The History of Carmen
By Martha S. Klassanos
If you're obsessive about Jethro Tull, you will most likely remember Carmen as the band that brought John Glascock to Jethro Tull. If you're slightly more batty, you might know that Angela Allen, who sang on TOTRNR (the only woman besides the venerable Maddy Prior to have the honor of singing on an album with JT), came from Carmen, too.
They were a band of talented, hard working musicians with an original sound that's never been duplicated. After three years of struggle and lean times, they were on the verge of serious success, only to see it crumble right in front of them in a few short and tragic months, through no doing of their own. Defunct now for over twenty five years, their misfortunes were only too common in rock 'n' roll. If you were lucky enough to have seen them perform, you know their music, a fusion of authentic flamenco and progressive rock 'n' roll was not.
Flamenco music comes from Southern Spain, a place where centuries ago, the Gypsies and the Jews who migrated there from Europe, the Moors, who crossed the straits of Gibraltar, and the native Andalucians created their own unique music, dance and culture. The Moors were driven out in 1492, and the Gypsies, along with the remaining Arabs and Jews converted to Catholicism under the penalty of torture and death. The Gypsies kept to themselves, however, living in caves and the ghettoes of Seville, Granada, Cadiz, and other cities, keeping their oral culture and tradition alive through the years; indeed there are some Gypsy ballads sung today with traces of their original language and pre-Christian religious references.
Back to Carmen. It was the brainchild of flamenco guitarist/singer David Allen, Angela's brother. Their father is Clark Allen, a renowned flamenco guitarist; their mother, Margarita Cordova, a respected flamenco dancer and actress. Clark and Marga opened, owned, and operated the El Cid, a flamenco club on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, which is still in existence today, although under different owners. David and Angela learned the flamenco arts as small children (Angela was a dancer), both from their parents, and from various other artists their parents knew, so they might have a broad range of influences. It was at the El Cid that David slowly and painstakingly shaped his ideas. he recalled, "I had come up with an idea of a rock group with a flamenco rhythm or feel when I was about eighteen, I had tried lots of versions; it wasn't working. I was around twenty when I met Brian Glascock (John's older brother), not long after he came here from England in 1971. I'd go to places like the Viper Room asking everybody if they knew good guitarists, or whatever. That's how I got my guitar and bass players, Adam and Mark Moody. They said knew a drummer if I needed one, so they introduced me to Brian."
One of the components of flamenco is the jaleo, consisting of different types of clapping, finger snapping, and shouts of encouragement to the performers. Although it appears spontaneous, it is its own art, done in specific intricate rhythms and counter rhythms. Doing it right requires knowledge and training; it is not a sport for the casual observer.
The concept started to emerge with the arrival of flamenco dancer Roberto Amaral. He also had a musical pedigree, but not in flamenco. "My father, Nestor Amaral, was a musician-composer, and the musical director for Carmen Miranda. He came over from Sao Paulo with Carmen in the '40s to do films and recordings, so music was his life. He played several instruments and sang, and did a lot of writing and co-arranging with Joe Cariocas, another big musical giant from Brazil who was also involved with her. They arranged and did a lot of music for her tours and her films as well. I started dancing flamenco when I was fifteen. At seventeen, when I got out of high school, I went to Spain for the first time and really started studying it seriously. I took lessons for about six months with several teachers, and then I came back to Los Angeles when I was eighteen, and I started working professionally with some of the local groups in Los Angeles. This led to Jose Greco seeing me dance in Santa Barbara, and so I joined his company when I was nineteen, and toured off and on with his company for four years. In our hiatuses, I'd go back to Spain and work with companies over there. So I performed professionally starting at the age of nineteen doing flamenco exclusively for different companies. I joined Carmen when I was twenty three. I knew Clark and Marga, and had danced at the El Cid. I had gone to Spain, I was doing television and touring with a well-renowned company over there, in Madrid. I got a letter from Marga, this was in 1971, asking if I had any plans of returning to Los Angeles in the near future because her son and daughter were in this group. There were seven or eight people, a huge group, so they asked me to join as a dancer and choreographer. They wanted me to stage the act and put some visuals to their music, so when I joined it was just as a dancer and also to set some choreography for Angela and myself and to integrate the dances into the act. I came back to LA from Spain in December 1971 and started working with them, putting some things together.
