Desert Psychlist does not review tribute albums, not because we don't enjoy them but simply because we prefer to review albums by bands promoting their own work, today though we are making an exception. Why are we breaking our own rules you may ask, well the reason is that the band who are the recipients of this tribute are a band very close to our hearts, a Welsh band from the 70's who didn't get quite the same breaks or hit the same levels of success as their English contemporaries Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple but were equally as important and integral in the evolution of heavy rock music in the UK. The band we are talking about is of course Budgie, a trio from Cardiff whose classic line up of Burke Shelley (bass/vocals); Tony Bourge (guitar) and Ray Phillips (drums) made three albums on the spin that have since become cult classics and are, right up to the present day, still causing first time listeners to step back in amazement and awe. Those three albums "Budgie", "Squawk" and " Never Turn Your Back On A Friend" saw Budgie filling that musical middle ground between Led Zeppelin's heavy blues and Black Sabbath's heavier proto-doom/metal, it was a sound that in a perfect world should have seen the band reaping rich rewards, unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world and bad decisions, poor management and just old fashioned bad luck conspired to hold them back. For those of us lucky enough to be around at the time and who were aware of the band the fact that Budgie were not going on massive world tours or spending all their time trying to break the USA was somewhat of a boon, the hopes of getting to see any of the big three of British rock live was becoming increasingly rare while being able to see Budgie was, thanks to their incessant presence on the UK club circuit, almost unavoidable and a Budgie show was not something you would ever want to avoid. Although over the years the band continued to make great albums, notably "In For The Kill" (Pete Boot replacing Ray Phillips), and "Bandolier" (Steve Williams replacing Pete Boot), they never quite reached that same level of hard rock grittiness and heavy metal bite they achieved on those first three albums.
Sadly Budgie stalwart and main man Burke Shelley died last year (2022) and Budgie as a band were to fly no more but their legend lives on and Pale Wizard Records are celebrating that legend with the release of "Never Turn Your Back On A Friend: 50 Years Later" a tribute to what many consider to be the bands best album, it is a release that sees artists from right across the board putting their own spin on songs from "Never Turn Your Back On a Friend" plus some other iconic Budgie songs, it is a true labour of love and one that we are not ashamed to say sent a shiver of delight hurtling down our spines and brought a nostalgic tear to our eyes.
Alunah kick things off with what is probably Budgie's most well known song "Breadfan" and to be totally honest Desert Psychlist was more than a little apprehensive about how they were going to approach this number, the song is rightfully a cult classic and screwing this up could well of brought some serious critical shade come tumbling Alunah's way. Well any apprehension we may have had went flying out the window as soon as that finger blurring riff hit our ears and Sian Greenaway's powerful vocal exploded into the songs opening verse. Alunah absolutely nail it by sticking fairly rigidly to the original version while still managing to stamp their own personality all over the song, the insertion of flute and the slight echo on Greenaway's vocal in the songs quieter section is a stroke of genius, so much so that anyone touting Metallica's version as the definitive cover of this Budgie classic may have to have a serious rethink after hearing this.
Next up is Firegarden's cover of Budgie's cover of Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go", again it is not too far removed from Budgie's version of the song except maybe for having a little more fire in the solo. Budgie's version was an exhilarating romp from start to finish, this is no different
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell get the honour of taking on "You Know I'll Always Love You", one of Budgie's lesser known songs. The original was somewhat laid back and flowery but in the Admiral's hands it becomes a quirky rocker drenched in dissonance and distortion, nice work lads.
Regulas rock up next with "You're The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk", this is the one song on this tribute/homage/celebration that boasts a vocal closest to Burke Shelley's distinctive helium howl, it is also the one song that gets closest to capturing that original Budgie sound.
"In The Grip Of The Tyrefitter's Hand", is another Budgie song that fans would not want messed around with too much and thankfully Syncolima respect that by playing the song almost note for note with the only difference being the elements of grainy gruffness guitarist Josh Morgan brings to the vocals.
"Riding My Nightmare" was always a song that felt more California than it did Cardiff, so who better to get to cover it than San Diego's Great Electric Quest, the band adding to the songs West Coast feel with some lovely harmonised vocal interplay, gentle strummed guitars and beautifully executed lead work.
British underground rock royalty Sergeant Thunderhoof get to close the "Never Turn Your Back On A Friend" section of this release with "Parents", the song was always a highlight of any Budgie show and it proves to be no less a highlight here either. Vocalist Dan Flitcroft may not possess the same piercing upper range Burke Shelley brought to the original but his smoothness of tone and clarity more than make up for that, his voice is perfect for a song of this magnitude. The guitar work on this cover is also outstanding and it is hard at times to believe that it is the Hoof's Mark Sayer and not the great Tony Bourge who is wailing away on those six strings.
Next up we get three songs from different periods of Budgie's career
"Guts", originally appeared on the bands debut "Budgie" and is covered here by Vancouver's La Chinga, the band perfectly capturing that proto-metallic stutter that was such a major factor of the originals appeal
"Forearm Smash" is a song that appeared on Budgie's 1980 album "Power Supply" and saw John Thomas taking over guitar duties from Tony Bourge. Low Voltage are the band tasked with covering this slice of metallic rock'n'roll and they do so with all the necessary vim and vigour you could possibly hope for.
Last but not least we have Scotland's Solar Sons getting down and dirty on "Melt The Ice Away", the opening number of Budgie's 1978 album "Impeckable". The Scots bring a much welcome stoner rock feel to their version, filthy guitar tones, growling bass, thunderous drums and Rory Lee's gritty vocals adding a nice gnarly edge to a song that in its original form was let down by a rather spacious and tinny production.
A complaint often aimed at tribute/homage albums is that the artists involved do not stray too far from the original songs they are invited to cover and so why shouldn't prospective listeners just swerve the covers and just crank up the originals instead. It's a fair argument and one we at Desert Psychlist have voiced ourselves on occasions. So then why are we recommending an album of covers that sticks pretty close to the feel of the original songs, The reason is because this is Budgie, a band that may be known by the few but not by the many. When Pale Wizard first tested the waters by allowing listeners to stream Alunah's version of "Breadfan" and Sergeant Thunderhoof's take on "Parents" posts soon started to appear on social media sites from people previously unaware of Budgie who liked what they were hearing and were promising to go back and check out the originals, if just two songs can invoke that sort of reaction then imagine what the full album will do. "Never Turn Your Back On A Friend: 50 Years Later" is not just a an album for wizened old Budgie fans its also a gateway for those unaware of the bands existence to discover a band who though never quite made it to the top of the mountain put out some damn fine music while they were climbing.
Check it out ....
© 2023 Frazer Jones