(Liner Notes from the New Best-Selling Album)
Live albums aren't supposed to be as exciting, as
as the actual stage performances they record, but (saints be praised!) the Bloomsbury Group's newest,
Live at the Apollo,
is a shouting, foot-stomping, rafter-shaking exception to this rule. Anyone who has not seen John Maynard Keynes doing his famous strut, or Duncan Grant playing his bass while flat on his back, can now get an idea of what he's been missing! The Bloomsbury Group has always stood for seriousness about art and skepticism about the affectations of the self-important, and it has been opposed to the avowed philistinism of the English upper classes.
Live at the Apollo
is so brilliantly engineered that this daring NeoPlatonism comes through as unmistakably as the super-bad Bloomsbury beat. A few critics have complained
that the Bloomsbury Group relies too heavily on studio effects; this album will instantly put such objections to rest. The lead vocals (some by “Mister White Satin” Lytton Strachey, the others by Clive Bell) are solid and pure, even over the enthusiastic shouts of the notoriously tough-to-please Apollo crowd, and the Stephen Sisters' chorus is reminiscent of the Three BrontÃ«s at their best. There is very little “dead air” on this album, even between cuts. On Band 3 on the flip side, there is a pause while the sidemen are setting up, and if you listen carefully you can hear Leonard Woolf and Virginia Stephen coining withering epigrams and exchanging banter with the audience about Macaulay's essay on Warren Hastings. Very mellow, very close textual criticism.
Lytton Strachey, who has been more or less out of the funk-literary picture since his girlfriend threw boiling grits on him in his Memphis hotel room in March of 1924, proves here that his voice is still as sugar-cured as ever. In his long solo number, “Why I Sing the Blues,” he really soars through some heartfelt lyrics about his “frail and sickly childhood” and “those painfully introverted public-school years.” The song is a triumph of melody and phrasing, and it provides some fascinating insights into the personality of this complex vocalist and biographer.
Much of the credit for the album's brilliance must go to G. E. Moore, who wrote “Principia Ethica,” the group's biggest hit, as well as to Lady Ottoline Morrell, their sound technician and roadie. The efforts of professionals like these, combined with Bloomsbury's natural dynamism, have produced that rarest of raritiesâa
live album that is every bit as good as being there.
SAILCAT TURNER REMINISCES ABOUT THE FOUNDING OF THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP
People will tell you nowadays, “Well, the Bloomsbury Group this or the Bloomsbury Group that,” or “Bertrand Russell and Sir Kenneth Clark were members of the original Bloomsbury Group,” or some such jive misinformation. I don't pay 'em no mind. Because, dig, I knew the Bloomsbury Group before there ever
a Bloomsbury Group, before anybody knew there was going to
any Bloomsbury Group, and I was in on the very beginning.
One night in â39, I was playing alto with McShann's band uptown at the old Savoy Ballroomâmostly blues, 'cause we had one of the better blues shouters of the day, Walter Brownâand Dizzy Gillespie was sittin' out front. So after the set Diz comes up to me and he says, “Sailcat, I got this chick that you just got to hear. Man, this chick can
.” So he takes me over to Dan Wall's Chili Joint on Seventh Avenue, and in the back there they got a small comboâtwo horns, some skins, and a buddy of mine named Biddy Fleet on guitar. They're just runnin' some new chords when from this table near the stage this chick steps up. She's got what you might call a distracted air. She looks around the room nervous-like, and then she throws back her head and sound comes out like no sound I ever heard before. Man, I sat there till eight o'clock in the morning, listening to her. I asked Diz who this
chick was, and he says, “Don't you know? That's little Ginny Stephen.” Now, of course, everybody talks about Virginia Woolf, author of
To the Lighthouse,
and so on. When I first knew her, she was just little Ginny Stephen. But man, that chick could
I liked her music so much that me and Diz and Billie Holiday and Ginny and Ginny's sister Vanessa started hanging out together. So one day Ginny says to me, “Sailcat, I got this economist friend of mine, he's really outta sight. Would you like to meet him?” So I said sure, and she took me downtown to the Village Vanguard, and that was the first time I ever heard John Maynard Keynes. Of course, his playing wasn't much back then. Truth is, he shouldn't have been on the stage at all. Back then he was doin' “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” but it sure didn't sound like the hit he later made it into. Back then he was still doin' “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” as a
, with charts and bar graphs. Later, of course, he really started cookin' and smokin'. That cat took classical economic theory and bent it in directions nobody ever thought it could go.