"We got rid of musical influences we thought were unnecessary, because when we first started we had everything but the kitchen sink. We had soul, we had blues, we had rock; you name it, we had it, musician unfamiliar with it might listen to it and call it 6/8 like a fast waltz, but the accents come on 12,3,6,8,and 10, in a bar of twelve counts. Roberto Amaral explained, "A lot of our dances are based on that pattern, and a lot of our songs had that undercurrent. It was hard finding people who could relate and feel natural and comfortable improvising against that beat, because because we all came from such different musical backgrounds. Our songs didn't always reflect flamenco culture, David was really into mythology, he was fascinated by that. We had a lot of other influences, too, definitely David Bowie, Yes, Genesis, and I'm sure, Jethro Tull, too, all those groups doing that romantic, folk, orchestral type of rock, because that's related to flamenco, too. We all loved what these writers were doing lyrically and musically. They were very exotic and mysterious, and mystical, and that's basically where the influences of some of our lyrics came from, I think. I integrated as pure and traditional a style of flamenco dancing into the act as possible because the music was not pure flamenco, although we used a lot of authentic accents and rhythmic patterns. We would have segments of the music be as true to the art form as possible, like some of David's guitar solos. Sometimes we'd inject little snippets of traditional flamenco songs in Spanish into our songs to try to integrate as much pure flamenco into the act as possible because nobody was doing that back then. David then found out I could sing, so he started having me do some backup vocals with Angela, which turned into me doing some leadvocals and co-writing. All this happened within just a few months, then one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was hooked into the group. It was something I felt very connected to and I felt I wanted to do, so I gave up formal flamenco. I called them back in Spain, and gave up the jobs I had lined up. I told them there was something else I wanted to do."
David Allen: At the time Carmen was put together, probably every traditional flamenco artist we knew really sneered at the idea. My parents, however, weren't purists by any means. They really loved it and thought it was a great idea, and they encouraged me. The dictum of making money started to change peoples minds, but that came quite a bit later after we broke up. It was more in the '80s that a lot of strict flamenco soloists, singers, guitarists, tried to do something like the Gypsy Kings, whereas before, we were considered sacrilegious.
RA: Flamenco goes through these hills and valleys from generation to generation, and there was a time when nothing was really happening in the flamenco world; it had become very cliche'd, and it was something you would see on a Las Vegas stage as an opening act. It wasn't taken too seriously from the mid-sixties to the early seventies, then it began to surface again, and it became more popular. Now it's very popular, although it's a very commercial type of flamenco. Now in Spain there are a lot of groups doing new things, there's one band called Ketama, for example, and these bands are breaking ground, combining flamenco with salsa, with blues, and with jazz. Paco De Lucia, a very fine flamenco guitarist has done work with John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola, but these are pure flamenco artists who are trying to break out. In Spain, very seldom do you get a group where one is a flamenco artist, one is a rock artist, one is blues artist, etc. It's no coincidence that this renaissance happened after the death of Franco. Everything in Spain has revived; life in general has revived. There is no more suppression as far as creativity, there are no more limits or boundaries on creativity or self expression. There's always something happening; every year there's something new taking off, it's another country. I remember visiting Spain with David, Angela, and John around 1973 or 74, and it was crazy. We were arrested in a bar for having purple and blue streaks in our hair. We were having a Coke in a coffee bar in the middle of the afternoon. Apparently somebody informed the police that there were hippies in the bar, so these two plainclothesmen came up to us and asked for our passports. We explained we had left them at the hotel, but that was a no-no. We offered to go back to the hotel to get them but they told us we would have to come with them. They put us in a paddy wagon, and John and I went to jail. Angela and another friend went to the hotel and got our passports, but they made us stay for eight hours; it was a big joke to them. We weren't high or causing trouble, we just looked strange. It was my one and only arrest. You can't believe how free and open it is today. Nothing like that would ever happen now.
