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Bathed In Lightning - John McLaughlin, The 60s And The Emerald Beyond [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Colin Harper

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9. April 2014
This title chronicles the life of the legendary guitarist John McLaughlin, from the early years of his career in the late 1950s to his success with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and beyond.

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Colin Harper wrote professionally on music for The Independent, Irish Times, Mojo and other titles during the 1990s. He is the author of Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (Bloomsbury, 2000; revised 2006 and 2011) and co-author of Irish Folk, Trad and Blues: A Secret History (Collins Press, 2004).


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3.0 von 5 Sternen The subtitle is important! 3. Mai 2014
Von Colin Harper - Veröffentlicht auf
Interest declared: I'm the author, and I'm grateful to anyone who takes the time to read any or all of the above book and post a review!

I just thought it would be helpful if I underlined here, in case there are misunderstandings, that 'Bathed In Lightning' is NOT 500 pages about the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Walter Kolosky's 'Power, Passion & Beauty' (Abstract Logix) covers the MO wonderfully, with comprehensive retrospective interviews from all five MO1 members and their crew plus some members of MO2. The coverage of MO1 in my book is partly constructed to complement Walter's - it's around 12,000 words/one chapter of a 215,000 word book, and that chapter is deliberately based on a mining of extensive primary print coverage (with retrospective comments from one or two associates). It's a sort of reconstruction of MO1 'as it happened'.

The coverage of MO2 (hitherto less well-known and documented than its predecessor) is two chapters in the print edition of 'Bathed In Lightning', but with several bonus chapters of material in the eBook edition. I was privileged to interview most of the alumni of MO2 and while the print edition chapters focus on John McLaughlin's journey with that band across 1974-75, the eBook chapters allow much more to be heard from the other members. It was as much their adventure as it was John's, and for many of them it happened at a very formative time in their lives.

The reason the eBook version carries more content, incidentally, is nothing to do with publisher greed: it was simply that a longer print edition was commercially and physically less viable. The publishers very graciously agreed not only to bonus chapters and appendices in the standard eBook edition but also to something which, I think, is a little unusual: making the 100,000-odd words of bonus content available at a very small cost as a stand-alone mini-eBook. Not sure about but this is certainly available at

The central point I wanted to make, though, was that the book's subtitle is hugely important as a content descriptor: 'John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond'.

Choosing subtitles is tricky. They have to be pithy, it helps if they stick in the mind but above all you want them to give an accurate impression of what the content is. There are three nouns/subjects in there: John McLaughlin (the central figure in the book), the 60s (a whole decade, a time of amazing creativity and impact in popular music, hugely resonant in culture to this day), and the 'Emerald Beyond' (intended as a poetic representation of the MO era).

The 60s is a major part of that subtitle - and a major part of the book - and I'm sorry if it hasn't quite communicated strongly enough, ahead of purchase, to some purchasers.

John was a professional musician from 1958, for 11 years prior to arriving in New York, recording with Miles Davis, Lifetime and then onwards to the Mahavishnu Orchestra et al. From his many interviews over the years, and from the third party coverage that being a successful or prominent musician generates, John's story from 1969 onwards is pretty well-known. It seemed to me that it was remarkable that he had traversed the 1960s - the most impactful and creative decade in popular music - at the global heart of that cultural boom (London) and yet seemed to do so without leaving many footprints. He is, arguably, the most important 1960s musician whose 1960s experience has been all but unknown.

Consequently, 'Bathed In Lightning' looks at John within the context of his time and place, and with the testimony of many musicians who worked with him in bands and on recordings. And yes, there are a remarkable number of recordings involving John from this era - not only as a hired session man but as a full creative participant. The chapter centred around Duffy Power, for example, chronicles a creative relationship which lasted around 14 months yielded at least five co-written songs, eight recording sessions, a UK single and French EP as a band 'Duffy's Nucleus' (with the rhythm sections from Cream and the Pentangle joining John and Duffy), and several gigs before Duffy's illness derailed it and John moved on. Many further recordings of John with Duffy have been released subsequently.

Another chapter - a bonus one in the eBook - looks at the Tony Meehan Combo, a short-lived band which John has never once mentioned in interview to my knowledge and yet the band within which John would enjoy his first released record, his first hit (albeit a UK No.39!) and first TV appearances. The band, in a way, represented the last hurrah for a kind of instrumental British rock music which all but disappeared in the wake of the Beatles. John was not a creative participant, he was a hired player - but it would be one of many worlds through which he passed as the decade went along.

