The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were a rock band formed in Glasgow in 1972.[1] Fronted by Alex Harvey accompanied by Zal Cleminson on guitar, bassist Chris Glen, keyboard player Hugh McKenna (28 November 1949 – 18 December 2019) and drummer Ted McKenna, its music veered from glam rock to experimental jazz, around a core of experimental and avant-garde rock, dealing with themes from environmentalism to Chinese take away food. The band had a critically acclaimed status in the UK,[2] was very popular in continental Europe, and also highly influential in Australia, most notably on the young Nick Cave and his first band The Boys Next Door.

Band history[edit]

In August 1972, Harvey formed The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (often shortened to SAHB) with Cleminson, Glen and cousins Hugh and Ted McKenna on keyboards and drums respectively, all member of the progressive rock act Tear Gas.[3]

They adopted distinctive stage costumes: Harvey started to wear vaudeville-like clothes and his trademark striped shirt, while Zal Cleminson assumed the identity of a “mime” in full make-up and green-yellow jumpsuit and Glen wore a dark blue jumpsuit reminiscent of a superhero costume incorporating a lighter blue codpiece.

SAHB produced a succession of highly regarded albums and tours throughout the 1970s. The band did not enjoy large-scale success in the United States as it had in the UK,[4] but had a cult following in certain US cities, notably Cleveland, where the group first played at the Agora Ballroom in December 1974. Thanks to airplay from WMMS, songs like “Next” and “The Faith Healer” became very popular.[5]

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band had top 40 hits in Britain with the single “Delilah”, a cover version of the Tom Jones hit, which reached number seven in 1975, and with “The Boston Tea Party” in June 1976.[3] The song “Anthem” was a top 30 hit in Australia in 1975.[6]

Final albums together and split[edit]

Harvey left the group later that year and the other members continued with the name “SAHB (without Alex)”. They recorded a new album, Fourplay, in February 1977.[3] The album steered towards a solid pop-rock with some slight prog influences.

Harvey re-joined the group in mid-1977, while Hugh McKenna left. In 1978, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band then recorded Rock Drill, with Tommy Eyre replacing Hugh McKenna, and disbanded shortly afterwards.[3]

Harvey died of heart failure on 4 February 1982 in Belgium.[3]

Reunions[edit]

In 1992, Glen, Cleminson and Ted McKenna banded together to form “The Party Boys” which featured guest vocalists such as Fish, Dan McCafferty and Stevie Doherty with the Stone The Crows keyboard player Ronnie Leahy.[3] This band lasted about one year before deciding to recruit keyboard player Hugh McKenna and finally reform as SAHB. A live album, Live in Glasgow 1993, was released, with Doherty on vocals.[3] This line-up of SAHB disbanded in 1995, before reforming in 2002 for a tribute night to Frankie Miller at The Barrowlands in Glasgow, with the ex-Nazareth guitarist Billy Rankin on vocals. After a year, “Mad” Max Maxwell replaced Rankin.

SAHB released another live album in 2006, Zalvation, which was their first official release since Rock Drill in 1978, and an autobiography called SAHB Story, written by the former tour manager and author Martin Keilty. The band performed numerous tours and festivals across the UK, Europe and Australia before disbanding again in 2008, after the departure of Cleminson on guitar. The band performed a handful of shows that were pre-booked with the guitarist Julian Hutson Saxby but after that, they decided to move on to separate projects.

The Lost album[edit]

In January 1974, the band went into Advision Studios in London with the American producer Shel Talmy to record a third album. By April, the sessions were finished and the album was mixed. However, the band and management had some reservations about the overall sound and decided to scrap the entire album. Talmy returned to Los Angeles with his tapes.

Most of the song titles appeared on the official album The Impossible Dream later that year with a different producer, though the songs were dramatically changed.[clarification needed] The original recordings formed an album called Hot City, released in 2009 by Major League Productions.

