"Everything I touch is comin' up roses"
As 1972 drew to a close, things had seemingly settled down a little bit in the landscape of British rock music. The singles charts were full of good time glitter stompers, and the album charts full of amplified heavy rock and ambitious prog rockers. There were a few acts that bridged the chasm between singles and album charts with regularity, primarily David Bowie and Elton John, although the likes of Mott the Hoople and Queen were also starting to gather momentum. Meanwhile, at a grassroots level, the first green shoots of a vibrant pub-rock scene were starting to show through.
In the middle of all this, a band who just didn’t fit into any pigeonhole quietly released their debut album. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band consisted of a frontman who had been searching for a band that would allow him to finally make his mark after fifteen years of trying to make an impact. He had finally found his ideal backing band in the shape of the underachieving, yet ambitious and prodigiously talented Tear Gas, a Scottish four piece rock combo several years his junior and in search of a uniquely magnetic frontman. The mix of experienced showmanship and youthful enthusiasm was a potent mix, and resulted in a rough and ready sound which drew from influences as diverse as blues, early rock and roll and vaudeville. Alex Harvey’s lived-in vocals provided the gravitas of a man who had learned the hard lessons of life through bitter experience, while the rest of the band, co-led by pierrot painted riff machine Zal Cleminson, and the more understated keyboard wizardry of Hugh McKenna, proved to be a versatile rock beast that could only be tamed by a man who had been through what Harvey had experienced.
There must have been a certain element of “Who / What the hell is this?” from listeners when Framed was first released, as Harvey’s theatrical showmanship leaps off the record with the confidence of a master showman and the rest of the band prove themselves to be second only to The Spiders from Mars in being exactly the band that their frontmen needed to launch their assault on the charts. With a third of the tracks on the album consisting of well executed cover versions, including the opening statement of intent title track and the irresistible singalong mobster story of “There’s No Lights on the Christmas Tree, Mother They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight”. Elsewhere there are a couple of songs from earlier in Harvey’s career by way of Nick Cave favourite “The Hammer Song”, and the almost impossible heavy rocking “Midnight Moses”, repurposed and given a whole new lease of life by SAHB, and the lengthy “Isobel Goudie”, which showed that the band could do lengthy narrative pieces without having to fully embrace the complexity of prog rock.
Framed closes with the frenetic “St. Anthony”, an energetic rocker that underlined the fact that SAHB were going to take advantage of the creative momentum they had tapped into, and that unlike Harvey’s previous projects, this would not be the last you would hear from them. Indeed, that was very much the case, as within twelve months SAHB had released their aptly named follow up Next, and from there would release a sequence of albums which can proudly stand among the best of the era. 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.