This week’s One Album Wonder is Armageddon, a short-lived heavy rock band led by Keith Relf which proved to be the singer’s last. In Armageddon, Relf was joined by Robert Caldwell (drums), Louis Cennamo (bass guitar), and Martin Pugh (guitar).
Relf was a noteworthy English singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. He was born 22 March 1943 in Richmond, Surrey and started performing music around 1956. Although severely asthmatic he picked up the harmonica in imitation of his hero, Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1963 he formed The Yardbirds. Although today The Yardbirds seem best remembered for launching the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, andJimmy Page, they were undoubtedly one of the most important of British Invasion bands, responsible along with The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones with introducing countless white teenagers to the black American music which they’d till then ignored and inspiring thousands of them to form rock bands in suburban garages throughout the Anglosphere.
The Yardbirds’ two biggest hits, “For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul” were written by the great Graham Gouldman (of The Mockingbirds and later, The Mindbenders, 10cc, and Wax) but Relf co-wrote many oftheir originals, including “Shapes of Things,” “I Ain’t Done Wrong,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” As the 1960s progressed, Relf’s songs began moving away from their blues base toward folky psychedelia and classical music-inspired progressive rock. Relf left The Yardbirds in 1968 he and fellow-former Yardbird Jim McCarty formed the acoustic duo, Together, which released a single, “Henry’s Coming Home” b/w “Love Mum And Dad” that failed to find an audience.
Next McCarty, Relf, and Relf’s sister, Jane, formed Renaissance in 1969, rounded out by pianist John Hawken and Louis Cennamo. They released two albums, Renaissance and Illusion. Illusion was recorded in 1970 as the band was falling apart. The last of the original members had left by the end of the year and Illusion was originally only released in Germany, in 1971. It wouldn’t be released in the UK until 1977, a yaer after Relf’s untimely death.
After Renaissance’s demise, Relf first moved into production, working with bands including Amber, Hunter Muskett, Saturnalia, and Medicine Head (with whom he also played bass guitar). Another band he produced wasWorthing-based blues rock band, Steamhammer, which included Cennamo and guitarist Martin Pugh. Steamhammer called it quits in 1973 and Relf, Pugh, and Cennamo moved to Los Angeles. There they formed Armageddon with Robert Caldwell, a drummer from Florida who’d played with Noah’s Ark, Johnny Winter And, and most recently, Captain Beyond — a band which featured former members of Iron Butterflyand Deep Purple.
Armageddon were recommended to A&M by Dee Anthony and Peter Frampton (who’d played with Cennamo in mod group, The Herd). A&M agreed to sign Armageddon and in the autumn of 1974 the band recorded their eponymous debut at Olympic Studios in Barnes. It was released in May 1975 (it was issued on compact disc by Repertoire in 1998 and Esoteric in 2009) and was a move into the sort of heavy rock which The New Yardbirds (and later Led Zeppelin) had made after Relf’s departure. The results were loose and jammy and the album only contains five songs, four of which are over eight minutes long.
Armageddon didn’t last long, however. Caldwell, at the time, suffered from a heroin addiction and he and Pugh were at odds with Cenammo and Relf, both of whom preferred meditation to hard drugs. Armageddon split up before they could promote the album at all and, not surprisingly, it sold poorly.
Armageddon’s Armageddon (1975) — full album
Relf returned to England to recover from a life-threatening asthma-related illness and with thoughts of rejoining the original members of Renaissance. He recorded what proved to be his swan song, “All the Falling Angles” but tragically died on 14 May 1976, electrocuted in the basement of his home whilst playing his improperly grounded guitar. He was just 33 years old.
With Armageddon no more and the name Renaissance being used by a new line-up of musicians, Cennamo re-joined the original members of Renaissance (minus Keith Relf, of course) as Illusion. Caldwell returned to Captain Beyond (and later, it should be noted, completely quit drugs). Pugh seems to have retired for many years from life as a professional musician although in the 2000s he re-emerged with Hawaii-based rock band, 7th Order.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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