Reviews: Hardin & York, Philip Rambow and Mick Ronson, Rare Bird, the Glitter Band, Motörhead, Martin Gordon, Progressive Pop, Toyah, Marc Almond

by Dave Thompson
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1

Hardin & York

Can’t Keep a Good Man Down - the Hardin & York Anthology

(Grapefruit, 6 CDs)

Now this… assuming you’re a Hardin & York fan… is what anthologies ought to look like. Five years of music, a complete albums discography, live shows, radio sessions, out-takes, the lot. All lined up in strict chronological order, and all reminding us that the Spencer Davis Group was only the first act in drummerYork and keyboard player Hardin’s career.

The eponymous duo that launched following their 1968 departure from Davis released just three LPs during its lifetime, plus a 1974 reunion set for German listeners only. But they crammed a lifetime of great music into that span, and here it is.

We open with a June 1969 radio session, featuring three songs from their upcoming debut album (the glorious “Candlelight” among them), and three more that missed the vinyl. Immediately it was apparent that this was an outfit that might never become toppernost of the poppermost but, in terms of material, performance and sheer onstage power, was worth any number of more “established” bluesy-prog outfits.

Meaning, the albums (1969’s Tomorrow Today, 1970’s The World’s Smallest Big Band and 1971’s For the World) are as great today as they ever were way back when. Catch the rock’n’roll medley on the second set, and compare it to any of the similar excursions being aired by their peers. No comparison.

But it’s the live material here that is the true revelation. Disc three is given over to material recorded in Germany during 1969-1970, much (but not all) of it taken from a long forgotten bootleg LP recorded, of all places, at a youth club. Disc four serves up a London Marquee show from 1971, disc five features a 1972 BBC In Concert radio broadcast.

After years spent with not much more than the Beat Club clips that circulate YouTube, and a 22 minute broadcast from the 1970 Essener Pop & Blues Festival (which themselves are all fabulous and worth tracking down), it’s as cool as Christmas to be suddenly staring at another couple of hours of similar. In fact, the only downside to the box is that Hardin & York’s take on the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil” somehow evaded capture. But we do get their visions of Dylan and the Beatles, so there’s a little compensation right there.

A chunky booklet fills out the package, retelling the story and pulling in some great ephemera, too, and whether you’re an old fan remembering the duo’s days of brilliance, or a complete newcomer who’s never heard a moment of their music, you probably need this box set more than anything else on the streets right now.

2

Philip Rambow

The Bedroom Tapes VolumeOne: Mick Ronson and the Philip Rambow Band Rehearsal Tapes

(Fretsore Records)

Of all the partnerships that Mick Ronson enjoyed in the years around his best-known stints with Bowie, Dylan and Ian Hunter, his time alongside Philip Rambow has long been one of the most fascinating - particularly if you caught them live, as they gigged around the London pubs, or snagged a listen to the unreleased single that is their best known prolusion.

Rambow, after all, was firmly positioned as one of lads most likely to in the early years of the punk explosion, arriving in London from a spell in New York, playing the same circuit as Television, Patti Smith and Richard Hell, while armed with a clutch of songs that were as literate as any of them. Linking up with Ronson, then, wasn’t so much a great idea as it could have been a marriage made in heaven, and this album shows just how close that came to actuality.

Taped with not the slightest thoughts for posterity or release, the eleven songs might not be the most pristine recording you’ve ever heard. It is, however, certainly one of the most energetic.

Ronson’s guitar is unmistakable throughout, but so are Rambow’s voice and songs. Several of the numbers here would resurface on 1979’s Shooting Gallery album, but Ronson had moved on by then and, listening to the album versions alongside the rough rehearsals here, you can see the hole that his absence left. Which is not to say Rambow didn’t make a great album. Just that here, we hear the one that he wanted to make. The new-to-you material, meanwhile, demonstrates that Shooting Gallery was not even the best selection of songs he had to hand.

Rambow fans can look forward to further installments of these bedroom tapes to emerge. For Ronsonites, however, a major gap in the discography has finally been plugged, and we can all now start wondering whether any other lost treasures are set to emerge? The 1975 Sparks rehearsals, perhaps? Or that ’76 gig with the New York Dolls….

