The first three albums from Trapeze “The finest three-piece band never to make it,” plus live recordings
Release Date: 24th February 2023
Label: Purple Records (a Cherry Red Label)
Formats: 6CD Boxset
One of the great perks of this line of work is the frequent opportunity it provides to reappraise music that I’d all but forgotten about. Take Trapeze, for example – they were a band that toured relentlessly during their 1970s heyday (a period that, as it happens, coincides with my own personal heyday…), earned a fearsome reputation for their live performances and made a string of excellent albums. Described by bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes as “The finest three-piece band never to make it,” they were, at their peak, as heavy as Led Zeppelin, as accomplished as Cream and as soulful as Free, and their second album, Medusa (included in this boxset) is surely one of the great albums of its era. But, for one reason or another, it’s sat quietly in my rack for the past 30-odd years without ever really troubling my turntable. Now, thanks to Cherry Red, that’s all about to change.
Don’t Stop the Music is the first installment of Cherry Red’s programme of Trapeze reissues and includes the band’s first three studio albums – Trapeze (1970), the aforementioned Medusa (also 1970) and You Are The Music, We Are Just The Band (1972). Also included is the 1998 live album, Welcome To The Real World, recorded at a May 1992 show at London’s Borderline and, perhaps this boxset’s greatest treasure, a previously unreleased 2-disc live set from a 1973 live show in Dallas, Texas. It’s the usual deluxe package that we’ve come to expect from our friends at Cherry Red, with each disc in its own reproduction sleeve, an informative booklet with detailed notes on each album from heavy metal journalist Malcolm Dome and lots of quotes from the band’s members and associates.
Trapeze got together in Cannock, Staffordshire in 1969. Trumpeter/ vocalist John Jones and keyboardist/ flautist Terry Rowley were former members of local outfit The Montanas, whilst bassist/ vocalist Glenn Hughes, guitarist Mel Galley and drummer Dave Holland arrived from Finders Keepers, another local band. The band’s original bill of fare was psychedelic pop and it was whilst plying that particular line of business that they were spotted by Moody Blues bassist, John Lodge. Lodge was sufficiently impressed to sign Trapeze to The Moodies’ Threshold label (they’d previously been courted by Neil Aspinall and mal Evans at Apple) and, in early 1970, he took them into Morgan and Decca studios to record their first, eponymous album and debut single, Send Me No More Letters.
Both album and single were well received by the music press yet, despite the critical plaudits and a gilt-edged opportunity to promote the album on a UK tour opening for The Moodies, Jones and Rowley decided to leave Trapeze to rejoin their former band, The Montanas, who were getting lots of work at the time.
Continuing as a three-piece, Hughes, Galley and Holland returned to the studio in the summer of 1970 and, in November of that year, second album, Medusa, one of the early seventies’ finest – and also most under-rated – albums was released. By this time, Trapeze had moved away from the psychedelic and prog-ish leaning of the debut album to embrace the brand of hard rock that was becoming popular on both sides of the Atlantic and, with classic tracks such as live favourite Black Cloud, the epic Jury and Hughes’s scintillating title track they well and truly nailed it. The big time was surely theirs for the taking.
Or not, as it turned out.
Trapeze toured extensively throughout 1970 and 1971, both in the UK and in the USA, often supporting the Moodies and they gained a solid following, without ever really troubling the album charts. 1972’s You Are The Music… was a more lush affair than its predecessor and featured guest appearances from, amongst others, pedal steel maestro BJ Cole and organist Rod Argent and, once again, the album was critically well-received without achieving the sales that, on the evidence presented here, it truly deserved.
But changes were afoot. Roger Glover, bassist with Deep Purple, decided to leave that band after Purple’s 1973 tour of Japan and Glenn Hughes was invited to replace him. After demurring for a while, Hughes eventually took the plunge and he was formally unveiled as a member of Deep Purple in July 1973. It’s clear from numerous statements made by Hughes over the years that his heart always remained with Trapeze and, as we see from this boxset, he would return to the band’s ranks, but there’s no doubt that his original departure was a body blow to the band’s ambitions.
Trapeze had always attracted a significant following in the southern states of the US and the Live in Dallas set included here is a welcome document of that success. Recorded at The Majestic Theatre, Dallas on 27th April 1973, just a few weeks before Hughes’s departure, it’s the essential live album that the band never got to release during its first incarnation – available now at long last.
