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Wally - To The Urban Man (2CD)

Genre: Prog rock
Release Date: 2nd July 2012

Label: Gonzo
Catalogue Number: HST103CD
Price: £10.99
Available: Sorry - Not currently available

Wally - To The Urban Man

I don’t think that anyone would ever hold up the music industry as a paragon of equity; there are far too many tales of ‘what should have been’ for that. However, some artists have a back-story so completely unfair, and which is so out of kilter with what they deserved that it leaves the commentator aghast.

One of the worst examples of this is a band called Wally. Led by the singer/songwriter/guitarist Roy Webber, they formed in Harrogate in the early 1970s. After some years of gigging locally they entered a talent competition sponsored by the weekly music paper Melody Maker, which, at the time, was the Bible of the aspiring serious musician, and their particular brand of melodic, semi-acoustic prog took them to the finals at London’s Roundhouse.

They didn’t win the competition, but caught the eye of one of the judges. Bob Harris was the presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test, the BBC’s ‘serious’ music TV programme, and at the time he was one of the most influential men in British music. He was very impressed by Wally, and after they claimed their runners-up prize (a chance to record a session for Harris’s radio show The Monday Programme) he took the band under his wing. He secured them a contract with Atlantic records, and together with another fan, Yes keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman, he produced their eponymous debut album, which was released in 1974.

Yes manager Brian Lane took over management duties for the band, and tours were booked and high-profile gigs supporting Yes were arranged. It was confidently predicted that this was a band who were going to take the world by storm.

This is where the story gets weird because even today nobody involved understands why the band’s exquisitely crafted, country-tinged progressive rock failed to set the charts alight and make them a fabulous success.

The following year a second album, also co-produced by Bob Harris, was released. It was named Valley Gardens named after a location in their native Harrogate. Once again, great things were expected of it; the side-long track The Reason Why was especially lauded, but once again the expected commercial success failed to materialise. This time Atlantic pulled the plug on the band, withdrew support, and the band split and scattered to the four winds.

Founder Roy Webber started a graphic design company, Nick Glennie-Smith became a much sought-after session musician, violinist Pete Sage became a sound engineer working in Germany with the likes of Boney M, and Paul Middleton became a carpenter in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

Some members were less lucky: guitarist Pete Cosker died of a heroin overdose in 1990 and Paul Gerrett died of a heart attack in 2008.

In 2009 surviving members, augmented by Will Jackson on guitar and Frank Mizen on pedal steel, re-grouped to play a reunion concert to a sell-out crowd in their home town of Harrogate. The show was filmed and this DVD, including a mix in 5.1 surround sound, is the result. An extraordinary band back at the top of their game.

It is one of the myths of rock music that ‘it is a young man’s game’ and another is that ‘you only get one bite at the apple’. This is certainly the case for most artists, but Wally, as always, have managed to buck the trend. In 2010 they released their long-awaited third album Montpellier,  which some commentators (including the humble scribe penning these notes) thinks is their best album yet.

They also played another reunion show, resulting in this superlative double live album. What a band!

Disc 1
1. The Martyr
2. In The Night
3. Human
4. Thrill Is Gone
5. She Said
6. Nez Perce
7. Green Room Smiles

Disc 2
1. Sailor
2. Sister Moon
3. Your Own Way
4. Sunday Walking Lady
5. To The Urban Man
6. The Mood I'm In


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