The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

On the Test

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The "Test," of course, is the Old Grey Whistle Test, doyen of British rock television programming and the repository of some of the most spectacular video performances in the entire BBC archive. Certainly fans of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band think so and, if On the Test has one major failing, it is that it's an audio-disc alone. To truly appreciate these performances, you need to see them, as well. The original SAHB made just two appearances on the show, in December 1973 and May 1975, but both are legendary, the first especially so. Performing a fiery "Faith Healer" and a mesmerizing "Next," it was this broadcast that powered the band towards their eventual superstardom. At a time when Jacques Brel was simply a name dropped by David Bowie, Harvey's leering, lurid recitation of a homoerotic hell stuffed with army whorehouses and gonorrhea, while a masked string section sawed away behind him, was leagues away from Bowie's effete renditions of the same writer's "Amsterdam" and "My Death." Two years later, "Give My Compliments to the Chef" and the forthcoming hit single "Delilah" were similarly spellbinding ("Chef" was subsequently included on Whistle Test's DVD collection). For these four tracks alone, On the Test is a worthwhile purchase. However, though SAHB's time was up on Whistle Test, three further tracks -- bonuses, if you will -- continue the story. "Boston Tea Party" was taken from a 1976 Top of the Pops appearance, and captures the band enjoying their second big hit, while "Pick It Up and Kick It" and "Smouldering" date from the 's brief and miserable sojourn without Alex Harvey -- under the name, naturally, of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Without Alex). They'd made it back to Whistle Test, but it's a different band, a different dynamic, and it really wasn't very good. So just hit "stop" and go back to the beginning. The faith healer is still waiting.