The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Framed - Album Of The Week Club review

SAHB crept up on an unsuspecting nation, grabbed it by the balls and won hearts and minds in unison

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed

1. Framed
2. Hammer Song
3. Midnight Moses
4. Isobel Goudie (Part 1. My Lady Of The Night, Part 2. Coitus Interruptus, Part 3. Virgin And The Hunter)
5. Buff's Bar Blues
6. I Just Want To Make Love To You
7. Hole In Her Stocking
8. There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight
9. St. Anthony

A Zelig-like figure, Alex Harvey was dubbed ‘Scotland’s answer to Tommy Steele’, and billed as such when his beat band supported Johnny Gentle And His Group at Alloa Town Hall in 1960. 

Like David Bowie, his latter-day friend during 1969, Harvey was a man with many personae. Ever the iconoclast, Alex Harvey enjoyed a show-business life; his stint as pit guitarist in the musical Hair at London’s Cambridge Theatre became another culture for his Petri dish. While he embraced the peace and love bit, his psychedelic era was short and sweet: the Giant Moth-period singles The Sunday Song and Maybe Sunday, and a brutal take on Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Stage set for something far more theatrical, he unleashed the extraordinary textures of Framed with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, including Hammer Song (later covered By Nick Cave) and the epic Midnight Moses, while also dabbling with the witchcraft heroine Isobel Goudie and the superbly detailed Mafia-mobster-goes-to-the-electric-chair melodrama There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree, Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

Join the group now.

Background

Alex Harvey, who’d tried his luck in pretty much every pocket of pop over the years, took up rock music at an age when most others have given up trying. 

“The machine scared me a bit because I don’t really want to be a star,” he said in 1976. “I don’t relish the idea of it. You know Rory [Gallagher]… well, we talk about that often and he’s managed to keep it separate. I try. I suppose I’m very extrovert on stage and everything, but at the same time…”

"Elvis came bustin’ through and it was a breath of fresh air, and that’s what it needs now. I don’t think it will be us, it’ll be some young kids somewhere... to keep the music fresh is the main thing.”

‘Fresh’ is a by-word for SAHB albums, for they all were that from the debut, Framed, in 1972. “I like that album a lot,” said Alex fondly. “That’s my favourite. It will always be. We did it, including mixing and everything, in three days.”

It was with that album that Alex decided not to develop a mid-Atlantic accent and sang instead in his native, distinctive brogue. “I went through a period of tryin’ to sound like Ray Charles. When I heard Ray Charles, I went berserk. I couldn’t believe there was such a thing possible. It was like the answer to my life and I tried to sing like that for a long time. People said it was great. It was soul singing but it wasn’t really soul singing. It was his soul singing. For me, real soul singing would be to sing a Scottish ballad.

“On Framed, I didn’t realise I was singing in a Scottish accent. It was just the way it happened."

Other albums released in December 1972

  • Octopus - Gentle Giant
  • Piledriver - Status Quo
  • The Grand Wazoo - Frank Zappa
  • Made in Japan - Deep Purple
  • R.E.O./T.W.O. - REO Speedwagon
  • World Woven - The Ides Of March

What they said...

"If we’re talking classic 70’s rock riffs, Midnight Moses has to be one of my favourites. A stop-start blues lick that doubles up on timing before giving way to a thunderous bass and drums rocker. Then there’s the singing. Having showcased a mellower style at the start of Hammer Song, Harvey really goes for the raw rock singing here, that accent again colouring the lyrics – far too many to mention here, though special credit to him for rhyming ‘Geneva’ with ‘Fever’. Genius." (Head Heritage)

"While Framed was a great album in its own right, it merely hinted at the greatness that was to come, as SAHB would become chart-bothering theatrical rockers led by one of the most charismatic frontmen of the era, who represented a streetwise older brother figure to much of his audience. While it is a bit of stretch to consider Alex Harvey as a precursor to Punk, you can certainly see its DNA writ large across Framed." (Backseat Mafia)

"Harvey's merger with Tear Gas, a faltering rock band, was the smartest move of his career. With a heady mix of theatrics and driving rock, SAHB quickly made a name for themselves across England, releasing this album along the way. Harvey struts and yowls and gets raunchy (prefiguring the SAHB version of Delilah) while Zal Cleminson rips up the territory with some astounding guitar work. A great debut and a hell of a rock album." (AllMusic)

What you said...

