Tight concert program: From opening act to headliner
On stage, the Steve Gibbons Band had come a long way, especially through the US tour with The Who. But even without The Who, before and after the joint US tour, they performed a tight concert programme on the stages of their home island. In 1976/77 they worked their way up from support act to headliner.
Regular guest in some concert halls: The Apollo in Glasgow as example
In some concert halls you even became a regular guest on this marathon tour. One of them was the Apollo in Glasgow, Scotland:
- The Steve Gibbons Band opened there for Lynyrd Skynyrd on February 13th 1976.
- For this group they took over the same job one year later again at short notice.
Thus the Steve Gibbons Band experienced Lynyrd Skynyrd shortly before the tragic catastrophe which should cost the lives of some band members. A visitor remembers:
„(I) was fortunate enough to see the original Skynyrd line up in the UK in 1977 on their ‚One more from the road tour‘ in Portsmouth Guildhall. The original gig had been scheduled for I think February but Ronnie Van Zant had a throat infection and the gig was postponed. Skynyrd being Skynyrd simply tacked in on the back end of their tour and actually played Pompey in March. Their support band had to return to the States so they grabbed hold of Birmingham (UK) Rockers ‚Steve Gibbons Band‘ (Check out the sleeve notes on SGB Live) who had just finished touring with Be-Bop Deluxe. What a gig and what memories I have of that time. Little did we know the tragedy that was to befall Skynyrd later that same year.
- On 26 June 1976 we were again at the Apollo in Glasgow, this time as support for ELO. (Personally, however, Steve Gibbons might have been more moved by the concert on June 19, 1976. This was in Manchester at the Free Trade Hall, where Bob Dylan gave one of his most famous concerts)
- On 15th and 16th October 1976 the Steve Gibbons Band performed again in Glasgow, this time as opening act for The Who.
- The winter wasn’t over yet, they played again at the same place. On 25 February 1977 they opened at the same place for Ted Nugent. The task as support act must have been as challenging as the one as „support“ for The Who. After all, Nugent made a name for himself mainly through his volume. That’s why the tour stood under the motto: „If it’s too loud, You are too old“. That’s why the audience certainly expected some serious entertainment from the first group of the evening.
Finally: Hedliner in the Apollo
On November 23rd 1977 it was finally time: The Steve Gibbons Band was the main act in the Apollo itself. But until the audience could hear the Steve Gibbons Band as headliner, they had to endure the concert of the support band Bethnal. And this one seems not to have been very uplifting. One listener remembers:
Suffice to say they were the worst support act I saw in all my years of Apollo gigs – and that’s saying something. I usually watched support bands with an open mind but I can’t say anything more positive
Typical footwear, typical setlist
A concert-goer, on the other hand, remembers above all the footwear of the singer of the main band:
Steve Gibbons wore knee length boots!
And right she is! These shoes can also be found on the record cover:
By the way, the setlist of the concert as main act is preserved. It gives an impression of what the band played live at that time:
- „Git It“,
- „One Of The Boys“,
- „Mr. Jones.“
- „Tupelo Mississppi Flash.“
- „He Gave His Life To Rock ’n‘ Roll“,
- „No Spittin‘ On The Bus“,
- the Beatles cover of „Day Tripper“,
- „Speed Kills“ and
- „Light Up Your Face“
were on the „acoustic menu“ that evening. So they rather put their money on rocking numbers, while they did not play the balladesque songs!
Recordings with support of The Who, star producer and star photographer
Despite these many live commitments, the Steve Gibbons Band still had to free up some time for other activities. The new management had removed the obstacles that prevented Steve Gibbons (and probably Trevor Burton, who was also a member of The Balls and thus contractually bound to Tony Secunda) from recording.
So now, in 1976, the band was able to record the debut album „Any Road Up“ on the US label MCA with the Mark II line-up of the Steve Gibbons Band (Steve Gibbons, Trevor Burton – who had replaced Bob Griffin -, Dave Caroll, Bob Wilson and Bob Lamb).
This LP contains exclusively compositions by Steve Gibbons, especially the rocking numbers „Johnny Cool“, „Natural Thing“ and „Speed Kills“, which can still be heard frequently at his performances.
With a little help from my friends from The Who
The record was made with the support of at least three members of The Who.
- On the LP you can hear John Entwistle, who plays bass on some numbers and sings in the background.
- The album was also recorded at the Eel Pie Studio, owned by Pete Townsend.
- And it was released by the label Gold Hawke, whose co-owner Roger Daltrey
And as managers on the record sleeve are mentioned Bill Curbishley and Pete Meaden, the then current and former manager of The Who
So they were perfectly integrated in the Who-organisation and maintained close contact with the musicians of the band, who also personally contributed to the career of the Steve Gibbons Band!
