Meeting Captain Beefheart at Cardiff University in Wales

Meeting Captain Beefheart wasn't what I expected

I had been a big fan of the weird songs and image of Captain Beefheart since I first heard him on the late great John Peel's Top Gear show on BBC R1. I was really looking forward to seeing him live on stage ar Cardiff Students' Union way back in the mid-70s but it turned out to be a great disappointment although I actually got to meet him.

I had bought my ticket early to make sure I got to see him and was in the Great Hall of the union building waiting for the Captain to take the stage.

Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart in Toronto by Jean-Luc and posted on Flickr
Captain Beefheart in Toronto by Jean-Luc and posted on Flickr

Captain Beefheart the artist and musician

Captain Beefheart or Don Van Vliet, to give him his real name, is known for his surreal lyrics and poetry, his flamboyant and theatrical image and his music which combines rock, blues, jazz and avante-garde experimental sounds. He is backed for his recordings and live performances by the Magic Band, a group of musicians that often changed because Beefheart was known for being dictatorial in his approach to running the band.

Frank Zappa

Captain Beefheart is an act who worked a lot with Frank Zappa at one point of his career and was released on Zappa's label. The Captain is credited as an inspiration to countless bands and songwriters and his creative talents have been called "genius."

One of my favourite rock bands, the Edgar Broughton Band, are very clearly influenced by Captain Beefheart both in Edgar Broughton's vocal style and a lot of their lyrics and presentation. There is a strong blues influence but this is combined with touches of psychedelia and a lyrical whimsy.

Trout Mask Replica

His double album Trout Mask Replica , which has songs with weirdly evocative titles such as Ant Man Bee and Neon Meate Dream of A Octafish was ranked fifty-eighth in Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Captain Beefheart always dressed flamboyantly in top hat and colourful coats. He looked eccentric and theatrical and definitely very hip.

But Captain Beefheart was always very much a painter as well as a songwriter, poet and composer and after his last album in 1982, which was entitled Ice Cream For Crow he decided to retire from the music side of things and concentrate on being an artist.

Captain Beefheart's artistic side was showing at the concert I had paid to see but that was the problem: I wasn't getting to see him sing because he was too busy with a felt marker pen!

I was amongst fans who were getting tired of waiting as the night rolled on and I became annoyed when I discovered the real reason Captain Beefheart was not yet on stage. He was sat in the toilets with a long queue of idiotic students who were encouraging his behaviour by taking their place in line so that Beefheart could make his mark on anything they offered.

So there he sat smugly, just randomly scrawling with a felt pen on books, bits of paper, tickets and t-shirts and anything else he was presented with. I took my place in the queue too and when I got my chance to meet him I said: "Captain Beefheart, I'm a fan of your music and came here tonight to see you on stage not to find you sat in the toilets like this scrawling with a felt pen. But seeing as this is what you are doing, then sign this and I'm gonna smoke it!"

I pulled out a cigarette and was going to hand it to him when a girl student exclaimed: "You can't do that, it's the Captain!"

"Just watch me," I responded and handed Beefheart the cigarette.

Captain Beefheart drew an inky line across it and handed it back. I lit it and smoked it and stubbed it out on the floor. Beefheart was looking daggers at me and he called me: "You c***!"

I had made my point and went off to sell my ticket outside the building. I had decided to go to the New Moon rock club instead which was open late and had local bands on who would be on stage unlike Captain Beefheart who wasn't!

It was a day in which Captain Beefheart met his match (literally) and proof of our meeting went up in smoke!

© 2010 Steve Andrews

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Comments 17 comments

CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK

Steve, Captain Beefheart was actually very shy and suffered from stage fright. He used to hate to go on stage, which is why he gave up performing. This might have been the reason he preferred sitting in the toilets to going on stage. Great to hear Ice Cream for Crow though. I've just put a hub about Crows up on my Whitstable Views page.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I have just been reading about him on Wikipedia and seems he treated his band members really badly which is why he could never keep the same band long. I quote:

"Frustrated...and fed up with Van Vliet's temperamental and abusive nature, The Magic Band disbanded in 1974." and

"Van Vliet implemented his vision by asserting complete artistic and emotional domination of his musicians. At various times one or another of the group members was put "in the barrel," with Van Vliet berating him continually, sometimes for days, until the musician collapsed in tears or in total submission to Van Vliet."

