Reading Festival 26th – 28th August 1977
Reading 1977 was notable for a couple of reasons. First, the line-up finally (and sadly in my view) lost all traces of the festival’s jazz and blues roots. Instead we had lots of classic rock, with a (small) smattering of punk and new wave. Although 1977 was the year of punk, it was another year before the new music finally started to make its mark at Reading. And second, the main feature of the 1977 festival was MUD. Lots of it. Possibly the worst I have ever seen at a festival. It had been raining heavily for weeks before, which resulted in most of the site becoming a quagmire with rivers of mud, and a large mud lake right in front of the stage. Wellies were at a premium and were being sold for incredible prices in the town.
Friday’s line-up: Staa Marx; S.A.L.T; Woody Woodmansey’s U Boat; Kingfish; 5 Hand Reel; Lone Star; Uriah Heep; Eddie and the Hot Rods; Golden Earring.
A strange mix of bands on the first day. Woody Woodmansey’s U Boat (ex Bowie’s Spiders from Mars) closed their set with Suffragette City. A highlight for me was Uriah Heep; now with John Lawton on vocals. Heep were always one of my favourite bands, and still are; I was a little sad to see them third on the line-up; they would have headlined a few years earlier. Lone Star were also good; showing lots of promise at the time, and Eddie and the Hot Rods went down well with the crowd. Golden Earring closed the day with a strong performance (Radar Love!).
Saturday’s line-up: Gloria Mundi; Krazy Kat; No Dice; George Hatcher Band; Ultravox!; Little River Band; John Miles; Aerosmith; Graham Parker and the Rumour; Thin Lizzy.
I remember being impressed by Ultravox!; this was the early version with John Foxx on vocals. Aerosmith seemed a big band to feature third on the bill, drew a large crowd, and were excellent. “Dream On” from those days remains a favourite song of mine. But the stars of the day were Graham Parker (the whole crowd sang along to (Hey Lord) Don’t Ask Me Questions) and of course, headliners Thin Lizzy. Lizzy were massive at the time and played a classic set including: Jailbreak; Dancing in the Moonlight; Still in Love With You; Cowboy Song; The Boys Are Back in Town; Don’t Believe a Word; Emerald and closing with The Rocker as encore. A good way to spend a Saturday night.
Sunday’s line-up: Widowmaker; The Motors; Tiger: The Enid; Blue; Racing Cars; Wayne County and the Electric Chairs; Hawkwind; Doobie Brothers; Frankie Miller; Alex Harvey.
The Enid were a big Reading favourite and Robert Godfrey got the tired crowd going with versions of classics like The Dambusters March. The Motors and Widowmaker got the day off to a good start. Steve Ellis had left Widowmaker by this point and had been replaced by John Butler, and they still featured that crazy showman Ariel Bender. Tiger featured the excellent guitarist Big Jim Sullivan (I used to love watching him play on the Tom Jones show in the ’60s), and Blue had some neat songs (try listening to “Little Jody”) and deserved bigger success. They were fronted my ex-Marmalade Hughie Nicholson. Racing Cars went down well with the crowd; this was the year that they had a massive hit with “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” Wayne County was greeted by a hail of cans from a tired and twitchy crowd who didn’t take well to his punk songs, including the classic “If you don’t want to F**k me, F**k Off! Hawkwind were OK, as were the Doobies and Frankie Miller, but we were all there to see Alex Harvey. SAHB played the usual set and Alex told his quirky stories: Faith Healer; Midnight Moses; Gang Bang; Last of the Teenage Idols; Giddy-Up-A-Ding-Dong; St. Anthony; Framed; Dance to the Music. Alex hadn’t been well and this was their first gig for a few months. It was good to see them, but it wasn’t one of their best performances, and sadly it was the last time the band would play together. The end of an era.
By Sunday many people had given up and left because of the atrocious conditions. Poor John Peel tried to keep the crowd amused, partly be starting the famous “John Peel’s a C***” chant which continued into the next few years.
One final note. I had been to see The Sex Pistols play at Scarborough Penthouse club the night before the festival, and I was still buzzing with the memories of that gig. It had opened my eyes to the raw energy of punk, and that, coupled with the mud and awful conditions at Reading, meant I didn’t enjoy the weekend as much as usual. And just to make the experience complete, the alternator on my car packed in on the way back up the M1, and the car finally ground to a halt somewhere near Nottingham. After a wait of an hour or so, a kind AA man towed us back to Barnard Castle, where we waited (a few hours) for another AA relay van to pick us up and take us home. We arrived back after midnight on Monday, tired, hungry and very muddy, soggy and scruffy….the joys of festival going. Happy Days 🙂
Archive for the ‘Alex Harvey’ Category
Reading Festival 26th – 28th August 1977
The Reading Festival 24th – 26th August 1973
August 1973 and I was back at the Reading Festival. This year I hooked up with a large group of mates from town who had traveled down in a Transit van. I discovered Reading town centre, and the local pubs for the first time this year, and as a result missed some of the bands. The line-up was pretty mixed, with a clear attempt to become international; featuring bands from France, Italy and the USA, and also retaining jazz elements with appearances by Chris Barber and George Melly (who was great and a surprise success).
