Radio silence, darkness in the nights and highlights in Hamburg (1989/1990)

Two albums with reference to Germany

At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, two new releases (LP and CD) of the Steve Gibbons Band were released, each on a German label:

  • „Maintaining Radio Silence“, the first studio LP in eight years, recorded in 1988, was released by Episode, based in Frankfurt am Main.
  • The second album, a record entitled „Ridin Out The Dark“, was released on the Hanover-based independent label SPV (the abbreviation stands for „Schallplatten, Produktion und Vertrieb“) in 1990.

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In addition to that the live album was recorded in Hamburg. A lot of reference to Germany, which prove that in Germany the band was believed to have more commercial potential than at home. (How was that again with the prophet in your own country?)

Radio silence and darkness are probably no coincidence

Both albums carry titles that seem to allude to the situation of the group, which like many classic rock bands at this time was hardly noticed anymore. „Maintaining Radio Silence“ could stand for the fact that the group’s songs were hardly ever played on the radio anymore. And „Ridin Out The dark“ does not mean translated „Riding through the dark“, but „Overcoming the dark“.

Similarities and Differences between both records

Two albums two worlds!  Three titles, namely

  • „Don’t Trade Me In“,
  • „The Chain“ and“
  • Let There Be Bop“.

are found on both records. Nothing unusual, after all the songs of the last studio record often form an essential part of the current live program of bands.

Both albums were recorded by the same (new) line-up. Nevertheless both are very different in style and quality.

While „Maintaining Radio Silence“ seems to us somehow pale, sterile and artificial, „Ridin Out The Dark“ is convincing and takes you into a exciting concert with a well-rehearsed band, whose detailed playing creates a solid basis for the vocals and the many narrative interludes of the singer. At many points the words and the instruments throw little balls at each other (for example, when at the mention of names of motorcycle companies little licks refer to the music of countries in which the bikes are build).

Two albums two worlds! But one after the other!

The studio LP „Maintaining Radio Silence“

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New team around old core

The studio album is called „Maintaining Radio Silence“ and was recorded by a Steve Gibbons Band which was again almost completely replaced. Remaining from the previous line up were only

  • (of course) Steve Gibbons and
  • P.J. Wright, who not only took over the position on the guitar from Trevor Burton, but also his role as „last man standing“ next to the band founder.

New in the team were the following musicians

  • Brian Badham, who ten years earlier had often performed with a band called „Rainmakers“ in the Birmingham „Railway“, where he was described as follows:
    He sang most of the lead vocals too. He could sing and play very tough bass lines at the same time.
  • the drummer Brendan Day, who had previously played with the Grand Alliance managed by Miles Copeland, the manager of The Police. He then went on tour with Pete Haycock and played drums on two tracks of Jan Ackermann’s album „Noise of Art“. With the Steve Gibbons Band he was to record three albums and tour with them through England, Scandinavia and other European countries
  • And the guitarist Jock Evans, who had played in the 1970s with the band Little Acres from Dudley in the Midlands, among others.

Three highligts, but the rest?

The album undoubtedly contains wonderful tracks, namely

  • „Let There Be Bop“,
  • „The Chain“ both by Steve Gibbons and
  • the great cover version of „Don’t Trade Me In“.

But all in all the disc doesn’t ignite because of superfluous songs on musical aberrations.

The album starts with „In Over My Heart“ and as third song you have to listen to „Schoolboy“. Lyrically at least the first song is surely ok, but the musical garb (more concretely: the dominant keyboards) is not only far below the usual class of the Steve Gibbons Band, but it also stands for a lot of things that made the musical scene monotonous and boring at that time and you wouldn’t have expected especially from a band like the Steve Gibbons Band.

Gibbons is often praised for not bowing to the zeitgeist. „In Over My Heart“ shows that there are exceptions to every rule.

„World Stops Turning“ is somehow close to „Till The Well Runs Dry“, but doesn’t match its depth and persuasiveness.

„Don`t Let Them Get You“ would have had what it takes to be a simple but earthy rocker, if it weren`t for this ostinately mechanical metallic „ticking“ in the background. P.J. Wright can bend the strings of his electric guitar as high as he wants: This accompanying ryhthm reminds of the song „Da Da da da“ by the German band Trio, but without the charm of simplicity. So it doesn’t help much that the piece at the end still finds its way back to the original power of the Steve Gibbons Band.

„The Train,“ which has a touch of Johnny Cash, is played accurately. Maybe that’s why it is lacks feeling?

Listening to „Your World“ you ask yourself: Is this still a drummer or a computer? And the „bird pecking“ in the background is just annoying.

„Manyana“ is actually a good song, probably influenced by Dylan, but somehow the swing is missing, the little individual irregularities, the crooked spot on the nose of an otherwise flawless woman, that certain imperfect something which makes things beautiful.

