'The Last Of The Teenage Idols'
Release Date: 18th March 2016
Once voted Scotland's Answer to Tommy Steele, Glasgow born singer, songwriter and guitarist Alex is best known for fronting the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who had several notable hits during the 70s, including 'Faith Healer', 'Boston Tea Party' and 'Delilah'.
The affectionately known SAHB would influence many, with Alex's presentation as important as the musicianship, a band that featured guitarist Zal Cleminson (later of Nazareth), pianist Hugh McKenna, drummer Ted McKenna (later of Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Greg Lake, MSG, Ian Gillan) and bassist Chris Glen (MSG, Chris Slade, Gillan).
During the 70s SAHB mixed hard rock, blues, glam, even occasional nods country and jazz, they did not discriminate and would influence many, including Def Leppard's Joe Elliot. It is worth noting that Zal Cleminson is one of the best and most underrated guitarists in rock music, and widely considered a god among those in the know.
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This set takes in Harvey's 60s work, from his solo and Soul Band work in their entirety, with non album tracks, select tracks from Rock Workshop and the Hair musical, the 70s and all the SAHB album in expanded form, finishing with the 80s solo work and highlights from his final solo album before his untimely death in February 1982, the day before his 47th birthday.
After taking a number of day jobs and playing live in skiffle, blues and soul groups, including in 1960 supporting Johnny Gentle And His Group (aka The Beatles), Alex performed under the name Alex Harvey And His Soul Band and in 1963 released the single 'What's Wrong With Me Baby', an uptempo blues/soul number, which kicks off disc one here.
There are several numbers from 'Everything's Alright With Isabella Bond', an early session many fans won't even have heard of, and the disc is completed by The Soul Band's debut 1964 album.
There's an early version of 'Framed', which is very bluesy compared to the later better known versions. There's also a collaboration with brother Leslie Harvey, the guitarist who would form Stone The Crows with Maggie Bell.
Disc two continues with a rare take on 'Shout', the Isley Brothers track which was also a hit for Lulu – a blistering version with much in common with the Otis Day & The Knights version (Animal House fans will know this version).
Disc three is the 1964 'The Blues' album, with the legendary 'Agent OO Soul single'. Again it's a mix of blues, soul and skiffle, excellent but very 60s. Harvey was a seasoned character by then and it came through.
Disc four continues with single As and Bs as well as the 'Roman Wall Blues' and by now there were a number of songs like the aforementioned 'Framed' in Harvey's repertoire that would later be given the SAHB treatment - notably 'Midnight Moses', bluesy with some great guitar work and a big horn section adding a chunk of soul too.
Disc five takes us through the late 60s and early 70s, with 'Hair Rave Up', for which Alex was part of the house band, and there's several tracks from 'Rock Workshop'. It's a shame it's not all included, but this has been previously released in its entirety separately. 'The Joker Is Wild' album in full is another rarity nicely rounded off.
In the early 70s it got really interesting, not just for Harvey, but rock fans in general, when he met another Glasgow band Tear Gas (who had released two now rare albums), which he would then front, as The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. If there was ever a band defined by their chemistry and theatrics as much as seriously quality rock music, this would be it, with Alex the rock n'roll poet.
Disc six, their 1972 debut 'Framed', is essential listening. The title track, 'Midnight Moses' and 'Hammer Song' were already Harvey staples and there's the cover of I Ju'st Want To Make Love To You'.
The title track saw Harvey as much a story teller as singer. Zal Cleminson's guitar and the McKenna/Glen rhythm section defined a generation and Hugh McKenna's keyboards took them a dimension further. A single b-side and several BBC Radio 1 live tracks and that's good listening.
Likewise the next album 'Next', the title track a Jacques Brel cover, with several live bonuses, is worth the whole box set alone. For me this album was the band's zenith, the opener 'Swampsnake' and the classic 'Faith Healer,covered by many and an influence on the likes of Saxon, you will not find better rock music than this anywhere.
'The Impossible Dream' and 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me' both saw the theatrics in performance and diversity in writing grow, so yes some songs did deviate from hard rock but it's all part of a very smooth and enjoyable catalogue. 'Soul In Chains' is classic Harvey blues and 'The Tale Of The Giant Stone Eater' epitomising both the story telling and styles.
Disc 10 is SAHB live, one of the best single disc live albums around, although the fanclub have issued the entire show on 2CD. There are several previously unreleased live tracks here and the album saw the live cover of Tom Jones' 'Delilah', a rocking rendition and theatrical perfection.
Due to burn out, 1976's 'Penthouse Tapes' featured only 3 original tracks, but the standouts are 'Crazy Horses' (The Osmonds), 'School's Out' (Alice Cooper) and 'Runaway' (Del Shannon). 'Gamblin' Bar Room Blues' is a nod back to Harvey's blues roots.
'SAHB Stories' features 'Boston Tea Party' and is another classic if not quite as rocking album.
Sadly not included is the 'Fourplay album', which although doesn't feature Alex, is an important part of the catalogue as it is SAHB without Alex).
The final SAHB album, 'Rockdrill', I think is really overlooked. The title track is worth searching out, and 'Mrs Blackhouse' (also a single) is a dig at Mrs Whitehouse. Importantly here is 'Engine Room Boogie' (a single b-side) and the very rare No Complaints Department, originally destined for the album and withdrawn – classic blues.
Disc 14 rounds up Alex's post SAHB material, with several tracks from the 'Loch Ness Monster' album recorded during a SAHB break – the whole thing would be nice, as would Harvey's album 'The Soldier On The Wall', which like 'Rock Workshop' has been issued in full elsewhere but the sample is good, and 'The Mafia Stole My Guitar' album in full is a good listen.
While there are some projects incomplete here (they are, in the main, complete elsewhere), there's more main catalogue and even more rarities here than you can shake a dozen sticks at. Some of the 60s work will cost you more apiece than this entire set.
The set could easily be split into three sets, three genres; pre SAHB, SAHB and post SAHB, as some of the work may be of little interest to the SAHB fans which is where I suspect a large section of the interest is. But even so this is a wonderful set, the package is excellent, a book that tells you everything you need to know.
Alex Harvey is much loved and a huge influence to many, and he fronted one of the best rock bands to come out of Scotland ever. Having spoken to Chris, Ted and Zal, there are many who owe their career to him, many fond memories of working with him, despite the ups and downs.
As Zal once told me, his signature had got him into more trouble than anything else, referring to some of the record deals that didn't work out.
This is going to be an essential and much loved part of my collection.