Iain Macaulay: So after the initial excitement of seeing a true Scottish act being put forward, I’ve managed to drag myself away from listening to the album and pen a little critique. There’s something very genuine about SAHB. Be it in the cheeky Glasgow charm in the rolling R’s of Alex’s voice or the distilling of all his previous musical endeavours into the raw fun of Framed. All be it with a massive kick up the arse. 

There’s Rock, blues and soul music mixed with vaudeville cabaret showmanship and some of the greatest characterisation lyrics ever penned, except for maybe some of those written by Fish, who is a fan. The whole album has a joyous live feel that simply draws you in to a very distinctive and original world that echoes with light flourishes of Beefheart and Zappa. 

You can’t help but be moved by the performance, it’s so energetic, so dramatic, so full of life, so pained. So Scottish. The sound and feel of a live band on fire with nothing to lose. Every song sounds different to the previous one which creates a varied listen that never bores. Although, this diversity does get distilled, or rather tightened up, over the two successive albums to great effect. 

Side one, with those first four songs, Framed, Hammer Song, Midnight Moses and Isobel Goudie, is simply perfect with such cohesive and imaginative songwriting. Side two jutters in its flow a bit with Buffs Bar Blues but Make Love, which is so sleazy, along with the next two tracks, Hole In Her Stocking and There’s No Lights return the magic of side one. Then it ends on such a high with the perfect storm of St Anthony

The band were an influence on a wide array of diverse acts including John Lydon, Nick Cave and the aforementioned Fish, three musicians with not very much in common at first listen. But Alex is there in composition and lyricism. This says a lot about the effect the band, and Alex, had, both in playing prowess, song arranging and lyric writing, on other musicians. And as a final note, If any musician wants to learn how to make a cover version their own, listen to Alex Harvey. Vambo Rools.

Graham Tarry: Used to have this album on vinyl, but like some of SAHB's output the variety was too much for me. Apart from Midnight Moses, the tracks are too 60s for my liking. The follow up, Next, had a better balance, including the classic Faith Healer. My personal favourite album of their's has to be The Impossible Dream from 74

Jim Linning: Great album from a great band. I was lucky enough to see them live a couple of times and it a testament to their theatricality and skill that they could entertain a rock crowd with such disparate musical styles and influences. This is well reflected in Framed, which offers such a variety of songs it can take a few listens to get into and a truly open mind to appreciate. My favourite SAHB album is The Impossible Dream but they never put a foot wrong for me. Even Rock Drill has its moments.

Hai Kixmiller: There's a reason I've never heard this stuff before, it's mostly early kooky British rock. Aside from the 12 bar blues of Framed, this album sounds like all the Beatles, Who, Pink Floyd, Bowie songs that made my brows furrow. It's more a collection of offbeat storytelling than rock'n'roll music. It's a shame these guys didn't do to Willie Dixon's I Just Wanna Make Love To You what Foghat did to it. If Alex would've put the energy of St. Anthony into I Just Wanna Make Love To You, he could have really kicked the doors off the hinges on that song.

Simon Clarke: I love SAHB but this isn't their best album. While Midnight Moses and St. Anthony are crackers, there's a bit of filler here as well. Those new to SAHB should try Next or The Impossible Dream instead.

Mike Ollier: There's an awesome YouTube video of the band doing Framed at a European festival ~ OK, it's basic 12 bar bollocks but Zal nails it to the mast and sends it over the ocean! A great performance from one of the better rock bands of the 70s. Zal is a truly exceptional guitarist.

