Bonnet; Graham: Back Row In The Stalls
Best known as a hard rock singer for acts such as Rainbow, Alcatrazz, The Michael Schenker Group and Blackthorne, at heart Graham Bonnet is an old fashioned rock and roll man. Originally slated for release in 1974, Back Row In The Stalls, which illustrates that R&R side of the frontman's skills, suffered from label indecision. Not the usual stories of not knowing how to promote the album, or whether to back the singer with a tour, but instead whether the powers that be wanted to be running a record label or a film studio! Not long after this intended debut release from Bonnet (although he had released some solo singles and had prior chart success in the band The Marbles) was due, DJM took the plunge and went down the film route. Bonnet did actually have a part – and one single line – in the resultant (and by all accounts terrible) Three For All and the music from his album did too, a single even being released, but under the name Billy Beethoven (the band Bonnet fronts in the film). The film flopped, the single flopped and then a further 7" under Bonnet's name did likewise, the singer told to record 60 (yes, that's sixty) songs the label liked in order for them not to drop him…
Duly dropped, the album was shelved and that was that until forty years later when Bonnet went looking for the master tapes in hope of finally setting his debut album free. However they were nowhere to be found and instead the album's producer, Kaplan Kaye, unearthed a cassette of the finished recordings. Thankfully they were in a good enough condition that Bonnet managed to clean them up to the extent we hear here, this CD version a distinct sonic improvement on that released digitally a couple of years back as Private-I, although the transfer from cassette to CD is far from cutting edge. Fans of the singer's later output will find the jump back to Bonnet's early years a jolt; twee cutsie pop/soul/R&R the order of the day. However rest assured that Bonnet shows time and again the strength, range and clarity of his then young voice.
From the thirteen tracks originally cut for the album, "Here's Comes The Rain", "Private Eye" and "Mamma Mine" do at least offer a rockier side that still hints at the edges of the chart scene of the time, while the album's title track and "Ade's Song" bring a slightly more sophisticated swagger. However, in truth, there's nothing here that stands out. The closing three, "Don't Drink The Water", "Dreams (Out In The Forest)" and "We're Free" all featured in the Three For All movie, although here too the formula remains uninspired, even if Bonnet's vocals remain top notch.
A further six cuts (which would appear judging by the crackles and pops to be vinyl transfers) are added as bonus tracks, the first four the a and b sides to Bonnet's earlier post Marbles singles, which if anything, outshine the album itself. While the final two are actually songs by Adrienne Posta (who Bonnet was married to at the time) that he was heavily involved with. The pair adding further interest, if not really a whole lot more – although Posta too can sing.
The liner notes, by Malcolm Dome no less, suggest that it would be a stretch to call Back Row In The Stalls a lost classic, although going on to state it stands up to the harsh glare of modern critique. Personally as a long term Graham Bonnet fan I'm delighted to have this release in my collection, but even taking that into account, it's hard to see this as much more than an interesting glance back at the early years of a singer who would go on to record much better solo and band material. In that light Back Row In The Stalls has a place, however as an album in its own right, there's not really much to recommend here… other than that voice!
1. HERE COMES THE RAIN
2. WHAT'S THIS 'ERE THEN
3. PRIVATE EYE
4. GHOST WRITER IN MY EYE
5. SATURDAY'S OVER
6. BACK ROW IN THE STALLS
7. SHE MAY NOT BE MUCH TO LOOK AT (BUT SHE'S CERTAINLY GOT A HEART)
8. ADE'S SONG
9. MAMMA MINE
11. DON'T DRINK THE WATER
12. DREAMS (OUT IN THE FOREST)
13. WE'RE FREE
14. WHISPER IN THE NIGHT (SINGLE A-SIDE, 1972)
15. RARE SPECIMEN (SINGLE B-SIDE, 1972)
16. TRYING TO SAY GOODBYE (SINGLE A-SIDE, 1973)
17. CASTLES IN THE AIR (SINGLE B-SIDE, 1973)
18. DOG SONG (BY ADRIENNE POSTA, SINGLE A-SIDE, 1973)
19. EXPRESS YOURSELF (BY ADRIENNE POSTA, SINGLE B-SIDE, 1973)
Added: June 19th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Back Row In The Stalls at Cherry Red
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