"When Ashley Holt screams, doesn't it sound like Gillan?": Warhorse by Warhorse - Album Of The Week Club review

After being sacked By Deep Purple, bassist Nick Simper took up with Marsha Hunt’s backing band and gradually turned them into a hard-rockin' force

Warhorse: Warhorse album cover
(Image: © Vertigo)

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Warhorse: Warhorse

Warhorse: Warhorse album cover

(Image credit: Vertigo)

Vulture Blood
No Chance
St. Louis
Woman of the Devil

In the summer of 1969, Deep Purple’s incoming vocalist Ian Gillan had a devastating caveat. “He made it very clear that he wasn’t joining without Roger [Glover],” then bassist Nick Simper said. “I was definitely peeved.”

Reeling from this de facto sacking, Simper took up with soul belter Marsha Hunt’s backing band, White Trash, and gradually began replacing its sub-par members. When a pregnant Hunt herself stepped away, Warhorse emerged in its own right, with Simper giving vocalist Ashley Holt the run-out he’d almost had with Purple in 1968.  

“He was far better than any of the various vocalists who fronted Deep Purple,” Simper told Let It Rock in 2008. Rick Wakeman, too, was briefly in the frame, before the line-up was completed by guitarist Ged Peck, drummer Mac Poole and keyboard player Frank Wilson.

Warhorse got out of the gates fast, signing with Vertigo Records, debuting live under Mott The Hoople and, in 1970, releasing a snarling self-titled first album that told Purple what they were missing. 

“Warhorse was every bit as heavy,” Simper said, “and rocked just as hard.”

Yet sales were wretched. When the album failed to chart, and 1972’s Red Sea likewise sank, Vertigo ditched Warhorse. Poole left for Gong. Wakeman, who was due to produce a third album, poached Holt and new drummer Barney James for his Journey To The Centre Of The Earth album – and they never came back. 

Simper took the hint, and Warhorse went to the great rock’n’roll glue factory that same year.

“Of course, success is only measured by record sales,” the bassist considered, years later, “but I will always think of Warhorse as the better band.”

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Other albums released in November 1970

  • American Beauty - Grateful Dead
  • Bryter Layter - Nick Drake
  • The Man Who Sold The World - David Bowie
  • No Dice - Badfinger
  • Barrett - Syd Barrett
  • Loaded - The Velvet Underground
  • The J. Geils Band - The J. Geils Band
  • Naturally - Three Dog Night
  • Despite It All - Brinsley Schwarz
  • Emerson Lake & Palmer - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • Stephen Stills - Stephen Stills
  • Tea for the Tillerman - Cat Stevens
  • All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
  • Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant
  • Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One - The Kinks
  • Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus - Spirit
  • Play It Loud - Slade
  • Air Conditioning - Curved Air
  • Blows Against the Empire - Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship
  • Cruel Sister - Pentangle
  • Loaded - The Velvet Underground
  • Medusa - Trapeze
  • Number 5 - Steve Miller Band
  • Starsailor - Tim Buckley
  • Steppenwolf 7 - Steppenwolf
  • Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Derek and the Dominoes


What they said...

"An excellent Hammond-driven hard rock sometimes reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge, but never far away from Purple either, their dynamic but derivative songwriting is both a strength and a weakness in that they will never really manage their own sound. See the second track No Chance and Ritual (a rip-off of Wring That Neck but as if done by the Mk II line-up of Purple) for the all-too-obvious Purple influences." (Prog Archives)

"Ushered in by some gothic church like organ from Frank Wilson, Vulture Blood is based on a riff that isn’t a million miles away from being a funked up distant cousin of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. Ged Peck's playing is gritty and bears close similarity to Blackmore’s sound in places." (Head Heritage)

"Warhorse's self-titled debut was a progressive rock-heavy rock meld that was even less humorless than that of Deep Purple, let alone Black Sabbath, the band that they got compared to most frequently. There's a bit of art rock in the Hammond organ, and an operatic earnestness to Ashley Holt's lead vocals." (AllMusic)


What you said...

Martin Wooliscroft: Firstly, I do have to say that it is difficult to give an objective rating to an album that I have so much history with. In the late 70s this album was found in a long gone Nottingham second hand record shop, selling for a bargain price of 20p I believe, the low price no doubt being largely due to the fact that the album didn't have a cover. So, without a cover there was no real way of judging what genre of music it belonged to, apart from the song titles (which suggested some kind of Sabbath vibe, maybe) plus the fact that it was on Vertigo, compete with the full on swirly label. And being on Vertigo was always an indication of... something.. not sure what, but at least you knew that the record would look bloody cool on the turntable so that was worth 20p of anyone's money.

And the album itself was... OK. A pretty typical early 70s sub Purple kind of thing. Throughout the 80s it was my go-to album whenever I wanted to impress anyone with my obscure tastes. Still had no idea who they were, and it wasn't till many years later - possibly even not till the coming of the Internet - that I found out that they were formed by Nick Simper, ex of Deep Purple, and then it all started to make sense

Strangely, though, the album sounds way more like the direction Purple would take after Simper left than anything done while he was a member. Released the same year as In Rock, one album probably wasn't influenced by the other, but seemingly something in the 1970 zeitgeist produced albums full of Hammond organ and screaming vocals. And.. well, when Ashley Holt screams, doesn't it sound like Gillan? And tell me that Ged Peck's solos don't remind you a tad of a certain Mr Blackmore?

