Warning: this post may feature Album Oriented Rock, a saxophone solo and an entry to the Eurovision Song Contest. Don’t worry though; I’ve added as much kickass NWOBHM as possible. Although I thought it would be wise to give prior warning to those who may find the contrast between the raw and wild heavy metal onslaught of the NWOBHM era and Terry Wogan a bit unnerving. I’m afraid there may also be power ballads about being really masculine and driving cars while wearing incredibly tight jeans, sunglasses, a ’maximum muscle exposure’ vest and satins, which you are quite right to find somewhat confusing…
This week I want to talk about the ‘NWOBHM supergroup’ Lionheart and see what we can learn about the era from a band that clearly aspired to rise above the silly acronym, and whether or not their intentions were commendable.
I first had the idea for this post when I remembered that there was a pretty funny Lionheart video featuring Rik Mayall from 1984. So let’s start here…
This example represents the final destiny of the Lionheart project, i.e. aiming to win acclaim from fans of melodic hard rock/AOR. If you judge it by these standards, it’s a pretty solid piece of work. Before the warriors of true metal kick me in the face with steel toe-capped spiked armour biker boots I’d like to say that it’s not something that I would generally choose to listen to myself, although it could represent a band with conviction, playing the music they wanted to make, which is an impressively written, executed and produced piece of work. They clearly wanted to appeal to fans of the softer side of glam, and I guess sounding kind of American was a part of this strategy. I’d just hate to see their hair-care bills, this kind of grooming can’t come cheap! Many NWOBHM groups were sounding more ‘keyboardy’ by the mid-80s. The bigger bands like Def Leppard and (admit it) Saxon were all aiming for america. Iron Maiden retained both their authenticity and dignity in this time, demonstrating that you can use synths to fill out your sound, and can still fill an American arena without keyboards becoming too dominant…
However, Iron Maiden offshoot Lionheart didn’t always have AOR leanings, and this incarcation of the strange project was unrecognisable from it’s original form.
Their story starts when Dennis Stratton leaves Iron Maiden before the recording of their slightly out of character single ‘Women In Uniform’ (and the mighty ‘Killers’ album of course) and sets about getting his own project off the ground. He recruited Jess Cox following his sacking from Tygers Of Pan Tang and two chaps from the band that at that point was called Wildfire (more about them in next weeks post).
By the way, so many musicians ‘served time’ in Lionheart that the very idea of writing a Schindler’s personnel list for them has been causing me severe anxiety. Here’s a song that many of you will find a little more agreeable, their title track from 1981…
This video has apparently been ‘terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement’, which is a shame! Raiders of the Lost Archives doesn’t appear to be available anywhere, so if anyone can give me information about when a reissue is due or a link to somewhere it’s for sale that would be kind…
From what I can tell, this song was recorded with Stratton and bassist Rocky Newton sharing vocal duties. You see, after it was decided that Jess Cox wasn’t quite up to scratch to do all the stadium rock vocal gymnastics that Stratton felt the band needed, he was booted out. This was the beginning of Stratton’s addiction to changing personnel, a seemingly constant revolving door policy trying to form his ideal lineup. It very quickly gets embarrassing, as he seems to be applying the ‘Can you live up to the expectations tonight?’ lyric from their trademark song to his musicians then sacking them if they fell short.
Cox used some of the songs he wrote during his time in Lionheart on his 1983 album ‘Third Step’, including this one ‘Piece Of The Action’.
…and also this, the B side from the One In A Million 7″ (1983).
Stratton’s interest in soft rock and glam wasn’t a new phenomenon, he has said in interviews how one of the reasons he wanted to leave Iron Maiden was that they were unimpressed with his tendency to listen to ‘inappropriate’ music such as Foreigner and Styx while they were on tour in America. I love to imagine how those discussions went!
On the 1998 Japanese compilation CD ‘Unearthed: Raiders Of The Lost Archives’, you can see how if they had stuck to their guns and released an album in 1982 rather than messing about striving for the ‘ultimate lineup’, they may have produced something for the world to remember them fondly by. On a live bootleg of a show from that year the crowd are begging for the band to release an LP!
However, despite the public face of Lionheart playing well crafted pieces like this one at their shows…
Again, this video has apparently been ‘terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement’, which means I’m feeling both disappointed and optimistic that there maybe a reissue on the cards? There better be!
…in interviews Stratton was name dropping American radio friendly glam bands too often for comfort. Their fans didn’t seem all that bothered, they had built up a good following and so long as they weren’t sounding too AOR they could listen to whatever they wanted to in their spare time… I think ‘Dealer’ shows that if they had successfully laid an album down in their early years it could have rivalled the much loved Tytan album (they shared personnel during both band’s simultaneous latter day crises) if they had used keyboard with this much moderation and retained this tuneful atmosphere. This phase of continuing personnel reshuffles went on and on, and in 1984 they recruited a chap called Chad Brown and disappeared to Los Angeles to record their debut album, ‘Hot Tonight’.
….and lo and behold, they re-emerged sounding like Toto or REO Speedwagon. Which brings us back to where we started, that video for ‘Die For Love’ featuring Rik Mayall, remember?
