rest of the songs are from her follow-up concert on May 17.”
The second double LP contained virtually the whole show plus some additional material:
“Live In London (Smilin’ Ears 2-7720)
This double album contains most of the same songs listed above (except ‘Real Good Time Together’ and ‘Kimberly’). The sound quality is much worse…
In addition, it contains the following:
1. ‘Histories Of The Universe/Seven Ways Of Going’ (Poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church in Oct 1975 – sound quality very good…)
2. Hungerthon Interview (WNEW, with Harry Chapin, 11/29/1976 – sound quality very good…)
3. ‘War Is Over’/’Piss Factory’/’Horses’ (live performance at Central Park, early 1975 – sound quality poor to fair…)
4. Rare Radio Interview (with ?? Scot Muni on WNEW, in early 1976 – sound quality very good…)”
The Amazing Kornyfone Label website, named, of course, after the well known vinyl bootleg label and devoted to “Cover Art Appreciation & the Stories Behind the Recordings on Classic Vinyl Bootlegs,” displays photos of these LPs (both the sleeves and the records themselves), together with an advertisement for the shows from the music press and an onstage shot of Smith.
Clinton Heylin, in his most informative and immensely readable The Great White Wonders: A History Of Rock Bootlegs, refers to a Patti Smith bootleg LP produced in the UK called Live At The Roundhouse and he also quotes a bootlegger named Alan Henderson, who tells him in an interview: “I [had] met up with an Italian guy who had offered the facility of being able to manufacture some records…we did…one I recorded myself, Patti Smith at the Roundhouse.” I have found no other details of LPs with those titles and I suspect they are references to Live In London with the title mistaken or remembered incorrectly.
Flying Saucers Rock ‘N’ Roll gets off to a storming start with a frantic performance of We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together and this is followed by the mid-paced Kimberly, described by Ingham as a song, “to her younger sister..[with] music that sounds like an offspring of the Ohio Express and Mickey and Sylvia.”
Redondo Beach is described by Murray as follows: “The album’s least impressive track…which is a New York impression of reggae and features Ms Smith doing a strange kind of JA Dylan vocal. Not the most immediate piece on the album, but kinda charming.” Greg’s review from 2002 on punknews.org states that, “‘Redondo Beach’ is a song mourning a girl who committed suicide, masked by the happy reggae tune supporting it.” Ingham similarly calls it “a dinky tune.” The song is performed here with deftness and a lightness of touch which further emphasizes the dichotomy between the jolly music and the tragic subject matter, and is one of four consecutive songs which, in my opinion, are highlights of the show.
Of the next song, Free Money, Greg notes in his review that, “it starts with a quiet intro of twinkling piano with gentle bass and vocals, which soon takes off into a toe-tapper with a great ending full of back-up vocals and the title repeated rapid-fire.” Ingham contends that the album version “rocks like hell” and that it certainly true of the ferocious version heard here. The third consecutive highlight is an excellent version of Privilege (Set Me Free), a frenetic performance with a strong vocal performance from Smith. The song, which was to appear on Smith’s third LP Easter, and which was also the second single from that album, is Smith’s take on Free Me, a song from the 1967 film Privilege performed by Paul Jones who plays the character of Steven Shorter, described by Wikipedia as, “a disillusioned pop singer…who is manipulated by the church and state, to turn him into a messianic leader.”
The next song is the last of the quartet of highlights and the first of a quartet of songs from Smith’s second album, Radio Ethiopia. This is an intense performance of Pissing in a River, lacking the piano part which dominates the album version, which builds to a blistering climax. It is followed by a fine rendition of the straight-ahead rocker Pumping (My Heart) and another clear highlight, an edgy but hypnotic performance of Ain’t it Strange, a song which, like Redondo Beach, has clear reggae influences but which is musically harder-edged.
The last of the quartet from Radio Ethiopia is a rendition of the album’s sprawling and cacophonous title track, beginning with and concluded by Smith’s lengthy musings on the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo, the Tower of Babel and the universal power of rock and roll, during which she namechecks The Yardbirds’ Keith Relf, who had just died. After a song which has been characterized as “10 minutes of noise” comes the genuinely epic Land, referred to by Murray as the, “unquestioned piece de resistance [from Horses]…the piece that completely skulled me out when I saw her at CBGB [in April],” and by Ingham as, “a totally unbelievable song.” This hectic performance concludes with a further spoken section in which Smith makes reference to family life with her brother and sister, which then leads into her take on Them’s Gloria, a song described by Murray as, “stunning…achieving almost the same psychotic/sexual/dervish whirls as some of the Doors’ longer, stranger rides,” which is given an excellent performance here. The show concludes with a wild and raucous version of The Who’s My Generation, which includes the band introductions.
In his review of a much later Roundhouse concert in 2007, published in the UK newspaper The Independent, Kevin Harley recalls the 1976 shows, writing that:
“You’ve got to have faith when it comes to Patti Smith. In May 1976, playing her first-ever UK shows at the Roundhouse, she aspired to alchemise rock ‘n’ roll, politics and poetry in an outsider’s bid for revolution and transcendence. The conviction holds firm: Smith’s concerts are testimonies to a belief that rock has to strive to matter.”
Eat A Peach’s booklet contains an account by the taper himself, Mike B, who was also most impressed by the show, writing that, “the atmosphere was absolutely electric,” and, as he also points out, the significance of the shows is widely regarded as going beyond the quality of the performances:
“The gig is rock history now, and famous for having drawn members of the UK’s emerging punk scene. Members of The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, The Slits and Siouxsie and The Banshees to name just a few were all present. It was that important an event…an absolute piece of rock’n’roll history and the gig that would help usher in punk in the UK.”
The Financial Times review of Smith’s Roundhouse performance in 2015 by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney also supports the contention that the 1976 shows were influential, stating that, “at the time Smith was touring her debut album, Horses, an emissary from the New York punk scene that inspired London’s then-nascent version.”
However, James Manning, writing on the Time Out website in October 2015, notes that not every member of the “emerging punk scene” was impressed:
“The crowd included a good chunk of London’s nascent punk scene, including members of The Sex Pistols. On stage with the Pistols at the 100 Club a couple of days later, Johnny Rotten launched into a rant about the gig: ‘In we go to the Roundhouse the other night, see the hippy shaking the tambourines. Horses, horses, horse-SHIT!’ Awkwardly, two of the Patti Smith Band were standing in the audience.”
It is perhaps unsurprising that Rotten would take this attitude. In an interview with Jonh Ingham of Sounds in April 1976, he stated that, “the New York scene has nothing to do with us. It’s a total waste of time.”
The sound on this release is impressive, largely full and mostly very clear, lacking only a little in depth and dynamics and with an occasional harsh edge, and it contributes significantly to the enjoyment of listening to the show. Mike B notes that he and his friend Pete used, “a new, state of the art Yamaha stereo recorder,” adding that, “the Roundhouse…offered upstairs seats on a first come first served basis and we queued all day to make sure that we got a great, central position right in line with centre stage.”
The packaging is Eat A Peach’s typical single card sleeve with an inner sleeve and foldover insert, featuring onstage shots of Smith together with the music press advertisement (used for the front of the sleeve), a Time Out cover featuring Smith and a ticket for the show. The notes from Mike B appear on the inner pages of the insert. While I would be inclined to disagree with the comment on my last review that Eat A Peach’s artwork is in general “dull & dreary,” with the choice of the advertisement for the front cover and a colour scheme of black and beige the packaging of this title is admittedly a little drab.
Overall, with a fine sounding show that is both extremely enjoyable and historically significant, this release constitutes a must-have title for all Patti Smith collectors.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)