There have been some casualties in rock music through the years. Many have been self-inflicted, others have been through accidents and some, in the case of Alex Harvey, was just a case of going way too soon. Right before his 47th birthday, Harvey suffered a massive heart attack. Still, he left a legacy in both words and music for us to enjoy in the years to follow.
See the Guitarist. He is grotesque. He has also sold his guitar and hopes no-one will notice.
See the Bandleader. He is grotesque, too. He is also clocking on a bit and doesn`t care who notices.
See the Reporter. He is the most grotesque of all. For reasons too numerous to mention.
Feature: Pete Erskine
Subject: Alex Harvey
“Yer man Rossi is a Magic Man, y`know.”
“Sure. Anyone who plays like that and can believe in it too…”
Z. Cleminson is in the chair.
“I mean, the business is better off for people like that. I mean, I`d like to be able to play like that, but after three minutes I think I might go to sleep.”
We are pondering the true worth of Boooooogie! And we`ve decided that its ultimate directness and simplicity warrants it being regarded as a Very High Art Form. For is it not true that naked simplicity can often equal true profundity?
Alex Harvey waves a latex fried egg and unhatches his theory of how the 11th Hussars (Queen`s Own) were the psychological forerunners of Deep Purple.
“It`s obvious,” he says, not altogether clearly. “It used to be a real sex symbol to be a Hussar. They used to call them `cherry bums` because they wore skintight red breeches. They used to pose a lot too. Consider those lances as well…”
We consider those lances as well.
“Well. They were phallic symbols, weren`t they?”
But of course!
“And isn`t that what the guitar`s supposed to be?”
Harvey (39) embellishes upon this minor epiphany. Rock`n`roll, he says, is an enactment of the Third World War in which there are no sides because everybody is both right and wrong whilst believing themselves each to be right. Basically, though, he claims, band and audience are united against the common enemy, the Established Order Of Things. In calling for `Boooooogie!` they are, in fact, sticking the collective finger up.
He then sidetracks into a brief discourse on the effect of tight trousers on the working of the genitalia.
“They`re taking a sperm count in the Highlands,” he notes. “Mebbe they`ll find that the kilt is an aid to fertility.”
Cleminson waxes poetic over The tracksuit.
“Such freedom,” he muses, dreamily.
Cleminson wears a tracksuit for his pre-breakfast trot. He`s very fertile.
The actual point of this encounter is to let you know How Well The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Did On Their American Tour. Those of you who can recall the epic pelting they received at the hands of Uriah Heep fans at Alexandra Palace may be amused to know that similar occurrences were devised by the colonials.
“Aye. They gave us some stick in Chicago,” Harvey recalls fondly. “The guy from the record company was nearly in tears -but we got some unbelievable press off it.”
They were supporting Blue Oyster Cult and Manfred Mann. The furore erupted as Harvey pulled out the opening lines of Jacques Brel`s “Next”. He reacted by grinning broadly and blowing kisses.
“It`s the sixth time it`s happened to this band. That particular point in the set is very much touch-and-go for people who`ve never seen us. I mean, I think a lot of them get really disturbed by `Next`. They think it`s a piss-take…”
“It is, after all,” adds Cleminson, “almost corny.”
“But the thing about it,” rejoins Harvey, “is that nobody`s eyes left the stage. Ultimately, those people turn out to be some of the best fans we can get, because they`ll remember us.”
However, such events probably do more than anything to help compound the apparent misnomer that the S.A.H.B. are libertarian hoodlums. But then the act, for all its variety (viz. especially “Next” and “The Man In The Jar” – a Chandleresque vignette) and vaudevillian overtones, does exude a certain all-pervading ominousness, a kind of latent sadism as much down to Harvey`s caneswishing dervishes as the leaden impassiveness of the music. Harvey has always maintained that by illustrating certain of the artifacts of violence, by exaggerating them, even, he is, in fact, conducting a kind of exorcism. Frequently, though, onlookers seem to tend to take what they see purely on face value.
“I mean, we`re not saying we`re a street band,” says Harvey, “although we come from the street and maintain our connections.
“We`re an orchestra.
“We open the door for people. We`re not going back and saying `let`s go back and be juvenile delinquents`.
