There’s a new stage at this year’s Ramblin’ Man. Headlined by Rival Sons, it’s called the Grooverider and features like-minded bands, all of who are inspired by those heroes from the early 1970s who… well, rode their music on the back of an insistent groove.
Now this does bring up the question of just why musicians and fans are still so entranced by an era that goes back more than four decades. The simple, straightforward answer is because of the sheer joy you hear in the music even now. Not that I’m suggesting other types of music didn’t elicit a sense of pleasure as well. But what you got from these bands was a purposeful freedom of expression.
In a way this began with The Beatles and their seminal ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in 1967. Many feel when this album was released it marked the point when rock and pop went their separate ways. Pop was all about melody and short, sharp songs. But from this time onwards, rock became concerned with open minds, allowing your fingers and voice to go in whatever spontaneous and inspired direction felt right. There were no rules any more, only a vibrant urge to create.
Bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors had been around in the ’60s. But they all found their true worth with the dawn of a fresh decade, when anything was thought to be possible. No longer tied to songs which were strictly no more than three or four minutes in duration, compositions were now able to take flight.
This new mind set affected even the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks – bands who had first made an impression by going for hit singles. Now, they felt there was an opportunity to show more of their musical skills as the 1970s unfurled. True, The Beatles – who had paved the way in ’67 – were gone, but other pioneers from that much vaunted British Invasion were reborn.
There was an unpretentiousness to it all. While the prog pioneers were seen – unfairly – by some as being snobbish in the way they presented music, with those early grooveriders this was not the case. The album format was perfect for this style. Singles were almost irrelevant, and the arrival of FM radio in America gave these bands a massive boost. Now, everyone could hear what they were doing, and revel in their mastery.
Everywhere you turned, you heard artists taking risks, and in the process raising the rock form of music to hitherto unprecedented levels. One of the finest exponents were Humble Pie. Even though they were successful and respected, to this day they’ve not been given the acclaim that is their due, and their right. The remarkable way the Pie performed live, which comes across so brilliantly on the 1971 album ‘Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore’, meant they had few equals. And if there’s one band who should be regarded as the godfathers of all those who will play on the Grooverider stage, then it is this one.
But Humble Pie were not alone in spreading this philosophy. There were so many others taking full advantage of this emerging attitude to let their imaginations run rampant. The Allman Brothers were at their finest, while the Jeff Beck Group, Rory Gallagher, Grand Funk Railroad and Derringer were also powerful entities, setting standards people still stride to emulate right now
It’s no wonder a lot of modern bands sigh with pleasure and frustration at what these giants achieve. The pleasure obviously comes because the music is still vital and illuminating. The frustration is born out of a knowledge that you cannot hope to match what was done before. But that’s why the Grooverider Stage is so important. Because these bands are using what was recorded more than 40 years ago as a springboard, rather than seeing it as something they have to try and equal.
What made all those wonderful ’70s bands mentioned above so crucial was that they never set out to be anything but themselves. Each were individual, and unafraid to take artistic risks, whatever the commercial viability. Today’s bands should never attempt to capture the influences of the past, but to adapt what drove them onwards to fit their own particular desires. And by doing this, Lionize, The Picturebooks, Vintage Caravan and all the others who will grace the stage will ensure that what began at the birth of the ’70s will carry on as the 21st Century progresses. All of us who are rock fans need this to happen, because it is this approach to music that will ensure we are not merely wallowing in past glories, but ensuring there will be future ones to delight us. What was recorded by, say, the Baker Gurevitz Army or Little Feat remain peerless. But who knows what today’s emerging powers will go on to achieve in the coming years? That’s a truly exciting prospect.
Just to help you get a grip on the grooveriders from the 1970s, here are five albums worth listening to. This is not by any means THE definitive list, merely suggestions to whet you appetite for what you’ll hear at Ramblin’ Man:
Humble Pie – ‘Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore’ (1971)
Everything that made this band all time greats is here: energy, jamming spontaneity, monumental musical rapport and superb songs.
The Allman Brothers Band – ‘Eat A Peach’ (1972)
A mix of live and studio recordings from a band who were let loose and thriving, despite their debilitating drug problems.
Grand Funk Railroad – ‘E Pluribus Funk’ (1971)
The Americans were at their peak around this time. This album is edgy and provocative, with the three members magnificently playing off each other, with off the cuff musicianship.
Uriah Heep – ‘The Magician’s Birthday’ (1972)
The band’s best album. The combination of guitarist Mick Box and keyboard player Ken Hensley is staggering, especially on the epic title track.
Jeff Beck Group – ‘Rough And Ready’ (1971)
The first record from the band’s second line-up. It has amazing diversity, pooling jazz, blues and even soul moments. Challenging, stirring.
And if you want something from modern times:
Rival Sons – ‘Hollow Bones’ (2016)
If there’s one band on the Grooverider Stage who personify the spirit of the early ’70s, then it’s Rival Sons. Their most recent album captures everything wonderful about that era, yet does it in a way which is beautifully contemporary.
Right, your turn. What are your favourite albums from the early ’70s?