Mark Moody left, to be replaced by Nigel Griggs on bass. (Griggs went on to play in Split Enz). After he left, the band was stuck, so Brian called John. He recalled, "We needed a bass player, but we couldn't find anybody who could figure it out. I didn't know about the music's actual history, and David was extremely patient in explaining what things meant, and why things had to be done a certain way. For me, it was great musically. I've always been into really weird bands, and it's been that way ever since. I found flamenco exciting and I learned a lot, and I wanted John to be in it, as well our needing a good bass player. John was with Chicken Shack at this time, and I'm sure he was digging it. Stan Webb was a heavy, heavy drinker, however, and I think John was kind of getting into trouble that way. So I thought I'd better get him out of that scene, because he was going to go nowhere doing that, so I asked John to join."
David Allen: "I think a lot of what would happen with John in bands was that it wasn't a challenge musically. It was easy for him, so he'd concentrate on the drinking and carousing and not worry about it. He tried to do that in Carmen in the beginning and then discovered that he couldn't because he needed his concentration to do it properly, and that, along with his relationship with my sister, pulled him together. We were not a carousing band. He was always bang-on on stage, and there were never any worries in the band about him overdoing anything or not being 100 percent there for recording or anything. It never interfered in Carmen, ever. I don't know if I turned him onto anything beyond the idea of the gypsy and the flamenco rhythm, which I think was musically quite exciting for him. It challenged him, but he also found it very simple and picked it up straightaway, he never had a problem with it. It didn't matter that it was in a strange time signature, he just understood it in his own way and found his own way of figuring the time. I believe I was a good teacher in that I was able to explain technically, in simple terms how to do it and then do it myself, but at the same time, there had been many people in the band who had really taken a long time to learn and had a hard time being comfortable with it, but he had no trouble at all. He was a very easy person to work with."
On to England
Although John's arrival finally rounded out and completed the band, they still didn't have a recording contract. Allen recalled, "We just weren't getting anywhere in the States, and we had been seen by the presidents of every record company. We had a manager who was a very unusual fellow, his name was Byron Griffith, he was actually the nephew or something of D.W. Griffith. He had incredible connections, he handled people like the blonde pretty actress from the Beverly Hillbillies, but he really didn't have much to do with music. My mother knew someone who knew him and so I went up and met him. He decided he liked me and the idea, so he would try to get us going. At that time I considered myself very avant-garde rock'n'roll, and he was an old fuddy-duddy, but I had no one else. I gave it a shot, and he actually managed to get anyone and everyone who mattered in the music business to come down and see us show case at my parents night club; Paul Williams, who was a very popular songwriter back then, Merv Griffin, you name it, they all loved it and they all said "that's a great live show, you ought to take it to Las Vegas", completely missing the point. We did umpteen recordings as auditions at different studios, the attitude being, "we don't know if there's any music here, but it's a great show", and got nowhere. We reached a point where we either had to break up or take a chance and fly over to England. Brian didn't come with us in the end, at the last moment he decided that wasn't what he wanted to do. I decided to blow university and use the money my parents actually put aside for me to learn a trade in life, which might earn me some money for sure, and use that money to fly us to England. There was enough to last us for four months, and make or break, and that what we did."
Carmen's first task was to find a new drummer. HR: I had spent all this time seeing the proper people, getting nowhere, and then very rapidly, through the most ridiculous means, things happened, and my career in the music business has always that been that way since. I loved snakeskin at the time. I went to Kensington Market and found a little shop that made snakeskin clothes, and I said to myself "these are the kind of people who are going to know a drummer who will be right for my band", and sure enough they did, because they knew Paul Fenton, our next drummer. He used to buy snakeskin clothes there. They said, "He's on tour in South America, but he'll be back soon, so come back in about a week. I think he might be interested in leaving the band he's in and joining yours" and that's exactly what happened.
Paul Fenton concurred, "I went to the shop after coming back from my tour, and there was a note for me from one of the owners, it said. 'A really weird guy named David Allen is looking for a drummer. Give him a call.'"
Bulerias, a common flamenco rhythm is written in 12/8 time. As they would almost have to have that ingrained in them. David, Angela and I grew up hearing that rhythm in our childhood, but finding a bass player and drummer who could work with that was not easy. John was very quick. Whatever we did, he just felt it naturally; he never had any problems. He definitely had duende, that spirit, that second sight as far as knowing where we were coming from and giving us what was right for what we were writing. Paul had an even greater challenge, because he didn't have as much time to break into the act. John had almost a full year to prepare, whereas Paul had only a couple of weeks before we had to record. In addition, we knew we were going to have to tour, so he also had to look like he had been doing it all his life. He worked hard at it, and he did an amazing job."
