TRAPEZE – Midnight Flyers: Complete Recordings Volume 2 – 1975-81

In the minds of many, Trapeze will be best remembered as the band that gave the now legendary Glenn Hughes his first major steps in the music world. On three albums recorded between 1969 and 1972, Hughes showed a strong vocal talent. Whether tackling strange psychedelic jams (as per the Trapeze debut), or losing himself within deep, soulful blues, it seemed there was nothing the young musician couldn’t take in his stride. It wasn’t until the release of 1972’s ‘You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band’, however, that Hughes and Trapeze really hit upon a perfect sound, with a blend of hard rock, blues and soul that would rival the likes of Free in terms of talent. As great as the album was – and remains – it failed to chart, but Trapeze hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed. Whilst playing live shows for the album, Hughes was headhunted by Ritchie Blackmore for a new line up of Deep Purple, and fter the release of their ‘Burn’ LP in 1974 – a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic – Glenn’s career was catapulted into the stratosphere.

That might’ve been the end of Trapeze, who by comparison, were still a little, hard working rock band from Staffordshire, but guitarist Mel Galley and drummer Dave Holland bravely soldiered on. Hiring second guitarist Rob Kendrick and bassist Pete Wright, the reconvened Trapeze set about creating new material, and this box set from Cherry Red Records/HNE Recordings tells the full story of their studio recordings from 1974’s ‘Hot Wire’ through to 1979’s ‘Hold On’ – underrated albums all – and augments those with a collection of live recordings which demonstrate how powerful the band remained on stage.

Even with Mel Galley taking over lead vocal duties on 1974’s ‘Hot Wire’ album, Trapeze still sound like a hard rock powerhouse. In fact, for anyone unfamiliar with the earlier band, there’s no hint of this being a unit that had essentially picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and started afresh. There’s plenty within the vocal meter and stylings of the album opener ‘Back Street Love’ that could’ve been sung by Hughes previously, and although Galley lacks a few of the more soulful accents, he has almost as much power. To hear him in full flow over the kind of hard rock drum part that could’ve been culled from a Foghat LP whilst chugging through a blues tinged hard rock guitar groove, introduces the new Trapeze in style. There are times when the melody sounds like an amped up pub rock band, but the musical flourishes and sharp production takes the material to the next level. New boy Pete Wright punches through with a bass riff worthy of Free’s Andy Fraser, and a few of Galley’s sharper guitar parts strongly hint at the sounds he’d take to Whitesnake a decade later. With a raw guitar solo used effectively as a fiery instrumental break, the ingredients are all here for a hard rock classic. With the track’s coda flowing seamlessly into ‘Take It On Down The Road’, it reinforces the idea of a strong band that won’t be stopped. Armed with a riff that blends early Free with a pinch of southern hard rock, it’s the kind of track you’d expect to make Trapeze massive names on the rock circuit, rather than the cult figures they essentially became. Galley’s shrill slide playing has a real power when it comes to a solo, but it’s his meaty riff work that truly shines, and with moments where his gritty lead continues to give this underdog band a genuine edge, it has everything a great 70s rocker needs to make it stand up decades later.

‘Turn It On’ manages to be one of the most 70s tunes in the Trapeze canon, purely by way of working a pumped bass and funk groove in a similar way to Deep Purple on the ‘Come Taste The Band’ LP. With the later introduction of a heavier guitar part, followed by a solid drum performance from Dave Holland, the number builds very effectively, and even though the vocal inflections and melodies were clearly written with the departed Hughes in mind, Galley presents himself with a decent amount of force, leaving behind the kind of performance that marks him out as a solid frontman during this period. A weird futuristic keyboard solo works less well, but even that has a strange retro charm that might appeal to jazz fusion heads. In terms of punch, this track certainly shows Trapeze at their strongest, but the bluesy ‘Going Home’ is almost as good since it really showcases some great tones from Galley, whilst giving the new boys plenty of scope to drive the riff forward. The show’s effectively stolen by Holland, though, who manages to fill five minutes with a weighty, John Bonham-esque wallop from behind his kit. For a rock drummer whose work often felt quite “polite” tonally, this is superb. With that amount of weight colliding with a couple of slide guitar moments and an indulgent instrumental break where various backwards effects are applied, it’s the ultimate in 70s excess – and it’s marvellous. Stretching out massively on ‘Feel It Inside’, the Trapeze hard rock and funk blend really benefits from some massive vocals from both Mel and some guest backing singers, whom do their best to make this sound like an uneasy marriage between mid 70s Purple and prime Delaney & Bonnie. It shouldn’t work, but it’s through sheer balls that it ultimately does, and there’s plenty to enjoy within Galley’s guitar work throughout.

By comparison to the bulk of this LP, the funky strut of ‘Midnight Flyer’ comes across as a little dated, and this time, Galley’s blatant Hughes impersonation doesn’t quite work. That said, the track isn’t without merit, as it showcases Wright as a versatile bassist, and a spacious solo drenched in reverb conjures all kinds of hazy 70s memories with a relative ease. Considering this noticeably weaker track still has lots to enjoy – and even gives this box set its name – it says a lot about the overall strength of ‘Hot Wire’. It really is an album featuring band attacking on all fronts, proving that the departure of a vocalist doesn’t necessarily spell the end.