Producer rises later in Rock`n`Roll Walhalla
And the other participants were also prominent: the disc was produced by Kenny Laguna, who also mixed it – together with John Entwistle.
Laguna is an American musician, songwriter and producer who played keyboards for the Bubble Gum Band Ohio Express on their album „Yummy Yumm“. Years later he was to produce Joan Jett, and in 2015 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together with her and her band The Blackhearts.
Digression: The missing star on the Birmingham Walk of Stars
By the way, there is a „Walk of Stars“ in Birmingham.
Many people there have a star that you can relate to, like Ozzy Osborne for example, or Joan Armatrading. So do some people you never heard of if you are not from „Brum“. Therefore, for outsiders it does not seem understandable why Steve Gibbons hasn’t even made it to the nominees for the next crop.
But why should people in Birmingham deal with their own prophets differently than anywhere else in the world?
Was Kenny Laguna still the right producer for the SGB?
„Producer Laguna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!“ That sounds good, but it doesn’t mean that he was necessarily the best producer for the Steve Gibbons Band.
And indeed, there are voices that didn’t think the selection was very happy. Among them are both dyed-in-the-wool Steve Gibbons connoisseurs from the far north and band members at the time:
The Swedish music journalist Håkan Pettersson, for example,notes that the records of the Steve Gibbons band „with an American at the controls became consistently more impersonal“ than would have been good for an established live band like SGB.
And in the BBC documentary „Untold Stories“, former drummer Bob Lamb, who owned a recording studio himself for years, also makes critical comments on the qualities of the band’s studio LPs:
We were a great live band and we were a sort of local heroes in Brimingham… We did very very well in America (but) we made some terrible records in my opinion. Most often he albums we made weren`t up to par as far as I am concerned. I just didn’t like the recording.
And for the cover the photographer of the Beatles, the Stones and the Royal Family !
Also no money was saved for the photographer for the cover photo. But again it is questionable whether the right man had been chosen. Terry Neill, who had previously captured the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Royal Family on celluloid, was hired.
He photographed the band in cowboy manner as a conspiratorial gang of hard men, just as if they were about to fight a duel with some rivals on the dusty street of a western town.
„Any Road Up“: The Steve Gibbons Band’s first LP…
Again the question: Does it really fit together?
The cover of the album „Any Road Up“, which was released as no. MCA-2187 on MCA Records, would have fitted perfectly to the content of a record like the later live LP „Caught In The Act“. It also fitted perfectly to the opening song of the debut LP „Take Me Home“, which shows already after the first few bars that the Steve Gibbons Band is quite capable of playing the role of hard guys.
The only problem is that on this record only two – if you are generous, even three songs – musically go in the harder direction the cover suggests („Johnny Cool“, „Speed Kills“ and „Natural Thing“).
The other five songs – and thus the majority of the record – must rather be counted to the ballad or pop faction („Rollin'“, „Spark of Love“, „Standing On The Bridge“, „Strange World“ and „Sweetheart“.) „Strange World“ could even have been played in any disco fox round without the dance floor being emptied!
So anyone who had heard the band live before or who trusted the image of the cover picture was put on the wrong track. Once again the wrong packaging for a good product!
„Johnny Cool“: Neo Noir song in Billboard charts
The album could not place itself in the charts. And also the released singles left – except for one – no traces in the charts
After all, the 45-er „Johnny Cool“ made it to 72nd place in the Billboard Top 100 in the USA.
Another role was played by Sammy Davis Jr. Inne, who also sang a song called „The Story of Johnny Cool„.
Musical similarities with the song of the Steve Gibbons Band and this song are not existing. But if you listen to the 2008 album „Chasing Tales“ by the Steve Gibbons Band, you will notice similarities in the drum accompaniment between „The Story of Johnny Cool“ and the song „The Chase“, which is also very noir (and even contains the word „film noir“).
Some red threads that run through musical careers can be very, very long!
Books with secret messages Part I
This includes not only a penchant for sinister types and black-shaded stories, but also discreet references to books on the back of covers and inner covers.
The back of the first one looked like this:
Lots of cowboy romance (hat and revolver), the notebook of a detective and a small Spitfire, next to the then inevitable clammy cigarette. Here motives from different Steve Gibbons songs have become pictures.
But it gets really mysterious when you read the lyrics on these two pages. It is full of allusions:
Names of former bands let you greet between the lines:
After all these guys had spent a long time being idle
Clubs of the Birmingham 60s scene are mentioned
were sitting down at the old Club Cedar
and every now and then a song title
And did the natural thing
… it became a sweet sanctuary in strange world
„Gotta light Mac?“ he said. „No, but I gotta little spark of love“.
Music to hold in your hand and the cover equals an easter meadow in which you may hidden messages if you only look closely enough.
That’s how records were made in the good old times of vinyl!
For the sequel click here.