Classic Album Review - Average White Band

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It's no overstatement to say that the Average White Band are the funkiest thing to ever come out of Scotland.  Rumour has it that singer Alan Gorrie is so funky that even his heartbeat is syncopated.  There are also unconfirmed reports that guitarist Hamish Stuart had the accelerator in his car replaced with a Wah-wah pedal back in '72.  Now his car goes from zero to funky as hell in just 60 seconds.  Not that there is much Scottish competition in the funky states.  I mean Annie Lennox is a very talented lady but let's face it, Prince would have absolutely destroyed her in a dance-off.  Basically what I'm trying to get across is that the Average White Band are above averagely funky.

Which is great news for the people in Perthshire, because the Average White Band will be coming to their singer, Alan Gorrie's, home town of Perth this Annie Lennox is a very talented lady but let's face it, Prince would have destroyed her in a dance-off. September. Better still, the band will be playing their seminal self-titled second album in its entirety! This 1974 long-player was a real breakthrough for the band.  Their first release, after signing to the legendary Atlantic Records, it went to number 1 on the billboard. Plus, the million-selling instrumental single 'Pick up the Pieces' knocked rock chick Linda Rondstadt's 'You're No Good' off of the top of the single's chart.  Despite 'Pick up the Pieces' phenomenal success the band initially met resistance when they earmarked it as a single.  Legendary producer Arif Mardin argued against it saying: “You’re completely mad, it’s a funk instrumental played by Scotsmen with no lyrics other than a shout.”  The amazing thing was that the band were so good at at playing and writing funk that listeners didn't have the first clue that they were Scottish.  Hamish Stuart told the Guardian: "The funk fraternity would hear the record and love it, then come to see us and go: 'Hey, you’re white!'"  Funk is a genre where, more than most, the fans know how to spot a phoney.  It was confirmed: The Average White Band were the real deal.

As great a tune as 'Pick up the Pieces is, and the middle-eighth, in particular, is as sublime a slice of soulfulness as you'll ever hear, it isn't particularly representative of the album as a whole.  The remainder of the album has a smoother vibe and is more song-based, showcasing the amazing vocals of Gorrie and Stuart.  Something I've noticed about Scottish bands is there often seems to be a more democratic approach to recording an album.  There is often more sharing of songwriting and vocal duties and more songs written collaboratively. On this Album, Gorrie's songs seem to be more relationship-based. 'Just Want to Love Tonight', co-written with Ball, has such a smooth sound courtesy of some amazing falsetto backing vocals, sultry seventies strings and a dextrous but restrained bass-line.  On the surface, it has a sweet almost Impressions-like sound and seemingly sweet lyric but scratch beneath the surface and it seems to be about the complexities and frustrations of an open relationship, with lines like: 'Even if I'm not your only man, you make me feel as if I am'.  However, I've just watched a BBC documentary on polyamorous relationships, so I may be reading too much into things.

The wistful 'Keeping it to Myself' has a sweet mid-paced soul song that has a bit of a Willie Mitchell sound. As for the lead vocal, you could almost be listening to a young Al Green, there is a real character and sweetness to his tone and the songwriting and arrangement put me in mind of The Delfonics.  Of Course, it goes without saying that guitar and sax playing is flawless.  Like some of the other love songs in this collection, the lyric's are a little bit cagey giving the impression that the lads were unlucky in love in the early '70s.  

Hamish Stuarts vocal and songwriting contributions are similarly strong.  "I Just Can't Give You Up" has an insistent rhythm guitar part (along with some great It's a great set of songs that still sound fresh 45 years after they were recorded.lead), and some impossibly funky drumming from the now sadly departed McIntosh.  It's such an exciting piece of music that you could imagine it accompanying a chase sequence in a blaxploitation film.  However, it is when Hamish and Alan get together for a duet on the amazing 'You Got It' that the real magic happens.  It's such an infectious song and the performance has a real sense of enthusiasm and fun.  Whatever your mood, pop this belter on and I guarantee you'll feel better!  Almost as good is 'Work To Do' with it's Elvis-tastic lyric and gigantic sounding horn arrangement. Best bass-line of the album too.

The album concludes with the paranoia-tinged 'There's Always Someone Waiting', with it's ominous, slinky lead guitar. It's a great collection of songs that still sound fresh nearly 45 years after they were recorded and I can't wait to see them being played live.


You can order tickets for The Average White Bands show at Perth Concert Hall here

We spoke to Alan Gorrie about his career and love of his hometown.  Read the article here

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