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Ten Years After

+ {The Jaybirds}

Spearheaded by the precocious talents of guitar-playing singer ALVIN LEE (aka Graham Alvin Barnes), Nottingham’s TEN YEARS AFTER were an explosive part of the transatlantic blues-revival boom of the late 60s. But for their penchant for rock’n’roll and boogie, much in the same mould as HUMBLE PIE, they found it difficult initially to break from a pack that starred everyone from CREAM to PETER GREEN’S FLEETWOOD MAC to The GROUNDHOGS and CHICKEN SHACK. For a time in the early 70s, TEN YEARS AFTER were the bees knees among blues-prog aficionados, but, as with all great things, it all came crashing down.
One could trace the roots of the band to Alvin and bassist Leo Lyons’ first proper recording band, The JAYBIRDS, who, from 1961 to summer 1965 (with drummer Dave Quickmire superseding Pete Evans), mixed up their own concoctions of R&B covers singles from 1964’s `Not Fade Away’ to the following year’s `Go Now’. Unable to match or come anywhere close to their cognoscenti cousins of the ever-evolving scene, the main pair relocated to London, recruiting drummer Ric Lee (no relation to Alvin) and keyboard player Chick Churchill, while consequently adopting the name TEN YEARS AFTER. As said, a key forerunner of the forthcoming British blues revival, Alvin Lee (known for his nimble-fingered, lightning-strike guitar playing) secured a deal through manager, Chris Wright, on Decca offshoot label, Deram Records.
An eponymous TEN YEARS AFTER {*6} debut set was released late in 1967, although the prevailing trend for everything flower-power and PINK FLOYD, ensured the record met with limited interest. It’s clear as day that TYA were happy to latch on to CREAM’s coat-tails, right down to a rendition of WILLIE DIXON’s `Spoonful’, and while there were decent self-penned cuts by Lee/group, nearly half of the tracks were mined from other sources: `I Want To Know’ (PAUL JONES), `I Can’t Keep From Crying, Sometimes’ (AL KOOPER) and `Help Me’ (SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON).
Building up a strong grassroots following through electric stage shows, TYA took a calculated risk by releasing a live set recorded at the cosy Klooks Kleek in London. UNDEAD (1968) {*6} rewarded the group with a Top 30 breakthrough, although basically it was down to self-indulgency through jazzy jams of five exclusive numbers, including re-treads of Woody Herman’s `Woodchopper’s Ball’, plus a medley of Gershwin’s `Summertime’ and DuBose Heyward’s `Shantung Cabbage’. One imagines it was highly rated for the entry of Lee’s magnum opus, `I’m Going Home’.
Named in pot-headed reference to the monolithic heritage site, STONEDHENGE (1969) {*7}, surprisingly chalked up a Top 10 place, while in America the record also saw them venture into the charts at No.61. Produced by Mike Vernon, TEN YEARS AFTER abandoned the covers aspect in the repertoire (‘cept for a minute-long `Three Blind Mice’ percussion diversion) and chased a prog-ish boogie-addled blues dream that incorporated touches of scat jazz (eg. `Skoobly-oobly-doobob’ and `Faro’). The longest showcases were undoubtedly their best up to now; failed 45 `Hear Me Calling’ (surely one-that-got-away), the CANNED HEAT-esque `Going To Try’ and the 8-minute `No Title’, fan faves from the get-go.
To coincide with a forthcoming Woodstock appearance, TYA delivered their second set of the year, SSSSH. (1969) {*8}, not exactly a hush-hush affair but a blistering melange of blues, boogie and country that became the first of a triumvirate of consecutive UK Top 5 albums (US Top 20, well nearly!). Opening salvo, `Bad Scene’, was a grinding romp of a track, while that CANNED HEAT 12-bar drudge was in evidence once again on `Two Time Mama’. Positioned on either side of a piercing 7-minute re-vamp of SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON’s `Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, were obvious contenders as singles: `Stoned Woman’ and `If You Should Love Me’. A year ahead of ZZ TOP and in the HOWLIN’ WOLF mode, `The Stomp’ was another slice of pecan pie, as was Lee’s arrangement of LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS’ `I Woke Up This Morning’.
Complete with long-blond locks, white clogs, loons and his trusty Gibson, Lee and TYA’s celebrated performance of the epic `Going Home’, at the aforesaid Woodstock Festival went down in rock history, thrusting the band into the premier league of blues rock acts; the 11-minute track featured on the subsequent movie and soundtrack.
