We’re Just The Band: A Trilogy of Trapeze

❉ We dive into three deluxe expanded titles from Glenn Hughes-era Trapeze.

“It’s these three albums that defined Trapeze’s legacy, and it’s great to finally hear them again, and put their musical influence into the context that it finally belongs.”

Spread across eight discs this remastering and reissuing of Trapeze’s first three albums – Trapeze, Medusa and You Are the Music, We’re Just the Band – is pretty much the definitive history of the Glenn Hughes era of Trapeze.

Each album is remastered with extensive live tracks, BBC sessions and contemporaneous A and B sides, which show how the band developed from their debut to being the mighty power trio that drew the attention of Deep Purple who were looking to replace both Roger Glover and Ian Gillan, and ended up recruiting Glenn Hughes as bassist/vocalist for 1974’s Burn.

Glenn Hughes holding a copy of Trapeze’s 1970 album ‘Medusa’. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

Formed in Wolverhampton in a similar fashion to how neighbourhood band The Move evolved, Trapeze were the coalition of the talents of the two big bands of the town, Finders Keepers and The Montanas. From Finders Keepers, came bassist and vocalist Hughes, guitarist and vocalist Mel Galley and drummer Dave Holland, whilst Terry Rowley (keyboard and flutes) and Johnny Jones (trumpet/vocals) came from The Montanas.

The story of how they were formed is told in two slightly different versions by Hughes and Jones in the booklet for Trapeze, but by the start of 1969, this versatile five piece had been slugging it out across the country and bagged a spot on BBC 2’s Colour Me Pop (the audio of which is included on Disc 2), which brought them to the attention of several different labels.

There was initial interest from Apple Records, however it was local boys done good The Moody Blues (who’d recently launched their Threshold record label) who offered them a deal after John Lodge and Ray Thomas saw them perform in a club in London. In fact, it was Lodge (in the producer’s chair for the first time) who produced their debut album Trapeze, released in May 1970, and the Moodies connection meant the five-piece Trapeze supported them on a nine-date UK tour, including a gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

‘Trapeze’ (1970)

The fact that all musicians (bar Dave Holland) could sing, means that this album is ladened in wonderful vocal harmony pieces, with the main vocals split between Hughes and Jones, and the different instrumentation (and flexibility of a quintet) makes this a very different sound to the sound they became known for as a power trio.

Being produced by John Lodge, there is an element that takes the harder edge off the band, however that doesn’t distract from the songs, like the heavier Suicide where psych meets hard rock with its intense keyboard work.

The strength of the material here lies in the fact that the band had written it, worked it out live and were able to go straight into the studio and recreate it, with nods to softer rock and the new progressive scene that was flourishing when the band wrote these tracks. In the way only an album released in 1970 could, the album starts and finishes with It’s Only a Dream/It’s Only A Dream (reprise).

The ‘lost’ single Send Me No More Letters (which stalled due to a strike at the pressing plant) is a fantastic slice of British soul rock, bedecked with strings, a great hook and wonderfully harmony vocals that make this a lost classic that, had it been a hit would be a regular on either Pick of the Pops or Sounds of the Seventies.

You also get the great pop-rock of Nancy Gray by Hughes as well as the wonderfully progressive titles like The Giant’s Dead Hoorah! and the Mk.I Deep Purple-esque Fairytale: Verily Verily: Fairytale, all of which were worked out hard on the road, and with the unusual musical sounds of Jones’ trumpet and Rowley’s flute which was distinctive enough to add another musical dimension to the band’s sound and which certainly made them stand out from the crowd.

The intricate vocal harmonies and softer rock sound gives this album an early Yes/American West Coast sound, and certainly makes this an incredibly potent debut album from a taut band.

Disc 2 mops up the alternative versions of Send Me No More Letters with both the US and UK mix (each ever so slightly different to the album version) included, alongside with four demos from the recording sessions, and then the BBC sessions from both radio and TV included here, present a powerfully potent live act whose skills were honed in the eighteen months this line up were together and on the road. These bonus tracks showcase the versatility and diverse musical influences on the members of the band. Most prevalent is the mix of pop and soul sounds that, mixed with Galley’s great guitar work adds a depth to the sound.

