April 28, 2023

These two volumes form a retrospective of unusual thoroughness that demonstrates the band’s solid studio material and consistently blistering live performances.

Volume 1 of the Complete Recordings of Trapeze, reviewed here in February, had consisted of the first three studio albums and live concerts in Dallas and London from different points in the group’s career. This second five CD set, which one assumes completes the series, looks at the remaining three studio albums, plus three live gigs, this time in Nottingham, Arlington and Austin. In terms of their studio career, we had left Trapeze at a pivotal point: David Hughes had just left the band in 1973, unable to resist the sirens of Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple.  Clearly the departure of Hughes was a loss, but it must be remembered that guitarist Galley penned as much material as Hughes, so it wasn’t a death knell by any means. To fill the gap, Galley took the unusual step of not only replacing Hughes with Pete Wright, but also adding a second guitarist, Rob Kendrick.  Galley also took over the singing duties that he’d previously shared with Hughes. And lastly, Galley invited Rowley, the keyboard player from the group’s debut album, back to contribute, albeit without being ‘readmitted’ as a formal band member.

Together, this unit put together 1974’s Hot Wire, a very strong and consistently good release. Some of the softer elements that Hughes had introduced in 1972’s You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band are no longer there (perhaps a positive point), although the ambition of pieces like Jury is also missing. What is left is solid hard rock, stylistically close to Free or Bad Company, alternating with songs driven by the band’s trademark funk element. The opening two tracks fall into the former category – the excellent Back Street Love (not to be confused with the Curved Air song Back Street Luv!) is raw and tight bluesy rock with Bad Company written in large letters all over it. Take It On Down The Road treads similar territory, opening with a cut and paste of Free’s Alright Now riff. In the funk category, Midnight Flyer is the standout track, an enjoyable foot-tapping song, and it is almost matched by the more laid back Steal A Mile. These good efforts are offset by the rather pedestrian nine minutes of Feel It Inside that closes the album in underwhelming style. The dual guitars certainly helped to fill out the sound and while the variety of two voices had been lost, Galley was a decent enough singer to carry the day. All in all, an excellent release that to these ears is only a notch beneath Medusa as their best studio effort.  The decision to continue had certainly been vindicated.

The same line-up produced their next album, simply called Trapeze. That was not only lazy but downright confusing since their debut album had the same title too! It is a short album made up of short songs – ten in all, lasting only thirty-five minutes. This newfound conciseness works on a track like Star Breaker, which is a quite commercial rocker, and more upbeat than most of their previous material. Digging out the 1930 jazz standard, Sunny Side Of The Street, and turning it into a 12-bar blues, was also a good stab at a cover song. But you can sense that they are going through the motions through quite large swathes of this album. The funkier tracks, with the exception of Monkey, simply don’t take off, and to make matters worse we have a return of the weak ballads -Hughes came back and co-wrote one of them, Chances, which is instantly forgettable. It may have simply been a case of writers-fatigue for Galley, who had penned all the material on Hot Wire, and then shortly afterwards all of this release – which was written and put down in 1975, even if its release was delayed until early 1976.

At the end of 1975, they had decided to take a break, and what proved to be their very last concert with this line-up took place at The Boat Club in Nottingham on the 13th September. It was transmitted as a live radio broadcast and eventually released as Live At The Boat Club in 2003. Its inclusion here neatly closes this phase of the band’s history. Three of the nine tracks performed are from the Trapeze album which wouldn’t see the light of day for several months, and hence would have been new to fans present. Working out tracks in advance and getting an audience reaction to them was not uncommon in those days, but to use two of them as the encore was very odd, even if Sunny Side Of The Street worked well, beefed up and sounding pretty much like a standard Status Quo boogie. Star Breaker was also well-performed and positively received. Back Street Love was the only track from the then most recent album – again a good choice – while the emphasis was very much on the early career classics with Jury and Black Cloud being drawn out to the fourteen- and fifteen-minute mark respectively. The dual guitars again helps to fill out the sound in the live environment and keeps things interesting even in these longer tracks. On the other hand, Galley’s vocals struggle a little (at least in the Hughes-penned songs) and you can sense a more general lack of charisma in this line-up.