In a way, John McLaughlin's career from 1958-69 in Britain acts as a prism through which to glimpse, unearth or celebrate the worlds of British rock'n'roll, British R&B, British jazz, British soul, 'free improvisation' and the London-based pop sessions industry. It is all peculiarly British - a cabinet of curiosities, but one which birthed occasional monsters on the world stage (such as Cream, Zeppelin etc). John was 'in and around' all of this. Now and again, if you look hard enough, his name even appears (usually misspelt) in the pages of British music journals of the time...

In a nutshell, there's around 150 pages covering John's NYC period 1969-75 and around 325 covering his period in Britain 1942-69. Or, two thirds 60s, one third Emerald Beyond!

I've given the book only three stars, to be neutral. I'd be an idiot to give my own book zero stars and hubristic to give it five - but the mechanism here means I have to give it something!

I sincerely hope people enjoy the book - it's John McLaughlin in the context of his time and place, London in the 60s and then New York in the early 70s.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen GOOD IN DEPTH LOOK AT A CONSUMATE MUSICIAN 18. März 2014
Von Stuart Jefferson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
" wasn't jazz, it was violent. I felt this is it. This is what can be done." Jeff Beck on hearing the Mahavishnu Orchestra live.

"John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu group--they are going to be huge." Jimmy Page, 1972.

"Our very first tour was with Mahavishnu Orchestra. That was a bit weird--like Hendrix touring with The Monkees." Steven Tyler/Aerosmith.

"What they play is not a mask, a loud, glittery nowhereness. It's true joy." Carlos Santana.

"He could hear things which I couldn't hear. He's fabulous. He was so fluent and so far ahead, way out there, and I learned a hell of a lot." Jimmy Page on guitar lessons from John McLaughlin.

At hundreds of pages (more in the Kindle version) of text (plus dozens of photos) this is a pretty deep, detailed, (and well deserved but unauthorized by McLaughlin) chronological look into John McLaughlin's career in music up through the Mahavishnu Orchestra period through the mid 1970's. Colin Harper (who wrote a good book on guitarist Bert Jansch) has interviewed a number of people and done much research in order to get closer to the many changes in the guitarist's life. For his accurate accounting of both McLaughlin and that entire era, this book is somewhere between 4 and 5 "stars". The author has wisely included what that period in Britain was like for both music and musicians--you get the feel for the era--and incorporated McLaughlin into it. From his days as a guitar salesman and his early musical influences, the story really begins to unfold, telling in some detail the various twists and turns in the guitarist's career. His early days playing with many of Britain's best jazz musicians (including Mike Gibbs, well known bassist Danny Thompson, John Surman, whose early work--not with McLaughlin--on the albums--"Way Back When" and "Tales of the Algonguin" is pretty awesome, and McLaughlin on Jack Bruce's "Things We Like" album) is especially welcome. This is an area that hasn't previously been given the weight it deserves because of his later notoriety. Thankfully Harper goes into some detail about the sad state of jazz in Britain in the early/mid 60's before musicians and bands began exploring what would become known as fusion/jazz-rock.

"The greater use of jazz musicians in the scene here will develop until the young public are weaned away from 'three guitars and a whiner'." Ginger Baker talking about the Graham Bond Quartet, which included Baker, Jack Bruce, McLaughlin, and Bond in 1963.

From there his work with some of the better U.K. r&b/blues/jazz vocalists/bands is detailed, including his work with Graham Bond early on and others like Brian Auger and poet/lyricist Pete Brown. But McLaughlin also did session work (Tom Jones, Donovan, Herman's Hermits (!), and a number of others) with a number of Britain's best players like Jimmy Page, the great guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, and others. From there Harper delves into McLaughlin's joining Tony Williams in the powerhouse band Lifetime and the effect that music had on both McLaughlin and fans of the guitarist. These are other areas where the author's interviews and research has shed some much needed light onto those scenes.

"Yes, but I wouldn't drop acid and then do a recording with Petula Clark." John McLaughlin answering an interviewer's question after Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" sessions.

