National Health’s US tour of 1979 has been well documented with bootleg recordings of most shows in circulation. This is one that’s less common than others – indeed I hadn’t heard the entire performance until I asked Clay Whitehead, who’d posted part of it on Soundcloud, for the whole thing. I’d heard about this DC show from Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records who, among other exploits, released a live CD by that line-up, Play Time (a small part of which came from the Bryn Mawr, PA, gig on that tour), for which I wrote some fairly detailed liner notes.
Steve tells me that he saw several late-period shows by The Muffins at that venue “including my only concert appearance with them when Tom Scott and I released our “Things Are More” album and we did a couple of songs from the album and I think I guested on a couple more tracks”, and more importantly in the context of NH, he was at the show and remembers seeing several people with tape recorders that night. Clay’s friend and then-roommate Sam Byrd, of Richmond, VA, was one of them, and we have him to thank for this lo-fi (made with a handheld tape recorder) but very listenable recording – a punk-ish vibe that some of us will probably enjoy !
The MC heard at the start is John Paige, who promoted the show under the guise of Interzone. I got in touch with John who had a funny memory about the occasion. “I remember that John took Pip’s (favourite) hat, and because of an excess of beverages, lost it. Pip was rather bummed out about that when he found out the next day. We found the hat a few days later (in bushes behind the apartment where we were staying), but did not see any of the crew for some time, but I remember returning it to Pip at a Gong gig in Alexandria in 1996 at the Birchmere. He stared at it quizzically for a moment, then recognized it and promptly stuck it on his head and wore it the rest of the evening!”
Another souvenir of the show is the promotional flyer for it, made by Lori Leavy, a friend of John Paige’s, and of course inspired by Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees.
This concert took place towards the end of the tour and the band are in typically strong form, playing two sets and returning for an encore of the less frequently performed “Fourfold”, a piece by Phil that was only ever released on the “Before A Word Is Said” album in 1982. Two moments that stood out when I heard the show were the second half of “Seven Sisters”, with some tasty band interplay from the “Foetal Fandango” section onwards, and Alan’s unaccompanied bit in his Minimoog solo on “Nowadays A Silhouette”.
Another person I would like to dedicate this upload to is Rick Chafen, who put the US tour together, no small feat in those pre-Internet times, and sadly passed away recently. This particular, and memorable, episode of National Health’s existence wouldn’t have happened without him. RIP Rick.
Phil Miller – guitar
Alan Gowen – electric piano, synth
John Greaves – bass, crooning
Pip Pyle – drums