San Tropez to JFK – Everybody Powwow!

San Tropez to JFK

I wake to the sound of surf, the sea, lapping at my feet. The light hurts. I push down into my sleeping bag. It’s wet. There’s a heavy dew. I rub my eyes, my skin is sore, the sun is already hot. I reach for a bottle of water, drink and lie back. Soon the beach will start to fill up, but for now it belongs to me and my comrades, sprawled about the embers of last night’s fire. It’s 1971, I’m sixteen years old and this is Tahiti Beach, San Tropez, France, the favourite beach of the beautiful people.

San Tropez
San Tropez Tahiti Plage 1971

Brigitte Bardot has her house on the headland and, like moths to flame, the rich of Europe gather here for the summer. The beach is lined with huts, and in front of each hut, in neat rows, are parasols and benches in many shades of livery. Different groups at different establishments, each with its own favoured celebrity.

BB‘s

BB‘s is San Tropez’ number one and that is where we like to end up at dusk, playing chess, and making a beer last an age.Right now though I’m lying on a stretch of beach a couple of hundred metres wide. It’s the only stretch of public beach in the bay, and for the summer this is our home. We are not the rich of Europe, we are “les freaks”, hitch-hikers, travellers, buskers, students, a group of friends enjoying the good life for a few pounds a week.

LIFE ON THE BEACH

Breakfast is a fresh hot baguette and a can of sardines in olive oil. Whoever gets up first goes to the campsite and, using the money we earned the previous night busking, buys the day’s provisions. We get up early, swim, eat, and re-establish the camp in daytime mode. For the rest of the morning and afternoon, we read, swim, drink, and eat, and watch the people go by. In the evenings, we cook on a camp fire, sing songs, play chess, busk, and generally fool around.Occasionally the police come and tell us to move on, sometimes we get invited to beach parties, but mostly we’re left alone.

On this particular day in August in the summer of 1971, I am lying back in the sand when thump!, something hits me on the head. It is a well-aimed book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, thrown at me by my friend and hitch-hiking buddy, Tim. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

“Read that! It’ll change your life!” He laughed. Well I did read it, and I have since read it many times, and delve into it often. And Tim was right, it did change my life! Over the next few days, I write a song inspired by Dee Brown’s book:

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee

Lay me down by the cottonwood tree

Yes we know when you come we die

Take me home where the eagles fly

We rehearse it round the camp fire before playing it on the waterfront, in amongst our Dylan and Donovan repertoire. Busking is simple in 1971; there is no hassle; just turn up and play really, and people are generally kind, and generous. We usually get quite a crowd.

Robert Hart sings the song on the album (Everybody Powwow!), and it still retains the bones of the chorus that I wrote on Tahiti Beach, San Tropez,  all those years ago!

So that was the beginning of the journey. A journey that would take me across America into the heartland of Sioux territory.

Everybody Powwow!

JOURNEY TO NEW YORK

The physical journey begins on the slip road leading onto the A1 just outside York (England). It’s now seven years after that fateful hit on the head, I have a music degree, a couple of hundred pounds in my pocket, and I’ve just left my home and I’m hitch-hiking down to London to catch a plane to the USA, to Pine Ridge. I know I’m going to write an album. But I need to make this journey to know what to write.

A van pulls over. The driver says he’s going all the way. It’s my lucky day!

Five hours later, I’m in London, and I make my way through the underground to Heathrow.

Simon Webb

I’m fortunate to have great support with equipment and lodgings on this trip, (I couldn’t make the trip without it), organized by Andrew Coggins, a friend of old. A camera shop in York had agreed to lend me a high-end Nikon camera, 36 reels of Ektachrome film, and a Sony portable cassette recorder.

So I start recording and taking pictures as I travel.

The incredible sound of the ticket hall in Piccadilly Circus is the first recording I make, and later use this as an introduction to one of the songs on the album.

This is my first trip by plane, so it is all new to me, the airport, the plane, the take-off, the sensations of jet travel.

The standby flight costs £64, and I manage to get on the next plane. It’s a VC10, a very cool aircraft. I order a drink, and I sit back and relax. At last, after years of planning, I’m on my way!

We take off and rise through the clouds into a clear blue sky. The sun appears to hang in the same position as we move west. I write a song title down: Chase The Sun. And then start to write what becomes the chorus.

I’ll chase the sun all day

And the moon all night

Straight for your heart

I will follow the light.

JFK AIRPORT

I arrive at JFK airport, and head for the bar. I not quite ready for the next part of my trip yet. New York had a fearsome reputation at the time, and I have no idea what my host in the city is going to be like.I know his name, Joe Eula, and that he is famous, and that he is Liza Minnelli’s designer.

Everybody Powwow!
Liza by Joe Eula

And that he has agreed to put me up for a few days.

A couple of beers later, revived, I take a cab into New York. As we cross the Brooklyn Bridge and the city of New York stretches out in front of me, my spirits soar. This is going to be interesting!.. (more to follow).

