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Can't You See - Marshall Tucker Band

Another Manchester gig that I was persuaded to go to "blind" as it were (ie I had never even having heard them play before) was the Marshall Tucker Band sometime in the winter of 1975/76. The support was Bonnie Bramlett (she of Delaney and Bonnie) but the first thing I distinctly remember was the giant confederate flag draped all across the back wall behind the band. Even then this worried me as surely it was celebrating the thirteen states of the Southern USA who went to war with the Union in order to preserve their economic system which depended upon the continuation of slave labour. Looking back, I can see that the MTB themselves probably felt that this was just an expression of pride in the South as a place, and were making no connection with the legacy represented by the flag. More recently, I have become aware of the reality that the British, until the abolition of slavery by the UK, were far worse in the perpetuation of that loathed institution, both in the violence and the scale of their practice of it in the West Indies, and in the massive income they made from the trade of slaves from Africa to the New World and environs.

But at that point, for the Southern inheritors of the hippy revolution, the flag was an emblem representing the pride they had in their origins, inappropriate though it may now be in the hindsight of late twentieth century revisionism. And the MTB are still going, although nowadays in pictures of their concerts, the flag is conspicuous by its absence.

That night, by the time they reached their closing number, "Can't You See", all misgivings had been swept aside by the excellence of their music, as western and southern as a ten gallon hat, and as rocking as anything from the more fashionable West Coast. By now the Manchester audience were on their feet and going crazy, dancing and "makin' a racket" and singing along in true southern fashion.

The song is from their first, eponymous album, although this, the superior live version, was on their fourth album "Searching for a Rainbow". Interestingly, it is almost the only song from their first decade not to feature their excellent lead singer Doug Gray, with the lead taken by the band's songwriter Toy Caldwell, who produces a vocal as rough as the gravel on an old mountain road, and which contrasts beautifully with Caldwell's melodic guitar work and flautist Jerry Eubanks' dreamy intro emphasising the big, tough man who's been laid low by his love for a woman.

"Gonna take a freight train, down at the station I don't care where it goes gonna climb a mountain, the highest mountain and jump off, ain't nobody gonna know....."

boy does he feel suicidal:

"....I'm gonna find me a hole in the wall gonna crawl inside and die 'cause my lady now, mean ol' woman lord, never told me goodbye....."

but he's from South Carolina, so in the end, what does he do? He takes the train to oblivion, in this case Georgia:

".....I gonna buy a ticket, as far as I can

I ain't a-never comin' back

I'm gonna take-a that Southbound

ride it all the way to Georgia lord

till the train it run out of track....."

In the end he finishes in an exhilarating crescendo of hollering agony where pain alone somehow just keeps his voice on the rails. Rod Stewart eat your heart out.

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