„Slow Down“: Sure: Every line of this socio-critical text can be signed. But is that already a sign of quality? Or does it rather indicate calculation in writing?

„Wonderful World“: Undecided. A little bit too much, but on the other hand there are moods in which one likes to hear such things.

These „Mixed Emotions“ also continue with the bonus tracks, which will be addressed with the re-release of the album in 1998.

Conclusion

Even geniuses have weak hours.  „Let There Be Bop“ and „Don’t Trade Me“ are great songs. Especially „Let There Be Bop“ already hints where the journey would go on the second but next studio album, the outstanding „Chasing Tales“, which is so completely different from this records, but at the same time represents the logical next station of a long musical path.

The rest, however, gives the impression that the album is intended to be commercial and pleasing. While on „Chasing Tales“ the changes seemed to come „from within“, here it seems that they were determined from the outside and by the desire to be pleasing. To sum up. it must be said that „Maintaining Radio Silence“ is the weakest release of the Steve Gibbons Band and of Steve Gibbons solo. Sorry guys!

The tracklist in the overview

Here once again the tracklist of the original edition:

  • In Over My Heart (Steve Gibbons)
  • Don`t Trade Me In (N. Brooke/B. Croker)
  • Schoolboy (Steve Gibbons)
  • The Chain (Steve Gibbons)
  • World Stops Turning (Steve Gibbons)
  • Don`t Let`em Get Ya (Steve Gibbons)
  • Let There Be Bop (Steve Gibbons)
  • The Train (Steve Gibbons)
  • Your World (Steve Gibbons)
  • Manyana (Steve Gibbons)
  • Slow Down (Steve Gibbons)
  • Wonderful World (Steve Gibbons)

The live LP and CD „Ridin Out The Dark“

Dark title, great record

The title of this album is „Ridn`Out The Dark“.  With music like this, let us be clear from the start, you can do it very well!

Band members with strange preferences

This time the line up was unchanged from the one with which the previous release was recorded.

Remarkable however, the additional information given on the cover about the different band members. Concerning Steve Gibbons and Brian Badham the description is limited to their musical tasks. In brackets it states „Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar“ and „Bass Guitar and Vocals“. The other members of the band are introduced in a very flippant way and without reference to their instrument:

  • In P.J. Wright’s case, it said, semi informatively, „Sings A Bit And Plays Nerve Guitars Fitted With Albion Strings
  • Brendan Day is introduced as follows: „Laughs A Lot and Plays Solo Drums With Paiste Cymbals“
  • With Jock Evans, you have to guess the instrument or hear it. On the record sleeve he is presented in a moody and cryptic way „Drinks Bank`s Mild And Wishes You All The Best“.

A lot of product placement!

The Cowboys got older

As far as the equipment is concerned, the vinyl edition falls far short of the earlier standard of the Steve Gibbons Band’s LPs: no lyrics insert, no hidden messages on the inner cover. This is compensated for by the cover picture, which is reminiscent of that of the first LP:

A western gang is standing there, only noticeably older now (a bit like the cover photos of the red and blue Beatles album: the same setting years later, but here with a new crew except for Steve).

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It was photographed by someone who is listed on the plate under the pseudonym „The Attorney“, but the design is by Steve Gibbons himself, who still has the original template hanging in his big kitchen in his Birmingham home.

In this case the LP and the CD were released at the same time, with the CD featuring „No Money Down“ and the „Motorcycle Song“ as bonus track which are painfully missed on the LP.

Standards at the beginning, new number as continuation, then Motorcycle Song

With „Johnny Cool“ and a „No Spitting On The Bus“, which comes across as rather rocky and thus has lost its bo-diddley-like light-footedness, two standards are presented here and the audience is made ready for the things that are coming.

The third song on the CD is the Chuck Berry cover „No Money Down“, the first of several songs (if you don’t want to count the bus from song number 2 , which is about motorcycles or cars.

„No Money Down“ describes a car purchase, more precisely: the „upgrade“ from a run-down Ford to a Cadillac with all kinds of „add-ons“. What is a hoochie-coochie-like hammering in Chuck Berry`s version over long stretches, sneaks up on Pink-Panther-like slippers with the Steve Gibbons band, and starts to cruise elegantly in the chorus. Men’s dreams of the motorized kind, garnished with flowing guitar runs.

„Medieval“ men don’t take themselves so seriously

This version is somehow more relaxed than the original and is typical for the whole album: determined but relaxed. Athletic but not fanatical fifties run marathons in a similar style: With ambition, but also with dignity. And without being tempted to try to keep up with much younger people, breathless and sweaty in terms of tempo.

