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- Alive and Kickin’ and Screamin’ and Shoutin’
Review No: 267
Howard Werth: Vocals, Guitar
John Fisher: Drums
Trevor Williams: Bass Guitar
After the release of their fourth album ‘Lunch’ (1972), a very lacklustre affair, Britain’s premier Art-Rock band ‘Audience’ imploded. Things had started so promisingly with their original self titled debut album in 1969 released by Polydor Records. But although it met with great critical acclaim the record buying public turned a deaf ear and hardly a copy left the record shop. The band was immediately dropped like a hot potato by Polydor, to be immediately picked up by the new progressive rock label Charisma Records run by Tony Stratton Smith, who had been impressed with the band when he saw them supporting Led Zeppelin at the Lyceum in London, England.
The band was then allowed into the studio and given as much time as they wanted to come up with a new album. The band was perhaps given a bit too much rope.
Writing and producing the album themselves, ‘Friends,
Friends, Friend’ is a good album, but lacked any real control. But
it did establish ‘Audience’ as a contender in the eternal
rock stars quest for fame and fortune. The record sold in reasonable quantities
and so encouraged after a year’s touring they returned to the studio,
this time under the production care of Gus Dudgeon.
When they appeared back into the light from the studio,
they had created a masterpiece: ‘House On The Hill’ (1971).
Gus Dudgeon had done a wonderful job in bringing out the strengths in
these fine young musicians. The writing was superb, and the selection
of Jay Hawkins ‘I Put A Spell On You’ was literally inspired.
The title track summed up the sound ‘Audience ‘had developed
Howard Werth had a unique soulful voice, and his choice of instrument, an electric nylon strung guitar, gave the band a distinctive sound. Keith Gemmell was perhaps the number one saxophone and flute player of his day. It can be fairly laid at Keith Gemmell’s door that he really made the saxophone a hard rock instrument, whilst his flute playing lent light and colour to the sound. In Trevor Williams on bass and Tony Connor on drums they had a rock solid rhythm section to build upon. Tony Connor’s style also gave the band a bit of a jazzy feel, so there were not many elements of music that were left out of the ‘Audience’s’ repertoire.
But even with the release of a separately recorded single ‘Indian Summer’ (1971), which started to rapidly climb up the American charts, the band and record label felt despondent about their lack of immediate commercial success, which in hindsight is hardly surprising considering the competition they were up against, Led Zeppelin, Free, Genesis, Pink Floyd, etc. They should have perhaps bided their time instead of pushing out the poor ‘Lunch’ and splitting up.
Keith Gemmell joined various bands including the brilliant but underrated ‘Sammy’ and ‘Stackridge’ before concentrating on a successful career in session work. Trevor Williams followed Keith Gemmell into session work. Tony Connor took over the drum stool of ‘Hot Chocolate’ where he remains today. Howard Werth had a solid solo career as well as toying with the idea of replacing Jim Morrison in ‘The Doors’, an avenue that was fortunately pretty quickly closed.
Rock ‘n’ roll is a funny old world and after often bumping into each other over the years they decided after thirty three years to give it another go. Keith Gemmell, Howard Werth, and Trevor Williams were all keen, but it was too much to ask Tony Connor to give up the security of his position behind the kit with Hot Chocolate who have a very heavy gigging schedule.
So the hunt was on for a new skinsman, the band had to search long and hard to find somebody as versatile as their former drummer. But when they came across John Fisher they had their man. He had plenty of rock experience, including a stint with the Blue Bishops, but had also served in big bands, leaving himself open to any form of music. As ‘Audience’ were always just as likely to slide into bossa nova, folk, jazz, or kick off into heavy progressive rock, or even the blues, ‘Audience’ had always refused to be pigeonholed, as any one of these things. John’s open mindedness was essential, so was his sense of humour, playing with this bunch of jokers.
Once rehearsals were complete for the first time in thirty three years ‘Audience’ hit the road. After their first tour the last concert at Deal in Kent’s Astor Theatre was recorded for release. Some may say that a live album from Audience may be thirty three years too late, as if a live album had been released in 1973, it may have broken them into the big time then. But better late than never I say.
There’s something about this album that defies believe If these guys have been apart for so long, how come they have almost telepathic sense in their play whilst at the same time being so relaxed, and obviously enjoying themselves? You can actually hear them grinning at one another through the music as they play along. One could be forgiven for thinking they had done nothing else in the intervening years.
There are ten songs on display. Three from ‘The House On The Hill’, opener ‘Your Not Smilin’ - a jaunty and well chosen song to play first up, the haunting ‘I Had A Dream’ and a ten minute version of the title song with plenty of improvisation from Keith Gemmell; one song from their debut ‘Leave It Unsaid’ and one from Friends, Friends, Friend; the moving ‘Nothin’ You Said’; which leaves room for two songs from Howard Werth’s last solo album, ‘The Evolution Myth Explodes’ - a Werth composition Zig-Zag and Swirl, plus a stunning interpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, which the boys originally wrote for ‘The Rolling Stones’ when they could not write themselves a hit back in 1963. Audience have taken the song, taken it apart, and slowly burnt it back together again. There is no point doing cover versions unless you have something to add to it or a different slant to add. ‘Call Me Responsible’ is a chance for Keith Gemmell to show of his skills and sense of humour. This is immediately followed by the old James Brown classic ‘The Bells’ which gives Howard Werth his chance to show that the talents of his throat have in no way diminished. Finally, as an encore, the band launches into the late great Tim Rose’s ‘Morning Dew’, which will send shivers up and down your spine, such is the emotion poured into the song by the band.
As a live album it may have come a little late in the band’s career, but nothing diminishes pure raw talent. I for one hope that the band gets some more belated success, as news seeps through that we may be treated to an all new studio album later this year.
You may think the name of this album a little strange
but actually it just goes to send up the band’s sense of humour.
The album cover shows an audience sitting in complete boredom watching
a band, until you look a little closer and realize that it is a collage
of the band themselves in the audience watching themselves (the look of
distaste on Keith Gemmell’s face is hilarious). Which just goes
to show that Audience are indeed ‘Alive and Kickin’ and Screamin’