STONE THE CROWS – ” Album Reissue’s “

Posted: June 16, 2021 in MUSIC
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All Titles to be Released: Friday, 25th June 2021

Stone the Crows was a Blues Rock band formed in Glasgow in late 1969. Stone The Crows, the soulful and gutsy Scots rock combo fronted by the razor-edged vocal talents of Maggie Bell, are the subject of four fine reissues from Repertoire Records, along with two solo albums by Maggie herself.

Stone The Crows released their self-titled debut album in 1970, and featured the impressive guitar talent of Les Harvey, younger brother of the great Alex Harvey. Also in the band was bass player / vocalist Jim Dewar, who would go on to be a stalwart of the Robin Trower powerhouse trio of the mid-seventies, and also drummer Colin Allen, a former member of Zoot Money Big Roll Band.

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A somewhat atypical debut rock release of it’s time. Not only does the band deliver a soulful rendition of “Fool on the Hill,” but the side-long track makes its appearance on side two of their debut album “Stone The Crows” The tune is titled “I Saw America,” and it pulls together the rock, blues, and soul elements that were splintered up on the first side. A spirited attempt was made to live up to the grandiose title, and there’s some confident sounding guitar by Les Harvey a first-rate guitarist (check out his acoustic work on ‘Blind Man’ and their cover of The Beatles ‘Fool On the Hill’). Bassist/singer James Dewar was equally impressive, Bell and Dewar could actually blend their voices nicely though largely kept to the sidelines.

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All the elements were there for them to have been one of the major bands, On this, their second and best album, they could never quite put everything together. Live, they were an incendiary act, with singer Maggie Bell and guitarist Les Harvey true stars. Somehow, though, once they entered a recording studio, the magic failed to ignite. That’s not to say this isn’t a good album. “Sad Mary,” “Friend,” and “Love 74” are all showcases for Harvey’s excellent guitar skills, while “Things Are Getting Better” and a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” let Maggie Bell shine (although it’s a shame bassist Jim Dewar who himself had considerable vocal talents ).

The good time, neo folk-rock of “Mad Dogs And Englishmen” offers some light relief. The biggest problem, really, was the songs — the original material simply wasn’t strong enough to establish them as anything more than a cult act working the British circuit. A hit single, or even a huge album track, would have lifted them out of the more. On this disc, “Love 74” was as close as they came,

The band were managed by the formidable Peter Grant, who also managed Led Zeppelin, and under his guidance Stone The Crows made solid progress through their four album tenure on Polydor Records. However, tragedy struck the band when Harvey was fatally electrocuted onstage at Swansea University in May 1972. His replacement on guitar was the mercurial, diminutive Jimmy McCullough, formerly of Thunderclap Newman, who would go on to join Wings, with Paul McCartney. McCullough completed the recordings for their final album, “Ontinuous Performance“, before the band split for good in 1973.

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This third album from Stone The Crows was as close to hitting on all cylinders as they ever came in the studio. With some personnel changes following “Ode To John Law” (a new bassist and keyboard player), they powered through the disc, with “Big Jim Salter,” “I May Be Right I May Be Wrong,” and their version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” being the absolute standouts. The figureheads of vocalist Maggie Bell and guitarist Les Harvey had never sounded better as they worked in a pure rock vein, abandoning the blues aspect of their sound (Indeed, “Aileen Mochree” took them into Gaelic, a pleasant, brief side track) — check out the song “Mr. Wizard” to get a good picture of where they were really headed. Of course, it wasn’t a one-dimensional sound; the keyboard-dominated “Seven Lakes” was full of pseudo-classical portentousness, almost de rigeur for the period.

But it was when they rocked that Stone The Crows were at their best, and with this album they seemed truly poised to move up to the big time.

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Much of “Ontinuous Performance” was already in the can when guitarist Les Harvey was tragically electrocuted onstage on May 3rd, 1972 at Swansea University gig. The band brought in young guitar wiz Jimmy McCullogh from the band Thunderclap Newman to take his place, but really, in a band like this, no one could have filled his shoes.

Listen to Harvey’s guitar work on the instrumental “King Tut” shows how far he’d come, and how integral his particular style of playing was to the band’s sound.

Ironically, out of tragedy came a brief moment of success, as “Good Time Girl,” released as a single. But there was also a return to their blues roots with the acoustic “Penicillin Blues,” while “One More Chance” offered Maggie Bell an opportunity to show her soulful vocal chops. However, they blew it during the nine minutes of “Niagara,” a piece that, it sounded, was never finished before release. It was would have impossible for the band to let go of Harvey without a song, and it comes at the end of the disc, the ballad “Sunset Cowboy,” which is touching and heartfelt. After this disc the disheartened band broke up.

After the split, Maggie Bell commenced a solo career. After recording two solo albums which were unreleased, she eventually released her first solo foray, “Queen of the Night“, in 1974. She followed this with the sparkling “Suicide Sal” in 1975 (recorded at Startling Studios – owned by Ringo Starr, and featuring guest slots from Phil May (The Pretty Things), Jimmy Page and Pete Wingfield) both of which were released on the Swan Song label, which was owned by Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant. Despite good reviews and extensive touring, the albums failed to sell, and Bell would go on to front the band Midnight Flyer, again under Grant’s management.

Maggie Bell would later achieve a greater profile as the vocalist on ‘No Mean City’, the theme from the long-running ITV detective series Taggart.

Maggie Bell still tours and performs regularly (Lockdown permitting!) in the UK and Europe.

Maggie Bell and Colin Allen are available for interviews in support of these excellent reissues. The music has been newly remastered by cutting engineer Eroc, and feature sleeve notes by seasoned UK Rock journalist and author Chris Welch, which include quotes from Maggie and Colin taken from recent interviews.

A 3CD + DVD set, Stone The Crows at the BBC, is being prepared for release, again on Repertoire Records – watch this space for further details.

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