I don’t intend to patronise but I do feel sorry for Keef Hartley and his band. “Keef, who?” you ask. Well, exactly. The Rolling Stones’ Mr Richards is not the only ‘Keef’ that dazzled the rock firmament
Doing the job I do, I’m in an ideal position to pursue my interests as an amateur music historian. One of my interests is the Woodstock Music Festival. The seminal music festival that took place in the USA in 1969 stood for a lot of things within 60s art culture, not least for being the beacon to the so-called Summer of Love (a media creation, it really wasn’t). Anyone who wants to know more about the festival and what really happened behind the scenes should immediately seek out the book, ‘The Road to Woodstock’, written by the man whose idea it was and one of the principle organisers of the whole affair, Michael Lang.
Woodstock itself never made a dime, partly because the poor security arrangements turned the potential money-spinner into a free festival. The one part of the occasion that did make money was the film of the festival which played to cinemas, world-wide and made major stars of just about every who appeared within it.
There has also been, over the years, a series of CD packages offering an audio version of events and there’s even been outtakes DVDs and expanded versions of the concert including extra footage that could not be included into the main film. It’s also been a self-imposed task of my own to collect audio of every artist who performed during that time and every song that they sang to boot. ‘Boot’ is the operative word too because you have to peer into some grubby Internet corners to find this stuff. But find it I have and one of the main finds was one of the very few Brit bands that appeared at the time. Not The Who, not Joe Cocker, not even Ten Years After. Some say that the lost artist of Woodstock was Bert Sommer (he sang nine songs and never received a moment’s coverage) but I’d add to that the only other UK artist(s) of the festival, Keef Hartley.
Stuck in between John Sebastian and the Incredible String Band, the four songs plus four song medley from Hartley et al sank without trace (blame the manager who refused to sign the movie-rights paperwork) and it’s a crying shame because our Keef was a highly talented guy while his band was a nursery for a string of talented individuals.
As a band, Keef Hartley merged jazz and rock to present a progressive rock vibe. If you know Colosseum then you’re sure to like Keef although Keef had more blues infusions in his work. Hartley himself was a veteran in the music scene. In fact, when Ringo Starr left his old group, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes it was Keef who took the drummer’s stool. Later, Keef would become a member of The Artwoods (seen as a prototype for the band, Deep Purple) and then later attached himself to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
After their Woodstock stint, the Keef Hartley Band really got going in 1969 as a studio outfit, with the release of the album, Halfbreed, which highlighted Hartley’s interests in Native American Indian studies. Arguably his most famous album, it features a brass section to add dynamism. It also includes the laid back, yet forcefully sung Born To Die plus Sacked whose introduction has John Mayall ‘playfully’ sacking Hartley over the phone!
The Battle of North West Six album was released in 1970 and saw a slight dip in quality and moved towards R&B and away from the languid blues style of the band’s debut while the brass section added a jazz flavour.
The Time is Near…, also released in 1970, was the best LP of the lot to date, taking a more esoteric direction mixing jazz, soul, R&B with a splash of harder rock. The LP is packed with strong melodies and hooks a-plenty with those promised prog flavours to add interest. As you can tell from there above, though, the recipe sourced a wide ranging array of ingredients to produce something uniquely Keef.
The band’s next release, Overdog from 1971 changes the picture again, moving away from any promises of complexity by wiping out the prog elements and returning to a simple, rocking, presentation with a gritty, harder rock. This album is full on and in your face with added wah-wah flavours and a pieces of funk just to spice up the music.
Released in the same year was Little Big Band recorded at the Marquee Club in 1971 then Seventy Second Brave (1972): Genesis men, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel feature as uncredited vocal backing performances.
All of the above can be bought via the Esoteric label, incidentally, often with new liner notes from Hartley himself and each are well mastered.
The Keef Hartley Band is one of those ‘lost’ sixties and seventies outfits that deserve more attention that they get and if it hadn’t have been for their ruddy manager, they might have had some!
John Norris29th January 2017 at 10:43 am
Thanks for this informative guide to someone I am just vaguely aware of. I think further investigation is required.
Paul Rigby29th January 2017 at 12:13 pm
No problem, John. Glad you enjoyed it.
don4th August 2017 at 8:11 pm
Unless I misunderstood, ‘Halfbreed’ has a brass section and ‘Sacked’ has Mayall sacking Hartley, not the reverse.
Paul Rigby6th August 2017 at 10:24 am
I think there may have been a touch of misunderstanding and maybe a bit of further explanatory text needed from myself. I agree with you that Sacked was present on Halfbreed. I think that’s what I stated above. I also think that my mention of a brass section on Battle inferred that this was a new thing for that LP. I didn’t intened to give that impression. I’ve tweaked the text to correct that. Thanks Don.
David18th March 2020 at 7:36 pm
Hi Paul, you still haven’t corrected your mistake in your commentary about Halfbreed.
In “Sacked” it is Mayall who sacks Hartley. In your text you have the reverse – which is wrong.
Paul Rigby19th March 2020 at 11:37 am
Graham Grice10th March 2018 at 6:44 pm
I was lucky lucky enough to see both The Keef Harley Band and his Big Band. Live they took their recorded repertoire to greater heights with extended versions, a driving presentation and excellent soloing. Pity they did not get the breaks they richly deserved.
Enjoying the site.
Paul Rigby11th March 2018 at 5:09 pm
Thanks for your insight Graham and thanks for your kind words.
