Baker Gurvitz Army: Since Beginning: The Albums: 1974-1976 | Live 1975

Baker Gurvitz Army: Since Beginning: The Albums: 1974-1976 | Live 1975

Last year, I fell down a Baker Gurvitz Army rabbit hole with Esoteric’s excellent Neon Lights five-disc set. As I said at the time, I was convinced to purchase the collection of three studio albums that Esoteric put out in 2019, and later on, I was also turned onto the Live 1975 CD that was released last year. I found that I didn’t have much to say about either set but felt that a review of the collection might sum up to the length of one article.

Ginger Baker was already at the height of his popularity by the time he joined less well-known brothers Paul and Adrian Gurvitz and their hard rock style was blended with his penchant for afrobeat drumming, creating some dazzlingly complex yet accessible rock. I’ve begun to see their first two albums The Baker Gurvitz Army and Elysian Encounter as two volumes from the same set, even if the band changed vocalists to Stephen W. Parsons a.k.a. Mr. Snips between them. Elysian Encounter just pips the first album to the post as my favourite of the set as it has two of my favourite tracks: People and The Artist which both feature some excellent jamming by the group.

Meanwhile, the band’s third album Hearts on Fire is a bitter disappointment, moving away from the juicy, complex themes of the first two albums to a more streamlined and frankly dull hard rock sound. Even with Baker’s stellar drumming on display, getting through this album was a chore, and I’m certain I’ll never return to it.

One of my favourite tracks by the group, which was repeated frequently on Neon Lights, was Inside of Me and I was looking forward to hearing the studio version. However, I was instantly turned off when I heard the timbre of the lead guitar used, which sounded nothing like it did on the live versions. Furthermore, it felt as if all the tension had been taken out of the track because it just didn’t sound right at all. I had to conclude that Baker Gurvitz Army were simply one of those bands like Deep Purple which were far better to experience live than on a studio album.

To prove that, I listened to Live 1975 which features two sets by the group from Reading University and from the New Victoria Theatre in London. I was disappointed that Inside of Me was not included in either set, but positively dazzled by the nearly 8-minute version of People which includes a new section that adds a pulsating keyboard drone underpinning some electrifying guitar solos and of course Baker’s speedy drumming. It elevated the track to an entirely different dimension.

The rest of the tracks on this album are decent with the exception of Ginger Baker’s drum solo which lasts a full eight and a half minutes; speaking as a drummer listening to one of the most celebrated drummers of all time, most drum solos are rather boring to listen to, including this one. It’s a different thing to witness someone’s drumming visually, but just listening to the audio gives a drum solo a fraction of its appeal.

As to the packaging: Since Beginning comes in one of Esoteric’s clamshell boxes that we’ve seen many times before. The albums are packaged as mini-LP replicas, which I always love to analyse. Curiously, Elysian Encounter receives the gatefold treatment while The Baker Gurvitz Army does not, despite originally being released as a gatefold. I’m reminded that with the Fruupp clamshell set, Esoteric also did not deign to give The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes a gatefold cover. I wonder why they keep missing this. There are also no liner notes or essay: instead there is a 10” by 16” poster with blown up cover art from the first album obscured by a bunch of band photos. On the reverse are various promotional singles and a tracklisting for all three albums overlaid on a blow up of the Hearts on Fire album cover. I usually appreciate the band essays, but as all the information I needed was covered in Neon Lights, I’m okay with it.

With Live 1975, I was rather confused as the press release announced this as a remastered and expanded release with restored artwork, but there was no previous release with the same title. Was Cherry Red trying to gaslight me into thinking this was a live album they released at a time? Then I noticed in the booklet that tracks 1-7 were originally published in 2005 and tracks 8-11 were published in 2009, meaning this compilation drew from two different sources long after the band’s demise. As such, it’s hard to say that the artwork is ‘restored’ given that it’s a brand-new package. I skimmed through the liner notes as a lot of it was already familiar. Then I noticed the author was Steve Pilkington, who had also written the notes for Neon Lights. I reckoned that it must be a tough job for him to have to write two completely different essays about the group while still hitting the same beats. And then I looked a little closer. Sure enough, the bulk of this essay is exactly the same as what you get in Neon Lights, word for word. Given that the press releases for both Live 1975 and Neon Lights advertise a ‘new essay’, this is a blatant lie to customers, and it’s rather shameful to see how Esoteric have been cutting corners recently.

Overall, I reckoned I actually had a better time with the Neon Lights set. The strength of that set convinced me to explore the band further but I’m not sure I could say I would have been convinced to check out the group’s live work if I had started with their studio albums. That’s a shame, of course because they were a brilliant live act back in the day.

Since Beginning: The Albums 1974-1976 [3CD Clamshell Boxset]
Disc One: The Baker Gurvitz Army

01. Help Me (4:35)
02. Love Is (2:51)
03. Memory Lane (4:48)
04. Inside of Me (5:32)
05. I Wanna Live Again (3:30)
06. Mad Jack (7:56)
07. 4 Phil (4:20)
08. Since Beginning (7:57)
~ Bonus track
09. Memory Lane (live) (10:21)

Time – 51:47

Disc Two: Elysian Encounter
01. People (4:17)
02. The Key (6:23)
03. Time (4:06)
04. The Gambler (4:22)
05. The Dreamer (3:41)
06. Remember (5:26)
07. The Artist (5:13)
08. The Hustler (6:41)
~ Bonus tracks
09. People (live) (7:40)
10. Freedom (live) (5:54)

Time – 53:36

Disc Three: Hearts on Fire
01. Hearts on Fire (2:33)
02. Neon Lights (4:39)
03. Smiling (3:13)
04. Tracks of My Life (4:31)
05. Flying In and Out of Stardom (2:21)
06. Dancing the Night Away (3:25)
07. My Mind Is Healing (3:53)
08. Thirsty for the Blues (5:16)
09. Night People (3:21)
10. Mystery (4:08)
~ Bonus track
11. Wotever It Is (live) (6:30)

Time – 43:44

Total Time – 149:07

Live 1975
01. Wotever It Is (6:36)
02. The Gambler (4:36)
03. Freedom (5:59)
04. 4 Phil (9:41)
05. Remember (11:50)
06. Memory Lane (10:29)
07. People (7:42)
~ Bonus tracks
08. Drum Solo (8:30)
09. Hearts on Fire (3:34)
10. Help Me (4:40)
11. Sunshine of Your Love (3:50)

Time – 77:27

Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Vibes
Adrian Gurvitz – Guitar, Vocals
Paul Gurvitz – Bass, Vocals
Mr. Snips – Lead Vocals (except for The Baker Gurvitz Army)
Peter Lemer – Keyboards (Elysian Encounter and Live 1975)

Since Beginning: The Albums 1974-1976
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 32669
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 22nd February 2019

Live 1975
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2849
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th September 2023

Cherry Red Records – Since Beginning: The Albums 1974-1976 Info | LIVE 1975 Info