Friday, 24 September 2021

HUMBLE PIE - As Safe As Yesterday Is LP

 (MS)

… I'm not quite done with the Small Faces yet.

I'd argue the band peaked a little before “Ogden’s” with the barnstorming Tin Soldier 45 and that LP however brilliant, has a fair bit of recycling going on. The oozing title track is a psyched-up instrumental of their crunching early release I’ve Got Mine and there amidst the whimsical carnage of side two, Mad John is a folk'd up arrangement of Call It Something Nice, a song later released posthumously on the Autumn Stone/In Memoriam comps. (And reworked again as Silver Tongue on Humble Pie’s "Town and Country" LP).

Those two Immediate fire-sale comps gathered a number of SF odds and sods that some believe formed the basis of an “Ogden’s” follow up LP called “1862”. Type that into Google and you'll get sundry efforts to replicate its running order. They’re all pretty dodgy too inserting choice Humble Pie and Faces tracks into a what if they'd all stayed together Frankenstein's Cockney-type effort. There's no need to do this as you can (just about) compile a very nice 33 minute LP from the existing SF strays, kicking off with Marriott’s parting Jugband Blueish busk-duet with his dog: That dog by the way found its way onto a Pink Floyd record a little later on:

The Universal

Donkey Rides Penny a Glass

Wide Eyed Girl on The Wall

Call It Something Nice

Red Balloon

 

The Autumn Stone

Collibosher

Wham Bam Thank You Man

Wrist Job Fred

Every Little Bit Hurts

I’ve used poetic license with the title of the Procol-esque Wrist Job Fred which was originally titled Fred on the Olympic tapes but with a vocal ended up as the majestic Wrist Job on Humble Pies's first 45. I LOVE the gently mocking soul chorus backing on this, in harmony with the clashing sentiment of the words and …err… knocked-out title. Anyway this is a better title than the The Pigs Trotters which Charly records used a few years ago, confusing the issue immeasurably.  (Which I don't think I've done incidentally). This definitive “1862” is probably short of one whole song actually so I’d like to see the group version of If You Think You’re Groovy come out of the vaults please. These Albums That Weren’t Never Made But Should Have Been type guys clearly didn't have the stomach to include two more bonafide tunes from the final death throes of the SF namely the sessions with Monsieur Johnny Hallyday, that spawned early versions of the “As Safe As Yesterday Is” tracks, What You Will and Bang. The latter giving the Pie version a run for their money. I can understand why they didn't but then again these are a real bridge to Humble Pie featuring Peter Frampton on guitar as they do. But the true birth of this band to me is Wham Bam Thank You Man the song that broke The Small Faces. This in itself was previously recorded as Me, You and Us Too with different lyrics but then ramped up into the full groupie metal shouter it ended up. It’s a full rehearsal for things to come and the lyrics – with more Don Arden bile - a forewarning to changing times;

Our lives are run by ego freaks

A walking book of rules who seek

To keep you in your pigeon hole

Bash you if your soul steps out of line

And so we get to the “As Safe as Yesterday Is” album.

