Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Stage: Gil Scott-Heron

Image: Screen shot from the video for I'm New Here

The first time I heard Gil Scott-Heron was back in the early 1970s. At the time I was staying in a Youth Hostel in Paris. While many of the fine details are now lost to my ageing memory, I can still remember with absolute clarity, sitting in the lounge of the hostel one day, chilling out while music boomed over the in-house audio system.

At some point, this incredible piece of music began playing. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. A mix of jazz and funk. A voice that was at once angry, insistent, and compelling. A voice that demanded attention as the performer spat out words to a poem which contained the recurring line/refrain, "the revolution will not be televised..."
The revolution will not be televised
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions...
© Copyright, Gil Scott-Heron
On and on went the voice, for what seemed much longer than the few minutes the song took to play through. I sat hypnotized by what seemed like the perfect mixture of form, rhythm, lyrics, and a performance by a man who clearly believed every word his was reciting. It was probably a year or more before I heard the piece again, confirming the name of the song, and before I finally found out who the performer was.

Gil Scott-Heron (born April 1, 1949) is an American poet, musician, and author known primarily for his late 1970s and early 1980s work as a spoken word performer and his collaborative soul works with musician Brian Jackson. His collaborative efforts with Jackson featured a musical fusion of jazz, blues and soul music, as well as lyrical content concerning social and political issues of the time, delivered in both rapping and melismatic vocal styles by Scott-Heron. The music of these albums, most notably Pieces of a Man and Winter in America in the early 1970s, influenced and helped engender later African-American music genres such as hip hop and neo soul. Scott-Heron's recording work is often associated with black militant activism and has received much critical acclaim for one of his most well-known compositions The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. On his influence, Allmusic wrote "Scott-Heron's unique proto-rap style influenced a generation of hip-hop artists". [Source: Wikipedia...]
Last night, Gil Scott-Heron performed in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, as part of the Summer Stage series of free open air concerts currently being held around New York City.

Gil didn’t perform The Revolution Will Not Be Televised last night, but he did enthrall an appreciative crowd of several thousand people with a 90 minute selection of songs from his new album, I’m New Here, and a number of classic songs from his recording career including Pieces of A Man and The Bottle.

It was a great performance from a man who, quite frankly, has not aged well. As little as three years ago, Scott-Heron was doing time in New York’s infamous Riker’s Island prison for cocaine possession. He looks ten years older than his 61 years. And yet. And yet, Gil Scott-Heron still has it. If his voice was any lower – it would be gravel. He still knows how to command a stage, and the audience was not there to see the last gasp of a great poet, songwriter, and author, but to see a man reborn.

As he sings in the title song of his new album, I’m New Here:
No matter how far wrong you’ve gone,
You can always turn around.
I’ve embedded the official video for his latest album, I’m New Here so you can see this great artist for yourself. The guitarist is Pat Sullivan.

Even now, over 30 years since I first heard it, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised still has ability to stop me in my tracks and distract me from whatever it is I am doing.

Click here to read more about Gil Scott-Heron and view the full lyrics to The Revolution...

You may also need to refer to this page on Wikipedia to help put many of the references in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised in context.

Finally, searching for Gil Scott-Heron on YouTube will reveal a host of clips, official and unofficial, showcasing the music and poetry of this unique artist.


  1. I've followed Gil Scott's music since the 70's. He is an American original, doesn't pretend, he is pure unfiltered. Truly a master I hope we see more of him in the years to come.


  2. Thanks Al,

    I agree entirely. I hope you were there last night, or at least have an opportunity to see a live show in the near future.

  3. I didn't know he was in NYC. I've wanted to see him all my life. I'm so glad he is back in demand. Maybe I'll see him on his next visit to NY. I'll check your Web site for updates.



  4. Hey Al, you're in luck. Gil Scott-Heron is performing at B.B.Kings NYC, on October 7th. Read more here

  5. Jim Thank you so much I will not miss this one

  6. Love the review, too bad I didn't get a chance to catch him live. Even created a birthday tribute mix

    Lady Elix

  7. Thanx Lady Elix, I checked GSH's website and nothing is listed at all for 2011, so live gigs may be few and far between this year for whatever reason. Hope you get a chance to see Gil oneday soon.

    PS: Love your blog :-)


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