After releasing their self titled debut album early in 1970 founder members John Jones and Terry Rowley returned to previous band The Montanas leaving Mel Galley, Glenn Hughes and Dave Holland to continue Trapeze as a three peice. This proved to be beneficial as the three remaining members were keen to explore the heavier more progressive road music was going down at the time, whereas Jones and Rowley were more at ease with the sixties hippy/pop sound. At the time the Midlands of England and in particular Birmingham and the Black Country was a hotbed of progressive hard rock music. Black Sabbath had recently arrived on the scene and Robert Plant and John Bonham were part of Led Zeppelin for starters. As far as the remaining members of Trapeze were concerned the flowery shirted hippy brigade were yesterdays news and the power of progressive rock was too exciting to ignore. Hughes though had long been an admirer of Motown and was already developing a far funkier style of bass playing than the norm for British rock bands. He was also developing a far more soulful vocal delivery than most other rock singers, with the exception of Paul Rodgers, and was keen to implement this sound into his music. Along with Mel Galley’s hard riffing but tasteful style and Dave Holland’s powerful drumming this made the Trapeze sound something of a cross between Black Sabbath and Free. Whilst at the same time giving them a funky yet heavy sound that was far removed from either of those two bands.
This new sound was unleashed on the public in November 1970 in the form of second album ‘Medusa’. Instantly hailed a classic the music press declared Trapeze the new Led Zeppelin. Subsequently Medusa found itself nestling in many an LP collection alongside Deep Purple’s In Rock, Led Zep II and the first two Sabbath albums.
So why then are Trapeze not mentioned in the same breath as those better known groups. Quite possibly because America came a calling and particularly in the deep south, where they hadn’t yet got the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, they claimed Trapeze as their own. Small clubs and support slots in England were soon replaced by large clubs and then stadiums in America on the back of continued radio play and exposure. In British rock folklore Trapeze have often been regarded as a feeder band. Hughes to Deep Purple, Galley to Whitesnake and Holland to Judas Priest. However, most people don’t realise how absolutely massive they were in the southern part of the US. In fact John Bonham declared them the best three peice band he had ever seen and regularly joined them for encores on their rare visits to play live in the UK.
On to the album itself then. Medusa is a seven track affair which kicks off with possibly their best known track ‘Black Cloud’. Some beautifully structured and layered guitar from Galley, listen carefully through headphones to pick up the intricacies, is complimented superbly by Holland’s driving rhythmic drumming and Hughes’ powerful but soulful vocal. Had this track been recorded by a ‘household name’ band it would surely have attained legendary status throughout the rock world in the same way some far lesser songs have. ‘Jury’ sees some heavy riffing from Galley and certainly nods in the direction of Black Sabbath after a delicate gentle opening. The song is both hauntingly menacing and yet delicate at the same time and, despite being over eight minutes long, is over far too soon. ‘Your Love Is Alright’ and ‘Touch My Life’ are where Hughes funkiness really comes to the fore though. Ridiculously catchy riffs and a funky bass line along with continual changes in pace in the drumming give them both a really funky improvisational jam feel. You wouldn’t be surprised if it transpired that these tracks were recorded live, particularly the latter. ‘Seafull’ is a slower more bluesy track but is packed full of soul particularly in the vocal delivery. You can tell from this track exactly why Glenn Hughes wanted to be the lead vocalist in Deep Purple as well as the bass player. It could be one of his most ‘straight rock’ deliveries as a vocalist even though it is steeped in blues and soul. There are none of the squealing vocal acrobatics that have weakened some of his solo work and live performances on display here. In fact he’s right up there with Paul Rodgers for me on some of these tracks but especially ‘Seafull’. Curiously the funkiest track on the album ‘Makes You Wanna Cry’ is sung by Mel Galley and is infuriatingly catchy. Trust me with repeated listenings your head might fall off as its impossible not to nod along with the riff. The album closes with the title track. Another menacing song with a gentle acoustic opening that lulls you into a false sense of security before it explodes into a structured powerful meaty riff from Galley and a snarling growling pure rock vocal from Hughes. A return to the gentler acoustic sound in the middle part is then a perfect lead into an Ian Gillan like screaming crescendo before Hughes sings with perfect clarity and no little meance ” … there is no more”. A perfect end to a perfect album.
This is probably the best album most of you have never heard of from the best band that most of you have never heard of. A bona fide five star classic that really should be a part of every rock music lovers collection.
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM January 2011