Wednesday, October 21, 2015


So who is the bigger cartoon? Is it the character in the song, Sergeant Nicholas Joseph Fury, or the singer, the 'Sensational' Alexander James Harvey? OK, easy question, really, but as a teenage Brit in the 70s it was sometimes hard to tell.

Marvel comics reached my consciousness mid 60s, I guess, not in their original multi-hued kaleidoscopes of smudgy ink, collectors items to this day, but as black and white facsimiles in UK comics 'Fantastic' and Terrific', almost entirely consisting of reprints of The Fantastic Four, the X Men and similar. Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos seemed always unusual bedfellows amongst all these mutants and super-heroes, despite, in hindsight, being equally muscle bound and indestructible. In my somehow more sterile world, the wise-cracking and cigar-chomping irreverence shown towards WW2 appealed, and certainly far more so than the worthier by far UK war comics, populated by far cleaner cut and heroic fictions. Warfare seemed like so much fun........

Alex Harvey was so nearly of that generation, being born in 1935, and almost too old for the generation he became latterly most associated with, in, most famously, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, their heyday between 1972 and 78. After various dead-end jobs he eventually staggered to his musical feet in 1954, embracing a number of styles in turn, dixieland and big band jazz, skiffle, soul/r'n'b, never quite breaking through, ending up in the pit of the London production of the musical 'Hair.' Rock music now inevitably in his blood, a chance meeting with Glasgow prog rockers 'Tear Gas' led to the end of an abortive solo period and the positively tongue-in-cheek entitled eponymous band. Perennials on the UK touring circuit, unless you are reading this in Cleveland, the chances are that the name will mean nothing to US readers. Bizarrely, they could fill venues in this city, bombing elsewhere. Gloriously and gratuitously Scottish, Harvey enunciating perfect Glaswegian, his band a side-show of grotesques, the songs a mix of Gothic Grand-Guignol with full on hard rock, they were foremost a live band. Harvey, unkempt and gurning, a swashbuckling figure in striped mate lot jerseys and buccaneers boots, with the extraordinary figure of guitarist, Zal Cleminson, in full clown make up and green jumpsuit, leering to his side. The songs, carefully chosen  cover versions of anything from 50s rock'n'roll to Jacques Brel, mingling with unpretentiously art school originals, evoking comic books, as at the top of and the title of this piece, or dystopian vignettes of disturbed delusion. 'Sgt Fury' comes from their 1974 album, 'The Impossible Dream', and is a blend of all the styles dallied with earlier, perhaps in keeping with the era of the songs subject.

Stage sets and album covers became increasingly caricatures of themselves, hence my uncertainties as to who was the more or less real. Possibly their most famous moment was in 1975, their top 10 single, a remodelling of Tom Jones' chestnut, 'Delilah', horrifying teatime audiences across the UK as the true murderous menace of the lyric became acted out upon 'Top of the Pops. Magnificent (and still my sole ever performed karaoke piece.) Here it is from late night serious rock show, 'Old Grey Whistle Test':

Sadly, bedecked by alcohol issues, Harvey then left the band, who continued as the 'Sensational Alex Harvey Band without Alex', his absence seemingly little detraction. He joined again briefly before, aged 47, sustaining a pair of massive heart attacks, he died, in 1982. Whilst the band had broken up by then, I can report that, having been voted 5th most influential band in Scotland in 2005, they reformed and remain intermittently on the road to this day.

This has all the songs featured here and might be a safe place to start......
Or you may wish to read more about the band.

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