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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baker Gurvitz Army: Live In Derby '75


1) The Hustler; 2) Space Machine; 3) Remember; 4) White Room; 5) Neon Lights; 6) Inside Of Me; 7) Memory Lane; 8) Sunshine Of Your Love; 9) The Artist; 10) Freedom; 11) Time; 12) Going To Heaven.

Although, at their peak (and they were almost always at their peak, considering they only lasted three years), Baker Gurvitz Army were a real swell live act, somehow they never got around to putting out a live album — probably because there was little hope of commercial success, given the failure of the studio ones (too bad they never got inspired by the example of KISS). The vaults did open, eventually, in the 2000s, with a whole stream of low-budget, but sometimes sur­prisingly high-quality releases, the most representative of which is this show, recorded for a live BBC broadcast (hence the quality) during the Elysian Encounter tour.

In the true spirit of progressive ambition, the setlist barely fits onto a single CD with only twelve numbers — but, in all honesty, the seventy eight minutes never feel tedious. These are just long songs, sometimes launching into jam mode for brief periods (this ain't Cream, really), sometimes giving the guitarist or the drummer an individual chance to shine (only one, and a relatively brief at that, drum solo — probably at the BBC's cordial request), but most often fixed in a steady groove mode, just getting it on, with the Gurvitz brothers providing the hard rock excitement, Ginger adding a jazz foundation, and the keyboard guy laying on the funk 'n' fusion. Although, honestly, to hell with the keyboard guy — his presence is notable, but as a keyboard guy, he is the weakest link in this chain.

The setlist is predictably concentrated on Elysian Encounter, with a couple of numbers from the debut album, a «preview» of ʽNeon Lightsʼ from Hearts On Fire, and a 7"-only song (ʽSpace Machineʼ, "our last single that vanished without a trace", Mr. Snips says) to hold up some balance — as well as two Cream classics (guess which ones) donated specially for Ginger fans, and a late period Jimi Hendrix cover, because what fun must it be to feel yourself in the shoes of The Band Of Gypsies from time to time.

The spirit of the transformation into the band that made Hearts On Fire is already evident — there is a very strong emphasis on danceable funk grooves throughout the show, most obvious on the drastic rearrangement of ʽInside Of Meʼ, where they drop the melancholic blues and lay on the dirty funk like there was no tomorrow. But it works much better in the raw live setting than it would work in the polished confines of the studio. As I said, it ain't Cream — there is never any feeling that the players are fighting a mortal combat against each other, even Ginger seems fairly content to be just a member of the team — but there is no fear, either, of letting their hair down and sacrificing, where possible, precision and discipline for the sakes of gutsy excitement.

They could actually do without the Cream covers, though: it is quite clear that both were per­formed for purely perfunctory reasons, and that neither Mr. Snips (who omits an entire verse from ʽSunshine Of Your Loveʼ) nor Adrian Gurvitz (who refrains from playing the last solo on ʽWhite Roomʼ) have any real interest in playing a Bruce or a Clapton. But I suppose that having Ginger Baker in your band surmises certain ironclad obligations — especially when one starts thinking of all the potential ticket buyers. Anyway, that is just six minutes out of seventy-five, and they don't sound awful or anything.

Overall, a content thumbs up here: the whole thing is a sweaty, crunchy, agile, and intelligent sample of mid-Seventies' «hard-art»-rock with a respectable balance between the hard and the art parts. Less elitist and esoteric than something like The Mahavishnu Orchestra, perhaps, but high­ly recommendable for all those who'd like to combine intelligence with headbanging without having to take it from the likes of Uriah Heep.

Check "Live In Derby '75" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Live In Derby '75" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. I'll listen to this album this weekend, but I can't let slip the opportunity to satisfy my second fetish: UH. One shouldn't listen to UH to combine intelligence with headbanging, but to combine sheer unadultered goofy fun with headbanging. There is an abundance of evidence (quite a lot of it provided by GS on his old site!) that fun was their main goal. This also explains John Wetton's choice after King Crimson.

  2. Looks like I'll have to break my promise; only Space Army is placed on YouTube (not impressive) and I'm not interested enough to hunt the album down elsewhere. Fortunately there is some more live footage to be found - from German TV. And their standards are at least as high as those of the BBC. 4 Phil is worth checking.
    The keyboard player only plays a supportive role, so is not really a weak link. The Gurvitz brothers are generic as always and Baker has a lot of fun.
    But replacing Live 1973? No way - I wouldn't want to miss the insane high-pitched falsetto harmonies, Box' coffee-grinder, Thain's immodest angling for the listener's attention, Hensley's silly sounds and Byron's powerful voice - in short everything that makes UH the Absolute Masters of Bad Taste. Oh, the Heepsters had speed too. For instance they played Roll over Beethoven faster than Ten Years After - just listen to the two versions back to back if you don't believe me.
    GBA had nothing like that - they had a certain drummer. Kerslake was just a lumberjack, somehow fitting as well. Baker remains the main reason to pay attention to GBA, live or in the studio.

  3. Part of the reason for their failure was the perceptible lack of inspiration. Two Cream covers? Hendrix cover? And another song called "Remember" which apparently isn't Hendrix?

    No, I have to back up MNB. Uriah Heep succeeded where BGA failed, and for an excellent reason. They were fun to listen to! And they looked like they were having fun! "Bad taste" is subjective. It's not as if Uriah Heep ever subscribed to the modern "death metal" penchant for Satanism and gore (now THAT is bad taste). Uriah Heep may not have been the best group in the world, but they sure beat the pants off joyless conservatives like BGA.

  4. Just listening to the album on Spotify. Never heard it before. It's great, highly enjoyable (and yes, no need for some whipped Cream at all). But who does the introductions? Is it the singer or is it the drummer?
    BTW: saw Uriah Heep a few weeks ago. They are still fucking brilliant.