1969 – Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart

Dive Three – Drunk in charge of a masterpiece?

In 1969 I was working for Storey’s of Lancaster, a firm which manufactured wall coverings (anyone remember Contact and Decorene?). I had started working in the bonus office with the intention being that I would study to become a Work Study Engineer; these are the people who stand around with stopwatches measuring how long it takes you to complete a particular job so that they can tell you how to do it more efficiently. Anyway, I didn’t do the training; it involved going off to Nottingham University for a week and, as I had never been away from home on my own for that length of time and I was of a rather nervous and shy disposition, I told my boss I didn’t want to go. So I ended up staying on as a bonus clerk, working out the weekly bonuses for the people who worked in the factory.

It was just before Christmas 1969 and we’d had a Christmas party at work where I managed to get fairly drunk. The rest of the group were going into Lancaster to carry on drinking so I cadged a lift with them and wandered off into town looking for something to buy with my Christmas bonus. I’m not sure how much it was but it probably came to about £10 or so. At this time I had three great loves in my life – girls, books and music – so I headed for the local record shop. I can’t remember the name of it but it was upstairs somewhere around where WH Smiths is now and you could listen to records in booths before buying them. Well, one thing I’ve always liked is something different and when I came across a copy of Trout Mask Replica I had to hear it! Who could resist?? Remember I was fairly drunk and looking to spend my money so I took it to the counter and asked to listen. I probably got some strange looks from the person behind the counter but, as I had had a few drinks, I didn’t notice, just straight into the booth and waited for them to put the record on. One thing I don’t like about CDs is that you don’t get that sense of excitement when the stylus hits the record and there’s a few seconds of slightly crackly silence before the music starts. Well the music started (Frownland) and I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it. I wanted to love it, it was Beefheart and the cover was the strangest thing I had ever seen. I probably listened for about 10 minutes and decided that, though I didn’t love it then, after I’d played it a few times it would all make sense.

It’s forty three years later and I’m still not sure what to make of Trout Mask Replica. I’ve played it, probably hundreds of times, and read all about Beefheart locking the band in a cabin for months until they had every song note perfect. John Peel said, “If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work.” Whatever I think of it now, and my opinion changes depending on how long it is since I last heard it, I know that I will listen to it many more times. It still sounds better with the crackles and pops.1969 - Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart
The Seahorse Bar is the circular building at the near end

I never got to see Beefheart play live. About nine or ten years after this a bunch of people I knew who were regulars in the Seahorse bar at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe (now there was a bar! There was a disco! An hour and a half of Can anyone?) arranged a trip to see him play in Liverpool. And for some reason I didn’t go. Ahh well! The dust blows forward and the dust blows back.

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