SB & Q: My Top Tens

Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from the Beat of the Street album cover



OK, so this is where I start getting really opinionated. I have given elsewhere the track listings for the SB&Q compilation that was issued in 2002, with tracks initially selected by Steve Chapman, approved by Iain & Gavin Sutherland but then tweaked by Sony, presumably for "balance". But do real fans actually agree with much of what is on the compilation albums? Here's one that doesn't, so with that in mind, I've compiled my favourite ten tracks. They are listed below. Except that I've cheated, because I couldn't possibly take 150 tracks and cut them down to ten.

So, what I've done is created three Top Tens. The first covers the period up until the formation of SB&Q, taking in the albums made by the Sutherland Brothers and, separately by Quiver. The second phase covers the SB&Q period, while my third Top Ten looks at the music made once the group had split and includes all the solo material. What I now want is for other fans to e-mail me their ten favourites. I'll try to compile a complete list of the tracks people most like. Perhaps a record company will actually take notice someday.

The list is not in order of preference, but simply chronological order. As a bonus, I've included short audio clips of each track. Click on the symbol to hear them.


Top Ten 1: Pre-SB&Q - The period up to 1972


The Pie A classic bedsit ballad. The theme of this song was perhaps a little risqué, even for 1969, which is perhaps why the single slipped to the b-side in the USA. I guess that the idea of a guy trying to persuade a girl to relinquish her virginity to him - even when expressed so subtly - was not mainstream radio. Indifference and the girl's need to appear "cool" were all things that we guys suffered then but few people expressed the problem of such angst so eloquently. Apart from the great vocal and harmony, the outstanding aspect is the harmonising of the main guitar theme with the piano at the fade.

I Was In Chains This is a wonderful, folky song, with incredible, yearning vocals and a lovely warm acoustic rhythm guitar sound. The flute coming in over the final chorus adds to a spare, subtle production. It's also very tasty in its live version for the BBC In Concert series.

Medium Wave Lovely harmonies blend beautifully in waltz-time, with superb guitar sounds and a harmonica that Dylan would be proud of.

Midnight Avenue The whole of that first album is packed with wonderful tracks but this is a special favourite, even with its mis-recorded vocal in one verse. There's a quite restrained piano solo and, again, some delightful guitar responses to each line of vocals. As for the lyrics: they're lyrics about lyrics - the problems a songwriter has having to come up with a song under threat of a deadline.

Annie (single version) This is my way of cheating by snatching this song from the much-harder-to-pick second Top Ten, where it would have struggled against other great material from the Beat of the Street album. And actually, the single version is better, anyway, with its brass intro and the saxophone acting as counterpoint to the vocal throughout the verse. The song has a tremendous "live" feel about it, which shows why it went down so well at gigs.

Ireland Oh, dear. I feel bad about this. Over thirty ago, I, along with many others, no doubt, dismissed this as immature political ranting by people that should have left well alone, although at least it wasn't as bad as McCartney's Give Ireland Back to the Irish! Now, I'm prepared to admit that the notions suggested in this lyric have actually started to happen and maybe if the political will had been around earlier many lives would have been saved. I'd be interested to know Iain's feelings on his song with the benefit of hindsight. The tune is one that stays with you for days and the strings make it something of a big production number. Anyone who can write, "England, you're such a pain; so many wars and now you've done it again" gets my vote.

Space Hymn This is a work of art. It has a beautifully constructed opening and, with tons of echo laid on, an extraordinary vocal about the Second Coming. The close of the song has a pounding piece of drumming from Dave Mattacks, followed by a bluesy organ. And throughout the song, there's that piano from John Hawken! I believe I am right in saying that the CD version has been remixed, with the vocals brought further forward than they were on the vinyl release.

Real Love If we're talking about the recorded version on Lifeboat, it's great, with those trills on piano played so well by Stevie Winwood. However, my memories of the song are of the live versions, where not only was the piano still magnificent, but Tim Renwick was on hand to take the music onto new peaks with that soaring guitar. I came out of one Glasgow dance hall with my ears ringing for days, but oh, it was so good. To enhance our memories, the BBC should release at least one of their two concert versions on CD - they are each quite different and both worth having.

