Album Review: Snafu – Snafu (1973)

Snafu were formed in late 1972 by former Procul Harum and Freedom man Bobby Harrison. Harrison was Harum’s drummer on the hit ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ but he and guitarist Ray Royer were kicked out of the band soon after. The pair formed Freedom and Harrison handled the vocal duties as well as playing the drums. However after the demise of Freedom Harrison decided to vacate the drum stool entirely and concentrate on being a vocalist/frontman.

During 1972 Harrison would often guest with blues rock outfit Juicy Lucy and he formed a close friendship with their guitarist Micky Moody. Moody was already regarded as one of the countries finest slide guitar players. His clever use of tone and mixture of rock, blues and funk styles making him stand out above the crowd. Despite being popular on the live circuit Juicy Lucy were on their last legs and before long Harrison and Moody began writing songs together, initially for Harrison’s solo album “Funkist”. Both had a love of American funky rock bands, in particular The Allman Brothers and Little Feat and they found themselves coming up with some pretty unique material for a British band at that time. Deciding to form a new band they soon recruited Terry Popple, who had worked with Moody in Tramline, from Van Morrison on the drum stool, former Airforce man Colin Gibson on bass and Pete Solley on keyboards and fiddle who would go on to be a founding member of Whitesnake with Moody and later ironically join Harrison’s old employers Procul Harum.

With a full band, a few self penned numbers and some carefully chosen cover versions they soon proved to be a hit on the club circuit and a deal with WWA records was soon secured. One of Snafu’s earliest fans was Richard Branson who had just built The Manor Studio and he invited them to use it to record their first album at the same time as Mike Oldfield was there recording his opus “Tubular Bells”.

Snafu’s first, eponymously titled, album is an eight track affair of funky American influenced R & B with an edge of hard rock and an undercurrent of country rock twangs. It kicks of with the first of the Harrison/Moody compositions ‘Long Gone’. A slow burning track with a steady swagger it builds in to a nice  mid paced blues rock opener. The track had already been recorded for Harrison’s “Funkist” album but this version is far superior.

The first of the more country and funky tinged tracks ‘Said He The Judge’ follows and it starts off slowly before it builds up into a funky groove with some nice guitar work from Moody after the first verse and chorus. The pace quickens even more before slowing back down for the return of the vocal before another instumental passage to fade. It may not exactly be cutting edge stuff but it is well played and more than enjoyable.

It is almost widdly diddly folk time for ‘Monday Morning’ another balladic tale from the pen of Harrison with some great fiddle work from Solley driving the song along. Moody also contributes some great mandolin picking and the whole song has an English country fair feel to it. It should be pretty naff but it goes down a treat and is a a great jig-a-long bit of fun.

The album highlight for me is the track that closed side one of the original vinyl issue, and the only non original track on the album ‘Drowning In The Sea Of Love’. Written by Philadelphia soul legends Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff it had been a minor hit for American soul singer Joe Simon the previous year. It is a perfect vehicle for Snafu, suiting Harrison’s vocal style perfectly and allowing Moody the opportunity to display his various styles. The use of female backing vocalists also gives the song an extra dimension and it has long beeen one of my favourite recorded works by any artist.

The second half of the album gets under way with ‘Country Nest’ a slower more melancholy affair with another balladeer vocal from Harrison. The opening line of “I’m sitting in my rocking chair I’m smoking a joint in my underwear …….” is nothing short of brilliant and the humour in the lyric all the way through is a positive joy. Co-written with Solley it obviously has some good keyboard runs and the farmyard noises at the tracks end leave a smile in their wake.

The fiddle is back for ‘Funky Friend’ a strutting funky tale of a lost friend. The widdly diddly fiddle this time is more reminiscent of an Irish hoe down than an English fair but just as with the earlier track it is impossible not to jig along to the funky infectious rhythm. Once again musical rocket science it isn’t but it is out and out good time music that leaves nothing but a smile.

Things get a litle more serious for ‘Goodbye USA’ a brooding mid paced funk with some great guitar and keyboard techniques underneath a laid back easy vocal from Harrison, who surely has claims to be up there with the best funky blues vocalists of the day.

The longest track on the album is closer ‘That’s The Song’, a fast paced strutter with a real great vibe. It has an almost evangelical feel to it and it is not difficult to imagine a huge congregation all singing and dancing along in unison. Moody throws in a spectacularly funky solo and the backing vocalists choir is a perfect touch. It is a great funky fast paced end to an album that really should be heralded as one of the classic rock albums of the seventies. The decision to fade down the volume as the track ends though was surely a mistake. The album itself ends with a brief reprise of the riff and melody of the opening track ‘Long Gone’

On its release “Snafu” was greeted with considerable favour from the reviewers of the day and the band quickly gained a huge live following. They also became something of a musicians band and were often praised by comtemporary musicians of the day. Sadly this did not turn into record sales though and neither the album or the non album single ‘Dixie Queen’ (included as a bonus track on CD remasters) troubled the charts. Such was their popularity live though that they secured European tours with both The Doobie Brothers and The Eagles. “Snafu” is a right little belter of an album which is very much ‘of its day’ and it has long been one of my most played albums since finding it in a junk shop for the princely sum of £1 way back in 1980. These days I mostly play the CD remaster but the cherished vinyl edition with its gatefold Roger Dean cover occasionally comes out for a spin. Whether you are a lover of classic rock, blues or funk, or even just curious to hear pre Whitesnake Micky Moody “Snafu” is worth its place in anyone’s music library and is in no way synonymous with the RAF saying from which the name is derived.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM April 2012

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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3 Responses to Album Review: Snafu – Snafu (1973)

  1. kevmoore says:

    I remember going to watch SNAFU supporting Status Quo at Trentham Gardens in the early 70’s- it was the night they recorded the ‘Roll over Lay Down’ live EP I think. they were great, bobby throwing his tambourine into the rafters, and somehow always catching it without seemingly bothering to look! Many , many years later and I am good friends with Paladin’s drummer Keith Webb (sadly now no longer with us) and he told me he was there that night, and had a food fight with John Coghlan! hE WAS MATES WITH Mickey Moody. Mickey is one the UK’s most accomplished players – perhaps our BEST slide player, and I met him last year when we were on the same bill at a rock festival in Rostock. A lovely guy with a great sense of humour, I had to tell him about Keith’s passing. I always thought his work with Snafu was some of his best. And don’;t you just LOVE those Roger Dean sleeves? 😉

    • Agree with it all again Kev. That first Snafu album in particular has a totally unique feel. I have always championed Micky as our best slide guitarist. But also much more than that ….. great songwriter and a half decent singer too. Whitesnake were never the same when they lost Micky. His Tramline and Juicy Lucy albums are worth tracking down too. Back to Snafu and I have one of those BBC transcription discs with a 20 minute live set for Radio One in concert. Can’t tell whether there is any tambourine tossing though !!!

  2. Jerry W says:

    I have just finished ripping my vinyl copy of this, plus “Situation Normal”, to mp3 and am listening to it as I type. Whenever I play this with friends around, they always say “Hey, this is good – who is it?”. The inevitable response to the answer is “Why have I never heard of them?”. I’m pretty sure I first heard of them via “The Old Grey Whistle Test” – like the John Dummer Band with Nick Pickett. A well kept secret – perhaps it’s better that way…

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