July 3, 2023

Not only were Bedlam, whose sole album appeared in 1973, an excellent band in their own right, but they also boasted in their ranks one of the finest rock drummers ever to sit behind a kit – namely, Cozy Powell

Hark – can that be the sound of a host of fingers clattering away to google the band name ‘Bedlam’ and find out who on earth we are talking about here? Well, probably not, but it’s certainly a fair bet that there are more puzzled expressions than knowing nods when confronted by the name. And that’s a great shame, as not only were Bedlam, whose sole album appeared in 1973, an excellent band in their own right, but they also boasted in their ranks one of the finest rock drummers ever to sit behind a kit – namely, Cozy Powell. Already a much-feted player from his time with Jeff Beck, and later to cement his reputation with his absolutely stellar work with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow, Powell is clearly the main focal point of this reissue, though to their credit, Grapefruit Records have avoided any temptation to rewrite history by rebranding the band as ‘Cozy Powell’s Bedlam’ or even ‘featuring Cozy Powell’ in order to entice the casual buyer – and quite rightly too, as the four-piece Bedlam were a fine band throughout, with guitarist Dave Ball having done sterling work replacing Robin Trower in Procol Harum, appearing on the albums Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Grand Hotel.

Bedlam L-R: Cozy Powell, Frank Aiello, Denny Ball, Dave Ball

Now, having previously mentioned that Bedlam released just the one 1973 album, splitting a year later before completing a planned follow-up, it may seem something of a stretch to find this anthology to be a six-disc box set, but in actual fact it is of surprisingly high quality throughout, at least in the main. The first two discs are taken up by that self-titled album, with the first being a newly remixed version and the second being the original; this may seem to be a counter-intuitive way to do it, but in fact it is absolutely correct, as the remix is without a doubt the only one you need. It improves in every single department on the feeble, flat and underwhelming sound of the original, and that second disc should only be played for either comparison or curiosity. But trust me, don’t bother now that you have this vibrant-sounding 2023 remix which is how the album should have sounded all along. It is odd that the original mix should have been so disappointing, considering it was produced by the enormously talented Felix Pappalardi from Mountain, but I guess everybody can drop the ball once in a while!

The album itself is a very entertaining listen – not quite the finished article, but full of promise, blessed with superb performances and some very good, if occasionally slightly unfocused songwriting. The opening track I Believe In You (Fire In My Body) is a clear highlight, with a fine riff and some muscular yet melodic playing putting the song (and the album in general for that matter) fairly in that peculiarly early-’70s arena of ‘kind of hard rock, kind of proggy, quite heavy and occasionally some blues’ which was inhabited by the likes of Vinegar Joe, Stone The Crows, Budgie and others. It’s a mix which has always very much appealed to my own ears, mixing all of my favourite genres together, and it makes me mourn the loss of such cross-genre freedom as time wore on and the music became more tribal, and subject to a need for pigeon-holing. Other highlights include the underwhelmingly-titled Hot Lips, the heavy, bluesy The Beast and the cracking closer Set Me Free. There is only one real mis-step, and again Pappalardi is the man to blame – an excellent track called Near The Edge was pencilled in for the album, but Pappalardi overruled the selection, instead including a song written by him, the rather syrupy Looking Through Love’s Eyes. Suffice to say that, despite his claim that it provided some necessary light and shade, it was a mistake, leaving instead an energy void which does the album flow no favours. Happily, we now have Near The Edge as a bonus track, along with a studio recording of the unreleased song The Great Game. Powell is of course excellent throughout, making up a fine rhythm section with Dave Ball’s brother Denny, but it is Dave’s guitar which is in many ways the real star of the show, rocking in a way he was never able to do within the more symphonic confines of Procol Harum. Vocalist Frank Aiello, meanwhile, possesses a voice somewhere between Jack Bruce and Burke Shelley, and does a sterling job.

On the next three discs we get live material, from before and after the album, and it becomes clear that this arena was where Bedlam truly excelled. Disc Three has a nine-track show recorded in London in 1973, a little after the album’s release, and it is an absolute revelation. Dave Ball is again excellent, but Cozy really comes into his own as the towering colossus he could be behind the kit, kicking every track up to a different level from its studio counterpart. I Believe In You is even better than on the album, and a storming opener, while Hot Lips is utterly transformed from its enjoyable studio incarnation into a real tour-de-force, with Ball’s guitar work superb. The Beast is heavied-up still further to live up to its name, while Set Me Free finishes the set in fine style as it did the album. The only blot on things is the rather irritating ‘chirpy Cockney’ schtick from Aiello, reaching its nadir in his toe-curling one-minute novelty Mother In Law, closing with a cry of ‘Awright, yer can clap nah!’, which makes Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins sound like Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet. To round things off we have a band version of Powell’s own Dance With The Devil hit single, recorded for the American TV show Midnight Special in 1974 – it’s ragged, but great to hear. Mind you, it begs the question anew, just how did they get away with lifting so obviously from Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun without facing legal action!

