A review usually needs a little background history, however, the real story of Black Widow would need a whole book – now there’s a thought.
Part of that dark story really needs to be told to show just why the release of Demons Of The Night Gather To See Black Widow Live (Mystic Records) is of such interest and why Black Widow still have a cult following nearly forty years since their demise.
Leicester’s Black Widow were seemingly cursed with bad luck and bad timing. Confusion with Black Sabbath, controversy over their live stage performance of Sacrifice, and just plain bad fortune dogged their progress and led to their comparatively early demise.
Timing is everything for a band and it seemed that some force was at work to ensure that fate turned most definitely against them. What we are left with is a band that now has a cult following, a reputation of playing with fire, and a heritage of some lost gems musically.
For those that don’t know, Black Widow was formed in England in the late sixties. When drummer Clive Box came up with the idea of doing an album based on witchcraft and black magic, Black Widow were born. They were, without doubt, the black magic band of the time.
It was a reputation that led to confusion between them and Black Sabbath the latter, despite the upturned crosses that appeared on the first album, continually denied that they were anything of the sort. Black Widow meanwhile went the distance with it.
The album Sacrifice took six months to write. The stage show that accompanied it was to prove to be an authentic experience into the realms of black magic. The show became instantly controversial as it contained nudity and sacrifice. However, the real concerns lay a lot deeper.
The band has courted the advice of the UK’s self confessed ‘King Of The Witches’ Alex Sanders (1926-1988) and as a result it emerged that everything in the show was in fact disturbingly authentic. The words, the spells, the curses, the names, and the rituals were all the result of the advice of Sanders.
This was dangerous territory and it seemed to trigger a run of ill luck that tripped the band up at every potential stage of its progression.
Firstly the press had a field day regarding both the show and the album. This, of course, only increased the demand for tickets from the curious, the weird, and of course the plain old rock fans.
Sacrifice was released by CBS at the same time as Simon & Garfunkel’s classic album Bridge Over Troubled Water. When sales of the latter literally took off, CBS temporarily suspended the pressing of anything else for a few weeks. Unfortunately for Black Widow, Black Sabbath’s first album was often picked up instead.
The BBC was reluctant to show any of the show’s content or play any of the band's music that contained references to black magic. On the eve of their first American tour, in an unrelated incident, Charles Manson and followers committed the murder of actress Sharon Tate. The tour was immediately cancelled and the agents called upon, yes, Black Sabbath to replace them.
The question of course has always subsequently been asked. Was this merely bad luck or had Black Widow tapped into territory that was simply too dark and got burned as a result?
A rollover of band members didn’t help and by the time their follow up to Sacrifice arrived the impetus had already been lost. They decided to change direction for their fourth album, having been inspired by supporting Yes on a tour of Italy. The result was a very different work from what had gone before.
Singer Kip Trevor then left the band determined to finally take the show Sacrifice to America but again the project was ill timed with backers suddenly pulling out. Black Widow struggled on but their moment had gone.
This double disc edition, released in 2007, comes complete with the restored album version of Sacrifice and film of the stage show itself.
In an amazing twist Black Widow sax player Clive Jones, whose informative and frank album notes accompany this release, tells the story of how this came about. Knowing that film from German television existed he set about locating it. When it arrived he couldn’t believe what he was looking at. It was the whole of the stage show complete with the naked girl playing the part of ‘Astaroth’.
The album, which reached number 32 in the UK charts, remains, to my ears at least, disturbingly dramatic. On a purely musical basis it shows that this band was unjustly underrated and overlooked. At a time when we were literally tripping over quality bands, Black Widow clearly possessed all the elements to make them potentially as big as many of their contemporaries.
The subject matter is somewhat uncomfortable and is probably more so with the additional knowledge that there is that authenticity within it. The album is, however, a gripping, fascinating, dramatic, and at times shocking trip into another world.
Delving into territory that is akin to being presented with a sign that says ‘Keep Out – Danger’, it draws you in and is strangely compulsive. The set list is the same for both CD and the DVD film which is the show in its entirety.
It opens with the haunting and mysterious keyboard and spoken introduction to “In Ancient Days”. The film’s sound has been improved as far as possible and it contains many of those early video effects that are typical of the time. However neither of these facts spoil the effect and if anything actually add to its authenticity.
Singer Kip Trevor sets the scene, lighting candles around the circle. Meanwhile the band is excellent producing high quality jazz influenced prog rock that really should have established them as one of the major acts of the time. However, it was, of course, the content of the show that attracted the attention overshadowing the excellence of the band.
It is hypnotic, sensual, erotic, and, of course, disturbing. “Way To Power” contains exceptional sax by Clive Jones. Kip is giving a well choreographed performance of a lifetime and when the intense “Come To The Sabbat”, complete with satanic chants, appears in all its sinister yet spell bounding glory it still has the power to unnerve.
“Conjuration” contains more authentic, Alex Sanders inspired, spoken section before the beautiful dancer playing Astaroth finally appears. The doomed girl, wearing only a highly revealing see through dress, dances her way through “Seduction”, her presence understandably distracting from the exceptional musicianship.
“Attack Of The Demon” ups the tempo towards the sinister climax with a jazzy tightness whilst a shirtless Kip is being flogged by Astaroth. This all leads to the drama that is “Sacrifice” itself. The highly hypnotic, intense, and erotic piece ends with the now naked girl lying in the circle. As the incredible tension builds she is finally sacrificed and the show and album end.
Whatever your thoughts, in finding this film Clive Jones has uncovered a gem. It is, without doubt, a valuable and artistic piece of rock music history. It is a highly compelling artistic performance both visually and musically.
Whether the band should have knocked on the very door of hell, as convincingly and authentically as this, is open to conjecture and opinion. Whether by playing with fire they inadvertently encouraged a wave of bad omens is equally debatable.
It was way ahead of its time and was brave, artistic, dangerous, highly controversial, and professionally, back then, near suicidal. Today Black Widow should be remembered for all of these things but above all of the controversy, sits the music.
Quite simply with everything else put aside you won’t hear many bands of the era play better or tighter.Powered by Sidelines