Bedlam – The Bedlam Anthology (6CD Set)


Bedlam is one of so many outfits that we casually become aware of as offshoot branches from more famous rock family trees. Cozy Powell’s the main reason, The Jeff Beck Group aside, once he smashed the singles charts with ‘Dance With The Devil’ and went onto join Rainbow, he became the premier talked-about drum talent in the UK, and practically every British rock band’s number one choice when they tried to upgrade their line-ups.

Vocalist Frank Aeillo would go onto perform the same role in Cozy Powell’s Hammer, having previously worked in stage musicals like Hair and as part of pop duo The Truth. More significantly were a pair of brothers from Sutton Coldfield, just outside Birmingham. Guitarist Dave Ball had been a member of Procul Harem, bass player Denny Ball deputised in The Move, and both were part of Long John Baldry’s band. They also sang.

The brothers and Powell met as part of the wider Birmingham music scene. They got on well and developed a musical affinity with each other; the drummer at one point living at the Ball family residence (for those unaware Sutton’s an affluent area, and was probably even more so back then). The booklet presented with this collection is both thorough and interesting, taking you back in time to a city barely recognisable now, where groups could perform several gigs a day, dependent on the music they played, but evolve they did; creating sounds far wider than its claim as the birthplace of heavy metal.

The blues, or blues rock in its proto-hard rock form were where this trio’s roots lay. Dave Ball gave early Clapton a nod as influence during interviews, but it’s Denny falling under Jack Bruce’s sway that proves the most profound guidance for their Cream-like musical direction. You can’t hear Ginger Baker’s African or jazz influences in Powell’s playing, but then he had the likes of John Bonham and Car Palmer (and over half a dozen more) literally on his doorstep so making a big flash noise was imperative to keep ahead of the ever-braying local competition.

They made a go of it as part of the Ace Kefford Stand, with the former Move bass player as vocalist, and that morphed into Big Bertha as a forerunner to Bedlam. In between there were various hookups with Humble Pie’s Clem Clempson, Jethro Tull’s Dave Pegg and Steve Gibbons that didn’t make it a payday.

A six CD collection is a bit much for those not committed, but for those into hearing how the Brum beat sound developed, faltering along the way but always giving it a go, this is a valid listening experience. It’s for that reason that I’m reviewing these records from the last and fifth on first, for those odds and sods featured on them were chronologically recorded first, and show how the trio evolved and so too how many of the things they tried to put over were there from day one.

Disc Six covers the period 1968 to 1970, and listed as Anthology features rare recordings as part of the Ace Kefford Stand, Big Bertha, or just snatching studio time together when they could.

‘1812 Thrashed’, credited to Ideal Milk (a poor man’s Cream) lays not only the ground work for the Balls and Powell’s overall sound but the seeds for the drummer’s eventual live solo. It’s main theme is spiked out on guitar, supported by a distorted bass and many a crashing drum. Imagine early Black Sabbath having a go at Love Sculpture’s ‘Sabre Dance’ and you’re not a million miles away. But, from little acorns grow.

A cover of Cream’s ‘NSU’ fairs less interestingly, with biscuit tin bashing backbeats and poppy vocals of the time, though the solo section is worth catching a listen of. Freddy King’s ‘Hideaway’ is a great instrumental all on its own, with bits of it nicked here and there by many a band, not least T. Rex, over the decades and they offer a good rendition with lovely walloping bass, some hefty clout from Powell, and a guitar sound with just enough pop appeal to keep the non-blues fan on the dance floor back in the day. That number had been covered by John Mayall, as had ‘Steppin’ Out’, and also taken on live by Cream. This version’s a little faster, Powell gives it a nice swing that Ball’s guitar dances groovily to, while the bass again cuts deep.

Never straying far from the Clapton template, albeit it was the number he ostensibly left The Yardbirds over, we get a demo version of ‘For Your Love’ performed by The Ace Kefford Stand. Semi-serious dramatic or overwrought, you take your pick; it’s a primeval power ballad as Kefford tears into it with raw soul vocally. It goes on a bit though. There’s also a single version but it comes across wearier, and this despite the version featuring Madeline Bell and Sue and Sunny (top session singers and sisters). Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ is covered as a lean Brummie beatnik racing rocker before opting for west Coast psychedelic leanings, with extended soloing, and lots of wild vocal adlibs at the end. It’s certainly unique, I’ll give you that. ‘Gravy Booby Jamm’ is practically what it reads on the jar, this heavy throbbing guitar tune got used as a B-side single twice.

