Lord Sutch—
Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends

Released 1970 on Cotillion/Atlantic
The Seth Man, April 2002ce
Screamin’ Lord Sutch was an irrepressible character, looner and the first longhaired pop star in Britain. Vocalist and leader of the comedy/horror rock’n’roll group The Savages, he recorded seven singles between 1961 and 1966. With a limited vocal range matched only by an unlimited reservoir of self-promotion in both public arenas of pop and politics, his knack for outrageous publicity stunts made him a natural in both. He also found time to organise his own National Teenage Party, run constantly for Parliament and create one of the first pirate radio stations, Radio Sutch. Dropping the ‘Screamin’’ from his name and changing it by deed poll to the more decorous ‘Lord Sutch’, he relocated temporarily to Los Angeles in 1969 to restart his musical career. At or around this time, a serendipitous meeting with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page yielded an idea for Sutch to record the first album of his career (on Atlantic Records and its American subsidiary Cotillion) with Page supplying guitar and production. Theoretically, the fame of Sutch’s backing musicians (Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Noel Redding and Nicky Hopkins) displayed on the sleeve would only help Sutch’s reinvented stateside ambitions. And with the then current popularity of “Supersession”-type records, how could it miss?

Was it was Sutch’s Union Jack car which took up the majority of the front cover photography, leaving its owner propping up its the bumper in a secondary role? Or his somewhat outdated Carnaby Street finery? Or the eventual review of the album in “Rolling Stone” which criticised it outright and proclaimed Sutch “absolutely terrible”? Sutch’s vocals were only a bit more out of tune (but every bit as raw) as Mick Jagger’s, Iggy’s or any other open mouthed caterwauler to come down the pike to vociferate into a microphone with no hang ups, the very qualities of burning unsteadiness which is rock’n’roll at its BEST, the last time I checked...

Six tracks feature Page and Bonham (assisted by bassist Daniel Edwards) and they all are stamped with 1969-era Zep hallmarks whose dynamic edge injects Sutch’s basic songwriting and hollering with mean and thunderous backing. Slashingly raw and with an obvious minimum of takes, most of the tracks are bedrock simple rock’n’roll, but with Page’s direction allowing ample room for extended guitar soloing, letting Sutch run amuck yelling out the vocals out of tune, every time.

The first three tracks of side one finds Page dominating the whole thing with his commanding of tones and veering into bombastic, megadiddley riffing churned out via wah-wah and distortion and backed by Bonham’s steady and pounding drumming. “Wailing Sounds” opens the album, and Page’s guitar overdrive is coupled with wah-wah until Bonzo the Beast is on the prowl and thrashes out those funky double time bass drum/snare and hi-hat rotary constructions like he did on Zeppelin’s own “Good Times, Bad Times.” Sutch soon bawls out “With Jimmy Page you can’t go wrong!” right on cue before Page whips out some incredibly intrusive and overworked wah-wah use that is almost camp in its obscene juxtaposition to Sutch’s yowling vocals. “Cause I Love You” opens with Page’s severing, double tracked guitars as hammered drumming with cowbell are woven together into an ultimate after hours blast off in the studio. The third straight Zeppelin raid is “Flashing Lights” which touches down after the brief Bo Diddley guitar intro only to launch into a sawn-off and ballistic “You Really Got Me” riff propelled by Bonzo’s drum bashing. A strangulated guitar solo in the middle section raises both the roof and VU meters in full attack mode. “Gutty Guitar” sees the entrance of the first non-Page/Bonham tracks recorded in London as the recording levels and values immediately slip into thin, over reverb qualities. Jeff Beck and Nicky Hopkins are featured but Beck’s prominent gutty guitar drowns out everything except for (of course) Lord Sutch’s vocals, due to the highly imbalanced mix. There’s also a partially erased horn section left in places, leaving open the possibility that Page may have very well been contacted to save the album from disaster. “Would You Believe” would be an otherwise disposable pop track were it not for Sutch’s unrefined, near-yelling of the lyrics and a monstrous fuzz guitar assault midway through. “Smoke And Fire” is the stand out of all the non-Zeppelin propelled tracks: psychedelic but still brazenly dum-dum, the vocals intone “Smoke and fire/in my mind” over a freaked-out, distorted lead guitar that screams through its imbalanced, thin production.

Side two starts off with two further Page/Bonham assisted tracks. “Thumping Beat” features an almost “Heartbreaker” type guitar propulsion with Page and Bonham well locked into the groove while “Union Jack Car” is a slopped up “Sweet Little Sixteen” with Sutch’s roughly bawled out lyrics bragging about his experiences in L.A. traffic with said vehicle of Albion. Then a return to the Zep-less, London session with “One For You Baby,” a “Smokestack Lightnin’” blooz dragger while “L-O-N-D-O-N” is definitely Sutch’s best vocal performance on the album: vocals all growled /gargled in his former “Jack The Ripper” guttural persona as the far less famous Kent Henrey lays down a fairly scorching fuzz guitar solo. “Brightest Light” is the ballad of the album, although a strung out fuzz guitar solo during the bridge section breaks up the former pop nuances. The finale returns back to Page and Bonzo with “Baby Come Back” and once more, it’s another sublimated “You Really Got Me” riff complete with Page’s wobbly, echoed wah-wah freakstorm. It breaks open gleefully psychotic when Bonzo enters with pounding his kit and cymbals into the studio floor over Page’s loud and pressing wah-wah and overall background pile of massed, distorted chords. Page blasts away, Sutch raves on and Bonham just goes for it and the whole track just builds hell bent for leather with overwhelming power and tight-but-looseness.

For all its errant looseness, “Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends” IS insanely no-frills rock’n’roll and nothing less -- despite the clearly audible divide between the old school thinness of tracks produced in London and the newer, heavier angle Page boosted to the fore on his Hollywood-produced tracks. It is possible Page may have used this album to run uncharted sound experiments planned for the next Led Zeppelin album. Indeed, he was so satisfied with the resultant drum sounds captured at Hollywood’s Mystic Studio, he would later return there with Zeppelin to apply further work upon the tracks for “Led Zeppelin II”. Certainly the severe stereo separation and ambient miking of both drums and room Page employed on the Sutch album would reflect similarly with his own sound constructions on “Led Zeppelin II.”