N.E.X.T. Next. What a way to start a song. As Alex Harvey
spells out the letters of the title, before leering the word into the
microphone, the band breaks into a tango beat to support him, which is perhaps
one of the defining moments in the career of “The Sensational Alex Harvey
Band” and its inspirational leader.
1972 Alex Harvey had reached the grand old age of 38, way too old in those
hedonistic days of music to consider becoming a Pop Star. But tragically,
Alex’s younger brother by some ten years, Leslie, had been killed in an
electrical accident during a sound check with his group “Stone the Crows”
at the Top Rank in Swansea. The cause was an unearthed microphone. This tragic
event spurred Alex on to have one more go at cracking the big time. At the time
Alex was earning a crust in the orchestra of James Rado’s iconoclastic
musical ‘Hair’, but was persuaded by his manager, friend, and mentor Bill
Fehilly, to go up to his native Glasgow, Scotland, to check out a gritty
Progressive outfit called Tear Gas. The band was in the throws of giving up all
dreams of stardom and going back to ‘normal jobs’. They were so broke that
in true Scottish tradition they had resorted to haggis hunting up the side of
mountains to find sufficient nutrition to survive.
However, Alex, recognizing talent when he saw it, coerced
the band to stick together and plant him in as lead singer and inspirational
genius. Putting “Sensational” into the title of the band, they went into
the studio and in six days had recorded their first album, released in early
1973, before starting to play live anywhere that would have them. Not
surprisingly, they quickly built up a reputation of one of the hottest acts on
the live circuit.
Out front was Alex himself, skin tight jeans, dirty red
handkerchief hanging from his back pocket, black and white looped T-shirt, with
Alex’s huge head sticking out the neck (with all the creativity going on in
this head, it needed to be a big one), topped off by an unruly mop of unruly
jet black hair, the perfect leader.
Next to him was Zal Cleminson in a green rubber jumpsuit
with cake white clown’s make-up, which exaggerated his gurning face as he cut
loose during the solos, and becoming a complete maniac, the perfect foil.
On the other side of the stage on bass was a man who could
have made a living as an Elvis impersonator, or at least one of Elvis’
bouncers Mr. Chris Glen, the perfect man to have on your side if the chips were
On keyboards, as befitting this lot, was Hugh McKenna, who
looked more like a university music teacher than a Rock ‘n’ Roll star, the
perfect musical director. And keeping it in the family, on drums you had
Hugh’s brother, Ted, the perfect rock onto which to hoist your Rock ‘n’
The first album was a reasonable commercial success, but for
once the record company saw the potential in this group. Later that year they
booked a full month for the band to record their follow up album and brought in
top Glam Rock producer Phil Wainman. The results were ‘Sensational’. Alex
sung with such pathos you cannot help but love him. Nobody else at the time
could have gotten away with singing the title track, the J. Brel tribute to
European brothels, or ‘Gang Bang’ poking fun of an unmentionable subject.
Zal Cleminson’s guitar playing throughout is nothing short
of brilliant, and the band supports him note for note. All of the songs here
were to stay in the band’s stage act in one way or another until the end,
especially ‘The Faith Healer’ with its throbbing Tooltelbug drone opening,
which was to become the band’s standard bearer and opening song. (The sight
of Alex staggering to the front of the stage screaming “can I put my hands on
you” used to send the audience into raptures.)
‘Vambo Marble Eye’ became a saga that Alex was going to
take to higher plains on the live stage. Final number ‘The Last Of The
Teenage Idols’ was inspired by an event way back in 1957, when Alex Harvey
won a Daily Record organized competition to find the Scottish Tommy Steele
(true - I promise!), which brings the album to a fitting rocking climax before
we are lulled away by a final burst of do-wop.
In another year, “The Sensational Alex Harvey Band” was
the biggest touring band in Europe, quite a turn around from Haggis chasing.
Unfortunately, the work load was just too much and after suffering declining
health, Alex left the band in 1978, after which the band imploded. Later in
1982, Alex would die of a heart attack while on tour in Europe, a day before
his 47th Birthday. Although Alex’s career did not really catch fire until
late, when it finally did, it sure burned bright. If “The Sensational Alex
Harvey Band” is a mystery to you, pay attention. Alex Harvey was one of the
greatest ring masters to have ever strode across the field of Rock ‘n’
Roll. The first two “Sensational Alex Harvey Band” albums, “Framed” and
“Next”, have just been released as a special 2-for-1 box set, a bargain not
to be missed.