Heart Full of Soul: Keith Relf of the Yardbirds

Anmeldt av Jens Nepper
(McFarland, 2020)

Karakter: 5/6

heartfullof.pngThe legendary British pioneers of hard and exciting rock music known as The Yardbirds are often referred to as every rock musician’s favorite band (just ask Aerosmith's Steven Tyler or Alice Cooper!) and it is easy to see why; these guys brought something new and innovative to the table back in the sixties, and who can forget the fact that Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page all trod the boards with the group at various points in time. Those guys offered long, sprawling, and evocative jams drenched in blues and psychedelia, lyrics that took you to a different place altogether, and more build-ups and climaxes during their live sets that one can possibly imagine. The ensemble’s mysterious front man, Keith Relf, had something uniquely intriguing and instantly appealing to him, and author David French’s incredibly well-written account of Relf’s life both on and off stage is an enlightening and inspired read that offers a balanced and in-depth study of a ferociously creative individual who helped change the face of rock music forever.

“Heart Full of Soul” is a vivid and moving portrait of a tortured genius who crafted some outstanding compositions and records with his talented cohorts and fronted one of the greatest bands of all time, and yet he shunned the spotlight, the grueling tours, and being surrounded by others constantly. Many of those who knew Keith loved and cared for him, and they considered him a warm and kind soul with a great sense of humor. However, his darker sides were often painfully visible too and whereas some describe him as melancholy, introspective, and a deep thinker, others are of the opinion that he was a manic depressive harboring self-destructive tendencies. French has done a remarkable job at uncovering not merely all the historical facts pertaining to Relf’s musical legacy but also a wealth of stories and anecdotes that truly bring the whole story and its many shades and nuances to life. It is impressively balanced and perfectly critical in the sense that The Yardbirds and many of Relf's solo endeavors were simply below par and the author is not afraid to say so.

The literary piece is a compelling read and French's narrative never loses its focus, which is to say that if you desire sensationalized accounts of what went on back then, you need to look elsewhere. On top of that, the whole affair possesses a great flow and is steeped in an atmosphere that belongs to a bygone age, which is a huge part of its charm. Honestly, I found it impossible to put the book down by the time I started reading Alice Cooper’s introduction to it, which is obviously testament to how captivating the piece truly is. In some ways, French’s beautifully composed gem is as much about The Yardbirds as it is about Keith Relf, which makes sense given that Relf was such an integral part of the band and that it was a huge part of his life, but equally fascinating are the chapters that focus on Relf’s solo works, the folk-group Renaissance, the short-lived but highly interesting Armageddon, and his lesser-known work with Medicine Head and Hunter Muskett among others. “Heart Full of Soul” is subtle but powerful and comes highly recommended.


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