late, they're late, and on January 27 they've got a very
(Because that's the day that the
re-formed '70's boogie quartet TEN YEARS AFTER play
London's Hammersmith Odeon). But naff White Rabbit jokes
notwithstanding, it's been fifteen years since the last
"official" album, so 'tis apt indeed that the
new LP title proclaims prophetically: it's "About
Time". PAUL HENDERSON (the only man on the
Kerrang! staff old enough to remember the first
catches TYA in New York and finds ALVIN LEE and company still boogiein' on down with the
best of them…
YEARS AFTER are in the middle of a
U.S.A. tour, with all the attendant hustle and bustle
schedules of T.V. press and radio interviews to clog up
the "free" time.
It's their twenty-ninth such
jaunt, and round-the-table banter is regularly
punctuated with intimate, time acquired knowledge of the
various hotels they've stayed in and the venues they've
played at on previous visits; the relative merits of
domestic beers and the good places to eat…
Understandably, after visiting the place so often, they
feel quite at home in America.
For the four members of
Ten Years After (guitarist Alvin Lee, bassist Leo Lyons,
drummer Ric Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill),
sitting in the bar of yet another New York hotel must
bring on a collective and vivid case of déjà vu. More
strangely, although this is their 29th tour, it
is something like 15 years since the 28th!
Now, a decade-and-a-half after their last "official"
new album (74's "Positive Vibrations") and
two decades since the cameras recorded their epic,
electrifying version of "I'm Going Home",
played to an audience of almost half-a-million at 69's
Woodstock Festival - Ten Years After are "doing it"
Although they never officially split up, the
original line-up are back, with a new album, "About
Time", on Chrysalis. They've now completed this
tour of the U.S. and dates in Britain are imminent as
you read this, following a spell in Europe.
standards, Ten Years After's "lay-off", "rest",
"inactivity period", "sabbatical"-
call it what you will-has been a lengthy one.
America together again after so long, with a new album
to promote, does, they will agree with a smile, "feel
a bit weird". "But in another way", says
"it's like we haven't been away, really. It
feels kind of like picking up where we left off."
Leo Lyons, fingering his elegant "Wing Commander"
style waxed moustache, explains further: "The
purpose of this tour is specifically to let people know
that we're back. We came over to do smaller places-what
you'd call "showcases". We've got either
twelve or thirteen albums out in the marketplace, and
when another album comes out there's a danger of people
thinking it's just another compilation. So we've
come over here and we're talking to people and doing
interviews to let them know what's happening. The gigs
are actually the perks that's our reward for coming here."
"What's interesting about the gigs is that
in Europe we found we were playing to eighteen to
twenty-five year olds, but here, I think maybe because
of the venues strict over twenty-one drinking laws, the
majority are the older crowd-the crowd that was around
at the time of Woodstock. I think when we move into the
theatres next near we'll start to pull in more of the
How did you go about arranging the
set-balancing the need to promote the new album, while
including a substantial number of old songs to satisfy
those sections of the audience demand them?
"Well, the set is about 60/40 in favour of old
stuff, from the twelve albums, every night there's
always someone shouting for one particular song or
another, so we've tried to do the ones that the majority
of people would like to hear, plus the new material.
"We always got to do "I'm Going Home",
because people want us to do that…" "Good
Morning Little School Girl", adds Ric,
"Love Like A Man" (their only U.K. hit single),
although that wasn't an enormous hit here in America,
but it's known. "As some people haven't even heard
the new album yet, the older stuff sometimes has a more
immediate impact. I've noticed that the older crowd seem
to prefer the older stuff where as the younger crowd
seem to pick up on the new stuff."
are certain new songs, like "Saturday Night"
and "Victim Of Circumstance" , where the
choruses repeat, and they pick up on that very quickly,
which is great. Generally, I think the new songs are
going down about as well as the ones we first did around
twenty years ago."
