A mini-series looking on The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in-depth is currently being written. Meanwhile, here’s a taster to whet your appetite.
How It Started In A Nutshell
The paths of Alex Harvey and Tear Gas, all hailing from Glasgow converged in 1972 when the latter were thinking of calling it a day, and Alex was looking to start a new band. They found they gelled together well, with some fine tuning and added stagecraft. With Alex fronting and guiding the line-up of Zal Cleminson (guitar), Chris Glen (bass), Ted McKenna (drums) and Hugh McKenna (keyboards), they went onto enthral audiences from the UK to America until their split in 1978. And to correct other assertions in other articles, no Ted and Hugh weren’t brothers, they were cousins!
One of the first songs Alex brought to the band, this is one of the classic SAHB blow your ears out moments. It’s a full on rocker, with Alex’s Weegie vocals adding an extra dimension that is pleasing to my Scottish self at least. There seems to be an unwritten rule amongst many Scottish musicians that singing requires the dispensation of the accent in favour of...something else. Not the case with Alex. This performance at the Ragnarock festival in Norway in 1974 appears to stun some of the audience, while the others rock themselves silly. The song can be found on the Framed album of 1972.
This helped seal the SAHB’s reputation as a live band – the opening bars promising nothing but an experience. The music draws you in, but listen to the lyrics and you will also find some cerebral genius, throwing scorn on fake healers and evangelists whose only aim is to exploit the vulnerable. The song features on the 1973 album Next.
Just when you have them pinned for rockers, they come up with this classic. It’s a song of many facets – a plea, a condescending of fakery, hope – it touches the soul on many depths and is one of the best the SAHB ever did. Poignantly, Hugh played it on piano at Alex’s funeral. You can find it on 1974’s The Impossible Dream. I personally think it should be the Scottish national anthem, but that’s probably another argument for another day.
Basically, it’s a song about a witch. Isobel Goudie, or Gowdie, depending on your sources, was one of the few witches to actually confess willingly during the infamous witch persecutions in Scotland. Recently, the First Minister offered an official apology to those who suffered in those harrowing times, the vast majority of whom were innocent. Isobel Goudie is also notable to historians as her confessions offered an insight into what was supposed to happen during a witches sabbat. It’s not exactly for the faint of heart, and lyrically, the song doesn’t hold back. It’s a song in three parts: Part One: My Lady Of The Night; Part Two: Coitus Interruptus; and Part Three: The Virgin And The Hunter. It is on the first SAHB album, the aforementioned Framed. Alex was very well versed in Scottish folklore and history, and he brings it to the fore here. The live version melts your ears.
Much is made of Alex, and deservedly so, when it comes to The SAHB, but it also pays to remember the talents of the rest of the group. For health reasons, Alex had to take a hiatus, so in the meantime, the rest of the group recorded an album without him. Hugh mostly took the vocals, but each member took a turn. As can be seen in this piece of brilliance, it adds another dimension to the group. Hugh was Alex’s co-writer in many of the groups songs. And a very pleasant singer too. SAHB (Without Alex) released the album Fourplay in 1977 – the back cover featuring a gagged and bound Alex behind an amp – something which was his idea!