There was always something extra special about Peter Green. Something that set him apart from the other guitar heroes of the late sixties – Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and Page. Something that hit a nerve in B.B. King, Carlos Santana, and Barney Kessel and resonated with many fans who first came to his playing via John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. It was very hard to define – something other-worldly, spiritual, an extra dimension maybe– but we all sensed and felt it. Around 1969 Fleetwood Mac, who had been another (albeit excellent) blues band on the London scene, suddenly ‘upped their game’ and began evolving at a rapid pace. Tracks like Black Magic Woman, Albatross, Oh Well, Green Manalishi were quite unlike the output of any other band. Blues, psychedelia, jazz, new age – all were present, but in a radically different form. And the driving force appeared to be Peter Green.
We had heard rumours (if you’ll pardon the pun) that all was not well within the Fleetwood Mac camp. Peter and Danny weren’t getting on, he was thinking of changing musical direction, and then he announced he was leaving the band in May 1970. So when we invited him to Sussex University in Brighton, England to jam and hang out at a Benefit Concert for Timothy Leary and the underground paper Mole and got the word back that he was definitely coming we were cautiously optimistic that something memorable might happen. But we were totally unprepared for the magic that ensued. Peter arrived in mid afternoon and enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the festival – around 8pm he found himself in a small debating chamber in the University main building, where a bunch of people had been creating a complex rhythmic farrago of drums, bottles, cans and anything else that could make a noise for the best part of an hour. The atmosphere was already intense as Peter plugged in a guitar, I assembled my various horns, bottlneck guitar virtuoso Sammy Mitchell (later to play the famous bottleneck solo on Maggie May by Rod Stewart) and Traffic’s drummer Jim Capaldi materialized from nowhere, and the whole ensemble magically joined in with the intense percussion. Eight hours later we were STILL playing, borne on a wave of euphoria none of us, including Peter, had ever experienced before.
Looking back today from a distance of 42 years, it’s still impossible to put into words exactly what that music sounded like. Peter was enthused enough to want to do it again and we did 3 more gigs at various venues around London before an emergency call had him returning to Fleetwood Mac to fill in for Jeremy Spencer who had disappeared with a cult. Then we started to hear disturbing tales about Peter’s mental state – the stories became more frequent and more bizarre, and tragically Peter has never fully recovered. But we still had the memories of those wonderful gigs that everyone who attended remembers vividly to this day. And that’s it……..until I recently received a message from Top Topham – another fine guitarist, who was the original lead guitarist with the Yardbirds before deciding to pursue his art studies and handing the guitar berth to his college pal Eric Clapton. Top was playing on one of the London gigs at the 100 Club, another magical evening. ‘I’ve got some photos of that gig somewhere – I’ll find them for you.’ And true to his word, the attached image materialized – forty two years later! It tells the whole story. I’m primed with an armful of woodwinds, gazing in admiration and disbelief that a 20 year old university student can be experiencing the blistering inventiveness of one of the giants of music. Peter has his famous Gibson guitar on which he performed so many iconic solos (Gary Moore was to buy it eventually) and is obviously digging the whole atmosphere and Top’s playing. Who knows, maybe somewhere out there is someone who will see this and say ‘I’ve got a tape of that session…………’ Well we can dream! They do come true!