Twenty years ago (or
there-a-bouts as they actually formed in 1967). Ten
Years After came riding in on the crest of the blues
boom wave, the band's appeal centering on the gritty
vocals and high speed guitar playing of Alvin Lee. Back
in the late 60's and early 70's, Lee was considered to
be an astounding fast guitarist, who's skill at
stringing together fluid, high speed clusters of notes
came to some extent from a background in jazz. In terms
of sheer speed (for which he was later heavily
criticised) it's doubtful whether there was anyone else
around at the time who could touch him. From 1969's
"Stonedhenge", Ten Years After's albums were
consistently strong sellers in Britain, with four of
them- "Stonedhenge" itself, plus "Ssssh"
"Cricklewood Green" and "Watt" all
making the U.K. Top 10. They also sold well in the U.S.
where their 1971 album "A Space In Time" went
Gold. But it was largely as a live band that Ten Years
After really made their mark, with what was once
described as a "super-adrenalined gross out
approach" to their shows. Not long after the
release of their first album "Ten Years After"
in 1967, the band quickly became a major concert
attraction in the States, due largely to the enthusiasm
of the legendary West Coast concert promoter Bill
Graham, who booked them into the then prestigious
Fillmore East and Fillmore West auditoriums. As
mentioned earlier, most people's most vivid memory of
Ten Years After is their appearance at Woodstock, but
that concert was also something of a watershed in their
career, because before Woodstock they had been playing
eight to ten thousand seat venues; after that they found
themselves playing to audiences in the twenty five to
thirty thousand range.
Alvin Lee, "that's
when the fun went out of it." They didn't feel they
were achieving anything, and it became what he calls
"the travelling jukebox syndrome, where you
get on stage, plug in, and away you go, you do the same
as you did last night". In the end, after twenty
eight U.S. tours (interestingly, supported by none other
than ZZ TOP on several of them), they simply toured
themselves out. Alvin Lee began a solo career (which he
kept up until the recent Ten Years After reformation)
and released several solo albums, Chick Churchill went
into music publishing, Ric Lee (no relation to Alvin,
by the way) formed a production company, and Leo Lyons
went into producing bands, UFO being one of them. After
the long lay-off, during which they did, however, do a
clump of four tour dates in the Summer of 1983 which
followed the 25th anniversary of London's Marquee Club.
The next reappearance of Ten Years After was when the
band reconvened in 1988 to play some European rock
festivals at the request of an enthusiastic fan /
promoter, and subsequently did a tour of Germany. With
their hunger rekindled, they decided to return to
the recording studio, enlisting, for the first time, the
services of an outside producer, (Terry Manning who
produced ZZ Top and George Thorogood and the Destroyers),
and emerged from a studio in Memphis with "About
Time". Far from being a cash-in on the 1970's-bands
reformation bandwagons, "About Time" is a
legitimate Ten Years After album, blending old Ten Years
After values and trademarks with a modern, and at times
ZZ Top-tinged production, and neither of which are
disappointingly retro-nor too radical,
uncharacteristically new direction, they are
understandably pleased with the results. In fact pleased
enough to decide that yes, after fifteen years, Ten
Years After is back in business once again. For Ten
Years After, the critical reaction to the new album must
be heartwarming, having for the most part been the sort
of response (with a 5 K's rating in Kerrang! for example) that was probably beyond what they could
reasonably have expected.
"It's been a good
Alvin said, "we
put out "let's Shake It Up" over here as the
introductory single, and it got a particularly good
reaction. "People were ringing up saying they'd
heard the record and asking who it was. People have
picked up on exactly what I'd hoped, which is that we've
got a modern sounding album but which hasn't completely
lost the roots of what we started off doing. "There
was a danger that we could have gone in and made an
"ultra modern" album which is really what
we're fighting against. I think it's generally accepted
that we've come up with a modern sounding album that's
true to its roots." That's certainly true. There's
also a certain irony that after years of touring
interspersed with putting out albums that failed to
effectively capture the live essence of Ten Years After,
"About Time" although recorded after a lengthy
spell of band inactivity, is probably the closest
they've ever come to succeeding. As for the reason,
Alvin reckons you need look no further than producer
Terry Manning. "He had a picture in his head of the
sound before we ever did. We had the songs, about fifty
of them, and we had the general style. We gave him a
whole bunch of demos and said, "Here, pick ten out
of that, mate! And he was very good at that."
"He was quite a tough producer,"
Chick Churchill, "He knew what he wanted us not to play,
which is very important. He guided us, made us play
simpler than we would do onstage… "I learned a
lot from it, and I know Alvin did, as did Ric and Leo.
