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Magazine > Music Reviews > Gravy Train - Part 5
Gravy Train - Part 5
Published by Sthelensnow on 27/1/18 (262 reads)

Gravy Train - Part 5

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Second Birth at Dawn
Staircase to the Day
After Gravy Train

Second Birth at Dawn (but still no chart success)

In 1973, Gravy Train moved from Vertigo to Dawn Records, the progressive offshoot of Don Kirshner’s PYE Records label. This produced Second Birth — eight tracks, two of which ("Strength of a Dream" and "Tolpuddle Episode") were released as a single. Again it failed to set the charts alight.

"Les mostly composed the second, George Harrison-sounding single, 'Strength of a Dream'," Hughes explained. "We recorded it at about the same time as Second Birth at Orange Studios [a small privately owned studio "somewhere in North London"], produced by Jonathan Peel . . . We tried to produce it ourselves, unsuccessfully, and eventually had to call in Jonathan Peel to complete the job. I always liked the episodic tracks, the ones, which passed through several contrasting moods e.g., the title track, 'Second Birth', and the instrumental arrangements in 'Motorway', plus the catchy tune and my alliterative lyrics make me think of that track with affection!"

Staircase to the Day — a final attempt

The band had been unhappy with producer Jonathan Peel's work on the first three albums — specifically the records' sound. Now they found Vic Smith, who had produced Peter Sarstedt’s third United Artists album, Everything You Say (Is Written Down) and would later work with The Jam. Under his control, the band was a happier unit and felt their potential was at last being realised. Dawn records released it in the late summer of 1974.

Staircase to the Day was recorded at the Manor Studios, Kinnerton, Oxford and came wrapped in a colourful Roger Dean-designed gatefold sleeve depicting a winged-space monster descending onto a cosmic landscape. It kicked off with one of Gravy Train’s best-known Dawn Cuts, "Starbright Starlight", anthologised in various progressive samplers and compilation albums. Marcel Coopman (again citing Vernon Johnson) described it as "a blistering piece of melodious hard-rock, that sets the standard for similarly inclined music (though not many may have heard it, of course)."

The band was now a five-piece outfit with second guitarist George Lynon having joined before the sessions. Drummer Russ Caldwell replaced Barry Davenport after he left due to ill health. However, music equipment stolen from their van now resulted in disillusionment — "a huge setback", in Hughes' words. At this stage, he explained, "I became more involved in cabaret bands, only occasionally meeting the others for Gravy Train gigs. By the time we did Staircase to the Day, we were all playing in other bands. However, we never 'fell out' with each other and still enjoy each other's company on the rare occasions we get in touch."

The single, "Starbright Starlight"/"Good Time Girl" was issued in 1974, again unsuccessfully, as was the album. Gravy Train went through another line-up change with the departure of D. Hughes. Gravy Train released one final single for Dawn — "Climb Aboard the Gravy Train" backed by "Sanctuary" in 1975. But lack of commercial success, internal frustration, and financial losses meant the end for the band. Instead of being part of a revival of fortunes, "Climb Aboard the Gravy Train" had signalled a death-knell.

Starbright Starlight Label A Side image

After Gravy Train

Little is known about the subsequent lives of the band members. Barrett appeared in Mandalaband for their second and final album in 1978, then went on to form the Barrett Band, which recorded two albums in the early 1980s. He died in 2011 from post-surgery complications.

Les Williams has been working at Ocean Entertainments, an agency for bands and acts, since the 1980s. J.D Hughes is currently the founding member of The New Soul Messengers, in which he plays keyboards, saxophone, and vocals. George Lynon died in his sleep in 2002.


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This article was created, compiled and produced by Barry Grady. 25 January 2018.

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