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By Dave Thompson
On Air - Life on the Road 1972-1983
Esoteric Recordings (4-CD/2-DVD)
While Man certainly made some excellent albums throughout their 1970s prime, their most incandescent performances rarely made vinyl. Rather, they reserved their true force for live shows, where they could blow the roof off even outdoor venues; and BBC sessions, where the disciplines of both stage and studio work combined to create a hybrid that few other acts could emulate.
Off-air cassettes of their BBC recordings were circulating within days of their original broadcasts - a tape of their 1975 In Concert broadcast was a must-have that winter. This, however, is the first time the entire corpus has been brought together, and what a package it is.
Across four CDs, four studio sessions offer up glorious takes on “Life On The Road” (recorded shortly after guitarist Deke Leonard’s shock departure), “A Night in Dad’s Bag” and “Ain’t Their Fight” (from the seminal Back into the Future album), “Scotch Corner” (still known under its working title of “God Gave Us Turtles”) and “Many Are Called But Few Get Up,” which the liners describe (accurately) as “one of the finest recorded versions extant”). There’s also a remarkable little piece called “The Brazilian Cucumber Meets Deke’s New Nose,” featuring the monologue-ing talents of roadie Vyvian Morris, already beloved as the MC on Man’s most recent tour.
Even higher notes awaited the BBC microphones on stage. Each of the four CDs here features at least one live show, beginning with a 1972 In Concert devoted to just two numbers, “Spunk Rock” and “Romain.” Disc two brings a return to the same show the following year, for similarly elongated takes on “C’Mon” and “Bananas”; and the aforementioned 1975 show highlights disc three.
Storming takes on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Born With a Future,” recorded at Loughborough University in 1976, open disc four, and are followed by the full set from Man’s 1983 Reading Festival comeback. And still there’s more to come, across the two DVDs.
Most familiar, probably, are a couple of appearances for television’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. The first, from November 1973, was actually filmed at the In Concert taping a couple of months earlier; the second, from 1975, is accompanied in the liners by some fractious memories from the now-returned Deke Leonard.
The true nugget here, however, is a 1973 documentary shot for the BBC’s New Horizons children’s TV program, titled (and concerning) Man’s First Seven Inch Record. Live footage includes a rare glimpse of Man performing with former Hawkwind dancer Miss Rene, and its appearance here is nothing short of miraculous - for most of the past 50 years, this recording has been believed very lost indeed. It’s great to have it back.
The final disc is another legend, the documentary shot to coincide with the band’s final (for now) live shows at the London Roundhouse in December 1976. The gigs themselves were immortalized first on a single LP released in 1977 and, more recently, a box set loaded with material that wouldn’t fit on the album. Now we get to see the band blaze through half a dozen songs from the shows as well, climaxing with a “Bananas” that positively seethes.
The Man story continues today, as both a still-active live act and across the shelf’s worth of reissues with which Esoteric have preceded this release. There have been plenty of earlier archive exhumations to celebrate, too - most notably, their 1972 Greasy Truckers performance, and a Chicago show with erstwhile labelmates Hawkwind in 1974. On Air, however, stands proud above all of them, the Man collection that everyone has been waiting for, and which delivers beyond our wildest expectations.
Eddie and The Hot Rods
The Singles 1976-1986
Captain Oi (2-CD Set)
At their best, which was at any point between 1976-1978, Eddie and the Hot Rods were one of the most exciting live bands around. Arising from the same pub rock stew that gave us Dr Feelgood and Graham Parker & the Rumour, the Hot Rods’ were younger, louder, faster, than any of their peers, and during that long pause in pop excitement that preceded punk, a Hot Rods gig was the most thrilling event you could attend without inserting your own simile here.
Their records were just as incredible. Two albums, Teenage Depression and Life on the Line, captured the spirit, if not necessarily the fire, of the live show, but it was at 45rpm that the Hot Rods truly gave it all. Early singles “Writing On The Wall” and “Wooly Bully” were pure adrenalized R&B; “Teenage Depression” and “I Might Be Lying” caught the band finding its feet as songwriters and were celebrated accordingly.
