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Three Man Army – Three Man Army / Three Man Army Two (2016) review

November 9, 2016

Three Man Army – Three Man Army / Three Man Army Two (2016) review

Three Man Army – Three
Man Army / Three Man Army Two (BGO Records)
Some bands had cult status in
their time and some have retained it ever since, even if they played together
only for a short period. Later estimates may be a little skewed, absurd or
merely confused. Clearing up the minefield: Three Man Army were a guitar-orientated
power trio featuring the respected Gurvitz brothers Paul and Adrian, who
sometimes used the surname Curtis (their father changed to this name
post-divorce).

They were English not American. A different line-up, with Buddy
Miles no less on sticks and keys, recorded a debut on Pegasus, then two albums
with Warner/ Reprise of which the initial release had two titles and the next
was titled Two because their second release
on that label with the same line-up. The latter two LPs have just been
re-released together on CD, with a bonus single A-side and interesting booklet,
by BGO in the UK.

    Oh, and lest I forget, perhaps due to rotating-door
famous drummers (Buddy Miles; Mike Kellie of Spooky Tooth; Carmine Appice of
Vanilla Fudge, Beck Bogart & Appice; Ginger Baker) in their musical tree-house,
they have been mislabelled a hardy perennial support band. Yet at the time
others saw these configurations as a super group of sorts, though their new big
label arranged tours with bands not connected to their style at all. Welcome to
the wacky world of a hard platoon that had not one but two great guitarists so
one had to play on bass instead!
    Paul Gurvitz of High Wycombe had been in
Gene Vincent’s band in his teens, also The Londoners and The Knack who released
seven singles during 1965-1967 after playing at Hamburg’s Star Club. Adrian Gurvitz, North London born, played in the company of Screaming
Lord Sutch, popsters Crispian St. Peters, and on the 1967 hit Reflections Of
Charlie Brown by Rupert’s People, much-loved by psych CD compilers today. He
jammed with Johnny Winter at the Whiskey A-Go Go in ’72 when living on Sunset
Strip and cruising in a Corvette Stingray gifted by Buddy Miles for a solo
album song. He later wrote hits for Hot Chocolate, REO Speedwagon, the England
World Cup football #1 of 1982, and produced several Disney film scores. Of
Jewish background, their father had been tour manager of Cliff Richard &
The Shadows and The Kinks.
    The brothers first came to prominence with
Gun, the heavy psych-prog trio who had a worldwide hit Race With The Devil in
1968 plus two highly-regarded albums either side. Hendrix, who they jammed
with, borrowed the hit’s riff for the opening of Machine Gun at 1970’s IOW
festival. They played at the UFO club supporting Arthur Brown, Floyd and
Tomorrow, as well as at the famous liggers club The Speakeasy. Gun are now
legendary of course—not just because managed by Ronnie Scott of jazz fame, or
sporting the first-ever album cover by Roger Dean, or that Pete Dunton of T2
cut his teeth with Gun—yet Three Man Army built on that with more in their
arsenal including elements on Two of
an unfinished rock opera.
    Three
Man Army / Three Man Army Two
(BGOCD1256) has been remastered to high
definition audiophile quality from the original masters. Predecessor A Third of a Lifetime (Pegasus 1971) was
re-issued on CD by Esoteric in the summer, and the two albums here were
storming follow-ups with intricate riffs, machine-gun lyrics and strafing solos
from their own custom-built tank. Adrian
wrote all the tracks (bar the instrumental intro) as he had for Gun and added
keys (usually mellotron). Paul played bass here because agreed his younger
brother was better at solos! Although underrated since, Adrian featured in music papers’ top ten guitarists
at the time, akin to the style of Johnny Winter without the blues. The siblings’
reputation led to working on both ’70s albums by Moody Blues’ drummer Graeme
Edge.
    The three-pronged assault was completed by
Tony Newman, formerly of Sounds Incorporated who was also on Jeff Beck’s Beck-Ola in 1969 and The Who’s Tommy soundtrack. As most of the debut
was written in the studio it’s logical that this drummer, who performed on
numerous chart hits, should be called up. He also played with Rod Stewart, T.Rex