Framed and Next are, for me, their best albums. Later albums were touched with genius but they never really made a coherent, great album. When they were good, though, they were fantastic. Perhaps they were too eclectic to really nail down a truly great platter. They were fantastic live, and the crowd adored Alex.

I attribute my hearing loss/tinnitus to being squashed up against the speakers at their gig at Newcastle City Hall!

James Praesto :I guess this album became marginally relevant since drummer Ted McKenna just passed away a week ago. Otherwise, it is one of those records you would find in the very back of your drunk uncle’s collection, and play only when you are out of food and whiskey, with the zombies outside just about to break down the door. Might as well, right? What do you have to lose?

I have never listened to anything by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band before, so I guess this will be an experience that resonates with the very intent of this Classic Rock group: something new and unfamiliar to create a conversation around. I have found some excellent albums here that still make it onto various play-lists, and a couple of them I even hunted down and bought on vinyl (Odessey And Oracle for the win). Will this record make the cut? 

The title track, Framed, opens the album with a typical Bad to the Bone strut, setting the tone for what is the quintessential Alex Harvey sound: the Rocky Horror Show Blues-Vaganza. It’s generic bar blues with sometimes overly dramatic vocals. If blues doesn’t move you, they are not doing it right, and unfortunately nothing stirs when I hear this; I have heard it a million times before, and quite frankly didn’t care for it after the first 2-3 times either. 

Buff’s Bar Blues is every song you ever heard in any bar you ever went to. I described The Sensational Alex Harvey band as bar blues already, without having even arrived at this song yet, so I guess I was right. The Willie Dixon song I just Wanna Make Love to You was terribly un-sexy and odd in its original form, and the Alex Harvey cover of it will not get anyone laid either. Also, after Etta James, recorded it, why even bother? 

The only two songs with redeeming qualities on this dime-a-dozen production are Isobel Goudie, with its creepy vaudevillian approach, and the very narrative There’s No Lights…. Towards the end, Alex Harvey channels a little energy in St. Anthony, while the band jams on and on (and on and on), but it doesn’t matter… I am done. I actually turned it off before the track was over; something that rarely happens in my world.

Much like every picture of the band has a creepy clown (guitarist Zal Cleminson in full mime regalia) photo-bombing the otherwise drab looking bunch, the music the band delivers is likewise a dull and unimaginative blues, interjected with a few random prog elements and somewhat dramatic lyrics with very little method to the madness. I struggle to find anything “sensational” here. 

Maybe with a little less Iron Butterfly and a little more theatrical storytelling, like on a couple of the tracks, an album like this could have more of a unique identity and make a statement in the process. Unfortunately, with an expressed intent to experiment, this whole dreary blues thing was just limp-wristedly thrown at the prog wall and just slid down to the floor like a drooping mess. Let it stay there.

(And having said all that, I still put Isobel Goudie on my playlist, because even a blind chicken will eventually chance upon a kernel of corn.)

Mark Cutler: I've had the Tomorrow Belongs to Me album in my collection since the seventies and have probably listened to it less than ten times. After hearing Framed I may have to dig it out and listen again. I'm really enjoying this album.

Mike Knoop: What I was expecting: An album of blues standards slavishly replicated by British musicians barely out of their teens. What I got: the sound of AC/DC before AC/DC even existed, with some honkytonk piano and squalling sax thrown in for good measure. What, no one else hears Australia's finest in the jackhammer rhythms, cheeky humour, and sly vocal delivery that can rise into a throaty yowl?

I realized, after I started listening to Framed, that I had actually confused Alex Harvey with British blues godfather, Alexis Korner. But now I obviously have another band in mind. Trade out the guitarist dressed as a mime for a guitarist dressed as a schoolboy and you have the template for AC/DC – who initially were made up primarily of transplanted Scotsmen.