Friday line-up: Embryo (Germany), Alquin (Holland), Stray Dog (USA), Greenslade, Capability Brown, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (USA), Jo’Burg Hawk (South Africa), Rory Gallagher. The successes of the day were Commander Cody and of course Rory, who was just amazing. This was classic Rory at his best: Messin’ With the Kid; Laundromat; Walk on Hot Coals; Pistol Slapper Blues; Going to My Home Town; and Bullfrog Blues. The crowd loved him. Capability Brown grew out of the ’60s band Harmony Grass; prog rock with great harmonies. The other thing I discovered was the bridge over the Thames, and we spent many an hour watching people dive off and down into the river (which seemed crazy and dangerous to me).
Saturday line-up: Dave Ellis, Clare Hamill, Tasavallan Presidentti (Finland), Riff Raff, Fumble, Magma (France), Lindisfarne (Mk II), Chris Barber band, Status Quo, Sensation Alex Harvey Band, Strider, Andy Bown, The Faces.
My memories of the Saturday are of Status Quo going down a storm, and the Faces being OK, but the real success of the day being the Sensation Alex Harvey Band. SAHB were just about to release “Next”; I think they started the set with “Faith Healer” which sounded incredible, the intro throbbing across the field. Alex was electric and made a lot of new friends that day. The Faces set was nowhere near as strong as the previous year. This was one of their first gigs after Ronnie Lane had been replaced by Tetsu (who was great by the way); you could sense that the band were losing their enthusiasm and a Rod would soon be on his way. Lots of footballs into the crowd again. Oh and Jesus dancing naked during the afternoon. I don’t recall Andy Bown’s set and didn’t know much about him at the time, other than he was in The Herd with Peter Frampton. I do remember being surprised as how high up on the bill he was. I think this was where he made friends with Quo; he joined them shortly afterwards on keyboards. Fumble were a rock’n’roll revival band who played a lot of gigs at the time; I recall seeing them several times at local student union dances.
Sunday line-up: Aj Webber, John Martyn and Danny Thompson, Ange (France), Tim Hardin and Lesley Duncan with the Tim Horovitz Orchestra, PFM (Italy), Jack the Lad, Medicine Head, Stackridge, George Melly and the Feetwarmers, Jon Hiseman’s Tempest, Mahatma, Jimmy Witherspoon (USA), Spencer Davis, Genesis. I think Roy Buchanan may have played also; he was advertised in early flyers, but doesn’t feature in the programme; I think I recall watching him. The stand-outs on Sunday were (surprisingly) George Melly who wore an incredibly sharp suit and totally engaged the crowd with his crazy jazz campness, and of course Genesis, with Peter Gabriel appearing with a strange pyramid arrangement on his head. Stackridge were good as always (Slark still a favourite of mine); Spencer Davis played all the hits, and had a great band featuring Charlie McCracken, Pete York, Ray Fenwick and Eddie Hardin. Tim Hardin sang his beautiful moving songs (If I was a Carpenter, Reason to Believe) and John Martyn went down well in his early slot, accompanied by the excellent Danny Thompson on double bass. The weather was pretty good as I recall, I don’t think we got much, if any, rain. Not one of the strongest Reading line-ups, but still a good weekend of music and fun, with excellent performances by Rory, George Melly, Alex Harvey, Quo and Genesis. Thanks to Ben Sutherland for making his photograph of the Reading Bridge available through WikiMedia Commons. The programme was once again produced by the local newspaper and cost all of 10p 🙂 . The poster of the Faces comes from the centrepages of the programme.
Sensational Alex Harvey Band returns 2004
I was in two minds about going to this gig and revisiting my memories of the great SAHB gigs I saw during the 70s. I’d seen a SAHB gig advertised at a pub in Felling and couldn’t quite believe the band had reformed without Alex. I didn’t go to that gig, but when I saw the band were touring in 2004 I couldn’t resist in the end. David was studying in Leeds at the time, and I’d already been to the Roscoe with him once to see the Groundhogs, so we decided to go along. The new band line up was the original SAHB band (Zal Cleminson guitar, Chris Glen bass, Hugh McKenna keyboards, and Ted McKenna drums), with the brave Max Maxwell on vocals and stepping into the big man’s shoes. The place was completely packed and the band got a great reception. Max did his own take on the songs, rather than trying to recreate Alex’s personna, which was probably the best way to approach it. Zal still had the make up. They played all the favourites that night. A live CD Zalvation: Live in the 21st Century was released a couple of years later, and includes the following tracks: Faith Healer; Midnight Moses; Swampsnake; Next; Isobel Goudie; Framed; Give My Compliments To The Chef; Man In The Jar; Hammer Song; Action Strasse; Vambo; Boston Tea Party; Delilah. The set that night was similar. It was good to see the old songs played again, and Max did a great job. But for me the night was tinged with sadness for the great man for wasn’t there and yet was as much there as any of us. PS note the typo on the ticket 🙂
SAHB without Alex Redcar Coatham Bowl 1977
In early 1977 Alex Harvey was busy producing an album Alex Harvey Presents: The Loch Ness Monster. The album is spoken word, apart from a very short track at the end, and features Alex interviewing locals and an eye witness about Nessy. The album is now very rare and quite sought after. While he was bust tracking down Nessy the rest of the band decided to record their own album and went on tour to promote. Several of the tracks on the album were instrumentals, and on those tracks which had vocals they were handled bu Hugh McKenna, Ted McKenna and Zal. Alex does not appear on the album, but he is pictured on the back tied up and gagged while the other four members sing into a microphone. A group of us went to Redcar on a Sunday night to see SAHB (without Alex), as they were billed. The gig was good and featured tracks from Fourplay. I remember hoping they would play some SAHB songs, but I guess I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Set list: Smouldering; Chase it into the night; Jungle Rub Out; Big Boy; Outer Boogie; Love You for a Lifetime; Young and Rich (a Tubes number); Stay (a Bowie number); Pick it up and kick it; Too much American Pie; Theme from King Kong. Encore: Zal’s Riff.