I should say I’m not a big fan of Humble Pie or The Rod Stewart Faces for that matter. In my view both bands released a lot of product that failed to create too much as memorable as The Small Faces small but perfectly formed oeuvre. It’s the difference between hunger and excess of course. Between a frightening gangster standing over you and a lot of coke and free time in Richmond on Thames. But then I'm a very biased and jaundiced listener too. And as I get older even more so. I increasingly resent Rod Stewart’s schtick, as I replay in my mind the terrible torment he inflicted upon my innocent youth. You see shows like Lift Off With Ayshea and Top of The Pops were so much FUN in those days, Mud, Sailor, Slade, Roy Wood, Alvin Stardust, Roy Wood again (we wanted him every week) and all those visiting soul singers with bad teeth, bad hair and utterly wasted … emotion. Music was just another form of escapist stimulation like those crap Harry Harryhausen dinosaur films we gorged ourselves on. TOTP with it’s necrophiliac presenters was like a visual circus extension that signified something of the mythical Beatles tapes our Dad got for us from Oldham Library. Yes there was melody, yes there was some toe tapping going on but ’73-75 just wasn’t serious music and we knew it. Even at 7 years old we recognised we’d been robbed of the 60’s and so we watched this freakshow in the full knowledge it was all we had left and we made damn sure we enjoyed it in some sort of giddy Tizer-flavoured post-modern frenzy. It was a phoney war to the impending apocalypse that would become punk, a conflict brooding with even greater intensity behind my brother’s bedroom door, with all his Moody Yes and Palmer records. It was like Edwardian Britain before the slaughter of the trenches, it was like Weimar before the rise of Hitler, it was like Charlie Parker as the skies filled with the cancerous radioactive waste of the drifting atomic test clouds. And in 1975 it finally came our way through our TV sets like something out of Videodrome, We watched Rod Stewart - thankfully - Sailing off on a very grey looking ship in a very primitive video, but…but… he kept coming back, again and again, week after fucking week after week. He seemed to be at Number 1 throughout my entire transition from Airfix tanks to grabbing Ruth Thomas’ xxx’s. It all changed round about then. It really did. Music stopped being FUN!! God in retrospect I realise Steve Marriott was just as grotty in this period, round about the time he grew a moustache. Sorry where was I?

And so we get to the wonderfully titled “As Safe as Yesterday Is” album. The four key songs all seemingly about the process of stepping off the precipice into the wilds of an uncertain future. Very apt for a new rock band leaving behind the relative security of the pop treadmill. The title track recounts the weird dreams brought on by a troubled state of mind. “Desperation” a study in mental turmoil. “I’ll Go Alone” a Rimbaudian walk out into the unknown. And “What You Will” a naive meditation on life by young men turning into adults: 

Seems to me the only way to be is like a businessman

And have bad colours round my head

Getting drunk to find some peace of mind and consolation

But there’s still the problem of what happens when I’m dead

Lyrics, songs even, are secondary to the real appeal of this record. The Producer- Andy rather than Glyn Johns this time -captures the sound of young musicians really clicking. You can hear the glorious release to let rip and the hunger to impress with imaginative and dense instrumental passages that get better with repeat listening. The Small Faces did a lot of fade outs with in-vogue slight returns and it seems Marriott and co deliberately progressed this to memorable instrumental coda’s. There are 4 on here. The song As Safe As Yesterday Is has a very satisfying and primitive riff that when it erupts, blasts away the artful imagery of the song it leaves behind. In truth the medieval mid-section of this Frampton composition could’ve gone very Spinal Tap but it holds itself together nicely. The coda has a memorable acoustic guitar strum accompanying the primal riff and the whole thing fades out to bubbling Stephen Stills Bluebird style guitar. Alabama 69 is the one dud on the LP, with the black Americana taken to ridiculous extremes. Towards the end it drags out a “When will I be free” chorus and as we ask the question ourselves a most unexpected segue arrives in the form of a dreamy sitar blues jam. All is forgiven. Nifty Little Number Like You is an ordinary song with an extraordinary coda, which repeats the riff from the title track coda (a coda repeating a coda?) and adds a stereo-shifting drum solo from teenage Jerry Shirley, a drummer very well served by the production of this LP. What You Will adds a dramatic drum riff rise and fall after the final lyric which drops away into its mournful sunset-chasing conclusion.


Anyway I would recommend the other 69 album “Town and Country”. They apparently recorded it at the same time in a splurge of inspiration whilst The Small Faces contract was winding down. It’s mostly acoustic replicating their live gigs at the time which started with an unplugged set. There is some good stuff on it, mainly the Frampton songs like Home and Away which is very Crosby Stills and Nash inspired. But after this Humble Pie lost it in my opinion.

In the early 1990’s on the dole I criss-crossed the North of England searching for records. I remember being conned into buying a copy of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” in a shop on Ashton Road in Clayton.

It looks a big worn”, I said to the girl.

I remember her dad had a Humble Pie “Rockin’ the Fillmore “ t-shirt on.

“Just turn up the treble, it’ll be alright”, he said through a mouth full of chips.

