Ace: Five Aside (Anchor)

Tex Comer (bass guitar), Fran Byrne (drums). Bam King (rhythm guitar), Phil Harris (lead guitar), Paul Carrack (organ, piano). Producer John Anthony.

ONE OF THE finest bands it has been my privilege to hear in 1974, was that assembly of hardened professionals, who have been so delighting the habitues of the clubs and rock pubs since their formation two years ago.

Ace are the epitome of the “tight little combo,” that make their art sound so guiless and simple, and in fact requires considerable experience and skill to make it work.

Watching the band recently at a steaming, stomping gig at London’s Dingwall was to experience a rare example of teamwork and chemistry that is supposed to be the very essence of rock music and yet is so often lacking.

The band are perfectly matched – instrumentally and in terms of their musical ideals. For them the rhythm section is a vital, warmblooded, human machine, with a well-defined task: to propel the layers of guitar and non-competitive vocals. No shrieking violence here, or clashing egos. This is the matured music of guys who have been in rock long enough to have had their fill of egos and aggro.

‘The Real Feeling’, one of the tracks on side one, is a typical example of their whole philosophy, with Paul Carrack’s Billy Preston influenced piano, chording gently, over Fran Byrne’s beautifully solid drumming. And ’24 Hours’, while steeped in the traditions of soul and funky music in general, develops its themes with full regard to melody, and does not merely slip back into brute force. It’s taken some years, but British rhythm sections really have learned an enormous amount about the essence of the Black American approach.

No longer are sheer volume and battering pyrotechnics the main ingredient. Instead there is a thinking man’s by-play between bass and guitar, an appreciation of the culminative effect of metronomic precision, and a rigid restraint in the amount of “filling-in.” Here’s where Fran Byrne’s drumming scores. The young Irishman from Dublin, who worked with Bees Make Honey, before Joining Ace recently, is a joy to watch, notably for the spot-on, but throw away endings, and the lifting snare drum off-beat that pulsates behind Phil, Bam and Paul.

This is a fine introduction to the band, and includes their well-deserved chart hit ‘How Long’, although their live performances of riffs like ‘Sniffin’ About’ are naturally much more exciting, with scope for extended solos. But it’s important not to have too much of a good thing with a first album, and they can always get into the realms of “live” doubles later on! The most important thing is not to spoil the qualities that make Ace such an attractive band, which is the low profile in all aspects, from publicity to image and music.

Listen to the gentle guitar and keyboard chords that introduced ‘Why’, and Phil Harris’ thoughtful lead guitar interjections. The whole piece seems to float. And they do it all without dry ice!

© Chris WelchMelody Maker, 7 December 1974

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