Overall, ‘Hot Wire’ is a solid LP, but when heard in tandem with the swiftly issued follow up, ‘Trapeze’ (1975), the band sounds even better. Part of that greatness comes from the return of Glenn Hughes on a pair of tracks, but the whole album is a musical treat. The opening number ‘Star Breaker’ wastes no time in presenting a massive 70s groove, but lifting a solid melody further, the dirty guitar tones are joined by a compliment of brass. This adds a sassy edge, occasionally hinting at a love of glam, but always used brilliantly. By comparison, Galley’s voice feels a little lost in the mix, but there’s plenty here to love. In particular, an unexpected shift into something funkier for a middle eight feels especially quirky, and Holland’s drums punch through everything with ease. It’s the sound of Trapeze Mk. 2 in full flow, and similarly, the heavy strut of ‘Monkey’ suggests a band with serious muscle. In fact, there’s plenty about this swaggering cut that would fit perfectly among Tommy Bolin’s ‘Teaser’ cuts, such is the hard marriage of guitar and drums, locking down a constant groove.

In an even busier mood, the brilliant ‘The Raid’ gives Holland a busy workout on the drums, across a tune that takes in rock, funk, a little westcoast AOR and even a calypso interlude where a hard piano dominates. Despite the kitchen sink arrangement, it really works. This is largely down to Galley’s guitar work carrying a superb tone and his rock voice by now reaching maturity. ‘Soul Stealer’, meanwhile, affords the album another blues tinged rocker with a sound that ties in nicely with the bulk of ‘Hot Wire’, thanks to another Free-esque bassline and tight rhythm, but unlike that better known rock act, Trapeze are unafraid to mix things up with an occasional nod to some of Edgar Winter’s AM radio leanings, and the presence of a little loose piano filling almost proggy bridges. The bar room boogie of ‘Sunny Side of The Street’ is less impressive, but even then it conveys the heart of a band who truly believe that solid, fuss free rock has its place, and as before, Galley’s grasp of a riff is terrific.

‘Trapeze ‘’75’ is pretty much all good, even before taking the Glenn Hughes material into consideration, but for a lot of his fans, it’ll be the Hughes tracks that’ll be the favouries. Taking a quieter moment of reflection, ‘Chances’ shows off some fine acoustic guitar and jazz keyboard fills, whilst Hughes adopts a vocal that’s very much in the soul mode he would further explore on his own ‘Play Me Out’ in ’77. It might not have been what rock fans wanted at the time, but decades on, its subtlety and sophistication gives a broader insight into a band capable of anything. By contrast, ‘Nothin’ From Nothin’ closes the record with a slow blues rocker that has more in common with ‘You Are The Music’, allowing Glenn to reach inside himself for a full bodied vocal which is a perfect fit with Wright’s huge bass sound. In some ways, the track sounds like the meat and potatoes of Glenn’s slower rockers going forward, but a couple of deftly applied slide riffs and heady drum fills give this the necessary Trapeze feel, and a moody instrumental section gives the whole band time to shine away from their guesting vocalist. Overall, with Glenn’s involvement or otherwise, ‘Trapeze ’75’ is a 70s rock gem – the kind of record that’ll give fans of classic riffs much to enjoy time after time.

By the time Trapeze issued their ‘Hold On’ album in 1979 (released as ‘Running’ in Germany a year previously), the musical landscape had shifted. Punk and disco had become dominant forces, and although hard rock and prog rock still pulled in album buyers, Trapeze were in danger of becoming yesterday’s men. That didn’t stop them giving their all – and in fact, bits of ‘Hold On’ are as good as anything in their catalogue. The arrival of Peter Goalby (later to find further fame with Uriah Heep) as vocalist and songwriter gives Trapeze an extra dimension on a couple of the best cuts, which seems to inspire Galley.

‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’ sort of sounds like Trapeze from the ground up due to its solid drum foundations and a wealth of slide guitar riffs, but first time listeners might find it a little odd to hear the voice most associated with Heep’s ‘Abominog’ in tow. Nevertheless, it shows off a fine sound, and Goalby’s smoother tones help to form a really slick 70s rock number that makes the very best of its simple hook, before ‘Take Good Care’ moves into even more of a Trapeze-like direction with a funk driven opening that, again, isn’t too far removed from a ’72 vintage. First time listeners and fans alike are more likely to attach any musical hopes onto the chorus and instrumental breaks, though, since the chorus introduces a brilliant world of harmonies and eventually given the room to stretch out, Galley’s lead guitar continues to give Trapeze a genuinely great sound that rings with confidence.

At other times, this largely overlooked sixth studio outing serves up some fine string and piano balladry on ‘Don’t Break My Heart Again’, a tune that’s more Chicago than Deep Purple; brilliant, slightly hazy rock on ‘You Are’, which owes more to AM radio rock than your typical Trapeze fare, and even some rootsy rock on the title track which, despite a bluesy guitar and punchy bass, has something about it that’s closer in spirit to Vinegar Joe than Galley’s future endeavours with David Trousersnake. It might feel a little disjointed as a whole, but ‘Hold On’ has the distinction of being the kind of album where each of the individual tracks offers something enjoyable, and worthy of revisiting. [Collectors should note that this box set features a bastardised version of the album combining the UK/US title ‘Hold On’ with the German-only “nudie lady” artwork from ‘Running’.]

