Armageddon - the last battlefield! Yes, that was the Biblical meaning of a phrase that still strikes fear in the hearts of men. According to Revelations 16:16 in the New Testament, Armageddon is the place designated as the scene of the final battle between the kings of the Earth at the end of the world. It has since come to mean any catastrophic and destructive conflict. Many viewed World War 1 as a contender for this dubious accolade and the more recent Gulf War/Desert Storm came pretty close. So, what better name for a heavy metal band?!
Yet Armageddon was the brainchild of a gentle, peace-loving musician whose previous band had represented the ultimate in hippie idealism. So what led mild-mannered Keith Relf into this battleground of musical militancy? It seemed we should never know the answer, for the vocalist and harmonica player who put the band together died in 1976. However, new research reveals that it was never Keith's intention to go back to truly heavy rock.
Relf had been the lead singer of The Yardbirds throughout the Sixties. He was the frail, blond-haired youth who shook his maracas defiantly in the teeth of an uproar of lead guitar solos from the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The road to Armageddon began in Richmond, Surrey, England, where Keith Relf was born on March 22, 1943. Keith was a founder member of the Metropolis Blues Quartet, one of Britain's earliest R&B groups. While a student at Kingston Art College, he merged his band with another local outfit, which led to the creation of The Yardbirds. During 1963, the new band began to rival the popularity of Rolling Stones.
The Yardbirds, with Keith at the helm, went on to become one of the most creative and progressive groups of the day. They had a succession of hits like 'For Your Love', 'Heart Full Of Soul', 'Shapes Of Things' and 'Over Under Sideways Down'. The group, with Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Jim McCarty (drums), and a series of celebrated lead guitarists, endured all the highs of the frantic Sixties, until their hits began to miss. The final years proved such a traumatic period for the young musicians, that when the band broke up in July 1968, Chris Dreja gave up music to become a professional photographer. Keith and Jim McCarty vowed to carry on, but with a new band devoted to a style diametrically opposed to the loud and raucous blues they had been playing for so many years. They formed an acoustic group called Together that recorded two singles, before Keith and Jim formed Renaissance in 1969. This group, too, would have a long and chequered history, told in depth in the notes to Repertoire's Renaissance CD box set, 'Da Capo' (REP 4571 -WL). The first version of the band included vocalist Jane Relf (Keith's sister), Louis Cennamo (bass), John Hawken (keyboards), Jim McCarty (drums) and Keith on guitar and vocals. Explains Jim McCarty: "We got fed up with The Yardbirds and thought we'd do something more melodic and away from the blues. Me and Keith were getting into the music of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. We called it Together and did three or four tracks which Paul Samwell-Smith produced for EMI and were released as singles. Then we decided to get a band together, rather than just do recording. We got Jane Relf in to make it a bit more folksy. John Hawken played classical stuff and we did all these long arrangements."
Renaissance recorded their eponymously titled album for Island Records in 1969 and the band went to America. Before long, Renaissance underwent a sea change. Keith and Jim quit and a whole bunch of new musicians came in. The ex-Yardbirds were exhausted by the latest bout of touring and didn't care if somebody else wanted to take over. The group had recorded another album called 'Illusion' but it was only released in Germany in 1970. After this, Keith played for a while in Medicine Head before he and Louis Cennamo decided to go their own way and form Armageddon.
Recalls Chris Dreja: "At first both Jim and Keith desperately wanted to get into softer based music and cut out the crashing lead guitars. Renaissance was a great idea and very original. But I always found it so odd that Keith was later involved in this band called Armageddon, which by its very name meant a return to heavy rock! Whether that was a commercial decision because things had got desperate, I don't know, but I found it ironic."
It did seem odd, but the truth can now be told. The line-up of Armageddon included Keith (vocals, harmonica), Martin Pugh (electric and acoustic guitars), Bobby Caldwell (drums, vocals and percussion) and Louis Cennamo (bass). Martin Pugh had previously been in the group Steamhammer with Louis, while Bobby Caldwell was an American who had previously worked with Johnny and Edgar Winter.
Armageddon's one and only album was released on A&M in 1975. It has since become hailed as a classic. Critics raved over its often eerie and sometimes freaky mixture of hard rock and melodic Sixties psychedelia. Long and exciting compositions like 'Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun' mixed rock, jazz, blues and even classical influences.
Explains Louis Cennamo: "The album has become something of a collectors item. What happened was Keith rang me up one day while I was with Steamhammer, which was just about breaking up. He asked what I was doing and the answer was "Not a lot!" So he asked if I fancied trying out a couple of songs. What finally made me decide to join him was the fact it was a cold English winter and he just wanted to get away to the sun. He suggested going to California, because we had toured there with Renaissance. Keith felt there would be a better opportunity for a new band over there." (more...) (buy it)
http://www.sendspace.com/file/aarcmt (still working)
http://lix.in/ea1716 (new link)
Armageddon - Paths and Planes and Future Gains