And: "While appearing humorous and kind-hearted in public, by all accounts Van Vliet was a severe taskmaster who abused his musicians verbally and sometimes physically, and paid them little or nothing."


justom profile image

justom 6 years ago from 41042

Great read man, I love it that you pissed him off. I remember a friend of mine going to see Todd Rundgren and he had a reel to reel recorder on stage playing before and during his performance and was booed off the stage and out of the building. It's a fine line being an artist and a as*hole. Peace!!! Tom


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Tom! Yes, reading about Beefheart in Wikipedia and elsewhere seems he was very difficult to work with, ordered people about, was very rude and abusive and also claimed all the credit for any work done! As an artist I can't fault him creativitywise but as a person that's another matter entirely according to what is reported about him! What I encountered seems hardly surprising in view of all that!


omi saide profile image

omi saide 6 years ago

Great hub! but I don't have a clue! I am more circular than linear so I draw to Jazz, Salsa, Bossa Nova this type of genre. Good Luck!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Omi! Beefheart incorporates jazz into his music though its very experimental and avant-garde style!


Shinkicker profile image

Shinkicker 6 years ago from Scotland

Great story Bard of Ely

That must have took a lot of nerve to do that. I've heard of a star with their name up in lights but never up in smoke :-)


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

"Up-in-smoke." I like that! I have never experienced "fan shock," or been in awe of someone else. I like what you did. "Stars" are the same as "us." They have their good points and "bad" points... We all are "stars" in some facet of our lives... It is up to us to decide what to do with the flicker of light...


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks, Shinkicker and Dallas! Dallas, it is very easy for me to be in awe of successful singer-songwriters and musicians because these are the people who inspire me and I am often amazed with how brilliant their work is and impressed with the success they have managed to find in an exceedingly difficult business - the music industry! In some cases with writers like Dylan they are who inspired me to be a writer myself in the first place. Most people like this are fans of other singers and have their own heroes eg Dylan's was Woody Guthrie. Beefheart was never in that category for me but I love his work and had a better image of him than he turned out to be!


nextstopjupiter profile image

nextstopjupiter 6 years ago from here, there and everywhere

Great story about one of the most interesting rock musicians, thanks for sharing the video!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I am glad you enjoyed it! Thank you!


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Bard of Ely, My "reality" reflects my life experiences. I have never had a goal to be like someone else, or do what someone else did... If I did, I would have a different "reality." My life experiences are limited. My "reality" is I have much to learn and I appreciate the diversities of our experiences. Your musical talent and knowledge is light years ahead of mine. I have near a "0" IQ in terms of the various singers and performers. This does not mean I do not appreciate their talents. I enjoy them. I do not know the words to a single song... Now, that my "ignorance" is showing, I can tell you, if you drop a set of dishes, I can dance to the "noise." I love to dance - go figure!


Grant O'Neill 6 years ago

I enjoyed your post and thought I might bring your attention to my articles on my 20 year friendship with Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) on Associated Content. The articles are a series of vignettes on my observations from the beginning of the Magic Band, through my final meeting with Don around 1984. You can read them at the following links:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5604864/t...

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5651512/t...

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5672508/c...

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5691958/c...

Thank you, and keep up the good work

Grant O’Neill


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for this interesting feedback, Grant!


Cloderic The Parracide 2 years ago

That was the interval when he was doing the (now rare and valuable) drawings


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 2 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It wasn't an interval because he hadn't been on stage.


Cloderic The Parracide 2 years ago

There was an awful support band (Secret Oyster), an interval, then Beefy. As is customary at many gigs. Sheesh.

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