David Allen: It was through Paul that we got our manager, Brian Longley. Longley was the manager of Christie, Paul's band, and he told Paul, "I can't believe you're going to leave a well paid job in a successful band for these people who have nothing. I want to meet them", so that's what he did. We went and met him and he became our manager. All that happened in the first three months. We were here illegally on tourist visas, and Brian Longley got us work permits, rented us a place, got us equipment, introduced us to Tony Visconti, a producer with vision, and within six months of being here, we were signed.
Roberto Amaral: We were sitting around watching Top Of The Pops, and David Bowie was on. Then they interviewed Tony Visconti who was Bowie's producer, and we were thinking he'd be perfect for us, because Bowie was really out there too, just like us. So Brian called him and said he was representing this rock-flamenco group out of Los Angeles. Tony must have been fascinated because he gave us an appointment the next morning. We went to his office and auditioned for him live. We did two numbers. There was Paul slapping his legs indicating drum patterns, John and David played acoustic guitars, Angela and I danced on the carpet, and we sang in four part harmony. Tony was dumbfounded, he almost fell over in his chair. He said "When can I get you into the studio to record you?", and before we knew it we were living in a house in High Wycombe, rehearsing our first album. Then we went into Tony's studio and recorded it.
David Allen: "We made friends with David Bowie, Mark Bolan, Amanda Lear, Brian Ferry, all those people. Mick Jagger heard us, too. They used to come in to the studio and listen to the play backs when we were recording the albums, and tell us we were an inspiration because we were making music that was really different; that wasn't commercial, and that we believed in. David gave us a lot of support; he'd go on stage and introduce us when we were doing things for the press, he was very, very good that way, and of course, he got us on the Midnight Special. It was a great time."
Despite the band's sudden and remarkable change of circumstance shortly after their arrival in England, and acclaim for their efforts, the curse of their creativity still dogged them. "When it was all said and done," mused Paul Fenton, "nobody knew what do with us at the end of the day.
During their two years in England with Tony Visconti, the band made two albums, the dazzling "Fandangos in Space", which was quickly followed by 'Dancing On A Cold Wind". After doing a tour in England, Carmen returned to the States. "Brian Longley decided it was time to come to America, so he found someone to be an American manager for us, who would work and liaise with him,and he organized a small tour. We flew out in the beginning of 1974 and did this tour, opening for a lot of big acts, Blue Oyster Cult, Santana, ELO, and I think that's how Ian heard of us, our manager probably met Terry Ellis at some gig we had done."
In January 1975, Carmen joined the 13-week U.S. War Child tour with Jethro Tull as the opening act, gathering applause and terrific reviews. Paul Fenton remembered " In parts of the country with large Hispanic populations, we got better reviews than Tull themselves". The tour ended in Boston, and while wondering what to do next, the band descended on Long View Farm, in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, where things would never be the same for any of them.
North Brookfield has less than 5000 inhabitants. A pretty little town of rolling hills, farms, and a few factories, it isn't a Massachusetts tourist spot like Martha's Vineyard or the Berkshires. It was Long View Farm's recording studio that put the town on the map in 1981 when the Rolling Stones blew in to town to rest up and prepare for a tour. The residence of Gil Markle, a Clark University professor with a passion for the music business, the studio had just opened for business in 1974, the year before, and Carmen was it's first 'Big Time' client.
Kent Huff, the farm caretaker recalled. "I didn't know what to make of them, these rock 'n' rollers with their heavy snake boots, stomping into the floor, and John in his perfectly tailored clothing, I later found out he tailored his clothes to fit a certain way, but I gradually got to know them and had some good times." Joanne Powell who was working there as a cook remembered, "I drove up to the farm, and I saw Lydia (the costume manager) and Angela in the driveway. I thought, 'Oh no, look at these LA chicks with their hair just so,' but by that evening, I loved them all."
RA: That whole period was kind of foggy as far as things that transpired. There was so much confusion that went on with the group that David and Angela and I sometimes get together and reflect and toss around stories about the last recording session we did at Long View. It all seems so long ago that some things are a little hazy in our minds as to what exactly happened.