“But then, reactions like those we had with Heep and in Chicago are quite possibly the best thing that could happen to us because the audience is actually acting out the cycle. They`re illustrating the kind of thing the act is based upon.”
And they`ve never had to fork out for even one broken seat.
But then, as our Mr. Murray so aptly noted in his last piece, when Alex performs “Framed” within this brooding, constricted atmosphere, and pleads innocence, no one believes him.
There`s also no coincidence in the fact that Harvey and Cleminson are still great admirers of Zappa. Zappa – more especially in the past than now – could always create a genuinely ambivalent situation; the Harvey Band are pretty good at it too – albeit sometimes unintentionally.
Take their performance at Reading last summer. They eventually wound up with a tune called “Anthem” – a hymn-like acapella rendering with wailing backup ladies and a gaggle of pipers. It was really hard to know quite how to take it. Emotionally it seemed extraordinarily moving; intellectually, it could easily have been a truly Zappaesque shuck.
“Sure,” says Cleminson, “every time we do that you can always feel the audience trying to work out exactly how to take it.”
“`Anthem` is sacred,” says Harvey. “It`s supposed to be moving. Whenever possible, we always want to have a piper along with us. Pipes cause this amazing emotional thing.”
Which is why, perhaps, the Scottish Regiments always insisted on having them in the trenches?
“Yeah. Originally the Army didn`t pay for the piper, the colonel did. In the early days they couldn`t go out and fight without a piper in front. I guess it must be something like the Scottish equivalent to the bugle charges the cavalry used.”
To return to Zappa: Harvey has other philosophies in common with him – “mainly,” he says, “the realisation of the sheer ridiculousness of a rock`n`roll band. How disposable it is – the whole situation of standing in an elevated position in front of all those people…”
“I mean,” Cleminson interrupts, “can you imagine what a Martian might think if he could come down and lift the roof off a gig?”
“There is,” claims Harvey, “a certain bizarreness about the whole operation. I mean, people talking about `serious music` -although it can be a very religious experience, and this thing with critics where they notice things on a piece of music and say `the hi-hat should`ve been more forward in the mix`. I don`t hear things like that and I`ve been listening to music for a long time. Sometimes I think there`s something wrong with me. Surely it`s the performance level that matters?”
“Like you could compare McLaughlin to early Stones in a way,” says Cleminson. “I`ve heard him play scores of bum notes and yet… the energy there is frightening, the attack…”
How about some other things that happened to you in the States, though?
“Well, Iggy came to see us at the Whisky.”
Did you talk to him?
“Yeah,” says Harvey, “but he didn`t have much to say other than that he liked us. He`s one of those people you can tell has incredible talent – but I think he`s been doing it a bit wrong.”
Cleminson says that the bar receipts at the Whisky were down an unprecedented 30 per cent that week. Harvey says that one of the kids who came backstage showed him a photograph of a 20s avant-garde theatre troupe called The Theatre Of The Absurd and… guess what? They looked just like the S.A.H.B. They also played “The Purple Sage” to a bunch of cowboys at a Christmas party in a Texan roadhouse and observed A Very Famous Person Indeed giving a stewardess a rough time on the `plane coming home – which prompts Harvey into brief discussion of the kind of insecurities that cause bands to break up hotel rooms, give porters and hall cleaners a bad time, etc. He also refutes the claim in Chris Salewicz`s summer Knebworth report that he threatened to pull a knife on the Doobie Bros. when they asked if they could use his record company`s trailer to change in.
Finally, he`s decided to give Glen Benson the Cement Handshake.
Benson is bassist Chris Glen`s bandlore alter-ego. Benson is the ultimate narcissus. He wears imitation ocelot suits sculpted from car seat covers. He strikes up gum-masticating vacant hoodlum poses beneath a black quiff of tidal wave proportions. He is the pawn of his manager. His manager is Alex Harvey. Harvey planned to launch him as a teen-scream solo artiste. He even made enquiries about putting him on at Las Vegas.
“America went to his head a bit, though,” sighs Harvey. “He`s not the same. I think instead I`ll become the manager of an international punk-rock band…”
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This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Bob Dylan, Eric Burdon, Barclay James Harvest, Suzi Quatro, Billy Preston, Roy Wood, Nils Lofgren, Tommy Steele, Ian Hunter, Little Beaver, John Coltrane, The Soft Machine.
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