Ten Years After steaming through I’m Going Home at Woodstock ranks among rock’s landmark ‘right place, right time’ overnight success stories, catapulting the London blues band to instant mega-stardom on the US stadium circuit. Although it brought riches, Alvin Lee felt he’d become a one-trick rock god and left in 1974, leaving organist Chick Churchill, bassist Leo Lyons and drummer Ric Lee to continue without him.
To mark half a century since Ten Years After found themselves leading another British blues explosion, their nine albums are gathered in a lovely box, along with an unreleased 1972 session and epic notes from Chris Welch.
Produced by blues dynamo Mike Vernon, Ten Years After (6⁄10) sports feet-finding Lee originals and moody blues workouts around Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me and Willie Dixon’s Spoonful. Their schedule dictated recording 1968’s breakthrough Undead (8⁄10) live at Klooks Kleek. There are sizzling jazz workouts (Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers Ball), with I’m Going Home earning Alvin his ‘fastest guitar in the West’ soubriquet.
1969’s Stonedhenge (7⁄10) expanded into progressive rock, deploying incendiary Canned Heat-style dynamics on future Slade set staple Hear Me Calling, although its overall impact is diluted by individual solo indulgences. Ssssh (8⁄10) could be considered their definitive album, providing slamming blues-rock templates like their lascivious reading of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.
Recorded at Olympic, 1970’s Cricklewood Green (7⁄10) further buffed up the sound, but Lee’s refusal to appear on Top Of The Pops stalled their only hit single Love Like A Man at No.10. Cracks were showing by Watt (4⁄10), knocked up from studio jams but, influenced by their country mansions, acoustic flavours elevated 1971’s A Space In Time (8⁄10).
1972’s Rock ’N’ Roll Music To The World (7⁄10) mated their blues-rock formula with druggy, gospel-charged funk. Five out-takes recorded by Chris Kimsey on the Stones mobile studio in a French villa have been remixed by the engineer to provide The Cap Ferrat Sessions (6⁄10).
By the time TYA recorded 1974’s lacklustre Positive Vibrations (4⁄10), intra-band relationships were frayed and Lee longed to pursue his solo path.
Sadly, Lee passed away during a routine medical procedure in 2013. This lustrous set shows a volcanic talent who deserved but didn’t crave his place alongside Clapton, Beck and Page, along with a band that swung with rare telepathy. Hopefully history will now be kinder to them.