Trapeze did manage to return in 1974; Rob Kendrick (guitar) and Pete Wright (bass) were recruited and Mel Galley stepped up to take over the lead vocal duties. With this lineup, the band recorded Hot Wire (1974) and a second eponymous album (1975) which, incidentally, featured Glenn Hughes as a guest, before the classic three-piece lineup reconvened in 1976. These later albums will be included in the next installment of Cherry Red’s reissue programme.
Trapeze stumbled along throughout the late 1970s and into the early eighties, undergoing numerous lineup shuffles – including the departure of founder member Dave Holland, who left to join Judas Priest, before folding officially in late 1982. But even that wasn’t the end of Trapeze; the classic lineup reunited once again in 1991 and, in May 1992, recorded the live Borderline album, Welcome To The Real World – included here.
Mel Galley passed away in July 2008 and Dave Holland left us in January 2018, leaving Glenn Hughes as the sole standard bearer of the classic Trapeze lineup. It’s clear from the comments he makes in this boxset’s booklet that Trapeze has been a lifelong labour of love for him. He’s obviously very proud of the music that the band produced and, having listened to these long-forgotten albums once more, I have to say that his pride is fully justified.
And so, to the musical content of this boxset…
Recorded over a two-week period in late 1969 at Morgan and Decca Studios and produced by John Lodge, Trapeze, the band’s debut album showcases a band in search of a signature sound. Ahead of its time in many respects, particularly in the instances where melodicism triumphs over primitive bombast, it’s a pleasant album that probes the potential of acoustic and symphonic rock, includes some fine examples of psychedelic-flavoured pop and tinkers with the style of folk-based rock that David Bowie would claim as his own, once Ziggy fell to Earth.
The influence of John Lodge and The Moodies is all-pervasive, particularly on the brash The Giant’s Dead Hoorah!, the adventurous Fairytale, the melodic It’s My Life and the psychedelic ballad Send Me No More Letters, the band’s debut single. Elsewhere, the influence of psychedelic-period Beatles is detectable on Over And Suicide, both delightfully representative of their period and genre. The meandering, folky, Am I and the acoustic Another Day – some wonderful harmony vocals here – both remind me of the nascent Bowie and, for the aptly-titled intro and outro tracks, It’s Only A Dream, it’s pretty clear that Trapeze had been listening closely to what Syd Barrett and his Pink Floyd buddies had been up to.
Even at this early stage, it’s clear that Trapeze were accomplished instrumentalists. Dave Holland’s drums are solid and confident-sounding, Hughes’ bass underpins everything – as it should – and Mel plays some delightful guitar, particularly when he picks up his acoustic. If I have a complaint, it’s that the vocals can tend to be a little brash on the louder numbers – The Giant’s Dead, Wings and Nancy Gray, for instance – but that’s more than compensated for by the harmony vocals on songs such as Am I and Another Day. Trapeze was a promising debut album from a band that seemed poised to follow in the steps of their Moody mentors.
But, as we’ve already seen, things changed massively on Planet Trapeze when Johnny Jones and Terry Rowley departed and the remaining three-piece core switched course to embrace hard rock. Second album, Medusa, contains the songs that I believe represent the best work that Trapeze produced. I’ve already named the tracks that I consider to be the stand-outs but, in truth, Medusa is excellent from start to finish, packed with great tunes and killer riffs, and every part of the machine is in top working order.
Right from the first bars of opening track Black Cloud – itself, arguably the band’s peak achievement – Trapeze are on fire, and the pace never lets up. The multi-themed Jury switches effortlessly from quiet contemplation to a full-bore heaviness that would leave even Black Sabbath trailing in its wake, Your Love Is Alright is tight and soulful – almost to the point of being funky and, continuing along that same road, Touch My Life is more soulful still. Blues gets a look-in on Seafull, a song with strong similarities to Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – and Mel Galley throws in a soaring guitar solo – whilst Makes You Wanna Cry is exactly the kind of strutting rocker that drew young men into heavy rock in their droves during those heady early-seventies days. And, for dessert – how about that peerless title track in which Hughes sets the template for every heavy metal vocalist who follows and Galley embellishes his Brontosaurus riff with a set of stunning solos.
