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Ian Astbury: Force Behind 'A Gathering of the Tribes' : Festival: The Cult's lead singer is bringing together a diverse roster of rock, rap and pop acts for a two-city concert.

October 06, 1990|STEVE HOCHMAN

You've probably played that little game of dreaming up the perfect concert, the one with all your favorite acts on one bill regardless of genre.

Ian Astbury of the Cult has.

"I was sitting in the front of the tour bus one day with my notebook, thinking, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could take the records in my collection and see a festival with some of the best acts?'," the English singer recalled recently in his manager's Beverly Hills office. "Why not an event where you could see all this great music?"

But where most people's fantasies remain just that, Astbury's dream is coming true. He's the force behind "A Gathering of the Tribes," a two-city/two-day festival bringing a diverse roster of rock, rap and pop acts--and their audiences--together, first today at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in the Bay Area, and Sunday at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa.

Among the performers: rockers Iggy Pop, the London Quireboys and former Sex Pistol Steve Jones, rappers Public Enemy, Ice-T and Queen Latifah and the folk-oriented Michelle Shocked and the Indigo Girls.

Astbury, an amiably chatty 28-year-old from Birkenhead, a town across the Mersey River from Liverpool, explained that as he discussed his vision with associates earlier this year, he was only expressing a fantasy.

"It's a quality of life thing," he said. "I thought it would be great to put a diverse bill together and see if it could happen and introduce all the segregate groups to each other. But it was nothing more than conversation, really."

But the Cult's agent, Bill Ellison, mentioned the idea to others, including promoter Bill Graham, who operates the Shoreline Amphitheatre, and Alex Hodges of the Nederlander organization, which runs the Pacific Amphitheatre.

"Bill came back to me and said, 'Your festival's on,' " Astbury said. "I said, 'What do you mean?' . . .

"I had one vision and any excuse was not good enough," Astbury said. "Guns N' Roses should be doing it, but can't due to commitments. Tracy Chapman should be doing it. Living Colour, Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon should be doing it."

Still, the lineup's diversity, Astbury believes, is enough to affirm his prime directive: "Us and them doesn't exist any more." The music will be supplemented by an appearance by the American Indian Dance Theatre and representation from various environmental and social-activist groups.

One act conspicuous in its absence is Astbury's own.

"I didn't want the Cult to play because I didn't want people to think we were using this to boost our career," Astbury explained.

He does, however, plan to jam with Jones and perhaps one or two other acts. After all, he put together these shows as a fan, not as an artist.

"One of the selfish reasons of having it was to see these acts perform," he said.

Still Tossin': The song "Tossin' and Turnin' " has one of rock's great openings. Bobby Lewis' leering delivery of the line "I couldn't sleep at all last night" proved as much a grabber when imitated in a recent breakfast cereal commercial as when the original held the No. 1 spot on the pop singles chart for seven straight weeks in 1961.

But few would guess that in chart terms the song was the No. 3 biggest hit of the '60s, just behind the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Percy Faith's "The Theme From 'A Summer Place'." That will be one of the songs heard as the Legends of Rock 'n' Roll two-night stand at the Greek Theatre concludes tonight, as Lewis makes his first Los Angeles appearance in nearly 20 years.

"It means I've always got something to stick my chest out for," said Lewis, 62, who now lives in Newark, New Jersey. "And something to thank the mighty first God for."

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