The Sensational Alex Harvey
By John Neil Munro
Polygon/Birlinn – £9.99
With the exception of Led Zeppelin, The Who and Thin Lizzy, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were one of the finest live acts of their day. No one, but no one, came remotely close to their sheer magical prowess, musical mayhem, confrontational wit, sparkling humour and of course, all purveying ballroom-banter.
They were indeed, but one of a kind.
Fronted by one of the most charismatic of slouch shouters ever, Alex Harvey traipsed the boards with such a benign arrogance, it probably had the likes of Freddie Mercury and he who calls himself Bono, vehemently and wholeheartedly, scribbling notes from amid the wings of acute adoration. As Noddy Holder is quoted as saying on the back sleeve of this book: ‘’Alex was pure rock theatre. He was decadent rock burlesque. No one else was doing it. He was ahead of his time.’’
A wry, shy, street-tough from the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Harvey was, if nothing else, a born entertainer. He was more of an entertainer in fact, than a musician, which may explain why many of his and SAHB’s albums were of the hit’n’miss persuasion. A facet of Harvey’s career, made all the more telling within this nigh all embracing book on more than one occasion.
For instance, when author and long time fan, John Neil Munro writes of SAHB’s sixth album in less than four years in Chapter fourteen’s ‘He Was My Blood Brother,’ he does so in such a way that the above cannot be denied: ‘’Reviewing The Penthouse Tapes in NME, Kate Phillips condescendingly described our hero as a ‘kindly, optimistic delinquent.’ It’s undeniable that by 1976 the SAHB were beginning to show signs of fatigue, and the album was a mixed affair […]. The album is crammed full of over-the-top cover versions of songs like Jethro Tull’s’ ‘Love Story’ and The Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses.’ Another cover was Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ – but as Kate Phillips remarked there was something slightly daft about a 40-year old man bellowing about ‘No more teachers.’’’
True indeed, but this was all part of Alex Harvey’s charm. He was after all, ‘’innovative, daring and so sensational.’’ So much so, that The Sensational Alex Harveymakes for occasional poignant and surprisingly heart rendering reading.
At the behest of Peter Gabriel’s invitation to perform at the Glastonbury Festival in 1979, Munro quotes Tom Robinson in relation to one of Harvey’s final performances: ‘’Alex was clearly drunk and out of control. This was a chance for him to shine on stage alongside a bunch of big names in front of a massive audience, and he blew it. It was such a shock after his charismatic performance at Ally Pally with TRB only a few months earlier – I’d never seen that self-destructive side of him before. But that’s what alcohol does to people.’’
Suffice to say, this book tells it how it needs to be told – with a whole lotta truth, guts, clarity and affection.