Fleetwood Mac guitarist titled solo album 'Coventry Blue'
By Pete Clemons
Pete Clemons sheds some light on the Coventry influence behind guitarist Jeremy Spencer's latest album
Coventry Blue by Jeremy Spencer.
Despite Fleetwood Mac having had their greatest commercial success during the second half of the 1970s and 1980s, for many, their favourite version of the band was the one that existed from its inception and through to the early part of 1970s.
During 1967, before Fleetwood Mac had formed as a band, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and John Mayall, were known as The Bluesbreakers. This version of the Bluesbreakers only existed together for a very brief period of around three months.
The name ‘Fleetwood Mac’ actually began life as an instrumental jam recorded during a session. The Bluesbreakers were given some studio time and put together a total of five songs.
Peter Green (Guitar) and Mick Fleetwood (Drums) then set their sights on a new project. The original intention was to draft in John McVie on bass and by way of a carrot to lure in McVie, the band was named ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’, which incorporated all the musician’s names. But John McVie was not ready to commit due to the steady income he was receiving as a member of The Bluesbreakers, so for the short term, another bass player Bob Brunning, was drafted in.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac decided that their music would require a second guitar player to fill out and add to the sound, so they recruited the talents of slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, who had been fronting a band called The Levi Set Blues Band.
The Fleetwood Mac line up of Green, Fleetwood, Spencer and Brunning made its debut on August 13 1967 at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival. Soon after that, the band’s original choice for bass, John McVie, also teamed up with the group and Bob Brunning moved on.
Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled debut album was released on the Blue Horizon label in February 1968. A second album, Mr. Wonderful, followed in August 1968. That same month, the band was further enhanced by the introduction of a third guitarist, Danny Kirwan.
Immediately, Kirwan made an impact as it was this version of the band that recorded and released their first number one single Albatross. They would also release the third studio album, Then Play On during September 1969. A compilation album, titled The Pious Bird of Good Omen was released in August 1969.
It is worth noting that each of the above versions of Fleetwood Mac, apart from that which contained Bob Brunning, played in the Coventry and Warwickshire region between 1967 and 1970.
Those familiar with the Fleetwood Mac’s first self-titled album will be more than aware that the opening number on that album is a Jeremy Spencer composition titled My Heart Beat Like a Hammer. Fast forward 45 years or so and Jeremy Spencer is still writing songs and releasing the odd album, which led to a recent online discussion between a group of my Facebook friends who were ‘chatting’ curiously about a 2014 release of his, titled ‘Coventry Blue’. Between us we were only aware of the album and I don’t think any of us had actually heard it, let alone read the CD liner notes, although this has all since been rectified.
We suspected from the album’s title that it must be connected to our city but given that Jeremy Spencer’s roots are in the north east of England, as far as we knew he had no connection with Coventry.
So I decided to ask the question ‘Where and how did the inspiration for the title of this album come from?’ Here is the reply from Jeremy himself:
“I wrote the lyrics to ‘Coventry Blue’ a few years ago back in Mexico. Being as I like to write stories, I am fascinated with the origin of terms and I wondered where ‘true blue’ came from. I looked it up and found the definition I used in my album’s liner notes. I thought it would make a good theme for a gospel blues song dedicated to the love of Jesus Christ that never fails.
“As far as titling the album goes, many ideas were on the table but when I suggested ‘Coventry Blue’ all those involved agreed. It does inspire curiosity as evidenced by your interest.
“When one refers to someone as being ‘true blue’, it means he or she is steadfast and loyal. This term comes from a special dye that was manufactured in Coventry several centuries ago.”
“The official definition of True Blue, means loyal and unwavering and is supposed to derive from the blue cloth that was made at Coventry, England in the late Middle Ages. The town’s dyers had a reputation for producing material that didn't fade with washing, so it remained ‘fast’ or ‘true’. The phrase ‘as true as Coventry blue’ originated then and is still used (in Coventry at least). The town’s standing was recorded in 1670 by John Ray in the first edition of ‘A Complete Collection of English Proverbs’.
“I played on these words in the last verse: ‘Of all the blues that I could try, there’s no question what I’ll choose when it comes my time to dye.’
So there it is, with a little history lesson!”
The Coventry Blue album itself is in a country blues style and is very laid back and relaxing. It contains an abundance of Jeremy’s trademark slide guitar playing along with some delightful moments. It also gives the feel of a man at peace and writing and playing for the love.
Coventry Blue is not Jeremy’s only album of late, an album titled Precious Little saw his return to music during 2006. A few years later, he produced the equally delightful Bend in the Road album, which was released in vinyl format on Record Store Day 2012, with the CD release a little time after.
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