The LP immediately features „Don`t Trade Me In“, a composition by N. Brooke and B. Croker. In it, an aging man, whom his wife or lover wants to leave, compares himself with an aging – yes, the word is coming up again – motorcycle:

Don’t trade me in for a new model … it may have a hundred gears, it may be faster, but didn’t I always get you there? …  I’m not an expert, but I’m not an idiot either, so don’t trade me in for a new model that only lasts a few years, it may be fast, but didn’t I always get you there?

This already sets the ironic tone and the willingness to make fun of yourself and the not so young group of men you belong to. This will be taken up again later in the story interludes on „Harley Davidson“ and the „Motorcycle Song“.

This will be followed, also on „Maintaining Radio Silence“, by a bouncing „Let There Be Bop“ and a relaxed „The Chain“. But with that the promotion of the new studio album by live versions of songs from this album is finished. And on the LP the first page is finished.

Page two begins with „Personal Problem“, co-written by P.J. Wright and Steve Gibbons, which we already know from the Birmingham Heart Beat 1986 gig.

After that, apart from the final number „Eddy Vortex“, the songs are exclusively dedicated to the topic „speed“ and „motorcycles“. „Speed Kills“ has no direct reference to motorbiking, because it is about the danger of a too fast lifestyle, in which there is no time left for time-outs to relax

Music theatre of a different kind

But then it continues with more motorcycle pieces, where Steve Gibbons pushes his skills as a reciter and chatterbox to its peak. This happens in a perfect interplay with the band, which is thought out and coherent down to the last detail.
For example, when Gibbons mentions other motorcycle brands on „Harley Davidson“ („It aint gonna be a Kawasaki, and it aint gonna be a Suzuki, and it aint gonna be a BMW , it aint even gonna be a BSA“), a musical quotation follows, which refers to Asia, to the German national anthem or to Steve’s own song BSA.

In between he interjects funny excerpts from the conversations of the obviously not so young motorcycle gang, for example how he tries to talk his buddy out of calling his daughter „Harley“, because she might not like that in later years.

And then begins (on the CD), the second piece in the same „narrative style“, which is missing on the LP. It is called „Motorcycle“ and with almost nine minutes it is the longest part of the triptych with motorcycle songs. It was originally written by Arlo Guthrie (the son of Woody Guthrie, who is the idol of Steve Gibbon’s own idol Bob Dylan). But the homespun original version by Arlo Guthrie is as far away from what the Steve Gibbons band made of it as „With A Little Help From My Friends“ by the Beatles from Joe Cocker`s version.

The trinity of

  • Harley Davidson,
  • the Motorcycle Song and
  • Triumph Bonneville.

is one of the best the Steve Gibbons band has ever done. A motorcycle mini-rock opera that should be played in every international biker club for the finale of the evening!

Conclusion

It’s all there on Ridin Out The Dark:

  • the story teller Steve Gibbons,
  • who raps over the rhythm carpet of his relaxed band,
  • Unity of content and form,
  • naturalness and the
  • atmosphere of a live concert with lots of interaction between band and enthusiastic audience.

You ask yourself: Is this still the same band from „Maintaining Radio Silence“?
Yes, it is!

And this again is proof that the Steve Gibbons Band, even in their different formations, is outstanding live, but on the studio recordings a lot, what actually makes them stand out, is lost sometimes.

„Caught In The Act“, „On The Loose“ and „Ridin Out The Dark“ are three live albums of a band with the same name but with different line-ups. Each one has its own style, but each one also stands for a different age. If „Caught In The Act“ stood for the impetuous power of nail-eaters, „Ridin Out The Dark“ reflects the routine and relaxation, but also the love of detail, of an old hand in his sixth decade.

The tracks at a glance

Here again the tracks at a glance, where we once again explicitly recommend the CD version:

  • Johnny Cool (Steve Gibbons)
  • No Spitting on the Bus (Steve Gibbons)
  • No Money Down (Chuck Berry) (only on CD)
  • Don’t Trade Me In (N. Brooke/B. Croker)
  • Let There Be Bop (Steve Gibbons)
  • Chain (Steve Gibbons)
  • Personnel problem (P.J. Wright/Steve Gibbons)
  • Speed Kills (Steve Gibbons) (Applause and Talk Intro)
    Harley Davidson (Steve Gibbons)
  • Motorcycle (Arlo Guthrie) (only on the CD)
  • Triumph Bonneville (Steve Gibbons)
  • Eddy Vortex (Steve Gibbons).

The next release took the Steve Gibbons Band musically from „Birmingham to Memphis“ and with rock ’n‘ roll pearls on the road to a technically ambitious Scottish record label that actually specializes in classical music, jazz and Scottish music.

So it remains exciting. Therefore: Have a look again!
Details are coming up!

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