The Steve Gibbons Band – Rollin’ – The AlbumsThe Steve Gibbons Band: Rollin’ – The Albums – album review

Esoteric Recordings

5CD/DL

7 January 2022

New boxset that includes the four albums that Brum music legend Steve Gibbons recorded with his band from 1976 to 1978, plus a BBC Radio In Concert session and many bonus tracks. Found amongst this collection is the 1977 UK Top Twenty hit single Tulane. Ian Canty gets a cob on

Steve Gibbons had already enjoyed quite a musical career even before forming the band that bore his name. The former frontman of The Uglys was a fixture on the Birmingham beat scene from its inception and had joined Jeff Lynne’s old outfit The Idle Race just before they spluttered to a halt in 1972. The last line up of that band junked the name and eventually became The Steve Gibbons Band. In this newly christened group Trevor Burton, who was a member of The Move in their 60s pomp, was on bass. The line up also included guitarists Bob Wilson (not the ex-Arsenal goalie/consummate sports presenter) and Dave Carroll, drummer Bob Lamb and of course Steve himself. They then quickly set about a building a top reputation as a hard gigging aggregation.

Peter Meaden, the ace mod face of the 1960s youth subculture, was impressed by the band’s no-holds barred approach at a gig they played at the legendary Islington rock pub The Hope & Anchor. He followed them to their next engagement back in Birmingham and soon signed them up by to a management deal in partnership with The Who’s representative Bill Curbishley, the brother of footballer Alan. Curbishley’s first task was to extricate Steve and the band from a long-term contract with The Move’s former manager Tony Secunda, which was accomplished with a large amount of money changing hands.

As a result of their link up with Peter and Bill, three quarters of The Who got directly involved with the affairs of The Steve Gibbons Band, with John Entwhistle even working on their first two albums, starting with the first mix of 1976 debut album Any Road Up. Entwhistle was scheduled to produce the finished version of the record, but all did not go according to plan, as the Ramport version didn’t hit the spot. As a result, US bubblegum mastermind Kenny Laguna was brought in to carry out a salvage job at Advision Studios, Fiztorvia. The LP, issued by the Polydor label, takes up most of the first disc of Rollin’. There are two bonus bonus efforts as well in Back Street Cat, a powerful rock & roll number with some dicey lyrics and the gravel-voiced, red-hot hard rock of Dick Malone.

While Steve notes in the accompanying booklet that they didn’t fit in with punk as such, it’s real no surprise that Stiff Records were interested before the Polydor deal. The evidence Any Road Up furnishes us with shows a bunch of older musicians with a main stock-in-trade that consisted of a brand of occasionally bluesy, totally unfashionable but tough street rock. In a nutshell, not unlike the pub rock that morphed into new wave on Stiff. While what they did was was far from the stark change punk offered, it was still something of a contrast to the easy listening pop mainstream of the time.

The pounding Take Me Home acts as a good curtain raiser. To prove that The Steve Gibbons Band weren’t one trick ponies, there are mellower moments though. Like Spark Of Love and Strange World for instance, both of which meld pure pop with some nice jazz guitar inflections. This is a decent, entirely self-penned debut that sets out the band’s stall pretty well. The excellent pop rocker Standing On The Bridge and the jagged riffing of Speed Kills are my favourites of the whole set. On the downside, the diversion into disco Natural Thing does not really work at all.

There seems to be some disagreement between Steve and producer Laguna as to whether the band had much original material in the lead up to their second album Rollin’ On, which was issued a year later in 1977. If that was the case, it strangely enough may have worked in their favour. Tulane, an old Chuck Berry number, was one of the two covers and it surprised everyone, including The Steve Gibbons Band themselves, in become a bona-fide hit single. The album ensues with the good-time pop rock of Wild Flowers, but Rollin’ On really slips into gear with the more punchy Light Up Your Face, which segues into a smart country rock influence on Now You Know Me.

Mr Jones is a cool r&b shuffle with a drug themed lyric and Tulane shows the band’s strengths in reinterpreting the Chuck Berry song as a revved up late 1970s rocker. What they come up with Dave Edmunds or Nick Lowe would have been proud of. Cross Me Over The Road is one of The SGB’s better slower songs and they even dip into acapella for Right Side Of Heaven, before the title track takes the listener back to an urgent street rock sound. A live version of Jerry Reid’s Tupelo Mississippi Flash kicks up a real storm and another short burst of vocals in Rounden finishes off an album that was pretty adept in portraying The Steve Gibbons Band as a viable rock & roll force on the 1977 music scene.

On this disc we get five bonuses, setting off with a power-packed non-LP single Gave His Life To Rock ‘n’ Roll. Make The Good Times Last is another up-tempo and meaty barn burner and the Dick Malone story gets an update on Dick Leaps In. To end with there are two tracks from their February 1977 John Peel session, with a bouncy take of Please Don’t Say Goodbye and Rollin’ On both shining bright.

The next step for The Steve Gibbons Band was a quickfire follow up in the shape of live album, as one senses that onstage was where they really came into their element. As such, it appeared a banker move all round, with the set featuring the hit single, a few numbers from their back catalogue, a large helping of covers and a couple of unreleased items. In the sleeve note Laguna asserts that the LP was drawn from shows at Akron, Ohio and London’s Dingwalls. It also comes to light that The Steve Gibbons Band’s cover of The Beatles’ Day Tripper may have been a wholly studio creation and overdubs of audience noise taken from other live LPs were added.