3

Rare Bird

Beautiful Scarlet - the Recordings 1969-1975

(Esoteric, 6CDs)

Rare Bird were one of those bands that promised so much in the earliest 1970s, only to meander into something approaching utter irrelevance as the decade progressed. It was not a just fate, and it was not at all predictable.

“Sympathy,” their first single in 1970, was a considerable hit at the time, and is still invoked as a highlight of the early Charisma (UK) label - a stately keyboard led ballad which planted the band neatly into the kind of territory that a lot of others were glancing towards, but none pulled off with such grandiose grace.

Their self-titled debut album, too, had its moments of spectacular vision, and had the Gods of Prog only been paying attention, Rare Bird could easily have marched to glory. “Beautiful Scarlet,” the first album highlight that titles this box, remains one of the year’s punchiest stompers, while the band’s unique two keyboards/bass/drums line-up ensured a wall of sound that couldn’t help but thrill.

There were some sublime moments, too, on the second album, As Your Mind Flies By. But the departures of powerhouse drummer Mark Ashton and organist Graham Field, and a switch from Charisma to Polydor, effectively saw the band vanish from view, and that despite no less than three further albums appearing between 1972-74… Epic Forest, Somebody’s Watching (no they weren’t) and Born Again.

With original organist Dave Kaffinetti and bassist/vocalist Steve Gould still on board, all three had occasional flashes of the excellence that was once the band’s calling card, but that simply wasn’t enough. Rare Bird fell to the ground, and today… well, they’re the band that did “Sympathy,” aren’t they? I wonder what else they got up to?

Beautiful Scarlet rounds up all five albums, plus associated singles and oddities - the three song EP that accompanied early pressings of Epic Forest, for example, and the mono promo version of “Sympathy” itself. There’s also a previously unreleased concert recording, Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, recorded around the time of Born Again, but fans of the early years will probably shrug it off - its eight songs are drawn wholly from the most recent two albums, with not even a crowd pleasing oldie to wrap things up.

It is worth a listen, even as we wish that tapes from the original incarnation had been available, but still the box ends with a weary sigh of “what if?”, and an uncontrollable urge to go back to the beginning. Because those first two albums could have changed history.

4

The Glitter Band

Complete Singles Collection

(7T’s, 3CDs)

The Glitter Band were never what you’d call critical darlings. At the time, through the run of hits with which they joined Gary Glitter at the top of the charts, the Band were largely viewed as a bit of a joke… not by fans, of course, who clung onto every sparkly lyric and thunderous drumbeat, but by “serious” music fans - or, at least, music fans who took themselves seriously.

“Angel Face,” “Just For You,” “Let’s Get Together Again”… they were as much the soundtrack of mid-70s glam as anything being thrown out by the Sweet, Alvin Stardust, Mud and co. And, unlike many of their peers, when the Glitter Band changed direction and stuck out a non-glittery ballad, the kids bought that, as well.

“Goodbye My Love” remains an anthem for anyone who’s ever watched a loved one fly away on a plane, and if follow-ups “The Tears I Cried,”“Love in the Sun” and “People Like You, People Like Me” saw the boys maturing a little faster than we hoped, they still got the band on Top of the Pops. The b-side, “Makes You Blind,” even gave the boys a taste of US success, a squirmy funky little number which may or may not have been about masturbation (the song was an instrumental), but which sounded great on the dance floor.

Things went off the boil after that, compounded not only by the band’s wholesale change in wardrobe (they dropped the Glitter), but also by a change in name - they dropped the Litter. The G Band meandered on for a few more singles and albums, disappeared from view sometime after covering “Sympathy for the Devil” (sadly not a single, so you won’t be hearing it here)… and then re-emerged triumphant in the mid-1980s, the old name restored and old glories revisited.

They were no longer scoring hits, but they were stars on a few of the era’s most scintillating double bills, sharing the stage with glam rock upstarts Sexagisma, and between them serving up a potted history of all that made glam glitter in the first place.

As its title suggests, The Complete Singles Collection delivers every a- and b-side of the Glitter Band’s career, spread across two discs and packing a bunch of demos onto the end as a reminder of a very dodgy “greatest hits” cassette that came out in 1984, that otherwise comprised rerecorded oldies. At the time, it felt like a total con. Hearing the new material in a different context actually makes them sparkle.

