“Both Sides”

Liner Notes

By Harry Shapiro


After the break-up of Blues Incorporated, Alexis Korner spent much of 1968 and into 1969 continuing with various media projects, radio shows and a mix'n'match live/recording career, working with various combinations of different musicians. Having moved through Blues and Jazz, Alexis had decided he wanted to try out some ideas using Gospel/Soul as the base music. Although he never had any time for formal religion, he was captivated by the sound and passion of Gospel, the way it galvanised and motivated people. But to do this, he needed a congregation - not a formal band (he'd had enough of that), but a loose amalgam of musicians he called, naturally enough, NEW CHURCH.


Perhaps not too coincidentally, considering they knew each other, Jimi Hendrix had a similar idea to Alexis at the same time. He, too, was fed up with the business pressures of running an established band, and broke up The Experience in 1969 to form a more informal band playing what he called 'Electric Church Music' and featuring, like Alexis, largely unknown musicians.


In keeping with his previous musical ventures, Alexis wanted to give new players a chance for some exposure under the Alexis Korner 'brand' - although he would have hated the concept if it had ever been presented to him like that. An early recruit to the calling was a young bass player, Nick South, who began by performing with Alexis as a duo. Continuing a trend which had started back in the early Sixties with Brian Jones, Nick became the latest of a string of young musicians drifting towards a career who found their way to Alexis, slept on his floor, were fed by Alexis' wife Bobbie, and got a taste of the business under Alexis' watchful eye. This was no accident; Alexis himself had a troubled childhood and ended up at a residential school for 'difficult children' called Finchden Manor. He always made his business to help young musicians, often battling against unsupportive parents, trying to find their way.


Nick travelled with Alexis into Europe, to Germany and Denmark, where Alexis had discovered a band called The Beefeaters, led by singer and guitarist Peter Thorup, an extraordinary talent who duly left the band and became Alexis' main musical collaborator over the next few years. Alexis' 'move' into Europe was well calculated. He had undoubtedly lost his UK audience; record sales were poor and he was only playing the smallest venues around London. But he could speak fluent German and this gave him a huge advantage as he took his music further afield. Indeed, Alexis became one of the pioneering musicians on the European Blues scene. Ultimately he would take the music right across the continent, and became as important to a new generation of European Blues enthusiasts as the likes of Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters had been to the first generation of Blues fans in Britain.


To South and Thorup, Alexis added the ubiquitous Ray Warleigh - and another singer, his own daughter Sappho. She had been a very wild child and, like her father, had spent time at Finchden Manor, Sappho desperately wanted to be a singer, and Alexis thought it would be good experience to be out on the road with him.


They say what goes around, comes around - and just as New Church was finding its feet. Alexis was drawn back into the life of Brian Jones. Brian was hanging onto his position in The Stones by his fingertips. His drug intake was rising in proportion to his growing sense of isolation from the band and eventually Keith, Mick and Charlie went down to Brian's place at Cotchford Farm to break the news. They then asked Alexis if he would help Brian make the transition to life as an ex-Rolling Stone. Alexis found him in a very vulnerable and paranoid state, trusting only Alexis and his family who had been so good to him back when life seemed full of hope and opportunity. Alexis organised rehearsals for Brian; various musicians came down to jam, including Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer from Atomic Rooster, John Mayall, Mitch Mitchell and Jeff Beck's drummer Micky Waller. But what Brian really wanted to do was join New Church and go on the road with them to Germany. Alexis gently vetoed the idea, telling Brian that it was really best if he developed his own ideas for the future. Tragically, there would be no future for Brian Jones; on 3rd July 1969, he was found floating in his swimming pool. Nick South had spent many hours at the farm leading up to the day Brian died and he recalled that even then, "we all thought it was very suspicious".


Alexis was devastated by Brian's death and cancelled New Church's debut tour. But they played the Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert, to an estimated audience of 250,000, a gig that went well for the band despite Nick's amp exploding during the warm-up. But then band manager Phillip Roberge received an offer he couldn't refuse, for New Church to fly to Geneva and provide the entertainment at a party hosted by the notorious financier Bernie Cornfeld.


Back in Britain, thoughts turned to recording an album. But before they even got to the studio, there were yet more problems for the fledgling band - a toxic combination of youth and ego. Nick South and Sappho were still teenagers and spent much of the time squabbling, while Sappho and Alexis often went head to head. There was a massive, stand-up row; Sappho stormed out to be followed swiftly by Nick, and by all accounts, Sappho didn't speak to her father again for over a year.


Both Sides was eventually completed after a frustrating period of indecision. Alexis and Phil asked Alexis' BBC producer Jeff Griffin to produce the album; Jeff recalls that "Alexis wanted to do some big band arrangements using John Surman while the rest would be made up of stuff that Alexis was doing at the time". All-night sessions were booked at Olympic for the 23rd-25th September, but when Alexis arrived, he immediately informed Jeff that Nick South had been sacked and that instead, he was going to call in Andy Fraser, of Free. Here was another bunch of young Blues players given a leg up by Alexis. They had supported him on a tour of the UK, and Alexis had been their co-manager, with Bryan Morrison, in the very early days before they signed to Island.


