CD review

Major Surgery – ‘Rare Live Performances 1978’

Major Surgery – Rare Live Performances 1978
(Last Music LMCD223. CD review by John Watson)

Drip . . . drip . . . drip. The woman sitting opposite Don Weller on the train touched her hair, looked up at the luggage rack, and got a drip in the face. She quickly moved seats. “Don,” I said, nudging the saxophonist snoozing next to me, “I think the whisky bottle in your tenor case is leaking.”

He had stayed overnight at my house after a gig in Staffordshire, and was on his way back to London; I was commuting to my newspaper office in Wolverhampton.

It had been a privilege to have such a great musician in the house – not the first, and certainly not the last, but among the finest. His rich sound, sure technique and passionate delivery never failed to thrill me.

Don simply had a touch of magic in his playing, and this new release of live recordings by his jazz-rock group Major Surgery is certainly one to treasure – but comes with a hi-fi health warning. It was recorded on cassette by Malcolm Mills, and as he says in his sleevenote: “You’ll have to forgive the sound quality in parts.” Unfortunately, really noticeable distortion affects Don’s powerful tenor, which must have pushed the cassette recorder well into the red sector, and no amount of skilful mastering by Baz Farmer could have rescued that aspect of it.

So is this a disc to pass over? Absolutely not. The band’s performance is truly electrifying – joyful, imaginative and solidly unified – and apart from the saxophone sound the quality is remarkable.

The album makes a worthwhile companion release to the band’s celebrated 1978 studio album, The First Cut, first released as an LP on Next and reissued on CD by Last Music in 2013 with bonus tracks.

As well as Major Surgery members Jimmy Roche on guitar, Bruce Collcutt on bass and Tony Marsh on drums, the band on the new CD had the bonus of Pete Jacobsen on keyboards.

Most of the compositions are by Don: Old, Useless and White; Shrimp Boats; Beans; Six Stroke Nine; and Tightrope. Fred Bear and the Threadbare Bear is by Collcutt, and A Touch Of The PJs by Jacobsen. The only composition which appears on The First Cut and the new CD is Shrimp Boats.

Sadly, three of these fine performers are no longer with us. Don died aged 79 in May this year, Jacobsen in 2002, and Marsh in 2012. The vitality of their music lives on in these tracks.

LINKS: Art Themen remembers Don Weller

Rare Live Performances 1978 is available from Proper Music

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