I mean I’m not basing my opinion of this record on this one experience, I’m not that jaundiced. But this record has to be heard to be believed. My god about 40 minutes are given over to two songs, Rollin Stone and Walk on Gilded Splinters. It’s absolutely exhausting. And yes in a bad way. In fact it’s just been re -released as a 4 gig set with the exact same running order so that’s 160 minutes of those two same, rotten songs. It seems as though Americans love this album and this period of the band. And it seems this is what Humble Pie wanted. It didn't end too well for them all. I dunno. Anyway I’ve run our of room to even talk about Peter Frampton’s pre-Pie band The Herd. In a future piece I'll elaborate on the sub-genre of Pansy-Pop of which they were stalwarts. And one year later his new band recorded this!!


(PS) 

The career of Steve Marriott was a curious one: from child musical actor, to East End mod, to white soul/cock rock god, to relative obscurity and eventual middle aged death in a house fire. That he had an extraordinary voice, not least in proportion to his physical size, is undeniable; and one wonders what Led Zeppelin might’ve been, had he joined that band instead of Robert Plant as was rumoured at the time. 

I think it’s also fair to say that, although he created some timeless classics in both The Small Faces and Humble Pie, he should’ve achieved more; and that the pinnacle of his career was arguably in 1969 leaves a sense of unfulfilled promise lingering behind. 

After the psych excellence that was Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Marriott disbanded the Small Faces to form Humble Pie and release their debut LP As Safe As Yesterday Is the following year; it’s a bona fide classic, combining heavy rock guitars with strident keyboards and taut, characterful drumming (from an unbelievably young Jerry Shirley) and of course, that voice. The opener Desperation is one of the finest cover versions ever in my opinion, and easily in the select group of those far better than the original; Steppenwolf’s version was fine, but Pie’s was monumental… and definitive.  

Even the more crass songs (Nifty Little Number, Buttermilk Boy) are great fun and I love the fact that there are errors on the LP which are left in (Greg Ridley’s bum bass notes on the epic I’ll Go Alone, and someone evidently leaning on the tape reel on the wistful What You Will). There’s genuine charm in the title track with talk of naked troubadours and minstrels of the night; and the Ian MacLagan penned Growing Closer sounds like Traffic playing The Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune (absolutely not a criticism, by the way). Also the decision to leave off the hit single Natural Born Bugie on the UK release was a good one, although it probably affected album sales in the long run. 

And then the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. The difficult 2nd album Town & Country was ok, but as a sort of watered-down version of Safe, it’s just that…ok… not particularly memorable, apart from the rocker Down Home Again. 1970’s Humble Pie (also known as the Aubrey Beardsley album due to the racey art deco cover) also had its moments, but already something of the original sound had been lost and they were becoming a somewhat standard rock band as they evidently made a concerted effort to chase the Yankee dollar.  

Rockin’ The Fillmore had a huge sound and tracks like Four Day Creep went some way to conveying the excitement of a live Pie experience, it really did ROCK. The extended version of Walk on Gilded Splinters was ambitious and actually went places, but there were irritations on this LP for me too: Marriott’s white soul boy schtick really pisses on my chips, especially on the intro to I’m Ready when he’s part singing/part talking to the PEOPLE - IN THE BACK - OF THE HA-AWWWL… you’re from Newham mate, give it a rest. Some of the extended boogies on this and later live recordings also tested the patience far too much, they just weren’t interesting enough – and that’s criminal.  

As it turned out, the move to A&M records signalled the beginning of the end: it seemed that they were no longer a British band trying to make it big in the US (which they undeniably did, the 1971/2 period was by far their most commercially successful) but they now seemed to be a British band trying to be a US band. Keeping the same company as Led Zep and the Stones is one thing, but ending up sounding like a Grand Funk Railroad facsimile is something rather different; and way, way less interesting.  

So Marriott found his modest pot of gold, but lost all the charm and personality of the band in doing so (and evidently spent all the gold too). The band struggled on with various replacement members, making the whole thing feel a bit like Trigger’s broom, with each incarnation being further removed from what made the whole thing sound so fresh and… well, Immediate on that first album.  

It started so well for Humble Pie, we really should’ve had better from them after that… but at least we have As Safe As Yesterday Is to remind us what a great band they started out as. 


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