There’s a moment during this meeting when Mick Abrahams gets rather emotional and has to choke back the tears. It’s understandable, because we’re talking about his poor health.
“I had two heart attacks and a stroke almost at the same time [in November 2009]. Those have left their mark on me. I’m using a mobility scooter today because sometimes I find it hard to walk. And my speech can be a little slow. But I’m not paralysed, thank goodness. I’m still a rock’n’roller, I love a Jack Daniel’s [he even has a glass in his hand to prove the point] and I can appreciate an attractive woman. So, it could be worse.
“But it has affected my guitar playing. I doubt I’ll ever play live again,” he adds. “I watched a DVD recently of me onstage with Blodwyn Pig. I found myself saying, ‘Blimey, that guy can play a bit!’ Because it seemed as if I was watching a different person. These days, I can join in a bit on guitar with others, but nowhere near the level I was once able to achieve. That upsets me.”
“Listen, this is what happened. I got very pissed off with Ian Anderson, who saw Tull as his band, and he wasn’t prepared to let anyone else voice their opinion on what was going on,” he explains. “So I left. But what I told them at the time was that I’d stay on until they found a replacement for me, because there was no way I wanted to leave them in the shit. A short while later, I was called to a meeting at the office of Terry Ellis, the band’s manager. You know what he said to me? ‘Ian and the boys don’t want you in the band any more so you’ve been fired.’ I just replied to Terry, ‘How can you fire me when I quit three weeks ago? Just go fuck yourself!’”
Thankfully, relations between Abrahams and Anderson are a lot more amicable these days. “I even get on well now with Terry,” he says. “Actually, Ian’s manager, his son James, has been helping me out a lot recently. What a great bloke. I told Ian that I thought James was a credit to him, and that not only was he a very nice person, but thoroughly honest and truthful. You might have thought Ian would be happy to hear such praise for his own flesh and blood. Instead he said, ‘So what? That’s the least I would expect from him.’ Typical Ian!”
After leaving Tull, Abrahams put together his own band, featuring Jack Lancaster (saxophone/flute), Andy Pyle (bass) and Ron Berg (drums). Abrahams himself handled vocals. Taking the name Blodwyn Pig, they released debut album Ahead Rings Out in 1969, which reached No.9 in the UK chart, underlining the feeling that this band could be a force in their own right.
“From the beginning of Blodwyn Pig I had a vision for what I wanted,” Abrahams explains. “Essentially I’ve always thought of myself as a blues player, but with a little country, jazz and other styles thrown in for good measure. I never wanted us to be seen as performing one type of music or another. However, we inevitably began to get lumped in with certain other bands of the era. Some called us blues while there were those who insisted we were progressive. And when we did Top Of The Pops [playing the single Same Old Story on the episode that aired on January 29, 1970], the band were introduced as being ‘avant-garde’. It would have been closer to the point to call us ‘’aven’t a fucking clue’!”
In 1969, Blodwyn Pig featured at such major events as the Bath Festival Of Blues, the Isle Of Wight Festival and the Reading Festival. They got to play live with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, King Crimson, Soft Machine, The Nice and Colosseum. It’s an eclectic mix of names, but it underlines how this foursome could fit in with anyone.
“Oh, that’s totally true. We could hold our own with any company. It didn’t bother us if we were put on the bill with Crimson or Zeppelin. Nothing changed for us, and nothing phased us.”
But by the time second album Getting To This was released in 1970, making it to No.8 in the UK chart, Abrahams admits there had been a change in attitude within the band.
“I have to say that maybe I allowed my input on this album to be reduced too much when compared to what went on with the previous album. So, it wasn’t as coherent as it should have been. Jack’s influence was obvious, in that he wanted the sound to be more orchestral, and to a large extent he pulled this off. But then he was a very talented musician.
“It’s just that what I loved about Ahead Rings Out was that it sounded as if we were playing live in the studio. Yes, we added some overdubs when required, but there was a flow to the music that really caught what I felt the band were all about. That’s missing to some extent with the second one.”
Abrahams also reveals there was a certain friction between himself and Pyle, something that would surface in a more pronounced fashion later, to the serious detriment of Blodwyn Pig.
“One day Andy said to me that he felt he should have more songwriting credits on the second album. I told him he already had a couple, and that was because he’d only contributed to those songs and no others on the writing front. His response was, ‘Oh yeah, I guess so.’
