February 10, 2023

Overall, the Dallas set is a fantastic live testament and makes this box set an essential purchase for Trapeze fans.

Say the word Trapeze and nine out of ten music fans will think of Glenn Hughes. That’s inevitable given his high-profile career but it would also be an injustice to drummer Dave Holland who spent a decade with Judas Priest, and especially to the late Mel Galley who subsequently played with Whitesnake and was probably more of a creative influence than Hughes in their brief creative spell together. This six-set CD is centred on that classic Trapeze line-up of Hughes-Galley-Holland. The first three CDs consist of the group’s earliest three studio albums from the 1970-72 period; two CDs contain a previously unreleased live set from 1973; and the final CD has the live performance at the Borderline in London from 1992.

The single that deserved to be a hit

The Hughes-Galley-Holland relationship goes back to when they were together as part of a unit by the name of Finders Keepers. It was their management that suggested the three of them merge with two elements of another local Midlands band, The Montanas (keyboardist and flautist Terry Rowley and singer and trumpet player Johnny Jones were the two members indicated). The new five-piece unit was christened Trapeze and snapped up by The Moody Blues for their fledgling Threshold label. The self-titled debut album is shot through with the sounds of the ‘60s – which is a pity, since it was released in May 1970! The Moody Blues influence is apparent, not surprisingly since as well as being on the Threshold label, John Lodge stepped up to produce the album. The one single from the album and the standout track was Send Me No More Letters, a mid-paced song with a superb drawn-out vocal line that reminded me of The Hollies’ version of the Albert Hammond song The Air That I Breathe (written two years later, I should add). It had ‘hit single’ written all over it but mysteriously failed to make any impression on the charts. Amidst the typical ‘60s cheerfulness there are some surprisingly dark moments though, such as Am I (with the repeated question being ‘Am I Old?’) and the excellent Suicide that ends suddenly as if the subject had in fact killed themselves. It would be easy to dismiss this album as a Moody Blues-guided experiment and simply a precursor to the real Trapeze, but that would be unfair both on Lodge (who claimed that he let Trapeze do whatever they wanted to do in the studio) and on the five musicians who had pulled together to make a very decent album. There is, by the way, an excellent accompanying booklet in this box set which has entertainingly different recollections of the period, with Jones and Hughes having very different memories of events, including the thorny question of whether Jones or Hughes would be the lead singer (that’s right, David Coverdale, you weren’t the first!).     

So, what happened next? Well, what we do know is that a desire to move to the heavier rock sound of bands like Cream and Zeppelin emerged. The booklet again gives contradictory accounts of where that idea came from and whether the Jones-Rowley duo, who didn’t quite fit into this new direction, jumped ship or were pushed overboard. I suggest you read the booklet and draw your own conclusions, but the upshot was that the band was now a three piece. The resulting album that they put together, Medusa, is generally considered to be the high-water mark of the band, and rightly so. It’s raw and heavy and as far away from the debut album as is imaginable. Of the seven tracks, four were written by Galley (with lyrics courtesy of his brother Tom), two by Hughes, and one – the jam Your Love Is Alright – is credited to all three of them. Two of the Galley songs are outstanding. Black Cloud is all tough aggressive guitar chords in the style of Alright Now and Jury is dominated by a slow heavy riff, perhaps influenced by listening to fellow Midlanders Black Sabbath.  Your Love Is Alright and another Galley composition, Makes You Wanna Cry, mark the first appearances of funky elements in the band’s music that would over time become their main distinguishing element. I had always assumed it was Hughes that brought the funky elements to the group, as he subsequently did with mixed results with Deep Purple, but it would appear otherwise. Hughes’ most interesting contribution on Medusa was Seafull, a slow blues rock number, anticipating songs like Mistreated or Tea For One. With Medusa, Trapeze certainly achieved their ambition to have a Zeppelin-like rawness to their sound. It’s an album full of quality ideas and in retrospect it’s very difficult to understand why it was a commercial flop.

1972’s You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band proved to be the final studio release of the trio before Deep Purple came knocking for Hughes. The heaviness and slow pace of Medusa gave way to some degree to a more varied, upbeat and dare I say mainstream sound. The three Galley compositions are good examples of how the group’s sound was keeping up with the times: the anthemic You Are The Music; the hard rocking Keepin’ Time, whose lyrics include the line ‘Don’t Stop The Music’, cleverly gives the title to this box set; and The Loser – an autobiographical view of their own struggles and commercial failure. In comparison, the Hughes songs are very varied, often introducing new elements. The straight rocker Feelin’ So Much Better Now is perhaps his best contribution but we also get the dreamy ballad Coast To Coast and the soulful funk of What Is A Woman’s Role. Most left-field of all is the opening part of another ballad, Will Our Love End, which could easily have been mistaken for Paul Simon! Hughes, by this time, had become very confident in his own voice, so much so that sometimes the soulful crooning was perhaps just a bit too soulful. As for the exaggerated use of the falsetto in the chorus of Feelin’ So Much Better Now, well that Is surely something best left to The Bee Gees. While not having the cohesiveness of Medusa, it was still a very good album. Commercially, it fared slightly better than Medusa and we can only speculate whether Trapeze would have broken into the big-time if this line-up had remained together. 

In the early ‘70s, Trapeze had their strongest following in the southern States of America, so it’s a real treat that we can now hear the concert they performed on 27th April 1973 at the Majestic Theatre, Dallas. The sound quality is good, even if the balance between the instruments seems slightly askew: the vocals are a little too prominent and the bass pushed back compared to how it probably sounded at the gig. You can sense that the band are tight and on the top of their game and the crowd lap it up. Not surprisingly there is nothing played from the debut album, and perhaps wisely they focused on material that would sound good pumped up live – meaning we get to hear six tracks from Medusa and just three from You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band. This is a typical ‘70s live album with songs often stretched out to double the length of the studio version. On one hand, that makes the live material different enough to be worth listening to and buying even if you own all the studio material, while on the other hand there is the danger of taking the embellishments too far and sinking into tedium. The latter happens a couple of times, most notably during the thirteen minutes of Your Love Is Alright. But thank goodness, at least they spare us having to listen to a drum solo! Overall, the Dallas set is a fantastic live testament and makes this box set an essential purchase for Trapeze fans.

The final CD contains the concert the band performed at the Borderline in 1992 when they were joined by special guest Geoff Downes on keyboards. Here we get nine songs in sixty minutes rather than the nine songs in nearly ninety minutes of the Dallas concert, so the ‘70s fat has been trimmed off although maybe at the expense of the intensity of the Dallas performance. Of interest to Hughes fans would be two new songs he’d written at the time – Homeland and Welcome To The Real World, the former subsequently appearing on the 1994 solo album From Now On… and the latter giving the name to the live release for this concert. Also of interest is Hughes performing on the excellent Midnight Flyer which is the only song in this set from a non-Hughes Trapeze release (Hot Wire from 1974). The rest of the set is nicely balanced with three tracks from You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band, with a beefed up version of the ballad Coast To Coast being a surprise highlight, and three tracks from Medusa to close the concert including a brilliant version of Black Cloud.

After a thoroughly enjoyable listen to these six CDs, there’s only one thing to say: don’t stop the music; roll on with Vol 2 of the Trapeze story, please!