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Old 04-27-2011, 11:14 AM
michelej1 michelej1 is offline
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Default Mojo Retrospective, September 1996

The Shape I'm In: Peter Green
Johnny Black, Mojo, September 1996

IT'S MID-WINTER 1968. The five members of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac are huddled together, holding hands on the floor of the Gorham Hotel on West 55th Street, New York, scared ****less.

"I looked at Peter," remembers Mick Fleetwood, "and saw him dead, a skeleton without flesh, but moving. I couldn't even look at the others. It was a horrible, helpless feeling. We'd heard about bad trips and damaged chromosomes and permanent LSD psychosis, but we hadn't the foggiest notion what to do. We began to weep and blubber for help."

For Mick Fleetwood and John McVie this first experience of LSD, though terrifying, was something they could handle. For Peter Green it was the opening of the doors of perdition, a path that eventually led him to prison, mental hospital and a two-decade Dark Ages.

ALTHOUGH FORMED LESS THAN 18 MONTHS EARLIER, Fleetwood Mac were already Britain's premier blues attraction. An impressive debut album plus two hit singles, 'Black Magic Woman' and 'Need Your Love So Bad', had quickly leapfrogged Fleetwood Mac past such stalwarts as John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Alexis Korner.

Mick Fleetwood's drums and John McVie's bass provided an enviable tight rhythm section. Jeremy Spencer's Elmore James slide impersonations were thrilling and Danny Kirwan's eclectic technique added variety, but the heart of Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green.

Born Peter Greenbaum, a Jewish Cockney, in 1946, he was a sensitive child in whom music had always inspired powerful emotions. He would burst into tears when he heard the theme from Disney's Bambi because he couldn't bear to remember the suffering of the baby deer. He was sensitive in other ways too. As a Jewish kid in London's tough East End, he was constantly teased and taunted, and the scars remained into adulthood. Sandra Elsdon, the Black Magic Woman of the song clearly recalls him sobbing as he spoke of the pain of growing up. "To me, those are Peter's blues," she told his biographer, Martin Celmins. "The blues for him are Jewish blues."

Certainly by mid-1966, when Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, his blues were unique. And in September 1968, on Fleetwood Mac's second album, Mr Wonderful, he explicitly referred to his childhood traumas with his song 'Trying So Hard To Forget'. As Mick Fleetwood recalls, it was "Peter Greenbaum baring his soul about growing up in Whitechapel, London's Jewish ghetto. For almost the first time I could feel the pain, hurt and sense of loss that Peter was expressing through the solace of the blues."

It was his first step away from black blues interpreter to white blues originator. From here on, his songs almost invariably documented his state of mind.

That same summer, the Mac undertook their first American tour. In San Francisco they hung out with The Grateful Dead, whose legendary acid-chemist Augustus Stanley Owsley III offered tabs of his superior quality LSD. "We politely thanked him and said no," remembers Fleetwood. "We were scared of LSD. In fact, we were scared enough just being in America." But Owsley did secure a promise that, when they returned, they would sample his wares.

Come the first week of December, Fleetwood Mac were in New York at the start of a 30-date slog and, for the first show, they were to support the Dead at the Fillmore East. This time, when Owsley offered, they said yes. "We figured he made the best, most pure LSD available. We all wanted to try it and, if not his, whose?" says Fleetwood. "We didn't want to play on acid, so we took it back to our usual New York digs, the Gorham Hotel on West 55th St."

It was not what they'd expected. After an hour, the group experienced a communal anxiety attack which turned into a nightmare trip. At their lowest ebb the phone rang. "It was Owsley, calling to see if we were enjoying ourselves." Over the phone, Owsley talked them down, issuing soothing words and firm directions until the experience became something more pleasant – a sensation of flying.

Meanwhile, the languidly drifting instrumental single 'Albatross', a radical departure from the pure blues with which the group was identified, was soaring up the British charts. Before they returned to England, however, a follow-up single was recorded in New York – 'Man Of The World'. Once again, despite his group's increasing success, the lyric revealed Peter's inner turmoil. As he told one interviewer at the time, "It's very sad. It's the way I felt at the time. It's me at my saddest." Yet, according to producer Mike Vernon, "during the recording of 'Man Of The World', Peter was very focused. He knew exactly what he was trying to achieve and set about it in a thoroughly professional way. If they were doing acid at that point, there was no sign of it."