One of the reasons why it’s fun to see NWOBHM music videos is because in the early 80s the idea of any British band making a music video was to be shown on Top of the Pops, in lieu of performances from artists who were not available to appear live on the show. Because it was very rare for heavy metal to be featured, less established bands would have to be pretty confident to expect to be invited to make an appearance. So making a video would have been seen as an over ambitious venture for most NWOBHM acts. Although at the turn of the decade very few people had VCRs, there still some examples of bands releasing their own videos. Actually the only one I can think of at the moment is Holocaust from Edinburgh. This band managed to release a live video as early as 1981, and thankfully this gives me an excuse to play something that definitely isn’t AOR…
To my ears, Holocaust represent the boogie side of NWOBHM pushed to its most intense, mainly by Gary Lettice’s ANGRY sounding voice. The video was called ‘Live From The Raw Loud ‘n’ Live Tour’, which is a ridiculous name, and although a costly endeavour it was apparently a successful marketing ploy. The same can’t be said for the ‘Metal City’ video issued in an almost hilariously misogynistic cover in 1985 by Neat Records. By this time VCRs had become a bit more widespread, making the idea of video promotion a bit more sensible. However, the video tries to give each band a ‘narrative’. Saracen’s is my favourite.
Warning: for some reason, the following video features topless models chasing after men with laughable facial hair.
By all accounts this compilation video didn’t do much to help the bands involved (Venom, Warfare, Saracen and Avenger) by making them all look like ridiculous poster boys for soft porn. It didn’t even sell all that well! However, I find every minute of it hilarious. (Saracen are amazing by the way, catch them at Brofest in Februrary).
Back to Lionheart… So we’ve established that the video for ‘Die For Love’ would definitely have been intended for an American audience. Music videos, like adverts (which is what they are really aren’t they?) always serve as good documentation of what musicians, agents and film directors thought would please an audience (sorry, what were Neat thinking with that Saracen video again?), and this example is definitely no exception.
There’s an explosion, some of-their-time computer graphics and a god-damn helicopter. This video must have cost them a fortune so you must buy this album or they’ll never pay it off! I’m a big fan of Rik Mayall, and would like to think that he wouldn’t have charged a huge amount for his services, thanks to his connections to early 80s British heavy metal. What, didn’t you know? Rik Mayall played Colin Grigson, the inept, pretentious bassist in ‘Bad News’, an episode from the first series of The Comic Strip Club that accurately satirised the NWOBHM in 1983. I’ll dedicate a full post to Bad News in a few weeks time, but this one off TV show was so popular they went on tour, eventually playing at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in 1986. I guess around this phase of his career, someone in the NWOBHM network would have asked Rik to play the part of the wheelchair bound captor of Chad Brown’s girlfriend (who the band have to liberate from some weird mansion complex, of course).
Strangely, the extravagant image employed in their video doesn’t extend to the ‘Hot Tonight’ album cover, which is a pretty bland image of some sunglasses focusing the sun’s rays and burning a hole onto what looks like a music score. It’s all quite white and non metallic, including the logo, which is red in sans serif capitals. It appears to be aimed at an American audience solely by not looking like something a metal-head would want to be seen dead with. However, for some reason the people in control decided to make it look insultingly cheap. As if that would make them appear less NWOBHM! LOOK AT YOUR EX-BAND IRON MAIDEN, Dennis! Good album covers are pretty vital, even Saxon had started making an effort around this time!
Anyway here is one of the most unforgivable tracks on that album, ‘Wait For The Night’.
Warning: this track features a saxophone solo…
In 1985 vocalist Chad Brown decided to leave in the face of public indifference, and his next step was even more unforgivable, this entry to the Eurovision song contest, aptly named ‘I’m Sorry’. You better be!
(In the ’90s Chad joined Andy Scott and Mick Tucker’s version of Sweet ((which had started in 1985 with ex More and Wildfire hero Paul Mario Day and had utilised the services of two ex Lionheart keyboardists before Chad Brown’s stint. More about the Sweet’s role as final stand for NWOBHM heroes in next week’s post))).
But Lionheart kept going, they had already expanded to a six piece by recruiting a full-time keyboardist (Phil Lanzon from Grand Prix, who also supplied them with their drummer Andy Bernie) rather than the guitarist/keyboardist role that had been played by Steve Mann up until this point.
In the sacred ‘NWOBHM Encyclopaedia’ Malc Macmillan perfectly sums up the unfortunate Lionheart story as ‘a near-legendary series of cock-ups, weekly personnel reshuffles and missed opportunities which largely reduced the hapless outfit to an utter laughing stock, which needn’t have been the case at all’.
The ‘Hot Tonight’ album has apparently become a revered and well loved article by AOR fans, so they can’t have been that far off the mark. But when you remember Dennis Stratton blasting dual guitar harmonies on ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ five years earlier, it’s hard for a fan of this glorious era of underground excitement not to feel at least a little bit let down.
So to summarise, if Lionheart’s intentions were to make something that sounded grand and powerful, they started off on the right track, but from what I can tell, the four year gestation period between their strong start and painful drawn out end resulted in them losing track of what their audience wanted. They may have posthumously become well renown in another musical sphere (American soft rock), but it was never enough to build a career on. Much as I respect any band for following their dream, they should never forget that they are engaged in a transaction with their devotees; they need to engage with their audience. I’ll be talking even more about NWOBHM supergroups next week, see you then!
Lets end on a high note shall we? Bollweevil from Surrey were down to earth, gutter dwelling, speed boogie power. This is their only 7’’ from 1981, and I love it so much. You can ponce around trying to make a perfect composition with the perfect lineup all you want, but at the end of the day, we are here to ‘Rock Solid’.