The fabulous story of the British blues rock band STEAMHAMMER in 5 acts
This is the truly fascinating story of a band that set out in 1968 with hard blues rock and, via jazz and progressive rock, finally arrived at hard rock in 1974.
The first LP, simply titled “Steamhammer”, was recorded in 1968 in a five-piece line-up with two guitarists and a guitar-playing singer. Not only the music but also the guitar-heavy sound, performed by two lead guitars, is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac 1968.
Especially the exceptional guitarist Martin Pugh shows his skills and reminds of Peter Green from Fleetwod Mac in the arrangement. Martin Pugh is also the only group member who will actually be heard on all Steamhammer/Armageddon albums with his formative guitar playing.
With “Junior Wailing”, the album even throws off a minor hit. The boogie kings Status Quo cover the song and thus make it known to a larger audience. The song is part of the band’s live repertoire for decades.
On the second LP from 1969, simply titled “MK II”, Steamhammer suddenly sounds like a casual bluesy-jazzy version of Jethro Tull. The sound is due to Steve Jolliffe, who can be heard on various wind instruments such as saxophone and flute. Drummer Michael Bradley is also new to the band.
On the third album, Mountains, from 1970, the band can be heard as the lucky visitors of their live concerts experienced the band on the 1970 and 1971 tours. Jolliffe has since left the band. The rest of the band is at the height of their powers and delivers a compact, driving underground-like sound that can best be imagined live in venues such as the Melkweg in Amsterdam. The music takes off and the audience with it. Steamhammer’s ten-minute version of “Riding on the L & N” might have brightened up many a stoner session. Back then (and probably still today).
The fourth album, Speech, was recorded with the three-man line-up Martin Pugh guitar, Louis Cennamo, bass and Michael Bradley, drums. The album consists of three long, mostly instrumental songs. Steamhammer has meanwhile arrived at heavy progressive rock. This music no longer has much in common with the original British blues rock.
After the tragic death of drummer Michael Bradley at the end of 1972, Steamhammer gradually ran out of steam. New members came on board, the band renamed itself Axis, and at the end of 1973 it was finally over. But the story doesn’t really end there.
In 1974, Martin Pugh and Louis Cennamo, along with ex-Yardbirds singer Keith Relf and drummer Bobby Caldwell, recorded a fifth terrific hard rock album as Armageddon. The album was eventually released in 1975 under the title “Armageddon”. Unfortunately, Keith Relf died of electrocution in early 1976, and that was also the end for Armageddon.
All the original editions are sought-after collectors’ items these days. The original British pressings of the first three albums are priced at €80-100 for top condition copies. The fourth album, Speech, was only released in Germany on the iconic green “Brain” label and is priced at around €120-150 in top condition. The fifth LP, now called Armageddon, is priced at around €70-80 for the UK first pressing in top condition. To date, there is no vinyl repress of this album that I know of.
Fortunately, however, all four Steamhammer albums have recently been reissued by Repertoire. The recordings were remastered at Abbey Road Studios and sound superb.