Out of the studio, however, those around him had already begun to notice that something was up. Tour manager Dennis Kean remembers Green telling him, "I feel like a washing machine. Just plug me in and I'll play." Mick Fleetwood recalls conversations, even then, in which "he'd become obsessive that we should not be making money. He wanted to give it all away."

When Fleetwood Mac returned to England, Green's friend Paul Morrison observed that, "Peter was unhappy about something... He was beginning to feel detached from the whole Fleetwood Mac process." The detachment expressed itself clearly during recording of the next album, Then Play On, on which Green spent most of the time working on his own, laying down multiple guitar parts and even drum patterns. The rest of the band were, effectively, frozen out.

In the spring of 1969, Fleetwood Mac flew to America for their third tour. When they opened for the Dead at the Warehouse in New Orleans, Owsley re-entered the picture, spiking the venue's water fountains with acid. Mick Fleetwood's girlfriend of that period, Jenny Boyd, remembers, "Peter couldn't even play that night because he was so high. Danny was weird too and Mick looked like a goblin playing drums. It was a very freaky evening." Usually, after a show, the Mac would spend the night socialising with the Dead at their hotel, but on this occasion, being too stoned to function, they returned to their own hotel. Next morning they learned that in the night, as recorded in the Dead's song 'Truckin'', The Grateful Dead's hotel had been raided by police pursuing Owsley. Had Fleetwood Mac been there, they would undoubtedly have been arrested and deported.

'Man Of The World' was released that April and followed 'Albatross' to the higher reaches of the singles chart. Speaking of the recent American jaunt, Green told Beat Instrumental that "I miss those beautiful people. I must say, my eyes were opened to a lot of things." With evident enthusiasm, he showed the interviewer a book he had purchased out there. Titled Words Of Wisdom, it was a compendium of such dimestore mystical insights as "Men are born with two eyes but with one tongue, in order that they should see twice as much as they say" and "To know what you know and what you don't know is the characteristic of one who really knows."

By now, he was questioning his most fundamental beliefs and all of them came up wanting. Although Then Play On had proved to be their most successful album yet, Green was slipping further into his personal slough of despond. One night, after a show, he told Fleetwood, "I want to find out about God. I want to believe that a person's role in life is to do good for other people, and what we're doing now just isn't ****." Nothing Fleetwood said could pull him from his depression, and after a while they lapsed into a long, awkward silence.

Finally, Green stood up to go and said, "Sometimes I think music is everything, other times I don't think it's anything. I don't give a **** about the money. I'm in a terrible state of 'don't knows' right now." By the time the group started another US tour in August, he had renounced his Jewish faith in favour of a mixture of Christianity and Buddhism, and was wearing white monk's robes on stage with a huge crucifix dangling at his neck.

In October, once again, Green laid his cards on the table in the shape of a song, 'Oh Well'. "I can't help it 'bout the shape I'm in..." he declared in the first line then, even more revealingly, launched into the second verse with "Now when I talked to God..."

Virtually a solo performance, it was yet another radical departure from any previous Fleetwood Mac release. The others in the group each laid a £5 bet with him that it wouldn't be a hit, but it shot to Number 2. Green appeared on Top Of The Pops wearing his monk's robes and crucifix. "That wasn't theatre," says Mick Fleetwood, "that was him. He was on a crusade in his mind and we had no idea how deep he was really getting into it."

"I was worried about what I was becoming," Green says now, "and it got to the newspapers. I was boasting about being righteous because I was on mescaline and I was feeling holy and compassionate." So compassionate, as Mick Fleetwood recalls, that having been moved to tears while watching TV reports of starving children in Africa, Green sent a £12,000 donation to Save The Children.

TOWARDS THE END OF THE YEAR, one journalist visited Green's music room at his home in New Malden, Surrey, where he still lived with his parents Anne and Joe. He noted that the decor included a stag's head, a tiger's head, a stuffed crocodile, a large two-handed sword, a statuette of Buddha, a poster of Superman, a portrait of Christ in agony on the Cross, a leather whip, a Fender guitar and a copy of the Peter, Paul And Mary guide to folk guitar. He is also known to have owned, among a veritable menagerie of pets, a parrot (called Parrot) which had been taught to whistle 'Waltzing Matilda' backwards.

