The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

Released 1972 on Vertigo
Reviewed by griddell, 16/10/2005ce

Who’s the best band to come out of Scotland?
I mean, there’s the successful ones - Deacon Blue, Simple Minds, etc, but do me a favour. Dig deeper and there’s many fine ‘indie’ acts from the Aztec Camera/Orange Juice era through Mary Chain/Cocteau Twins to present day noise & melody merchants Mogwai.
What about the classic 70’s rock era though? SAHB have got to be up there as the only representatives I can think of. And in Alex Harvey they had a one off character who never flinched from using his Glaswegian accent to embellish a song. I’d even go so far as to say he must have been a major influence on one Ronald Belford Scott. Yes, Bon’s voice was a mongrel result of Scot’s/Aussie but in the look and especially the on-stage delivery, there’s definite shades of Alex’ Glasgow wide-boy style.
‘AH WUZZ FUH-RRAAAM-ED!’ (translation – ‘I was framed’). That’s the bellow on the opener & title track on this classic unsung album, recorded in just six days. Unlike later SAHB long players, the prog/theatrical element on their first album takes 2nd place to a fantastic mix of blues/R &B/soul & good ol’ fashioned 70’s rawk that still sounds fresh 33 years later.
‘Framed’ itself is a Leiber/Stoller composition played as a straight heavy rock call & response, notable for the boogie piano of Hugh McKenna, the raw lead of Zal Cleminson and particularly for the introduction of Harvey’s incredible voice. I’m having to refrain from writing down every line in Glaswegian as the style sounds so fucking fresh and distinctive. Listen and you’ll get what I mean.
Next is ‘Hammer Song’, a number Nick Cave covered on ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’. I was lucky enough to be at the Barrowlands gig where Cave announced he’d only just found out Harvey was from Glasgow before playing said cover in tribute. On ‘Framed’ it starts as an acoustic folk/blues tune with a definite celtic influence in the bagpipe sound of the keyboards. The voice is what gets you again though, with lines about ‘Chi-zzu-lin’ the sur-fuss… hamm-er-in’ the an-vil’. It’s a real ‘working song’ – repetition, hard graft for little reward, a classic Scottish dirge song (wey-hey, a new category?) that fades about half-way through before a metalled-to-the-max version of the riff erupts back in.
If we’re talking classic 70’s rock riffs, ‘Midnight Moses’ has to be one of my favourites. A stop-start blues lick that doubles up on timing before giving way to a thunderous bass and drums rocker. Then there’s the singing. Having showcased a mellower style at the start of ‘Hammer Song’, Harvey really goes for the raw rock singing here, that accent again colouring the lyrics – far too many to mention here, though special credit to him for rhyming ‘Geneva’ with ‘Fever’. Genius.
1st side closer, ‘Isobel Goudie’ is the prog-rock epic more associated with later SAHB composition, though at 7 and a half minutes it’s reasonably restrained. Apparently about a witch, again the Scottish influence is in evidence mainly in the middle section. To cut a long description short: Part 1 starts all theatrical and heavy before giving way to a ‘mist & pipes’ section with beautiful dreamy guitar work and powerful vocals filled with real emotion; Part 2 is a stop-start thud full of tension and threat that cries ‘Prog!’ and Part 3 a punky run-out of the chorus - ‘Iz-a’bell Gow-dee!’
After this ludicrous but great epic, ‘Buff’s Bar Blues’ is a down to earth boogie blues workout that needs little description but sounds great. More echoes’s of Bon abound (‘Drinkin’ As-pew-Manti!’), a sweet bluesy geetar solo also worth a mention.
Much more unusual and brave for a 70’s rock outfit is the cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’. Whereas the Stones gained attention 10 years earlier by amping the song up into a speedy, frantic rocker, SAHB reverse that and slow it down to a soul/funk style, brilliant bass & drums providing the backbone. At nearly 7 minutes it’s another epic with no sign of over-indulgence, only a steady build with skillfull arrangements and a kicking brass section. Alex Harvey had been around in ‘showbiz’ since the 50’s and all his range of experience comes across with some incredible singing that rises to fight it out with the brass near the end. Easily as important as Creedance’s ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ as an example of how to cover a song in your own style.
With ‘Hole In Her Stocking’, we’re talking another fine blues number featuring glam drum sounds, a great brass break and a rocked-out frantic ending before giving way to the album’s ‘Theatrical’ number, the improbably titled ‘There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight’.
Reminiscent of The Doors ‘Alabama Song’, it showcases the versatility of the musicians, a Vaudeville effort with some hilarious Galswegian delivery in Harvey’s voice as he tells the story of a gangster about to fry in the electric chair meaning….you guessed it, and I’m not typing out that title again. Hey, Prog can be fun kids.
‘St.Anthony’ is the closer. I can only advise to sit down, listen at volume and enjoy. It’s a stoner-rock epic, basically just one riff rattled out on wah-wah driven guitar/keyboards and it’s a belter. Harvey spits out lines with a real urgency, singing about temptation/religion like a fevered Scot’s preacher while the music just keeps getting heavier and more chaotic. To use a Glasgow style phrase, It’s a heavy-as-fuck way to round of ‘Framed’. (translation, ‘Fuh-rraaam-ed’)

1. Framed
2. Hammer Song
3. Midnight Moses
4. Isobel Goudie
5. Buff’s Bar Blues
6. I Just Want To Make Love To You
7. Hole In Her Stockings
8. There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight
9. St. Anthony

Alex Harvey -- Vocals
Zal Cleminson -- Lead Guitar
Hugh McKenna -- Electric Piano
Chris Glen -- Bass Guitar
Eddie McKenna -- Drums
Phil Kenzie -- Tenor Saxophone
Big Bud's Brass -- Brass Section

The back sleeve of the vinyl is well worth checking out (don't know if it's on cd sleeve) - a publicity photo featuring the band in a rubble strewn tenemant area in Glasgow with an athentic looking dosser joining the band for a drink!

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