The Colour Me Pop tracks are the most interesting here, featuring three covers including a blistering run through Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride, which shows the West Coast influence on their music, providing a nice mix of rock and pop, with more of those harmony vocals.

A frankly soulful and funky version of Fairport Convention’s Meet on the Ledge (before the song became the anthem that it rightly is) puts a mighty rock slant. Hughes’ distinctive vocals pulls no punches as he wrenches every inch of emotion out of it, similar to the way Joe Cocker tore apart and rebuilt The Beatles’ A Little Help from my Friends, or as Hendrix did to Hey Joe. As a fan of the Fairport song, this live cover is an absolute belter, a real piece of musical virtuosity where they take the foundations of the original and put their own unique twist on it, lifting it and taking it to somewhere else.

The final cover (and indeed track on this expanded two disc set) is Open My Eyes. Written by Todd Rundgren and a hit for his first band, The Nazz, this version is more akin to the raucous live version that was a staple of the Move’s set in 1969/70, and its not inconceivable to suggest that as the bands came from the same area, and toured similar venues, that Trapeze were influenced as much by the Move cover as the Nazz original.

Wrapped in cover art from an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and with a poetic quote from Time Is by American Henry Van Dyke, the album’s packaging gives very little away about the music involved, and does this album a disservice. However, this is a mighty fine debut, which laid down the foundations for the success of the next two albums.

‘Medusa’ (1970)

By the time Medusa was released in November 1970, both Johnny Jones and Terry Rowley had departed, returning to the Montanas after a disagreement over the musical direction of the band (both Jones and Hughes are keen to stress in the sleeve notes there was no emnity between parties) and Trapeze evolved into a heavier power trio, with Hughes, Galley and Holland carrying on.

With this shift in dynamic and slight change of style (although the original five piece certainly rocked out!) it introduced the songwriting partnership of Mel Galley working with his brother Tom, who jointly contributed four tracks to the album, compared to Hughes’ two and the one band composition Your Love is Alright, which came out from the three-piece jamming… As Hughes comments in the sleeve notes, the three of them jammed a lot, but unlike the debut album, they didn’t have many songs.

The continuity afforded by the Threshold deal meant that John Lodge was still on board as producer and happy with the band’s change of direction so there was plenty of label support for them. Lodge maintained enough hands-on involvement with the band to help come up with the album title, as well as the artwork and band photos coming from the Moodies’ art designer.

The traditional power trio format was one that paid dividends for Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Taste, whilst Canada’s Rush and the UK’s Emerson Lake and Palmer took the evolution of the power trio to its next step; and stripped back from their five-piece sound, Trapeze, with the blues influences of Hughes and the rock guitar of Galley ultimately turned into a more traditional power trio.

That doesn’t mean that they lost any of their subtlety or mix of light and shade, as the songs like the hard opener Black Cloud (about the fact that every company Hughes went to work for ultimately folded, and which is also included in both the stereo and mono single edit on disc 2) followed by The Jury (about a club in Wolverhampton, where the gallery looked like juror sitting in judgement on the band) had a mighty Sabbath-esque riff, and its with bands like Sabbath or Judas Priest where I would say Trapeze had a musical affinity.

The heavy sound of the industrial Midlands, mixed with the powerful bass and drums combo of Hughes and Holland (honed over years of performance together) and some great riffage from Galley, combined the melodic elements that fed through from the earlier incarnation, offers a more nuanced sound, and the intricate riff and bass work on the seven-minuter Jury for instance is as strong as anything the Midlands hard rock generation produced in this period (and the bonus live versions on both disc two and three of this magnificently curated set showcase how much of a lynchpin it was to the band’s sets).

Latter-day retrospectives of Trapeze have labelled them as a hard funk power trio, and whilst Hughes’ love of funk and soul is well documented (and was one of the elements that set apart the Hughes/Coverdale line-up of Purple from previous incarnations) it’s not the overriding sound that dominates this album. The band co-composition Your Love is Alright (which again sets out its stall as a fantastic live track on Disc 2) rattles along at a fair old pace, with Hughes and Holland really giving it some in the old funky shuffle sound.