But the real meat here, once past the first rush of 45s, is disc three, taken from a show at the London Marquee in April 1986 - one of the aforementioned gigs with Sexagisma. Of course, we get the Glitter gang’s performance alone, but the sheer exuberance of the opening act hangs heavy over the performance. Why the 7T’s label hasn’t tracked Sexgisma’s archive down for release is a question that every glam fan should be asking.

5

Motörhead

Louder than Noise… Live in Berlin

(Silver Lining CD/DVD)

In terms of live recordings, no Motörhead release is ever going to compete with the original No Sleep ’til Hammersmith LP, and the upcoming four CD deluxe version must rank among this year’s most anticipated box sets.

Whetting our appetites, however, Louder than Noise captures the sound of Motörhead some forty years on, at the Berlin Velodrome in 2012, and it’s immediately clear that if there’s one thing that the passage of time did not dilute, it was the volume and speed of the typical Motörhead show. Indeed, close your eyes (if you’re watching the DVD) and it could well be the same sleepless Hammersmithians at play, with only the inclusion of a bunch of later numbers to detract from the illusion.

Of course there is no shortage now of “classic” live Motörhead material, with the expanded versions of No Sleep’s studio predecessors having also been loaded with a fair share of concert material. And you could, maybe, wonder just how much live Lemmy is too much live Lemmy?

Well, there must be an answer to that somewhere, but so far, we’re nowhere near saturation point … and probably won’t be until somebody unearths a listenable tape of the original 1975 line-up onstage, and gives that a full release.

Until that time, however, Louder Than Noise joins that growing pile of discs that you know you could play on the lowest volume setting possible, and the neighbors will still be banging on the walls. In time, no doubt, to “Ace of Spades,” “Overkill,” “Damage Case” and “You Better Run.” And that is exactly how it should be.

MG

Martin Gordon

Another Words

(Radiant Future, CD)

If you drift back over his entire career, Martin Gordon has always had an ear for experiment, weirdness, and fragmentary oddities that yowl with gleeful dissonance against the more conventional lyric- and melodicism for which he is most frequently lauded. In fact, he warned us of that fact at the dawn of his career, as Jet’s “Antlers” cautioned “you have no idea how avant-garde we are.”

And we didn’t, because it didn’t get released for another thirty-odd years.

Well, there’s no escaping it this time, as Gordon celebrates a lockdown spent alone in his Berlin studio with… thirty-one tracks, none of which top a minute and a half, and most of which come in at around half that length. Time enough to say a few words, often very quickly, make an odd noise in the background, and move along.

Amusingly head-scratching, and vice-versa too, Another Words is putatively lodged somewhere between a concept album and a performance art piece… “putatively,” because Gordon’s explanatory liner notes will probably leave you even more confused than if you just listen through the CD.

But that’s probably a good thing.

7

Various artists

Beyond the Pale Horizon - the British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1972

(Grapefruit, 3 CDs)

What do Van Der Graaf Generator, the Bonzo Dog Band, Grobbert & Duff and Bond & Brown have in common? Well, probably a few things. But they all released records during 1972 that somebody, somewhere, thought - “that might become a surprise hit single.”

It wasn’t the most preposterous of notions, at least in the UK. The first couple of years of the new decade had seen any number of so-called “progressive”/ “underground” acts suddenly burst into the pop mainstream with unexpected smashes - Black Sabbath, Rare Bird, Curved Air, Free, Juicy Lucy…. And 1972, too, would have its fair share of out-of-left-field successes as Argent, Thin Lizzy, Mott the Hoople and, most astonishing of all, Hawkwind suddenly turned up on tea time telly, to push their latest fab waxing into the upper echelons of the chart.

That is the key to this box set, the utterly unexpected interface that wombled between the underground and overground, shattering predictions for what the year’s best sellers would look like, and lavishing a whole new layer of stardom across bands that might have thought they’d be playing universities forever.

A lot of the inclusions, listened to with hindsight, do feel like they were long shots; others were never actually singles to begin with, but could have been. But few chart archaeologists doubt that, if the BBC had not opted to ignore VDGG’s version of George Martin’s “Theme One” (because it covered the theme to one of the network’s own programs), 14 million Top of the Pops tinies might well have been inducted into the Peter Hammill fan club.

And how’s that for an alternative history of rock? Hammill gazing moodily out from the color cover of the teenybop press, would-be saxophonists learning to Play In a Day the David Jackson Way, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” keeping Slade off number one.