Now, Ginny and John, they were pretty tight, and they had this other friend they used to run with. This was a dude named Lytton Strachey, that later became their lead singer. He also won a wide reputation as an author and a critic. After hours, they used to sit around and jam and trade aphorisms. Me and Cootie Williams and Duncan Grant and Billie Holiday and Leonard Woolf, who later married Ginny, and Ella Fitzgerald, who had just taken over Chick Webb's band, and James (Lytton's brother) and Dizzy and the Duke and Maynard Keynes and Satchmo and Charles
Mingus and Theodore Llewelyn Davies and Thelonious Monk and Charles Tennyson and Miles Davis and Ray Charles and Hilton Young (later Lord Kennet) all used to sit in sometimes too. We smoked some reefer. Man, we used to
Well, that was the beginning. Later, a lot of people dropped out, and Lytton and Ginny and Vanessa and Maynard and Leonard and Duncan and some of the others started to call themselves the Bloomsbury Group, after their old high school over in England. They asked me and Diz to join, but Diz was supposed to go on tour with Billy Eckstine's band, and as for me, well, I wasn't too crazy about the group's strong Hellenic leanings. Now, of course, I wish I'd said yes.
VIRGINIA WOOLF TALKS FRANKLY ABOUT THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP
Being a member of the Bloomsbury Group has brought me out of myself and taught me how to open up to other people. At the beginning, all of usâLeonard, Clive, Vanessa, Lytton, Duncan, Maynard, and me âwe were like different states of mind in one consciousness. It was like we each had one tarot card but it didn't make sense until we put all the cards together, and then when we didâit was beautiful. Like in
, when that monkey figures out how to use that bone. Everything was merged.
Of course, we still have our problems. The interpersonal vibes can get pretty intense when we're touring, going from one Quality Court to another and then to another and then another. Sometimes I wonder if I have room to grow as an artist. But usually it works out
O.K. Like the time I told Lytton that our new reggae number “Mrs. Dalloway” might work better as a short story or even a novel. We talked it out, and Lytton told me I was thinking too linear. Later, I had to admit he was right.
The hardest thing about being a member of the Bloomsbury Group is learning how to be a person at the same time you're being a star. You've got to rise above your myth. We've reached the point where we're completely supportive of each other, and that's good. But at the same time we all have our own separate lives. I've been getting into video, Maynard recorded that album with Barry White, Duncan's been doing some paintingâwe have to work hard to keep in touch with each other and ourselves, but it's worth it. The way I figure it, there's really nothing else I'd rather do.
Two years have passed since the Russian novelist and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn left the Soviet Union to take up residence in the West.
May 1âDerby Day buffet at George and Dottie Balanchine's. Bring cranberry ketchup for the ham.
May 2âTwins to band camp. Drinks with Andre and Nan Malraux.
May 8âWelcome Wagon visit in a.m. Remind Al to drain dehumidifier pan again.
May 9âSunday dinner at the Levi-Strausses'. (Claude and JoAnn. Children: Sean, 7, and I think Jason, about 4.) 1003 Red Fox Trail, Walden Estates.
May 10âPick up twins at band camp. Take Al's old Siberia clothes to Fire Dept. Rummage Sale.
May 11âCrÃªpes Club here: Mimi Sartre, Megs
Ionesco, Barb Dubuffet, Wendy Szent-GyÃ¶rgyi, Tracy Robbe-Grillet, Gail MirÃ³.
May 12âRemind Alâbring patio trays up from basement. Nobel Prize winners' Spaghetti Dinner. Get Al's marimba fixed.
May 15âAl's Rotary Meeting: Brown Derby. 8:00 p.m.: To P.T.A. Mummers'
Barefoot in the Park
with Mikhail & Candy Baryshnikov.
May 17âEcology Day. Al's old
notes to recycling center. Twins' swimming lessonâ2:30: Leisure Time Pool.
May 20âLeave Subaru at the shop: oil & lube. Twins to the Balanchines'. Sam & Patsy Beckett for lunch and paddle tennis.
May 21âHog roast at the LÃ©vi-Strausses'.
May 24âGet twins' band uniforms cleaned for Memorial Day Parade. Al's slide show at Church Guildâ“Russia: Land of Contrasts.”
May 26âBlocked Writers' Benefit Car-Wash & White Sale: Church parking lot, 9:00 a.m. Evening: Gals' poker night at Cindy BÃ¶ll's.
May 31âMemorial Day Horse Show: 2:00 p.m. Bring covered dish.