The mix of their funk and Galley’s harder guitar is another facet of their ability, and another example of the genre-fluid sense of their music. It also foreshadows some of the later Deep Purple co-writes that Hughes influenced, particularly on the Strombringer album.

Trapeze were never ‘just’ hard rock or ‘just’ funk, there were so many more musical influences at play here throughout the record, and as a power trio they play with as much skill and panache as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and again this is reflected in the two bonus live concerts included in this triple disc package.

The melodic side is shown to the fore on the wonderful Seafall, with some sublime guitar work from Galley, who is easily the equal of guitarists like Peter Green or Ritchie Blackmore, whilst Hughes shows the full range of that tremendous voice, and it’s one of those classic epic rock songs that bands like Purple and Zeppelin were crafting during this era, it just builds and builds with that epic riff from Galley, and the bass and drums are almost understated until it grows to its fade out.

Again, the live version on Disc 2 (recorded in New York) shows the band at full power, and whilst these are historic recordings and the quality might not be up to modern standard they still sound better than a number of bootlegs I’ve heard, and the power of the band shines through. They rightly had a reputation as a sublime live band, and with no official live albums released from this period, these two bonus discs flesh out that story and confirm the reputation as a powerful, musical tour de force.

The blues funk of Makes You Wanna Cry is again musically confident and has a great driving riff and some great lyrics before the album ends on the mighty title track, that rocks as hard as anything from the early 1970s proto-metal bands made, and it seems that Medusa is the forgotten child from the crop of albums like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple In Rock, Led Zeppelin II that forged heavy metal in the steel furnaces of industrialised Britain (even The Move were at it, on their seminal album Lookin’ On).

This remaster, which nicely keeps the original album separate from the bonus live tracks, shows how the band successfully managed to change direction after losing two key members, and produced one of the genre defining albums of the era, and hopefully this new release will get Medusa back where it should be.

‘You are the Music, We’re Just the Band’ (1972)

The final album You are the Music, We’re Just the Band, produced by legendary blues producer Neil Slaven (whose production credits include Keef Hartley, Savoy Brown and the Pink Fairies), was released in 1972. As producer, Slavin’s focus was on playing to all three members core strengths (he was so impressed with Hughes’ voice that he wanted to make a solo album with him on the spot) the band kicked up a gear.

A fresh pair of production ears brought out the best in Trapeze, with Slavin fleshing out the sound with BJ Cole on slide guitar on the crunching opener Keepin’ Time, a good-old-fashioned blues funk stomper where the interplay between the band, enhanced by Cole’s recognisable sound, clearly lays down a marker.

In the indepth sleeve notes Hughes points out how Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham was a massive fan and would always come to their Midlands shows (commitments permitting) and, Hughes confidently states that Trapeze were the best Power Trio to never make it.

Building on the foundations laid down by Medusa, You are the Music… takes that base metal, and with the production alchemy turns it into gold, for the 38 minutes that this album hits you, there’s no bad track on it, and collaboration to enhance the sound was part of the plan, the soulful Coast to Coast sees Rod Argent on piano alongside more of that slide guitar from BJ Cole, to craft a wonderful piece of blues that was released as a single and sadly didn’t trouble the charts.

Hughes had found his voice, not just as a singer (his vocals here are the fully-formed article that would lead him to Deep Purple) but also as a songwriter, contributing five out of eight cuts on the album.

The soulful What Is A Woman’s Role, with Kirk Duncan’s electric piano filling out the sound, and emphasising Hughes’ vocals, shows the direction Hughes would take Deep Purple, and listening to these tracks, his influence on latter-era Purple runs far deeper than is perhaps acknowledged by the band’s official history.

Holland and Galley are also on fire throughout this album, and it was the constant live performances that honed the trio’s skill, meaning they could go into a studio and cut an album like this, comfortable with the knowledge of what each other would do, and confidence in a producer who ‘got’ the band, in the way that Slavin suggests John Lodge didn’t quite manage when they became a trio.

