Third Eyes and Natural Highs: Francis McKee Guest Blog Part Two
November 25, 2019
In 1974 the Scottish writer and playwright, Tom McGrath, founded The Third Eye Centre in Glasgow. Described by the Guardian as ‘a shrine to the avant garde’, the centre hosted visiting artists and performers such as Allen Ginsberg, Whoopi Goldberg, John Byrne, Edwin Morgan and Kathy Acker, as well as quickly becoming the focus for Glasgow’s counter culture.
With the demise of The Third Eye Centre at the turn of the 1990s, the Centre for Contemporary Arts was established in its place, opening in 1992.
We’ve been chatting to Francis McKee, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, about the venue’s music history over the years and are delighted that he has written a guest blog, which will run in three parts. In Part Two Francis details the history of the much loved Third Eye Centre:
Third Eyes and Natural Highs
After the Maryland caught fire in 1971 it reopened as a disco/club variously called Maestro’s, The Cotton Club and The Lime. By 1973 the buildings below it were bought by the Scottish Arts Council and became the home of the arts centre Pink Floyd and Tom McGrath had dreamt of in 1969. The Third Eye Centre (named in collaboration with the guru Sri Chinmoy) opened in May 1975 but there were a series of inaugural events across the city leading up to this moment that occurred while the building was still in preparation.
McGrath had organized a series of concerts that drew on his friendships with figures he had known in London and musicians who were linked by contacts with Sri Chinmoy and John McLaughlin. The three main concerts to launch Third Eye were Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Another key event, both musical and literary, was a performance by Allen Ginsberg in the Scottish Arts Council gallery, previously known as the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists in Blythswood Square. There, the American poet read and performed new songs with the help of two local musicians. Alan Tall, one of those musicians, is clearly visible in the video documentation of the performance in the CCA archive.
The video documentation: Tom McGrath had bought a Sony Portapak video camera that he used to record the early days of Third Eye as it prepared to open. Later, technicians in the art centre used the camera to document various performances and it was available to borrow to record events across the city and further afield. Roughly 150 tapes still exist and are available to watch online or to view in the archive.
Many of the tapes from the Third Eye document concerts from the time – Rollin’ Joe, Rab Noakes, Derek Bailey, John Tchicai, Cado Belle and many others. A few stand out as highlights. Certainly for the Third Eye the Hopper-Dean-Tippett-Gallivan Quartet played in1977, most likely while promoting their first album Cruel But Fair. Including several members of Soft Machine and jazz pianist Michael Tippett they were obviously a special event and this is evident from the set up to film them which unusually has several cameras shooting from different angles edited with elaborate crossfades.
Another tape that stands out today has it’s own story: it was a concert of minimalist music mislabelled as ‘Morton Feldman’ for 40 years. Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was a composer, pianist and vocalist whose work fused minimalism with funk and pop. In the early 1970s he joined Creative Associates, a program sponsored by SUNY Buffalo’s Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. There, Eastman was initially given a stipend but no teaching responsibilities. He began to compose a series of works that linked the forms of minimalism to politics, referencing both race and sexuality. Pieces like Stay On It (1973) and Gay Guerilla (1979) demonstrate this positioning of contemporary classical music which older composers, notably John Cage, felt was inappropriate.
Eastman performances can be found on several albums. He conducted most of Arthur Russell’s orchestral works and he performed on many celebrated albums by other artists (organ on Meredith Monk’s Turtle Dreams, 1981 and Eight Songs for a Mad King Peter Maxwell Davies,1973). Much of Eastman’s own work though disappeared. He found it difficult to find a stable academic position and with a lack of other opportunities his life began to fall apart and for a while he seem to have been homeless. He died in 1990, unnoticed by the wider world. His musical scores were impounded by the New York Sheriff’s Office in the 1980s and there was little trace of his musical achievements.
More recently there have been efforts to retrieve Eastman’s work and reassemble a canon of his pieces, based on found scores and informal recordings that have survived. Several of his key works have been recorded and performed in festivals, leading to a new recognition of his achievements.
The video tape in our archive is of a full concert performed in Glasgow in 1974. The concert was organized by the Third Eye and, as their Sauchiehall Street building was still being renovated, it took place in GSA’s Haldane Building, then in use as a student union performance space. Eastman was leading a small group of musicians on a Creative Associates European tour, playing both his own music and other selected compositions. While it seems like a well-attended event we have yet to find anyone who remembers being there and we would still welcome any memories of the night. The tape, in our archive and available to watch online, seems to be the only moving image documentation of Eastman and although the quality of the tape is not high, it’s sufficiently good to convey a real sense of the performance.
Beyond the tapes the archives list many of the Third Eye concerts and it’s possible to see a few key themes emerging in their music programmes. The venue was clearly an important staging post for South African musicians living in exile in London during the apartheid era Even the first video tape, possibly from 1973, is of a concert by Brotherhood of Breath, a big band created by Chris McGregor, a South African pianist and composer. Band members changed depending on people’s availability but among the key players were Louis Moholo, Harry Miller, Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana, (occasionally) Johnny Dyani; and many of the free jazz musicians who were based in London at the same time: Lol Coxhill, Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Harry Beckett, Marc Charig, Alan Skidmore, Jim Dvorak, Mike Osborne, Elton Dean, Nick Evans, and John Surman. In 1981 Johnny Diyani returned to record his live album, Mbizo, in the centre, demonstrating the strength of those links – perhaps not surprising given Glasgow’s high profile refusal to legitimize the apartheid policies of South Africa.
There was also a regular stream of folk musicians passing through. There is a nice video recording of Rab Noakes and the archive mentions many luminaries of the 1970s folk scene: Bert Jansch, Jean Ritchie, Richard and Linda Thompson, Dan Ar Bras, Dick Gaughan, The Battlefield Band, Mick Broderick and Arthur Johnstone, The McCalmans, Wizz Jones, Christy Moore, The Whistlebinkies, Robin Williamson and many more. It seems that there may have been regular traditional sessions on Saturdays in the Third Eye café but only one tantalizing fragment of video backs this up.
The link to Pink Floyd persisted with several appearances by Ron Geesin who worked with the band in their Atom Heart Mother phase. The Third Eye director, Tom McGrath, also appeared several times with his own jazz trio. Punk bands do not seem to have made a huge impact on the Centre though the Simple Minds did play the venue in 1977. In that same year though Ivor Cutler did record his classic album Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2 in Third Eye.
What’s clear from this survey is that music always played a key role in the venue and that history has been overlooked as the sheer variety of events in an arts centre obscure the individual strands that thread through it.
There is more on the early history of the Third Eye and the video recordings by Tom McGrath and others in an online article on: What We Have Done By Francis McKee
Musicians who played at Third Eye:
Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and The Mahavishnu Orchestra played for Third Eye but in other venues, presumably while the building was still being renovated. Likewise Julius Eastman and Brotherhood of Breath played in different venues in the same period.
Brotherhood of Breath
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Dewey Redman Quartet
Richard and Linda Thompson
Red Norvo and Tal Farlow
Dan Ar Bras
Chris McGregor Quartet
David Murray Trio
The Flying Pickets
Wizz Jones plus Michael Morra
Eddie Prevost Quartet
The Albion Band
Ali Farka Toure
Los Muniquitos de Matanzas
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