Rock ‘n’ roll on the floor laughing, as Rick Wakeman and Tony Ashton lead their stellar guests into a razzmatazz extravaganza and bring the house down.
This show didn’t have a long lifespan – its six episodes aired in the U.K. in 1982-1983 – but, thanks to a few YouTube clips, “GasTank” became a stuff of legend. Deservedly so: presented by two keyboardists-cum-comedians who chatted and played with their invitees, the programme’s main attraction was on-the-spot ensembles that delivered participants’ pieces with a new flavor. Most of those are gathered here on 3 CDs and, separated from visuals, they shed a different light even on familiar material, often thanks to peculiar pairings – Suzi Quatro with Steve Hackett on mean blues harmonica for “CC Rider” being the best example, while Steve Harley and John Entwistle hit it off, too, on “Go America” – which work magnificently, yet there’s more to it all than only a novelty factor
Squeezing rock out of baroque, Wakeman elevates even the most down-to-earth tracks to celestial heights with his vignettes that, in a typical “GasTank” way, create quite a hilarious contrast within a single cut like it is on Harley’s “Mr. Soft” and “In The Midnight Hour” where Kevin Godley and Lol Creme get their kicks backing Andy Fairweather-Low. When other unusual suspects chip in on Rick’s own compositions, two of “The Six Wives” retain their stately stance – as does THE STRAWBS’ “The Hangman And The Papist” – but dramatic “Gone But Not Forgotten” and elegiac “Elgin Mansions” find the pianist in solo, very vulnerable mode. In his turn, Ashton peppers a lot numbers with barrelhouse jive before “Resurrection Shuffle” – with Ian Paice embossing the groove – would see Tony at the helm, and keeps on coming up with musical jokes including the “BBC, well, F U” in one of the jams with “Ricardo.” Together, the hosts’ ivories embroider the boogie once Rick Parfitt has dusted off “Rain” and Alvin Lee has whipped up “I May Be Wrong” yet stay off reggae of THE CIMARONS’ “My Soul Wants To Be With Jah” for the spirituality sake, although there’s no limit to wild merriment in Roy Wood’s “Down To Zero” or Chris Farlowe and Eric Burdon’s ripping through, respectively, “Lucille” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” as opposed to seriousness of artists who pitch their latest works here.
Still, the same abandon marks the ex-Animal’s “Heart Attack” and Phil Lynott’s “Growing Up” – the former spiced up by Alvin Lee’s licks, the latter by John Sykes’ soaring, both powerfully fleshed out with organ and piano from Rick and Tony – as well Hackett’s jam with Wakeman on an instrumental version of “Camino Royale.” Howie Casey and Ronnie Scott’s brass may bring about a change in the mood, jazz relaxing everyone’s improvisatory muscle, and Donovan’s straightfaced “Mellow Yellow” may rein in the band’s larking, whereas Frankie Miller’s “He’ll Have To Go” is a showcase of everybody’s soft underbelly, but Maggie Bell and Ashton funking it up on “Blackpool’s First Twist Victim” is an excuse for all players to go unhinged. That would be the gist of it all, this jolly madness, so the legend of “GasTank” doesn’t cease to exist after the programme’s official release: it will only loom larger.