Late Starter – Mike Harrison

Mike Harrison

review by Andrew Darlington

From first art, to 'Last Puff', through days when men were men and trousers were flared, Spooky Tooth littered a long tail of myth, legend, supernatural fairy-tales, and albums in their wake, made up of what Rolling Stone termed "all churning organs, anguished singing and general bombast." But, widely liked, and highly regarded - the early beneficiaries of an Elton John song (Son Of Your Fatherin July 1969), with an experimental avant garde album (Ceremony: An Electronic Mass, 1970), and the original version of the Judas Priest hit Better By You, Better By Me, plus the spectacularly-titled You Broke My Heart, So I Busted Your Jaw (Island, 1973), they seldom moved into profit, in part due to bamboozling line-up changes, complicated by the obligatory hedonism.

Greg Ridley went on to work with Humble Pie. Luther Grosvenor became Ariel Bender in Mott The Hoople. Mick Jones joined triple-platinum MOR crooners Foreigner. Mike Kellie joined the Only Ones. Gary Wright scored a massive US #1 with Dream Weaver. And Cumbrian-born Mike Harrison quit music, complaining of missing royalties and lost opportunities. Until, finally lured out of retirement, he agreed to do one more album. Only this time he'd forget the progressive pretensions and sky-shooting ambition. Instead, he'd go back to the roots of it all, to the music that had inspired him in the first place, Otis Redding, Etta James, and most of all Ray Charles. Mike's cult pre-Spooks band, the VIP's had specialised in blues, with "a lot of Ray Charles stuff." So, from a potential full set list, he pared it down to just four Ray Charles specialties - the call-and-response Night Time, the anthemic Let's Go Get Stoned and the maudlin exquisitely-turned suffering of Drown In My Own Tears. With a tasty band on hand to provide expert musical succour, injecting Muscle Shoals fluency into Come Back Baby, through burbling Booker-T organ and chock-a-chock guitar, all recorded analogue.

But first, the album opens with Tony Joe White's Out Of The Rain - best known through Joe Cocker's hit version. Mike invests the desolate big power ballad with his appropriately cracked voice riding swelling organ and aching rasping harmonica. Frankie Miller's A Fool In Love kicks in with a more Robert Palmer strut, paired with the neon-cruising Bob Seger swagger of I Can Give You Everything, enhanced by Rietta Austin's four-octave answering vocal (her own album Cut Me Loose also comes through Halo). The Jealous Kind manages to be both subtle, and blunt by turns; breaking into a pleading heroically parched Otis Redding-style 'don't touch me', while Isaac Hayes' Your Good Thing Is About To End intensifies the mood. "I never lost you," he emotes, because You Were Never Mine. Until, rounding off the 14 pristine cuts, there's Otis Redding's plaintively reflective I've Got Dreams To Remember, etched out with perfect Steve Cropper-style guitar.

This is an album haunted by unspoken promises and soulful regret, where hearts are betrayed by love's sweet delusion and sinners pray for forgiveness, delivered in a voice to shatter the strongest of hearts. He might be bloodied by his past, but he's vocally unbowed. If he's not drowning in tears he's drowning his sorrows in gin, over ripples of immaculate keyboard. It's a heartfelt self-indulgent wallow, an achingly sincere labour of love, and a must-have for Toothology completists. But for the rest of us, with the originals little more than a mouse-click away... it will probably remain an overlooked gem.