by Ian Mann
March 22, 2006
So who remembers the Edgar Broughton Band? A lot more people than you might expect judging by a well-attended and enthusiastic audience in Bilston.
Ask most people to remember the music of the 70’s and they’ll come up with the slick pop of Abba or the glitter and glam of Bowie, Bolan and Slade. Some may even cite the pomp rock overkill of ELP and Yes.
Punk rock, ultimately a far more significant musical movement tends to be overlooked, so what chance of anyone remembering the Edgar Broughton Band?
The Broughtons have been dubbed ‘proto punks’. They might have looked like hairy bearded hippies but peace and love was definitely not on the menu. Their first album ‘Wasa Wasa’ (1969) was characterised by acid drenched psychedelic urban blues played with maniacal verve and a punk like intensity. Like the punks the Broughtons were not afraid to make wilfully ‘ugly’ music with Edgar’s vocals alternating between a bellow and a growl clearly showing the influence of Captain Beefheart.
These days every musician seems to have a political opinion and jibes at Bush and Blair are two a penny. Back then there was very little political content in British rock but with the Edgar Broughton Band politics was definitely on the agenda. Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath was a major target - as was American foreign policy in Vietnam - not much has changed then, eh?
The band made five albums for Harvest in the early 70’s and when the original group of lead singer guitarist Rob ‘Edgar’ Broughton, his brother Steve (drums) and Arthur Grant (bass) was augmented by second guitarist Victor Unitt a change in musical direction resulted. The band began to play more acoustic music and although the musical results were interesting this did little to enhance the group’s commercial standing. As contemporaries like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath were cranking up the amps and making a fortune in the process the Broughtons were going unplugged but increasing the political content.
When they were released by Harvest in 1974 they signed with WWA but a legal dispute with their new management delayed the release of their ‘Bandages’ album until 1976 by which time the proto punks had been eclipsed by the spiky haired safety pinned new wave. The Broughtons struggled on for another couple of albums but had lost their edge by now. They continued to tour in Germany where they were always popular. On high tempo tunes they could boogie with the best of them - Status Quo fronted by Captain Beefheart.
With prog rock no longer a dirty word and with their Harvest albums re-mastered last year the band have been coerced into a tour by Mark Powell of Eclectic Records. Powell helped re-master the Harvest albums and has released the remainder of their back catalogue on Eclectic.
The original trio of the Broughton brothers and Grant are augmented for the tour by Edgar’s son Luke on keyboards and the equally youthful Andy Taylor on guitar
At Bilston the band provided a comprehensive trawl through their extensive back catalogue with all their albums represented, and a well-balanced programme showed both their electric and acoustic styles.
With Van Der Graaf Generator undertaking a triumphant reunion tour last year and with Hatfield and The North capitalising on the publicity given them by Jonathan Coe’s ‘Rotters Club’ novel and television series it’s been a good time to see some of the 70’s cult bands. The material may be old but with the benefit of rehearsals and the fact that most of the musicians are ‘clean’ these days the playing is better than ever.
So it is with the Broughtons. Edgar may be grey, balding and bespectacled these days but the fire is still there. He handles all the lead vocals, takes the majority of the guitar solos and articulates fluently between songs. Blair and Bush come under the hammer but it’s all done far more cogently than usual, after all this man has been railing against the establishment for years. It is very much Edgar’s band and he gets through a tremendous amount of work over the course or the evening. Tonight he was consuming nothing stronger than bottled water but God knows what he ingested in the old days.
Brother Steve looks to have worn a bit better. The story goes that he learnt his percussive skills wielding a sledgehammer during the building of the Warwick by-pass many years ago and continues to utilise them on his drum kit. His playing is certainly muscular and powerful and with Art Grant’s supple bass underpinning it all they make an awesome rhythm section with many years of experience. The outrageously youthful looking Grant doesn’t look as if he’s changed much since 1969!
Luke is content to keep on the fringes and provide simple keyboard fills and samples. His role is essentially textural.
Andy Taylor’s second guitar is a good foil for Edgar taking care of the rhythm parts and allowing the leader to solo to good effect. I was very impressed with Edgar’s soloing - he’s a far better guitarist than the records sometimes suggest. Taylor also provided occasional harmonica and percussion and took the odd lead break. As for the material, the band open with “Evening over rooftops” from their eponymous third album with Luke’s keyboards covering the original string arrangement.
At the high energy end of the spectrum the original trio are left to themselves to thrash their way through “Love in the rain” from Wasa Wasa. This album also provided “Why can’t somebody love me” and “American boy soldier” originally a satirical attack on American policy in Vietnam it’s now been updated for Iraq - “Do you like sand son? In your eyes, up your nose, up you arse son?” The song makes a serious point but with its cod doo-wop arrangement it’s also great fun.
Other political material includes “Home’s fit for heroes” from 1973’s “Inside Out” album. An acoustic song with a strong chorus it used to be a jibe at Ted Heath, now it’s Tony Blair who is the subject of Edgar’s ire. “Blair is more of a Tory than Heath.”
The stark “Refugee” also makes a point with Edgar’s vocal delivery recalling an evangelical preacher.
Other highlights included “Speak down the wires” from “Bandages” and a brace of songs from the fourth album “Oora” viz “Exhibits from a new museum” and “Green lights”. A rare ‘B’ side, the pounding “Call me a liar” was also a welcome inclusion
But most of the fans had been waiting for “Mamma’s reward” aka “Keep those freaks rolling” a raucous stomp along from the band’s second album “Sing brother sing”. They were not to be disappointed.
In the same vein the band’s anthem “Out demons out” closed the show. Another audience participation number and if the crowd was less manic than in the old days it didn’t mean they enjoyed it any less, and let’s face it there’s still a lot of demons to “out” these days.
So who remembers the Edgar Broughton Band? A lot more people than you might expect judging by a well-attended and enthusiastic audience in Bilston. Their records may be uneven and not always live up to their potential but they were and continue to be an excellent live band. A cult band - the type of band people “buy into” as Edgar puts it.
I’m off to dig out those old vinyl albums and listen to them again.
I remember seeing Edgar Broughton Band many years ago and being on stage with them great band then , great band now. Peace and love.
Les Bestwick, 19/04/2011.