Live in Arlington, Texas

That might have been the end of the band but the collapse of Deep Purple in early 1976 opened the door for the return of the prodigal son, and he was welcomed with open arms by Galley and Holland, but presumably less so by Wright and Kendrick who immediately departed the band. An album was planned as was an American and British tour, but the latter had to be abandoned after problems emerged between the members of the band, caused it is rumoured by Hughes’ drug-abuse at the time.  Luckily for us, before the reunion fizzled out there was a recording of a concert at Texas Hall, Arlington of surprisingly good quality considering it must have been a bootleg. Hearing this, probably for the first time, will be the highlight of this second volume for Trapeze fans. From the starting blast of You Are The Music, you know the group have got their mojo back. It’s urgent, dynamic, and is probably the best version of this song that I’ve heard. The usual classics are wheeled out (Medusa, Jury and Way Back To The Bone), as is the slow blues of Hughes’ forgotten classic Seafull which is sung brilliantly. 

Coast To Coast from You Are the Music… We’re Just the Band is an unusual inclusion, being something of a slow ballad, and yet it wisely gives the audiences’ ears a break from the heavier material (something that failed to happen in The Boat Club gig, for example). If readers are familiar with Hughes’ solo album Play Me Out, then they might recognise L.A. Cutoff and Space High. They do sound remarkably different though – hard funky songs compared to the soppy affairs that finished up on Play Me Out. Interestingly, Hughes introduced both songs as brand-new songs from a brand-new album coming out in November, which implies that the intention was to release them under the Trapeze name. As an aside, the support act that night was billed as Leslie West & Friends, which, assuming West played mostly Mountain material, must have made it one hell of an evening.

Only the Germans got this cover!

With Hughes out of the band again, Galley was left with the usual question of how to carry on. He brought bassist Pete Wright back, opted against the second guitarist this time, but instead brought in a frontman in the shape of Pete Goalby. Of course, Goalby would go on to fame with Uriah Heep, continuing the tradition of Trapeze being as a training ground for future stars. This line-up put together just one studio album, 1979’s Hold On. Cynics might say the only interesting thing about this album is the cover – I’m talking about the sensual naked lady who briefly graced the cover of the German release before being replaced by a German car on releases elsewhere. Cherry Red have cheekily used the German original for the CD sleeve here! Musically, Hold On has some very good material, mixed with some less inspired stuff, but it showed the band updating their sound, shedding just about all the blues influences, and heading off in a potentially interesting more commercial  direction. Out of the top draw are two Goalby compositions, the catchy opener Don’t Ask Me How I Know and the cheerful groove of When You Get To Heaven. Goalby’s third contribution though, Living On Love, sounds like a poor attempt to imitate Trapeze’s funky style.  Galley contributes two earworms in Hold On and the standout track, the fabulous Running.

Sadly, this was the end of the line for the group, although they hung around long enough to release a live album in 1981 – their first official one – entitled Live In Texas – Dead Armadillios, recorded at The Opry House in Austin. This was pre-CD days so as a single vinyl album of barely forty minutes, this must have been a subset of what they played that night in Austin. The six songs selected for release are culled from across their career – all albums are represented excluding the very first one. The title track of Hold On is the only song from latest album, and like Back Street Love from Trapeze, is an excellent choice. Goalby sings reasonably well but more importantly gives that frontman focus. He’s there calling out ‘Are You Ready’ and doing all those tricks to get the audience engaged. While this might not be the classic Trapeze line-up, it is still a rewarding listen.

And so, that’s the end of Volume 2. These two volumes form a retrospective of unusual thoroughness that demonstrates the band’s solid studio material and consistently blistering live performances.  Trapeze always seemed on the verge of making the big time but didn’t quite do so. The reasons are up for debate although for me it wasn’t a case of bad luck or bad management but instead the fact that they were missing one or two true classic songs in their armoury – they lacked their own Child In Time or Stairway To Heaven – and they always remained a second-tier band as a result. They still left us a marvellous set of work though, brilliant in places, flawed in others, but well worth revisiting.