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The Ex-Lion Tamer, Ex-Lion Tamer & The Ex-Lion Tamers

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SAHB Boston Tea Party

Released at the end of May 1976 on Mountain Records, Boston Tea Party gave The Sensational Alex Harvey Band their first outright hit since their rambunctious cover of Delilah the previous summer. The single didn’t quite match Delilah’s top ten chart position – It peaked at #13 – but it did hang around longer in the singles charts and gave Harvey the chance to appear a couple of times on Top of the Pops. This being the first of those two appearances.


Harvey was, by this point, attracting fans across Britain, North America, Europe and Australia. Even Iggy Pop, a bravura live performer himself of course, was taken aback by Harvey’s often outlandish onstage antics as was the young Nick Cave who still customarily namechecks Harvey whenever he plays Glasgow, going as far I’m told, as to dedicate the entire Grinderman Barrowlands set in 2010 to the memory of Alex.

Maybe more surprisingly, the teenage Robert Smith was a fanatical follower of SAHB, and saw them on numerous occasions during the 1970s. In a feature in Rolling Stone (Australia) just over twenty years ago, he explained: ‘People talk about Iggy Pop as the original punk, but certainly in Britain the forerunner of the punk movement was Alex Harvey. His whole stage show with the graffiti-covered brick walls – it was like very aggressive Glaswegian street theatre.’

Whether any of the members of Wire were SAHB fans I have no idea. Colin Newman apparently wrote the original lyrics of the following track about a lion tamer – a profession Harvey famously liked to claim he’d once been himself – but Graham Lewis judged the lyrics to be substandard and replaced most of Newman’s words with his own. All references to any lion tamer were excised, hence the song’s new title, Ex-Lion Tamer.

Very Wire.


And finally, a quick mention may as well be made here of the band The Ex- Lion Tamers, formed by rock critic Jim DeRogatis specifically to cover Pink Flag in its entirety and in the exact order of the Wire LP.

Wire would later hire the band to act as their support on an American tour.

Again very Wire.

The Opening Act For The Apocalypse & The Amazing Snakeheads!

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Alex Harvey NME Cover Oct 1974

Forty years ago The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were making headway in the charts with their second album Next and early in 1974, a single from that LP called The Faith Healer displayed the band at the height of their powers.

With their unforgettable stage act, they were fast on their way to establishing themselves as one of Britain’s highest grossing live bands. Critics loved them and they were increasingly forging a very special bond with their fans, who would often travel far and wide to see the band play at every possible opportunity.

A major part of that loyalty was down to the personality of the singer, the inimitable Alex Harvey, who claimed to be an ex-lion tamer and a street-punk and who, unlike many of his mid ’70s contemporaries, was not being tempted to go down the ever more common route of rock star self indulgence and complacency, this being the era of tax exiled musicians happy to flaunt an excessive champagne and cocaine lifestyle unimaginable to the vast majority of the people who bought their records.

In fact, in interviews of the time, Harvey predicted a forthcoming new wave of rock that retrospectively sounded a lot like Punk. ‘Round about now, some little young guy is going to come out with something and freak everybody out,’ he informed NME’s Charles Shaar Murray. ‘If it isn’t this year it’s got to be next year…’

At a point when many musicians and, indeed, music fans were getting used to the idea of rock music revolving more around musicianship than originality, he foresaw that: ‘Somebody’s got to come along and say to all of us: “All your ideas about rock-and-roll, all your ideas about sound, all your ideas about guitars, all your ideas about this and that are a load of wank. This is where it is!” ’

By the heatwave summer of 1976, several SAHB fans, such as Paul Simonon of The Clash, Rat Scabies of The Damned and Johnny Rotten and Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols were playing a vital role in fulfilling the forecasts of the man who would go on to be dubbed the ‘Godfather of Punk’.

As for Harvey’s band themselves, well, they carried on developing their own ideas about rock-and-roll, sound and guitars with much aplomb while touring and recording extensively. SAHB Stories came out in July, ’76 and as Allan Jones in Melody Maker put it: ‘Currently they are performing so devilishly that one imagines they’re the opening act for the apocalypse.’

Boys and girls, this is The Sensational Alex Harvey Band on The Old Grey Whistle Test early in ’74 with their version of Jacques Brel and Mort Shuman’s Next.

And doesn’t Alex completely inhabit the song?

 
Just as it can be dangerous to liken footballers in the early stages of their careers with one-off maverick geniuses like George Best, so too it can often be a bad idea to mention any new band in connection with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

In recent months though, one band from Glasgow have prompted such comparisons, with BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway describing them as ‘Alex Harvey meets the Gun Club’ while ‘like the bastard offspring of Jerry Lee Lewis and Alex Harvey’ is another quote I’ve spotted on their own publicity material.

See what you think. Here’s the official video for the fierce and spellbinding second single by The Amazing Snakeheads, Flatlining, shot rather stylishly by Alan Parks in Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry on Govan Road, which, coincidentally, is remarkably close to the birthplace of Alexander James Harvey.

And you know what, I think Alex would have approved of The Amazing Snakeheads.

 
For more on The Amazing Snakeheads, and I’m guessing that if you hadn’t heard them before, then after watching that promo that you will almost certainly want to find out more about them:

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Flatlining will be available from 20th January 2014 (RUG564D), with an exclusive B-side track, The Bullfighter but if you can’t wait for that, Flatlining is also available to purchase digitally now from iTunes, HERE.