Apparently, it was 37 years ago this September that Canadian prog-rock supremos RUSH, released what many (myself included) consider to be their finest album: the epic ‘A FAREWELL TO KINGS’. Reading this recently on Face Book, I stepped back in time to 1977; and my first encounter with this classic work. Here’s the story….
Those readers old enough to remember the 70s will know that it was a fantastic era for rock music of all types. But apart from word-of-mouth, in those pre-internet days, there were precious little ways to hear about, or find out about new music. The chief source of information was BBC 2’s ‘THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST’, hosted by ‘Whispering Bob’ Harris; who we teenage rockers considered to be the most musically knowledgeable bloke on Earth!
Now, the OGWT was aired late on a Tuesday night, and never repeated; and there were no means to record it back then; so if you missed it, you missed it for ever! This wasn’t a problem if you were home on a Tuesday evening, of course. The problem was that three stops down the line from where I lived was a pub called ‘The Green Gate’ (now, sadly, a McDonalds!) which held a ‘Heavy Rock Night’ (you’ve guessed it!), every Tuesday evening! This was an event that I rarely missed for years, in spite of the necessary evil of missing the OGWT and all the exposure to new sounds that it proffered.
So, one Tuesday evening in late ’77, there I was at ‘The Green Gate’ watching the regular house band (who I think were called Tonix) covering ‘Smoke On The Water’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, or some such classic, when in walks the girl I was going out with at the time (who’s name I honestly don’t recall), and within a few minutes we were rowing about something or other. Well, whatever it was about, I got so annoyed with her that I buggered off home thinking ‘Well, at least I’ll catch the end of the Whistle Test’.
And sure enough I did. I put the telly on, tuned it to BBC 2, and ‘Whispering Bob’ was just saying (in his inimitable way) something like ‘Here is Rush on stage in Toronto performing ‘Xanadu’ from their new album ‘A Farewell To Kings”. Who the hell are Rush?’ I thought. There they were – a band unknown to me at the time – a drummer almost invisible behind the biggest drum/percussion kit I’d ever seen; a guitarist playing weird, mysterious-sounding chords on a twin necked Gibson; and most remarkable of all, a bassist playing a twin necked Rickenbacker whilst singing AND playing keyboards! Well after a few seconds of ‘Xanadu’ I was a Rush fan!
It was just what I wanted to hear at just the right time. I was sick of the New Wave/Punk Rock thing; and radio DJs and the music press telling us that the old ‘dinosaur’ Prog-Rock and heavy Rock bands were a thing of the past – even though venues like ‘The Green Gate’ were packed with punters every Tuesday, listening to classic rock, and eschewing the Punk/New Wave thing with a vengeance! The problem was that there was precious little new Prog or Heavy Rock being recorded because the record companies believed the out of touch DJs and music press; And then there was this Canadian band called Rush!
Rush’s albums had only been available as imports up until ‘A Farewell To Kings’ was released in Britain. A 12-inch EP was released by Mercury Records, showcasing 4 Rush songs: ‘Closer To The Heart’ from the new album; along with ‘Anthem’ from ‘Fly By Night’ (1974); ‘Bastille Day’ from ‘Caress Of Steel’ (1975); and ‘The Temples Of Syrinx’ from ‘2112’ (1976). Well I bought the 12-inch, and the new album; then over the next couple of weeks got my hands on the whole Rush back-catalogue which had all now been released in the UK. But I had to wait until May ’79 before I first saw the band live (at Hammersmith Odeon). That was a gig to remember!
After all these years, ‘Xanadu’ by Rush remains my favourite Prog-Rock track (beating STRIFE’s ‘Sky’ into 2nd place; and MMEB’s ‘Blinded By The Light’ into 3rd). But most of the early Rush material is deeply ingrained in my mind – their work (especially ‘A Farewell To Kings’) is to a large extent, the soundtrack to my late-teens! My thanks to ‘Whispering Bob’ and a nameless ex-girlfriend for a sequence of events that introduced me to a band who have given me a great deal of pleasure for many years! PTMQ.