Sailing I love this song though I feel it has been so devalued by Rod, and even more so by Howard from the Halifax ads (how could you, Gavin?) but the original single tops anything done elsewhere, including the re-recording for Rock Against Repatriation. Gavin gives a nice interview on the clippings page, where he talks about the true meaning of the song and how Rod's version is something of a misinterpretation. The single was recorded and issued in 1972, before the merger with Quiver, though it is attributed to the newly formed band on the US release of Lifeboat.

Gone in the Morning The title track to Quiver's second album is a bit of a ramble and the vocals are buried, perhaps understandably, by the instruments. However, the series of guitar solos in this ten-minute track do offer a hint of what was to come from Mr Renwick. I might have gone for the more lyrical  Don't Let Go, from the same album, if only the guitars had all been in tune.


Top Ten 2: The SB&Q Years - 1973 to 1978


You Got Me Anyway As a single, it comes at you, in your face, virtually from the start. Good solid rock and a marvellous hook. And what about that drumming? As well as being a single and the first song recorded by the newly merged group, it appears on the US version of the Lifeboat album, where, interestingly, a religious theme pervades. Certainly, these lyrics could be considered as hymn-like. With more space, I'd have included Have You Had a Vision from this album, a classy track that has never appeared on CD. Incidentally, if they were at all litigious, Gavin & Iain might have wanted to take a close look at Sheryl Crow's Change Would Do You Good.

Seagull/Lonely Love This pairing of songs illustrates the transition that was slowly taking place in the group, as the songs and performances moved from a folk style into the medium of rock. Tuneful, and with vocals that scream of yearning, Seagull offers images and metaphors far beyond the realms of simple pop music, whether folk, rock or any other genre. Am I allowed to use the word metaphysical, or is that being pretentious? The allusions to the sea, characteristic of a number of their songs, stem back to the brothers' childhood and, indeed, their ancestry. Musically, Peter Wood's piano work is particularly appealing.

Champion the Underdog  Crashing guitar chords and thundering drums open this magnificent piece of rock. The song takes us back to those great movies of our youth, where the heroes and villains were perfectly clear-cut, before hitting out at oppression and suggesting we all need to stop genuflecting to the most powerful in society and start sticking up for the least well off. What makes the song stand out is the break in the middle, where the organ takes over and Iain quietens the mood before a typical Tim Renwick guitar solo that brings the song back to full rock power. Note the pun in the title, something that was to become a trademark for the group by its next album. The first ever record that was bought for me was Frankie Laine's Champion the Wonder Horse on 78rpm when I was six. I dropped it and it smashed.

Rollin' Away/Rocky Road/Saved By The Angel OK, so maybe I'm just a sucker for a gimmick, or perhaps I'm cheating to try to cram extra tracks into my top ten, but this was a great end to a wonderful album. The idea had been used before, by the Beatles on side 2 of Abbey Road: take a number of short pieces that wouldn't genuinely make full songs and throw them together in some kind of segue. Well, that particular section of the Beatles album is a favourite of mine and so is this tremendous bit of rock from the newly formed SB&Q. The first part contains a superb vocal, the middle has those chord progressions so reminiscent of George Harrison and the keyboard/guitar togetherness of the ending is a delight. Considering it beats Dream Kid to my top ten, it must be special!

World In Action The group's best overall album, in my view, opens with this, the name of a UK television documentary series. Who would be a reporter when you've got to feed a nation's constant voracity for news? Solid guitar and drums introduce this great piece of rock, but it's the piano chugging along, thumping out chords and extemporising as if there's no tomorrow, that makes this a highlight song. Tim does his statutory solo very effectively and the harmonies are spot on, with lovely bass licks and powerful drumming throughout, yet it's the piano that carries the fade beautifully.

