With the appearance as support act of The Who at the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg and the one at the „Musikladen Extra“ the Steve Gibbons Band had reached the temporary peak of their career in West Germany. After that most music fans in Germany didn’t hear anything from the band for a long time.
In 1981 the new LP „Street Parade“ appeared in well-assorted record stores. Attentive observers, who had been involved with the band before, noticed when reading the record cover that none of the original band members had been involved in this record except Steve Gibbons himself and Trevor Burton. What had happened?
One story, two versions
There are two versions about the reasons for this. Michael Vonau writes in the liner notes to the Rockpalast DVD that the other band members have left the group:
After three excellent studio albums – most importantly the 1978 album „Down In The Bunker“ produced by Tony Visconti – all band members, except for the faithful Trevor Burton, left …
On a fansite for the New Romantic predecessor Duran Duran the background of this development is described in this way:
In the late 1970s the band (meaning the Steve Gibbons Band) had just finished touring the USA and were having a month off when Steve Gibbons called the members to a meeting, informing them that the group was finishing with the existing line-up, but would continue with Steve and Trevor Burton.
In connection with this, maybe the one or other question arises, why a fan site of Duran Duran deals with the Steve Gibbons Band?
It’s simple: Bob Lamb, the former drummer of the Steve Gibbons Band, reoriented his career and became a producer after he had left the Steve Gibbons Band. In this capacity he supervised the first records of Duran Duran. (Which probably improved him financially compared to his job with the Steve Gibbons Band).
We won’t be able to decide the question of „collective resignation or expulsion“ here. However, both variants make it very likely that the band had to come up with a provisional line-up first to be able to record the next album.
The new (temporary) band members
This is also indicated by the fact that „Street“ Parade“ was recorded with a reduced regular cast. Instead of three „retired“ musicians there were only two new band members who had both worked as studio musicians on „Down In The Bunker“, namely Robbie Hunt, who took over several guitars and Harry Rix, who played the drums.
- Robbie Blunt had played with a band called Bronco in the early 1970s and was later to become part of Robert Plant’s solo band until the mid-1980s. He then worked as a studio musician for Julian Lennon, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Clannad, among others.
- Harry Rix, on the other hand, had a very short intermezzo as studio drummer with Badfinger, a band with tragic fate signed by the Beatles for Apple, but otherwise seems to have played mainly in local bands.
As far as you can hear on the album Saxophones, they are played by Nick Pentlow and Bill Paul. Especially Pentlow had supported the band before, e.g. on the album „Down In The Bunker“.
„Street Parade“ was produced by the Steve Gibbons Band and Bobby Priden.
An old band member expands his position
The only remaining band member besides Steve, Trevor Burton, on the other hand, acted on this LP as an all-purpose weapon or „jack of all trades“as he played bass and keyboard as well as rhythm and lead guitar. Finally he contributed vocals and percussion.
An album with a broad spectrum
The album covers the usual wide spectrum of the Steve Gibbons Band in terms of music and content:
- It describes Rock ’n‘ Roll and life as a rock musician (very vivid and convincing in the song „British Rock ’n‘ Roll“),
- it tells about dubious characters on the fringes of society („Graffitti Man“).
- Scenes from the life of the working class („Street Parade“, „Saturday Night“) are represented
- as well as social criticism („A to Z“) and
- reminiscences of the Caribbean home of many fellow citizens in Birmingham („Sonny Day in the Tropics“, „Blue Lagoon“).
- And of course there are also love songs.
Trevor Burton, who had already taken over the vocals for the song „Satisfying Moves“ in the „Musikladen Extra“, appears, together with his wife Rita, for the first time on an SGB LP as a songwriter with „Abracadabra“.
Annoying change in the track list on the CD-re-release
However, those who listen to the CD re-release instead of the vinyl record are confronted with an annoying change in the track list.
One song, which is found on page one of the original tracks in later re-releases, was later added. The Elvis reminiscence „Give it back“ produced by Tony Visconti was originally the B-side of the single „Down In The Bunker“, and had been recorded with the previous composition of the Steve Gibbons Band. A gripping song without a doubt. Still, it’s annoying that it wasn’t placed at the end of the disc, as is usual for bonus tracks.