The New Alex Harvey Band Newcastle City Hall 1980
The last time I saw Alex Harvey in concert was at Newcastle City Hall in January 1980. Alex left SAHB in 1977, after their performance at the Reading Festival. He released a solo album, The Mafia Stole my Guitar, in 1979. This gig was announced at relatively short notice, with very little publicity. I went with Marie, unsure as to what to expect. The concert was very poorly attended with the crowd filling only the front section of the stalls. There can’t have been more than 200 people there. I read that at a gig at his home venue Glasgow Apollo the night before, they were giving tickers away in the street to try to fill the venue. Alex was dressed in a white jacket, black shirt and white tie; very much the gangster image. His band featured Matthew Cang on guitar, Simon Charterton on drums, Tommy Eyre (who had been a member of SAHB in the last days) on keyboards, Gordon Seller on bass and veteran sax and horns player Don Weller. The set was a mix of tracks from the new album and a few old favourites (Midnight Moses, Framed, Delilah I think) plus a couple of covers: Shaking All Over, and Just a Gigolo feature on the album, but I also recall Alex playing a couple of other older standards. As a performance it was ok, but I had the grandeur and madness of SAHB in my mind, and I’m afraid this didn’t compare to Alex’s past glories. A couple of years later Alex sadly passed away as a result of a heart attack after a gig in Belgium. He was 47. We will never see the like of Alex again. He was larger than life, crazy, without fear, and for a few short years SAHB were the best live act on the circuit, and were one of the bands who laid the foundations for the punk revolution which was to follow. Vambo Rool.
Sensational Alex Harvey Band on tour 1976
SAHB toured again in May 1976. I have a programme for the tour, which I think must have come from The Who concert that I attended at Charlton at the end of May 1976. SAHB shared the bill, headlined by The Who, with Little Feat, The Outlaws and Roger Chapman’s Streetwalkers. I’ll blog on that event when I come to cover The Who. I also have a vague memory of sneaking into the City Hall to see the encore of a SAHB gig at Newcastle City Hall that year. The band played two nights at the City Hall in early May as part of the tour, with support from Pat Travers. I didn’t buy a ticket (big mistake, in hindsight) as I knew I was going to see them at Charlton at the end of the month. I’d been out in Newcastle, and wandered along to the City Hall with a couple of mates. The gig was coming to an end and the doors were open to let people out. We wandered into the Hall and caught the band playing Delilah and The Faith Healer. The programme for the 1976 tour comes in the form of a comic book, complete with a free banger (see below) just like the ones that came free with our comics in the 60s. The cast was: The Teacher: Alex Harvey; The Actor: Zal Cleminson; The Punk: CHris Glen; The Buffer: Ted McKenna; The Professor: Hugh McKenna; Dr Killjoy: As himself. The story is Vambo v Dr Killjoy with, SAHB as superheroes saving the word through Vambo Rool! The story starts: “England is under the oppressive rule of Dr Killjoy – Sinister head of the Ministry of Boredom! His rule has ground the will from the people.” Vambo coming to the rescue… Vambo, featured in the song Vambo Marble Eye, was a teenage punk and super hero of the future. When performing the song Alex would spray paint an imitation brick wall with the slogan ‘Vambo Rool.’ Alex and band were one of the best live bands around at the time, and certainly went down well with the Charlton crowd. I saw Alex and the guys once more after this tour, at the (very very muddy) Reading Festival 1977, which was their last live performance. Alex was reportedly not so well by that stage of their career, and it wasn’t their best gig, but still a strong point of the festival. I did see Alex once more in concert in 1980 and I’ll blog on that gig tomorrow. Typical setlist from the 1976 tour: Love Story, School’s Out, Tomahawk Kid, Isobel Goudie, Dance to you Daddy, Amos Moses, Framed, Midnight Moses, Vambo Marble Eye. Encore: Delilah, The Faith Healer.