The tracks flow into each other on here and provide nice musical contrasts as the grinding hard rock of Way Back To The Bone closes the original side one, with some great work from Galley throughout.

Nods to the band’s live performances are littered throughout the artwork, with the cover photo taken from behind the band performing to around 7,000 fans at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis. Shot by Carl Dunn it captures the band in full flow, and an audience absolutely loving the performance, and this sums up the Trapeze live experience in one photo.

The band were always drawn to America, and the blues rock sound that permeated the west coast in the early ‘70s is filtered through their songwriting, and none more so than on the rocking Feelin’ So Much Better Now, with an amazing vocal performance from Hughes, some fine old blues piano from Rod Argent, and some great female vocals, fleshing out the sound on this great feel good rock and roll song.

More special guests in the form of Jimmy Hastings (Caravan) on alto sax and Frank Ricotti on vibraphone on the big epic ballad Will Our Love End. As this album showcased the development of Hughes as a vocalist, this track showcases his finest soulful vocals on plaintive slow rocker, and with the addition of the sax and vibes, shows how confident the band were in their sound, that they could take risks and bring in new elements to the songs.

As Tom Galley mentions in the sleeve notes You Are The Music is a paean to the fans, and with that track, the album title suggested itself. Despite the album not charting, the band continued on an epic American tour in 1972/73, which Hughes thinks was the best they ever played.

With the bonus tracks we get to hear this, firstly there’s an off air recording of a Radio One In Concert from 1973 where the band focus on the new album, and sound as tight as throughout, with stirring versions of You are the Music and What Is A Woman’s Role.

Meanwhile spread over Disc 2 and 3 are nine tracks recorded in Houston in 1972, which again confirm their prowess as one of the live acts of the early 1970s and are a good mix of Medusa material refined and half of We Are The Music, all of which blend seamlessly into one almighty set.

Of course, this era of Trapeze came to an end when Hughes was offered the Deep Purple gig in 1973, and he went off and joined them for three big albums. Yet it’s these three albums that defined their legacy, and it’s great to finally hear them again, and put their musical influence into the context that it finally belongs.

As Hughes states in the sleeve notes, being part of Deep Purple was the difference to being in a brand and being in a band: “You know what, now I understand I should never have left Trapeze. For all the success I went on to get with Deep Purple, being with them never got close to equalising what I was lucky enough to share with guys in Trapeze.”

He briefly reunited with Trapeze at the end of 1978, and was part of Black Sabbath in the mid ‘80s (being the second Deep Purple vocalist, following in Ian Gillan’s footsteps) before reforming the original Trapeze line-up with Geoff Downes on keyboards for a tour in 1991 and sporadic touring up to 1994. It’s fair to say that after his much publicised drink and drugs issues throughout the eighties, the Trapeze reunion gave Hughes the confidence to set out on his much-celebrated solo career that continues today, and he’s just as likely to perform Trapeze tracks live as Deep Purple tracks.

After Hughes left Galley and Holland continued Trapeze, until Galley joined Hughes former Deep Purple colleagues David Coverdale, Jon Lord and Ian Paice in Whitesnake, and Holland took up the drum seat for fellow Midlands hard rockers Judas Priest. Galley died in 2008 and Holland in 2018, leaving these albums as a mighty tribute to them both.

The last word, from the sleeve notes of You Are The Music, should go to Glenn Hughes, “This is the number one band album I’ve ever been involved in… For Mel, Dave and myself, this was our band…I can listen, even now to this album and burst with pride over what we did”.


❉ Trapeze: ‘Trapeze’ (PURPLE022D), Trapeze: ‘Medusa’ (PURPLE023T) and ‘You Are the Music, We’re Just The Band’ (PURPLE024T) were released 18 September 2020 by Cherry Red/Purple Records. Order your copy of all and everything Trapeze here: http://cherryred.co/Trapeze 

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.

Header image: Trapeze In London: Mel Galley, Pete MacKie, Glenn Hughes and Dave Holland from English rock group Trapeze posed in London in 1973. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

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