What does it sound like?:
Bruce Thomas was the bass player in a small country-rock band called Quiver in the early 1970’s, a band which never really got further than a support act on the college circuit and their two, slow- selling albums on Warner Bros.
The band joined forces with a Scottish folk duo called The Sutherland Brothers, in 1973. The brothers had 2 albums on Island, a horde of good songs and Quiver needed good songs when, after just a few gigs, their singer and songwriter upped and left. Over the next year, Bruce Thomas found himself constantly at odds with Gavin Sutherland (not difficult, by all accounts) and, during The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver’s 1974 European Tour, Bruce was asked to leave. The band was about to go into the studio so asked Tex Comer from Ace to fill in on bass for a few gigs. The brothers then tried to persuade Comer to join their band.
Paul Carrack, Ace’s singer, had never written a song before but the possibility that his friend could be tempted to leave by a band with a better budget and better songs prompted him to sit down and write:
“Well, your friends with their fancy persuasion
Don’t admit that it’s part of a scheme
But I can’t help but have my suspicion
‘Cause I ain’t quite as dumb as I seem
And you said you was never intending
To break up our scene in this way
But there ain’t any use in pretending
It could happen to us any day”
He added a catchy chorus, called his first song How Long, persuaded Tex to come back and Ace had their one and only hit with that, their best song. Gavin Sutherland picked up the bass gig and both bands moved on. Bruce Thomas was never heard of again.
The Sutherland Brothers have had their 8 albums re-released in this box-set from the excellent people at Cherry Red Records. The 8 albums start with 1971’s “The Sutherland Brothers Band” and end with 1979’s “When The Night Comes Down.” You get 105 tracks, including 19 bonus tracks, some from American versions of albums, and some previously unreleased.
That first Sutherland Brothers album contains arguably, their best song, The Pie. It is a song I have loved for 48 years, still features on multiple playlists, and is a perfect example of Iain Sutherland’s song writing and their intuitive harmonies. I still think the brothers swap harmonies after the first verse – it is alchemy. It was released as a single and was a minor hit in July ’72. However, it is not the only gem on that first album. Produced by Muff Winwood, they seem to have arrived as a fully formed band. The songs are great and the production let’s them shine. I Was In Chains is a folk song which builds wonderfully and Midnight Avenue is a cracker of a song. The strange thing here is that younger brother Gavin writes every song, except The Pie. Fairly soon, Iain took over as the dominant writer (In the words of Tim Renwick, “Iain used to turn up with 80 songs for each album.”)
The 2nd album, Lifeboat, was credited just to The Sutherland Brothers. Again produced by Muff Winwood, it featured a host of great names of ‘70’s music – Dave Mattacks, Rabbit Bundrick and Steve Winwood whose piano on Real Love is worth the price of admission on its own. One of Gavin’s songs, Sailing, was recorded at these sessions and was released as a single, but left off the album. As the album was being finished the brothers decided to hook up with Quiver. A few tracks were quickly recorded at Island Studios and were put on the American version of the album. One of these, in fact the first song they recorded together, was You Got Me Anyway. It was rushed out as a single in the States and got to No.20. The band was signed up for a 10 week tour of the U.S with Elton John and they were off to the races.
The 3rd album, Dream Kid, is in my Top 10 albums from the 1970’s. It still sounds great, has really strong songs, with several tracks flowing into the next, which gave it (whisper it,) a concept feel. Tim Renwick absolutely shines on guitar and I am still convinced that a lot of Mark Knopfler’s Strat sound came from listening to Tim.
And so it goes on – album after album of terrific songs. Only the 6th album, Slipstream, flags a bit but one out of eight is not a bad return.
This collection demonstrates the breadth of the brothers’ song writing and what a shit-hot band Quiver were. Keyboard player, Peter Woods, co-wrote Year of the Cat with Al Stewart and he and Tim are all over that album. Peter’s post-Quiver CV is impressive – Dylan, Lou Reed, Cyndi Lauper, Roger Waters, Joan Armatrading…and he died terribly young, at just 43.
I had 7 of these albums but, for some reason that I cannot fathom, didn’t buy the final album. The Brothers were back on their own, on CBS, and the label threw a shed-load of money at them to go to LA and make an album with session players like Mike Baird, Bob Glaub, Rick Zito, Jim Horn and Steve Porcaro. Well, the album is a belter. Muscular, well played and with strong songs, it is a real find for me.
The brothers have continued to release albums but always solo. It is interesting that, of the 105 tracks here, Iain “outwrote” his younger brother about 2 to 1. But Gavin wrote Sailing so, you would imagine, never needs to work again. I always wondered how that affected the dynamic between them.
SB&Q were a terrific live band so it’s a shame that there are no extra live tracks on here. There have been rumours for years of a Rockpalast gig lying around (although it’s not on their archive website)so, now that many of those are being released, I have fingers crossed for a Suths one.
The albums are all packed with great song after great song (man, could Iain write a chorus) and all are sung really well and played beautifully.
This is a brilliant collection. Well packaged, with a terrific booklet full of notes, photos and posters as well as quotes from Iain, Gavin and members of the band.
Voting for my re-release of the Year has now been closed.
What does it all *mean*?
It means I was right all along to bang on about this little band.
Goes well with…
Anything, anytime, day or night.
27th September 2019
Might suit people who like…
Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe, Squeeze, Heads, Hands & Feet