Growing up as I did in Birmingham in the 1970s, I balanced my musical tastes between the hard rock and progressive music and held at bay the encroachment of the punk and new wave genres. It’s odd really, as there were some genuinely interesting things that were going on in that scene like Eddie and The Hot Rods and Racing Cars, to name just two, where energy and talent met head on.
A vast majority of these trod the boards of the stages of either the Birmingham Odeon or the Town Hall. One of the regular visitors being the Steve Gibbons Band, who were local lads who had landed the attention of record label Polydor. They were a band I was aware of but had no relevant knowledge about, neither of them or their music which, in hindsight, was to my detriment as their sound style and influences were so far removed from punk or new wave and being far more R &B or americana in style.
Well, my chance to remedy this issue came by means of this excellent new Polydor box set serving that era and issued by those good people at Cherry Red. This collection includes their entire output for the label of four albums (3 studio and 1 live album) along with a further BBC ‘Live in Concert’ to offer a comprehensive overview of their career. All alongside an informative booklet from the late Malcolm Dome.
I always like a live album as they often portray the more muscular live sound and allow for songs to be stretched out with some improvisation, where appropriate. On this score ‘Caught in the Act’ is a fine document of their live sound, capturing them in various settings, although the actual recording locations and information is not that clear. What the sound reminds me of is a far more organic version of Wishbone Ash as the two guitarists have a similar interplay and dynamic.
Also worthy of note is their debut album, especially the songs Rollin’ and Spark Of Love, both of which pack a punch and show what they were capable of to favourable effect. In addition, this underpins the Wishbone Ash comments, although I can also hear elements of bands like The Allman Brothers, such is the subtle musical interplay in the band.
The set also contains a further live album recording for the BBC from 1977, at the Shepherds Bush Empire, that captures the band in fine form once more and touring in support of their ‘Down In The Bunker’ album.
Steve Gibbons is a fine singer and also a good writer of songs, mostly that tell a story, especially as evidenced on the two live sets and tracks like Mr Jones and in Tupelo Mississippi Flash, about a hick town guitar player, when played live, these songs get time to gel fully and effectively.
I must say that time has treated these albums well and the remastering is beautifully done, giving the sound clarity and wallop where needed. In fact, I am really wondering quite why I never actually listened to these before and, as such, have really missed supporting these local lads when I had the chance, hindsight is a wonderful thing I guess?
Of the three studio albums, I think the first, ‘Any Road Up’, is possibly the best, as it is a band on the cusp of success and all their years of effort are starting to pay off. The album is relatively short though but it has power in the potential it offers, all of which was to find realisation on their second album ‘Rollin On” from 1977. The band were right in the midst of the onslaught of punk and yet still managed to deliver a fine sophomore album including its top 40 single Tulane and other such strong songs as Mr Jones, Tupelo Mississippi Flash and the acapella Right Side Of Heaven that segues brilliantly into Rollin On’. This album is further enhanced by 5 bonus tracks, including 2 songs from a session for John Peel, a man who knew good music when he heard it. Tulane was a big hit for the Steve Gibbons Band and it appears on this set four times in both studio, live and session takes and it’s always a worthy song to hear.
The final studio album, ‘Down In The Bunker’ was produced by Tony Visconti, of David Bowie and Thin Lizzy fame, and packs a good punch too. The album has eight bonus tracks to round it out, although details are scant about these.
What this set offers is a full overview of the band’s years as part of the Polydor label. The band continue today, albeit in a far simpler manner away from major label pressures and hassles, but this set offers a look into their legacy and history and shows them to be a band that Birmingham should be proud, of even today.
Released 7th January, 2022
Order from Cherry Red Records here: