Record Of The Week # 104

Midnight Flyer

If this album was a person it’d be banging on your door shouting ‘Let me in’. After gaining entry it’d barrel past you with an impressive swagger. It has it all – a great vocalist with a unique voice, a tight accomplished band and great tunes. However on its release in 1981 it flew beneath the radar and it’s only a 2020 remaster that introduced it to me. It originally appeared on Swan Song Records. This was a label set up by Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. By all accounts not an easy man should you ruffle his feathers. This former bouncer and wrestler became a most feared and respected rock band manager. The record label hosted Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Dave Edmunds and Sad Café. Maggie Bell, the Scottish lead vocalist, was on the label prior to Midnight Flyer. She was the female equivalent of an early Rod Stewart with rough, whiskey soaked tones, capable of a fearsome roar and a blues diva’s interpretative talents. 

Bell came to prominence with a band called Stone The Crows in 1970. Other outings included an appearance on Rod Stewart’s 1971 break through album Every Picture Tells A Story: she’s the female vocalist on the title track. Other claims to fame are as the chanteuse on “No Mean Streets”. This was the theme to the 80s TV detective series Taggart. One way or another she may be a familiar voice to you. I saw her with Stone The Crows at a festival at Charlton Athletic’s ground (with The Who topping the bill). It was another 44 years before I saw her again in Hull with Dave Kelly (from the Blues Band) on acoustic guitar. She was a small frail figure who looked a little bewildered in the small and closely packed club, nevertheless, it was good to see her still in fine voice and making a living. 

Hull 2018

It’s everything I love about rock: ballsy vocals, blues piano fills, incendiary guitar breaks and a solid rhythm backing of bass and drums. I was so taken that I ventured onto Discogs and bought a second hand copy of the original vinyl. If it were a glass of wine the bouquet gives hints of 70s Joe Walsh, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones and Little Feat. However there are some commercial 80s touches with the arrangements and melodies that may have been an attempt to get wider airplay.

“Hey boy” is a rip-roaring honky tonk boogie at a pace that takes your breath away. Whilst your attention is drawn to Bell’s vocals, you’ll love the sympathetic, tight and rocking band that chugs, squeals and thunders behind her. Antony Glynne’s electric lead guitar is razor sharp and delights with more flourishes and darts than D’Artagnan’s sword. Tony Stevens’ bass coupled to Dave Dowle’s drumming provide a rhythm platform of real drive. The difference often comes with John Cook’s keyboards whether electric or piano: he gives the whole sound more bluesy shades with repeated honky tonk runs. 

“In My Eyes’ is as near as you’ll get to a ballad as the band slow to a subsonic pace and Bell croons majestically. “Do You Want My Love” has a catchy chorus, no doubt written to order to tempt chart recognition. “French Kisses” is a funky blues rocker with Lowell George slide guitar, bliss. In fact the whole album is tuneful; the band members composed the whole album.

The title track “Midnight Love’ with synth keys sounds American with clear distinct bass lines and splashy drums. Eventually a long piano intro delivers “Rough Trade’ and the last track on the album. Over this accompaniment Bell gives us a tour de force. A vocal that soars, a vocal that draws us in and a vocal that confirms her as one of the all time great female rock vocalists.

Sadly they didn’t last and went their separate ways. How this album didn’t spawn a great career is a real mystery. I’m so glad I found it*.

*Gratitude to the Mighty Jessney on Vixen 101’s Nothing But The Blues who brought this album to my attention

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