Chain Live – an Australian blues resurrection from 1970
Chain (Aztec Music)
Aztec Music in Australia are continuing their wonderful program of re-releasing lost Australian classics from the early seventies. The sound quality is amazing considering the primitive state of most Australian recording of the time. I thought people might be interested in my review of this 40 year old “find”.
In the annals of Australian blues and roots music Chain are legendary, and deservedly so. Allowing for a hiatus in the late seventies, they have been pumping out a distinctly Australian version of the blues since 1968. Many Australian musicians can claim to have played with Chain, but this long clamoured for release captures the core of Phil Manning with his searing guitar solos, the powerhouse rhythm section of Barry ‘Big Goose’ Sullivan on bass and Barry ‘Little Goose’ Harvey on drums, with the towering figure of Warren ‘Pig’ Morgan on keys and the sublime guitar skills of New Zealander Glyn Mason. Each and every one of them has left an indelible mark on Australian music history.
Chain had been vacillating between Clapton inspired blues and Big Pink era Band style roots music while resisting the overtures to make them bonafide pop stars. By June 1970 Festival Records was prepared to invest the money in an album, but rather than run up the expense of a studio, decided to capture their live sound by recording in Sydney’s famed Caesar’s Palace disco on a Revox 2-track recorder. According to Manning the recording cost $32, and the bill for the dope stash was $60. In front of an audience of around 30 people, Chain’s first album captured the primitive sound of Australian blues struggling for recognition. There are six live tracks, now digitally restored and remastered, supplemented by a 1969 single, that serve to remind us not only how powerful Chain have always been, but that even as long ago as 1970 Australia had a damn fine blues scene.
In retrospect, it was probably a moment of absolute penny pinching luck that the decision was made to record Chain live. What it did though was capture them in their natural element. Listen to the opening chords of The World Is Waiting, all brooding menace as Big Goose’s bass rumbles underneath, before it escalates into a primal progression, building tension until it mellows out into a delightful little riff that is almost surf music. There is a sense of space and sunshine that permeates a lot of Australian roots music. White Australian blues wasn’t developed from work songs on plantations. Rather it was a reaction to isolation, a sense of being somewhere else, and that somewhere was wide open and sun parched.
The six live songs capture a distinctly Australian take on the blues, and is a wonderful snapshot of 1970. Phil Manning’s solos constantly feature and show that even this early in his career he could capture that feeling of world weariness. Often overlooked because of the dazzle created by Manning’s guitar work, Warren Morgan’s keyboard sound is absolutely crucial, cajoling the best from Manning.
The album is supplemented by a highly sought after Chain single from 1969, Show Me Home and Mr Time. If there was ever any doubt about just how influential The Band were, here’s the proof. Chain were honing their sound, and Manning was more Robbie Robertson in 1969 than the Clapton he would be in 1970. Manning’s Show Me Home opens with a trademark Robertson lick before picking up the Band harmonies on the chorus. Soulful and gritty, it stands up well, and would be fascinating listening for anyone charting The Band’s legacy to the world. Morgan’s Mr Time is probably his Garth Hudson sound. Again, it’s a powerfully rootsy number, but with a definite Australian accent. Back to back these two tracks capture Chain rapidly emerging to become the blues band Australia came to love.
Little Goose comments in the liner notes that “Chain Live”, “because it was original Australian music, wasn’t quite accepted at the time. To me, that album is probably the most creative and original Australian album that has ever been released.” He’d get an argument, but the high quality remastering gives everyone the opportunity to put it to the test.