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A Yellow Moon Over Crescent City
September 27th 1978
Old Man River's, New Orleans
1978 was a lousy year for music. The airwaves were ruled by disco music and the quality of popular music seemed to be in a state of rapid decline. It was a bad year for progressive music as well. It seemed that all the stalwart groups were either selling out or breaking up. Yes released "Tormato", arguably the weakest album of their career. Genesis answered with "…And Then There Were Three", which contained the first harbingers of their eventual detour into power pop/rock, and also showed how much the group needed Steve Hackett around. Pink Floyd was inactive that year, after the 1977 release of "Animals". As for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, well, the less said about "Love Beach", the better!
It was a time of change for me and my high school cohorts as well. We were all freshly graduated and just starting college and many of us had decided to stay in the New Orleans area for the time being. We were hardcore progressive rock fans, and to a person we were disappointed in the current state of music, both popular and progressive.
However, there was one very positive development that fateful year. A progressive super-group called UK formed, composed of four men with solid progressive rock and jazz credentials.
The most famous at the time was percussionist Bill Bruford, who achieved stardom with Yes, and then went on to join what many believe was the best King Crimson line-up ever. After Crimson flew apart, he even toured with Genesis, furthering his standing in progressive circles. Bassist/Lead Singer John Wetton was Bruford's band mate in King Crimson. He also played with Roxy Music and with lesser known groups like Family.
UK actually rose from the ashes of an aborted attempt by Bruford and Wetton to form a keyboard based trio with Rick Wakeman. When that effort failed, Bruford and Wetton agreed to form a new band with each of them inviting another member of their choice onboard. Wetton invited keyboardist and fellow ex-Roxy Music band mate Eddie Jobson, who also played with Curved Air. Guitarist Allan Holdsworth was the Bruford invitee. He came from a jazz background, playing with Jean-Luc Ponty, Soft Machine and Pierre Moerlen's Gong. This unlikely combination of musicians released their now legendary eponymous debut album in April 1978 and immediately mounted an extensive tour to support it. In September of that year, their long and winding road ran through New Orleans.
Ole Man River's was a nightclub built within a shuttered Holiday Inn. The buildings were located along an otherwise deserted stretch of the West Bank Expressway, across the river from New Orleans. The former lounge was fitted with a small stage and a simple bank of gel lights hanging from the low suspended-tile ceiling, along with a few spotlights. The remainder of the lounge was crammed full of standard hotel convention type chairs and some standing room in the back. A bar operated near the area.
Despite the rather improvised setting, Ole Man River's had managed to attract a series of excellent acts to play within its confines. On this muggy Wednesday night, UK was the headline act on the bill (the opening act was some guy with a guitar and harmonica whose name now escapes me). Several hundred people packed into the lounge, including a few minors (still 17, I got in with an altered ID), and more than a few of my fellow high school graduates. We got seats in the back near the center, about 30 feet from the stage. The air was abuzz with anticipation of the night's events. What would they play? Sure, they would play lots of stuff from their only album, but what else? Maybe some Crimson, or some Roxy Music? Maybe some new material?
The lights lowered to darkness, then the opening chilling drone chord of "Alaska" filled the room. One spotlight stabbed through the darkness, focused on Eddie Jobson, who looked like a waif with his slight build, long blond hair and fair complexion, rendered even whiter by the spotlight. All the stage lights came up when the entire band kicked in, accompanied by a loud roar from the enthusiastic audience. Jobson occupied the left side of the stage (from the audience perspective), surrounded on three sides by keyboards with his clear acrylic violin sitting atop one of the consoles.
Bruford and his percussion set up occupied the other end of the stage. Holdsworth and his Stratocaster stood left of center on a slightly elevated section at the back of the stage, which was 10 feet deep at the most. Wetton was the front man in this arrangement, occupying the space at the fore of the stage, between Holdsworth and Bruford, with his trademark white bass.
After the rousing rendition of "Alaska", followed by "Time To Kill", Wetton acknowledged the cheers and announced that they were going to play a new song, "The Only Thing She Needs". This one had some inspired guitar work by Holdsworth, who ripped out amazing riffs between puffs on his cigarette, which he stored under the low E string on the head of his Strat while he was taking solos. Unfortunately, this great part was dropped from the future studio version on "Danger Money". The crowd reaction to this strong composition was quite positive.
