Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

As most people will know by now, Mary Travers, the ‘Mary’ part of Peter Paul and Mary, died on September 16th at the age of 72.

In the musical cauldron that was the 1960s, there were all manner of genres bubbling away and one of them was folk. The mainstream absorbed many bands whose musical ancestry was entrenched in folk clubs, such as the Byrds and The Mamas and Papas, but there were always a few that stuck quite closely to their roots. Here we speak not only of Simon & Garfunkel, Pentangle and early configurations of Fairport Convention, but of The Springfields, The Seekers and Peter Paul and Mary.

For me the latter three groups are forever remembered through black and white appearances on the countless TV variety shows of the early to mid 1960s but that is not the only reason why I have bracketed them together. The main reason is that all three had a strong vocal sound underpinned by the female within, Dusty Springfield, Judith Durham and Mary Travers respectively.

It is almost comical to watch these types of performers now, fighting for space by the single microphone whilst trying not to get guitars and basses in the way but it does remind you that a) they always sang live on TV and b) even with the primitive technology of the day, they sounded balanced and clear. If you watch closely you can often see these group members move backwards and forwards from the mic trying to strike the correct vocal balance at any one time. It is truly fascinating and reveals the professionalism of singers in those far off days.

My introduction to Peter Paul and Mary was, like most others of my generation no doubt, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ their 1969 and final hit although my preference now is their cover of Dylan’s ‘Blowin in the Wind’ from 1963. I can’t help feeling that Dylan was well served by those that covered his songs in a more conventional ‘voice’ and that his reputation as a songwriter was boosted in the minds of those that had dismissed him as an idiosyncratic protester. With ‘Blowin’ Mary’s role in the group is shown to best advantage, making the verses’ meaning stand out and then adding an edge to the chorus to give it strength. It is a riveting performance. She will be sadly missed.

Here's a reminder of why:


Charlie said...

Great job Martin! I saw them live 5 years ago and Mary was already sick but they still put on a fabulous show. Thanks for posting this!

musicobsessive said...

Hi Charlie - I see that you have beaten me to it again over on Bloggerhythms and also that you have already raised several of the points I make. Never mind, it doesn't hurt to reiterate these things!

Sounds like the gig you saw is now a poignant memory, like so many these days as rock stutters into and beyond middle age.