From that point McLaughlin (he wonders why no guitarist is playing in a similar way to Coltrane's style) joins Miles Davis' band to record some highly regarded music from Davis' later period style of music. His time with Davis spurred him into forming his own band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, which was a landmark band during the hey-day of fusion/jazz/rock/whatever you want to label it. During this period Harper talks about McLaughlin's following of the teachings of his guru Sri Chimnoy which he incorporated into his outlook on life and music and how it affected him as a player and person, but nothing lasts forever as McLaughlin found out.

"The success of Mahavishnu was something even I didn't understand." John McLaughlin.

This is the best book on McLaughlin and his music, and that entire period when jazz went from the doldrums to an exciting new sound. With several hundred pages the author has room for a lot of information on not just McLaughlin, but how music was changing and the people who were there. The interviews fill in a number of areas and answer questions that fans (like me) have wanted to know for years. And for those who've read "Birds Of Fire" and wished for more depth on McLaughlin and/or that era, this new look at his music will fit the bill. The many small b&w photographs (bundled together several to a page in one section of the book) also help define and add depth to the book. It would've been nice to spread the images out one or two to a page for both more impact and to make it visually easier to see the subjects, but you can't have everything I suppose. The depth and detail gives some good insight into not just McLaughlin, but jazz/music during that time, other musicians, and the whole era.

Being a "in the hand ink-smelling" book lover, I wish the "extra" chapters in the Kindle edition were also included in the physical book. There's some good and much needed information that would've been nice to have. But the "extra" chapters can be accessed if you've already bought the paper edition of the book. This is a good quality trade-size book, with thickish covers including front and back cover flaps. The font size is adequate (especially for "old" eyes like mine)--there's a lot of information packed onto each page. Plus there's many footnotes that are very helpful when needed to explain something in the body of the book. The Index too is helpful if you want to search for something particular. And there's a Select Bibliography for more information, and End notes for each chapter. And finally, there's a pretty cool graphic for Pete Brown's First Real Poetry Band on the very last page--a nice touch.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Half about the British Rock and Jazz scene in the '60's, and half about John McLaughlin 17. Mai 2014
Von Calmes - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
It was very surprising to read what I thought would be a biography about John McLaughliin, and McLaughlin often seems to be a minor character for the first 300+ pages (NOT an exaggerated number, by the way). Isn't that strange?!? The author manages to accomplish this by going into great detail about things like bands which McLaughlin was in for a brief time (as little as a few weeks), several of which have no extant recordings. It was also frustrating when the author wrote about the children that McLaughlin fathered as a young man, and didn't really go into much detail about that impacted his life. It certainly must have shaped him in some way! Additionally frustrating was the fact that this 500+ page book really ends where Mahavishnu Orchestra ends, not going into the great Shakti in much detail at all; not to mention his significant later activity. These things being said, there is a lot of information to glean from this book: I came away with lots of information about his early years (the youngest of 5, an early French speaker, an absent and unencouraging father, a violinst mother-which partly explains its presence in Mahavishnu Orchestra; (JM was) a guitar salesman and in-demand London studio musician), his early musical associations (Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, etc.). McLaughlin's association with Tony Williams, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Sri Chinmoy, and Mahavishnu Orchestra and ex-wife Eve McLaughlin are all dealt with in considerable detail. This book also has extensive footnotes and frequently makes reference to the more elaborate e-book version.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Maybe not for everyone but fantastic if you are into it! 7. August 2014
Von J. Bannon - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I find this to be unique in that it is exhaustively detailed yet interesting and fun to read. It's not really just about John M. but more of a context and perspective study on him and the world that he came up in. Lots of detail about the British music scene and business, as well as the personalities that shapedc it. How that got carried out into the world and the effect on it by him is where the story really headed and it unfold in a most facsinating way. Casual readers would probably not enjoy this much but those of us who can get into it will not really find something like this elsewhere. Vivid, revealing, inspiring and intimate. Not an easy feat. I'll be looking for other work but this author.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Always a treat to read about my hero 23. Juni 2014
Von GR700 1985 - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition
I've been a hardcore fan ever since seeing him on the In Concert tv show. Much post MO (all versions) has been available assisted greatly by Walter Kolosky's effort.

I enjoyed reading the fine detailed stories about the musical environment many complain here about. I felt it critical to delve into to those nooks and crannies to grasp what shaped Mr. McLaughlin to eventually come thundering across the world spilling his spiritual passion on us, whether we ourselves were spiritual or not.

I have just finished the book and am turning right around to read it again.
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