In 1974, with Britain in the grip of Glam Rock fever, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band released their third album titled “The Impossible Dream”. After the relative success of their breakthrough album “Next” in 1973 it was the perfect follow-up, and represented a huge leap forward musically.
Alex Harvey, who had started out on the road to stardom by winning a ‘Scotland finds its own Tommy Steele contest’, initially spent five years as a musical director for the hit West End show “Hair”. But then in 1972, having already turned 37, he set out to make himself a rock star at an age when most of his peers had already peaked and disappeared. He met up with the band Tear Gas in Glasgow, Scotland and persuaded them to take him onboard and change their direction to become The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Their rise to fame in Britain was mercurial, going from support band to headliners almost overnight.
Harvey mixed his role as pantomime mafia godfather with the band’s many talents. Zal Cleminson was an amazingly unique genius on lead guitar, with the make-up and image of a dangerous clown completing the package. On bass guitar was Chris Glenn, an intimidating stage presence to go with his playing ability, and the band were completed by cousins Hugh and Ted McKenna on keyboards and drums respectively.
This album comprises nine songs topped and tailed by epic tracks, but the middle seven gave the band plenty of material to flesh out on stage, especially in the case of Zal Cleminson who could really flip out on “Weights Made Of Lead”. Elsewhere, the songs gave us new characters for Alex Harvey to portray in the live arena including Sergeant Fury, and the Tomahawk Kid, which brought to life the whole Treasure Island thing. Audience members were also given a chance to get their own rocks off on the swaggering “Long Hair Music”.
But it’s the two epics that steal the show. The album opens with all thirteen minutes of “Hot Street Symphony”, which reintroduces us to super-hero Vambo and shows off the bands inclinations for progressive rock as well as slipping back into the riffs of Framed and Vambo from previous outings. Alex Harvey himself has a wonderful time out front, playing up his role as the clown prince of gangsters.
The closing epic “Anthem” is a beautifully written piece of music that used to close the band’s live shows. Built on a hypnotic drum beat, the female choir lead you into the song before Harvey pleads his case from the dock as the band breaks in, applying the pressure slowly but firmly. As the finale approaches Cleminson yet again plays some wonderfully tasteful guitar before a full choir come in, with the London Scottish TA Regiment Pipe and Drums band adding their touch to bring the album to a thunderous climax.
Sadly, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, while being a big story in Britain for a year, never really broke through anywhere else. As brightly as they arrived, they soon faded away and left us with just memories. Alex Harvey himself passed away in 1982 from heart failure aged just 46.
Album Rating: 5 Stars
Hot Street Symphony
River Of Love
Long Hair Music
Weights Made Of Lead
Money Honey/ Impossible Dream
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band:
Alex Harvey – guitar and lead vocals
Zal Cleminson – lead guitar and backing vocals
Chris Glenn – bass guitar and backing vocals
Ted McKenna – drums and backing vocals
Hugh McKenna – keyboards