There has never been any suggestion that the Green family environment was anything but loving and extremely comfortable. He appeared to have no desire to buy his own property, or even to leave the nest while his parents took care of his every need. In return, he became the family provider, paying the bills and eventually buying them a home, which they named Albatross.

There's also little doubt, however, that the abundant love his parents lavished on him helped insulate him from reality. His mother, for example, would answer his phone calls and was known to tell female callers that he was not available. The family's mistrust of any women to whom he attached himself was well known, and the fact that such women posed potential threats to the household's financial security has not gone unremarked.

In the 1969 NME Readers' Poll, Fleetwood Mac were voted Britain's best band and were outselling both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in Europe. This was the moment Green chose to tell the band that all of their profits must be given to charity. With the exception of Jeremy Spencer, fast becoming an acid-fuelled religious zealot, the others rejected the idea out of hand.

Things were coming to a head, but they accelerated out of control when the next European tour hit Munich. Dennis Kean remember how a group of wealthy young dilettantes latched onto the band at the airport. Thinking they were just fans, the band let them bang around while they did an afternoon show "They had this gorgeous girl with them," says Kean, "and Pete always had an eye for the birds, so when they invited us, Pete and me went back with them to this big mansion where they had a commune."

At the mansion, after a couple of drinks, Kean realised something was wrong. "All hell broke loose. I felt dreadful and I realised our drinks had been spiked with acid. They took us out in the garden and we marched round in a procession, and then we went down into a recording studio they had." As Green remembers it, "I'd got my guitar, so we played around with some music for a while. Then I just sat around and thought about everything. I was thinking so fast. I couldn't believe how fast I was thinking. And I kinda run out of thoughts. I must have been thinking solid for about an hour, just sitting down on my mattress."

"Pete was whisked out there and spent all his time getting stoned," confirms Mick Fleetwood. "We never even saw him, except for the gig. To this day, John and I always say that was it. Peter Green was never the same after that."

With further dates imminent, Fleetwood and manager Clifford Davis drove out to the commune to extricate Green. "Pete was tripping but lucid," says Fleetwood. "He told us he wanted to stay and live in the commune." After some discussion and appeals to his sense of duty, they convinced him that he must at least finish the tour. Briefly back in the fold, Green played the next night's gig. "I felt marvellous, kind of fresh, not grubby. When we jammed, I couldn't believe what I was coming out with. I was playing things that I didn't know I could play and the notes seemed to be going all round the room." Mick Fleetwood, however, didn't hear it that way. When Green asked for Fleetwood's opinion of his playing, the response was, "It sounded like you were mad."

Some days later, Green awoke sweating in the dark from a horrifying nightmare. "I was dreaming I was dead and I couldn't move, so I fought my way back into my body I woke up and looked around. It was very dark and I found myself writing a song. It was about money; 'The Green Manalishi' is money. The reason this happened was this fear I got that I earned too much money, and I was separate from all people."

Then and there, he wrote the song and, in March, 'The Green Manalishi' was recorded. "Our early recordings had been very spontaneous, basically blues, 12 bars around which each member fitted his part," says John McVie. But for 'Manalishi', very much in Brian Wilson fashion, Green recorded all the parts at home on a Revox. "I wasn't used to it," says McVie. "It put my nose out of joint. He came in with a demo and said, 'Here's the parts'."

Green no longer felt he could trust the band's judgement and needed complete control. Producer Martin Birch remembers the recording as: "The weirdest session I've ever taken part in. Peter wasn't communicating very much and Jeremy was well into his Children Of God thing. The whole atmosphere was very very strange."

Although inspired by the nightmare, 'Manalishi's depiction of a hellish descent into voices, madness and despair proved a chillingly accurate foretaste of what eventually became Green's waking torment.


IT WAS IN SWEDEN, AT THE BEGINNING OF MAY, ACCORDing to Clifford Davis, that Green sat down beside him in the tour bus and announced he was leaving. "Apart from anything else," he said, "I've had enough of these ****s." Then he walked to the front of the bus and broke the news to the group. "He left in a very responsible fashion," points out Mick Fleetwood, referring to Green's promise to honour all existing live commitments, "but behind all that was this seething emotional disturbance."

