Alex Harvey was a Scottish rock star who died young, leaving behind family, fans, some great music, and a mountain of unfulfilled potential.
For many, his band – the Sensational Alex Harvey Band – performing a cover version of the Tom Jones hit, Delilah, will be their immediate recollection of the artist. The songs Next and Boston Tea Party, were also trademarks of the band, and there’s plenty of decent stuff on the dozen or so albums he released. But Delilah sticks in my mind ahead of all the rest.
I don’t have a rational explanation why I like the song and Harvey’s performance of it so much, but it’s possibly connected to the fact it was (back in 1975) the first time I had seen someone totally transform a song. Everyone knew the Tom Jones version – and Jones’ version was first class. It was also middle-of-the-road, and safe. (Ironical, considering the man’s reputation for frolics with the fair sex.)
But somehow Alex Harvey took that song and infused it with something raw and powerful; something more. When Tom Jones sang it, you believed he could have written the song. When Alex Harvey sang it, you believed he could have wielded that knife.
I have a live version of Delilah on my phone. Apart from a full throated delivery of the song by Harvey, there’s an outstanding guitar piece in the middle, featuring Zal Cleminson. In my mind’s eye, I can see him theatrically tip-toeing around the stage, in time to the music, a routine I saw him perform on television.
At the end of the recording – with the sound of the audience slightly muted, Alex Harvey announces: “See ya later” in his broad Glasgow accent. Hearing this greeting, I think of him speaking to me as if I was meeting him in Glasgow in Sauchiehall Street or George Square, on the way to or from the Saracen’s Head pub. It never happened, and it never will, but that little fantasy brings a smile to my face, and Delilah back to the top of the playlist.
See ya later, Alex.
(There is an Israeli connection in my life. When I first came here, in 1977, I spent a couple of months on a kibbutz. The volunteers were from around the globe and we exchanged stories of what we knew about each other’s homeland. When I told the guitar player of the group (there’s always one) I was from Scotland, he told me he was a fan of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. And he started singing Delilah…)