New York 1978
New York 1978

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Links to further blogs about Everybody Powwow! below:

Everybody Powwow! – The Master Recordings. (Part 1)

By the time Ian Tompson greeted me at the front gate of Humber Road Studios in Blackheath, on the first day of recording Everybody Powwow!, I thought I was well prepared, and was looking forward to finally getting in the studio with my songs…


Everybody Powwow! – A journey into the Badlands.

On February 27th, 1973, an American public, wearied by the Vietnam War, woke to the unreal prospect of guerrilla war in its own heartland……


 

Everybody Powwow!

 

 

A journey into the Badlands.

Everybody Powwow! The back story (part 1)  A journey into the Badlands

On February 27th, 1973, an American public, wearied by the Vietnam War, woke to the unreal prospect of guerrilla war in its own heartland. American Indians converged on a small village in South Dakota and vowed to change the world, or die. As The Badlands echoed to the sound of gunfire, the Wounded Knee 1973name Wounded Knee flashed in headlines across the globe, and the public sat mesmerised as though the whole thing was a re-run of a John Wayne Western.

The history of the 1890 massacre of the Oglala Sioux at Wounded had chilling echoes of the recent My Lai massacre by US troops during the Vietnam War.  Dee Brown’s best-selling book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee which had been published in 1970, was exerting a powerful global influence, with  revelations of the centuries of injustice meted out on the indigenous population of North America.

And the times they were a-changing. For a brief moment it seemed that Native Americans might achieve justice in American society.

But it was not to be. After 71 days, A.I.M., the American Indian Movement, called off the occupation, Wounded Knee faded from the world news, and the injustice continues to this day.

MY STORYWounded Knee 1890

I was eighteen at the time, just about to finish school in England. My interest did not fade. I was captivated. I read everything I could on the subject: Newspaper clippings, books about Black Elk, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and The Oglala Sioux. I listened to Native American music, and searched out material that presented the Sioux side of the story.

Later, having completed my music degree, sitting in my local pub talking to a group of friends, I mentioned my idea to write a piece about Wounded Knee. A stranger at the next table leaned into our conversation and said “I’m a poet. I’ve just come back from Wounded Knee. You should go there if you want to write about it. I can get you in!”

Six months later, in 1978, I made the journey to Wounded Knee. It felt like a long wayEverybody Powwow! Badlands from Yorkshire. It was my first time in America. I had flown into New York, and made my way west. New York was pretty tense at the time, but the atmosphere on the reservation was extremely so. The repercussions of  Wounded Knee 2 had left a community torn apart and struggling to survive. Goon squads terrorized the full blood Oglala on the reservation, and I heard sporadic gunfire at night. I also experienced real hostility. It was understandable, given the context.

But I dug in, made friends, and stayed for a month, talking to people, walking The Badlands, soaking up the influences, listening to music, taking part in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony and  attending a Pow Wow.

I walked the hills and drove the dirt roads into The Badlands, taking photographs, and recording sounds.

Everybody Powwow!
Pow Wow at Pine Ridge. 1977

It was, on reflection, a magical time.

I MEET LUCY LOOKS TWICE

On the last night of my stay on the reservation, I went to the local village hall to watch a play by a distinguished touring theatre group. The play told the story of the Oglala Sioux, through the eyes of the most famous Sioux medicine man, Black Elk, and was delivered in high melodramatic fashion.

Sitting next to me was an old lady who seemed to be taking a very contrary view to the show, muttering and giggling. She reacted particularly inappropriately to a very sad speech by Black Elk

Everybody Powwow! Badlands
Harsh light in The Badlands.

at the end of Act 1. During which,  having tried to suppress it for some while, she finally burst out into a fit of giggles, grabbing my arm and holding it tightly until she had regained her poise.

In that small hall, her reaction took everyone by surprise, audience and performers alike.

Shortly afterwards, during the interval of the play, outside in the evening sun, I found myself standing next to her. Everyone else seemed to be giving her a wide berth. Drawn together, we introduced ourselves. Her name was Lucy Looks Twice. She was Oglala Sioux, a local, and wanted to talk. She was interested in me. She told me not to believe everything in the show. Said it didn’Simon Webb composert happen like that. She was funny, and quick-witted, and keen to know what a young Englishman was doing in the middle of the Pine Ridge Reservation. I told her. She listened carefully, thought for a while and then gave me some cautious, but kind words of encouragement.

EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERY

It wasn’t until many years later that I realised just how much weight those words carried. Thirty two years later to be precise. Prompted by a friend, I Googled her name, and there it was. Straight out of the box. Lucy Looks Twice. Daughter of Black Elk. Extraordinary! The show that I had watched all those years back, sittinEverybody Powwow! Badlandsg next to Lucy Looks Twice in that tiny village hall in Pine Ridge, had been all about her Dad!

Her reaction now made complete sense. Her words hung in the wind.


 Later I wrote this song: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Robert Hart is the singer. Bernie Marsden is on Guitar, and Alan Stewart on saxophone. I’ll introduce the rest of the band later.

Link here to read more of Simon Webb’s blog about Everybody Powwow!

Link here to the Everybody Powwow! Face book page.

Link here for more information about Everybody Powwow! and the people involved!