Disc Four brings us forward a year to a New York recording, during a US tour accompanying Black Sabbath. Another excellent recording, this time we also get a version of The Great Game, to go alongside I Believe In You, The Beast, and Set Me Free in a tight set. There’s a short interview segment, which is rather interesting apart, perhaps, from the Wild Cockney Aiello again who responds to a question about his time with the musical Hair with a demented cry of ‘Yeah, I was cuttin’ their barnets!’. Still, it’s entertaining even if you do want to strangle him. Coming after the interview, the final track, The Fool, can be safely avoided, as it lasts for over 20 minutes, most of which is taken up by endless soloing. The band returned from that tour full of optimism for the future, which was instantly deflated by the news that the record company had passed on their second album option and dropped them. Broke and disillusioned, they split up, with Dave Ball quitting the music business almost entirely, in a dreadful waste of talent.

Big Bertha

Fear not, however, as Disc Five brings us more live material, this time in the form of a December 1970 Hamburg show by the pre-Bedlam band Big Bertha, who had recently lost their frontman and played this show as a trio of Cozy and The Balls (which is a series of words I never expected to type), with said Ball Brothers making a decent fist of the vocals. It’s heavier on cover songs, though The Beast was already in the set, along with a formative Set Me Free, oddly enough then titled Freezer On Fire for some reason. There is an excellent slowed-down and heavied up ‘Vanilla Fudge’ arrangement of the Zombies’ hit She’s Not There, which is notable not only for some excellent guitar work but also one of the finest drum fills it has ever been my privilege to hear! Munich City is another original track, as is Ring Of Fire (not that one), while even the bizarrely titled opener Dave’s Idiot Dance is entertaining. It’s raw but crackling with energy throughout. Once again, the only real track to skip is the 18-minute Rhapsody In Blue (alarmingly noted as ‘Abridged Version’), which delivers about three minutes of the original tune, while furnishing the listener with the delights of a bass solo running to around eight minutes should he wish to hear it. You won’t wish to hear it. For all of their qualities, these guys were not at their strongest when indulging in extended improvisational pieces – in that regard, Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin they were definitely not!

Closing out the set comes the final disc which rounds up a host of pre- and post-Bedlam recordings by our heroes, from the Cream-inspired Ideal Milk trio (subtle, guys…) in 1968, through The Ace Kefford Stand (with the former Move man), Big Bertha and some other Bedlam recordings to sweep up. There are a surprising number of delights to be found within these 18 tracks, including the opener 1812 Thrashed, being a short assault on the 1812 Overture notable for inspiring Powell’s later definitive drum solo performed with Rainbow and later bands. Hideaway and Daughter Of The Sun are both strong, but the first real standout comes with a single version of the Yardbirds’ For Your Love which is absolutely tremendous. Even better is the astonishingly good Big Bertha rendition of The Zombies’ Time Of The Season, which might just be the best version I’ve ever heard of it, and which scandalously lay unreleased and unheard in the vaults until 2021, and again now. Munich City and Ring Of Fire are here in studio guise, as is a bizarre B-side entitled Gravy Booby Jamm (insert your own joke here). At The Gateway is an unreleased Bedlam track intended for the second album, as is Candy (Rainbow Over New York), an excellent and powerful track inspired by a 1974 documentary seen by the band about a woman named Candy and her New York street life, which finally got recorded as a basic track in the mid-1980s, and finished off in 1999. Closing the set, appropriately, is Dave Ball’s solo guitar and vocal piece, the two-minute Dave’s Ditty For Cozy, being exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a simple, good humoured country-ish tribute to Cozy following his untimely death in a car crash, full of good humour and devoid of mawkish sentiment. One feels that Cozy would have approved.

Accompanying the discs is a detailed booklet including notes on a lot of the songs by Denny Ball, and it’s full of fascinating nuggets of information. For instance, did you know that Cozy Powell’s real name was actually Colin Flooks? I didn’t, but I do now, and so do you. Read this booklet and there will be plenty more where that came from. It’s just the accompaniment for this lengthy and entertaining trawl left behind by a talented group of musicians, and their inspirational and much-missed drumming icon – and also makes a nice memorial to Dave Ball, who also passed away in 2015 aged just 65. Some bands could have gone on to really good things had they just got the breaks. Bedlam were one of them, and this shows you why.