Album review: BRAM TCHAIKOVSKY – Strange Men, Changed Men (The Complete Recordings 1978-1981)

BRAM TCHAIKOVSKY – Strange Men, Changed Men (The Complete Recordings 1978-1981)

Cherry Red [Release date 27.04.18]

Bram Tchaikovsky left The Motors in 1978 after playing on their 1977 debut album. Born Peter Bramall, he’d been christened Bram Tchaikovsky by fellow Motor, Andy McMaster. This new 3CD set collects all three albums and numerous bonus tracks from his subsequent solo output. It’s a stellar collection of power pop and melodic pop-rock, kicking off with 1979’s Strange Man, Changed Man which was originally released by Radar Records.

Co-produced by ex-Motors bandmate Nick Garvey (who also contributes backing vocals, as well as bass on the Stealers Wheel-esque ‘Lady From The USA’), the core trio on the album are Bram, Micky Broadbent (who he’d played with in the early 70’s band All-Time Heroes) and drummer Keith Boyce.

It was Boyce’s former Heavy Metal Kids bandmate Ronnie Thomas who wrote two of the highlights on Strange Man, Changed Man – the Who-influenced ‘Lonely Dancer’ and the power pop classic ‘Girl Of My Dreams’, which made the US Top 40 when released as a single and features Mike Oldfield guesting on tubular bells.

Other standouts on the debut include the powerful tour-de-force ‘Bloodlines’, a rocking cover of the Monkees hit ‘I’m A Believer’, and the pub rock gem ‘Turn On The Light. All bar one of the seven bonus tracks are taken from two singles released pre-Radar on the Criminal Records (three of which would be re-recorded for the album).

The band were a four piece by the second album The Russians Are Coming (released in the US, where the group enjoyed most success and played regular live shows, as “Pressure”).

Keith Line was the new drummer, with Denis Forbes joining as an extra guitarist. Overall it has a harder-rocking sound and style than the debut and there’s certainly no dip in quality – if anything it’s a stronger record.

Highlights include the harmony-drenched acoustic number ‘Missfortune’, the epic ‘Hollywood Nightmare’ and the relentless feel good vibe of ‘Pressure’, while the Broadbent-penned ‘Letter From The U.S.A.’ is pure Badfinger.

The Russians Are Coming is augmented by seven non-album bonus tracks, all taken from various singles. ‘Amelia’ is a beautiful ballad written by Bram that would have graced the album (or a Pete Townshend solo album for that matter!), while live recordings of ‘Robber’ and ‘Whiskey And Wine’ give a tantalising glimpse of how powerful the band sounded in concert.

More line-up changes were afoot before what would turn out to be Bram’s final album, 1981’s Funland which was released by Arista and makes its CD debut here. Nick Garvey was back on board as co-producer, and both he and Andy McMaster contribute backing vocals. ‘Soul Surrender’, previously released as a Motors B-side, is re-recorded here and one of the standout tracks.

‘Heart Of Stone’ is one of the strongest tracks on the whole 3CD set, ‘Shall We Dance?’ was a catchy single (with an almost Bryan Ferry-esque vocal) that should have fared better, while a gutsy cover of ‘Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache’ works really well.

The lyrically clever ‘Used To Be My Used To Be’ is a belter and has a Dave Edmunds/ Rockpile feel, while ‘Miracle Cure’ is a lively slab of rockabilly on what is another terrific album.

After Funland, Bram Tchaikovsky disappeared from the public gaze into apparent obscurity. However, as the notes here reveal, he stayed connected to the music industry by relocating to Lincolnshire and running Chapel Studios for several years, during which time the likes of Simple Minds, OMD and Wet Wet Wet passed through their doors.

Another group who recorded there, Saxon, actually picked a Tchaikovsky/Broadbent co-write as the title track of their 1991 album Solid Ball Of Rock. The previously unheard Bram recording of this song is included as something of a curio at the end of the Funland disc – quite a departure from the other tracks here, which nonetheless shows how well Bram could turn his hand to a rock/metal style.

Housed in a sturdy box, the albums each come in individual card sleeves depicting their original artwork. The 24 page booklet includes full credits, period band member photos, along with in-depth notes by Alan Robinson which tell the full story of Bram Tchaikovsky’s career – including new quotes from the man himself, as well as Micky Broadbent.

Bram still plays live (with Micky), on his own terms and as a largely blues-based band, citing his local pub as his favourite gig! If he ever feels like doing it on a wider scale and recording a new album, there are a lot of fans far and wide who would lap it up. In the meantime, this is an essential release for any fans of late 70’s/early 80’s power pop and new wave, and once again a quality reissue from Cherry Red. Brilliant music, pure and simple.  ****1/2

Review by Jim Henderson

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