A key producer of England’s folk-rock greats looks back at the ’60s.
Boyd may be best known for helming unforgettable albums by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John & Beverly Martyn, the Incredible String Band and Vashti Bunyan, but he emerges in this memoir, originally published in England in 2006, as a sort of Zelig of ’60s music. Born in New Jersey, he got his start as a concert promoter, road manager and stage manager for a variety of great folk, blues and jazz acts; the early pages of the book are filled with wonderful backstage glimpses of Lonnie Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Rev. Gary Davis, Duke Ellington and others. Working for George Wein at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he witnessed first-hand the violent birthing of folk-rock in Bob Dylan’s controversial performance, caught in a lovely fly-on-the-wall chapter. In London, he recorded Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd in their pre-stardom days and co-founded UFO, the city’s first underground rock venue. His Witchseason Productions brought the cream of the ’60s U.K. folk-rock boom to light. Returning to the U.S. in the early ’70s, he produced a memorable documentary about Jimi Hendrix for Warner Bros. Boyd’s remembrances are delivered in cool, straightforward and self-effacing style. He’s equally at home discussing the machinations of the British music biz and the eccentricities of his oddball stable of musicians (especially the Incredible String Band and the legendary Drake, a classic introvert whose essence seems elusive even to his discoverer and longtime producer). The book unfolds in leisurely fashion and allows for engaging tangents on such topics as the joys of analog recording and the inner workings of Scientology (of which Boyd was briefly an adherent). Ultimately, the author takes a conflicted view of the radical decade; his title references the white bicycles, provided as free transportation by Amsterdam revolutionaries, that were finally stolen and repainted as the free-for-all spirit of the ’60s disintegrated.
A brisk, wised-up and highly entertaining consideration of a crucial musical epoch’s many facets.