Climax Blues Band: Live, Rare and Raw 1973-1979

Climax Blues Band, Live Rare and RawAn advert for touring bands, who learn their craft night after night, this superb batch of gigs shows how CBB moved from blues towards funk and excelled at each genre.

4 Stars

3CDs: 31 tracks, 3 hrs 40 mins

(Repertoire)

For years, I’d think back to a BBC Radio 1 “In Concert” in the late ’70s, where Climax Blues Band did a powerful version of “Amerita/Sense of Direction.” It had a short, aching section of guitar solo that was packed with so much more emotion than the studio version and it was always on that wish-list in the back of my mind. Here comes a collection that not only contains that wonderful solo, but features it twice. These situations always run the risk of disappointing. Three discs might be packed with any amount of filler. Despite a title that could be taken to mean ‘the bits we found to pad out a compilation,’ this is a real gem of a collection. Even the earliest gig is a radio set, so has a strong sound quality. It catches the blues-based band as they hit their stride and sees them develop into a totally cohesive unit, picking up a clear funky thread.

Marquee Club, London, ’73  Starting with regular kick-off track, the twelve bar, “All the Time in the World,” this is very much a blues set, but even here there is a heavier roar to its engine.

There is also a taste of what makes them so unique. Apart from featuring multi-instrumentalist Colin Cooper, his voice as deep as the Mariana Trench, the first account of “Seventh Son” has his sax sounding like it’s being put through a Leslie cabinet, or treated in some way to give it the feel of Caravan’s keyboards.

These two tracks, as well as “No Easy Road” re-appear in later sets and blues anoraks can trace their development. At this stage, they think nothing of jamming a track out to 15 minutes or more.

The only real downside to it being a live set from 1973 is the five-minute drum solo. But – like Deep Purple’s “The Mule” – it is surrounded by a decent riff, which has a jazz-rock tone, and is actually a well-constructed solo.

New Jersey, ’74  Just a year on, “So Many Roads” is down to 13 minutes, and sounding more measured, mature and purposeful. Its impressive note-perfect duet lines (both scat and guitar sharing licks with the sax) show the result of touring the same songs night after night, looking for the ultimate version.

One missing track that I hoped to see included here, is the blues classic “Come On in my Kitchen,” which had been a regular part of the show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SIObEmohac#t=31). However, half of it is present, but tied to “Country Hat,” a creative solo slide piece from guitarist Pete Haycock (sadly no longer with us). Haycock was the axis around which the band revolved. His guitar had a clear, fresh tone (unmistakeably his) and his ferocious talent was indisputable.

They end with a hugely energetic “Going to New York,” which captures their excitement at making ground in the States.

Guildford, ’76 The choicest set, this begins with some excellent classic rock, the aforementioned “Amerita/Sense of Direction” paired with the equally fine “Together and Free,” from probably their best studio disc, Gold-Plated.

Then they switch to funk mode on the back of the success of their only significant single, “Couldn’t Get it Right.” Urgent, compact, distinctive and full of heart, “Chasing Change” typifies the new material.

They loosen up at the end, jamming a couple of retro tracks before covering The Beatles’ “Get Back.” The return of original keys player Richard Jones completes the musical colours. This really is their career in a nutshell.

Miami, ’79 This is the only set that has been previously released (so the ‘Rare’ part of the title is as true as ‘Live’). It again covers much of their career but, apart from “Watcha Feel,” the funk has largely disappeared. Perhaps the clue comes when they introduce a Howling Wolf song with the words, “We’re just going to enjoy ourselves and play a little blues for a while.” By this stage, they know who they really are.

They have also been touring “Seventh Son” long enough to make it feel completely different this time around.

A little like McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and letting the keys stand further forward, the ballad “Fallen in Love for the First Time” makes its début in this set and is one of the highlights. It’s another that showcases their three-part harmony work.

Derek Holt’s adventurous bass lines underpin this fine set all the way through, both complementing the melodies and forging a muscular rhythm section with drummer John Cuffley.

Tidily packed into a jewel case, and with substantial liner notes, this classic set is a powerful testimony to the effects of gigging solidly and learning how to enthral an audience. Where has it been all my life?

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