THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP LIVE AT THE APOLLO
(Liner Notes from the New Best-Selling Album)
Live albums aren't supposed to be as exciting, as immediate 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 Brontës 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 rarities — alive 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 was a Bloomsbury Group, before anybody knew there was going to be any Bloomsbury Group, and I was in on the very beginning.
One night in '39, I was playing alto with McShann's band uptown at the old Savoy Ballroom — mostly blues, 'cause we had one of the better blues shouters of the day, Walter Brown — and 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 whale." So he takes me over to Dan Wall's Chili Joint on Seventh Avenue, and in the back there they got a small combo — two 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 thischick 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 whale.
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 demonstration, 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 CharlesMingus 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 cook.
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 us — Leonard, Clive, Vanessa, Lytton, Duncan, Maynard, and me — we 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 did — it was beautiful. Like in 2001, 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 OK. 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 painting — we 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.
Dating Your Mom. Copyright 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986 by Ian Frazier. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.