HE was a real showman, was Alex Harvey. He had a flair for the dramatic. Even now, four decades after the event, those fans who saw the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's Christmas shows in 1975 recall the delicious frisson that shivered across the auditorium when several female dancers suddenly turned around to reveal backless dresses and a striking absence of underwear. The song, naturally, was called Cheek to Cheek. The place went crazy, Harvey's friend Billy Connolly would say, many years later: "He was a great entertainer."

Harvey died in February 1982, the day before his 47th birthday. Now, 34 years later, he is getting the anthology treatment: a deluxe, 14-disc, 217-track box set containing his early solo albums, the eight SAHB LPs, selected tracks from his post-SAHB career, plus live sessions, home recordings and a 64-page hardcover book with rare photographs from the Harvey family album, all in a heavy-duty slipcase. It's the sort of treatment more usually accorded to heritage rock acts – the Eagles, say, or Pink Floyd, or U2. The Last of the Teenage Idols, it's called.

HeraldScotland: Alex Harvey and Tommy SteeleAlex Harvey and Tommy Steele

Harvey's life in brief: he was born in the Gorbals in February 1935, and after leaving school at 15 he had a succession of jobs but had already fallen hard for rock 'n' roll, and joined groups such as the Clyde River Jazz Band and the Kansas City Skiffle Group. Aged 17, a conscientious objector like his father and grandfather, he registered as such and was spared National Service. In 1957 his charisma and musical talents saw him win a newspaper competition to find Scotland's answer to Tommy Steele. A sequence of bands ensued, culminating in the Alex Harvey Soul Band. Like many other British bands, including the Beatles, they honed their craft in the clubs in Hamburg. In May 1960 they supported singer Johnny Gentle at Alloa Town Hall; Gentle's own backing musicians were none other than the Silver Beetles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Tommy Moore.

HeraldScotland: Alex Harvey and His Soul BandAlex Harvey and His Soul Band

The Soul Band released an album in 1964 and Harvey went on to have various projects over the next few years. In 1968 he began a four-year stint as rhythm guitarist in the orchestra in the hugely popular musical Hair. His occasional deputies included his younger brother Les, a talented guitarist, who would die tragically young in 1972. That same year, Harvey was introduced to Tear Gas, a heavy-rock Glasgow outfit with two albums under their belt. They gelled, and SAHB was born.

They released eight albums in the six years to 1978 and became famous for their extraordinary live shows. Numerous videos exist today showing SAHB at their creative, swaggering peak: Harvey, a restlessly charismatic frontman in a black-and-white hooped, long-sleeved T-shirt, the band – Zal Cleminson, Chris Glen, Hugh McKenna and Ted McKenna – in what one fan describes as "space-age teddy-boy outfits".

Musically, SAHB roamed across different genres. They had a top 10 hit with Delilah, too, with what Hugh McKenna describes as a "drunken, rabble-rousing version" sung by Harvey "with psychopathic glee".

Trudy Harvey first met Alex in 1965, when he and the Soul Band had a residency at London's celebrated Marquee venue. "I must have been about 17 or 18," Trudy says by phone from London. "I went to see Long John Baldry. The Soul Band were the support group. I went with someone who knew Alex vaguely, and she introduced me to him. But prior to that, when I saw the performance, I thought he was an amazing performer. He put me in mind of a kind of highwayman. He was so charismatic.

"The band were very Glaswegian ... It was all 'get that f****** gear on the f****** stand, for f***'s sake', that kind of language. I come from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, and it sounds so crazy now, but I had hardly heard that word before. But I remember watching them and thinking, 'This is interesting.' The Soul Band were brilliant: I loved that kind of music."

HeraldScotland: Alex and Trudy Harvey on their wedding dayAlex and Trudy Harvey on their wedding day

In time the couple married, and they moved into a flat in Redington Road, in Hampstead, north London. In 1967 young people were basking in the summer of love, a great time for hippies and flower power. "We lived in a house with seven musicians so there were a lot of comings and goings," remembers Trudy. 

One acquaintance was David Bowie. "We knew him around the time he was working with the mime artist Lindsay Kemp. He stayed with us for a while, and then just on and off. Alex and David would talk about science fiction, and I think Alex introduced him to Arthur C Clarke's books."

In 1976 Harvey launched his own project, Alex Harvey Presents the Loch Ness Monster. In the sleevenotes he spoke of his belief that the loch contained a "colony of creatures as yet unnamed by modern science". He donated the profits to wildlife preservation. He was ahead of his time in that respect. "Absolutely," says Trudy. "He always told people, 'Don't p*** in the water supply.' In his lyrics and his music he was very much about, 'What are we doing to the planet?' He read a great deal. He loved his home, his children, his animals. He was very much someone for the home. He put up shelves, he did his handyman stuff. He was just, to be honest, an ordinary guy. He was interested in history and politics – he came from a political family. In his lyrics you can tell what he believed in.

