Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Rockin' The Boat - Live at the Nottingham Boat Club

Released 2006 on Timeline
Reviewed by achuma, 28/05/2006ce

Recorded for Radio Trent in 1976 between albums, at a beloved venue in their home territory, this live set shows Strife at the height of their powers and even more begs the question “Why weren’t these guys huge?”
Certainly not through lack of talent in all corners. All three members were masters of their instruments, the singing was excellent, the song-craft exemplary, delivery impeccable, and, as we all can now hear, absolutely on fire as a live band. And so they should be, by this stage having slogged the hard slog for many years for little wider recognition beyond an ever-growing circle of hardcore fans who had been blown to smithereens from exposure to their records, live shows, or both. Certainly they blew other bands to smithereens and gained a reputation as a support band you didn’t want unless you were confident you could match them. And certainly by the end of this CD you will know that there weren’t too many bands around, then or now, that could follow a band like Strife onto the stage and pull it off.

‘Better Man Than I’ [3:32] blasts the show open with guitar totally crunching bones, on this fine rendition of a song from the first album. It pretty much sets the tone in it’s general up-tempo heavy rockin’ feel, not too far removed from the raw, chunky, so-tight-they-sound-loose sound of Truth & Janey on their live CD ‘Erupts’.
‘You Are What You Are’ [6:24] would show upon the last album, and what can I say that I didn’t say in the review for ‘Back To Thunder’, except that here in a live situation it’s still got a great jumpy bite, and is played impeccably complete with tricky bass trills. Being live, we’re treated to a bit of extra jamming in the middle. And another observation about why these guys were such a great band – they sound just as good live as on record from the studio (minus polished studio sound, obviously), and even the vocals are still brilliant.
‘Before I Die’ [5:51] is a non-album track which slogs along in a pummelling slow groove, with John Reid’s vocals showing a little of the Deke Leonard nasalisms that would be more noticeable on the last album, though the music is more like early Budgie crossed with just about any great late 60’s/early 70’s heavy rock band. At around 4 minutes it swings into a nasty bit of thrashing before returning to the verse/chorus/riff structure and bringing it to a close.
‘Indian Dream’ [9:20] is a track from the ‘Rush’ album, the gorgeous vocals delivered here with real quasi-mystical cosmically love-lorn feeling that gets to me more than the album version. Musically, this rendition is stretched out to more epic proportions, guitar howling more desperately in the louder bits, the whole thing building to crescendo after crescendo, just pounding it into the ground. Part way through the first such build all the guys suddenly just stop on a pin drop and delicately seep back into it from the start again, before again tearing off into the sky, bass and drums really nailing it hard this time, and well, it just keeps growing to a controlled frenzy of strident strength, beauty and sadness, like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ but better.
‘Feels So Good’ [5:05] is another track shortly to appear on the last album, though here guitarist/vocalist John Reid seems to be playing around with the lyrics a bit more, throwing in a few extra things that make him “feel so good”, or maybe I’m just imagining it. I hate listening to different versions of the same song back-to-back to check stuff like this – I prefer to just turn off the anal part of my mind when I’m enjoying music. Anyway, this track is also treated to a very cool extended jam-out after where the song would normally end (album version-wise).
‘Number 1’ [14:02] is another non-album track, although it’s introduced as one that’s “going to be on our next album”. No idea why it wasn’t, as ‘Back To Thunder’ is a little short, certainly more room on there... The vocals here sound like a semi-hysterical cross between a Bon Scott-imitator and that guy from Zipper and Dead Moon. Rock! Which is what this track does, like the rest of this CD, until without warning everyone else stops and a drum solo emerges, normally where most sane mortals would groan and take a toilet break, but of course these guys all being masters of their instruments, it’s one of those rare beasts, the listenable drum solo that yea, is good, and not just tedious showing off. After a few minutes it switches straight into an extended bass solo section that sounds like a working version of bassist Gordon Rowley’s ‘Red Sun’ piece from ‘Back To Thunder’, so in that sense, at least part of this song did end up on the next album, except the bass solo is longer here, and less electronically treated, at least until later when the solo becomes less ‘rock’ and more harmonic and spacey. Then the drums kick back in, as does guitar, and out of nowhere we’re practically on a stomping cosmic juggernaut, before settling back into the more earthbound heavy riffs and vocal histrionics from the start of the track.
‘Rush’ [17:25] closes the show and here is stretched out beyond even the lengthy glorious excess of the album version, and it’s pretty jaw-dropping to hear these three guys reproduce the track live, with it all sounding like nothing’s missing – quite a feat, when you go back and listen to the studio version on the album ‘Rush’. Once they break into that expansive space-rock-between-the-ears they just keep pummelling on and on, and when you think they can go no further, get no higher before either running out of ideas or running out of the physical energy required to keep playing, they’re still cracking open new cosmic eggs to explore and then moving on ever deeper. Eventually it all builds to crushingly frenzied peaks and they do indeed bring the number to a close as the laws of physics demand they must (eventually). The crowd, of course, goes wild, and we puny humans can only wish we were there with them, screaming approval and cries for more (if it’s possible to give any more than this – I mean, sure, the Dead played for hours more than this at a time, but then, they didn’t condense as much sparking energy as possible into every second of their sets... it’s like comparing a walk-a-thon to a 400m sprint) drenched in primal sweat and thinking “that was the best fucking live band I’ve ever witnessed!”

You can get this CD from www.modeltask.com.

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