DA: What I didn't realize when we got to Long View, was that things were unraveling business wise at an alarming rate, although our popularity was growing. In fact, Mick Jagger had asked for us to open for the next Rolling Stones tour, so everything seemed great. Then Brian Longley took me aside from everyone else, sat in a room with me, and I didn't realize he'd never told anyone he'd done this to me, and said, 'We're broke. Tony Visconti doesn't want to produce you any more, and I'm quitting as manager because you've ruined me......unless you go in, and record and engineer enough tracks to convince another company to sign you and give you a big advance". This took me as a complete shock coming off the Jethro Tull tour, I thought things were happening, then I got laid with this. I was really sad about what happened with Tony. I later found out Brian Longley had gone to Tony and told him the same thing, that we didn't want him anymore because he hadn't made any hits for us, so he (Brian) manipulated the whole thing." 1
"RA: We later found out our manager completely screwed up the Rolling Stones thing by asking for two or three million dollars, or some amazing figure like that. I'm sure there was a lot going on between our manager and Tull that we didn't even know about. It was such a bad experience with our manager we just blocked out a lot of the negativity."
DA: We weren't the only people he went on to mismanage. It happened to a couple of other groups, too. They ended up in the same place, with no money, wondering what had happened to their careers. Longley was a wonderful publicist, and a promoter with vision, but he was not very good at management. He'd fly Concorde left, right, and center, making his impressions and then discover there wasn't enough money to paythe bills. And we really didn't have a sense of the business at the time, touring and making albums was enough. It would have been a while before we would really start worrying about money. Anyway, I managed to produce three tracks with the band, which got us signed by a new label, and got us our advance."
Steve Elson, a friend of Paul Fenton, ended up producing Carmen's third album"The Gypsies", and the band persevered in spite of their problems. "We had to stretch all kinds of deals to stay at Long View." continued David Allen. "Gil Markle, who owned Long View at the time was trying to make it famous, so Brian cut a deal where we'd promote his studio and for that we paid very little money, in fact it was almost free. All kinds of things happened there. At the end, Paul Fenton had a very serious horseback riding accident where he severely damaged his leg among other things." Joanne Owirka (a Long View employee) recalled that "it was in the late winter, and the ground hadn't thawed. When the horse fell on Paul, there was no give to the ground and that's why his knee got so badly damaged. If he had been a smaller man, he might have been killed. They brought him up to Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, and then they gave him painkillers. They worked, but he couldn't sleep on these drugs, and after three days, he ended going into a kind of psychosis from the lack of sleep."
David Allen continued, "Paul knew the whole thing was falling apart even before the rest of us fully comprehended it. Paul was older than we were, and had more to lose. Brian Longley was very much like a father to us, and when he betrayed us, it was quite difficult for everybody emotionally, on top of the fact that we had no money. All these years of work and we had nothing to show for it. Paul had also, of course, introduced us to Brian Longley. I remember him saying, he's not the most famous manager in the world but he's honest, and when he realized Brian had ripped us all off, he felt personally responsible. Paul didn't know what he was going to do next, then he messed his leg up, so he was unable to do any drumming for a length of time. The fact he was smoking prodigious amounts of very strong weed on top of all that just unhinged him. My mother flew Paul back to LA to stay at my family house, when it looked like he might need to go to an institution, and that helped him. He managed to come back to some sense of normality and eventually flew from LA back to England."
Paul recalled." I'm also a cabinetmaker. I was at Tony Visconti's house one night when we were working with him, making him some new cabinets when Paul McCartney came by. They were working on the orchestrations for 'Band On The Run'. McCartney asked me if I'd like to join Wings. I thought to myself that I couldn't do that, I thought of these people I loved, who had worked so hard, and I just couldn't be disloyal. I had left a very successful pop band, and I drove an Aston Martin. I loved that car, but I sold it so I could stay on with these people. I guess I did the right thing, although I sometimes kick myself for it."
With the album finished, and no drummer or manager, Carmen's remaining members left Long View Farm one by one, and only John remained.