Two more new songs followed. The first one was "Carrying No Cross". On this song, Jobson employed his electric violin for the first time, using it to create the mood and texture of the introduction. The band was obviously still learning and developing the piece, as evidenced by the interplay between Jobson and Bruford. During the quiet opening and closing sections, Bruford paid rapt attention to Jobson, and Jobson would nod his head every time he was about to hit an accent so Bruford could coordinate his snare hit with it. The second song, unnamed in my notes, turned out to be "The Sahara Of Snow". This one eventually wound up on Bruford's second solo album, "One Of A Kind". Next they played "Thirty Years", with a bit of a jam toward the end, followed by a surprise.
They dropped right into the coda of "By The Light Of Day". At first, I didn't recognize the song since I wasn't used to hearing it that way. They then proceeded on to "Presto Vivace" and then, instead of the reprise section, they played the first section of "In The Dead Of Night". The roar at the end of this piece was deafening…all those people in such a small place made for quite a din. The band left the stage at this point, but we were not going to let them quit yet. They came back and played another new song as an encore, called "Caesar's Palace Blues". The highlight of this piece was Jobson's stellar electric violin work. We all headed for the exit after that, talking about how great the show was. I picked up the obligatory UK T-shirt. I still have it, but it doesn't fit very well anymore!
None of us concert attendees knew it at the time, but the days of UK in that night's form were numbered. Internal friction would soon cause a split in the group. Bruford and Holdsworth left and recorded Bruford's second solo album, "One Of A Kind". Jobson and Wetton recruited an unknown but talented drummer named Terry Bozzio and recorded a guitar-less follow-up to "UK", "Danger Money" (1979). The animosity between Wetton and Jobson then grew to a point where neither one could stand working with the other, and UK ended for good after the release of the "Night After Night" (1979) live album.
In retrospect, the split was inevitable. These were four musicians with rather disparate tastes and outlooks. Wetton aspired to be a famous rock star and thus gravitated toward music with popular appeal. He later got his wish with Asia.
Bruford, on the other hand, wanted to experiment, and was always on the lookout for the 'next thing'. He went on to a successful solo career as well as a future incarnation of King Crimson and a few other groups. Holdsworth, a jazzman at heart, just wanted to improvise everything. Jobson was in the early stages of what would later prove to be a chronic case of 'primadonna-itis', which would make working with him difficult for anyone. He went on to a short stint with Jethro Tull, followed by an even shorter run with Yes (that's him in the "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" video). He also formed a short-lived group called Zinc.
All four of these musicians are still active as solo acts today. None of them are stars, but have small (by music industry standards) and loyal followings.
Changes were in the wind for us as well. The next year, I would leave for college in Texas, the beginning of a long and winding road that led to Colorado, Alaska (what do you know!), California, and finally Oregon. Several of my friends would leave the area as well, going off to college or joining the military, but most would remain in the New Orleans area.
However, as we all headed home that night, none of these future developments were known to us. All we knew was that at that place, on this night, all seemed right with progressive music, thanks to these four men collectively known as UK.
Jay Stockton - Central Point, Oregon - September 10th 2003
There was initially some controversy about this show. Most tour listings for the Band UK don't even reference a concert in New Orleans in September of 1978. Fortunately, we have Mr. Stockton who can vouch for the event, since he was there. He even verified it from material he still had at his home from that time period. When we were first contacted about a first generation source for this show, we are also given the email address of Jay Stockton. About 30 emails later, 2 noted UK experts, 2 other UK fans and the PRRP staff were all convinced that this show did indeed occur on September 27th, 1978 and the audio we had was from that night.
The quality of the audio is very good but a number of problems still existed. The most notable problem was the speed change at the end of the show. The last two songs clearly sounded wrong. The tempo was much too fast and a rise in the pitch of John Wetton's voice was also detected. Analysis of the music using a detailed tabulation of segment times clearly showed a pattern of gradual tempo and pitch increase. This is most consistent with battery (power) failure in the recording devise. As the motors of a cassette recorder slow down from failing batteries, the tape runs slower. When the recorded tape is then played back on a tape player running at regular speed, the sound increases in both tempo and pitch. A gradual stretching algorithm was needed to fix this problem.
The source came to us as a raw transfer from a cassette tape so no tracking was present and had to be put in. There was lots of hiss that needed to be reduced, using two different techniques, as well as many crowd noises that were minimized as much as possible. Both Wetton's dialogue and singing were low in the mix so, where possible, enhancements were made to maximize clarity. Finally, the only tonality adjustment that was needed was a reduction in the ultra-high treble band to reduce the piercing quality of the sound.
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