More likely to get successive plays in this household, are South African singer Sharon Tandy’s ‘Daughter Of The Sun’ where it’s a bit like Traffic meets a sludgy version of The Move, or what Blind Faith might’ve sounded like should Cream just let Stevie Winwood join them. It’s weird witchy lyrics one for the Sabbath crowd, and that whole hippy-pagan angle on the peripheral vision as the trio section developed further. The knockabout jug folk rocking ‘This World’s An Apple’ recalls The Who in their early days, and the groovy blues piano, is most likely played by elder Ball brother, Pete, a keyboard player on the Midlands circuit, who would join them in Big Bertha.

It seems every British rock band with a keyboard player claims they were influenced by America’s Vanilla Fudge, certainly a thicker stew with headier arrangements began seeing the light with Big Bertha. Plus, in singer David MacTavish (from psychedelic act Tintern Abbey, and latterly Beggars Opera) they had someone bringing in songs, rather than covers. First off from them we get
‘Munich City’ a proto-prog rocker come pill-popping blues, that’s heavy on the snare, with a briskness to the guitar before throwing the kitchen sink in and ensuring it’s a snug fit while some suitably manic vocals play us. ‘Funky Woman’ is a bit of a treat, part Steppenwolf, part Doors, while being heavy on the old school funk. ‘Ring Of Fire’ is a chunkier psych-soul rocker, big on harmonies similar to Cream in the studio. A cover of The Zombies is like waltzing with the living dead, lacking the innocent sexual allure of the original. However, hang on, there’s an initial strong soaring guitar solo, then following another verse a jazzy prog-styled organ and wah-wah guitar solo that refuses to die.

One step backwards, this CD ends with four Bedlam tracks. Drums leads us through distorted heavy rocker ‘At The Gateway’, but we might not to chose to pass that way again, but ‘Candy (Rainbow Over New York)’ is an interesting one, a power chord rocker that’s AOR before its time, or bubble-gum rock perhaps, with harmony guitar melody lines and acoustic sections, and strong vocals, though a bit too hippy wannabe lyrically. ‘Share With You’ is a trip down Memory Lane ballad, with prog bits and West Coast grooves on the side, while ‘Dave’s Ditty For Cozy’ proves a fun country ditty, albeit ultimately dispensable.

Fortunes failing, McTavish, Pete Ball and Cozy left. However, a tour of Germany was offered, and taking a brief leave of absence from The Jeff Beck Group, Powell was briefly back behind the drum kit, and the remaining Ball brothers took on lead vocals. Thus, Disc Five features this three-piece version of Big Bertha Live In Hamburg. From the offset, you need to know these recordings from 1970 were made on a Revox tape machines bootlegged by fans at the show. The sound is not good, and previous releases of this recording have tended to have correspondingly poor reviews. Despite which, if we put the sound quality to one side, and accept the vocal talent isn’t going to win over too many fans, the actual musical interplay between these three is impressive.

With a cry of “I, 2, 3!” we’re in on Yardbirds rave for ‘Dave’s Idiot Dance’ that acts as signpost for Motörhead. Cozy’s all over the place and with a surprisingly better-quality audio sound than I expected. ‘The Beast’ is deep and doom Cream-like blues let down by the vocals, until a faster rockier section with mad riffed squealing tonal guitar and a lot of action the rhythm section culminates in climactic power chords amid drum rolls. ‘Ring Of Fire’ is earnest enough, and whichever of the brothers takes lead vocals, he features a deeper crooning timbre that compares favourably enough with Jim Morrison. They must’ve liked The Zombies because they also cover ‘She’s Not There’ and their application of harmony Gothic chorister vocals is interesting but its downbeat muffled blues playing not, save for the odd cross instrumental communication. Live, ‘Munich City’ features those Ameri-Indian shuffle beats early Free numbers featured with added R ’n B groove.

But then it’s onto the good stuff, as without their regular singer and keyboards they retreat to what was most likely their Ideal Milk set: Cream’s ‘Spoonful’, while polite on the vocals, once it goes into a long instrumental section features more than able guitar and bass interchanges, and for those who’ll be picking this up for “the man at the back with the musical hammer” we get an epic length drum solo. There’s a decent rendition of ‘Crossroads’, Debby Ball’s guitar playing some lively little variations before it goes into Freddy King’s ‘The Stumble’ with a decent swing to it. I’m presuming ‘Never Gonna Let My Body Touch The Ground’ to be an original, it’s doomed psych-rock ‘n soul with an overall melody that predates Frank Zappa’s ‘My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama’ by a good many years.

