Review – Hardin & York: Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Hardin & York Anthology – by John Wenlock-Smith

I grew up in the 1970’s and discovered rock music through my peers who were buying albums from Virgin mail order in the early part of the 1970’s. This was mainly albums by The Groundhogs, I particularly remember ‘Split’ and ‘Hogwash’ being popular at that time. They then  moved onto Deep Purple and the ‘Burn’ album, although Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ was also popular with this group of my peers. I eventually followed suit and became enamoured with Purple’s ‘Made in Japan’ album and also with Emerson Lake and Palmer’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’. Also popular was Ian Hunter’s book ‘Diary of a Rock and Roll Star’ that was passed about during my schooldays, a book that I grew to love and treasure to this day .

So, why then, in all those times, did no one ever mention this duo to me? Maybe it was because there were only two of them and they looked a bit wet if I am honest but, listening to them now, I can clearly see that I missed out on something different and really special. This fabulous Box set from Grapefruit via Cherry Red is something very spectacular, comprising as it does their entire 1970’s output in one neat 6 CD set with a highly informative booklet along with lots of unreleased tracks, including an early German Bootleg recording of Eddie Hardin and Pete York Recorded in Germany in 1970.

If, like me, you like the organ playing of Keith Emerson then this set will be a revelation to you, especially the live side of ‘The Worlds Smallest Big Band’ and the whole of the ‘Live at The Marquee’ album, both of which feature extensive organ workouts from Eddie Hardin.

Hardin and York came out of the latter day incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group in which Eddie had replaced the recently departed Steve Winwood, being of a similar voice and playing keyboards. Pete York was the drummer and the two joined forces after leaving Spencer Davis. They were tremendously popular in Germany and, to a lesser extent, here in the UK where they were frequent Performers at places like The Mothers club in Birmingham and The Marquee. Their stage show was energetic and, with just the two of them, it needed to be to capture the attention of the audience. They did this by using the dynamics of a sole keyboard player along with a jazz rooted drummer who packed a mighty punch, their interplay was dazzling and effusive at times, especially shown here on the various live tracks on this compilation.  

The first disc is their 1969 Debut album with six tracks recorded for a 1969 BBC Radio session and this is quite a strong opening statement that the pair deliver. For a duo they certainly kick up a lot of noise between them, Eddie Hardin has a very soulful voice and you can see why Spencer Davis hired him to replace the departing Winwood. The sound is full and the organ playing is dynamic and aggressive, it reminds me a lot of the playing of Purple’s Jon Lord, with whom Hardin worked with in latter years. This music has lots of energy to it and it will appeal to early Deep Purple or Nice fans, or indeed anyone that is interested in keyboard driven rock of the late 60’s / Early 1970’s.

For me, ‘The Worlds Smallest Big Band’ and ‘Live at the Marquee’ discs capture this duo at their peak, especially on the utterly fabulous Rock and Roll Medley (JailhouseRock/Mean Woman Blues/Rip it Up), The Pike and the Northern Medley (Lady Madonna/ Norwegian Wood)  that form part of the live in the studio recordings side of the album. The Rock And Roll Medley, with all its energy and atmosphere is really good and, as it’s just the two of them, sounds fabulous, mind-blowing actually! It is so unusual and different, you wouldn’t believe how good just an organ and drums could possibly sound and you don’t miss a guitarist or bass player as its all covered by Eddie’s Hammond Organ filling the gaps spectacularly. This is so brilliant you cannot believe that you have never heard this before, it is like being music’s best kept secret somehow and you feel all the better for being in the know about this duo.

The Pike, a track about their long serving roadie, is a tour de force between Eddie’s Hammond and Pete’s jazz chops with some spectacular drumming and some solid and virtuosic organ playing in a style like that of Keith Emerson, it is utterly fantastic and awesome in sound, as it shows just how fine a keyboard player Eddie Hardin really was. This is followed by the equally fine Northern Medley and this one really works the Hammond to the extreme with lots of improvised runs, all subtly supported by the syncopation that Pete York’s jazzy drumming allows. This is fabulous music and shows just how strong the bond between Hardin and York was and how the two complemented each other’s abilities and talents, it really is something to behold, appreciate and enjoy. 

Even better though is the 1971 ‘Live at the Marquee’ disc that was, presumably, a double LP back in the day but the information in the booklet is not clear on the release of this album. Suffice to say that it is 68-minute romp through music that was otherwise not recorded by Hardin and York ,with an extended version of The Pike in which both musicians get room to showcase their talents to good effect. It is the standout track of this album although Freedom Suite is also particularly good too. For me, this disc shows the very best that this group had to offer, with its mix of dazzling drumming and strong keyboard playing, it really is a long-lost classic restored to its full glory and is highly recommended indeed.

The other discs in this set are good but overshadowed by that fantastic live album, it really is a masterpiece and one that makes this set well worth looking out for. Eddie Hardin recorded other albums and recorded a final reunion release ‘Still a few Pages Left’ in 2005 and then sadly he suffered a fatal heart attack in July 2015, leaving behind a rich musical heritage and is sadly missed. This set gives an opportunity to see the brilliance that he possessed and how unassuming and yet proficient he was during the Hardin and York years.

Released 28th May, 2021

Order from Cherry red here:

Hardin & York: Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Hardin & York Anthology, 6CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records

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