National Health live at Toverbal Club, Maassluis (Netherlands) 29/3/1979
Phil Miller – guitar
Alan Gowen – keyboards
John Greaves – bass and vocals
Pip Pyle – drums
Thanks to Rick Chafen for this file and thank you also to Aymeric Leroy for identifying the date and location. These are two men I will be thanking a lot more…
This is a very tight mic recording close to the stage in a fairly acoustically dead venue. Buzzing and occasionally drop-outs notwithstanding the balance is excellent.
The Alan Gowen line up of National Health was a somewhat looser affair than the Dave Stewart led version. Phil and Alan’s compositions still had enough twists and turns to keep all the musicians in a constant state of insomnia inducing, buttock-clenching anxiety (I’d have thought) but the blowing sections are noticeably more liquid and jazzier in feel. These are my personal highlights;-
John Greaves’ Squarer for Maud is an absolute delight; like wondering through a series of chambers. Each with it’s own surprising and unique decor but all forming a satisfying integrity of form (whatever that means). Astonishingly inventive and fluid solo from Phil who typically operates his wah pedal in the opposing direction than any other guitarist would have done. ‘Playing backwards’ is a comment I’ve heard about Phil’s playing more than once but, to slightly paraphrase a Stewartism, he was in fact playing forwards in a backwards world. Following on from this display and not be outdone, a fully goaded Alan Gowen brings us a Rhodes solo that sparkles like a rare gem. Key centre shifting wildly around in a manner hinted at in some unearthly chording earlier in the piece. This cut is triumphant.
Phil’s classic Dreams Wide Awake is a really flowing affair by this point. The exquisite lines heard on the album version have an even more conversational and engaging character here. J Greaves and P Pyle are just so damn slinky and sinous. Compared to the intricate elegance of Neil Murray, Greaves approach has a little more ‘tude and a nice filthy punch in his tone without sacrificing elegance. Highly contrasting but I love them both, right.
Playtime is a lovely, suspenseful composition by Alan Gowen (and originally heard with Gilgamesh). Every Phil solo has it’s own character and this one has an ironic sneering quality and a slight haughty air before dropping down an octave into some downright sleazy bends. Phil was generally warm and avancular but scrutiny of stage patter reveals Phil had some tech issues this night and fancy I can hear a bit of the ruffled mood of the man here and I think it’s great!
Nowadays a Silhouette is a piece of open character in marked contrast to most of Phil’s compositions. Were almost back to Matching Mole conceptually. Lovely dynamic drop into Alan Gowen’s synth solo with Pip creeping supportively in behind. The feeling of space and lightness enhanced by an inspired Greaves who flows beautifully all over the neck.
This is top flight musicianship that you would associate with fusion and progressive music but actually exists set apart and in it’s own category, all due to the wit, humanity, and depth of vision of the participants.