Punk didn’t bother the Hot Rods in the slightest - the band gigged on, touring with whoever dared to share the stage with them, and they scored a major UK hit in the summer of 77 with “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” still one of the clarion calls for that year’s rebellious youth. And, in between times, two live EPs captured the band firing on more cylinders than the bulk of their competitors put together.
Live at the Marquee, from late 1976, is the true corker, recorded in a venue so hot and sweaty that banknotes spontaneously turned to mush in your pockets. We only get four songs, but they’re gems, pulling “96 Tears” and Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” into urgent new pastures on one side; medleying “Gloria” and “Satisfaction” on the other - pure adrenalin on 7-inches of wax.
At The Speed of Sound, the following year, went even further, five songs, an unimpeachable “Double Checking Woman,” and all crowned by a demented take on the instant classic “On The Run.” If you ever need reminding what great rock’n’roll should sound like, those two releases will take you there.
And that - with the addition of an odd little single cut with a visiting Rob Tyner - is disc one. But the seond kicks off in similar fashion, a seven song overflow from Life On The Line that includes a second hit single, “Quit This Town,” a few more stellar live recordings, and the magical “Life On The Line” itself.
But then… stay on board if you want to hear you can hear the Hot Rods growing up; writing better songs, perhaps, and playing them with a degree more calm and finesse, for sure. But you could also say they were calming down, losing interest in their initial teenaged thrills, and though it’s still recognizably the Hot Rods, with the great Barry Masters at the mic, there will be moments when you wonder how this could even be the same band.
Which isn’t to say it’s no good. Just… well, you’ll see.
Nevertheless, for the sheer triumph that is the whole of disc one and the first third of disc two, there are few collections this year that are as thrill-a-minute exciting as this. And there’s not one you need to hear more.
7T’s (2-CD Set)
Kenny, though they certainly enjoyed their fair share of hits at the dodgier end of the glam rock explosion, are rarely regarded as one of British pop’s most memorable acts.
True, they were discovered and, for a year or so, guided by the songwriting duo of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, whose last endeavor, the Bay City Rollers, had done fairly well for themselves. And true, Kenny’s biggest hit — a cover of the Rollers’ B-side “The Bump” — was enormous, and can transport you back to the correct moment in time faster than it takes to rub your hip and say “ouch, that hurts.”
But other hits - “Baby I Love You OK,” “Fancy Pants” — made less impression on the zeitgeist of the age, and have fallen into the glitter-bin accordingly. And, as for their albums — who knew they’d made even this many?
Actually, that’s unfair. Kenny’s first album, the wonderfully titled The Sound of Super K, may have been released at least a year too late to take full advantage of the band’s initial pre-eminence, and — at the time — it suffered accordingly. Pop was moving swiftly in those days… far too swiftly for a bundling up of old hits, B-sides, and random other tracks to make any kind of dent on the world.
And how infuriating must that have been… when the album was recorded, Martin/Coulter had just come up with “Forever And Ever,” and the band’s version could have rewritten Kenny’s history. By the time the album was released, the duo’s latest discovery, Midge Ure and Slik, had rerecorded the song, and were now sitting at number one. Can you spell “grrrrr’?
The second album, Ricochet, was even more out of time, although less than a year had elapsed since the debut. Again, it’s a solid offering, with the band now taking control of their songwriting, and proving they’d been right to demand the right to do so. But the album was lost in that peculiar wasteland that separated the death of glam from the birth of punk, and Kenny were lost alongside it.
Bonus tracks here tell the rest of the story — sporadic singles released into 1979, album out-takes and studio demos. But the biggest surprise might well be the inclusion of four songs (two singles) released almost two years before Kenny came along, released on the same label (RAK), penned by the same songwriting team (Martin/Coulter) and credited to… Kenny.
Who had nothing to do with the band; was, in fact, a distinctively voiced singer named Tony; but had made enough of a mark with his first hit (“Heart of Stone”) that someone thought it would be a good idea to keep the Kenny ball rolling. Yes, it’s all rather silly, but it’s great to hear those old songs again.