This month, we’ll be periodically looking at titles from the final months of 2019 which we haven’t yet covered. Today’s spotlight is on The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver’s The Albums box set.
Hailing from Aberdeenshire, Scotland, brothers Gavin and Iain Sutherland carved out one of the most consistent runs in ’70s pop-rock, releasing eight melodic, memorable albums between 1972 and 1979 on the Island and CBS/Columbia labels. The brothers were born into a musical family, and when they moved to England as children, the sounds of the radio only entranced them further. As young men, they formed a band called A New Generation and released a couple of singles in addition to appearing on John Peel’s Radio 1 show. When Island Records’ Muff Winwood heard them, they began on the journey chronicled in fall 2019 by Cherry Red Records’ Lemon imprint as Sutherland Brothers and Quiver: The Album. The clamshell 8-CD box set presents The Sutherland Brothers’ eight LPs, both solo and with the band Quiver, in expanded editions. Revisiting these underrated albums, it’s not hard to see why the brothers earned opening slots with the likes of Elton John, Hawkwind, Cat Stevens, Mott the Hoople, and David Bowie.
The box opens with 1972’s The Sutherland Brothers Band. Gavin and Iain were joined by Kim Ludman on bass and Neil (Fred) Hopwood on drums as they introduced their soft brand of folk-rock with tightly intertwined vocals. The LP’s opening track, the breezy “The Pie,” made some noise, but not nearly as much as their next 45 would. (More on that in a moment.) Parting ways with Ludman and Hopwood, the brothers returned to the studio for a follow-up album in the summer of 1972. Muff’s younger brother Steve Winwood and John “Rabbit” Bundrick were among the guests for the sessions that yielded the original U.K. release of Lifeboat. But after recording the LP, the band realized that a larger sound was needed to perform its songs in concert, especially as they hoped to break the American market. Enter Quiver, a self-contained group that had already released two albums themselves. The Sutherland Brothers merged with Quiver to record four new songs which were slated to appear on the American release of the album along with an outtake from the original sessions – “Sailing.” Soon, things were happening for The Sutherland Brothers. [Lifeboat is presented in the box set with all associated tracks, i.e. the U.S.-only cuts and non-LP B-sides.]
The Gavin-penned “Sailing” was the A-side of their second single, and while the Sutherlands’ rendition peaked just outside of the U.K. Singles Chart (at No. 54), the Celtic-flavored ballad was covered in 1975 by Rod Stewart. His recording went to No. 1 and became his biggest U.K. hit to date. The more overtly rock-oriented “(I Don’t Want to Love You But) You Got Me Anyway,” the first song the brothers cut with Quiver, became a modest hit, too, reaching No. 20 in Cash Box in America and No. 48 in Billboard. In 1973, a full Sutherland Brothers and Quiver album, Dream Kid, was released. Tim Renwick (lead guitar), Bruce Thomas (bass), Peter Wood (keyboards), and Willie Wilson (drums) had coalesced with the Sutherlands on a tight collection of accessible songs from which the pulsating boogie of “Dream Kid” was released on 45 RPM.
The fourth LP in the box set, Beat of the Street, may well be the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver’s least familiar. Produced once more by Muff Winwood, it marked a major personnel change as Bruce Thomas left the group; he would later join up with Elvis Costello as one-third of The Attractions. Gavin moved over to bass, and Tex Comer of Ace also added some parts. The songwriting from the brothers (with an assist from Tim Renwick on “Hi Life Music”) was as sharp and catchy as ever, but the album was denied a release in America as the label still wished to promote Dream Kid. The country-meets-baroque ballad “Saviour in the Rain” was issued as a single, but a more famous song was written about the album sessions rather than from them. Brian Mathieson’s liner notes quote Tim Renwick: “Yes, ‘All your friends with their fancy persuasions,’ that was Paul Carrack writing about us and the fancy persuasions were 100 pounds a week. But Tex wanted to remain with his old friends in Ace.” Ace’s 1975 hit “How Long” was a top five smash in both England and America while “Saviour in the Rain” failed to make an impression.