“But he left the whole subject hanging in the air, and wouldn’t accept the reality that you can only get credit for what you do. So I did something insane, and I’ve never told anyone this before. I had written a great song called Worry on my own, but decided to give the full writing credit to Andy, just to keep him happy! Yes, it was a stupid thing to do, and I regret it now. But I just wanted to make sure everybody in the band was satisfied with what was going on, and if that meant giving Worry to Andy then so be it.
“Andy was someone who was only in it for the money,” he continues. “When he joined the band, one of the first things he said to me was, ‘Okay, so can I now go out and buy a flash car on what you’ll pay me?’ I had to explain it didn’t work like that. And he was seriously pissed off that I wasn’t going to be his ticket to making a fortune!”
One interesting song on Getting To This is Variations On Nainos. Not because of the music, but due to that title – was there a veiled nod to Ian Anderson in the word ‘Nainos’? Rearranged, it could read ‘Ian Son’…
Abrahams laughs. “Yes, that’s definitely supposed to make you think of Ian. Not in any nasty way, but… well, I’m not sure in what way we meant it. Jack had done a great solo for the song and I then did one that was quite good. We were both stoned in the studio and the title just came to us. I have no clue what we were thinking of, but we were certainly consciously referencing Ian.”
While things were looking good for Blodwyn Pig, in September 1970, something astonishing happened – Abrahams left his own band. What on earth was going on?
“We were preparing for an American tour and I called Andy to ask what was going on with rehearsals. He said, ‘Well, Ron, me and Jack are going to rehearse, but without you. We don’t want you involved because you hate flying, and to tour over there properly you have to fly.’ That was it.
“I’m convinced this all came from Andy. He was a real shit-stirrer and would have talked the others into following his lead on this. So they got in two guitarists [former Yes man Peter Banks, plus Barry Reynolds] to take over from me, went out and toured. However, it didn’t work at all without me and the band soon split up.”
What’s amazing is that Abrahams had not only started Blodwyn Pig and was the leader, but he also owned the name. So why on earth did he allow his bandmates not just to sack him but also carry on playing live as Blodwyn Pig? He simply shrugs his shoulders.
“I couldn’t be bothered to get into a legal fight with them over it. I thought it was easier to allow it to happen. And it soon fell apart anyway.”
But the guitarist does think that this unexpected twist in the Pig tail so soon after the release of the second album left things unfulfilled.
“I do feel that had we stayed together, this band would have been huge. There was a lot of potential we never got to explore, and we had a unique magic, which you can hear on our albums. I did try to revive the band a few times with different line-ups, but they all failed, and that’s because they never had the creative connection the four of us had in the original era.”
The impact of Blodwyn Pig has been enormous, especially in America where bands such as Aerosmith cite them as a huge inspiration. Punk icon Joey Ramone even covered See My Way, a track from Ahead Rings Out. And the band have infiltrated the silver screen too. Dear Jill, also from their first album, can be heard in the celebrated 2000 Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous.
“That took me by surprise, but it’s meant there’s been some money coming in, which helps. We also get a namecheck in the British film Still Crazy . That’s about a fictitious band called Strange Fruit. And one member of that band does have a line that Strange Fruit will not go onstage following Blodwyn Pig! I loved that.”
One question is left to be answered: is the original Blodwyn Pig male or female? It’s something that has never been fully stated. Time for Abrahams to clear up the confusion… or not!
“I’ve no idea!” he says. “It was Graham Waller, a maniac friend of mine, who came up with the name. He was off his head at the time and just came out with it. People have always assumed the name was inspired by the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood, but that’s not at all true. I can tell you for a fact that Graham wasn’t thinking of anything literary when he blurted this out – he was too stoned for that.
“The word ‘blodwyn’ is Welsh and loosely translates as ‘love’, which is a nice thought. But we have never seen our pig as being male or female. Maybe that fits in nicely with the current climate, because Blodwyn Pig could be seen as a pioneer for the LGBT movement. That would be a cool way to see the creature.
“One thing I can tell you,” Abrahams adds, “is that unlike Pink Floyd, who were once asked which one was Pink, nobody in the band was ever asked what happened to our female singer Blodwyn!”
So, what would Abrahams like the band to be remembered for?
“Making good, honest music,” he says, “without any prejudice.”
This article originally appeared in issue 90 of Prog Magazine.