I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Army and the Airforce joined forces to fight the good fight. The Baker Gurvitz Army is, as its name suggests, an amalgam of brothers Adrian and Paul Gurvitz (two-thirds of Three Man Army) and the enigmatic Mr. Baker on drums and occasional vocals. Though you could argue that the band was influenced by Cream (really, who wasn’t?), their sound landed them closer to Uriah Heep: hard rock with delusions of grandeur (although you can count me among the deluded). Baker’s mercurial impermanence being what it is, the ticking timebomb in the room, it was only a matter of time before the Baker Gurvitz Army imploded. Before the ink on their alliance was dry, the whirling Gurvitzes had jumped ship (mixing my military metaphors) to join the Graeme Edge Band for two albums, Kick Off Your Muddy Boots (1975) and Paradise Ballroom (1977).
Kronomyth 1.0: Tales From Toadagraphic Oceans. Baker, the mad beserker, and a pair of hired Guns (the Brothers Gurvitz) storm through seven songs of hard/progressive rock (and one unfortunate ballad), for which the world is (mostly) a better place, if only for forty minutes. Not so much different from what the original Three Man Army set out to do, I suppose, except that Baker’s neverending battle against boredom produces interesting results such as the drum solo on “Memory Lane” or “Mad Jack” (another of Ginger’s odd tales). If pressed for a list of the 70s better guitarists, few of us would find “Adrian Gurvitz” ready on the lips, largely, it appears, because of underexposure in bands like this. He is, in fact, a smart and succinct rock guitarist, a more-than-serviceable vocalist and a songwriter of no small merit. “Help Me,” “Inside of Me” and “Since Beginning” (itself a worthy citizen of Yes’ Topographic Oceans) are as good as anything that the mid Seventies progressive movement produced (with the caveat that many progressive bands were moving to the melodic, short-form fringes of rock at that point in time). Many of Ginger Baker’s experiments were better than they were given credit for, and while time has forgotten The Baker Gurvitz Army, you don’t need to slavishly follow time and its preening ways as it courts the fickle present. Instead, go behind time’s back and dig this one out of the past; it’s worth the effort, particularly if you’re partial to hard/progressive acts (e.g., Uriah Heep, Rainbow).
Kronomyth 2.0: Close Encounters of the Tired Kind. You knew that Adrian Gurvitz had a brother, Paul, but who knew he had a clone? How else to explain the release of two Baker Gurvitz Army albums in one year and two Adrian Gurvitz albums (Elysian Encounter, Kick Your Muddy Boots Off) in one month? For their second album, Baker Gurvitz Army recruited a keyboard player (Peter Lemer) and a new lead vocalist (Steve Parsons, a.k.a. Mr. Snips), although the results weren’t appreciably richer than their first. In fact, I’m less enamored of their followup, as the prog label has clearly worn off and what remains is a ‘70s hard rock act with slight sci-fi/fantasy undertones and a great drummer. Prog fans will enjoy “The Artist,” which sounds like it could have stepped right from Steve Howe’s Beginnings, but the scent of prog is otherwise undetectable on here. Also, while I’m whining, I prefer Adrian’s voice to Mr. Snips. I’m not sure what the band felt they gained with the change, although maybe they were trying to lighten the load on the overburdened Adrian. Lemer is a good addition, but underused; a few more solos like the one featured on “Remember” would have been welcome. Elysian Encounter does showcase the drumming of Ginger Baker and the guitar playing of Adrian Gurvitz which, at this stage, are the band’s main draws. The material is good enough, but the answer to life’s mysteries do not await on “The Gambler,” “The Hustler” or “The Key.” Too bad, since their debut was promising and this album comes charging out of the gates, but it’s unrealistic to expect anyone, even Adrian Gurvitz, to have three great albums in them in one year. [The Esoteric reissue includes live versions of “People,” which gets an extended jam section in the middle that should appeal to proggers, and Jimi Hendrix’ “Freedom.”]
“Hearts On Fire is certainly the strongest, straight-between-the-eyes album of rock music to come along in the 70’s.” – New Musical Express full-page ad purchased by UK distributor, Mountain Records.
The Army’s label, Mountain Records, pulled out all the stops for the band’s third album: an outside producer (Eddie Offord), a small army of side musicians and multiple ads in the New Musical Express. While one can appreciate the record label’s enthusiasm to recoup their investment, I’m pretty certain that no one actually ever uttered the above quote, unless it was in the context of “We’re going to sack you unless Hearts On Fire is certainly the strongest, straight-between-the-eyes album of rock music to come along in the 70’s.” Now, my snide comments forty years on aren’t going to change history. The fate of Baker Gurvitz Army has already been decided, and nothing I can say or do will change that one whit. I might validate your own experience of Hearts On Fire, perhaps rekindle your interest in it, but I’m completely powerless to change the past. And it is a matter of historical fact that the band went out in a blaze of apathy and acrimony. Shortly after the album’s release, their manager (Bill Fehilly, who was also managing Nazareth at the time) died in a plane crash, providing the catalyst for the Army’s disbandment, noting that no one (apparently) was ever sorry to see the back of Baker. The last will and testament of Baker Gurvitz Army is mostly a testament to the talent of Adrian Gurvitz; he writes the lion’s share of the songs and lights it up with his guitar on the opening two tracks, “Hearts On Fire” and “Neon Lights.” Baker is largely AWOL on Hearts, although his brilliance reappears briefly on “Night People.” The knock on this record, other than Baker’s absence, is its arbitrary nature. The band tries their hand at hard rock (“Flying In And Out of Stardom”), orchestrated ballads (“Tracks of My Life”), disco (“Dancing The Night Away”) and the blues (“Thirsty For The Blues”). Sometimes they sound like The Who (“My Mind Is Healing”), at other times like Peter Frampton (“Smiling”); maybe the band should have gotten their story straight before attempting a “straight-between-the-eyes album of rock music.” The tragedy here isn’t the end of the Baker Gurvitz Army, since Ginger Baker bands spoil faster than potato salad in the sun, but that Adrian Gurvitz wasn’t able to parlay his stint in the Army into something bigger.