Donny Hathaway's 'Giving up' (Live at the Astrodome, 1972)

These first 45 seconds from the live recording of 'Giving Up' before Donny Hathaway's voice comes in, almost speaking the song title and theme with a straight, grave certainty is one of my favourite introductions in popular music. 

Working together: the deep layering effect of the warmth of the atmosphere, the captured sound of the room, his voice's sweetness at three seconds, alongside the moment of audience recognition and then repeated piano notes, deep in the mix. That single exaggerated note and then what sounds like filtered gunfire, probably some sort of feedback and the barely heard conversations all the while.  

There is something so affecting about imagining this show from more than four decades ago, imagining Hathaway in this hall in Texas, singing about loss - in a recording where his music is just another element with all the others, where you can hear the audience appreciating, but often ignoring him at the same time. 

Imperfect at all times, with all those clicks and occasional crashes of noise from some unknown source and then at perfect intervals, the audience becomes part of the performance and applauds. Until about just over half-way, Hathaway is holding back and this reticence speaks to me - especially when it's contrasted to the final half when the band gets into the groove.

The recorded version is beautiful, with its own essential drama and romance, but it's difficult not to hear in the live performance a certain truth that relates to Hathaway's troubled personal life; in the fact that you can hear how he is isolated but also supported by the crowd (alone together). 

What I love about live recordings from the past is the sensation you have of 'listening in ..' sharing memories of people unknown to you. There is something deeply moving and intimate about this that I could say is my brand of nostalgia.

Unlike other music fans and obsessives who hold onto moments in their musical youth (and often appear depressed comparing this personal past with the present) I like the mystery of listening in to something that has no connections with me, or my family. My parents only played classical music and radio programs when I was growing up.

**

Taken from the divine 1972 Live recording - side one from the Troubadour in Hollywood; side two, at the Bitter End, Greenwich Village: a record described as 'one of the best live albums ever recorded' by the BBC. And includes this extraordinary performance of 'The Ghetto'.

Check out this great website on 'all things Hathaway', called Everything is Everything.  I especially enjoyed reading part of a 2013 interview with Roberta Flack, which includes the following and reminds me of how Miles Davis could hear the church link in Prince's music: 

We were both from the church; I’m from the Methodist Church which is different from the experience that you would have as a young person in the ‘hood, in a Baptist church or in a Pentecostal church. A Methodist church was a little more… I would say… What’s the word when you think about Handel and Bach?

Traditional.Traditional, classic, sacred music, that’s what we did. We did all of Handel’s Messiah as much as we could as a choir, as a church, and we did all of the beautiful music; Randall Thompson, you know Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum,’…

I grew up hearing all of that and then a little later in my connection with the church I had a chance to play that because my mum decided to have my last sibling, who is my little baby sister, I think I was about 13 or 14. I took over and that was a big day for me…

But the point is the Donny and I both had that background, that special church background, so I asked him in the studio if he knew…I said do you know ‘Come Ye Disconsolate’? He said sure and he started playing. And so we started singing and then we got to the second verse and he said let’s just repeat ‘The earth has no star... .’.

I said no, we need to do the second verse you know. I’ll take one and you take one, ‘cos it’s a short song and we’ll come back in and do the chorus again or something like that. He said okay so I called my mum, who is also in heaven now, and I said can you turn to page 312 in the hymn book (that’s how good I was), and give me the words to the second verse; you know, joy of the desolate, light of the straying, you know, and she did. And we finished that song and it was so good. I can’t tell you how many people asked me, especially in situations where it was more than appropriate to sing that song.

Connections, points of reference as it all comes together.