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WARHORSE – THE RECORDINGS 1970-1972 (2024) (Esoteric Recordings) (2CD -release date 26th April)

WARHORSE was formed in 1970 by DEEP PURPLE bassist Nick Simper and quickly became the backing band for MARSHA HUNT. RICK WAKEMAN was there for a little while before he joined STRAWBS. The band’s eponymous album was released on the Vertigo label in November, 1970. Their second album “Red Sea” was released in June, 1972. There are eleven additional tracks (demos and live recordings) on this compilation apart from the two albums. As far as the other members are concerned, drummer Mac Poole left to join GONG after “Red Sea” to be replaced by Barney James (apparently Poole had been approached by ROBERT PLANT before JOHN BONHAM occupied the drum stool with LED ZEPPELIN), who would, with Ashley Holt who was a singer in the IAN GILLAN mode, also depart to join RICK WAKEMAN in his band The English Rock Ensemble.

On their eponymous debut album, ‘Vulture Blood’ is a powerhouse piece of heavy progressive rock with organ and guitar work typical of the times. The guitar playing by Ged Peck on ‘No Chance’ is similar in approach to that of RITCHIE BLACKMORE. Similarly, Frank Wilson’s organ playing is very much in JON LORD mode; the screams on ‘Burning’ confirm the DEEP PURPLE connection, and perhaps there wasn’t enough room at the time for two of them, which is a pity because this album stands up really well after all these years. Wilson soon proved to be a good player and soloist in his own right, and Peck could certainly nail down a good guitar solo (‘Burning’ again). A cover of THE EASYBEATS’ ‘St. Louis’ was released as a single but, disappointingly only charted in Holland despite being an excellent cover, with a neat little wah-wah guitar break and Hammond organ solo. On the blues-based ‘Ritual’ solos abound, and the bass playing is great, another rollicking track. ‘Solitude’ (clocking in at nearly nine minutes) reminded me of PROCOL HARUM in the anthemic nature of the keyboard and guitar playing and backing, a subtly executed, stand-out piece. When Holt belts out the lines “men of a thousand wasted times” and “I wanna live, but they want me to die” it certainly strikes a chord. The final track is ’Woman of the Devil’, another long track at 7 minutes reminiscent of BLACK SABBATH and every bit as good, a gutsy guitar break cutting into the organ solo.

For the “Red Sea” album, Pete Parks replaced Peck on guitar. NICK SIMPER says that Ritchie Blackmore phoned him to say how much he enjoyed the title track and the guitar on ‘Back in Time’ which has some great stereo fading in JIMMY PAGE style. The title ‘Confident but Wrong’ says it all: a band that might have enjoyed great international success at a different time perhaps. It packs a lot of great music in as well as a heavy message in its 4½ minutes. The album concludes with a surprise cover of the Shirley Bassey hit ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’ and penultimate track ‘Mouthpiece’ has the band’s first and only recorded studio drum solo, a very fine one at that. The music has some stylistic variations compared to the first album: there is less overt organ and guitar soloing, ‘Sybilla’ is another personal song with some funky organ and a fluid but laid-back guitar break, a definite departure from the heavy prog rock predominance in Warhorse’s debut as the band seem to run out of steam a bit on side two.

Of the bonus tracks ‘House of Dolls’ sounds like a cross between ‘Black Night’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ - I really liked this one! The soulful heavy rock of ‘Standing Right Between You’ is another worthy addition.

Warhorse had no luck whatsoever for, after being mothballed by Vertigo, they thought they had a contract for a third album with Warners, which fell through at the last minute due to an oil embargo leading to fears of a vinyl shortage. With Ashley and Barney joining RICK WAKEMAN’s band for his “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” tour and future recordings, by 1974, Warhorse were, sadly, no more.

This is an extract of a more comprehensive review to appear in the next issue of ACID DRAGON magazine (see the link on this site).

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