At one of those final shows, the Lyceum in London, with The Grateful Dead, Green was seen backstage, tripping on acid, attempting to set fire to the amps. He officially left the group on May 31, 1970 as 'Green Manalishi' shot up the charts. Within a month, Green told Beat Instrumental, "The most admirable and best thing a man can do on this earth is to try and make an effort to be like Him – like God... A lot of people are afraid to say it, but I feel I am guided by the Good Spirit, or God, if you like."

Towards the end of that year, fulfilling his contractual obligation to Warners, Green released his first solo album, The End Of The Game. "That was my LSD album," admits Green now. "I was trying to reach things that I couldn't before but I had experienced through LSD and mescaline."

One observer at the studio, Jon Morsehead, noted that "Peter was very much in his own corner and would start playing. Things got going, riffs would change, and it went on hour after hour."

And, as revered R&B keyboardsman Zoot Money remembers, nothing was prepared in advance. "We just played away and took the tapes and put it all in some sort of order. It started around 10 in the evening and it was heads down until 4am. Then it was like, Right, ta-ta, hope that was enough."

Meanwhile, to fill the gap left by Green, Fleetwood Mac had drafted in the UK's most prominent female blues performer of the time, Christine Perfect (now McVie). In January 1971, their first album together, Kiln House, was at Number 48 on the US charts.

With half the band already flying courtesy of a considerable intake of mescaline, they boarded a plane for Los Angeles where they would begin their next tour. Mid-Atlantic, Jeremy Spencer predicted ominously that something was going to happen – that there was darkness in Los Angeles. "We landed just after the big earthquake," says Christine McVie. "I remember the sky being yellow and Jeremy saying, 'I don't have to be here. I don't want to be here.' No-one thought anything of it. We got to the hotel, Jeremy went out for some magazines, and he never came back."

Outside the shop where Spencer bought his magazines, he had encountered a recruiting cell of the Children Of God religious cult and, ripe for the picking, went off with them. Cancelling the gig, the group began a frantic search of LA's religious communes and eventually located Spencer in a warehouse. "His head was shaved," remembers Mick Fleetwood, "and he had a different name. Basically, he was like a zombie."

With its eerie echoes of Peter Green's condition, Spencer's defection came as a shock to the band. But, on a purely practical level, without him the set was six songs too short. "We called Peter and begged him to help us complete the tour rather than be sued," remembers Christine. "Peter came over and the remainder of the tour was totally instrumental. Peter refused to sing. We did a version of 'Black Magic Woman' that lasted 45 minutes."

Dennis Kean was shocked by this new Peter Green. "His personality had totally changed from a kind, considerate guy to an angry animal. He didn't like anything or anybody"

FOR MOST OF THE '70S GREEN WAS UNABLE TO PULL HIMself back to anything approaching normality. In 1972, when Les Harvey of Stone The Crows was tragically killed by electrocution, Green was offered the job as his replacement. He went through all the rehearsals and then two days before the first gig at the Lincoln Festival, he rang to say he wouldn't be able to make it.

Later that year he moved to Israel and lived for a while on the Kibbutz Mishmarot, near Tel Aviv, telling his girlfriend of the time only that "he wanted to be near his people". He was back in England by 1973 and took a number of menial jobs – cemetery gardener in Kingston, pathology lab assistant, hospital orderly in Slough. He moved from house to house, sleeping on the floors of friends including Thin Lizzy guitarist Snowy White. "He'd come round and borrow my car, or sleep on the settee. He gave me all his gear, all his records, old reel-to-reel tapes of him working out 'Oh Well' with different lyrics. And he left his guitar with me. Suddenly one day he came along and wanted everything back." Green then made White drive him to an Oxfam shop on Hammersmith roundabout where he gave it all away. "I wasn't surprised," says Snowy, "but I thought it was a shame."

He had put on considerable weight by 1974 and was taking medication to counter the effects of his deteriorating mental state. Mich Reynolds, who is now his co-manager, remembers that after a long period of simply being very withdrawn, Green began to suffer hallucinations and his emotions see-sawed erratically as a result of which he was hospitalised in West Park, Epsom. When his condition failed to improve he was given a course of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) at St Thomas's Hospital in South London. This drastic treatment frightened him, but it stabilised his behaviour by reducing him to a level of docility in which he appeared to be almost in a trance.

