The Faith Healer is one of my favourite songs of the seventies and I was lucky enough to see The Sensational Alex Harvey Band perform it live twice in Liverpool all those years ago. The song though is no secret, opening side two of Next, the band’s second album released in 1973. But Next’s opening track was the striking Swampsnake and it jumped out of the stereo, piano and harmonica with wah-wah riffs from Zal Cleminson along with pounding bass from Chris Glen and of course Harvey’s intimidating growl. Still, there was something about this tough guy from The Gorbals frightening the audience that made you feel like he could also save your life.
Vambo, a character in Harvey’s comic fantasy world of justice for the underprivileged appears in the other striking track, Vambo Marble Eye, again with incredible wah-wah guitar attack from Cleminson. Before Roger Waters thought of the Wall, Harvey had his own wall on stage where he would spray paint Vambo Rools, acting out the memories of his childhood and another contradiction on these tough streets – his father and grandfather were conscientious objectors. The struggle between vigilante street protector and juvenile delinquent and the crossing backwards and forwards between revenge for the poverty of the The Gorbals and the intelligent fight against mindless violence.
The Un-pc Gang Bang might be only tongue in cheek but has you wondering if these rough lads from the other side really believed in this stuff or were just messing with your morals as you sink back into your comfy couch, trembling in your leafy cul-de-sac.
Giddy Up A Ding Dong is a cover from the Bill Hayley And The Comets film, Rock Around The Clock from 1956 originally recorded by Freddie Bell And The Bellboys. (One must mention the completion of the band’s chemistry with Hugh McKenna on the piano and cousin Ted on drums). In 1956 Alex Harvey would have ben 21 years old and would be more influenced by Rock and Roll than anything else, this is pre The Beatles and as Last Of The Teenage Idols might explain in this semi-autobiographical tune, it was Harvey that won a newspaper competition that crowned him the Scottish Tommy Steele, a superstarr of his day wiped out by emergence of The Beatles and other beat groups of the Sixties.
Harvey did have a life changing event to contend with; the death of his younger brother Les electrocuted on stage in Swansea profoundly affected him. Possibly leading him to an even harder life than he already had, drinking too much, and the pain of loss at such a tragic freak accident. Stress and the responsibility of being the band’s guiding light all adding up to his death the day before his 47th birthday in Zeebrugge in Belgium waiting for the ferry after the show the night before.
If Alex Harvey were alive today he would be eighty years old and in the same way that Punk’s raison d’être didn’t wipe him out, neither would anybody or anything today. A total original, wise, smart, provocative, an amazing singer and showman and most important of all – true. True to himself, to his audience, his roots and his Glaswegian brogue whose vowels and consonants, dipthongs and tongue curls and rolling r’s inhabited the songs like a defiant army at the gates of hypocrisy as he refused to change his accent to express his words – Alex Harvey’s music is absolutely timeless.
I have re-posted the live version of Next, the album’s title track written by Jacques Brel and performed on the Old Grey Whistle Test in all its surreal glory. Unfortunately the You Tube clips of Next seem to have some dubbing issues so the version here is simply a cut from the album.