Other Side To This Life by Fred Neil

1971

Roo and I were lucky enough to go to the third and fourth days of The Ashes match at Edgbaston in 2005, often referred to as the greatest cricket match ever. On the third day, I was sat next to a bloke and never spoke to him until the last ball had been bowled – Steve Harmison bowled Michael Clarke with a slow yorker. The seat next to Roo was empty all day. I couldn’t understand that: the game was sold out so why would someone pay a lot of money for a ticket and not turn up. I can remember a few sold out Van Morrison gigs. Being a short arse, I was always worried about who would sit in front of me but sometimes, nobody would. I never understood the waste of money. But now I do.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve bought tickets to see The War On Drugs at the O2, Brighton play Tottenham in the fabulous new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, Surrey play Gloucestershire at The Oval and Kent play Middlesex at Canterbury. I haven’t gone to any of these events and the money I paid for each ticket (between £20 and £30 each) has been wasted.

One of the questions that John and I discussed today was what technological innovation we would like to see before we die. We agreed, independently of each other, that a device to instantly transport us from one place to another would be the best thing imaginable. It’s the time and energy required to drive to East London, North London or Canterbury that has really prevented me from going. The truth of the matter is that I’ve seen each of these events publicised and then I’ve paid my money in order to be able to anticipate a great event. I’ve been able to say (boast?) to my friends that I’m going, but the practicalities of travelling have made me decide, on the day, not to go.

As it happens, each of these events would have been brilliant. The War On Drugs’ gig got excellent reviews, Brighton got a late winner against Tottenham, Sam Curran bowled beautifully for Surrey and Joe Denly got a hundred yesterday, against Middlesex. And yet I don’t regret my decisions not to go. The travelling (and the poor weather forecasts for the cricket) were daunting and I feel I did the right thing by not going. What I do regret is buying these tickets in the first place and not having the imagination to anticipate how I would feel. That was a mistake. I am turning into the worst type of person who likes to boast about all the things I am going to do, without bothering to actually do them. And not to worry too much about the waste of money. I paid for the thrill of anticipation. What a wanker.

My inconsistent attitude to money was brought home to me this morning when I randomly picked a CD from a shelf and found “Bleecker and MacDougal” by Fred Neil in my hand. I remembered that I used to have another album by Fred Neil called “Other Side To This Life” but when I looked, I couldn’t find it. I remembered that it was on cassette and, not having a cassette player, I now didn’t own it. Immediately I went on to Amazon and eBay but the cheapest copy was £25. Now, if the album had been sold for £2.50 in 1971, that’s the equivalent of £37.65 now. So £25 is a bargain. If I had bought it, I would have owned it forever, long after streaming services like Spotify, Amazon and YouTube ceased to exist. But no. I refused to spend that amount of money. I had been happy to waste money to buy tickets that I would never use but I wasn’t happy to purchase a work of intense emotion that I could listen to for the rest of my life, whenever I was within reach of a CD player. This has meant that the estate of Fred Neil has received about 12p for the eight times I’ve played the album today on Spotify.

Fred Neil has an amazing story. He served in the US Navy in the mid Fifties, he was married four times and, in the late Fifties, he wrote songs for Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. In the early Sixties, he was a regular performer at many of the Greenwich Village folk clubs. A photo taken on July 20th, 1961, shows Fred Neil on stage with Karen Dalton, Noel Stookey (“Paul” of Peter, Paul & Mary), Mark Spoelstra and Bob Dylan. His rich baritone voice bears comparison with John Stewart and Johnny Cash.

On Fred Neil’s first album, “Tear Down The Walls”, he shared vocals with Vince Martin who had previously recorded a single, “Cindy, Oh Cindy” with The Tarriers, a group that included actor Alan Arkin. Instrumentation on the album was provided by the future leader of The Lovin’ Spoonful, John Sebastian and future Mountain leader, Felix Pappalardi (who also wrote “Strange Brew” for Cream, with his wife).

Side One of “Other Side Of This Life” was recorded live in 1970 at The Elephant Club in Woodstock (where he was living at the time) and included three songs that were covered by other artists. He is accompanied by Monte Dunn who had appeared on albums by Cher, Ian & Sylvia, David Blue and Buffy Saint-Marie. The title track was recorded by Jefferson Airplane and included on their great live album “Bless Its Pointed Little Head”. The Lovin’ Spoonful also covered the song. Fred Neil got to know the members of Jefferson Airplane very well and Grace Slick claimed that Fred Neil reminded her of Winnie The Pooh. She used the nickname “Poohneil” for him and the band released a single called “The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil”, including it in their third album, “After Bathing At Baxter’s” and they also recorded “The House At Pooneil Corner” for their fourth album “Crown Of Creation”.

When The Jefferson Airplane played the song at Altamont Festival, Hells Angels smashed lead singer Marty Balin in the head.

The first time I came across Fred Neil was when Tim Buckley covered “The Dolphins” on “Sefronia”, this being one of the first non original songs he released. The song was also covered by Billy Bragg on “Don’t Try This At Home”. It’s clearly a lovely song, with a great melody but its meaning has escaped me for nearly 50 years.

“Everybody’s Talkin’” was covered by Nilsson and reached Number Six on the Billboard charts after his version was included in “Midnight Cowboy”. The singer of the song expresses a desire to escape the city and retreat to a more peaceful existence. In the early Seventies, that’s exactly what Fred Neil did. He moved to Southern Florida and became involved in a dolphin project. “Other Side Of This Life” was his third and last album. He died in 2001.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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