In January 1977, he returned from a spell in Canada and rang former manager Clifford Davis. "I wanted some money from him 'cos I was living in people's houses or hotels and things," remembers Green now. "He said he hasn't got any money; our accountant David Simmons has got it. I said, 'Look, I'll shoot you' – I recently bought a gun from Canada. It was like a fairground rifle, pump-action thing, made of nickel."

Green insists that this threat was made jokingly but Clifford Davis was taking no chances. He called the police and Green quickly found himself in Brixton Prison.

By the time this story made the national tabloid press, late in January 1977, it had been embellished. Green had, said the papers, threatened accountant David Simmons with a shotgun when he turned up to deliver a £30,000 royalty cheque. Simmons now insists that no such incident ever took place and Green's version of events seems to be substantially accurate.

Nevertheless, his behaviour was clearly still erratic and, following a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Green was moved to The Priory a £500-a-week private clinic in London. It was here, at last, that he began to return to some semblance of normality.

Within months, while Fleetwood Mac's Rumours began its 31-week stint at the top of the American charts, Green was able to check out of The Priory and seemed reasonably content with his lot as a musician in retirement. It was not to last.

PETER GREEN'S BROTHER MICHAEL HAD RECENTLY started working as a promotions man for PVK Records, a small label owned by Peter Vernon-Kell. Said to have once been a member of The Detours (the group which evolved into The Who), Vernon-Kell was now a successful businessman, living in a large Twickenham residence complete with Rolls Royce Corniche and racing whippets.

At Vernon-Kell's suggestion, Michael took Peter to the office one day. Although Green was now better than he had been for some while, in an interview with the NME, Vernon-Kell described him at that first meeting as being "in a diabolical state. It was like something out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. He was eating with his hands and everything. In the loony bin they'd pumped him up to his eyeballs with drugs. It was disgusting. That's no way to treat a person."

Neither this, nor the fact that Green had not played guitar for over five years, deterred Vernon-Kell from offering him a recording deal. Work on the first album progressed at a leisurely pace. The approach was to surround Green with sympathetic musicians, put them in a studio, and wait to see what developed.

Early results were encouraging but then, out of the blue, Green met and fell in love with Californian fiddle player Jane Samuels. Born Jewish, Samuels was now a born-again Christian and she successfully converted Peter to the faith. They were married in Bel Air on January 4, 1978 and had a daughter, Rosebud. During this time in Los Angeles, Green also fell back in with Fleetwood Mac and began to substitute considerable snorts of cocaine for the medication he had been prescribed. This may help account for the volte-face in which he came to believe that his new wife had made a covenant with the devil and was now attacking him from within.

Meanwhile, with what seems to have been the best of intentions, Mick Fleetwood persuaded Warner Brothers Records to offer Green a $900,000 deal for four albums over a four year period. It was exactly the wrong move. Had it happened, the deadly cocktail of success and drugs that had fuelled his first breakdown would have been in place again. Fortunately, says Peter Vernon-Kell, Green decided that this too was the work of the devil and turned it down.

Parting from his wife, Green returned to England somewhat the worse for wear and set to work again on what would become the first PVK album, In The Skies. Peter Vernon-Kell has stated that during recording, Green was "as sharp as a razor blade. When he first started playing he was very insecure, but he slowly came out of it, and by the time he started recording he was totally on the ball." Snowy White, who played on the album, disagrees. "Sharp as a razor? No, he wasn't. He played quite well but he was a bit out of tune and never took control of the sessions. He wasn't back on form and was hardly involved with the end result. He just played and went."

Green's continued obsession with religion is evident in the album's big production number, 'The Apostle'. He had returned to the Jewish faith, reverted to his real name, Greenbaum, and talked of forming an all–Jewish band to play Jewish music. "Sometimes it means a bloody hell of a lot and sometimes we wish we were something else," he told one interviewer. "I'm glad I'm Jewish. It feels like a nice medium between the ordination and whatever that might mean to everyone. I love being Jewish. I think it's a good obedience test. I fail dismally."