After all, the original sequence of songs had a significant influence on the listening experience at the time the record was released and thus belongs to the overall impression of the original album. Especially for a band like the Steve Gibbons Band, which, as you can see from the cover design, printed lyrics as well as photo snippets, newspaper clippings and other notes on the packaging of the originally vinyl-released records, felt very committed to the art of „album making“, such an intervention not too adequate.
„Attachment“ to the record invites discovery
As it should be the case with a proper vinyl LP, the packaging of „Street Parade“ rounds off the listening experience. On the one hand there is the front cover, which alludes to the band’s working class background with the band name as graffiti on a brick wall which resembles a factory wall. Here you know immediately that you will find down-to-earth listening products.
The individual pictures on the front cover show various parades, mainly those from British life, but there also seems to be a US-American confetti parade underneath, and with the marching strapping young girls in one wonders whether they come from a socialist background.
Not only are all the texts printed on the inner cover, but there are also many photos and drawings, cross-references to fixed points and recurring schemes in the world that describe the texts of Steve Gibbons. British everyday and festive life is included as well as references to the gangster and private detective milieu:
And if you take a closer look, you will see that reading is again a theme:
In contrast, the band image on the inner cover in coarsely pithy black and white (consciously?) is inconspicuous, almost as if one had not done without it, but also did not want to make it too prominent.
(Once again) A „round“ album without chart success
Especially characteristic highlights like „No Spitting On The Bus“ or „Down In The Bunker“ from the previous release are missing on „Street Parade“. Nevertheless, it is an album (in the best sense of the word) that invites you to listen carefully. The record was released not only in the USA, Great Britain, Scandinavia and Germany but also in Greece, for example. In none of these countries it could chart
The single to the album
The same is true for the single that is released. For the A-side the breathless „A to Z“ was chosen, which is not a typical Steve Gibbons band track, but has a certain funky groove (which is not unlike the track „Natural Thing“ from the Any Road Up album). The reason could be, that this style could guarantee a certain radio and disco suitability in those days
For the back „Blue Lagoon“ was chosen. Only for Germany the song „British Rock and Roll“ whose plot is set in Germany (and contains the memorable lines „Frankfurt here we come/Frauleins here we come“) was selected as B-side.
In the USA only a promo single was released for radio stations. This one had „A to Z“ on both sides, which was not unusual for such singles. The reason for this is probably that the radio DJs who received these test records, which were subject to a certain wear, at times when a sharply cut diamond was required to produce sound, could play the songs as often as possible. However, there was no regular release of a single from the album in the USA.
„Saints & Sinners“: The Last Mayor Company Album
Already the following year, „Saints & Sinners“, the next LP of the Steve Gibbons Band, was in the record stores.
And again, besides Steve Gibbons, the faithful paladin Trevor Burton was the only „survivor“ from the previous line-up. However, the current newcomers should stay longer than the previous ones. With the Rockpalast and the first GDR tour, the „Saints & Sinners“ line-up was also to shape two important episodes in the band’s history. ( That it would be Trevor Burton, who played here for the last time on a LP of the Steve Gibbons Band, was probably not foreseeable when the record was released.).
New in the family band, which had grown to five members again were:
- „Dangerous“ Derek Wood, who now became the permanent man on bass, so that Trevor Burton could take over one of the guitars (and occasionally keyboards) again. A field of activity into which he threw himself with verve and skill.
- Behind the drums was Alan „Sticky“ Wickett, who later made a remarkable career as a jazz drummer (among others with Chris Barber, who will be mentioned later).
- New on the guitar was , who had joined SGB in the early summer of 1981. In the first few months he attracted attention with an extensive collection of notes on which he had noted down the guitar parts of all songs of his new band. What nobody could have guessed at that time was that P.J. Wright would become the new marathon man on the guitar and would remain a member of the band until the mid-nineties and that he would play with Steve in another band named The Dylan Project until 2019.
With the new regular line-up of „Saints & Sinners“, the line-up also stood for a truly historic mission of SGB, the first extended tour of a white western rock band through the GDR. (More on this later).
Prominent studio musicians
For the studio recording of „Saints & Sinners“ Nick Pentlow on saxophone and Mick Cotton on trumpet were added. Also Al Shackloock on keyboards and Gertaint Watkins, also keyboards and accordion, an instrument that may not be so common in rock, but plays an important role in the Steve Gibbons Band every now and then.
On the trombone you can also hear a jazz musician for whom the term world star is not exaggerated: Chris Barber.
