Bathed In Lightning charts John McLaughlin’s early life and his professional career from 1958 to 1975. Around two-thirds of the book covers his path through the 1960s in London – perhaps the most exciting time, and place, in the whole history of post-war popular music – before moving to New York and achieving worldwide fame by stealth with Lifetime, Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
John McLaughlin had an 11 year professional career behind him when he left for New York in February 1969, yet it is remarkable how little known or appreciated this period has been. Partly this is a consequence of John being an artist and an individual who is constantly looking to tomorrow, with apparently very little nostalgia or interest in the past. Partly it is because John’s impact in the New World during the 1969-71 period and the subsequent phenomenon of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, particularly during 1971-73, was so emphatic and prolific. So much was achieved that is now regarded as seminal that it seemed hardly to matter what the fellow had done before. As one commentator put it, John in the early ‘70s, with the unique sonic rush of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, was ‘a rock star who seemed to owe nothing to the 1960s’.
It would be easy to regard the hazy or, in parts, entirely unlit period before this as merely an apprenticeship, a footnote or juvenilia. Nevertheless, it was a decade-plus in which John moved within the white heat of the London music world – from British rock’n’roll package tours to first-wave R&B bands, ground-breaking soul music, free jazz, pop sessions for the icons of the decade, psychedelic jazz’n’poetry and almost everything in between.
John McLaughlin, to a very significant degree, was forged in the 1960s. It was a rare achievement for him, as it would be for anyone, to have emerged from that decade without any obvious baggage. Certainly, many of his contemporaries and bandmates from that time – Jack Bruce, Brian Auger, Georgie Fame, Pete Brown among others – are still defined by the ‘60s, whether they like it or not.
Bathed In Lightning brings that world alive through extensive research in print sources of the time and interviews with many of John’s bandmates and associates. It’s a book rich in detail that will amaze and delight existing fans of John McLaughlin but the narrative has also been written very much with the casual reader in mind: absolutely no prior knowledge of John McLaughlin, of 1960s London or 1970s New York, or of jazz or rock history in general is required. It is not a book for ‘jazz snobs’ or ‘guitar bores’: it is a book about an amazing period in music and an amazing musician who lived through it and who contributed significantly to it and who, in the first few years of the 1970s, became arguably the greatest musician on the planet and a dazzling creative force whose canon from that period retains its potency and magic to this day.
It is a book about a jazz musician who existed to a great extent within the pop music world of 1960s Britain and who, in the early ‘70s, determinedly set aside all ideas of genre, be it ‘jazz’ or ‘rock’ or anything else, to perform music without label in his own Mahavishnu Orchestra. The word ‘jazz’, indeed, barely appears in his many 1970-75 published interviews. So this is not a book that focuses narrowly on jazz – rather, it restores coverage of the jazz world in ‘60s London into the coverage of all branches of popular music in London during that incredible time. There were far fewer barriers and a much greater interaction between what we would now codify as ‘genres’ then than there is now, and Bathed In Lightning reflects that. The ‘free improvisation’ scene at the Little Theatre Club was perhaps more of a genuine ‘underground’, for example, than the much-reported ‘Underground’ scenes at UFO and Middle-Earth – and John had a foot in both camps.
If the extensive unearthing of John’s pre-1969 career rebalances things at one end of the story, so too, at the other end – after the celebrated years with Miles Davis and the original Mahavishnu Orchestra - does the detailed coverage of the adventures of the ‘second Mahavishnu Orchestra’. For too long a poor relation to its predecessor, the 1974-75 career of MO2 is revealed in depth, with most of the 14 members who passed through its ranks, and several key associates, interviewed.
Above all, Bathed In Lightning is a celebration of an extraordinary individual and a singular talent. Along the way, it celebrates the many other people who worked with him and shared in the adventure.
About The Author:
Colin Harper wrote professionally on music for The Independent, Irish Times, Mojo and other titles during the 1990s. He is the author of Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (Bloomsbury, 2000; 2006; 2011) and co-author of Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History (Collins Press, 2004).
The print edition of Bathed In Lightning runs to around 210,000 words; the eBook edition appends 105,000 words of additional content. This includes some bonus chapters on stand-alone 1950s-60s episodes. Over 60 people were interviewed specifically for the book, with many other voices ‘present’ through previously published (and often very rare) sources. In addition to extensive researches in UK and US primary print sources, material was translated from primary Spanish and Swedish print sources specifically for the book. Nearly 90 images are featured in the book, many previously unpublished, including images licensed from professional photographers (Jak Kilby, Val Wilmer, Paul Gerhard Deker, David Redfern and others) and loaned by musicians. The discographical appendices very substantially add to (and in some cases correct) all previously published McLaughlin discographies, adding a great deal of previously unknown titles, release dates and recording sessions. A 1963-69 concert chronology is wholly original and likely to be about as definitive as it is now possible to be in reconstructing the performing activities of John during that period.
The bonus chapters and appendices included in the eBook, and also available to download as a separate item from Jawbone Press, are as follows:
1. Big Pete Deuchar: 1958-60
2. The Tony Meehan Combo: October - December 1963
3. Pirate Radio, London Mods, British Soul: 1964
4. Arjen’s Bag: 1968
5. MO2: On The Road: 1974
6. MO2: Visions Of The Emerald Beyond: December 1974 - June 1975
7. MO3: Resolution: June 1975 - November 1975
8. Postscript: Do You Hear The Voices That You Left Behind?
9. The Texts Of Festival: Star Truckin’ ‘75 by Charles Shaar Murray (reprinted from NME 23/8/75 by kind permission of the author)
Appendix 1 - John McLaughlin Discography: The British Recordings 1963-69
Appendix 2 - John McLaughlin: Known Concert Appearances 1963-68
Appendix 3 - John McLaughlin Discography: The US Recordings 1969-75
Appendix 4 - Second Mahavishnu Orchestra: Known Concert Appearances 1974-75