Next up, we get a Gershwin number, ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ performed basically as a bass solo, and it sounds like Denny may be applying a plectrum here as it’s tighter/snappier hard rock sound than the over-amped sound he tends to favour (and I love) but still taking in some Jack Bruce style blues along the way while his brother widdles in solo to the side and Powell gets about as close to a jazzy Bill Ward as he can. There’s also pure ‘Powerhouse Sod’ feedback with speedy runs and sounds it took Billy Sheehan another 20 years to bring about to a wider audience. It’s far from being perfect but scores highly on a personal level, Denny Ball’s playing being a major factor among the tracks I enjoy throughout this collection. The set concludes with ‘Set Me Free (Freezer On Fire)’ another tune that will see the light of day from the trio in the future – rocking up with a heavy blues swagger and some thuggery akin to Free’s ‘Wild Indian Woman’ it’s a good note to end on.

The sound is not great, but the interplay can really impress, their own musical personalities were growing and whereas Cream were often playing against each other, these three seemed to be speaking on a musical level with each other. That between, we get polite introductions and attempts at humour that don’t extend beyond in-jokes and would hardly carry favour for an audience whose language was different shows another problem the bad faced. True, this was a one-off tour, but frontmen serve a purpose.

After MacTavish left they had tried out The Truth’s Frank Aeillo and Marie Popkiewicz, but that went nowhere. Following the tour in Germany, the trio with Aeillo now on board as vocalist formed The Beast, only to find a US based act claimed the name. Thus by default, we get to Bedlam. Denny’s time in Procul Harum secured interest from Chrysalis Records, and they were to record over in the USA with none other than Felix Pappalardi as producer. For these Cream fans it must’ve felt like they died and gone to Heaven.

You’ll find the original 1973 version of the Bedlam album on Disc Two while Disc One offers The Remix, presumably undertaken by Denny Ball. The original is a more cohesive radio-friendly underground music album, the rhythm section ruffles few feathers, and there are less moments of excitement arising. It transpires working with Pappalardi wasn’t quite the dream ticket they expected either, not least with solos being cut. The Remix features the debut album with a livelier ambiance plus bonus tracks (or rather ones that had been cut to make room for one written by Pappalardi’s wife on the original vinyl edition).

An accent not too far removed from my own calls out: “A 1, 2, 1-2-3-4!” as the band propels forward in a manner somewhere between a racing early Heep, Lucifer’s Friend or Captain Beyond minus the keyboards for ‘I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)’. The rhythm section robustly going for a heavy beatnik sound, guitar unleashing West coast psychedelic riffs and licks but with a brusquer technique as vocals scream loud. Already you know Ball, Ball & Powell have come up a couple of notches with Aeillo, but is it enough? ‘Hot Lips’ moves between funk and a long slowed down heavier Cream/Blue Cheer instrumental section returning to funk out as Powell bringing a lightness of touch not captured during his time with Beck, among the wider attack of his playing.

Sarah’ is what really grabs my attention though. Moving between ballad and fluid cruising and grooving rock, it changes tempo and allows instrumental sections to flow. The overall feel here both musically and vocally is the blueprint for Colosseum II’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Down To You’ that would not appear on record until 1976. A genuine curiosity, ‘Sweet Sister Mary’ is a Brum beat pop ballad initially, gearing up to a semi-country rock groove, the back vocals only reinforcing that. Back to the action with ‘Seven Long Years’, Powell lays down the beat, wah-wah guitars pour out while the bass intimates a soul-funked beat over this slow blues number that again makes you wonder if not only Gary Moore had got hold of this record when it first came out but Phil Lynnot too because it’s not a million miles removed from Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’. Perhaps there’s also slight Mountain goes Rare Earth feel, due to Pappalardi’s involvement.

Failed band-name ‘The Beast’ is loud with brash guitars. It echoes early Man, there’s a little of The Move in there, and a riff rundown Jimmy Page has probably used once or twice. Fundamentally, a 12 bar blues bassline allows guitar soling over the top, with six string also reacting to vocals sung. Apparently, a party piece but frankly nothing to write home about here. ‘Whisky And Wine’ is decent hard riffing rocker with a lovely tone to guitar – Dave Ball was similar in style to fellow Midlands man Clem Clempson in many ways, though tended to sustain with less attack and play more expressively, he had also increasingly become more like Mick Taylor than Eric Clapton in the way he played off his brother Denny’s Bruce influenced bass.