Excursus Chris Barber.
One could write long lines about Chris Barber. Here just so much:
- According to Wikipedia, Chris Barber is a „British trombonist, double bass player, singer and jazz bandleader who has set trends in the development of an independent British jazz“.
- Others describe Barber as one of the essential founders and developers of „Trad Jazz“.
- With the instrumental „Petite fleur“, which became a jazz standard, he had a million-seller on both sides of the Atlantic in 1959.
- However, Barber has also made a name for himself by introducing European audiences to several important „forefathers“ and a „foremother“ of blues and rock music, for whom he organized tours to Great Britain. These were Sister Rosetta Tharpe (tour in November 1957, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (May 1958), , Muddy Waters (October 1958) and Louis Jordan (December 1962).
Unfortunately there is no room here for a digression in the digression. But the mentioned US musicians are milestones in blues music and related genres.
- Sister Rosset Tharpe sang gospel and accompanied herself with the electric guitar, on which she also played slide guitar, and was thus a pioneer of this instrument. Whoever sees her performance with „That’s all“ from 1960 on You Tube will see and hear a lot of things that were later celebrated by the masculine Blues. She is considered the „Godmother of Rock and Roll“ and has influenced the guitar playing of Chuck Berry as well as the singing of Elvis. (Those who have seen the feature film „The Fabulous World of Amélie“ may also remember a performance by her which is shown there briefly). Among those who cherish her memory is none other than Bob Dylan.
- Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry were one of the opening acts for Bob Dylan at the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg in 1978 at the special request of the main act, similar to what the Steve Gibbons Band had been the following year for The Who.
- Muddy Waters should be well known.
- Louis Jordan is worth a discovery, after all not only B.B.King recorded a tribute album with songs of him, but with „Five Guys Named Moe“ a musical consisting only of Jordan songs became a big hit.
The songs on the album
Again the usual Steve Gibbons genres are represented:
- They deal with the life of the British working class („Social Dance“)
- and the Caribbean immigrants („Home From Home“),
- types on the fringes of society („The Rugged Rock“) as well as rock music and racial equality („American Rock ’n‘ Roll“ with the lyrics: „Them white boys got rhythm, black boys got soul“).
- There is social criticism („Biggies Fly Undone“ and „Fiction Factory“) and
- love songs.
But neither of the latter was written by Gibbons:
- With „Loving Me Loving You“ Trevor Burton again made a contribution to the songwriting. And
- „Till I Waltz Again with You“ is again an excavation from the annals of popular music typical of Steve Gibbons: With this song in a slower shuffle version, Teresa Brewer landed a No. 1 hit in the USA in 1952, almost 30 years before the release of „Saint & Sinners“. The Steve Gibbons Band makes a powerful waltz out of it, and so again has no inhibitions about leaving the usual musical terrain of a rock band that first became known for „eating tacks for breakfast“.
With the song „Somebody Stole My Synthesizer“, Gibbons can’t help but take a side blow to new competitioneers, who can only make their appearances with technology (and is accordingly helpless if it fails, or is stolen like here).
With „B.S.A.“ Gibbons opens the first chapter of a new genre of his songs, namely the motorcycle songs. B.S.A. stands for „Birmingham Small Arms Company“, a company that produced motorcycles for a while in addition to weapons. Hopes that the company would buy the song for publicity, however, Gibbons could not make himself from the outset. B.S.A. had already stopped producing motorcycles in 1972.
Artwork with pitfalls
Here too, numerous illustrations on the printed inner cover again illustrate the songs.
And an open book as a reminiscence of literature is not missing either. This, however, backfires somewhat. This time the lyrics are printed, in a font size that actually screams for a magnifying glass:
The single from the album
The Trevor Burton composition „Loving Me, Loving You“ was released as a single, also as a picture disc in the style of the time, with two covers of songs by rock and roll gods on the back, each recorded live by SGB:
- First there was „That Makes It Tough“, a rather leisurely (and let’s say it in series: also a bit kitschy) number from the second posthumously released Buddy Holly record, which the late forefather of Rock ’n‘ Roll had also written himself.
- The second song „No Money Down“ is about a car purchase and was originally, the B-side of the (not very well known) Chuck-Berry single „Downbound Train'“ from 1955, a time (as a listener on YouTube wrote about this song) „From back when music was music, and Cadillacs were Cadillacs“.
