Making Love and Music in the Sixties and Seventies – a memoir
Firstly this is not a new book, it’s been something I’ve been meaning to purchase, read and review for quite some time. A research project I’m working on (big news soon!) hurried that purchase up a bit – it arrived on Saturday, I read it yesterday and it so inspired me that your review is here today! ‘Him Through Me’ was published in 2014 and was in preparation for a considerable time longer, apparently with several false starts. Pam Windo was the wife of saxophonist Gary Windo for 15 years from the late Sixties, was herself a musician (she appeared on various posthumous Gary Windo releases that were recorded in the Seventies, as well as being the leader of her own band at the turn of the Eighties) and is a novelist and poet. This book serves in part as a biography of both herself and Gary Windo, and after the heavyweight dissection of detail evident in the last two biographies of Henry Cow and Allan Holdsworth that we’ve reviewed on the Facelift blog, this is refreshingly narrative-based, a warts and all story of a love affair that navigated its way through musical and cultural events that most readers of this blog will be familiar with from both a narrow musical and much wider context.
I remember publishing a tiny tribute to Gary Windo in Facelift issue 9 after he died tragically early at the age of 50 in 1992 – at that point he was mainly familiar to me through three titanic and utterly unique solos performed at the extremes of the ‘Canterbury’ spectrum, Hugh Hopper’s funky ‘Minipax 1’, a moment of relative accessibility (Windo’s astonishing atonal solo excepted) from ‘1984’; his talkative, percussive interjections on ‘Alifib’ from Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’ and his joyous elongated outro to New York Gong’s ‘Jungle Windo(w)’. I’d also heard his contributions more in the background with Carla Bley’s band from 1977, and Centipede, and but it was during research for the Robert Wyatt biography ‘Wrong Movements’ that author Mike King unearthed considerably more artefacts from the Windo lexicon which ended up comprising the retrospective ‘His Master’s Bones’, and educating me and others as to his wider legacy.
Not that that particular timeline is at all the point of this biography. Instead it portrays the colourful and compelling story of how Pam and Gary Windo started their lives in parallel a few streets apart in Brighton, had school and family connections at an early age, sowed their oats in different ways at the end of the Fifties, he with a conviction for heroin offences in America, she with a bohemian episode in Tunisia. Both had been married, her now a single mother with two young children, when Gary arrived back on the scene, having honed his saxophone skills in prison, playing there alongside former bandmates of Charlies Parker and Mingus, and now looking to break into the British jazz scene. The portrait within the book is of a larger than life man, off-the-wall, energetic, positive, hard-working and loveable, and no punches are held in the honesty in portraying quite how tough their lives were at the start of the Seventies, having escaped the love and support of their respective parents to live in London, bringing up two small children, whilst barely having a pot to piss in. There are stories of their lodgers (the first was Robert Wyatt, in the process of extracting himself from the Soft Machine, another was Nick Evans); Gary’s gradual acceptance on to the London jazz scene (although pecuniary reward was a long time in coming); Pam’s own travails as a pianist learning her trade (self taught with Gary’s encouragement); and accounts of being ripped off during various overseas episodes during stints as house bands for more mainstream artists which had gone awry. Familiar names appear everywhere: Hugh Hopper, who became a friend of the Windos, that ongoing connection to Robert Wyatt; Nick Mason’s support; Marc Charig, Elton Dean, musicians like Richard Brunton and Frank Roberts who would appear on ‘Hoppertunity Box’; and later the likes of Daevid Allen and Fred Frith, alongside many more famous mainstream names.
The writing style is disarming: honest, human and totally drawing the reader into the realities of Seventies bohemia: the hippy ideologies, which eventually for Pam was augmented by feminism; the revolving door which saw musicians come and go into the Windo house open enough to accommodate all-comers; and eventually the descent (if that’s the right word) into the lifestyle alluded to in the titillating subtitle of the book, the irony being that for all Windo’s earlier exposure to hard drugs, their parallel dabbling in dope, hallucinogenics and free love was something which appeared to only manifest itself in the mid Seventies when they were both in their early thirties. Then on to the saxophonist’s open embracement of the punk era, followed by their emigration to the States. The conclusion to the book, where Pam finds her own musical voice and exposure with her punk band Pam Windo and the Shades, whilst simultaneously watching her marriage disintegrate and Gary’s demons resurface, is often harrowing but portrayed without judgement or recrimination.
This is not particularly a book for the nitpicking Canterbury purist, it is instead a compelling read which I raced through in less than 24 hours – its real framework is the ultimately tragic story of two interlinked individuals set against wider larger cultural references such as the moon landings, the deaths of the three J’s (Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix), the exit from Vietnam, the Silver Jubilee and the punk phenomenon, whilst quotes are pulled from various wider literary contexts to embellish the points made. Ultimately this is a riveting, refreshingly personal read, with so much to commend it. And an essential addition to your bookshelf.
Visit the author’s website at http://www.pamelawindo.com/