He made us make a record, and not try to emulate a live
performance. "I think we'd got lost before, and
having such a long sabbatical gave us a lot of time to
think about what to do. I think we're much more into
rock music now than we were in those days, when we were
probably more blues and jazz influenced. That has been
watered down a bit and we've become more rock musicians".
says: "If you listen to the other ten, Ten
Years After albums…"
Ric continues: "…and then listen to
this one, the difference on it is almost that we've come
of age. Someone pointed out to us that it's usually the
other way around, meaning you start simple and then find
that you can develop your chops and play all sorts of
things. "In a sense, it's taken us this long to
"calm down" as it were, and make what I think
is our best album, our most listenable album, put it
that way. The reviews have been very good."
there are bound to be those who will view Ten Years
After's return as an attempt to cash-in on the 1970's
revival movement. They are aware that such accusations
are occasionally going to come their way and,
understandably, they don't like it. Although for now
they reject such claims in measured tones, my impression
is that anyone making them to their face in the future
had better be prepared for a more vitriolic response.
Alvin Lee: "After we did those festivals in
Germany, we got offered a "Woodstock Reunion"
tour, and a lot of offers like that, and the money
offered was pretty good, but what would we do after that?
Count it? We decided it was best to make a new album and
try to move into the 1990's rather than be a nostalgia
Lyons: for one, I would not have been
interested in doing anything without recording a new
album: "I fought against re-forming the band again.
I didn't want to do it. "Every other year or so
since 1975, some manager would call up and say, "How
much will you take to do a Ten Years After tour? I'd
just say I didn't want to do it. "In 1983 when we
did four dates, I wanted to do them because I wanted to
enjoy them…but I really didn't want it to become Ten
Years After again. "The reason it's happened this
time is that it hit me at a period in my life where I so
desperately missed playing live. In actual fact, just
before those 1983 dates, I put my own band together just
to try and do that."
Sitting here in New York,
swilling beers and chatting about the previous night's
show-with tour personal, journalists, and photographers
milling around, I couldn't help but wonder how they were
adapting to touring again. Apart from the fact that, now
they have a vast wealth of experience on which to draw
in order to avoid the pitfalls, might it also be fair to
assume that there's less pressure this time?
slowly shook his head: "I don't think there was
ever any pressure really, it's good fun playing live,
it's like the old days when we started-all stuck
together in the van and you make your own entertainment,
it keeps a sort of camaraderie going. "I love
touring and I love going by tour-bus, because you can't
rely on airlines anymore if you've got connections to
"The gigs are great, playing
is fantastic, for me personally though, I sometimes find
the travelling a bit boring, and there are less parties!
"I think when you talk to musicians now-I'm not
talking about us in particular, more the younger
guys-you find that they're out there doing the radio
stations, the in-stores, the promotion, the interviews,
the sound-checks…. When we were touring in the late
1960's and early 1970's we didn't do any of that. "You
reached your audiences by going out and doing the
gig-bugger the press! That really was the attitude.
Radio stations then would play a whole side of your
album-so we'd do the radio, do the gig, then we'd party.
There isn't as much partying anymore. Leo continues:
"What I personally get out of it now, as always, is
going onstage and performing to the audience that's
there. "I'm prepared to do the rest-the promotion.
the videos, everything, just to be able to do that, and
I'm very appreciative of a fan who goes out and buys an
album. If someone walked into my hotel and said,
"Will you sign my album?" I'd say, "Thanks
for buying it."
"It's good to go to a
gig and never be quite sure what's going to happen,
because the band never knows quite what's going to take
place. They're doing the numbers, but they're never
quite the same every night. That's certainly what
interest me with this band, and what I'm sure a lot of
people can see. "I mean, I don't imagine someone
like Bon Jovi does "jam things", everyone's
organised, and if you catch their show in Ohio it's
probably exactly the same as the one they did in Los
"For years and years, we
tried to make a record that sounded like the live gigs,
which is the opposite way around as most bands are
trying to make their gigs sound like the record, but
we're basically a live band, with adrenalin, energy,
interplay, is what happens onstage naturally."
"I think the primary aim is for us to enjoy
it. Certainly on this tour we're not making money. We're
doing it because we're enjoying it and to build a solid
foundation for the future."
think there are three things that are going to make it
work: you have to enjoy it, you have to be successful,
and you have to earn a living out of it. Without any of
those it won't work, not for us anyway."
