Saturday, 28 May 2011
R.I.P Gil Scott Heron
Last year I saw Gil Scott heron live at Bestival. A big outdoor Festival on the isle of wight. He walked onto the stage looking like one of my Dad's old west indian friends at the bookies. Black flat cap, drowsy eyes, grey bushy beard and skin like an old tire that's rolled itself over too many dirt roads. I'm sure if I got close enough to him he would have smelt like a piano in a smokey basement bar.
Gil smiled and waved at the crowd. He looked painfully thin. My girlfriend at the time turned to me and said "he looks like he's on his way out". Writing this now I feel I've only just realised what she was saying.
Gil sat down and gave a powerful but nostalgic performance. The tone of nostalgia felt so strong I didn't feel present in the moment. He turned to the audience and spoke about the day he recorded Winter In America with the Midnight Band. He followed this with a slow, obscure and minimal version of Home Is Where The Hatred Is. It's one of my favourite Gil Scott Heron tracks and I only recognised it during the chorus.
A lot of the people around me weren't engaged with Gil. They couldn't relate and started their own conversations, this really annoyed me but I was surprised that my girlfriend (who had never heard of Gil Scott Heron before I banged on about having to see him) she was moved and as transfixed as I was. "Wow... a voice like that belongs only to a man who's seen some shit" she said.
It's true, he sang I'll Take Care Of You with a voice that climbed out his throat wounded, bleeding and naked.
I got to say Gil did seem detached.He could have had the same form and sat in an empty theatre, playing half-drunk at 2am. It was a set for the hard-core fans... but more than anything... I believe it was a set for himself.
This is the way I'll remember Gil Scott Heron.
Smiling at his piano in front of thousands of people with just a few sun rays squeezing through the cracks of a grey cloud.
Thanks for coming out Gil.