Andy came down for the sessions; Victor Brox's wife Annette replaced Sappho, with Paul Rogers as backing vocalist; a top brass section comprised Chris Pyne, Ray Warleigh, John Surman, Malcom Griffiths, Henry Lowther, Barry Beckett and Lol Coxhill; drummer John Marshall - plus, of course, Alexis and Peter Thorup - completed a powerful ensemble.


Album recorded, mixed, job done. Everybody happy?




The picture is unclear, but either Alexis or Bobbie Korner (or both) were unhappy with the brass arrangements. So at the very last minute four of the sides were replaced by a pair of live tracks from a concert at the Audiotorium Maximum in Hamburg, recorded on 9th December 1969. By now Andy Fraser was fully committed to Free and he'd been replaced by Colin Hodgkinson, an incredible bass player who formed a working partnership with Alexis which lasted on and off right to the end of Alexis' life. Colin recalls his 'baptism' with Alexis, earlier that year: "He said that the band had a gig the following week in Vienna and I said 'When do we rehearse?' He said 'Oh, I'll sort it out.' This was a big gig, two or three thousand people, and it's getting nearer and nearer, and I wanted to run through the tunes and was getting a bit nervous about it. He said 'You'll be all right, don't worry about it.' The upshot was that we went onstage in Vienna, we had no rehearsals, I had no idea what we were going to play. Halfway through, he said 'Do a bass solo.' I said 'I don't know anything.' Well, in actual fact I'd started playing some Robert Johnson songs like '32-20 Blues'. He said 'Just do a bass solo' and he went off the stage. I was left just standing there - I was freaked out enough, as it was. Anyway, I did this solo, it went down tremendously well, and that's what really got me started off playing the solo legs. I don't know how much of it was calculated or just him being incredibly loose, but that was my introduction to Alexis!"


Meanwhile, the Hamburg concert had been a major eye-opener to Alexis. Here he was, headlining a concert in front of 3,000 people, with fans outside rioting to get in. Subsequently, for the next twelve months, New Church milked the German market for all it was worth - and for around 12 months they were one of the biggest live bands on the Central European circuit. That was reason enough for the band to stay out of England. The other was the continuing stupidly of the Musicians Union, who initially, wouldn't let Peter Thorup live or work here, prompting one newspaper critic to comment on a New Church performance, "the standard of all of them, vocal and instrumental work, was way above the above-average British bands and the arrangements were certainly more original than most. I do hope they get around the red-tape and other problems and are allowed to play in this country soon. I don't see why the Continent should have all the good things because of British bureaucrats".


But such praise notwithstanding, the reality was that no British record company wanted Both Sides (not the least of which, one presumes, because without Peter Thorup there would be no band to promote it) and it was eventually released in Germany, in May 1970, after Phil Roberge struck a deal with Intercord (it also secured a release in Holland, on the Philips label). There was a resounding silence at the cash registers, but as a live act the band were accruing some gushing reviews in the German press: "Blues at its best", said one paper.


This special expanded edition contains the Both Sides album, plus additional live recordings from New Church's German tours in 1969 (four of which originally appeared on the infamous Alexis Korner Meets Jack Daniels bootleg) and a couple of contemporaneous BBC sessions. All except the very last of these bonus tracks features the 'original' New Church line-up, including both Nick South and Sappho Korner - which, following poor Sappho's sad death earlier this year, makes this compilation all the more poignant.


Alexis' attitudes to recording and rehearsals could best be described as 'chilled' and this did not necessarily make for cohesive recorded output, especially with the number of musicians involved here. So that while songs like 'Mighty, Mighty Spade And Whitey', 'You Don't Miss Your Water' and 'Jesus Is Just Alright' are well realised, 'Polly Put The Kettle On' and 'The Clapping Song' (both recorded live, at New Church's inaugural gig, it must be admitted) are perhaps not. Given Alexis' other commitments and those of many of the musicians, time itself was a real issue and so there was a tendency for 'fillers' to appear in the live performances - which Alexis got away with because the German audiences loved him to bits, especially when he gave them a Blues Lecture, in German, in between songs.


New Church finally toured the UK in September/October 1970, but by then Alexis was already tired of the concept. He had been away from home longer than ever before, and with his new house in Wales ready to move into, he drew the curtain on this phase of his career. Perhaps more pertinently, CCS were about to unleash 'Whole Lotta Love', following which Alexis would finally find himself on Top Of The Pops, at the grand old age of 42 ...


Harry Shapiro




An article (in Melody Maker??)

From the sleeve notes of “Both Sides” CD


Alexis warns 'There's a lot more to blues'


"I think that what is going to kill the blues scene is the dreadful restriction of material."


That is the opinion of Alexis Korner who has probably been working longer in the blues field than anyone else on the current scene.


He went on "They seem to reject so much of what goes up to make the blues - the jazz things, the worksongs and just about anything that doesn't have a 12 or 8-bar chorus, in fact about 90 percent of what makes up the blues form. But you can't just say all that never happened and ignore it.”


"And if they are going to insist that blues is a 12-bar form with a specific harmonic sequence, with only about three variations, and that the basic lyrics are 'My baby done left me' or 'This is the name of the bird I made last night,' then they can't expect the interest to last very long.”


"If they are going to stick so violently to the form, then the standard of content must get a lot higher. In blues, anyway, it is the content that is the most important, not the form.”



“Both Sides”