Laid Back in Anger A punning title in an album full of witty lyrics and containing a title track that displayed a wonderful maturity for a band that was getting recognition, but not hits. Strangely, the album was never released in the USA, perhaps because Island couldn't muscle up the necessary distribution arrangements. By now, the band were a tight knit unit, playing quality rock and this track demonstrates their skills. Guitars soar, percussion is strong in driving the music along and the harmonies are spot on. And that's before we get to lyrics like, "Lying in the bath in the aftermath, browsing through the Daily Success. Front-page news always gives me the blues, so I jump back to the stop press. There I read the story all about the glory of the great new age on the way, so in the end I decided to stay - laid back in anger." Irony lives. And that's not counting the verse that pre-dates I Don't Like Mondays in its theme by five years.

Dr Dancer If you're expecting to see Arms of Mary in this list, then you have badly misunderstood my tastes in music. Love on the Moon, on the other hand, is a great song which only just misses this top ten and you only have to listen to the opening track of the album (When the Train Comes), either studio or live, to know just how accomplished the band had become by this stage. However Dr Dancer, with its reggae-style introduction and its clever hook could easily have been the quality hit from this album and might have changed the way the group were viewed by the public and their new record company. Depressing lyric, mind you, but one to boogie on down to, if you're that way inclined.

Dark Powers This was on Slipstream, the album that followed their big hit, and it was obvious that there was a desperation to replicate their chart success. As a result, some of the tracks are weaker than on previous albums, but this one has a typically great chorus which shows that the songwriting skills were still at their highest, when record company executives managed to restrain their own tastes. Am I being cruel to CBS? Or is it simply that the group was losing its direction? Either way, this track is the one of the few that shows progression, with its almost symphonic middle section. It should have been the featured one - opener and title track - of the album.

Love On The Side The other decent track on Slipstream is this yearning ballad with Iain not quite straining to reach the notes. Piano inserts are splendid and the guitars add strength and power in the middle break. The bluesy electric piano keeps going to the end, where it takes over and plays out in a sound worthy of Joe Zawinul.

Somebody's Fool My lack of enthusiasm for that last album and the fact that when I got married, buying records didn't appear on a budget line, meant that I lost touch with what happened to SB&Q for a while, which is a shame, because their final album as a four-piece is a fine piece of work, worth getting hold of, if you don't already have it. This track is probably the best of a great bunch of tuneful and well-performed songs (although Fun On The Farm is an exception, as a blatant pastiche of 10cc). While Where Lies Your Soul is a very reflective track, with strings and grandiose orchestration, Somebody's Fool just edges it for Iain's powerful vocal performance and the outstanding backing musicians, of whom Willie Wilson deserves special mention.

Top Ten 3: Post SB&Q - 1979 onwards  

Easy Come, Easy Go I'm a sucker for a saxophone solo and the one by Jim Horn works well here on this semi-hit from an otherwise lack-lustre final album, where the sound is a tad flat and the music has dated more than the group's earlier stuff. The song appears to be saying goodbye to a lover, but it could equally be to a career in the music scene. The vocal is lovely and the arrangement is better than any other track on the LP. Take a look at the "live" performance on ToTP on YouTube (Radio & TV page) to see the Suths in action.

Dreams of You It opens with a guitar sequence that is very reminiscent of Gerry Rafferty when he was with The Humblebums, but it soon develops into an easy-going rock piece. Iain's voice is plaintive and there's a good mix of folk roots and well-developed rock music from a group playing to its strengths. This track just edged it over Crazy Town for selection here.

Better Days are Coming Gavin's first solo album, Beat of My Heart, has some tasty stuff on it, including the title track, Water and Ice and Too Late to Cry, but my favourite is this one, if only for the bass vocal harmony that I can sing along to. The delightfully reflective lyric looks back to look forward and the meandering lead guitar in between verses is delicious.