Brian Glascock recalled, "John was quite comfortable there, and ended up staying there for about six months, hanging out with the people there, working at the farm, and using the studio while he tried to figure out what to do next. He'd put a lot of time into Carmen, we both did, and it's always a shock when a band you really love breaks up. He loved the music, and that what you do it for. The songs for 'Fandangos in Space' had taken over a year and a half to work out. One day, he was out digging potatoes, when he got the call from Ian asking him to come to San Francisco to audition".
Kent recalled, "John worked hard on the farm. I remember him working all day to dig potatoes, then we showed him a device that harvests them so you don't have to dig. I thought he was a beautiful person and I don't say that about too many people. I was lucky I think, because we sort of crashed together for a brief moment at Long View where I had some of my very best times. Everybody for one reason or another took off. This was done, that was done, people had business else where, John stayed behind. My wife and I were taking care of the farm at that time. Gil went on vacation or something, and everybody else was gone. John and I kept having a better and better time basically. There was almost no money; I was drawing a small salary, and I spent the entire salary on marijuana and Lowenbrau. All we did was eat, drink, smoke, play music and play backgammon. It turned into a marathon; at the end I took myself off salary, so we basically partied all day for about ten days. We wrote a song together and just had a real good time. I played him the melody I had come up with, and he told me he could hear the bass part as I played it. He put this awesome three part bass thing in it. I thought he was a great, great bass player. I don't think Jethro Tull exploited his capabilities to the maximum. He was a creative, a beautiful writer. I think that day he got the call, he was actually trying to shoot rats with this bow and arrow he had made, because they were killing the chickens. I answered the phone, and went out to tell John he had a call. It didn't even dawn on me at the moment who Ian Anderson was, but you should have seen his face light up when I told him who was on the line.
July 1975 marked the end of Carmen, as John went to play for Jethro Tull. Eventually, John and Angela's relationship ended, too.
RA: I thought John was very talented and that he was very underestimated. In our group, we were all very strong and we all had ideas of what we wanted to do. Because John was the last to join, the direction was already determined by Housk, Angela, and myself. We had changed a lot between what we first were at the El Cid, and what we were when we came to London. We all had our ideas as to what we would like to have in the group or in our music, but I feel John could have contributed a lot more musically as a writer. I thought he had a lovely voice, but because there were already three singers who were singing leads, there really wasn't room. Paul and John ended up joining just as musicians. Later, when we saw that John had talent as a writer and a singer we tried to incorporate that into the sound as much as possible, but it was already towards the end. Then the group broke up, so there wasn't really anywhere in the group for John to shine more than as a bass player and background singer. That's where he really shined and his bass playing was very musical, very lyrical and very rhythmic at the same time. He had the best of both worlds. He played bass like he played guitar. I feel that after us he should have joined a group where he could have been featured, not just as a bass player but as a song writer, too. After Carmen broke up, I returned to Spain, and went back to doing flamenco. I'd hear about John through the grapevine, and of course I heard about his death, 1 but I was out of touch. I never got to see him perform with Jethro Tull.
Long View was a very strange, sad experience for me because it was the end of the band, basically. It didn't have to be, but I became so paranoid that I wouldn't listen to the new record company. They were saying, "we'll get you a new manager." Well, I thought, things have gone so wrong with the manager we chose, what's going to happen with a manager the record company chooses? It was the usual rock 'n' roll business horror story. Although there was a lot of money spent on Carmen, considering we were just starting out, we never saw any of it. We lived on a very small weekly salary, period. None of us had anything to show for it when the band broke up, nothing. I regret that I wasn't older; we were all young, twenty three or twenty four at the time it broke up, and I wasn't prepared because of it, to cope with a lot of the stuff that happened business-wise. Now, if all that had happened, I could have sorted it out, put it back together, and kept going. I think possibly I gave up too quickly at the time; that there was no need for it to completely fall apart. We could have gotten another drummer and a new manager and kept going, who knows what would have happened? But that's conjecture. Long View isn't a happy memory but I guess it's more regrets at unfinished business. If we could have sustained it will never be known, but we were truly one step away from major — even global success. Obviously it wasn't meant to be.
Siren of the Sea
1 Editor's note: John Glascock died in a medical/drug-related incident in 1979, several years after leaving Long View Farm. A few months later, Brian Longley was struck down by a lorry outside of London and killed instantly.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.