Whatever the circumstances, Caught In the Act presents itself perhaps as the key Steve Gibbons Band document. Ensuing with a raw blues rock version of Bob Dylan’s Watching The River Flow, throughout the album the listener is presented with a thoroughly unpretentious, totally honest outfit that thrived in a live environment. The solid instrumental base and sheer hard work of the band set the scene for Steve’s songs to work their magic. A nicely judged cut of The Coasters’ Shopping For Clothes is cool and funky and it is followed by a jumping take of rockabilly oldie Git It.

The version of He Gave His Life To Rock ‘n’ Roll could be The Steve Gibbons Band’s appeal in a nutshell: driving 1970s street rock with r&b accoutrements, all rendered with a ball of good-natured energy. And The Music Plays On is more restrained, but beats a path marvellously and builds to a neat climax. One Of The Boys, which doesn’t appear on any of the three studio sets, is an excellent high power hard rocker with smart guitar interplay and You Gotta Pay, which similarly didn’t show up on the studio albums, is nippy and natty. This all sets up Caught In The Act for a quite explosive three-pronged finale of Tulane, Speed Kills and Rollin’. Like many albums of this type, the question of how “live” the LP actually is remains in question, but what is certain is that it is a great set that caught the atmosphere of a Steve Gibbons Band in concert well.

The bonus tracks for this disc are drawn from a second visit to BBC Studios to record for John Peel in July 1977. The band nip into Carl Perkins’ songbook for the pure rock & roll of Boppin’ The Blues, but elsewhere opt to record singles Tulane and He Gave His Life To Rock ‘n’ Roll. As was usual with BBC sessions, these are dynamic, clear versions which benefit from the simplicity of the recording methods. The Music Plays On, which featured on the live section of this disc, gets a good studio outing too.

By the band’s fourth long player Down In The Bunker, Kenny Laguna had fallen out with Peter Meaden and as a result David Bowie cohort Tony Visconti was drafted in to produce. The percussion driven intro to No Spitting On The Bus gets us underway and the title Any Road Up gets reused for a song boosted by a really infectious rhythm and handclaps. Gibbons and Co dip their toe in a mix of country gospel on Big J.C. and Down In The City adds faint reggae touches to its rockin’ bustle.

Brass is used extensively on Let’s Do It Again and the energetic and catchy Eddy Vortex restored the band to the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. When You Get Outside is a neat strut with some fine guitar and overall Down In The Bunker is a decent selection, but possibly one that sacrifices a little of the band’s own unique identity as a complete unit with the added instrumentation.

Finally for disc four of Rollin’ – The Albums 1976-1978 we have eight bonus tracks appended to Down In The Bunker. This section kicks off in style with Gold Coast, which mixes rock and funk ably and pop tune Body Talk. Steve and band post a more overt attempt at reggae with Let Me Go and I Am Here’s restraint and moody setting help it become one of their better slow numbers. Non-LP single Get Up And Dance, a dance tune which relies on saxophone in part for its impact and Eddy Vortex’s b side punky Little Suzie ends this part of the set.

The final disc documents an appearance on the BBC Radio One/BBC2 Sight And Sound In Concert. After an intro from Anne Nightingale, The Steve Gibbons Band hurtle out of the traps with a fine and fiery One Of the Boys, before launching into a good version of early single Johnny Cool. Among the 14 songs here there is obviously a bit of a crossover with Caught In The Act, but we also get couple of previews for the Down In The Bunker album in the Bo Diddley beat of No Spitting On The Bus and an early go at the blues-picking of the title track, named here as Girl In The Bunker. This one has an oddball golf/sex/war theme! Mr Jones from Rollin’ On also crops up and a great performance of Speed Kills from the debut is a highlight.

They vamp the intro of Shopping For Clothes while tuning up, but it doesn’t take anything away from the tune and Boppin’ The Blues jives along nicely. Tulane is smartly delivered and the band are canny in gradually winding the set up with Tupelo Mississippi Flash and a raucous He Gave His Life To Rock ‘n’ Roll, before the climax of Rollin’, with some neatly phazed guitar and lastly a stomp through Day Tripper. On the whole, with on stage patter intact, this disc just eclipses Caught In The Act – it’s a very enjoyable live set that shows The Steve Gibbons Band’s awesome might in performance.

Rollin’ – The Albums 1976-1978 brings together a lot of activity from The Steve Gibbons band in a short period of time. That their excellent live sets tend to outshine the studio collections here confirms their repute as a hard-working, entertaining band on stage that were best enjoyed in that environment. Having said that, they did cut some sterling material among the three studio LPs and very much deserved their success at the time. The booklet included with the set has lyrics and a full history of the band’s turbulent two years stretch, with contributions from Steve himself and Kenny Laguna. It is all drawn together with typical style and panache by the late Malcolm Dome.

Like Mick Green’s mighty Pirates, The Steve Gibbons Band turned up at The Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival, rubbing shoulders with many new wave/punk acts. Both The Pirates and The SGB had the similar approach of no airs or graces, they simply took to the new age and got down to providing pure rock & roll fun. In that way these two older bands bridged the Year Zero divide. Steve Gibbons and his colleagues worked solidly during the two years documented here and to their credit they did experiment with some different sounds and styles too. For me The Steve Gibbons Band were always better going flat out for it on stage and the two examples included here are top notch, but the industry and craft that was their trademark yielded a fair number of high points on their studio work too.

The Steve Gibbons Band are on Facebook here and his website is here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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