I don’t know that the Young brothers were ever interested in tackling epics like Isobel Gouldie or St. Anthony but Buff's Bar Blues, Midnight Moses, Hole in Her Stocking, the title track, and the sensational cover of I Just Wanna Make Love To You would not be out of place on the Bon-era albums.

Thank you, Classic Rock, for another great discovery and sending me down the rock 'n' roll rabbit hole yet again.

Chris Webb: Having taken another couple of listens to Framed this week, I was struck by how well sequenced the track listing is. (Framed, then the slow burn of Hammer Song followed by the sturdy rocker Midnight Moses - what a killer riff! - right into the centrepiece, Isobel Goudy). Love the fact the album ends on a barnburner like St Anthony, too.

I was also struck by how much Alex shares some vocal inflections with Bon Scott, never noticed that before.

A great listen, really enjoyed revisiting this album.

Carl Black: AC/DC were my first love, I practically wore out Dirty Deeds as I played it so much. To me Bon Scott is a legend. So this leads to a problem regarding this album. I'm really not sure who came first. Was it Bon emulating Alex, or the other way round? Someone will tell me. But to me they sound, look and move the same. And i just can't get that out of my head. As far as the material goes, each songs starts with loads of promise, but ultimately fails to deliver and is a bit of a let down in the end. Worth a go but I'll stick with Dirty Deeds thank you.

Brian Carr: I may have heard the name Sensational Alex Harvey Band once or twice in my life, but certainly never heard anything by them. Being new to the artist, I didn’t read any comments prior to listening.

Totally reminded me of the great Bon Scott, so I had to research. Ah, both Scottish. I had the summer 2015 issue of Classic Rock laying around with Bon on the cover, but nothing there as that article was focused on his later days in AC/DC. Then I remembered I had the AC/DC Maximum Rock & Roll book, so I cruised the index and there it was. Something like Alex Harvey being a big influence on Bon.

So what did I think of the album? It was ok. The phrase “AC/DC demos, but with piano” came to mind. Honestly, I need to give it another listen in order to write about more than just my research skills.

Roland Bearne: Before listening I knew precisely nothing about Mr Harvey or his "Sensational" band. It has since accompanied me on runs and commutes. I really like it, no tech or historical insight other than I'm going to take a wild and uninformed guess that Bon Scott was a fan, tales of high jinks, low women and brushes with the law... great stuff. File under "I have no idea what it is but I rather like it!"

John Davidson: Apart from Faith Healer and Delilah, I couldn't have named a SAHB track and certainly hadn't delved into their albums.

Its a mixture of bluesy/heavy rock (Framed) and more traditional rock n roll (Hole In Her Stocking) , with a hint of the slightly bizarre (Buff's Bar Blues/There's No Light On).

If someone had told me this was an early record by Bon Scott, I might have believed them as some of the vocal phrasing and general tone is very like Scott. But every now and then Alex' Glasgow accent shines through.

Interesting, but uneven and a bit ramshackle - it was worth a listen but not something I'll dig out again.

Fred Varcoe: SAHB were all about the live performance. Harvey wasn't much of a singer; he was a vocaliser and entertainer, and he was brilliant in the guise of a mad Glaswegian ex-con. The band were fantastic (Zal Cleminson looked ridiculous) but their albums were so-so. Live it was a different story. 

Saw them twice at the Reading Festival. Once was on a sunny afternoon and Alex went mental, climbing over the sound system and stage; a year or two later, they were headlining and just as good. Never saw the AC/DC comparison, but Alex did have similarities to Bon Scott. 

The only other band who were very similar were the Heavy Metal Kids, who also put on a brilliant mid-afternoon performance at the Reading Festival (and who weren't heavy metal).

Final Score: 7.05 ⁄10 (107 votes cast, with a total score of 755)

Join the Album Of The Week Club on Facebook to join in. The history of rock, one album at a time.