Entry for August 16, 2005

by

Murray Head

Nigel Lived

CBS 65503

Head Case GAH106 (CD reissue)

Tracks: Pacing On The Station/Big City/Bed & Breakfast/The Party/Ruthie/City Scurry/When You Wake Up In The Morning/Why Do We Have To Hurt Our Heads/Pity The Poor Consumer/Dole/Nigel, Nigel/Miss Illusion/Religion/Junk (49:28)

Recorded:  Olympic & Island Studios, June 25-July 30, 1972.

Released: 1973. Chart Peak: na (UK) na (US).

Personnel: Murray Head (voc, gtr), Mark Warner (gtr), Clive Chaman (bs), Cozy Powell (drm), Peter Robinson (kybd), Chris Mercer (sax), Tony Coe (sax, clarinet), Jimmy Hastings (sax), Tommy Whittle (sax), Jim Chester (sax), Henry Lowther (trumpet), Chris Neil (harmonica), Graham Preskett (mandolin, violin), Sue & Sonny (bckg voc), Kay Garner (bckg voc), Barry DeSouza (Congas), Spike Heatley (double bs), Ray Cooper (perc), John Donnelly (fluegelhorn), Dave Charman (trombone), James Harpham (contra-bass recorder), Philip Chen (bs), Glenn LeFleur (drm), Frank Ricotti (congas),  Michael Giles (drm, perc), Peter Giles (bs),  Dave Wintour (bs), Fiachra Trench (piano, organ), Skaila Kanga (electric harp), Chris Karam (tablas). Engineer: Phil Brown. Producer: Joe Wissert.

*Actor/singer crafts stunningly thorough, comprehensive concept album telling profound story of one man’s personal disintegration. No one buys it.

Though the world was not exactly clamoring for a brand new concept album in 1973, actor and one-time Immediate Records artist Murray Head delivered a relative doozy in Nigel Lived.  Recorded in little over a month during the previous summer, the ambitious set chronicled the decline and fall of a happy-go-lucky country boy who moved to London and watched his life methodically get flushed down the toilet.  Beginning on an upbeat and hopeful note–career success, sex, love, money–the tale soon moved into a mode where song titles alone told the tale: “Dole,” “Religion,” and the inevitable climax, “Junk,” wound things up on a suitably grim note.

Head–who most people knew as the voice of Judas in the massive smash Jesus Christ Superstar, or for his stints in the London cast of Hair and the films The Family Way and Sunday, Bloody Sunday–was not on the shortlist of candidates expected to deliver such an astute and affecting work, and Nigel escaped mass attention.  Which was a shame.  In many ways thematically paralleling Lou Reed’s acclaimed Berlin, released the same year, Nigel was probably the more complete–and harrowing–package. Boosted by a superb musical cast, with guitarist Warner and former Quatermass keyboardist Robinson especially shining, the album bore a wealth of musical styles but was clearly unified by Head’s marvelous songs and voice.

Even more remarkable, in a way, was the package Head prepared for Nigel. From its outside cover, depicting a phrenological chart (appropriate for a man with the surname “Head”; one wonders what might’ve happened had his mother named him Richard), to the multi-page insert containing a libretto and frighteningly convincing diary entries by the rapidly deteriorating “Nigel” (all penned by Head), this album seemed an absolute labor of love through and through.

Head would return with another less conceptual set via 1975’s excellent Say It Ain’t So, and continue making records through the coming decades (“big in France” alert); additionally, he’d score a  huge worldwide hit in 1985 with “One Night In Bangkok” from Chess. Had Nigel Lived been received with the same enthusiasm with which it had been prepared, Head’s career might’ve taken a different turn entirely. But, sadly, Nigel died.

Further listening: Say It Ain’t So (1975), Between Us (1979)

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