"I actually now realize that I enjoyed struggling
towards making it more than I enjoyed making it. When
we'd so-called "made it" and were an
established band, I didn't like that much at all,
because the kind of "challenge" had gone.
"We're not struggling to make it now, we're just
struggling to turn people on to the music." A bit,
I suggest, like fancying a girl, going after her, and
then when yu finally "get" her, you lose
interest? "Yeah, Right now we're enjoying the chase.
In some ways we just have to make sure we don't get what
we're looking for!"
Thanks to Ralf Langenscheid for his Promo CD
of "About Time"
1989 (Bitter Sweet)
For me this is another Ten Years After
enigma, it's so damn good, full of energy
and full of all the hope and promise that we
fans had been waiting for. Was this to be
the start of Ten Years After phase two? The
door was open but once again it wasn't meant
to continue .
All the moving parts were in place, the oil
was added, and the fuel and the spark were
all there, but the desire and camaraderie
was not. The emotional fabric that once held
the band together, has long since been
missing, never to happen again with all four
original members present. For me, it died
long before the 1983 Marquee 25th
Two songs by Leo Lyons made the final
cut, the rest are all Alvin Lee compositions,
and what the hell happened to Chick
Churchill's contributions? Surely, someone
in control of choosing the new material,
mainly Terry Manning, could have and should
have dumped "Saturday Night" and
"Wild Is The River" as high school
sophomoric / moronic bull-shit, and added a
ten minute keyboard jam by Chick in there
Thus, this is the Ten Years After swan
song, and it dies a death equal to that of
One Last Cold Kiss by Leslie West and
Mountain. It's easy to see the break, just
read the song credits. Lyons / Crooks or
Lyons / Nye / Crooks and in the other corner
we have Lee / Gould - Lee / Hinkley or just
Lee. The fact is, it's all about Alvin Lee.
Looking back we are now able to see who the
weakest link in Ten Years After was, and who
brought his guitar but not his loyalty or
passion to the project.
1. Highway Of Love - isn't about love at
all, but about lust- instant gratification
and burning up the rubber. It is a rocker,
it is good, and it is enjoyable. Only the
guitar work is burning up time, the last
minute or so is a waste, at least in audio
terms. On the video it works much better
with the visuals of a concert hall.
2. Let's Shake It Up-- same as above. It
reminds me of Gonna Turn You On, from Rocket
Fuel. It also is good and works great, but
again too long for my liking. Alvin has a
new sound in these two tracks, a kind of
flat guitar pick, close to the string bridge,
that creates a hollow squeal sound….and
Alvin uses that effect when ever possible on
3. I Get Shook Up-- is a nice change of pace
for sure, yet typical of Cricklewood Green
or Sssssh side one, two rockers gets you the
slow number on the third track recipe. A
good song on its own merit, but misplaced
here. It should have found a spot at number
ten and ended with Outside My Window.
4. Victim Of Circumstance-should be in third
position and followed by Working In A
Parking Lot, but that's just my impression.
Victim, is a great song, as it has all the
working elements going for
it-truth-anger-frustration-and a thumping
rock and roll beat on which to ride
comfortably along on. When Alvin says, I'm
gonna write my MP (member of parliament) and
say "what the fuck's goin' on," he
means it. The same applies to the line
"I get the shit they get the chances, I
get to walk they get to ride". The
passion and conviction is right on the money!
Way to go Alvin-About Fucking Time!
5. Going To Chicago-a nice bouncy little
tune, with a nice change up in tempo now and
then. Would make a good sound-track for a
blues player biography. The layers of guitar
work (or over laying guitar work) works very
effectively, thus giving the song a real
authentic feel and down home feeling about
it. It's different, it's off beat for a TYA
song, but it works very well indeed. The
downfall is the rhyming….Alvin is the
master of the lame cliché and empty talk.
