Review – Baker Gurvitz Army: Neon Lights – The Broadcasts 1975 – by JohnWenlock-Smith

I reviewed a live Baker Gurvitz Army release last year and raved about just how good a unit the band were as evidenced on that great live set. So imagine the joy I felt when I heard that a box set of hitherto unreleased recordings and 2 DVD’s of the band live, including an expanded version of their live set for the German TV show Musikladen, a live Old Grey Whistle Test session and a BBC Radio In Concert show was to be released in January 2024.

Sheer musical heaven for me as a long time admirer of the band, a band that I first heard in 1974 or 75, I can’t remember which exactly, I have loved the band ever since. I immediately made contact to secure this for myself and today it arrived and is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Parts of this set I already have, including a Video CD (remember those ill fated release’s in the early to mid 1980s?). Well, this is a proper version of that recording. Also here is an updated and expanded version of their ‘Live at Kings Hall, Derby’ CD from the early 2000’s, again with two extra tracks. As always on these sets, there is a degree of repetition but having it all in one tidy little box with great sleeve notes is fabulous

Once again, you can appreciate the strength and sheer power of the band as a unit, a five piece with Ginger Baker on drums, ex-Seventh Wave man Peter Lemer on keyboards, Paul Purvitz on bass and ex-Sharks vocalist Steve Parsons (A.K A Mr Snips) whose vocals allow Adrian Gurvitz room to play some very tasty lead guitar throughout.

For me, it is the opportunity to actually see and experience the band in my own front room that is the treat here and it is great to finally to be able to do this some nearly fifty years on from their short tenure as a band. I was too young to actually go to see these for myself, even though they played at Birmingham Town Hall in 1976. I do wish I had taken that opportunity back in the day, I’m sure I would have been blown away by them live. Instead this live footage is definitely an acceptable alternative and one I can repeat whenever I want to.

Despite several tracks being duplicated across the five discs (3CD’s and 2 DVD’s), there is sufficient variation in the different versions to still be of interest, especially for a fan boy like me! As always, great care has been taken with the sound, remastered to a very high standard by Ben Wiseman at Broadlake Studios in Hertfordshire.

The band are all on very good form on all of the recordings and it is wonderful to see ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris again introducing the band. Visually their stage setup is pretty standard, drums at the rear with keyboards to the left, bass front left, guitarist stage right and vocalist to the centre and together the five people on stage recreate their albums to perfection and even allow for extended takes of certain songs, all of which adds to the excitement and the atmosphere that the band generate.

For those fortunate enough to have been at any of these shows they certainly were treated to a highly impressive set of music and, remastered it all sounds great with no drop outs at all. Which, for recordings as old as these are, is remarkable and definitely captures a band on the rise, Sadly, as we now know, the death of their manager in a light aeroplane crash over Scotland was a blow from which the group never recovered and so it all fell apart. Baker went back to playing polo again, whilst the Gurvitz brothers teamed up with Moody Blues’ drummer Graeme Edge for his two solo albums and a string of live shows. Steve Parsons released a solo single and got involved with some punk and new wave projects but nothing that made any huge impact, he later revived The Sharks band and continued to make music once more.

Fate has derailed many a promising career, and she certainly did that here, the rifts were never healed and the band split up never to return! With Baker’s death in 2019 that dream died with him. It was a terrible loss to the world of music, however, thanks to the diligence of Esoteric, once again the Baker Gurvitz Army can March forward for a whole new raft of listeners to discover their unique and often different style of heavy rock for themselves.

For those who know of this fine band this set is a treasure trove of delights, I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly.

Released 26th January, 2024.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Baker Gurvitz Army: Neon Lights – The Broadcasts 1975, 3CD/2DVD Box Set – Cherry Red Records

Review – Baker Gurvitz Army – Live 1975 – by John Wenlock-Smith

I got very excited about this release but, before you think I’m strange, let me explain myself…

I’ve always been a bit obsessive about details, I even make my own lists of albums I own, ranking them in order of personal preference. For many years the second Baker Gurvitz Army album featured highly in those lists, as did this live album (well, actually it’s a live set from Reading University along with a few extra tracks from a different show in London, at the New Victoria Theatre).

I was already a fan because of my often mentioned friend Peter Boner who had introduced me to the band when I was just fifteen. So much so that I acquired a copy of their 1974 debut single Help Me/Space Machine that, of course, failed to make any significant chart impact. More is the pity as that single really rocked with thrilling synthesiser sounds, a very fiery guitar break from Adrian Gurvitz and the thunderous drumming of one Ginger Baker. That single is on this release, albeit it in a slightly different form in that some of the singles dynamics are missing, but it’s still a great track.

This album confused me initially as it contains tracks from all three BGA albums, then I realised that their brief career only spanned three years in all, with their self-titled debut album in 1974, ‘Elysian Encounter’ in 1975 and ‘Hearts On Fire’ coming in 1976. Shortly after their career was severely derailed by the death of their manager in a light aircraft crash near Moffatt in Scotland in 1976. This scuppered the band’s activities and with the increasing tensions between Adrian Gurvitz and Ginger Baker the band imploded and split to seek different activities. Which is why I was excited about this CD, especially as live recordings of the bands early days were not that accessible then and this is a particularly fine recording of this rather phenomenal band in action. They really deliver the goods in their performances, it’s really fiery and very well done.

The Baker Gurvitz Army were all seasoned musicians and this shows in the sound they offered. The band had been expanded from the trio format of the debut to a five piece with keyboard player Peter Lemer, his keyboards helping to add a jazzy edge to some tracks and Steve Parsons(Mr. Snips) was recruited as the band’s vocalist. The album has an earthy live sound, as you can tell from its rawness, also, many of the songs are extended from the studio recordings. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of drum solos and drum focused elements within the tracks although, to be fair, everyone gets their own moments to shine in tracks like 4 Phil, Remember and Memory Lane.

As I sadly never got to see the band in action (I don’t know why as they came to Birmingham Town Hall in 1975 so I could have gone), this cd is chance to experience, in some part, that missed opportunity for me. The set is balanced between the debut and ‘Elysian Encounter’ and, oddly, the title track that later appeared on ‘Hearts On Fire’ and there is a lot of time for improvisation throughout. Quite frankly, there may be a drum solo or two too many but, overall, this is a really fine snapshot of a great band who really warranted significantly more kudos and respect than they actually garnered.

The booklet is, as with most Esoteric releases, rather splendid with a good summation of their short career. The sound is very crisp and clear with only a few dropouts in a recording that is nearly fifty years old and it is an excellent document of an exciting evening that hopefully those who were there will still remember. This new release documents those moments for us all to relive and enjoy once again or, for younger folks, to discover and enjoy! For fans of 1970’ British Rock music this is a diamond and a much desired album, hearing a band hungry and accomplished and really firing on all cylinders. It is highly recommended from this possibly somewhat biased reviewer…

Released 24th November, 2023.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Baker Gurvitz Army: Live 1975, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records