Nick Hudson2nd August 2018 at 1:29 pm
There is however one iconic photo of the Keef Hartley Band being choppered out of Woodstock. It has incredible resonances with Vietnam. Struggling up a hill with equipment and a helicopter rotating ready to take off. So perhaps some legacy after all.
Paul Rigby2nd August 2018 at 1:55 pm
Yes, I know the one you mean Nick. Thanks for pointing that one out.
Noel9th October 2018 at 10:19 pm
I rate the Keef Hartley Band so much, found them while checking out Ten Years After on Spotify, wow, where the hell have I been not knowing about these legendary bands. So happy I found them, my life is a little sweeter.
Paul Rigby10th October 2018 at 11:31 am
Glad to hear that, Noel 🙂
Mick G20th December 2018 at 4:48 pm
Picked up the album of Halfbreed on Deram from a skint mate in about 1974, I was a spotty teenager into anything heavy Black Sabbath etc. blew me away, me and my Bro instantly set about finding the rest of the albums which are all excellent in their own way. Their career is typical example of what can happen if one or two decisions go wrong, talent is not a guarantee of success. Listened to both Halfbreed & NW6 this afternoon while messing around with stock take figures, good to see someone is still talking about these gems, keep up the good work!
Paul Rigby21st December 2018 at 9:38 am
Thanks Mick and you make a good point re talent/success
Steve Small3rd May 2019 at 10:59 pm
Bought all the Keef Hartley albums when they came out and have to disagree with Paul on his choice of The Time is Near being the best.
Halfbreed is just sublime, after fifty years it doesn’t date one bit.
Staggering guitar by Ian Cruikshank, totally original, great vocals by Miller Anderson. What makes this album unique is the subtle brass arrangements by Henry Lowther. Just check out his solo album Child Song. A wonderful talent.
The brass arrangements (by Caswell) on Time is Near are wooden and clunky by comparison.
Just my opinion, but I did see the band live in 69 and 70
Paul Rigby5th May 2019 at 10:00 am
I wouldn’t argue with you Steve – part of the joy of music is that we can express different views on it. Everyone is right 🙂
John Bour3rd August 2019 at 3:13 am
I’ve recently read Dinu Logoz’ book, John Mayall, The Blues Crusader. I’m very interested in Keef Hartley’s band , so I will in the future order the book and hopefully some CD’s,if available.
Paul Rigby5th August 2019 at 11:59 am
Sounds good John – Keef was a good guy.
Neville Curwen5th August 2019 at 9:15 pm
Bought all of the KH albums as they arrived having seen them in September 1968 at Liverpool College of Commerce (now John Moores University) freshers ball thus starting a long love affair with the band.I was completely mesmerised by the guitar work of Spit James who of course renamed himself as Ian Cruikshank. Now finally, the band’s contribution to Woodstock is to be released as part of the 50th anniversary 38 CD box set. Hopefully, like other newly released sets (Creedence Clearwater Rev for instance) given individual release we may get an affordable release of the complete performance. The medley is already available as part of the 10CD box and sounds superb.
Paul Rigby6th August 2019 at 10:26 am
Indeed that’s true Neville – be interesting to hear the sound quality they’ve achieved for the full set.
Bob Salisbury22nd April 2020 at 9:35 pm
Evening All! Just come across this website… I had a copy of the Keef Hartley autobiography but can’t find it – looking for a replacement copy on line, hence the search: I live in Preston, Keef’s hometown, he lived here in his later years (though he died young), working as a joiner/barfitter I think. I bought the Halfbreed LP as soon as I got my grant to study Civil Engineering at UMIST in Autumn 1970, great LP, saw the band maybe three times in those times, the track ‘Born To Die’ is, as I always thought, sublime – fabulous guitar playing. ‘Who played it?’ I always wondered – the sleeve gave no clue; I never found out until at a do (in 2008, I think) to the celebrate the 40 years of the opening of the Amethyst Club in Preston: Keef was there … I introduced myself and asked if I could ask about the Halfbreed LP – … ‘Yeah’, he told be it was Spit James, ‘Miller Anderson’ never played a note on the LP’ – question solved in the best way possible – so glad I could ask the man himself. Just before the final Paul Jones Radio 2 Blues Shows finished, I wrote and asked him to play ‘Born To Die’ – he did! … he hadn’t played it before, and spoke well of the track: sadly, around that time I learned of the death of Ian Cruikshank (aka Spit James) but for me I could put the quest to bed. Thanks Keef, thanks Ian and thanks Paul.
Paul Rigby23rd April 2020 at 9:18 am
Great stuff, Bob – thanks for those valuable memories. Appreciate it.
Barry29th December 2020 at 2:08 pm
I have all the Vinyl, and CD’S of The Keef Hartley Band, bar one. I don’t have “Little Big Band” . They made one appearance locally to me in the early seventies, but as i was a DJ in the UK
I wasn’t able to see them live. Both Halfbreed, and The Time is Near, were brilliant albums, and still are. For past 40 years have lived in Sydney, and now Adelaide. A few years back went to see The Spencer Davis Group, and spoke to fellow Peterborian Colin Hodgkinson, who mentioned Miller was also in the SDG, but alas not with them on this visit Down Under – Miller is a star in hi own right, Look up Bluesfest CD, he also still performs ” Just To Cry” a live version can be found on Youtube.
Paul Rigby30th December 2020 at 4:22 pm
Thanks for your insight and memories, Barry.