The rest of this set is made up of various live recordings dating from between 1976-81, and as you’ll have come to expect from the Trapeze archive, these are presented in varying quality. First up comes a welcome reissue for ‘Live At The Boat Club’, a radio sourced recording from the 1975 tour, originally released on CD in 2006. Being an officially recorded document, the recording is about as good as you’d hope for considering its age. It’s not too shiny, and very live sounding – with everything very much played live, evidenced by Galley missing vocal moments throughout ‘Backstreet Love’ since the energy levels on stage are so high. That opening number tells you everything, of course: the rejigged, five man Trapeze are absolutely on fire and via some aggressively played guitar, Mel seems really keen to advertise the fact that the band have plenty of life in them, even without Hughes. Such bombast continues to power terrific takes of ‘You Are The Music’ and ‘Jury’ where Glenn’s vocals are somewhat missed, but musically, Galley and co really hit the mark. During ‘Music…’ especially, the unity in the rhythm section really couldn’t be tighter. Holland whips up an almost jazz funk edge in his playing on occasion, which really serves the middle of the track when Galley launches into a flurry of staccato, wah-wahed notes followed by a proto-metal solo that further reinforces the band’s desires to rock very hard.

The then new material holds up well against the classics too, with heavy-ish performances of ‘Star Breaker’ and ‘The Raid’ showcasing a very tough sounding band, and the boogie blues of ‘Sunny Side of The Street’ showing a little more variation. Pretty much the whole show edges towards post-Glenn perfection, but the real highlight comes from a fifteen minute ‘Black Cloud’ which takes in the studio version’s sturdy blues rock groove, expands upon some great solos from Galley and eventually drops into a funk jam that’s a little closer to bits of ‘Midnight Flyer’. In the hands of lesser talents, such things could go wildly off track, but this recording is really fun. The listener gets to experience various call and response phrases between Galley and Kendrick, whilst the rhythm section do an admirable job of holding down the fort with some solid work. Galley’s singing to the audience in appreciation errs on the side of cheesy, but it would have come across more sincerely on the night in question, of course.

In comparison, a 1981 show (previously released as ‘Dead Armadillos: Live In Texas’) is a little flat. The recording source is even better, but that doesn’t mean the performance is more enjoyable. It’s good, rather than great; for those well versed in the Trapeze archive, it sounds like a band who are a little too slick. Nevertheless, takes of ‘Back Street Love’, ‘You Are The Music…’ and ‘Way Back To The Bone’ show off a decent band, and when the band do decide to cut loose, the old magic is still evident. Even with new drummer Steve Bray filling some rather difficult shoes for the departed Dave Holland who’d decamped to join Judas Priest a year earlier, there’s no hint of Trapeze being on their last legs. There’s still enough of a spark between the musicians to make you wonder how a new studio LP might have sounded, had Mel not been headhunted for Whitesnake the following year.

For Glenn Hughes fans, the big draw here will be a recording from Arlington, TX capturing the final night of the 1976 tour. With Deep Purple no longer a going concern, Hughes has rejoined Trapeze on a semi-permanent basis and takes the lead on the lion’s share of the material. Leading off with a blistering ‘You Are The Music’, the band sound even angrier than their younger selves on the various 1972 shows in circulation. Galley’s guitar work is particularly choppy, which compliments a full on vocal, and the edginess is ramped up throughout a really sharp ‘L.A. Cutoff’ which struts with a massive funky groove behind the fuzz. The tape of this show is obviously taken from an audience source, but it’s very good for the age and limitations, still allowing for a clear separation to be heard between the guitar and bass. Going way back, there are stunning renditions of ‘Seafull’, ‘Way Back To The Bone’ and ‘Jury’, but the highlight comes from ‘Medusa’, since its quieter strains that lead off allow for a much clearer listening experience. Glenn is in superb voice throughout the gig, but by the time Mel steps up for a brilliant ‘Midnight Flyer’, it’s obvious that there remains more to the band than being the Hughes show. The funky style of this number works so much better live, since it allows Galley more room to work a great riff. Even with the recording source wavering on occasion, the live experience really comes through here.

The presence of Glenn Hughes on the Volume One box set ensures that’s a must-have for a lot of rock fans, but as these recordings show, there’s so much within ‘Midnight Flyers: The Complete Recordings Volume Two’ that is almost just as strong. In fact, even its lesser known material has balls, and enough riff power to win over all but the most demanding 70s rock buff. As a solid reminder of a hugely underrated band, it’s an almost perfect anthology. For those who remain unfamiliar with the Trapeze journey, there’s never been a more convenient way to get up to speed. Buy it for ‘Hot Wire’ and ‘Live At The Boat Club’, then slowly absorb the rest. You won’t be disappointed.

Buy the box set: Trapeze – Midnight Flyers

March/April 2023