Highlights for me include the groovy (sorry can't think of a better word) Burning, the second half of which is just a pure early 70s instrumental workout; the wonderful guitar on Ritual, and I am even fond of the cover of St Louis, which was released as a single.

I am bracing myself for all the reviews describing this as a "poundland version of Purple" or similar, and also aware that Holt's vocals can be an acquired taste, but I do think the album stacks up well against Purple/Heep etc albums released around that time. And its not as spectacular as Captain Beyond, who captured another zeitgeist entirely. But biased as I may be towards an album I essentially grew up with, I still feel confident rating this as a high 7, possibly even an 8.

Bill Griffin: I didn't know this band had ever existed. It does sound a bit like the lesser known tracks on Deep Purple mark II albums of the era. Okay then, but nothing spectacular. Interesting to learn that Rick Wakeman was an original member even if he didn't appear on any recordings by them, having left to join Strawbs.

Keith Jenkin: A record that often crops up in 'Great lost Rock Album' listings. Took a punt on it a few years ago, its ok but I think it's overlooked for good reason and following an initial run, I've never again popped it in the player ahead of more obvious staples of the era from the likes of Purple, Sabbath, Heep and company.

Duncan Leask: Hate to say it, but in all the world of Deep Purple roots and branches this is not amongst the best.

Dale Munday: There are so many nods to Purple MK1 on this album. A couple of borrowed riffs, and the guitar player sounds like a Blackmore wannabe. Aside from that, I'm getting a Uriah Heep vibe.

John Davidson: Very much of its time but without the redeeming features of nostalgia or excellence.

It's not bad but its not good either. I can hear the Iron Butterfly influence much more than Deep Purple and comparing this to In Rock you know Deep Purple made the right call shaking things up. That doesn't forgive the snub about the Hall of Fame, but I guess petty arguments and pointless feuds are as much part of the Deep Purple legacy as the music.

Luc Van Goethem: The two Warhorse albums were very good, as were the albums from Nick Simper's Fandango, although i prefer the Warhorse albums Warhorse and Red Sea a bit more.

Paul Cropper: Bang average early 70s rock. Not a patch on Nick's former bandmate Rod Evans' Captain Beyond.

Evan Sanders: Thanks go out again to this group for introducing me to a band that I had previously not known about. I enjoyed the album, which sounds like a collection of Deep Purple b-sides and a singer with the signature scream. I would not call it a hidden gem given that I didn't find any of the songs to be very memorable. They remind me more of an opening act who can keep the audience excited until we see the band we paid to hear. 5/10

Alex Hayes: So, apparently, after his sacking from Deep Purple Mk I, bassist Nick Simper later found himself in a similar outfit called Warhorse. This band then managed to get a record deal with no less than Vertigo, released a couple of albums, did the usual touring etc, the whole works. However, after being met by a solid wall of apathy from the general public, everything fizzled out, and, by the mid 70s, the band had vanished just as quickly back into the ether. Well, I never. Who knew?

Not only had I never heard this album before, I had never heard of it, or of the short-lived band of the same name. I do love it that the classic rock era can keep surprising me with stuff like this though. And I also really quite like Warhorse. It's an album that rewards repeated listening. It's about as far away from reinventing the wheel as you can possibly get, even for that early stage in rock history, but is still a fine collection of songs and musicianship.

I may have never heard the album before this week, but I still had a pretty good idea of how it was going to sound, if only through the presence of that glorious spiral logo in the cover's top left-hand corner (decent cover too, by the way). I wasn't disappointed. It's a combination of early heavy rock/proto metal with strong Deep Purple/Uriah Heep vibes, music that ticks off all the right boxes. Raw but satisfying production? Check. Plenty of distorted guitar work, swirling organs and howling lead vocals? Check, check and check. An overall oppressive mood? Of course. What else?

It's a typical album of it's period. Would I recommend it? Yeah, certainly, but not at the expense of either In Rock or Demons And Wizards. It adheres to a musical formula that, even then, you'd have to be seriously shite to mess up. Warhorse didn't, and this was a pretty damn good listen. 7/10

Mike Canoe: Circumstances were such this week that I was only able to listen to Warhorse all the way through once. It's the kind of enjoyable early '70's proto-metal that I tend to gravitate towards.

I always wonder if I am musically sophisticated enough to tell good drumming from noticeable drumming but Mac Poole stands out to me. Same with keyboardist Frank Wilson, who reminds me of Ken Hensley and Jon Lord. Ashley Holt oversings at times but I do like when he lets loose one of his anguished screams.

At first blush, I like Woman Of The Devil best. A solid "lost album" that I'm going to keep listening to past this week.

Chris Elliott: It's forgettable. I got bored very quickly - thought it's been a long time since I heard Mk 1 Purple so tried that instead – then I remembered they weren't very good either.

Stephan Forster: I think their follow up album Red Sea was superior to this in every way.


Final score: 6.31 (56 votes cast, total score 354)

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