and heady cult band, Mayblitz, but when the double-bass-drummer left to join
David Bowie’s band it signalled the demobbing of Three Man Army in 1974. The brothers
teamed up with another famed tub-thumper for the short-lived Baker Gurvitz
Army, whose first album on Vertigo went gold, but the colourful flare of TMA left
a trail deserving notice too.
    Three
Man Army
came out first in some territories including the UK as Mahesha (another name for the god Shiva
in the Hindu pantheon), God knows why, then eponymously soon after in 1973.
Issued on Warners’ Reprise, on Polydor in Germany, promo copies had an inner lyrics
sleeve. The intro builds up to guns blazing, detonating ack-ack solos (Hold On),
fuzz bass (Take Me Down From The Mountain), and some nifty wah-wah with soaring
fret-work on the five-minute title track. Pity about the longish fade out, a
blemish on vinyl doubtless due to time constraints; the same happened with Johnny
Winter’s recordings. Hendrix-style vocal and guitar drive Can’t Leave The
Summer. The punchy, energetic album—a consistent trait—of nine tracks closes
with spacey The Trip written by Adrian and Tony, reminiscent of the debuts by
Montrose or UFO.
    The
spacey element resurfaces on Space Is The Place, albeit slower (with cello) and
an overdone chorus (they called it anthemic in the ’80s) on Two (1974). The trio is augmented by a
pianist on two of the seven songs as well as some famous female vocalists
(Doris Troy; Madeline Bell; Ruby James) on I Can’t Make The Blind See. In spite
of what at first seems to be soul with such a title and singers, the rocking
doesn’t dry up or decline into smoke-screen fillers. Cleaner-cut than say
Hackensack, except on opener Polecat Woman which has a high-energy but not
overlong drum solo that Ginger Baker would’ve been proud of. It was also a
single in January ’74, co-written by a roadie-drummer, but didn’t chart like
the bonus track Schoolgirl Queen more typical of a decade later: e.g. Chariot,
who remembers them?! Group compositions Irving
and Burning Angel smoke like Cream, Strife or Stray with lightning time changes
and acid guitar salvoes, whereas Today shows another weapon in their armoury: a
ballad that builds a la Santana. In My Eyes alternates ballad—and faux
ending—with grenade crescendo licks like Patto. They had all the manoeuvres.
    The label had high hopes based on the
musicianship, but surely could have put more thought into the deal than
arranging US tours with The Doobie Brothers and Beach Boys? The time had passed
when odd concert pairings abounded: my brother Michael saw Hendrix supporting
Engelbert Humperdinck at the Tooting Gaumont but that was a decade earlier.
Incidentally, TMA Three (continuing the
numbering confusion) surfaced a decade ago in Germany including demos of an
unfinished opera glimpsed here, along with a double LP anthology. Worth checking
out is the recently uploaded video of Paul Gurvitz and The New Army’s shrapnel-blistering
Sex @ The Wheel (is that a reincarnated Paul Kossoff?).
    Less sixties more seventies pointing
towards eighties style riff-rock, these reports from the gigging front are heavier
than Gun but still retain their melodic element, with gutsy, inventive solos that
are sniper-sharp. Often compared with Cream, Grand Funk Railroad and Blue Cheer
(perversely in view of their dates) they are less frenetic than say Lord
Baltimore, T2 or Mayblitz, not as bass-driven riffy as Budgie but equally
distinctive and full of hooks. If lacking a killer smoking-gun hit, maybe a
second guitar would have provided more artillery but not more devastating
ordinance.
    The albums are ear-openers for those who like
an atmospheric vinyl-length experience without padding, like the more obscure
but potent Help of California and Agnes Strange of Southampton.
The booklet rightly says that some bands don’t deserve to be forgotten no
matter how unsuccessful they were in their day, which in the case of this unit
lasted barely four years. Dig out those Stray, Strife and Mayblitz gems again,
and treat yourself to this double dose of rocking energy as the nights draw in.
Pure ability and no image ego-trips, even if undecorated in the field; pen-pushing
officers billeted in the rear didn’t always know what was happening anyway.
– Brian R. Banks
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2016
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