I just finished reading this book. A good read, and worth getting hold of, whether you are a confirmed fan, or just wonder what all the fuss was about.
Alex Harvey / The Sensational Alex HarveyBand ranked (and still do) as one of my favourite bands back in the early – mid 70s. I was lucky enough to see them play ‘live’ on few occasions, including the infamous 1975 Christmas shows at Glasgow’s Apollo theatre.
I regularly play the various SAHB albums I own, but like so many things in our busy lives these days, it was very much a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ when it came to reading about the band. So, when I saw this on sale in a discount book shop, it was too good a bargain to miss.
And I’m glad I picked it up.
Initially I was disappointed to read within the first ten pages, the revelations by the author that he’d never seen the band play, and that guitarist Zal Cleminson (amongst others) would not talk to him about Alex. There were no reasons given, but it was obviously their prerogative.
I did think this would detract significantly from the impact a book like this could make. But despite these early confessions, and even though there is very little real contribution from either drummer Ted McKenna or indeed, any as I recall, from bass player Chris Glen, the book still serves a purpose.
Using music paper / newspaper quotes as well as significant contributions from Alex’s second wife, Trudy and his friends / management, author John Neil Munro has managed to paint a sympathetic, yet ‘warts and all’ account of Alex Harvey’s quest to change the face of what he saw as a sterile and boring scene that had dropped down between Glam and Punk.
Indeed, Alex’s well worn path through the music industry started well before that period, and in many ways, the reader (even if unfamiliar with Alex and his work) is rooting for the wee Glasgow lad trying to make good against a backdrop of early social deprivation and a musical landscape so set in its ways.
But that some bloke about fifteen years older than the rest of his band can achieve such success, at least in a ‘live’ environment, lends hope to all us who have dreams to follow. They take some cultivating and an incredible amount of belief, but this book shows that dreams do come true.
I guess, though, the real trick is learning when to wake up.
I’ll not say any more for fear of spoiling the read. For it IS a good read. And one that will now lead me to read more about the band and the other members as well.)
It’s sad to say that very often, when our musical heroes pass on, their legacy is somewhat tarnished by the release of substandard recordings.
This is perhaps understandable where more ‘commercial’ artists are involved, their estates and labels seeking to capitalize on the fans’ grief, and milk every last penny from their ‘investment.’
But commercialism was never the aim of the game for Rory Gallagher, and with brother Donal curating the recordings, you just know that whatever is / has been released posthumously will remain true to the ethos of Rory.
Last year saw the release of double (vinyl) album / triple (cd) ‘Blues,‘ and we fans thought it could never get better – all that time (I have been too lazy to add the track lengths up) devoted to Rory’s specialist genre? Pigs in you know what, we were. (Said Yoda. )
But it just has! Gotten better, that is.
‘Check Shirt Wizard,‘ reverses the format of the previous release and gives us a triple vinyl / double compact disc, which to my immature mind is a lot more sexy. That said, I still bought both!
I’m conscious that many of Rory’s ever expanding fanbase were not fortunate enough to have seen him play ‘live.’ But this release is a perfect illustration of what it was like to have been at a show, some forty-three years ago. (Forty-three???!!)
Rory was in his prime. He was backed magnificently by Gerry, Rod and Lou – what I’d consider the strongest line-up he ever played with. A concert those days would last the best part of two hours, in often very basic and sweaty surroundings. No frills; no glitz; no glamour; no posing; no pouting. Just blues infused rock ‘n’ roll as God intended.
This 1977 UK tour, promoting the latest album ‘Calling Card,‘ took in twelve shows in sixteen days, an eleven day break, then another six shows in eight days, with a final date at the Royal Albert Hall no less, a further couple of weeks down the line. Touring certainly was a bit of a slog in those days, but if you wanted your music to heard, this is what you had to do.
But Rory loved it – and this was reflected in his shows: full of energy, but with humility and good humour. These three vinyl records (recorded variously at the Hammersmith Odeon, the Brighton Dome, Sheffield City Hall and Newcastle City Hall) totally encompass this.
Everything about ‘Check Shirt Wizard‘ is spot on. The sound quality is top end – a studio quality recording that fuses the electric atmosphere of a live show. The fold-out sleeve and the photographs are beautiful, as is the eight page, colour insert that takes the form of an outsize concert programme. (Remember them?)
The majority of the twenty tracks are upbeat, boogie and riff-laden, and although recorded over the four different venues, they have been compiled in such a manner as to give the feel of one show. This means that in keeping with his live shows, Rory slips in a few more acoustic blues numbers just after the mid point.
In addition to eight of the nine tracks originally on the ‘Calling Card‘ studio album (only ‘I’ll admit You’re Gone‘ is missing) ‘Check Shirt Wizard’ gives us blinding versions of what became ‘standards’ such as ‘Tattoo’d Lady,’ ‘Going To My Hometown,’ and of course, ‘Bullfrog Blues.’ The latter of these three really did make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, especially towards the end when over the top of a heavy boogie riff, Rory thanks the crowd for attending and acknowledges the band members in his own inimitable style: “Lou Martin on keyboards! Lou Martin! Yeah!”
Up till now, I have always held ‘Live in Europe‘ as my favourite album – not just of Rory Gallagher, but ‘favourite album’ full stop. This though, could well replace it. It’s an awesome collection that if time permits, should be listened through track by track to get that full on concert experience.
‘Check Shirt Wizard‘: they don’t make them like you anymore.
***** I always wished to have been at a gig that was recorded for release as an album at a later date. I wasn’t at any of the four shows that are included here, but I was at the Glasgow show that predated the tour, and was sat (until the bouncers turned away) just two rows back from the ticket stub pictured on the inside back cover of the album insert! *****
It’s not very often that a band appears on the music scene, one hundred per cent ‘ready.’
Rochester band Theatre Royal are one .
I have been banging about them from virtually day one, and now, ahead of their fifth album release, due early next year, they have confirmed my faith with their excellent new ‘Incidental Friend‘ EP.
The four tracks will be drip-released over the next three weeks, with the title track available from today (1st November.)
Theatre Royal have never really strayed from what they do best – clear, melodic harmonies with hooky choruses and thoughtful lyrics. Their songs have the knack of immediacy, without being in your face, as such. And ‘Incidental Friend’ is no different in that regard.
Although I have said they arrived ‘one hundred percent ready,’ there has always been a natural progression, and this track shows a further maturity. It somehow feel just a little bit more polished; a little bit more relaxed in the delivery – like this is a band who appreciate their strengths and know where they want to sit in whole scheme of things. A band confident in their skin.
Look – it’s not just me. If blokes like Steve Lamaq dig them, then I need say no more.
Just like the buses around here in Glasgow, you wait for ages and then two come at once!
Hot on the heels of his forthcoming new album’s lead track, Alex Pollock has also made available the following, ‘No Fooling.‘
The album was self-produced, written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Pollock from his home apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts. During the creation of Rain, Pollock’s mother unexpectedly fell ill and passed away. While Rain is in some ways an expression of that change, it is also aspires to belong to everyone, beyond a singular, defining experience.
‘Rain‘ is a new, ambitious and exciting stage in the evolution of The Ocular Audio Experiment, colored lovingly with influences like, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, True Widow, Mercury Rev, Spacemen 3, BRMC, Black Angels, Psychic Ills and others.
I’ve been a fan of The Ocular Audio Experiment from, well, the start, I suppose, but much as I enjoyed the earlier work, from what I’ve hear of ‘Rain’ so far, it shows a maturity and richness of sound. It sounds to me that Alex and his ‘live’ band have truly found their feet and there is a greater sense of professionalism in both the music and accompanying video production.