‘Looking Through Love’s Eyes (Busy Dreamin’)’ is the Gail Collins/Felix Pappalardi numbers forced upon the band – Since the pairing also got credit on Cream’s ‘Strange Brew’ and Mountain’s Nantucket Sleighride’ you might consider this a potential plus. Another ballad, somewhat baroque in feel, Denny Ball’s guitar technique suits the song, you feel for Powell it was like pulling teeth to play the number. The drummer makes up for it by ‘Putting On The Flesh’ where he’s given free rein – Here faux Gothic chamber vocals give way to a pretty cool head tripping heavy rocker, full of riffs, rumbling grooves and a sense of despair, dipping into lighter airy-fairy-ish bit, the guitar never rushed, and performing almost as if in surprise during solos, but making them count.

‘Set Me Free’ is rebooted with epic riffing live, lots of effects-bashed cymbals for ambiance, slowly building as Aerillo sings out about demons within. Whereas Big Bertha live came from the same genetic pool as Black Sabbath applying sludgy down-beaten Clapton and Mayall riffs, you sense the Balls now aware they needed to sound a little different to count, took their own youthful classical training to heart, and arranged things accordingly, and if their keyboard playing brother Pete had been on board it could have taken them further.

Two bonus tracks are included. ‘The Great Game’ indeed features keyboards evoking pan pipes over some pagan blues-pained ballad, that’s heavy on the melodrama before suddenly going into an almost middle-of-the-road section, get a bit flower power before becoming more strident, While hit and miss, the arrangements and counter melodies between guitar, bass and drums are admirable. ‘Near The Edge’ is a genuinely good propulsive hard rocker, chords shimmering loud and proud while the rhythm section digs deep, vocals not unlike early Yes especially with its leading bass line and what appear to be Hermann Hesse-derived metaphysical flower-pop lyrics.

Taken in all, Bedlam on their studio album, had their power trio format down pat by now, and had begun tipping their hat to San Francisco rock sounds with one foot in the underground scene but the stadium rock of the USA was demanding a new hardier and more dynamic template. Had they brought their brother into the band, they might’ve more inroads in a prog-but-heavy manner. But, with an album out, off they went on tour, and it’s from that we get the last two CDs in this collection, both with pretty similar sets, derived from their album in a similar running order, albeit with some odd additions, but also aspects that took them almost back to the original trio’s beginnings.

Evening, all! Alright, how are ya?” is our greeting as we play Disc Three and all at once were back in 1973s, swigging Watney ale and listening to some rock and roll. Aerillo’s vocals are out front, but the music a tad muffled on ‘I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)’ prior to Ball’s guitar solo. Overall, it’s a leaner sound, a more urgent hard rock (with pop) approach, the deep-throbbing bass I love lost to make way for this more streamlined sound. ‘Sarah’ isn’t as compelling as the studio rendition, and oddly goes straight into Cozy’s ‘Drum Solo’ but the funkier ‘Seven Long Years’ proves more appealing live. Aerilio then sings solo, save for the odd cowbell and hi-hat being struck. Is ‘Mother In Law’ a traditional cockney ditty I’m unaware of? Here’s a couple of lines from it: “Oh, I love my mother in law, she’s nothing but a dirty old whore”. Somehow I don’t think they’d have got away with that playing some working men’s club up north back in the seventies.

Sanity is restored via ‘The Fool’ and once it goes into double time it becomes more impressive, not least because Denny interjects his ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ bass solo, Aerilio redeems himself with some healthy rock screaming during ‘The Beast’ and there’s musical interplay on ‘Set Me Free’. There’s also a bonus track with a number that will be the death knell for the band with them performing ‘Dance With The Devil’ for a TV appearance on US music show The Midnight Special (This is possibly available for viewing on Youtube, but may be slotted within a whole show). It’s a distorted loosely played heavy rock version, the Hendrix-derived section even more obvious for those who know.

The following year, for Disc Four, they’re performing to a radio audience in Binghampton, New York. ‘I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)’ now features an impressive breakdown into hard riffed funk rock, ‘The Beast’ with solid wailing guitar and shrieking vocals. The singer then declares: “This one ain’t got a title so we call it ‘Scrotum On The Tiddly-Bit’! It gets listed as ‘The Great Game’, is short, but interesting in the way wah-wah guitar is applied over a somewhat slow tune. ‘Set Me Free’ finds Powell giving it 110%, then we have a radio interview with the band, and there’s this overall feel that we’re listening to Graham Chapman perform in a Monty Python sketch and waiting for the jokes to come. There’s talk about a new album, then sarcasm regarding a farewell tour, so just how much they know about their future is uncertain. Fortunately, it’s brief, and they finish their set with ‘The Fool’, Denny on fire goes into a storming ‘Steppin’ Out’, Dave plays a bass solo, Cozy one on drums, then that’s it.

