Throughout the 70s, the unfashionable Budgie were as oddball as their name. Although specialising in heads-down, no-nonsense riffage, their albums all included acoustic interludes and softer songs which, by accident or design, made everything else sound even heavier. Additionally, they wrote the most ridiculous song titles ever. (Don’t waste your time looking for a better pair than You’re The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk and In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Hand.)
Frontman Burke Shelley (hair and bass, a template for Maiden’s Steve Harris, aviator spectacles rarely copied) sang in a higher-than-average register but better than Geddy Lee, with whom he is often unfairly compared. Alongside him the band’s other unique selling point was Tony Bourge, an exceptional guitarist of many stripes but seemingly happiest inventing riffs that have inspired everyone from nascent NWOBHM heroes to Josh Homme. There are different drummers on the three albums here but all do the business, powering Budgie through a career-defining purple patch: albums three to five, here in their entirety.
Their first two had been produced by Rodger Bain, which gave them a sludgy sound like early Black Sabbath. The ones here, produced by Budgie, retain the sonic attack and clear away the gloom. Never Turn Your Back On A Friend (1973) begins with Breadfan, its psychotic riff underpinned by an alarming series of (yes) budgie-like chirrups as Bourge’s fingers speed across the strings. That Metallica’s cover was so similar underlines how good the original was. Arguably better is the 10-minute Parents, an atypical reflective lament to which Bourge adds not only stunning, Peter Green-like solos but, in a lengthy fade-out, what sounds like seagulls screeching overhead.
Another 10-minute epic, Zoom Club, is the super-heavyweight on In For The Kill (1974), but the whole of the first side of vinyl (which it originally closed) is almost faultless. Continuing with Crash Course In Brain Surgery (also re-recorded by Metallica), its four stellar tracks make it easier to forgive a weaker second half.
Bandolier (1975), though, is Budgie’s most rounded set. Opening with the furious Breaking All The House Rules, it boasts I Can’t See My Feelings (covered by Iron Maiden in 1992), a faithful romp through fellow countryman Andy Fairweather Low’s I Ain’t No Mountain and ends with the pièce de résistance: Napoleon Bona-Part One, a gently menacing intro to its skull-smashing denouement, Napoleon Bona-Part Two. Seriously good these are unquestionably the very best of Budgie.