6. Saturday Night--even Cat Stevens singing
about Another Saturday Night and he just got
paid, is more impressive and tells a cute
little story. This piece of worthless SHIT,
rubbish, mull….is right up there with the
best of the Bay City Rollers….how this
ended up on any Ten Years After album is
beyond me…another bad / sad mistake for
sure. This song alone just ruined the rest
of the cd, it killed the momentum and the
spirit of hope for the band and for us fans…so
long Alvin…it's been fun but now your
killing us with this Half-Assed Crap!!! It's
long overdue for Alvin to move on, if for no
other reason than to save the band, he has
7. Bad Blood-having to follow the last song
is not an easy task, to say the least, but
by the end of Bad Blood you've shaken off
the bad taste and rotten feeling that led
into this masterpiece. The tone is solemn,
not pleading, but about a man just relaying
the facts of a very unfortunate situation
and his honest opinion and emotions about
his situation. The song comes in slow with a
sinister riff that pulls you in and won't
let go, kind of like a quick-sand pit, the
more you listen the more you want to squirm,
and if you move you're over your head and
dead. It's a rock and a hard place and
"you can't help being born with bad
blood". The last production of a long
hard line, Alvin sings, gonna rise up, gonna
tear you down-some souls ain't for saving
can't help being born with bad blood. Right
Right, You're Bloody Well Right you are Leo!
A strong song and one of the few to hit the
mark of excellence on this collection.
8. Working In A Parking Lot-is my personal
favorite as I could relate to the situation.
Where Alvin's song Victim Of Circumstance
leaves off, this song is Leo's appropriate
reply. I'm sure it's a matter of coincidence
and by no means intentional, but it's so
ironic that these two founders of Ten Years
After came to the same conclusion having
been on the same road for so long. These two
songs alone speak volumes. The music is
urgent, powerful and driving. Ric's use of a
cow bell in the beginning sets the tone that
this is to be a unique rocker with a message.
Chick's keyboard work is clean yet gutsy
adding the right flavour. The song has such
a strong groove that it's a real shame it
has to end at all. I could imagine this song
as the albums opener and main theme while
incorporating the other material into the
mix…it could have been the Ten Years After
There's also another observation that needs
to be pointed out. All through their career
there has been four members, but so many
times in their photo shoots Leo, Ric and
Chick are shoulder to shoulder close
together, and Alvin is always at a
noticeable and intended distance from the
other three. Look at the cover of "About
Time" and it's unmistakeably apparent,
Alvin is at arms length away from the others.
9. Wild Is The River (The River Of No
Return) -Alvin says in the lyrics "for
me there'll be no turning back" and
"I have seen the writing on the wall
it's telling me it's time to go" and
"all I know is that a change is for the
better and for me there'll be no turning
10. Outside My Window--the blues turns power
ballad in the late 1980's. The words ring
true but the soul is washed away between all
the slick background extras. These extras
soften the blues feel into mush and pop.
Although Alvin's guitar work and vocals stay
respectable, the overall feel is that of
KISS doing BETH. It's very nice, it works
somewhat but so what? In the final analysis
it comes across as filler fluff and looses
everything it was attempting to build up,
and simply falls flat on its face out of
11. Waiting For Judgment Day-starts of
rocking right out of the gate, but because
of Alvin's vocals and uninspired rhyming it
becomes mediocre preaching-dooms-day
rhetoric. But the music is fantastic! Remove
Alvin's vocals and lyrics and it's Ten Years
After rocking into the 1990's sounding
better than ever before, and I'm one hundred
certain that's the exact message, image and
statement they were shooting for. Bulls-Eye!!!
This is a tough one.
On one hand this recording is inspired, on
the other it's Ten Years After
"NOW" working with their session
musician and hired hand Alvin Lee. As a long
time fan, it was a welcomed release, not
only the music contained therein, but
release from the Alvin Lee syndrome.
Although the band attempted to force a
couple of short lived tours around Europe,
the writing was on the wall for all to see…and
has been since 1974's release of
Not a bad way to end the "Classic
Years" with Alvin Lee. It could have
been much worse. It could have ended
tragically, like Lynard Skynard or the
Allman Brothers Band. Or it could have just
faded into rust like the Merry Pranksters
famous bus sitting in an Oregon corn field. But
that's not the TYA we know and love, they're
survivors, rock and roll survivors,
Woodstock icons, living legends.
Alvin Lee may have bailed out before the
final chapter has been written, and the
final curtain call and bows have been taken,
but that makes no never mind at this point.
Ten Years After rocks! Ten Years After rolls
Leo Lyons captured it best: "sign
read welcome to view, I got no view at all,
looking out the window, staring at the wall,
if I could see 'round corners things would
look real good".
Leo Lyons, Ric Lee and Chick Churchill have
finally turned the corner, and things are
looking real good!
Review by Dave