Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Alex Harvey was a British journeyman rocker who enjoyed a brief period of widespread popularity in the mid-'70s after decades of struggle. Growing up in Scotland, he turned to music in his late teens and was in a skiffle band by 1955. By 1959, it had evolved into the Alex Harvey Big Soul Band. Harvey took the group to Hamburg, West Germany in the early '60s, there recording his first LP, Alex Harvey and His Soul Band, in the fall of 1963, which did not feature the band. He and his group made their London debut in February 1964, and the same year he recorded The Blues, which essentially was a solo record. In 1965, Harvey dissolved the Big Soul Band and later returned to Glasgow. But he was back in London in 1967, assembling Giant Moth, a psychedelic group that existed only for a short time. He then accepted a job working in the pit band of the musical Hair and while doing so recorded Having a Hair Rave up Live from the Shaftsbury Theatre. In 1969, he released Roman Wall Blues, his first solo effort in five years. Up to this point, none of his musical efforts had attracted much attention. But in the early '70s, he recruited the Scottish band Tear Gas -- consisting of Zal Cleminson, Chris Glen, Hugh McKenna, and Ted McKenna -- christening the resulting quintet the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
Their first two albums, Framed (1972) and Next (1973), didn't sell, but in the fall of 1974 The Impossible Dream became Harvey's first chart record in the U.K. (It briefly made the American charts in March 1975.) Tomorrow Belongs to Me followed in the spring of 1975, hitting the Top Ten along with the Top Ten singles placing of Harvey's flamboyant cover of the Tom Jones hit "Delilah." With that, Next belatedly made the charts, and in September Sensational Alex Harvey Band Live came out and reached the Top 20 (also making the Top 100 in the U.S), as "Gamblin' Bar Room Blues" became a Top 40 single. This commercial success continued into 1976, with Penthouse Tapes entering the LP charts in April and becoming a Top 20 hit, "Boston Tea Party" making the singles charts in June and making a Top 20 showing, and SAHB Stories following in July and just missing the Top Ten.
In 1977, Harvey and the band recorded separately, SAHB without Alex (as it was billed) issuing Fourplay, while the leader made Alex Harvey Presents the Loch Ness Monster. A final album together, Rock Drill, was followed by the group's breakup. Harvey was back with his New Band in 1979 and an album called The Mafia Stole My Guitar, but his moment, so long in coming, had passed. Nevertheless, he kept on rocking and was on tour in Belgium when he succumbed to a heart attack in 1982 just before his 47th birthday. ~ William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide
Yup, this is a good un! This album almost equals the strength of SAHB in live performance. Well maybe it doesn't completely get there, but it's definitely got an atmosphere of it's own and features some interesting sides to the band.
The album opens up with some heavy beating of the skins which leads us into Vambo, a number I'm sure you've all familiar with and part one of a piece titled The Hot City Symphony. This features an extremely bizarre music sequence between axe man Zal Cleminson and keyboard man Hugh McKennam (and) leads into Man in the Jar which opens up with a familiar tune, and leads into an Alex Harvey Marlon Brando cum Mickey Spillane type rap. The musical arrangement is neat and it features a nice solo from Zal.
River of Love features a heavy riff, laced with Spanish guitar which makes an odd combination. Gosh, I do believe it's a love song.
I do believe that Harvey's album was going to be called Can't Get Enough. Well I would take the track that closes side one and is called Long Hair Music as the title track. A good ol' rocker, this track would definitely make a nice single. And don't take the stylus off too quickly at the end. Sergeant Fury seemed to be a tailor made hit, yet it didn't even touch the charts as a single. It opens up with some trad-jazz type music which then leads into a Harvey riff. The band are solid and punchy while Harvey sings lyrics like, "I wanna be rich and famous" with insane credibility - you never know when to take this band seriously.
Weights Made of Lead has a basic train beat with a bizarre Cleminson lick over the top. Harvey sings the blues. To portray the full lunacy of this band, what more do you need than a medley of Money Honey and The Impossible Dream?
You find yourself writhing on the floor in mass confusion while the next track, Tomahawk Kid opens up quietly and leads into a rather heavy-orientated track where Harvey takes on the role of story teller. (What a versatile character.) The final track, appropriately titled Anthem, builds up to a thunderous climax featuring choirs and things like that.
This album has caught the full dynamics and insanity of the group, and everyone should have one installed in their homes. Then Alex may be able to achieve his impossible dream?"
1. Hot City Symphony: Vambo/Man in the Jar
2. River of Love
3. Long Hair Music
5. Sergeant Fury
6. Weights Made of Lead
7. Money Honey/Impossible Dream
8. Tomahawk Kid