Slade are here, of course, with a period b-side; Mott with the demo for “Honaloochie Boogie,” the Strawbs with an alternate version of “Here It Comes.” Family’s chartbound “Burlesque” still sounds great; Quo’s “Paper Plane,” ELO’s debut overture, Roxy’s “Virginia Plain,” Medicine Head’s “Kum On.” The Move, Nazareth, Caravan, Yes, Lindisfarne, the Moody Blues, Rare Bird… this is classy stuff. And it gets even classier as your ears delve deeper, and unearth the likes of Rocky Cabbage, Guest & Edwards, Open Road, Cold Turkey, and something called Uriah Heep.

The Shape of the Rain’s “The Very First Clown,” Clown’s “Lord of the Ringside,” Tuesday’s “Sewing Machine”… there’s an alternative mix of Dark’s “Maypole,” but hands up anyone who’s even heard the version that it’s an alternative too? (It’s on YouTube, if you’re interested.). As both a listening experience and a learning experience, there’s barely a dull moment across all three discs, while the accompanying booklet - as always - serves up the details you most need to know.

8

Toyah

The Blue Meaning

(Cherry Red, 2 CDs, DVD))

The Toyah reissue campaign marches on with her second album, generously expanded once again, and effectively telling the story of her shift away from the quirkier aspects of Sheep Farming in Barnet, at the same time as expanding upon that set’s weird and wonderful vision.

Perhaps surprisingly, The Blue Meaning was not a major hit - it kissed the UK Top 40 and then hurried away. Mystifyingly, the accompanying single “Ieya” did even less, at least at the time (Toyah later rerecorded it.) In fairness, though, it is a less focussed album, although it is by no means as bad as suggested by the solitary period review quoted on the album’s Wikpedia page: ”gutless exhibitionism set to unmemorable rock music.”

Nevertheless, it’s easy to spin to the bonus tracks on the first disc, and the studio out-takes on the second, and realize that it could have been a far stronger album, and a far more coherent statement, had the stars only been aligned that way.

Likewise, the three live tracks - including “Ieya” and the album’s “Love Me” - indicate that the band was a lot stronger live than in the studio, where people maybe spent too much time thinking about what they could do, as opposed to what they should.

Toyah herself talks us through both the making of the album, and the individual songs, in a 2020 interview included on the DVD; and there’s an exhilarating 1980 TV performance to round things off.

9

Marc Almond

Enchanted

(Strike Force Entertainment, 2 CDs, DVD)

Marc Almond’s sixth solo album, following on from the Brel tribute Jacques and the hit The Stars We Are, arguably remains one of his finest ever, a delicious twisting of sleaze, lust, desperation and revenge that spawned three singles, but could easily have birthed half a dozen. Indeed, add the six b-sides that round off the first disc, and the sheer productivity of the recording sessions still feels astonishing.

It’s pointless, if you’re an Almond fan, to try and pick favorite tracks. Some days, “A Lover Spurned” will edge ahead of the pack; other days, “Widow Weeds” or “The Sea Still Sings.” Or “Waifs and Strays.” “Orpheus in Red Velvet” is exactly what it ought to be with a title like that; “Toreador in the Rain” likewise. “City of Nights,” “The Desperate Hours,” you could spend a week with this album on repeat and never tire of it.

But you shouldn’t, because disc two holds its own web of jewels, both kicking off and wrapping up with a host of extended remixes (including a couple by former Soft Cell bandmate Dave Ball’s The Grid), before taking us into the world of Almond’s original demo. Fully one half of the album is seen from a very different perspective, and even that’s not the end because the DVD then digs up the promotional videos that accompanied the singles, and the vitality of singer and performer alike merge into a breathtaking whole.

Marc Almond has always treated stardom with a healthy suspicion, as even a quick inspection of his discography reveals. For every major success, there’s a well-aimed torpedo to hole it beneath the waterline, and you can’t even call it an act of self-sabotage because for every Untitled, there’s a Stars We Are, and for every “Mother Fist” there’s a “Madame de la Luna.”

In the event, the accountants were probably disappointed by Enchanted, as it peaked at a lowly #52 and didn’t spin off a number one single. (“A Lover Spurned” ran out of juice at #29.). But chart positions say nothing about a record’s quality, and Enchanted is - of course - enchanting.

And you know what’s even better? If the reissues keep going as they are, Tenement Symphony’s next!