Love in a Cold Climate While Iain's first album left me with mixed emotions, appropriately enough, his second album, Learning to Dance, is full of great music. A swing rhythm opens this song as it slowly builds, with agonising restraint. In the second verse, Iain's double tracked vocals are joined by a light drizzling of guitar to add to the chimes, before the song breaks out into a beautifully toned guitar solo, with responding keyboards.

The Science of Saying Goodbye Why have we not had a release from Iain since 1985 when he can produce music as wonderful as this? The initial verse-chorus-verse of the song is fairly standard and would have fitted onto any Suths album easily. Then, just as the song appears to be coming to an end, up pops a coda, with the title repeated.  The fun bit is attempting to sing the verse over this coda as a counterpoint. It works well if you do it right.

Dancing in the Kitchen Nicely subtitled Acoustic Music to Soothe the Troubled Soul, Gavin's second album, Diamonds and Gold, is light, relaxed and has some wonderful lyrics wrapped up in highly approachable tunes. While Go the Distance is a strong favourite, as the ever-optimistic Gavin intones, "I may not win the fight, but I'll go the distance", Dancing in the Kitchen remains my favourite for its easy-going combination of piano and harmonica. It's a song that could easily be performed in the front parlour yet it has a sound with roots that suggests New Orleans, combined with Jamaica.

(I Think) It's Going to Work Out Fine Although this is an old Ike and Tina Turner hit, my first experience of it was on the Five Faces of Manfred Mann LP from 1964. The Bucket Boys have stripped it back virtually to an instrumental, with only the chorus getting the vocal treatment near the end.  There's a lovely warmth to the guitars and the melody is finely presented. I've been quite skimpy in selecting tracks from the Bucket Boys, simply because their style of music is quite different from the sounds that came from SB&Q. They're a great band, who, in their time, were worth seeing live, and their three albums are worth having.

Open Road Tim Renwick's CD Privateer is packed with great instrumentals that he has used for film music or as beds under adverts, etc. This one could be a combination of Hank Marvin and Mark Knopfler in sound, as it effortlessly demonstrates the skills of a guitar player at his peak.

Dreaming My CD copy of Gavin's last album wouldn't play on my computer or DVD player, so I had terrible trouble getting it onto my iTouch to hear it. The effort was worth it for this, with a slightly syncopated rhythm, yet slow and, it seems, intended as sleep-inducing. The piano, wandering between deep chords and light tinkles, works with the occasional flashes of guitar and an insistent drum sound that offers a disturbing contradiction to the vocals.

The Tweeter Music clip - The Tweeter An immediately popular song with everyone who has bought Gavin's latest CD, this delightfully satirises all those users of social network sites who want to tell the world the most insignificant rubbish about their lives. If fellow passengers can be riled by the "I'm on the bus" mobile call, then this is Gavin's annoyance at the Twitter generation's utter banalities. Instead of writing a song about it, he could simply have unfriended me!



That was hard.  I know I've omitted tracks that on another day would have been in my top ten. I accept I've been opinionated and perhaps contentious but I would also value your opinions for subsequent inclusion in this section - you know how to get in touch. Meanwhile, how did my three top tens compare with the actual Very Best Of, released by Sony in 2002? Here's the track listing, with my choices in bold:

The Pie, I Was In Chains, Real Love, Sailing, You Got Me Anyway, Lifeboat, Dream Kid, Champion the Underdog, Beat of the Street, Laid Back in Anger, When the Train Comes, Arms of Mary, Dr. Dancer, Love On the Moon, Moonlight Lady, Slipstream, Secrets, Something's Burning, When the Night Comes Down, Easy Come, Easy Go.

Not bad - nine out of twenty. The guys from Sony have some taste, even though they've gone for the obvious in some cases. While I'd still recommend that any fan should have the whole collection on CD and vinyl, the Very Best of CD is a good one to have. Incidentally, the original list of tracks provided by Steve Chapman & Iain Sutherland, from which Sony then made up the track list for this CD, also included All I Got Is You, Saviour In The Rain, If I Could Have Your Loving, Dark Powers, Ice In The Fire and Every Tear I Cry. Interesting.

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