In 2018, Nick Cave told Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, “My first band was basically an Alex Harvey cover band. We did Framed, Isobel Goudie, Faith Healer, Gang Bang, Next, Midnight Moses, everything. I wore jeans and a tight cropped t-shirt and our guitarist wore clown make-up like Zal… Our first gig was a Battle of the Bands thing in a country town and we played ‘Framed’ and came second. It’s been downhill ever since.”[7]

Robert Smith of The Cure has been quoted as saying, “People talk about Iggy Pop as the original punk, but certainly in Britain the forerunner of the punk movement was Alex Harvey. His whole stage show with the graffiti-covered brick walls – it was like very aggressive Glaswegian street theatre.”[8]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

  • Live (1975) – #14 UK,[12] #100 USA[13]
  • Alex Harvey Presents: The Loch Ness Monster (1977)
  • BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (1991)
  • Live on the Test (1995)
  • The Gospel According to Alex Harvey (1998)
  • British Tour ’76 (2004)
  • US Tour ’74 (2006)
  • Live at the BBC (Spectrum/Universal 2009)

Reunion albums[edit]

  • Live in Glasgow 1993 (1994) (with Stevie Doherty on vocals)
  • Zalvation a.k.a. Zalvation: Live in the 21st Century (2006) (with “Mad” Max Maxwell on vocals)

Compilations/other releases[edit]

  • Hot City (early version of The Impossible Dream, remastered and released in 2009)[14]
  • Vambo Rools: ‘Big Hits and Close Shaves’ (Vertigo 1977)
  • The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Collection (Castle Communications 1986)
  • All Sensations (Vertigo 1992)
  • Faith Healer – An Introduction to (Mercury Records 2001)
  • …Delilah (Spectrum 1998)
  • Considering the Situation (Universal 2003)
  • The Best of the Sensational Alex Harvey – #148 UK [15]
  • Last of the Teenage Idols (2016) – a 14-CD/217-track box set including 21 previously unreleased songs, 59 songs on CD for the first time and a number of rare recordings plus a hardback book of photographs.
  • Shout: The Essential Alex Harvey (Spectrum Audio 2018)

Singles[edit]

Year Title UK
[16]
AU
[10]
BE
[17]
1972 There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree…
1973 Jungle Jenny
1973 Next…
1974 Anthem 47
1974 Sergeant Fury
1975 Delilah 7 49
1975 Gamblin’ Bar Room Blues 38
1976 The Boston Tea Party 13
1976 Amos Moses
1977 Mrs. Blackhouse

References[edit]

  1. ^ “The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Biography & History”. AllMusic. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  2. ^ “SAHB Stories: Everything you need to know about The Sensational Alex Harvey Band”. 11 August 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1070. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  4. ^ Anastasia Pantsios, “Rock Beat”, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 25 July 1980, p. T-34.
  5. ^ Jane Scott, “Alex Harvey Dies on Boat”, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12 February 1982, p. T-23.
  6. ^ Jim Barnes and Stephen Scanes, The Book: Top 40 Research – 5th Edition, Barscan, Berowra, 2000, p. 318
  7. ^ “The Sensational Alex Harvey Band are the uncrowned kings of 70’s rock. Do you agree?”. The Red Hand Files. February 2020.
  8. ^ “The Sensational Alex Harvey Band”.
  9. ^ “SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND | full Official Chart History”. Official Charts Company. Retrieved 9 October 2020.
  10. ^ a b “Australian Chart Books”. www.australianchartbooks.com.au. Retrieved 9 October 2020.
  11. ^ “Alex Harvey – Framed”. Swedish Charts. Retrieved 9 October 2020.
  12. ^ “SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND | full Official Chart History”. Official Charts Company.
  13. ^ Atlantic Album Discography, Part 7: SD-18100 Series (1974-1977). Both Sides Now Publications.
  14. ^ “Hot City: The 1974 Unreleased Album – Alex Harvey”. Allmusic. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  15. ^ “CHART LOG UK: NEW ENTRIES UPDATE : Chart Date: 06.08.2011”. Zobbel. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  16. ^ “The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Songs ••• Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography ••• Music VF, US & UK hits charts”. Musicvf. Retrieved 9 October 2020.
  17. ^ “charts.org.nz – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Delilah”. Charts.nz. Retrieved 9 October 2020.

External links[edit]