When the album appeared in May, Green was anxious about facing the media, and blew out the Whistle Test along with other TV interviews. The level of concern of some PVK staff for their delicate charge was made clear by one who told NME writer Steve Clarke that when Green was in one of his funny moods, he was liable to "walk off and lose his mind again. Shove him in a boozer and he'll be all right." Even so, the album just missed the UK Top 30 and sold 800,000 copies in Germany where it was hailed as the return of a long-lost guitar genius.

During the recording of a second PVK album, Little Dreamer, Peter's confusion manifested itself in yet another way. "He arrived at the studio with these incredibly long nails," remembers guitarist Ronnie Johnson. "The producer was frantically trying to cut them so Peter could play."

The '80s were even less fruitful. After a third PVK album, What'cha Gonna Do?, the association with Vernon-Kell ended and Green became involved in a series of bands – Kolors, Katmandu and White Sky – none of which amounted to much.

Mark Ellen, then writing for NME, saw Green in the mid-'80s at The Golden Lion, Fulham Road. While his band played standard 12-bar blues patterns, the once-great guitarist "stared awkwardly at his fretboard, his scuffed fingers fiddling at the controls, as if even the most basic elements of his craft had forsaken him."

By the end of the '80s, the tabloids were reporting that Green had been sleeping rough in Richmond. His guitars had been stolen, he had been physically beaten and it appeared that, with no further down to go, his story might be close to ending.

BUT FATE WAS NOT YET READY TO LEAVE GREEN alone. In 1992, a man walked into a guitar shop owned by David Edwards, a member of a band called National Gold. While listening to Edwards play, the man claimed to be Peter Green. He was not. He was Patrick Harper of Glazebrook Farm, Hockley, Essex, known locally as The Egg And Potato Man.

Nevertheless, Edwards, who had met the real Green about 10 years earlier, accepted that this was the same man. "We became good friends. I played him our tapes and he said they were brilliant." Harper, still posing as Green, convinced the whole National Gold band that he could get them a recording deal.

For a further two years, The Egg And Potato Man continued his bizarre impersonation, explaining away his real name as a new identity he had adopted to protect his privacy in the wake of his recovery from a prolonged bout of mental illness. He was convincing enough to secure the involvement of former Shadows drummer Tony Meehan and Queen drummer Roger Taylor in a proposed 'comeback' album. The deception was only uncovered when the real Peter Green's brother Michael learned of what was going on and placed a call to Harper. Directly confronted, Harper owned up but claimed he had done it all purely to help National Gold.

But things now look about as rosy for Peter Green as they have ever done since he began his descent into despair. Asked by Mark Ellen in MOJO 6 (May '94) what he was up to, Green replied, "Oh, I just zombie around. That's what I do. I'm taking tablets of some kind. I don't know what they're supposed to do for me. They make me feel sleepy I fall asleep in the daytime. I never used to do that."

He is, at least, no longer sleeping rough in Richmond. Instead he lives in Surrey with old friend Mich Reynolds, former wife of former manager Clifford Davis. She and her brother Nigel Watson, are trying to look after him. In common with those who have preceded them, Reynolds, Watson and Green's other co-manager, ex-Tornados guitarist Stuart Taylor, are encouraging Green to get back to performing and recording. According to Watson, Green's talent has been slowly returning in recent months. "At first, when he played, you could see that his mind wanted to do more than his hands could. He got in a fluster but, after three or four weeks, that went."

Using a Gibson Jazz Fusion guitar, he has been recording at Zero One studios in Oxted, with Watson plus Cozy Powell on drums and Neil Murray on bass, collectively known as The Splinter Group. Evidently keen to develop a new sound, with less of his distinctive note-bending techniques, he has been working on new arrangements of his classics, along with some country and blues standards plus new songs written by Watson. The group has even played some live dates in Europe and England which, says Mich Reynolds, "Peter enjoyed enormously He doesn't ever want to stop playing again.

When not working on the album he watches movies on Sky TV, plays along with country music on CMTV and goes fishing. "He really wants to earn a living again," says Reynolds. "He doesn't want a lot, but he would like to own a house with a studio in it."

It all sounds idyllic. We must hope that a time-bomb is not currently ticking away beneath all that loving care and attention, and that this time the fruits of success will do Peter Green more good than harm.
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