Various Artists ‘Budgie – Never Turn Your Back On A Friend – 50 Years Later’

Probably like quite a lot of people reading this, my introduction to Budgie was Metallica’s memorable versions of Crash Course In Brain Surgery and the legendary set staple Breadfan. Recorded in that sweet spot before the world-stomping Black Album came out and changed everything, the tracks were the sound of a young, still hungry band paying tribute to a hugely influential outfit that many may not have heard of, where it not for Lars Ulrich’s obsession with British heavy metal.

Various Artists 'Budgie – Never Turn Your Back On A Friend – 50 Years Later' Artwork
Various Artists ‘Budgie – Never Turn Your Back On A Friend – 50 Years Later’ Artwork

And pay tribute is exactly what this album does, albeit in a slightly different way. This year (2023) marks the 50th anniversary of Budgie’s breakthrough third album, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend. This release then, is one big cover version of that album, with a variety of artists each playing a track, as well as some added bonuses to fill out the run time to modern-day album length. The fact that label Pale Wizard have done a similar thing in the past for such iconic artists as David Bowie and Alice Cooper is testament to how influential Budgie were.

It’s entirely fitting that Birmingham’s Alunah kick things off with a female lead vocal that pays homage to Burke Shelley’s distinctive high tenor voice. It’s a great version, which unlike Metallica’s, tackles the track’s quieter passages with aplomb and even throws in some Jethro Tull-esque flute. Aqualung!

No stranger to being covered, Baby Please Don’t Go is an old standard, popularised by Delta blues icon Big Joe Williams in 1935 and most famously covered by Them in 1964. Already a famous track when the Cardiff crew gave it a riff metal makeover back in ‘73, Budgie’s version is reproduced in faithful style here by Firegarden, who capture the hard rock energy of the band’s take on it perfectly.

Things take a noisy garage rock turn on You Know I’ll Always Love You, performed here by the intriguingly named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. It really couldn’t be further from Budgie’s gentle original version, which was little more than an acoustic interlude, but that’s clearly the point. Nevertheless, it’s in stark contrast to the more straight-forward rock bombast of tracks that best-of album Budgie fans will be more familiar with. A nod then, to Budgie’s versatility and influence.

One of the most memorable things about Budgie was their quite often long and surreal track titles. You’re The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread is one of my favourites in this regard, and indeed Regulus’ take on the track is suitably ‘70s rock, with a soaring vocal and authentic guitar tone that’s a fitting homage in every sense. It’s a bit of an epic too, giving the band plenty of space to explore a sonic soundscape that they populate naturally and to good effect.

Syncolima’s version of In the Grip Of A Tyre Fitter’s Hand takes things in a bit of a Monster Magnet direction, with a Wyndorf-like vocal adding some grit and dirt that was perhaps lacking from the original. It’s nice to hear the bass right up there in the mix too, just like Shelley’s was on the 1973 album. It also has a riff in it that was surely the germ for Metallica’s Creeping Death, and the crunchier sound highlights that to even greater effect.

a fitting and entertaining nod to a hugely influential band…

Riding My Nightmare when given the Great Electric Quest treatment reminds me even more of FreeBird than the original version, Likely because the vocalist sounds a lot more like Ronnie Van Zant. It’s interesting, because Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut came out in the same year as Never Turn Your Back On A Friend. Unlike the southern rock stalwart’s classic though, Riding My Nightmare is a brief affair, and Great Electric Quest make the track their own, finding a song length that’s a happy medium of both.

Epic and introspective original album closer Parents was always one of Budgie’s most thoughtful performances, though with the working class realism of lyrics like ‘wash your hands and off to bed, mind the cars ‘cos you’ve got school on Monday’, you’d never accuse them of poetic whimsy. Sergeant Thunderhoof produce a faithful and well-recorded version here, with a powerful and emotive vocal that captures the same mood effectively and some enhanced riffage that gives it some extra oomph as well.

To the bonus tracks then. I’m guessing there was a deliberate decision to not choose three more Budgie classics; partly to make sure that the album didn’t come across like another ‘best of’, but maybe also to showcase some lesser-known songs.

Guts from the band’s debut album will never be a classic for me, but it does offer an early look at where they were going to go when it came to riffs. It does sound like it’s heavily influenced by Sabbath’s NIB though, and the effective low-end guitar on La Chinga’s version only adds emphasis to that.

Forearm Smash is an odd choice, in that it’s lifted from Budgie’s so-so 1980 release Power Supply. Low Voltage do a faithful job, but they don’t have stellar material to work with really. It’s far from Budgie in full flight and at no detriment to the band who deliver an energetic cover, it just plods along in a sub-AC/DC manner.

Melt The Ice Away by Solar Sons is another track drawn from beyond Budgie’s classic period, and it’s not an era I listen to very much if I’m honest. That said, this is a powerful performance with a great vocal and is a faithful rendition. It’s a great advertisement for Solar Sons talents if nothing else, dropping in some frenzied fretboard work and drum fills along the way. It also ensures the album ends with a bang.

Whether it’s intended or not, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend – 50 Years Later is also an appropriate tribute to Budgie’s late frontman Burke Shelley, who sadly died in 2022. I’m ashamed to admit that the announcement of his death passed me by at the time and I only heard about it months after, so I’m grateful to have the chance to review this album, which is a fitting and entertaining nod to a hugely influential band.

Label: Pale Wizard Records

Scribed by: Simon Brotherton