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Concert Review by Nick Morgan


I have to confess (and risk the wrath of all those nice SAHB fans that we met) that the only reason we were here was to see the Very Reverend D Wayne Love, sometime of the Alabama 3, and advertised as support to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, touring apparently to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their Live album and to promote new album Zalvation. Sensational Alex Harvey Band
And to be really honest, we were only here at all because we couldn’t get tickets for New York’s hip favourites Gogol Bordello, a sort of Pogues meets the Three Mustaphas Three high energy punk outfit with an Eastern European twist, fronted by Ukranian Eugene Hutz. Watch out – you’ll be hearing more about this bunch over the next twelve months.
Sensational Alex Harvey Band So instead we headed for the Mean Fiddler, a tiny aluminium door squeezed between a tacky London souvenir store and a sex shop on the Charing Cross road. It’s a box like basement, sort of attached to the Pickle Factory next door, and owned by the same eponymous outfit (Mean Fiddler that is, not the Pickle Factory Group). And like the Astoria it turns into some sort of bohemian nightclub on a Saturday night, so it’s only seven o’clock and we’re here beer in hand waiting for the Very Reverend to take the stage.
Maybe there was some sort of mistake or misunderstanding, or maybe D Wayne’s central heating system packed up just before the gig and he decide to stay home to get it fixed (mine did, I didn’t, but that’s real rock and roll for you). Whatever the reason he didn’t show. So we mingled with the largely male audience, a very affable bunch once you’d got past the ill advised paunch hugging tour t-shirts from back in the 70s. And as there were only about twenty of them when we showed up not too difficult to sense check the whole lot. There was a very strong Dads and Sons tendency, with the Dads earnestly taking advantage of the lack of support to explain to the Sons some of the finer points of Alex Harvey’s history and the rise and fall of his sensational band, a fall provoked by them being simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, trapped in a vacuum between progressive rock and the punks, and finally brought about by the untimely demise of Alex Harvey in 1982. Or maybe they were just trying to prepare the boys for Zal Cleminson – but how could anyone do that?
And as the place filled out there were even two large family groups, Dads, Mums, Sons, Daughters and all. Which I thought said something about the fans of this band who only really lasted for four or five years, but who earned the reputation of being the best live rock and roll band in the world. And although we are sadly without Alex and his gruff Glaswegian voice (did I mention they’re from Glasgow?) we do have the original band of the McKenna brothers on keyboards and drums, Chris Glenn on bass, and the incomparable Zal Cleminson on lead guitar – you know he’s the one with the funny makeup – who should be an inspiration for men in their mid-fifties anywhere. And fronting is Max Maxwell, a Glaswegian performance artist with a beautiful Bridgeton burr and a theatrical Johnny Rotten sneer – oh yes, and some very nice three quarter length jackets.
Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Alex Harvey 1975
Personally I’m not a big fan – the only song I could remember was a solo Alex Harvey singing W H Auden’s ‘Roman wall blues’, which I recall the late John Peel played to death for a few months in the late 1960s. Apart from that and Delilah, SAHB's raucous take on that Tom Jones karaoke classic (a top ten hit in the UK) I didn’t think I knew any of their work. But as the gig wore on more and more of the tunes had a familiar air – ‘Swampshake’, ‘Next’, ‘Isobel Goudie’, ‘Framed’, ‘Tomahawk kid’, ‘The last of the teenage idols’ , ‘Boston T Party’ and ‘Vambo’ to name but a few. And the performance was of such gusto that it was really outstanding – Maxwell sneered and growled in guttural Glaswegianese, senior heavyweight bass player Glenn snarled and threatened his way through the set, and Cleminson delivered a master class in rock guitar histrionics – School of Rock guitarists please note – forget your lectures and tutorials and take time out to see Mr Cleminson, he’s worth it, for every note, every facial expression, and every menacing pose. And half way through – who’d have guessed it – on came fellow Glaswegian the Very Reverend D W L, having no doubt repaired his boiler first.
Reverend D. Wayne Love
Reverend D. Wayne Love
Looking frisky, fresh and gorgeously coiffured, he paid tribute to the band, “I’ve been listening to these boys sing rock and roll since I was a little child in a plaid skirt, so I thought I’d pay tribute by singing one of their more innocuous songs, a little number called ‘Gang bang’, which was followed by a very D Waynesque rendition of the band’s classic, but sadly commercially flawed, Christmas single ‘There's no lights on the Christmas tree mother, they're burning Big Louie tonight’, “apparently inspired”, according to a piece in the Independent, “by Francis Bacon's painting A Study After Velasquez: St Nicholas, which shows Santa screaming in what appears to be an electric chair”. Phew, happy holidays everybody!
In case you haven’t realised the Sensational Alex Harvey Band never took themselves too seriously. Their songs are wrung through with a wry humour and sense of the absurd that’s not out of place in the tradition of West Coast Scottish humour. Their glam rock posturing was always slightly tongue in cheek, a counterpoint to the sneering aggression of some of their songs, and more rooted in the British Music Hall (oh no – here we go again) than in rock and roll.
And what we got, in the jolliest of atmospheres was a summation of all of that, perfectly executed by a group of real professionals. And of course, the Zal Cleminson performance - I still have to pinch myself every time I think about it. You might not want to buy the records, but if you get a chance to see them, jump at it! - Nick Morgan (SAHB concert photographs by Kate)

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