Exclusive: Lost Alex Harvey Interview Published
Glasgow rock icon Alex Harvey could have led the way for Zakk Wylde and Slash into making horror movies if he hadn’t passed away in 1982. And in a long-lost interview one of the most theatrical rock frontmen of all time revealed hopes of working with comedy director Mel Brooks, creator of Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety. Come on in to find out more.
The acclaimed leader of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band died of a heart attack on tour on February 4, 1982, a day short of his 47th birthday.
US-based photographer Janet Macoska, a long-time friend of Harvey’s who received her first professional commission from SAHB in 1974, discovered her interview transcripts while she researched a photo book which has been published to mark the 30th anniversary of Harvey’s death.
The conversation reveals an artist approaching the absolute height of his powers. SAHB had already impressed critics with 1973 album Next and were doing the same with latest release The Impossible Dream. They’d built a reputation for inspiring, energetic live shows. In the coming year they’d score their biggest hit single with a comedy-drama interpretation of Tom Jones’ Delilah and spend several quarters as the biggest-grossing live act in the UK.
In Cleveland, Ohio, in 1974, Harvey told Macoska: “You could call this stardom – I don’t know if it’s that, yet.
“I’ve done all kinds of different things, and I’ve had a lot of time not being out in front. This is something new. Up until The Impossible Dream we had nothing – and yet we were managing to outdraw people who had several hits in actual drawing power.”
He described his approach to capturing a crowd as a, “Love-hate relationship”, saying: “Sometimes we rub ‘em a bit rough, and then give them more trouble. And what happens then is, usually, we get a reaction and they remember us. And then they come back to see us. And then we get to love one another. I always look at it like that – it’s a bit like a woman, you know: they say you always hurt the one you love.”
He said SAHB was “Without a doubt” the most satisfying thing he’d ever done, and he’d be, “Delighted” if bandmates Zal Cleminson, Chris Glen, Hugh McKenna and Ted McKenna went on to find stardom in their own right.
The gravel-voiced son of the infamous Glasgow Gorbals often said in interviews that he wanted to make movies. When Macoska asked him to elaborate Harvey said he’d even considered making a horror film.
“I have and we have no aspirations to make another rock ‘n’ roll movie, even a movie like Tommy or anything. It would have to be a new way of doing it – and I think there is a new way of doing it.
“I think a horror movie would be good. Not necessarily a rock horror movie; a gothic horror movie, but real. Not one like Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
“I think Mel is fantastic. I think he’s brilliant. If we made a movie, Mel should direct it. Somebody told me he’d go crazy over us and that would be marvellous. I respect his work very much.”
Harvey believed his band would fit well into a movie-making environment, insisting he had no intention of upstaging them when they performed.
“The group’s got different personalities and energies. They can be incredibly bizarre. They’re more bizarre offstage and sometimes we do a lot of impromptu acts and really get into it.
“Like, Hugh and I, or Zal and I, we’ll meet in a bar as though we don’t know each other, and speak across somebody and start getting insulting. You can see people getting restless – they don’t really understand what’s going on.”
Harvey was more than 15 years older than his bandmates and most of his fans. His age and overwork is thought to have contributed to his death as he waited for a ferry home to the UK from Belgium with his new band, the Electric Cowboys.
But in 1974 he was already reflecting that life on the road could be too strenuous. He told Macoska: “You’ve got to have a sense of humour when you do three flights in one day and eat a hamburger that’s made out of plastic. I think possibly these tours are a thing of the past because I don’t think the kids go to them as much, and I don’t think they feel any sense of being ‘with’ the performer.
“Maybe what we’ll do in the future – and it would be much better – is play two nights in a place that holds three or four thousand.”
Asked if that proved he wasn’t in it for the money, Harvey replied: “No, not really. I want to be happy.
“I don’t know many superstars, but I do know a few, and I don’t know any that are happy. They get hung up on smashing hotels and get into heavy drugs and stuff, and their personal lives just don’t seem to be happy.
“Success, to me, would be to communicate, and maybe discover a new form of communication, whatever it would be. I don’t know. I might have been an explorer – I may have been an astronaut. As long as I’m discovering something.”
SAHB split soon after headlining the Reading Festival in 1977. Macoska was present and has included a set of pictures from the show in her photobook, Alex Harvey: Last of the Teenage Idols. It also includes shots of Harvey, his band and friends on and off stage, with extended captions where Macoska puts each set in context and explains her memories of the moments.
She says: “It was wonderful to find the interview transcripts and relive the moment I met Alex. He became my mentor and my friend.
“It’s a real shame SAHB were around before the MTV era – if they’d been there when making videos was a must they’d have got the mainstream recognition they deserved.
“Just thinking about the kind of movie Alex might have made is amazing. He and SAHB are legends.”
Full details and book purchase information is at www.alexharveybook.com