May 10, 2010


Alan Price

Alan Price
Great American Ballroom, San Francisco, California
April 17, 1974

Photos by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton

Alan Price was born in County Durham, England, in 1942. He showed musical ability early in his life, playing the piano at the age of seven, and by his teen years he also was able to play organ, guitar, and bass. While he still was young, he took it upon himself to master and perform different kinds of music, including skiffle (a style that was heard throughout England in the 1950s), rock'n'roll (he had a special liking for the brazen style of Jerry Lee Lewis), rhythm and blues, and jazz.

In 1961, Alan Price formed a band, the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, and began to attract favorable notice through performances at the Club A'Gogo in Newcastle. In 1964, the band became The Animals and moved to London, where they were given a chance to make records with Mickie Most as producer. Their second single, "The House of the Rising Sun," was released in July, 1964, and quickly became a worldwide hit. In 1965, Alan Price quit The Animals, saying that he was tired and nervous from overwork, although it is likely that a desire to establish his own name also was part of his decision to leave.

Alan Price soon returned to action with a new band, The Alan Price Set, and made himself known in 1966 with his moody recording of "I Put a Spell on You." After a few more hits ("Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear," "The House That Jack Built," "Don't Stop the Carnival"), he resigned from The Alan Price Set in the late 1960s. He joined with Georgie Fame (a British singer and keyboardist known for "Yeh Yeh," "Getaway," and "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde") in the early 1970s, forming a musical partnership that continued for several years and resulted in another hit, "Rosetta."

When Alan Price made his appearance at the Great American Music Hall in April of 1974, he was at the height of his fame, mostly as a result of writing a collection of artful songs for O Lucky Man!, a British film that starred Malcolm McDowell. Alan Price also performed as himself in the film, which was directed by Lindsay Anderson. In addition, 1974 was the year in which Alan Price released Between Today and Yesterday, an album of songs drawn from his upbringing in Newcastle. Both O Lucky Man! and Between Today and Yesterday confirmed him as one of the most accomplished musicians of his time.

David: Only four days after seeing Mott the Hoople at Winterland, we saw Alan Price at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. It was a very different venue and a very different musical experience, but still one of my favorites. The Great American Music hall is a small club with Victorian decor and cafe style tables. Beer and wine are served with sandwiches, pizza, etc. A much more humane way to enjoy music than the usual sardine experience at Winterland and the Cow Palace.

With our youthful endurance strong, we waited on the streets of San Francisco and were able to score a table right at the front of the stage. The keyboards were just to my left and put me in a great position to take photographs. I was amazed at how many people they were able to pack onto the tiny stage. There was a small orchestra with guitar, bass, and drums. Derek Wadsworth was right in front of me, playing slide trombone. He was so close to the edge of the stage that I almost had to lean back when he played low notes.

The photos show that Alan Price sat at the keyboards the entire show, and the lighting seemed to be only in red. This made for little variation in the photos. (It is always hardest to get good photos of keyboard players!) Being close made it difficult to see past the keyboards and include the rest of the band. Not the best show for photographs, but definitely a great one for music.

Alan Price was at his creative peak, having just released Between Today and Yesterday, one of my favorite albums. Before that he had recorded the soundtrack to O Lucky Man! He performed songs from both of those albums: "Left Over People," "Sell Sell," "Poor People," "Justice," etc. Those songs had biting lyrics about social injustice and corporate greed, set to music that had me bouncing in my seat. They also were lighter moments, with songs such as "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear" and "Look Over Your Shoulder."

He would give a little talk at the beginning of each song. I was thrilled when he said that the next song was one that he used to perform with The Animals. He explained that they were never able to finish it before screaming hordes of teenage girls would stampede the stage, and the band would have to make a hasty retreat. He was now able to sing, and finish, "The House of the Rising Sun." A truly amazing and memorable concert.

We met the band after the show. Alan, still dressed in his suit and tie, looked nothing like an Animal. He was kind enough to give me his autograph, as did his guitarist, Colin Green.

Gary: Alan Price was another great favorite of mine. (The music during that period was so good.) One of the first songs that I learned on guitar was "The House of the Rising Sun," in the arrangement made famous by The Animals, and his organ solo on that track was full of emotion. He did covers of other songs, some of which were sentimental ("Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear," "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo"), but I really started to love Alan Price's music when I saw the great Lindsay Anderson film, O Lucky Man! The songs in that film (and Alan Price's acting), and the Between Today and Yesterday album, were simply superb.

His live double album, Performing Price, as good as it is, doesn't come close to capturing the strength of his music at that time. His band, which included Colin Green and Dave Markee, was great. Derek Wadsworth also was there, playing trombone and trying to hit the front row with his slide. The musical arrangements were very well composed. All the complexity of those great albums was there on the stage that evening. Alan Price, in a tuxedo, was in fine form.

After the show, we waited for Alan Price to come out of Great American Music Hall, and when he did, a woman presented him with a big bouquet of flowers (long and many blooms, like gladiolas). He seemed really uncomfortable, as if he wanted to refuse them. The woman then said that she liked him wearing his beat-up leather jacket and cap (as he was seen in O Lucky Man!), rather than wearing a tuxedo. (I agreed with her in my mind.) Alan Price got a bit angry, almost, as he said, "This is the real me." We saw the strength of Alan price right there.

Michael: A performance by Alan Price was not the same as most of the shows that we attended in those days. Although he once had been a member of The Animals, one of the most famous bands of the 1960s, he was not a wild man of rock'n'roll, with garish clothes and shaggy hair. Instead, he was a tasteful entertainer in a dinner jacket, singing reflective songs that offered mature insights into life:

If you've found the meaning of the truth in this old world -
You are a lucky man!
If knowledge hangs around your neck like pearls instead of chains -
You are a lucky man!
Takers and fakers and talkers won't tell you,
Teachers and preachers will just buy and sell you,
When no one can tempt you with heaven or hell -
You'll be a lucky man! 

We were fortunate to see Alan Price at the Great American Music Hall, a small venue that allowed us to sit close to him. It was almost as if we were attending a private performance. He was backed by a band of highly skilled musicians, and overall, the music had a distinctly jazzy tone. It was a rare thrill to hear him perform his songs from O Lucky Man! I also remember being especially pleased when he sang "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear," a fanciful tune written by Randy Newman.

Alan Price was a fairly reserved performer, clearly serious in regard to the quality and meaning of his music, and not given to displays of showiness or unnecessary gestures. He stayed behind his keyboards and maintained a somewhat formal manner throughout the show. Nevertheless, his performance that evening was an experience to be treasured.

More about Alan Price at David's Rock Scrapbook

Next: The Faces

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