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Skid Row - Skid / 34 Hours (2017) review

Skid Row - Skid / 34 Hours (BGO CD1302; 38.29 / 57.33 mins)

The original Skid Row are usually called Gary Moore’s band and therefore blues, but these confuse fiction with fact. The band was actually started by bassist/vocalist Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels, nicknamed by his previous Uptown Band’s manager because of his moustache and long hair (this was, after all, the age of clean-cut, sequined show bands in Ireland). And blues is well stirred in this heady brew of flavours. The developing late ’60s Irish rock scene boasted Taste with Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison’s Them, The Action and Granny’s Intentions (on Deram) soon followed by Thin Lizzy.

    Formed in 1967 by Shiels (appropriately as My Father’s Moustache), they actually had Phil Lynott on vocals (fresh from Black Eagles) with Noel ‘Nollaig’ Bridgeman (drums) and Bernard Cheevers (guitar), soon replaced by fresh-faced but longer-haired Moore decamping from The Method. They were leading lights on the Dublin beat club scene as the first to incorporate West Coast American psychedelic rock, mixing it with blues, country, and jazz forms into their own prog-trio style. Shiels opened his own club (the Ghetto) which became the famed Orphanage, a hippy hangout in Upper Mount Street referenced by Thin Lizzy’s debut LP title and the story of Dr Strangely Strange (Moore and Shiels played on their second album on Vertigo). Skid Row recorded two singles for the local Song label: the first in Incredible String Band mode (Johnny Moynihan of Sweeney’s Men guested on tin whistle), then in psych style reminiscent of Traffic. Lynott contracted tonsillitis so Shiels took over vocals and, when Lynott picked up bass to form Orphanage, remained a trio forging their own style.

    Opening for Blodwyn Pig and Fleetwood Mac, the impressed Pete Green recommended them to their manager who signed them up. (Moore’s beloved 1959 Gibson was in fact sold to him by Green.) John Peel enthused too so Skid Row recorded on his radio show then signed to CBS for their debut, its cover shot taken outside the Dublin Gas Company (an alias too for a 1984 release from 1969). From the first session in April 1970 only a 45 was released, included as two among six bonuses on this new remastered two-CD release by BGO of Skid Row’s first LPs. The single was an hourly “power play” on Radio Luxembourg, but the other recordings didn’t come out until 1987 because considered unrepresentative following a US tour.

   This is surprising because their originality features diverse styles, only partly captured on the nine-track debut which was a second session recorded in eleven hours adding four new replacement tracks (but with the ear-marked Pete Green absent). ‘Skid’, released in October 1970, bolts from the traps with effects and staccato rhythm (‘Mad Dog Woman’) then Juicy Lucy-like vocals echoing lead guitar with Redbone-like native drum patterns (‘Virgo’s Daughter’), as on the closer too. The laid-back country-blues of ‘Heading Home Again’, the album’s only lull, precedes the boogie of ‘An Awful Lot of Woman’ with cutting solos, pumping bass and imaginative drums.

    The pace doesn’t abate for souped-up prog swirls (‘’For Those Who Do’), psychedelia (‘The Man Who Never Was’) and jazz-on-acid (‘After I Am Gone’), rounding off with the final crescendo ‘Felicity’, a nine-minute sole-write by Moore. This wig-out, and ‘Unco-Up Showband Blues’, show that the power trio could sound almost orchestral or as if an organ chucked in too, while all share vocals that are sometimes jazz-flecked. Virtuosity isn’t only Moore’s either: complex but tight arrangements, mirroring their on-stage energy, with imaginative lyrics corrosively-delivered, show an innovative trio like Budgie or Clear Blue Sky.

    The teenagers plus a 25 year-old Shiels (an ex-footballer for Bohemian FC, who else) show traces too of Juicy Lucy, Spirit and Mountain in their roller-coaster ride. The red-and-black artwork (an emaciated bird and aggrieved gypsy in a hat?) looks menacingly disfigured reflecting the band’s sinister, loud progressive rock and theatrics when Shiels prowled the stage. The at-times dissonant or odd combinations of melody, heavy blues or jazz hybrid rock with wide extended solos within unusual time signatures proves a powerful, high-level debut which reached #30 in the UK charts.

