Chris Glen: The Bass BusinessHere’s a small taster from my latest book, Chris Glen: The Bass Business.

It’s published on April 14, 2017 via Noisewave, and it’s available as a signed, dedicated pre-order in paperback and hardback formats now. (Ebook to follow.) The book will be launched at a party night in Glasgow’s Hard Rock Cafe on April 7 – tickets are on sale now. Find out more via a Classic Rock Magazine feature.

The excerpt is taken from the period of April to June 1972, as Tear Gas – featuring Chris, Zal Cleminson, Ted McKenna and singer Davie Batchelor – were gradually morphing into the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Davie became the band’s sound man as Alex took over the lead vocalist role. Among several advantages the band were facing was a wage increase to £50 a week, because Alex was backed by bingo-hall millionaire Bill Fehilly.

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Our next show was at the Burns Howff in Glasgow, so Alex came up and did Midnight Moses, Buff’s Bar Blues and another couple of blues-based things. He didn’t go down well – Tear Gas were the biggest band around and the place was full of our fans going, ‘Who’s this old codger?’ They didn’t want Alex, they wanted Davie back. I’ll admit I was thinking, ‘There goes the £50 a week!’ Priorities! But at the same time, I was starting to really like Alex. It takes some attitude to stand up in a room where no one wants you, and put on a show. I could already see there’d be a time when we could make this work.

At the time it was still Tear Gas with Alex, and he was flying up from London to play with us. But the plans were flowing, and I remember when he told me he wanted to call us The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. I was like, ‘Are you mad? That’s just building us up for the biggest knock-back. The press will have a field day: “Sensational? We’ll be the judge of that!”’ But Alex said, ‘You don’t understand my thinking. This goes back to the Tamla Motown days of the fabulous this and the wonderful that.’ I said, ‘But we don’t play Tamla Motown!’ He said,’ You still don’t understand… what I’m saying is, it’s marketing that’s been successful.’ But I think he also wanted something to live up to – if you called yourself ‘sensational’ you couldn’t be shite.

But… our first official gig as SAHB was a disaster on every level. It came a few weeks after Alex’s brother Les had died after he was electrocuted by a live mike on stage in Wales, while he was touring with Stone The Crows. The thing is, Les had always been the boy – there was no sibling rivalry, and Alex’s job had been to be the mentor, while Les was the guitarist. He would have gone on to great things if he hadn’t died. Stone The Crows were trying to continue even though Maggie Bell was devastated. They were doing a gig in Clouds, at the top of what would become the Apollo, and we were supporting as SAHB, although it still said ‘Tear Gas’ on the bass drum.

We had terrible equipment problems, which must have been giving Alex flashbacks. And we didn’t have enough material for a whole set so Alex was doing an acoustic bit in the middle, and our fans hated that. They started shouting and he started shouting back. As far as they were concerned, they were getting less Tear Gas and a load of songs they’d never heard, with some fucking bus conductor singing them, or whoever they thought he was. They’re going, ‘Who the fuck is he? He’s just up there because he’s some brother of Les Harvey, just starting in the business? Get him to fuck!’

It was really, really bad. Bill Fehilly’s wallet was closing as we watched! But Alex was really happy because he’d had a negative response, and that was better than no response at all. He went into the crowd and spoke to people, apologising for the show, and saying we’d be better next time. Somehow or other that kept Bill’s wallet open… But it must have been a hard, hard show for Alex. He didn’t want to go out on tour and do all that stuff. It was only when Les died that Alex felt he was going to have to carry the flag for the Harveys. He didn’t ever say that in words, but it was implied all the time.

But I started learning from him on day one. It was an amazing thing to be taught by someone you liked. The first thing he taught me was really, really big – we were doing Midnight Moses and he said, ‘What’s the most important thing in the song? With Midnight Moses it’s the riff, not the guitar solo or anything.’ He said, ‘So, we’ll go up to the front, in a line, put our feet up on the monitors and do the riff. That’ll bring more attention to it.’ So we did that.

Then he expanded the idea of emphasis across the song. He said, ‘It’s like snipers covering each other. When I’m up the front singing, you and Zal take either side. Then when I go back, and it’s the instrumental bits, you both come forward into the middle, with Zal at the front and you just behind him.’ He said, ‘At those points in the song, I disappear.’ I said, ‘How are you going to disappear on a small stage?’ He said, ‘I’ll just become invisible – I’ll turn my back to the audience. They can’t look at me, they have to look at Zal. But when you’re finished, it’s my turn again.’ You didn’t have great lights so you had to tell the audience what to watch. That was one of the best lessons I learned from Alex.