If you are a guitar player, a fan of guitars, the look, the sound, the curves, the possibilities, then you can be extremely excited not just by songs or technical skills but also by tone. Other people like gardens, or sex or tinkering with electronics, cars, clothes, dancing, collecting stamps, rubber dolphins, piano stools, paintings, post-war bakelite radios, cooking, wine, drugs, travel, languages – I like some of these things more than others but the right guitar tone whether considered or clumsily stumbled upon is blissful.
Tear Gas were The Sensational Alex Harvey Band with a different singer (Davey Batchelor). When Davey Batchelor left the band to concentrate more on production, Alex Harvey discovered that he had joined a band that already had their own magic – what he added still lives and breathes in the highlands, whispering through the streets of Glasgow, casting spells in Inverness designating luck to talented Scots in Aberdeen and running scoundrels out of Edinburgh. R.I.P. Alex, we miss you.
Tone is an example of why it’s sometimes difficult to understand what someone sees in something you don’t get. Like bass, people that like bass might not hear the words because that’s not what they’re listening for. Other people can’t listen if the words are banal or clichés and then there’s those that don’t like form and of course there’s those that study the singer and there’s those that melt for the drummer. I could never understand it when someone said Bob Dylan can’t sing or Progressive Rock is gratuitous musical sections attached by more of the same or That the Ramones songs were the Punk equivalent in simplicity. You just like what you like, sometimes you don’ t know why, sometimes you can write a book about it. Love has no rhyme or reason and you don’t have to justify it, explain it or care what anyone thinks as long as you feel it. All this is about one thing – Zal Cleminson’s guitar tone on the second Tear Gas album.
I bought a copy of this album at a second hand shop in Stockholm twenty years ago or more. I don’t think I was aware of the Alex Harvey connection at the time but I liked the cover, it was on red Regal Zonophone and The Move’s Blackberry Way was on that label so I always associated the label with music I liked (mostly). The album was a bit scratched up and consequently quite cheap so I bought it. Since then I’ve hardly remembered a song from the album as I’ve been so distracted by Zal Cleminson’s playing and tone. It’s the choice of notes, the touch, the type of guitar he’s using ( I presume a Gibson SG), the amp, the effects, how it was recorded and of course the era. I have no idea about the details and even though the guitar isn’t always prominent and there’s no virtuoso solos I just like what he chooses to do and how he chooses to do it.
It’s both exquisite and raw, rowdy and sensitive, of its era and a forerunner to the future. This is the beginning of what he did on The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s second album, Next (1973) with Swampsnake and The Faith Healer. Somehow Zal Cleminson is quite forgotten, he was a memorable presence on stage dressed in a green and lemon suit, shoulder cupped and held together one presumes with velcro or zips and designed by a French android. Mime moves and white pierrot make-up made him a striking presence on stage. In later years he played with Nazareth, Elkie Brooks, Bonnie Tyler, Midge Ure and a reunited SAHB, sadly he retired in 2008 stating that he would never perform live again.
Note: The picture of Zal is from the later years with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band but as this was more about the Tear Gas album’s guitars rather than the songs, it seemed appropriate and it can’t have been long after this album that he took on this persona.
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