Album review: UFO – At The BBC 1974-1985

UFO - At The BBC 1974-1985

EMI [Release date 25.03.13]

UFO have been well served by EMI in recent years with the Official Bootleg Box  giving fans the chance to sample the band’s live delights in various forms and quality – but at least officially – over the years 1975-1982.

To further progress the campaign, this great value box set brings together BBC recordings from 1974 through to a previously-unreleased-on-CD Tommy Vance session from 1985 and rounded out with a sixth disc of TV material.  This gives us evidence that in 1979 UFO appeared on Top Of The Pops.

If the link through all these discs are the live mainstays  ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ (four versions each)  it does reaffirm that the band were a great live attraction from earliest times.

The collection might also restate that the band lost some fizz after the departure of Michael Schenker in 1978, but fortunately the German guitarist features on two of the five audio discs including  the earliest In Concert, from June 1974, and a Bob Harris session later the same year.

Some might comment that the live album ‘Strangers In the Night’ is all you need from this period but the BBC recordings have an intimacy and perhaps a clearer focus.

By the time of the next In Concert (11 December 1975), Danny Peyronel had come in on keyboards but his tenure was relatively short-lived.  By June 1977 Paul Raymond was playing both keys and rhythm guitar when there’s a great version of ‘Too Hot To Handle’ from a John Peel session.

By this time, UFO were rising on a wave of critical acclaim after the release of their 1976 album ‘Lights Out’ and leading up to that classic live Schenker swansong.

Discs 3 and 4 are taken up with two further In Concerts, from 1980 and 1982 respectively.  Both include the excellent ‘No Place To Run’ title track from their 1980 album (produced by George Martin) and another popular live song ‘Love To Love’ from ‘Lights Out’.  Paul Chapman who had joined the band briefly in 1974 had rejoined by 1978 and features on these discs with Raymond.

The version of ‘Rock Bottom’ from 1980 picks up the baton from where Schenker left off and allows Chapman to stretch out to excellent effect.  It’s as if punk had never happened.

But in spite of UFO having achieved wider success in the late seventies – not least in the States – Raymond jumped shipped to the Michael Schenker Group (Neil Carter played on the 1982 gig) and by 1983 Pete Way had also departed.  The band were on the racks and disbanded after lack of commercial success with the album ‘Making Contact’.

Collectors and fans will be interested in the inclusion of Disc 5 in this set which appears on CD for the first time.  The band – newly reconstituted for the ‘Misdemeanour’ album – played Knebworth Festival  on 22 June 1985.  The event was characterised by both the mud, and piss-filled beer bottles being thrown at stage.

The band bravely trailed new songs from that final Chrysalis album (including the very fine ‘Heaven’s Gate’) and included Atomik Tommy M on lead guitar and a returning Paul Raymond whilst the drum stool was occupied by Jim Simpson who had played with Magnum previously.

The final disc in this set is a DVD with material recorded between 1979-1982 including the Old Grey Whistle Test (1979) and the Oxford Road Show (1982) plus three clips from Top Of the Pops (1979-81).

By the late eighties, the band had folded again and it wasn’t until 1992 that Phil Mogg and Pete Way reformed which led directly to a revival of the classic Schenker line-up of the late-seventies.  This version of UFO released the superb and overlooked ‘Walk On Water’ in 1995.

Notwithstanding the inevitable ‘mainstay’ track duplication, there is enough variety here to prompt further investigation of the albums featured.  This is the outcome of the best compilations and I am sure those 1980s albums will be further explored including ‘Mechanix’ and  ‘Making Contact’.

The other duplication worth mentioning is that many of these recordings have been available before, notably the In Concerts from 1974 and 1975.  However this collection adds ‘Rock Bottom’ previously missing from the 1974 gig.  Similarly, the 1975 disc adds those ‘mainstays’ ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Rock Bottom’.

The Harris/Peel sessions also appeared on a 1999 archive release and  ‘The Chrysalis Years 1973-1979′ (2011) whilst the 1980 Hammersmith Odeon gig  was previously available in 1992 and on ‘The Chrysalis Years 1980-1981′ (2012).  The 1982 Hammersmith gig was included on the now-deleted  The Official Bootleg Box Set (2009).

The one notable and consistent thread  throughout is the redoubtable Phil Mogg and the discs chart his consistent quality songwriting and vocals, which by 1985 were mellowing into the style he’s now comfortable with.  In 2004 Vinnie Moore was to kick-start the band’s more recent renaissance but  ‘UFO At The BBC’ is a wonderful trawl through a band in constant flux and somehow surviving.  Fairly brief liner note contributions from Raymond and Mogg (but sadly not Schenker) round off this excellent package.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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