Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Yardbirds -Happenings Ten Years Time Ago 1964-1968

The story of The Yardbirds is not an unfamiliar one in the annals of music history, a band with immense talent but lacking consistency beset by internal and management struggles fails to achieve the recognition they deserved, yet their legacy is profound and long lasting.

Their compilation Happenings Ten Years Time Ago captures not only their prominent mid 60;s work but also the more blues driven music they were pursuing in the late 60's before their break up towards the end of 1968. The band were formed in the inner London suburbs in 1963 and were soon playing on the London R&B circuit at clubs like the Crawdaddy and the Marquee where they recorded a live album. Their original lineup featured Keith Relf on vocals and harmonica, Paul Samwell Smith on bass, Chris Dreja on rhythm guitar, Anthony 'Top Topham' on guitar and Jim McCarty on drums, by the end of 1963 Eric clapton would replace Topham and push their band deeper into their blues roots.

 Their early repertoire consisted of covers of Chicago blues chestnuts like Howlin Wolf's Smokestack Lightning, and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. I Wish You Would a Billy Boy Arnold cover was their first single and stands up well as part of the British R&B movement. In an attempt to break them to a larger audience they recorded the song For Your Love written by future 10cc member Graham Gouldman, the overt commercial sound of the song caused great angst with Clapton who decided to leave the band to join John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. He was replaced by ex Tridents guitarist Jeff Beck who bought a more distorted fuzz laden sound to the band which gave it a rougher edge and was influential in the garage rock sound emanating from the  U.S. For Your Love reached #3 in the U.K and #6 in the U.S. The follow up Heart Full of Soul was darker and in keeping with Beck's more fuzz oriented sound, it was their biggest U.K hit reaching #2 and peaking at #9 in the U.S. Like any band during that period the group toured relentlessly especially in the U.S, they also showed that they were more than prepared to add other influences to their musical blend, I'm Still Sad released as a B side towards the end of 1965 sounds like a Gregorian chant! Jeff Beck continued to push the band in developing a powerfully raw blues style that can be witnessed on Train Kept a Rollin which was recorded at Sun Studios during a U.S tour towards the end of 1965.

The following year the band produced one of their best singles with the apocalyptic sounding Shapes of Things with it's psychedelic guitar riffs which gave them another big hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The follow up Over Under Sideways Down followed the same trend with an interesting quasi sitar sounding solo in the bridge, it also had a real counterculture feel lyrically by rejecting the moral prerogative of the past. The two singles were part of the sessions for the album The Yardbirds (aka Roger the Engineer) which in part seem more blues driven especially on tracks like Rack My Mind, The Nazz are Blue and Psyco Daisies. Following the release of the album Paul Samwell-Smith left the band to concentrate on production, by the end of the year Jeff Beck followed towards the end of an arduous U.S tour. Jimmy Page had initially been drafted in as bassist but when Beck left he switched back to guitar. In early 1967 the band were paired with producer Mickie Most who tried to rub off the rough edges of their sound and try for a more polished pop oriented sound. This didn't work and the album was panned, but listening to some of the tracks from the session showed some promise and were even a small indicator of how Page was developing as a guitarist. His all to brief solo at the end of Puzzles shows his growing inclination to move beyond the blues solo and incorporate a range of sounds including eastern influences. Drinking Muddy Water is a straight rip off of Muddy Waters' seminal Rollin and Tumblin which was another element fostered in Led Zeppelin. This is more of the familiar Yardbirds sound with some nice piano work from session stalwart Nicky Hopkins. Relf had an expressive voice but I think too much was demanded from it when it came to shouting the blues, he certainly wasn't in the league of Robert Plant. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor is another stab at psychedelic pop that once again finds the band not in their most comfortable setting, Page experiments with a violin bow across his guitar in the middle eight. White Summer starts off in an acoustic blues style and has an almost eastern influence with the addition of what I assume might be a tabla? This was also indicative of the direction Keith Relf wanted to take, tired of the lengthy blues jams he wanted to pursue something more acoustic and folk influenced. Think About It features Jimmy Page with his insistent hypnotic guitar underpinning the song. It also features his dramatic fluid runs with their distortion and Page's ability wring everything he can from each note. Following the release of Little Games the band continued to tour especially in the U.S where they were a popular live act, back in the U.K the band were forced on to the club/college circuit and in July of 1968 they played their final gig at the Luton Technical College.

The aftermath of the band is well recorded, Page assembled a new band to fulfil the Yardbirds' Scandinavia tour dates this band soon morphed into Led Zeppelin. Keith Relf and Jim McCarty formed the duo Together which soon became the folk influenced Renaissance, both Relf and McCarty left the group in 1971. Keith Relf went on to work with Medicine Head, as well as prog rock band Armageddon who released an interesting album in 1974, he tragically died by electrocution in 1976.

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