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Magazine > Music Reviews > Gravy Train - Part 4
Gravy Train - Part 4
Published by Sthelensnow on 27/1/18 (299 reads)

Gravy Train - Part 4

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A Potted History of Gravy Train by JD Hughes
Alone in Georgia
Barrett's "Christian perspective"

A Potted History of Gravy Train by JD Hughes

Way back in the late 60s I was playing saxaphone and flute in a band called Spaghetti House in the Liverpool/St Helens area.

The band split up but the bass player, Les Williams (ex The Incas, the drummer, Barry Davenport (ex the John Rotherham Trio, a modern jazz outfit), the guitarist Dave "Dig" Rigby and myself, decided to try a smaller band playing covers and arrangements of current rock bands eg Cream and Jethro Tull.

The guitarist soon split, being more into Country than rock, and eventually we found Noramn Barrett, ex The Hunters.

We soon started writing our own stuff based around Barry's Jazz ideas and Norm's melodic feel and great singing voice. Much of the material explored unusual time signatures, involved some harmony playing and improvisation sometimes for tweny minutes at a time!

We became involved in a multi-arts project, in Manchester, called "The Construction Company", which was an eclectic mix of musicians and poets. One of the bands we gigged with a lot was Sleep, who had a kind of Barclay James Harvest feel to them.

Our manager also managed them and arranged for a London record producer to come to a gig at The Free Trade Hall to meet them.

The record producer, Jonathan Peel heard us on the same bill and offered us the contract and not Sleep!

Gravy Train image

We did some work for the Robert Stigwood organisation and the Noel Gay Agency. This involved backing Emile Ford at a "Rock'n' Roll Festival" at Wembley Stadium. Playing on a huge concert at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen in front of Danish royalty and weirdest of all, being the resident band at a disco in the Italian Adriatic resort of Rimini!

We changed record labels from Vertigo to Dawn (owned by Pye).

Altogether we released four albums, which have since been re-released on CD, and are still available (I've just bought copies).

We later added a second guitarist, George Lynan (ex Magic Lanterns), to further progress the harmony riffing idea, he sadly died without warning in his sleep last year.

The drummer, Barry left to be replaced by Wigan lad Russ Caldwell.

We toured Holland in 1972 and gigged up and down the country with many of the main bands of the time e.g. Rory Gallagher, Roxy Music, Nazareth, The Nice, Atomic Rooster, Mott The Hoople etc.

We were unlucky to have the van plus gear stolen which forced us off the road for a few months, during which time we each got gigs with a cabaret band.

When we eventually re-equipped, the work wasn't there and we were all working with other outfits and just drifted apart, getting together for the occasional Gravytrain gig and writing material for the final album.

I left the band in 1973 in order to work in Germany with a cover band.

Since then, I qualified as a music teacher, working in the North West, retiring in 2003 but still playing in bands including The Pearls doing French gigs with ex-Grit Band members Chris Smith and John Hunt.

Norman formed a Christian rock band, and I believe has just joined a cabaret band. Les grew fabulously wealthy with his entertainments agency and Russ opened a music/baby clothes shop in Wigan and has recently sold up and gone to live in France.

End of tale.

Alone in Georgia

Citing Vernon Johnson’s inestimable "Tapestry of Delights" on the Progressive Rock Archives website, Marcel Coopman described Gravy Train as follows: "Starting like your typical Vertigo act, Gravy Train's first album sounds faintly like early Jethro Tull mainly due to similar flute lines, but without a dominating personality like Ian Anderson. Hard-rock riffing is alternated with more quiet and melodic moments and the flute is high in the mix throughout."

Alone In Georgia single image

The group next released a single coupling "Alone in Georgia" and "Can Anybody Hear Me?" on Vertigo in the UK and by Phillips in Germany. The second album followed, and Coopman on the Progressive Rock Archives website, in 2000, again cited "Tapestry of Delights" when he observed: "Much better is the surprisingly rare second album for Vertigo, (A Ballad of) A Peaceful Man. The solos are tighter and more controlled and the compositions are better. It is also less bluesy, very crisply produced and features good multi-part singing, greatly enriching their textures".

Alone In Georgia single image

Barrett's "Christian perspective"

Norman Barrett had become a born again Christian at the end of 1969. John O'Regan quoted him as saying: "When we were making the first Gravy Train album, my old manager in The Hunters, Norman Littler, had become a Christian while I had been away touring and recording with the band. We had both spent years talking about God and the world and trying to make sense of it all. He heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it turned his life around. He told me about it months later when I was home visiting. When I read the family bible, a thing I'd never done before, I was deeply affected by what I read about who Jesus is and what he has done for all of us and committed my life to Him."

In this era, rock musicians that practised Christianity and worked within the secular progressive scene were a rarity. The contemporary Christian music scene in the UK was in its infancy and Cliff Richard would have been, apart from Terry Dene, the best-known example of a UK rocker embracing Christianity.

"The rest of the band were tolerant and sympathetic of my position," Barrett commented, "and the Record Companies never tried to dissuade me. The Christian experience influenced all of my lyrics for Gravy Train. Not overtly, but certainly they were written from a Christian perspective. I did not think that I had a right to 'preach' to audiences who had just come to hear the band and have a good time — although a lot of people who had read interviews in the music press did come backstage almost every night to find out what it was all about. Some of them were saved and are still going strong today; most of them did not but seemed to respect my beliefs. None ever ridiculed me."


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

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