NATIONAL HEALTH – New York City, Squat Theater – 30 November 1979
The penultimate stop of National Health’s North American tour was a pair of shows at the Squat Theater, a venue in Manhattan that in subsequent years would host shows by the likes of Daevid Allen, Fred Frith, Sun Ra, Nico, the Lounge Lizards and Etron Fou Leloublan, who were touring the US at the same time as NH (they even shared the bill in Boston and Hartford) and whose Squat show would provide all but two tracks of their live album, “En Public aux Etats-Unis d’Amérique“. NH had already played a NYC date earlier in the month, at the Bottom Line.
The venue, operated by the theatre group of the same name, who had fled the then-“Eastern bloc” in 1977, was located at 256 West 23rd Street, not far from the far more famous Chelsea Hotel, and was as luxurious a setting as its name suggested – there were no seats, so the audience had to sit on the floor, which had bleachers set up to sit on. Opening both the early and late shows was the improv trio Fall Mountain, featuring future Fred Frith and John Zorn collaborator Bob Ostertag. More importantly, National Health themselves were joined during the second set by two guests – John Greaves‘ songwriting partner, Peter Blegvad, who recited some of his own poetry during “Nowadays A Silhouette“, and Michael Lawrence, a NYC-based guitarist who had been part of the original New York Gong, performing with them at Giorgio Gomelsky’s Zu Manifestival in 1978. Lawrence joined Blegvad and the band for an impromptu rendition of Rufus Thomas‘ classic “Walking The Dog“. A brief excerpt from it was included in “Missing Pieces“.
We are lucky to have recordings of both sets, in pretty good quality. It’s not absolutely certain who we have to thank for them. Many years ago I was contacted by Bruce Levinson, who told me he had recorded those shows along with many others in the period 1979-86, but no longer had the tape for the segment of the show that featured Blegvad, as Blegvad had borrowed it from him and never returned it. What is certain, on the other hand, is that the photos in the booklet for “Play Time“, although the music on that CD is taken from other performances, are from the Squat Theater, presumably from the first set as none show Blegvad (or Lawrence), and were taken by Robert Miyares.
Other than the parts involving special guests, the performances are similar to others on the tour, but after a month on the road the band are, as could be expected, a well-oiled machine and perform to a very high standard.
Phil Miller – guitar
Alan Gowen – electric piano, synth
John Greaves – bass, vocals
Pip Pyle – drums
Peter Blegvad – vocals, recitation
Michael Lawrence – guitar