Mayor-Company „Bye-Bye“, but it remains exciting
Chart placements of album and single? You’ll guess it: None.
Which also explains why „Saints & Sinners“ was the last album of the Steve Gibbons Band that was released by a major company. The contract had expired, and there was no renewal. From now on the recordings were made more sporadically and with different labels.
In the three and a half decades after „Saints & Sinners“, only two studio albums of the Steve Gibbons Band with songs penned by Steve Gibbons („Maintaining Radio Silence“ 1990 and „Chasing“ Tales 2008) and one studio album with mainly cover versions („Birmingham to Memphis“ 1993) were to be released (besides the 1996 solo LP „Stained Glass“).
Nevertheless there were still some highlights to come, after all the career of the band should still lead to the GDR and the bandleader should share the stage with the ex-Beatle Georg Harrsion, the two Rolling Stones Ron Wood and Billy Wyman as well as the former Elvis-Presley guitarist Scooty Moore.
Live at Rockpalast (W-Berlin 2.11.1981)
But next came, for the whole band, a gig at the German Rock-Olymp (or would you have to say „Walhalla“ instead of „Olymp“?), the Rockpalast.
„Pretty worn out guys“
The concert took place on 2 November 1981 in the Berlin Metropol. As usual, the band came to this gig directly from a tour, so that, according to the memory of Rockpalast presenter Albrecht Metzger, „the guys looked pretty worn out“.
Almost half of the cover versions
The fifteen songs, almost half of which, seven were cover versions, were nevertheless performed convincingly
The concert is described in a review as follows:
Steve performed in November 1981 with a perfectly coordinated team in the Berlin Metropol. Trevor Burton and P.J. Wright present themselves as cunning guitarists. Also the rhythm section with Derek Wood (bg) and Alan ‚Sticky‘ Wickett (dr) acts absolutely sovereign. But the boss in the ring is clearly Steve Gibbons with his inimitable vocals. By the way, the other four musicians are also working on the vocal mike. ……Recording technically you can tell the recording is of TV origin. Nevertheless, the sound engineers have made the best possible use of the tapes.
And Michael Vonau writes in the liner notes to the DVD release of the concert in 2010:
As another new discovery, Alan „Sticky“ Wickett gave his drum debut on „Saints & Sinners“ and the following tour. He was so versatile and competent that after his time at SGB, there was only one change to the jazz camp: he served none other than Chris Barber – with small interruptions – until 1998 and set the pace in his Jazz and Blues Band.
Derek Wood on bass was also new to the SGB team, he played a well-founded bass…
As the most important partner of Steve Gibbons during this period of his life, Trevor Burton shines in the Rockpalst concert like rarely before. … You can tell that the long years as a bass player of the SGB had made his true mastery of the guitar fall into oblivion and that he now definitely wanted to change that.
In this concert the band played the following pieces:
- Social Dance
- A To Z
- Loving Me, Loving You
- No Spitting On The Bus
- The Rugged Rock
- Biggel’s Fly’s Undone
- To Be Alone With You
- Gave His Life For R’n’R
- Git It
- Down In The Bunker
- Bye Bye Johnny
- Like A Rolling Stone
The concert follows a sophisticated dramaturgy, which obviously tries to present pieces from all previous albums in a sales-promoting way, but has the one or other weak point, like cover versions of „Paralyzed“ (Elvis) and „Bye Bye Johnny“, which come along „with the handbrake on“. Of course, the many cover versions also come at the expense of one or the other original composition, which you might have been able to present if you had already appeared in such a cult show.
The beginning with a cappella singing is successful, for many perhaps surprising. Via the Reggae rhythms of „Social Dance“, the more hit parade oriented „Loving Me, Loving You“ and the Bo-Diddley-shuffled „No Spitting On The Bus“ the band slowly works it’s way up to the „harder“ numbers. Among these, the almost eight-minute version of „Down In The Bunker“, which is characterized by overflowing and driving guitar solos, stands out especially. A „Like a Rolling Stone“ in reggae style, which starts reservedly, but then gained strength formed the finale.
All in all the band could be satisfied with their West Berlin performance. What probably nobody in the audience suspected was that SGB were already sitting on packed suitcases to play behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, thus becoming the first Western white band to be allowed to tour extensively through the GDR.
Here you may find more details about that.