Alex Harvey (February 5, 1935 - February 4, 1982) was a Scottish rock and roll recording artist. With his Sensational Alex Harvey Band, he built a strong reputation as a live performer during the 1970s glam rock era. The band was renowned for its eclecticism and energetic live performance, Harvey for his charismatic persona and daredevil stage antics.
Harvey formed the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, composed of himself, guitarist Zal Cleminson, bassist Chris Glen, and his cousins Ted and Hugh McKenna on drums and keyboards respectively. All four were former members of a progressive rock band called Tear Gas.
In 1972 Alex Harvey had reached the grand old age of 38, way too old in those hedonistic days of music to consider becoming a Pop Star. But tragically, Alex's younger brother by some ten years, Leslie, had been killed in an electrical accident during a sound check with his group "Stone the Crows" at the Top Rank in Swansea. The cause was an unearthed microphone. This tragic event spurred Alex on to have one more go at cracking the big time. At the time Alex was earning a crust in the orchestra of James Rado's iconoclastic musical 'Hair', but was persuaded by his manager, friend, and mentor Bill Fehilly, to go up to his native Glasgow, Scotland, to check out a gritty Progressive outfit called Tear Gas. The band was in the throws of giving up all dreams of stardom and going back to 'normal jobs'. They were so broke that in true Scottish tradition they had resorted to haggis hunting up the side of mountains to find sufficient nutrition to survive.
However, Alex, recognizing talent when he saw it, coerced the band to stick together and plant him in as lead singer and inspirational genius. Putting "Sensational" into the title of the band, they went into the studio and in six days had recorded their first album, released in early 1973, before starting to play live anywhere that would have them. Not surprisingly, they quickly built up a reputation of one of the hottest acts on the live circuit.
Out front was Alex himself, skin tight jeans, dirty red handkerchief hanging from his back pocket, black and white looped T-shirt, with Alex's huge head sticking out the neck (with all the creativity going on in this head, it needed to be a big one), topped off by an unruly mop of unruly jet black hair, the perfect leader.
Next to him was Zal Cleminson in a green rubber jumpsuit with cake white clown's make-up, which exaggerated his gurning face as he cut loose during the solos, and becoming a complete maniac, the perfect foil.
On the other side of the stage on bass was a man who could of made a living as an Elvis impersonator, or at least one of Elvis' bouncers Mr. Chris Glen, the perfect man to have on your side if the chips were down.
On Keyboards, as befitting this lot, was Hugh McKenna, who looked more like a university music teacher than a Rock 'n' Roll star, the perfect musical director. And keeping it in the family, on drums you had Hugh's brother, Ted, the perfect rock onto which to hoist your Rock 'n' Roll flag.
The first album was a reasonable commercial success, but for once the record company saw the potential in this group. Later that year they booked a full month for the band to record their follow up album and brought in top Glam Rock producer Phil Wainman. The results were 'Sensational'. Alex sung with such pathos you cannot help but love him. Nobody else at the time could of gotten away with singing the title track, the J. Brel tribute to European Brothels, or `Gang Bang' poking fun, of an unmentionable subject. Zal Cleminson's guitar playing throughout is nothing short of brilliant, and the band supports them note for note. All of the songs here were to stay in the band's stage act in one way or another until the end, especially 'The Faith Healer' with its throbbing Tooltelbug drone opening, which was to become the band's standard bearer and opening song. (The sight of Alex staggering to the front of the stage screaming "can I put my hands on you" used to send the audience into raptures.)
`Vambo Marble Eye' became a saga that Alex was going to take to higher plains on the live stage. Final number 'The Last Of The Teenage Idols' was inspired by an event way back in 1957, when Alex Harvey won a Daily Record organized competition to find the Scottish Tommy Steele (true - I promise!), which brings the album to a fitting rocking climax before we are lulled away by a final burst of do-wop.
In another year, "The Sensational Alex Harvey Band" was the biggest touring band in Europe, quite a turn around from Haggis chasing. Unfortunately, the work load was just too much and after suffering declining health, Alex left the band in 1978, after which the band imploded. Later in 1982, Alex would die of a heart attack while on tour in Europe, a day before his 47th Birthday. Although Alex's career did not really catch fire until late, but when it finally did, it sure burned bright. If "The Sensational Alex Harvey Band" is a mystery to you, pay attention. Alex Harvey was one of the greatest ring masters to have ever strode across the field of Rock 'n' Roll.
On February 4, 1982 while waiting to take a ferry back to shore after performing his last concert with his new band, the Electric Cowboys, Harvey suffered a massive heart attack. In an ambulance on the way to the hospital, he suffered a second heart attack, this one fatal. It occurred on the day before his 47th birthday, in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
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Posted by wino at Friday, January 05, 2007