If the last Keef Hartley Band album, 1972's Seventy Second Brave, had seen some changes in musical direction, then the following year's Lancashire Hustler saw a greater shift away from the blues rock origins of the band. After the last KHB album, Hartley had rejoined John Mayall for a European tour and when he returned to the UK, became involved in a number of different musical projects, including playing on a few tracks by Vinegar Joe.
Not having the time to run and organise the band, the group had drifted apart with main musical foil, bassist Gary Thain, heading off into new musical territories by joining heavy rockers Uriah Heep. Decca, Hartley's label, were hustling for a new album which was owed to the label under the drummer's contract so the only option was to get together a studio band comprised of friends and colleagues purely to record the album. Hence, the sole attribute to Keef Hartley. And what a combination of friends and colleagues Hartley was able to call on! Junior Kerr (guitar, vocal) and Mick Weaver (organ, Moog) were recalled from the last incarnation of the KHB and a suitable replacement for Thain was found in Philip Chen, who John Burns, the album's producer, had come across at a Rod Stewart session. Jim Mullen, the jazz-rock guitarist, was also enticed along through some mutual contacts. However, it was in the vocal department that Hartley really hit big time.
Having long admired Jess Roden, who Hartley had known since the time he was a member of The Artwoods (one of the earliest bands to feature Deep Purple's Jon Lord) and Roden had sang with The Alan Bown Set, a quick phone call and an initial get together to run through some ideas, secured Roden's commitment to the album. Then, in return for playing on the Vinegar Joe albums, both Robert Palmer and Elkie Brooks agreed to provide backing vocals and brought with them pianist Jean Rouselle.
The Vinegar Joe connection didn't end with having Brooks and Palmer adding their magnificent voices to the album, but went further with the opening track, Circles, being a fine cover of the Palmer-penned song from the debut VJ album. Jess Roden steals the show on this fabulous, gospel tinged version that is a real 'feel good' track. Throughout the whole album Brook and Palmer make a significant contribution adding tremendous power to tracks like Circles and You & Me.
Shovel A Minor was based on a jam with Mullen providing some tasty guitar licks before a terrifically funky brass middle section takes over which Hartley rightly opines "could be from an American cop show"! Australian Lady, as with the two previous tracks, were composed by Hartley, although John Mayall gets a co-credit on the antipodean female song as Hartley had stolen the main riff from Mayall during a tour of Australia where the titular female was encountered (so maybe Mayall should also be credited for putting Hartley in a position where he could meet the lady that became the muse!). The song is quite beautiful but is raised to something a bit special by the trombone playing of Don Lusher and Derek Wadsworth.
Action and Know Something were both written by John Burns, presumably the producer and engineer of the album, but that is not confirmed in the reissue. Both tracks fit in well with the rest of the album with fine band performances. Chen proves that he was an apt replacement for Thain providing a fine rhythm section along with Hartley, particularly on the instrumental section of Action, and Kerr gets to flex his fingers throughout Know Something.
Jennie's Father is rather unique for Hartley as it is the only song that he decided to add a string accompaniment to. Arranged by Pete Gage, husband of Elkie Brooks and guitarist in Vinegar Joe, the string section is not overpowering but simply adds a lot of colour to the track, particularly the use of pizzicato. Again, it is a lovely song, exceedingly well played and sung.
The big surprise is the cover of the Sly And The Family Stone's big hit Dance To The Music. It's a real tour de force, with Weaver having a field day on organ and Moog, Miller Anderson making a welcome return to the fold, Brooks providing the perfect vocal foil to Roden's lead, some over the top brass and Mullen enjoying himself so much wailing away on his six string that at the end of the song you can hear him say "Got any tape left? I'll carry on"!
I was pleasantly surprised by this album as it is completely different from any of the albums that were released by the Keef Hartley Band. There is an immense feeling of the musicians having great fun and really enjoying the sessions and playing music for music's sake. I suppose as the album was a contractual obligation and there were no plans, or need, to go out and tour to promote the release that took a lot of pressure off.
What is ironic is that a further album was recorded with essentially the same players pretty soon after Lancashire Hustler. However, Hartley went off on another tour with Mayall shortly after recording was complete and by the time he returned the album had been forgotten about.
What is a great pity, and symptomatic of the attitude of some record companies, is that despite intensive searching, the album has been completely lost with the master tapes in all probability having been erased. Easily the most enjoyable of the Hartley albums and a great re-release, recommended album for when you want to dance to the music!!
by Mark Hughes
1. Circles (Robert Palmer) - 5:21
2. You and Me (K. Hartley) - 3:57
3. Shovel a Minor (K. Hartley) - 4:22
4. Australian Lady (K. Hartley, John Mayall) - 4:36
5. Action (John Burns) - 5:52
6. Something About You (John Burns) - 3:58
7. Jennie's Father (Ken Cumberbatch) - 3:12
8. Dance to the Music (Sylvester Stewart) - 6:19
*Jess Roden - Vocal
*Junior Kerr - Vocal, Guitar
*Jean Rouselle - Keyboards
*Mick Weaver - Organ, Moog
*Philip Chen - Bass
*Keef Hartley - Drums
*Elkie Brooks - Backing vocals
*Robert Palmer - Backing vocals
[ Rip and Scans by MARIOS ]