ON August 11, two days after Robbie Robertson passed away, Bob Dylan released a rare public statement. “This is shocking news,” he wrote. “Robbie was a lifelong friend. His passing leaves a vacancy in the world.”
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The Band’s music was a lodestone for many of us at Uncut – and for many of the musicians we write about – and the ‘vacancy’ left by Robertson can never be filled. It’s not just his ability to conjure up a new form of American music along with the rest of The Band – music that was simultaneously ancient and modern, vibrant but sepia-toned – it’s the transcendent power of the songs that came with it. “The only thing I’m trying to do is write songs that if you listen to them in a couple of years, they’re not going to go down,” Robertson told Richard Williams, back in 1971. “A lot of people’s records that I really liked a couple of years ago, I listen to them now and I can’t understand how come I liked them so much… Timelessness is what I’m trying for, most of the time when it’s possible.”
You can read Richard’s definitive tribute to Robertson – which draws on his 1971 encounter with Robertson and his bandmates when they were in London to play the Royal Albert Hall – in the new issue. Van Morrison is also on hand to share his memories of Robertson, stretching back through many decades. “Robbie knew what was going on,” Van tell us. “I mean, he was in right at the very beginning of this music, when he was recording with the Hawks when they were kids – he knew the score. Robbie wasn’t flashy, he didn’t solo pointlessly. It was like an arranged attack. He wrote some great songs. It’s all there. Were his songs different when he had The Band to play them? Yeah, well they had a word for it – chemistry.”
If you’ll forgive the segue, there is plenty of chemistry going on elsewhere in the issue. We travel to Spain, where Jeff Tweedy reveals how Cate Le Bon helped Wilco realise their brilliant new album Cousins, to Glasgow where Teenage Fanclub mull over the long tail of their enduring friendships, and – for our cover story – to a National Trust property in Wiltshire where Pete Townshend digs deep into The Who‘s masterpiece Who’s Next and it’s lost predecessor, Life House. There’s also Pharoah Sanders, The Mary Wallopers, Kristin Hersh, Sandy Denny, Crime & The City Solution, The Motels (one for fans of The Bear), Will Sergeant and Lynyrd Skynyrd plus reviews of new released by Modern Nature, Sufjan Stevens, Gaslight Anthem and reissues from The Replacements, Joni Mitchell, Hawkwind and more.
As part of our cover story, you’ll have hopefully noticed by now that all copies of this issue come with a free 10-track Who CD, taken from The Who’s upcoming Who’s Next/Life House deluxe edition – a mod-tastic feast, in other words. “I think the music on this Uncut CD, with demos and studio sessions and live tracks, is an interesting selection of stuff,” explains Townshend. “It gives a kind of cross-section of the mix-up that’s on the boxset. And you’re getting fucking free music!”