I was always attracted to 1972’s You Are The Music, We’re Just The Band by Carl Dunn’s cover photo of Trapeze performing at Overton Park Shell in Memphis. Taken from behind Dave Holland’s drum riser, it’s a photograph that captures not just the spirit of Trapeze, but also the essence of a period when the potential of blues-based heavy rock seemed unlimited.
For this, the band’s third album, John Lodge relinquished the producer’s chair in favour of Neil Slaven and BJ Cole and Rod Argent were amongst the guests brought in as Trapeze sought to complement the funk-rock that had become their signature style with the occasional foray into softer, melodic, often soulful territory. Glenn Hughes, on his last album before his defection to Deep Purple came up with five of the album’s eight songs, with the remaining three being chipped in by Mel Galley and his brother Tom.
You Are The Music… is an excellent, well-produced album that captures a band that is maturing and progressing into something that is really quite special. Some of the band’s longer-term fans may have had trouble adjusting to the mellower material on offer, but the critics certainly loved the album with Billboard, Rolling Stone and the British inkies all publishing highly positive reviews. The heavy rock is still there, notably the thunderous Feelin’ So Much Better, a sound shot at the good-time rock that Bad Company did so well and Loser, a straight-ahead, no-nonsense rocker, but the decibels are tempered by a couple of tasteful, soulful ballads – the nice-and-easy Coast To Coast, a relaxed, mellow song topped off with some delicious pedal steel from BJ Cole and the gorgeous Will Our Love End, a slow ballad with lots of presence, some amazing sax from Jimmy (brother of Pye) Hastings and what might just be the best guitar solo that Mel Galley ever committed to vinyl.
But, most of all, You Are The Music… is, I’d suggest, best remembered for its dalliances with funk. The anguished soul ballad, What Is A Woman’s Role and the raucous Way Back To The Bone both owe as much to Nile Rodgers as they do to his namesake Paul, and the wonderful (part) title track, You Are The Music is surely the best mix of funk and heavy rock ever – the verses are pure Studio 54 and the chorus is solid British steel.
And that’s just the studio-derived part of this extensive package. Discs 4 & 5 to this set are the home of that previously unreleased 1973 live show from Dallas. The tapes are clearly culled from a radio broadcast and the lack of any post-production adds to the excitement of the recording. The sound quality is pretty good too – certainly far superior to bootleg quality – and Trapeze are on top form.
Although the band will have been promoting You Are The Music… at the time of the recording, the setlist leans more heavily upon Medusa, with six of the nine tracks spread across the two discs coming from that source. The theatre audience are obviously up for it, and the atmosphere is electric as Trapeze deliver show-stopping versions of You Are The Music, Jury, Seafull and, particularly, Black Cloud. I suspect that it’s these live discs that will attract most of the die-hard Trapeze fans to this set and, I can guarantee, they won’t be disappointed.
Those same fans will be far more familiar with the contents of Disc 6, the In The Real World live album recorded at London’s Borderline in May 1992 and originally released in 1998. It’s a far smoother affair than its Dallas brother and it’s clearly evident that the band members have all got a few more years of performance experience under their respective belt. Ex-Buggle Geoff Downes sits in on keyboards and adds to the richness of the sound, particularly on the softer, mellower numbers such as Welcome to the Real World and Touch My Life. Glenn’s vocals have matured, too, and any trace of the harsh edges that may have been present with his earlier attempts at soul vocalizing are gone. In fact, here he gives Steve Marriott – or even Marvin Gaye – a run for his money…
The version of You Are The Music, the album’s opening track, is sublime and the heavy rock element of the fanbase is catered for more than adequately with great versions of Midnight Flyer (from the 1974 Hot Wire album) and Homeland. Inevitably, the band fall back to Medusa for the songs to conclude their live set and both Your Love Is Alright and, of course, Black Cloud are once again, excellent, enhanced and sonically upgraded for the nineties.
Cherry Red have done it again and, with Don’t Stop The Music, they’ve made this particular old man very happy.
Listen to Black Cloud – one of the standout tracks from the second Trapeze album, Medusa, here:
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Hey John, bloody fantastic read and I was there at the London Borderline in 1992 with Mark our bass playerand Dave Holland as a guests. The who’s who of rock were there too including the legendary John Peel. Dave Holland was managing my Band at the time from 1991-1997
Wow! That’s amazing Kelvin.
You wouldn’t fancy sharing more of the exploits from your band days with At The Barrier would you? We can always find column space for a few “war” stories…