Soho Live at Ronnie Scotts

Peter Green

It’s deep midwinter here in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are short and the thermometer is hovering just above freezing – much too cold for this Old Man. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this blogger has been a touch gloomy and lethargic for a couple of days. Am I suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or is it just the understandable response to the dark and the cold? Either way, the cure is in the music archives … somewhere.

And, right on cue, another Hubzilla recommendation comes along. This week it takes us to the central London district of Soho, where Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club has been hosting top-notch musicians since 1959. On 5th April 1998 the Peter Green Splinter Group played there, and the set was captured on an album called Soho Live at Ronnie Scotts. Appropriately for this dreary time of year it’s an album of blues music, but Peter Green’s pure guitar tones warm the soul and the band’s gentle grooves inject a new surge of life into the limbs.

Soho Live is a 2-CD album spanning an hour and 22 minutes. Disk 1 contains a mixture of covers and Peter Green compositions (Black Magic Woman, The Supernatural and Albatross); Disk 2 kicks off with five Robert Johnson songs, followed by The Green Manalishi and three more covers.

There, on two polycarbonate disks, is an audio-only historical document that throws a brilliant spotlight on Peter Green and his Splinter Group as they were that day in 1998. It paints a portrait of the band leader as just a musician who plays guitar and loves the blues. In doing so, it strips away the mystique surrounding “The Green God”, revealing a vulnerable, drug-damaged and wholly mortal man. But it also illuminates an extraordinary talent and a human being profoundly sensitive to the people and the wider world around him.

I have extolled Peter Green’s talent before, but Mike Vernon said it best when he recalled Green’s first recording session with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers:

As the band walked in the studio I noticed an amplifier which I never saw before, so I said to John Mayall, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall answered, “He’s not with us anymore, he left us a few weeks ago.” I was in a shock of state [sic] but Mayall said, “Don’t worry, we got someone better.” I said, “Wait a minute, hang on a second, this is ridiculous. You’ve got someone better? Than Eric Clapton?” John said, “He might not be better now, but you wait, in a couple of years he’s going to be the best.” Then he introduced me to Peter Green.

Peter Green did, indeed, become a wonderful guitarist, but his excessive use of drugs in the early 70s became a serious problem. By 1973 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in psychiatric hospitals. He began a long road to recovery in the late 70s that never quite seemed to reach its destination. The Soho Live album records one faltering step on this journey. It may still be winter, but brighter days are ahead.

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