TV special and radio appearances a tour supporting Black Sabbath, all looked good in the USA. Only back home in the UK Chrysalis had decided to opt out of a second album, record producer Mickie Most offered a lifeline, wanting to make another single with Cozy Powell, with Bedlam on board as musicians. Seriously-minded musicians, the Ball brothers walked out of the meeting, and pretty much a music career. Powell took the gig, sessioning for Most too, with Aerilio becoming frontman for Cozy Powell’s Hammer, a band that was practically Whitesnake with a different singer at one point.

In truth, it’s very doubtful Bedlam could have gone onto be big as they were. Musically, the core three members’ almost telepathic sympathetic playing was their strength, and as you’ll guess, I’m besotted with Denny Ball’s bass playing. But the songs themselves themself often lacked potency, and could be seen as dated compared to their contemporaries if they were to pursue the hard rock route. They also lacked presence, this was apparent on Big Bertha’s live show in Germany but I put that down to losing a lead vocalist, with Aerilio they appear to have got an Artful Dodger character, in the mould of Steve Marriott, but more so contemporaries like Alex Harvey and Gary Holton, yet the humour persists in not coming across live. Without charisma, talent may only get you so far, that’s a horrific reality to face.

The live recordings are not quite as bad as others would have us believe when previously released, but you have to accept this whole package for what it is: a rare testament to a band growing up as British rock took the gauntlet and became a force to be reckoned with, not least its many Midlands men. That not all reaped the rewards is to be accepted, but, oh, how they fought.

  • Review by Paul H Birch.
  • The Bedlam Anthology is released via Cherry Red Records on 30th June 2023 (available here).

Track list:

Disc One: Bedlam – The 2023 Remix

  1. I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)
  2. Hot Lips
  3. Sarah
  4. Sweet Sister Mary
  5. Seven Long Years
  6. The Beast
  7. Whisky And Wine
  8. Looking Through Love’s Eyes (Busy Dreamin’)
  9. Putting On The Flesh
  10. Set Me Free
  11. The Great Game (Bonus Track)
  12. Near The Edge (Bonus Track)

Disc Two: Bedlam – The Original 1973 Mix

  1. I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)
  2. Hot Lips
  3. Sarah
  4. Sweet Sister Mary
  5. Seven Long Years
  6. The Beast
  7. Whisky And Wine
  8. Lookin’ Through Love’s Eyes (Busy Dreamin’)
  9. Putting On The Flesh
  10. Set Me Free

Disc Three: Live In London 1973

  1. I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)
  2. Hot Lips
  3. Putting On The Flesh
  4. Sarah
  5. Drum Solo/Seven Long Years
  6. Mother In Law
  7. The Fool
  8. The Beast
  9. Set Me Free
  10. 10 Dance With The Devil (From Midnight Special) (Bonus Track)

Disc Four: Live In Binghampton, New York 1974

  1. I Believe In You (Fire In My Body)
  2. The Beast
  3. The Great Game
  4. Set Me Free
  5. Interview
  6. The Fool

Disc Five: Big Bertha – Live In Hamburg 1970

  1. Dave’s Idiot Dance
  2. The Beast
  3. Ring Of Fire
  4. She’s Not There
  5. Munich City
  6. Spoonful
  7. Crossroads/The Stumble
  8. Never Gonna Let My Body Touch The Ground
  9. Rhapsody In Blue (Abridged Version)
  10. Set Me Free (Freezer On Fire)

Disc Six: 1968-1970 Anthology

  1. 1812 Thrashed (Ideal Milk)
  2. NSU(Ideal Milk)
  3. Hideaway (Ideal Milk)
  4. Steppin’ Out (Ideal Milk)
  5. For Your Love (Demo Version) (The Ace Kefford Stand)
  6. Born To Be Wild (The Ace Kefford Stand)
  7. Daughter Of The Sun (The Ace Kefford Stand)
  8. For Your Love (Single Version) The Ace Kefford Stand 9 Gravy Booby Jamm (The Ace Kefford Stand)
  9. This World’s An Apple (Big Bertha Featuring Ace Kefford)
  10. Munich City (Big Bertha)
  11. Funky Woman (Big Bertha)
  12. Ring Of Fire (Big Bertha)
  13. Time Of The Season (Big Bertha)
  14. At The Gateway (Bedlam)
  15. Candy (Rainbow Over New York) (Bedlam)
  16. Share With You (Bedlam)
  17. Dave’s Ditty For Cozy (Bedlam)