The band duly blazed a trail in the early half of the following decade. CRICKLEWOOD GREEN (1970) {*8} matched its predecessor in rousing, Lee-led blues rockers, none more exciting than the chugging `Working On The Road’ and their UK Top 10 one-hit-wonder, `Love Like A Man’ – TYA’s signature tune. Also clocking in at over 7 minutes, `50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain’, showed signs that the quartet were leaning on the side of prog, although the group’s insistence to wig-out or get bluesy (`Year 3,000 Blues’ and `Me And My Baby’ respectively), proved the versatility and dexterity of the band – if nothing else.
The rush-released WATT (1970) {*7} marked the end of their period with Deram – and with Lee’s weary vox, it showed. A band in transition and sparing little time to produce something akin to their previous efforts, the set lacked that raucous bite, although there were exceptions by way of `I’m Coming On’, `My Baby Left Me’, the CLAPTON-esque `Think About The Times’ and `Gonna Run’; filler track was their live (at the Isle of Wight Festival) add-on take of CHUCK BERRY’s `Sweet Little Sixteen’.
Following the prevailing trend for electronic prog-rock, a subsequent change in both label (Chrysalis UK/Columbia US) and music style for A SPACE IN TIME (1971) {*7}, saw the band losing substantial ground in Britain. Willing to slide between: bravado blues (`One Of These Days’) the cosmic (`Here They Come’), the folky (`Over The Hill’), the country (`Once There Was A Time’), jazz-fusion (`I’ve Been There Too’) and the glam-rock (`Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock’n’Roll You’), TEN YEARS AFTER were a band for everyone. Despite a lonesome US Top 40 gate-crasher, `I’d Love To Change The World’, the album failed to sell enough copies in Britain to maintain their Top 30 status; Stateside it was their biggest seller.
ROCK & ROLL MUSIC TO THE WORLD (1972) {*5} fared little better, albeit it was a return to boogie-blues basics, stripping down the genre-busting barriers that had plummeted them from premier act to a band propping up the second division. Alvin Lee’s paint-by-numbers blues tunes had little importance in the day’s need for glam and prog; of course there were exceptions in `Choo Choo Mama’ (a minor US hit), `You Give Me Loving’ and the title track.
While concert excursion, RECORDED LIVE (1973) {*6} – a double – restored faith with their legion of purist followers, it was hardly the ticket to match the likes of LED ZEPPELIN, and their ilk. 1974’s POSITIVE VIBRATIONS {*4} was a poor reflection of their former selves; desperate as it was their driving take of LITTLE RICHARD’s `Going Back To Birmingham’.
It was clear that ALVIN LEE was eager to experiment outside the band framework, and this was in evidence on a 1973 collaborative project (“On The Road To Freedom”) with American country-gospel singer, Mylon LeFevre. The guitarist then formed a new outfit, ALVIN LEE & Co., releasing a handful of unconvincing albums in the mid 70s. From that point on, Alvin alternated between various solo incarnations. As the 80s subsided (after a trial gig at a 4-day German festival in ‘88), he re-formed a re-vamped TEN YEARS AFTER for a one-off album, appropriately titled ABOUT TIME (1989) {*5}; a belatedly-released LIVE 1990 (1993) {*5} – featuring a cover of CHUCK BERRY’s `Johnny B. Goode’) – marked the end of Alvin’s tenure with the band. While a solo LEE continued to spread the blues gospel to an ever faithful band of ageing worldwide disciples, TEN YEARS AFTER knew not when to quit.
Amazingly, the three remaining alumni of the band (Churchill, Lyons and Ric Lee) re-formed the quartet, filling the shoes of Alvin with singer/guitarist, Joe Gooch. Despite some flak from purist pundits and LEE fans everywhere, their resurgent NOW (2004) {*6} was worth the admission price. The “Live” ROADWORKS (2005) {*6} – a best of the past double-set – and EVOLUTION (2008) {*5} maintained TEN YEARS AFTER were looking forward, and more so in keeping the blues alive and kicking.
Sadly, if anyone was in the mind-set that the TYA originals would ever see the light of day again, that line was blown away when it was announced that the legendary ALVIN LEE died (6th March 2013) in Marbella, Spain, of complications rising from a routine surgery.
Always better known as a “live” prospect, TEN YEARS AFTER (without Gooch or Lyons) put two fresh recruits to the test on THE NAME REMAINS THE SAME (2015) {*6}; recorded the previous May in Cologne. From different ends of the age-gap spectrum, young-ish blues vocalist/guitarist Marcus Bonfanti (a solo star with three sets under his belt) and veteran jazz-rock bassist Colin Hodgkinson (ex-BACK DOOR, et al) were not quite in the major league of Messrs LEE and Lyons – well, not yet. Flagging up old nuggets in epic rendition, such as `I’m Going Home’, `I’m Coming On’, `One Of These Days’, `Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ and bonus finale medley `Love Like A Man’, TYA were still looking ten years ahead.
© MC Strong 1994-2004 / rev-up MCS May2013-Feb2015

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