The band severed its ties with Island Records in search of a new deal. During this break, Peter Wood and Tim Renwick decamped to America to tour with Al Stewart. While Renwick returned after the tour, Wood remained in the U.S., and went to co-write “Year of the Cat” with Stewart. (Renwick played guitar on the London-recorded top ten hit.) CBS Records picked up The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, and the band made their debut on the label with 1975’s Reach for the Sky. Produced by Howard and Ron Albert (CSN, Firefall, Wishbone Ash), it featured David Gilmour on pedal steel for lead single “Ain’t Too Proud,” but is better remembered for including the top 5 U.K. hit “Arms of Mary.” Ian’s pretty, midtempo reminiscence about young love went to No. 1 in Ireland and the Netherlands, and while it only reached No. 81 in the U.S., it attracted covers from diverse artists like Chilliwack and R&B group Lady Flash (the latter produced by Barry Manilow). According to Mathieson’s notes, however, the band saw “Arms of Mary” as something very different from that which they had long aimed: commercial pop. The song earned them bigger bookings and media appearances, and the Alberts returned to helm 1976’s Slipstream. Bee Gees associated Albhy Galuten, who had overdubbed “Arms of Mary” for extra sheen, played keyboards, and horns and strings were also brought in. Though hooks were abundant and the production crisp, lightning didn’t strike twice. Slipstream reached No. 49 in the U.K. (compared to No. 25 for Reach for the Sky) though its single release of “Secrets” – a slick production with harmonies and strings – reached the top 40 there.
Tim Renwick opted to depart the band to concentrate on his session work, though he would play on the album as a guest. The trio of the Sutherlands and Willie Wilson pressed on for Down to Earth, with production by Bruce Welch of The Shadows. It failed to spawn a hit single, and the U.S. arm of Columbia initially declined to release it. The band was sent to Los Angeles to record with producer Glen Spreen (Kansas, Jackie DeShannon, Iain Matthews) and his three tracks, including a reworked version of “The Pie,” replaced songs on the U.K. edition. [Once again, the box’s presentation has all tracks related to Down to Earth.]
Willie Wilson made his exit next, and The Sutherland Brothers were back down to a duo for their final CBS album. 1979’s When the Night Comes Down indicated, both in its artwork and its lyrical content, that Gavin and Iain knew the group was over. The LP did continue their collaboration with Glen Spreen, who brought on board an A-list of musicians like Bob Glaub on bass, Mike Baird on drums, Ritchie Zito on lead guitar, William D. “Smitty” Smith on keys, Jim Horn on drums, Steve Foreman on percussion, and Steve Porcaro on synths. The sound was current while still true to the Brothers’ sensibilities, but the LP didn’t fare any better. It wasn’t the end for The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, however. Tim Renwick and Willie Wilson became sidemen for Pink Floyd. Gavin and Iain Sutherland both released a number of compelling solo LPs. Sadly, Iain passed away on November 25, 2019.
The Sutherland Brothers left behind a discography that’s still enjoyable today. The band stayed true to themselves with a consistent sound despite the varied producers with whom they worked, and resisted the temptation of prevailing trends such as disco. Seventeen bonus tracks are spread across the nine discs of The Albums, rounding up the band’s single edits and non-LP sides. James Bragg has mastered the discs which are housed in simple paper sleeves within the clamshell case. Brimming with fine musicianship and thoughtful songwriting, this is one collection that fans of 1970s pop-rock won’t want to miss.
- The Sutherland Brothers Band (Island ILPS 9181, 1972) + 1 bonus track
- Lifeboat (Island ILPS 9212, 1973) + 7 bonus tracks
- Dream Kid (Island ILPS 9259, 1973) + 1 bonus track
- Beat of the Street (Island ILPS 9288, 1974) + 2 bonus tracks
- Reach for the Sky (CBS S 69191, 1975) + 2 bonus tracks
- Slipstream (CBS S 81593, 1976)
- Down to Earth (CBS S 82255, 1977) + 6 bonus tracks
- When the Night Goes Down (CBS S 83427, 1979)