Today, attention is directed towards the posthumous live-album Hammersmith Odeon by Frank Zappa. It’s a compilation of the concerts that Zappa and band played on January 25, 26, 27 and February 28, 1978. Zappa toured through Europe in the dates in between with a relatively small combo and staged performances which are highly appreciated by many Zappa connoisseurs.
As described in the article on the impressive live-album Zappa In New York, 1977 is the only year in Zappa’s career without an album release. Only Zappa In New York was released in 1977 in England, but immediately withdrawn, because of problems with record company Warner Bros. Records. The latest regular Zappa album that had ended up in stores at that time, was Zoot Allures, which stemmed from October 1976.
Due to the problems with Warner Bros. Records, no new Zappa material was released, leaving Zappa without income, so he toured a lot in 1977 and 1978.
Winter Tour 78
One of those tours was the so-called Winter Tour 78 in Europe, which ran from January 24 to February 28, 1978. The tour consisted of 26 concerts, played in 20 cities in 8 countries. The total number of songs performed during the tour was 33, averaging around 19 songs per show. The first 4 and the last concerts took place at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England.
Next to Frank Zappa, the band consisted of drummer Terry Bozzio, bass player Patrick O’Hearn, guitar player Adrian Belew and keyboard players Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf. The music was heavy and geared toward rock. The tour is regarded as a favorite tour among the many Zappa fans, particularly because of the guitar solos Zappa played. Not too many, but when he did solo its level was exceptional.
Much (almost 70%!) of the music that was played was new for the audience at the time. Zappa In New York was released 3 days after the tour ended, on March 3, 1978. And the setlist contained songs that would be released one year after that (March 3, 1979) on Sheik Yerbouti, two songs would end up (in altered form) on Joe’s Garage (also released in 1979). Envelopes would be released in 1982.
On February 14, 1978, the tour brought Zappa and band to Cologne, Germany. One of the audience members was Brian Eno. After seeing the show and guitar player Adrian Belew in particular, he called Bowie, recommending him to come see the show. Maybe the guitar player was the right guy for the still open slot in Bowie’s band? The very next day Bowie came to see the show in Berlin. During one of Zappa’s solos, Bowie, who was at the side of the stage, asked Belew “How would you like to be in my band?”. After the show Bowie drove Belew to an exclusive restaurant to talk about the deal. According to Belew, Zappa and band were at that very same restaurant. Zappa was ‘not amused’. The following conversation commenced:
DB: Quite a guitar player you have here Frank.
FZ: Fuck you Captain Tom.
DB: Oh come on now Frank, surely we can be gentlemen about this?
FZ: Fuck you Captain Tom.
DB: So you really have nothing to say?
FZ: Fuck you Captain Tom.
Upon returning to the car Bowie remarked : “I thought that went rather nicely!”.
Zappa (inevitably) had to address this to Belew while on stage. During the February 26, 1978, show at Brussels, Zappa sang the following words in Yo Mama:
Maybe you should stay with your DAVID,
He can do your laundry and play with you
Anyway, Belew would leave Zappa’s band and go out on tour with David Bowie on his groundbreaking Isolar 2 Tour; recordings of the tour would end up on the live album Stage and the posthumous release of Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78).
January 25/26/27 & February 28, 1978
The shows on January 25, 26,27 and February 28 were recorded in full. Zappa and band played those 4 shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England. The concert of January 24 in the same venue wasn’t recorded (professionally).
In 2010, the year Frank Zappa should have turned 70, the Zappa estate released the triple cd Hammersmith Odeon on his birthday, December 21. The recordings had never been released before (in this form) and is, chronologically speaking, the successor to Zappa In New York. The album contains no less than 29 songs, making it an almost complete account of the entire Winter Tour 78.
The complete recordings also contained the basic recordings for Sheik Yerbouti, but those weren’t used on Hammersmith Odeon. On the material that was used, the band races through the setlist like a jet-fighter. The overall tempo is extremely high, Zappa and band sound like a heavy rock band, almost bordering on hard rock. As can be expected from Zappa, the level of the music and musicians is immense. Complex music, rhythms and harmonies are performed effortlessly.
