Ten Years After have remained one of my all time favourite bands ever since I first discovered them almost 40 years ago. So, for this second episode in the Jemtunes Desert Island Discs series, Ten Years After are up there. Problem is that as I can’t distinguish between the albums I have, which is my favourite, I’m bringing them all!
Hailing from Nottingham, UK and formed originally in 1965 as ‘The Jaybirds’, they soon found a name more in keeping with the booming underground progressive music scene. Fronted by Alvin Lee (vocals and guitar), Chick Churchill (keyboards), Ric Lee (no relation) (drums) and Leo Lyons (bass), Ten Years After emerged and, in 1967 released their self-titled debut. ‘Adventures of a Young Organ’ is my favourite track.
‘Undead’ followed in 1968 and featured the track that was to become the Ten Years After signature and put Alvin Lee firmly on the map as one of the fastest guitar players around. But ‘I’m going home’ isn’t my fave on this album – that belongs to ‘Woodchoppers Ball’, a 9-minute R&B marathon.
In the following year, they released ‘Stonedhenge’ a word play on the UK free festival scene. Favourite track is the last on the album – ‘Speed Kills’.
Later that year, Ten Years After ventured across the pond to play at another little festival going on in downtown New York state – something called ‘Woodstock’. Recovering from a bad bout of the flu, Alvin Lee took the rain-soaked crowd through a blistering 11-minute version of ‘I’m Going Home (by helicopter )’ and established the band as one which would tour the US more than any other UK band
Ssssh was also released in 1969 and might just have the edge for me. It’s certainly my rarest as this one still has its original giveaway poster. No question that ‘I woke up this morning’ carries the torch here.
Two more albums followed in 1970. The first was Cricklewood Green featuring ‘Love like a man’ giving the band their only single. This reached No.10 in the UK charts in June and stayed there for 18 weeks.
Watt followed later in the autumn and included a live version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ recorded at that summer’s Stone Henge festival.
‘A space in time’ came out in 1971 and was the first Ten Years After album i bought, albeit second hand around four years later. But I fell in live with ‘Once there was a time’ (track 1, side 2) which pretty well sums what it is to be a guitar player. There’s nothing bad about that track!
1972’s offering was ‘Rock n Roll music to the world’ where ‘Choo choo Mama’ rules the roost for me with the album’s signature tune a very close second.
And then finally (for the real TYA albums) there was 1973’s ‘Recorded Live’ , a fine double album capturing the band as they really should be heard – live. It’s really hard to choose from the 12 tracks on offer here, but I think it’s probably the 16 minutes of ‘I can’t keep from crying sometimes’ on side three – British blues at its absolute best.
‘Recorded Live’ was effectively the band’s swansong, There would be one final album – ‘ Positive Vibrations’ in 1974. But it was a very poor relation to what had gone before and came out only weeks before the band confirmed it had split.
However, although I have a number of other superb compilations and a few from the reformed TYA before Alvin Lee’s sad passing in March 2013, there is one final one I’m featuring here – a very rare and totally illegal bootleg…
Of extremely suspect quality and produced in 1971, this nonetheless captures six tracks of the band performing live at small UK clubs and venues and has a certain something. It even has a spelling mistake on the back cover – ‘Spider in my web’ is shown as ‘Spider in my wip’.
Ten Years After remain for me probably the best British R&B band of the late 60s/early 70s – and that’s saying something, as there a number of contenders there. Some will feature later in this series; they have their own attractions, but TYA simply float my boat in absolutely every way. Always have. Always will.
R.I.P Alvin (1944-2013)