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Stretch - Stretch

  by Andrew Carver

published: 15 / 1 / 2012

Stretch - Stretch


Andrew Carver looks at the career of under-rated 70's rock outfit Stretch, who have a new compilation out, 'That's the Way the Wind Blows', and who have also released their first album in thirty four years, 'Unfinished Business'

British R&B combo Stretch had an interesting gestation: The band’s mainstays, vocalist Elmer Gantry (Dave Terry) and guitarist Kirby (Graham Gregory), had soldiered on through a variety of groups in the 1960s before meeting in Armada. Kirby left Armada to join prog rockers Curved Air in 1972, falling into the orbit of well known rock manager Clifford Davis. As the story goes, Davis was keen to send Fleetwood Mac, whose affairs he was also handling at the time, out on tour. The only problem was, that the only member of Fleetwood up to it was drummer Mick Fleetwood. Gantry, Kirby, bassist Paul Martinez and keyboardist John Wilkinson were quickly rounded up to stand in for the missing 80% of the band. Unfortunately by the time the band was ready to do the States, even Fleetwood wasn’t game, so drummer Chris Collinge was recruited as well. Unfortunately the faux five failed to fool quick-quitted show-goers (among other things, John Wilkinson was not going to fool anyone into thinking he was the noticeably female Christine McVie), and the tour quickly lapsed into disarray. Out of the ashes the band Stretch was formed, and quickly settled down to settling a few old scores, starting with a 1975 hit single pointedly directed at Mick Fleetwood, called ‘Why Did You Do It?’ and an album in the same year entitled ‘Elastique’. The band tread the boards at around the same time as groups like Free, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Robin Trower and other hard rock chancers. That brings us to ‘That’s The Way the Wind Blows,’ which mines 20 tracks from the group’s first three albums and their first single, and tags along a bonus EP of assorted goodies. It comes with a thorough if hyperbolic pocket history of the band and its primary members, as well as a song-by-song commentary by Gantry and Kirby. It kicks off with a cover of Bukka White’s ‘Fixin’ to Die’, the band’s regular gig opener. The tune demonstrates the fine combination of Gantry’s powerful rasp, an old-style blues guitar blended with some more up-to-date electric firepower. The collection tends to steer clear of chronology, with ‘End Up Crying’ from their third album 1977’s ‘Lifeblood’ next in line, keeping a mellow, conga-aided vibe - in fact there’s a bit of a Caribbean feel to a number of tracks, as ‘Miss Jones’ the lead track from ‘Elastique’ kicks in some cowbell over a sizzling Kirby lead, while the main body of the song benefits from some wobbling guitar - courtesy, apparently, of being played through a Leslie organ cabinet. The stripped-down take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Showbiz Blues’ brings back the slide guitar and returns to ‘Life Blood’ - in fact only two songs from the album aren’t here, their cover of the Stones ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and quick-moving boogie rocker ‘Take You Down’. The other two albums get six songs each. ‘Right Or Wrong,’ another 'Lifeblood' track, lets Gantry really stretch his vocals with yet another song of a life in music gone wrong (or right?). Once again, the guitar interplay gives a clear hint as to what a powerhouse the band must have been live. The band then gets back to where they started on ‘Why Did You Do It?’ Kicking off with a funky guitar intro and proceeding to tear a few strips off Mick Fleetwood. The allegorical ‘Jonah and The Whale’ is a more laidback offering with a suitably pensive guitar solo. ‘Miss Dizzy’ combines a thumping drum beat and strummed acoustic guitar for a tale about a woman who, sprinkle all the stardust that she might, remains hopelessly square. It’s a bit silly and very 1970s. ‘The Way Life Is’, from their 1976 second album ‘You Can’t Beat Your Brains for Entertainment’, turns up the electric guitars, as does their cover of Rick Derringer’s ‘Rock’N’Roll Hootchie Coo’. The band heads back to their debut ‘Elastique’ for another foray into guitar distortion, ‘Tomorrow’s Another Day’. Despite the title, ‘You Can’t Beat Your Brains for Entertainment’ actually appeared on ‘Lifeblood’, and strikes a slightly comical, Alex Harvey style tone. ‘Livin’ on the Highway’ has the band tuning up the Freddy King hit. By comparison, ‘Hold On’, from ‘You Can’t Beat Your Brains ...’, cools things down, though not as far as their cover of Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones’ ‘Feelin’ Sad’, likely the band’s most melancholy and slowest number, which capped the album. ‘Down Home’ stays true to its name with some old fashioned strumming and picking and comes complete with harmonica break. Stretch may have been at their best when annoyed, as they blazingly tear through their anti-ligging anthem ‘If the Cap Fits’. The collection’s title track, another scorcher, hails from 'You Can’t Beat Your Brain ...’ and goes out with some extra reverbed fuzz. ‘Knives in Their Backs’ has Gantry sounding a bit like Alex Harvey and builds up for a tale about thwarted music business ambitions - a common theme with the band, likely with good reason. The collection wraps up with ‘Slip Away’ from ‘Elastique’, which starts off with some jangling guitar before seguing to slow burning guitar leads. The collection comes with a four-track bonus EP, containing ‘Down in the Bottom’ from their 2011 reunion album ‘Unfinished Business’, two tracks recorded by Kirby and Gantry under the moniker of Legs and a 1985 remix of ‘Why Did You Do It?’ that returned the songs to the charts. The two Legs tracks do without the bluesy sound of most of Stretch’s work but are quite recognizably by the same crowd, thanks to Gantry’s powerful pipes. The remix tune pushes the original’s funky bits to the fore for a lengthy intro that largely skips on Gantry’s singing in favour of extra horns and some unlikely sounding stops and starts. With 34 years past since Stretch’s last album, Gantry and Kirby apparently decided it was time to once again head into the studio to revisit some old Stretch numbers and favourite blues tunes. The duo sound fine on their return to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Showbiz Blues’, putting into a jangling performance before moving onto a re-do of “Why Did You Do It?’ with some of the original’s funkier percussion noticeable by its exclusion. The next tune, ‘Flames’, dates from Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera, one of Gantry’s pre-Stretch bands, which seriously lays down the guitar distortion, whereas the bass guitar really carried the 1967 original. There’s also a bevy of covers; ‘Need Your Love So Bad’, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, ‘Live the Life I Love’, ‘See That My Grave ss Kept Clean’, ‘I Just Want Make Love to You’ and the perennial ‘I’ve Got My Mojo Working’. It’s all decently done, but probably less than necessary for non-Stretch fans or anyone who isn’t a devotee of 1970s style Brit blues rock, while the compilation is a vital bit of neglected rock history.

Picture Gallery:-
Stretch - Stretch

Visitor Comments:-
5436 Posted By: Jules, Germany on 26 Dec 2023
"in fact only two songs from the album aren’t here, their cover of the Stones ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and quick-moving boogie rocker ‘Take You Down’" Of all the songs to leave off... I'd put "Take You Down" forward as one of their best songs! It's so powerful. A shame the promised album of new material following Unfinished Business never materialized.

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