Unfortunately the album does contain some parts that are less interesting. The (prolonged) intro to I Have Been In You, by all means no highlight in Zappa’s body of work to begin with, is (extremely) silly. In itself, the reason for the song’s existence is kinda funny, it is a reaction to Peter Frampton’s I Am In You, but the intro just lasts and lasts and just isn’t humorous, at all. In hindsight it’s not just dated, it’s downright uncomfortable. Audience Participation doesn’t really add anything to the mix, but there the negativity ends.
The rest, over 2.5 hours, varies from absurdly good to genius. From The Torture Never Stops, via Pound For A Brown, The Black Page #2, King Kong, Black Napkins to the undisputed highlight Muffin Man, it’s once again an absolute joy and thrill to be awestruck by Zappa and his band.
On December 21, 2010, Zappa album number 89 (!) was released, perfect recording of four London shows that dazzle you with sublime musicality. Highly recommended!
All songs written by Frank Zappa, except Terry Firma, drum solo by Terry Bozzio.
The date of the performance is shown between brackets, followed by the first date of release of the song (if that was before the performance date).
- Convocation/The Purple Lagoon (3)
- Dancin’ Fool (3)
- Peaches En Regalia (4) (1969)
- The Torture Never Stops (4) (1976)
- Tryin’ To Grow A Chin (4)
- City Of Tiny Lites (4)
- Baby Snakes (4)
- Pound For A Brown (4)
- I Have Been In You (2)
- Flakes (4)
- Broken Hearts Are For Assholes (4)
- Punky’s Whips (2)
- Titties ‘N Beer (2)
- Audience Participation (2)
- The Black Page #2 (2)
- Jones Crusher (1)
- The Little House I Used To Live In (1)
- Dong Work For Yuda (1)
- Bobby Brown (2)
- Envelopes (2)
- Terry Firma (2)
- Disco Boy (2) (1976)
- King Kong (4) (1969)
- Watermelon In Easter Hay (Prequel) (3)
- Dinah-Moe Humm (2) (1973)
- Camarillo Brillo (2) (1973)
- Muffin Man (2) (1975)
- Black Napkins (1) (1976)
- San Ber’dino (1) (1975)
(1) recorded on January 25, 1978.
(2) recorded on January 26, 1978.
(3) recorded on January 27, 1978.
(4) recorded on February 28, 1978.
- Frank Zappa – lead guitar, vocals
- Terry Bozzio – drums, vocals
- Patrick O’Hearn – bass, vocals
- Adrian Belew – guitar, vocals
- Tommy Mars – keyboards, vocals
- Peter Wolf – keyboards
- Ed Mann – percussion
After the Winter Tour 78
According to Belew something happened on stage during the last show of the Winter Tour 78 (what exactly isn’t specified) that angered Zappa. The show was cut short and Zappa stormed off stage. The next day the band flew home (leaving Belew behind to hook up with Bowie) and Zappa fired the band on the plane.
These events have never been confirmed.
From November 5 to 7, 2010, a 3-day symposium was organized at the Roundhouse in London, which was aimed at the life and work of Frank Zappa. Hence the map of London, that is printed with the album, containing the locations of both Hammersmith Odeon (when it still existed) and the Roundhouse.
Gail Zappa, Frank Zappa’s widow, said at the time:
I wanted to have a concert in England to share with the folks who showed up for Frank at the Roundhouse. We were very happy to participate and appreciate very much the invitation to do so, the phenomenal reception for FZ’s works, and everyone who showed up to be part of this extraordinary event. As for the art, the tube stops – Hammersmith for the location of the concerts in 1978 and Chalk Farm, the location of The Roundhouse – and in the middle is where FZ and I used to dwell during the making of 200 MOTELS. The frosting is to celebrate what would have been his 7tieth year and there you pretty much have it.
What’s your take on Hammersmith Odeon? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Frank Zappa at the Hammersmith Odeon London 1978. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon – Map London & Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon images: zappa.com
Frank Zappa & band – Winter Tour 78 image: philippe.andrieu.free.fr
Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon – Ticket 01/27/1978 image: wikiwand.com
Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon – Poster image: ha.com
Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon – CD 1 image: kompaktkiste.de
Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon – Vinyl inner sleeve image: discogs.com
Frank Zappa – At The Roundhouse – November 5 to 7, 2010 image: united-mutations.com