"He also collected little Victorian lead soldiers – he used to go to Camden market and buy broken ones and at home he would fix them, give them new heads and repaint them. He was fascinated with the British Empire and the military. Some people assume he wanted to be in the army, but quite the contrary.

"Someone asked me the other day if Alex was ever violent. Did he get into fights?" She laughs. "I never knew him get into a fight. Don't forget, Alex was an actor. He got on the stage, and if he was playing a gang member, whatever it was, he would play the part. He did Delilah tongue-in-cheek, for example. He could sing those songs, and everybody understood it was a joke."

Harvey quit SAHB in 1977, worn out by touring and by having to cope with a serious back injury. He went on to assemble new musical projects; sadly, however, he didn't live to see the release of his final album, The Soldier on the Wall. On February 4, 1982, he suffered a heart attack while returning home from a gig in Belgium. The 64-page book in the box set quotes Charles Shaar Murray's NME obituary, in which he cites Harvey's warmth, humour and compassion. Is that what Trudy most remembers? "Absolutely. He had a great sense of humour. He would get one of his golden retrievers and he would sit it on the table next to him and tell people, 'This is the most intelligent dog in the world – ask him a question.' People would ask a question and after a pause Alex would say, 'No – that's not intelligent enough. He won't bother with that.'"

Chris Glen, SAHB's bass player, says he is proud of the box set. "The wonderful thing when you listen to it is that we're on more than half the tracks. If you want to talk about people reinventing themselves, listen to what Alex was doing before his association with SAHB. We're 180 degrees from that. I think a lot of people forget that. We were a heavy rock band, and Alex just came in and replaced the singer. But it was an easy transition for us, because we were reasonable musicians, but for Alex it must have been a complete turnaround." 

Glen recalls Harvey being a "madman, but a controlled madman. Offstage, he was one of the boys. The whole thing was, there was never a pecking order in the group ... We were always together, and you talked to Alex the same way you would everyone else, and the same way you would talk to the road crew. It was all just one big family."

Harvey, he adds, "was very well-read and could come up with wonderful quotes from Nietzsche and people like that. The great thing about his politics was that he didn't let it spill over on to the stage, though there would be wonderful general statements that made so much sense, like 'Don't make, buy or shoot any bullets, because when you do, you just make a rich man richer.' 'Don't p*** in the water-supply, because it's you that has to drink it.'"

Compiling the box set took two years, from start to finish, for Joe Black, a project manager and music consultant. "Most of the music came from the German Tape Archive," he says, referring to an archive run by a company called Arvato which has now closed down, "but as we found out in 2002, when we first remastered the SAHB albums, the name Alex Harvey didn’t mean anything to them so they really had to be cajoled into digging deeper and going that extra mile to find those rarities. I was particularly proud of unearthing the original master tape of Alex playing with his brother Les in May 1964, which I don’t think anyone had ever realised existed."

Loyal SAHB fans proved to be extremely helpful. Two Glaswegians, Brian McNeill and the Tomahawk Kid, found a pristine version of Harvey's No Complaints Department, and a demo version of Billy Bolero, the song that closes the box set. The first one is a piano blues, its lyrics alluding not only to his late manager, Bill Fehilly, who died in a plane crash, but also to his late brother. "Some of the very early seven-inch singles proved difficult to locate," Black adds, "but we were helped enormously by two fans in Sweden who went into a recording studio in Stockholm at their own expense and transferred their versions of the Work Song and The Sunday Song singles which were originally released in 1965. We can’t lay claim to the box set being absolutely complete as there are some very early acetates that have gone missing over the years and have been bootlegged but the owner of the acetates didn’t want to give us access to the very early recordings."

No matter. At 217 tracks, the box set is remarkably comprehensive. The hope is that a new audience will now discover Harvey for themselves. Glen, who in his time has played with everyone from John Martyn to Jeff Beck, has met lots of kids while playing with his own band who first heard about SAHB through their father or older brother. "It has stuck with them," he says. "They are real fans, and their biggest regret is that they never got to see the original band."

Harvey, says Trudy, "even though he was a pacifist, he had a kind of warrior aura about him. It was a kind of attitude of 'don't give up'. He had a definite message: not to fire any bullets, to put it in a nutshell, but also that the kids should not be destructive. He identified very much with the younger generation, and he felt that things would change ... But if you were to ask what was it that defined Alex, I think it was that he dared to be close to the edge. And I think this box set is a wonderful celebration of one of the most creative and innovative people of his time."

The Last of the Teenage Idols is released by Universal, priced £110. Visit www.sahbofficial.co.uk and www.chrisglen.co.uk.