    With a £10,000 advance they played the Fillmore West with Frank Zappa and stateside with Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Santana and the Allman Brothers, to rave reviews. Shiels says they “blew Iggy and the Stooges off stage” in Detroit. After a tour with Canned Heat, performing at Dublin’s National Stadium and on German TV’s Beat Club (where the LP’s cover was photographed), they returned to London’s Belsize Park in late 1971 to record their second CBS album 34 Hours, the recording period of its six tracks. The longer studio time resulted in a clearer focus while retaining the eclectic, angular heaviness of their unique ‘head’ sound.

    A spooky intro with bass then guitar crescendo and drum-roll shift into driving riffs about a woman (‘Night of the Warm Witch’ including ‘The Following Morning’, slap that oink for quipping tongue-in-cheek!). Experiments include a violin-like sound via amps and pedals, which Stray also did, returning to the opening with spacey effects reminiscent of Steve Hillage’s Khan. This nine-minute group-write epic is atmospherically dramatic with complex melody patterns behind Moore’s growling vocals. It was abridged for a single backed by a bonus here ‘Mr. De-Luxe,’ a pile-driving, strutting homage to their photographer over twin lead vocals.

    34 Hours rolls on with the hyper-driving ‘First Thing in the Morning / Last Thing at Night’, played straight without double-tracking, then Shiels takes lead vocals and second guitar with the roadie on bass for ‘Mar’, Shiels’ love-song to his wife. John O’Regan in the booklet compares this power-ballad to Derek and the Dominoes years later. ‘Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You’ is an extended heavy blues jam-frolic of over eight minutes: abrasive Quo-like 12-bar, mean vocals and some of Moore’s most out-there soloing. ‘Lonesome Still’ returns to the West Coast country rock featured on their debut, saccharin-free thankfully, with accordion by drummer Nollaig and bottle-neck through a Vox pedal replicating steel guitar.

    ‘The Love Story (Parts 1-4)’ is a ‘closing volley of controlled mayhem’. One might think the subject is the album’s theme but here refers to Gary Moore’s guitar. Solos and riffs aplenty, pounding but inventive bass/drums and (sometimes) jazzy percussive vocals, the band called it Bog Rock: no definite path but smells great! Aside from the aforementioned ‘Mr. De-Luxe’, five more bonuses include the only slow track, ‘New Faces Old Places’ from their unused first CBS session produced by Mike Smith (one of their earliest songs). Two Brinsley Schwarz-like sides of a 1970 single (‘Sandy’s Gone Part 1 & 2’) also resurface with piano, choral-like harmonies and one of Moore’s restrained solos. Two of his songs too: ‘Morning Star Avenue’, with a Hillage-like solo over jazz bass and drums, and ‘Oi’ll Tell You Later’ with twin solos like fellow-Gibson guitarist John McLaughlin. Reviewing this LP, Billboard opined that “the lads will go far”. The same year Skid Row recorded an In Concert for the BBC and headlined London’s Marquee club in November.

    Recording a third platter soon after, unreleased until 1990, Gary Moore left in ’72 for a solo career supported by CBS who issued his first LP the next year. He was replaced by Eric Bell from Thin Lizzy but soon split over financial problems. They sporadically reformed with differing line-ups over the following decades, alternating with Shiels’ solo albums and radio work. Under-recognised drummer Noel Bridgeman worked in numerous bands and more recently in Van Morrison’s combo. Various albums have been released with the Skid Row moniker, including Bon Jovi Never Rang Me (2012) referencing the nicking of the band name.

    These two albums, superbly remastered loud and clear, come with a well-illustrated informative booklet including ‘Brush’ Shiels’ comments. The big label knew what they were doing but could have done more for what is in the Cream / Taste vein with a sound all their own. One historian rightly says this dynamically innovative hard rock, meant to help listeners feel as well as hear the sounds, “deserves to be included in all written work on the history of rock music” (Mark Prendergast Irish Rock: Roots, Personalities, Directions 1987).

    With power riffs bouncing solos from all sides, an inventive but strong rhythm engine and vocals, Skid Row packed an explosive punch, dexterous as a heavyweight champion. CBS publicity proclaimed an “explosive sound”, always with space for Gary Moore’s pyrotechnics. Two legends in their homeland and a stolen name stateside later, Skid Row might have escaped your radar. A pity because this is some voyage before the deluge, but can now be easily rectified with this definitive reissue of a band that deserved more than a faint blip on rock’s spectrum outside Ireland.

- Brian R. Banks
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