Superlungs: gig of a lifetime runs out of puff
by Jeremy Miles
Terry Reid, The Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne.
Terry Reid has never been lucky. He was first choice as vocalist for Led Zeppelin but, busy on tour, helpfully suggested they might like to check out a chap called Robert Plant instead. Extraordinarily the same thing happened when they wanted him to front Deep Purple. Reid was out on the road and it was Ian Gillan who got the call.
Hard gigging didn’t pay dividends either. He toured with the Rolling Stones, became a hero of the underground music scene, was a star turn in Nic Roeg’s 1971 film documentary Glastonbury Fayre. None of it made any impact on mainstream music sensibilities. Reid moved to America and worked with the elite of Laurel Canyon. Yet, after 50 years in the music business he remains unknown to all but the cognoscenti.
As for the Tivoli gig? Well as I said Terry Reid has never been lucky. He bumbled onto the stage saying he was realising a lifetime’s ambition playing this small but highly regarded theatre deep in the Dorset countryside. Sadly the show was a shambles. Reid used to be known as ‘Superlungs’ yet his voice – once his greatest asset – was shot through. Some kind of throat infection appeared to be the main culprit, though the medicinal whisky he was sipping on stage may have not have helped. “One lung or two?” yelled someone unhelpfully from the front row as he wheezed his way around the high notes that were once his trademark
Maybe this gig was a one-off disaster precipitated by illness. He told us at length that he was only able to perform thanks to the ministrations of a private doctor. However a little more focus would have undoubtedly helped. When Reid was in his 20s he would appear on stage in a cloud of marijuana smoke and deliver a set that was achingly cool, hardwired to the hippy zeitgeist. At 66-years-of-age and straight from the ENT clinic, his ‘untogether’ schtick doesn’t quite convey the same message. The material remains very good, at times exceptional, but its delivery was disastrous.
Classics like Without Expression, The Frame, To Be Treated Rite and Seed of Memory are great songs and Reid is still capable of finding that special groove. At his best he remains hypnotically compelling but, taken as a whole, this concert offered no more than glimpses of his past genius.
He rambled amiably between songs without appearing to have any notion of his own shortcomings. We heard about living in the desert, his brief teenage foray into car theft to get to Soho and the R&B Mecca that was the Marquee Club. We even heard about his daughter’s forthcoming wedding at which, tellingly I felt, he’s been begged not to play. Several stories petered out without reaching any kind of conclusion. What happened with Nick Lowe at the Palladium? I need to know! And, while we’re on the subject, what was that other thing he was going to tell us about Zak Starkey?
Reid chuntered on regardless, occasionally forgetting which guitar he was going to use or which song was coming next though he did sort of mention the reason for the show – a new CD featuring out-takes and forgotten gems from his 1973 River sessions.
His accompanists, highly respected producer/musician Jennifer Maidman on bass and one time Level 42 founder Phil Gough on drums, looked bemused and occasionally mildly concerned but worked hard to hold things together as the wayward singer-songwriter meandered his way haphazardly through the show.
Reid returned for a solo encore – an excruciating rendition of Lady of the Island but not before telling us how he’d assisted at the very birth of the song, spending months co-writing with his friend Graham Nash. Guess what? The published version, featured on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s eponymously titled 1969 debut album, bears just one songwriting credit – Graham Nash. That’s the thing about Terry Reid. He’s never been lucky.