“Some terrific playing; moody soundscapes and drama… but a regrettable lyrical default”: Warhorse’s The Recordings 1970-72

2CD set from group with Rick Wakeman and Deep Purple connections, who hovered promisingly at the junction of pysch rock and prog

Warhorse: The Recordings 1970=1973
(Image: © Esoteric)

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Warhorse were one of the many bands at the start of the 1970s looking to combine their psych rock roots with the emerging progressive sound. However, like The Nice before them, their original role had been as the backing group to an American soul singer, in this instance Marsha Hunt. The key member of the group was Nick Simper, bass player on Deep Purple’s first three albums. 

When Hunt temporarily left the music business, Simper put a new band together from the ashes of the old, with members including ex-Johnny Kidd & The Pirates guitarist Ged Peck and a young, talented keyboard-player called Rick Wakeman. Quickly over-committed, Wakeman left and was replaced by Frank Wilson. The band then signed to new prog imprint Vertigo.

Warhorse defined a sound on their 1970 self-titled debut album that they’d pretty much stick to throughout their existence: solid hard rock grooves with progressive-leaning arrangements, topped off with the soulful shouting and screaming of vocalist Ashley Holt.

The bonus demo tracks suggest Warhorse might have had more oats in the bag

Opening track Vulture Blood is arguably the best thing they ever did, a churchy procession of organ exploding into a funky, head-nodding riff that recalls a spikier Atomic Rooster.

There’s some moody soundscaping and a bit of drama on tracks such as No Chance and Woman Of The Devil, with the latter featuring some terrific playing from Peck, while epitomising Holt’s regrettable lyrical default.

Highlights from 1972’s follow-up Red Sea include Back In Time, its lumbering block riff morphing into a grandstanding, vaguely experimental solo guitar section from Peck’s replacement Pete Parks. There’s also a surprisingly effective version of Shirley Bassey/Tom Jones hit I (Who Have Nothing). But overall, the songs are undercooked and the production is dated.

The bonus demo tracks (all previously available) suggest Warhorse might have had more oats in the bag – but Simper called it a day when Holt and drummer Barney James left to join Wakeman’s English Rock Ensemble.

Warhorse: The Recordings 1970-1972 is on sale now via Esoteric.

Joe Banks

Joe is a regular contributor to Prog. He also writes for Electronic Sound, The Quietus, and Shindig!, specialising in leftfield psych/prog/rock, retro futurism, and the underground sounds of the 1970s. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, MOJO, and Rock & Folk. Joe is the author of the acclaimed Hawkwind biographyDays Of The Underground (2020). He’s on Twitter and Facebook, and his website is https://www.daysoftheunderground.com/