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Yardbirds - The Story of the Yardbirds

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 11 / 1 / 2009

Yardbirds - The Story of the Yardbirds


The Yardbirds provided a training ground for three of the world's greatest rock guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Chris O' Toole, however, finds the DVD reissue of 1992 documentary film, 'The Story of the Yardbirds', lacking depth and quality

Any self-respecting music fan will be able to explain the careworn story of the Yardbirds to a class of primary school children at any given moment – educating them in a key chapter in the development of both Heavy Metal and Psychedelic music. But, for those still waiting for their introduction to this pioneering band – which burned brightly during the mid 1960s before breaking up in 1968 – let us look at the facts one more time. The Yardbirds – formed around Kingston Art School in the early 1960s - are notorious as a training ground for three of the greatest rock guitarists of their epoch; Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. While the driving force of the band came from its four permanent members - Keith Relf (singer/harmonica), Jim McCarty (drums), Chris Dreja (guitar), and Paul Samwell-Smith (bass) – their not insubstantial talents were augmented by a revolving cast of ground-breaking musicians, who between them developed a number of technical innovations, including fuzz tone, feedback and distortion. The story of the Yardbirds really begins when the Rolling Stones were invited on an international tour in support of their single 'Come On' – leaving a space as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club, Richmond. This gave the Yardbirds the springboard they needed, eventually taking them to international success in the wake of their hit 'For Your Love'. Clapton promptly departed following this, leading to the recruitment of Jeff Beck. Beck took the band in a more experimental direction, capitalising on the influence of Booker T and the MGs to give the group more of an R'n'B based sound. Relentless travel eventually, however, forced him from the group, before Page saw the band to a close in 1968. This documentary, originally released in 1992 and now reissued on DVD, tracks the development of this story through their three key phases – chronologically defined by the characters involved. First Clapton, followed by Beck and eventually Page. It is these characters which are the focus of presentation here. To a certain extent the group's recorded output is overlooked; examined only as a result of the personalities presently involved in its creation. Furthermore, tours, chart positions and career developments are all skirted around in order to give maximum limelight to the key protagonists – and for this reason the project can come across as a little vain. The story is told through a collection of archive footage, group interviews, life performances and a talking head segments from an assortment of characters 'who were there'. The problem is the overall lack of quality. Sections of the group's career are ignored, denting the narrative of their development. Interviews with the band have obviously been culled from other programmes over a number of years, developments are not explained leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps, and even the packaging is littered with mistakes. A band of this stature deserves better.

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