Artist: Heavy Metal Kids: Hit The Right Button Plus, release March 2010 Heavy rock may be global, may have spawned unique subcultures in Scandinavia and South America and become diluted to form the dominant daytime soundtrack of the
United States of America, but from the late 60s heavy rock has always had a British accent, then & now...
"Then And Now?" shriek plebs, stage left, "Surely they're a Gong and Soft Machine Canterbury psychedelic jazz spin off?" A BBC4 TV rockumentary on Heavy metal in Feb/March '10 produced the evidence that it all starts in Birmingham, Britain's second city in the industrial West Midlands where I
grew up. The 'Black Country', so called because of the Poly and grime of heavy industry, spawned more heavy rock and heavy metal bands than anywhere else. This crucible of industry,
with its pounding beat of powerful machinery, presses, hammers and stampers overlaid with the machine gun staccato riveters was the DNA behind the new musical melting pot that took guitar
music from its first stretching psychedelic steps. Psychedelic steps that built upon the original collisions of R&B and rock and roll and overdriven guitars of the likes of Chuck
Berry. From Berry, through Link Wray, through the Kinks, through Iron Butterfly, through Led Zep, the heavy guitar comet was finally pulled into a tight orbit around the heaviness of Brum,
the likes of Sabbath emerging from this big bang.
Artist: Marshall Law: Power Game, release March 2010
Artist: White Lightening: ******, release March 2010
Label: Angel Air Records
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: February - March 2010
Heavies from Heaven: Angel Air's March releases
That's just a temporal expression, replieth ye humble scribe, now pay attention.
Heavy rock may be global, may have spawned unique subcultures in Scandinavia and South America and become diluted to form the dominant daytime soundtrack of the United States of America, but from the late 60s heavy rock has always had a British accent, then & now...
"Then And Now?" shriek plebs, stage left, "Surely they're a Gong and Soft Machine Canterbury psychedelic jazz spin off?"
A BBC4 TV rockumentary on Heavy metal in Feb/March '10 produced the evidence that it all starts in Birmingham, Britain's second city in the industrial West Midlands where I grew up. The 'Black Country', so called because of the Poly and grime of heavy industry, spawned more heavy rock and heavy metal bands than anywhere else. This crucible of industry, with its pounding beat of powerful machinery, presses, hammers and stampers overlaid with the machine gun staccato riveters was the DNA behind the new musical melting pot that took guitar music from its first stretching psychedelic steps. Psychedelic steps that built upon the original collisions of R&B and rock and roll and overdriven guitars of the likes of Chuck Berry. From Berry, through Link Wray, through the Kinks, through Iron Butterfly, through Led Zep, the heavy guitar comet was finally pulled into a tight orbit around the heaviness of Brum, the likes of Sabbath emerging from this big bang.
Heavy Metal Kids were formed in 1973 but were neither. Neither heavy metal, nor Kids, even if this reissue has artwork showing them in childhood! This reviewer didn't pay any attention to them while concentrating his early adolescence on Mott The Hoople, Slade, Alice Cooper and Lou Reed and only vaguely noticed them with a disdainful 'not for me' much later when the Velvet Underground, Tapper Zukie and Frank Zappa were filling the far end of the LP rack. The Heavy Metal Kids took their name from a gang in a William Burroughs novel and the "Heavy Metal' descriptor contradicts their productions by UK popsters Dave Dee (yes that one who, remained friends with them until his death) for the first album on Atlantic UK, and Mickie Most (yes that one too - he of New Faces '70s TV talent show fame) for the second on Mickie's RAK label. They're fronted by their original singer Danny Peyronel after an interlude when he was at UFO (and songwriting for Meat Loaf and 80's epitome Sade) but who returned to Heavy Metal Kids when the interim singer Gary Holten up and died in '85; such is Rock'n'Roll. Heavy Metal Kids are no niche band, as testified by Danny's writing credits and bassist Ronnie Thomas's writing credits for the the Searchers and Motors punkman power popper Bram Tchaikovsky.
This 13 track 2003 outing Hit The Right Button is boosted by 4 bonus live tracks from 2004 performances in London and Milan to make Hit The Right Button Plus. This was the band's first studio outing for 7 years after Gary's death and these recordings were to be their last for nearly another 7 until they returned to the studio last year to cut Uncontrollable due later this year. The live tracks have a good balance between atmosphere and recording quality and crowd pleasing drive and predictability and heavy rock idioms. There are moments when Heavy Metal Kids sound distinctly unbritish, sounding more USA North Eastern Seaboard, New Jersey even, with guitars reminiscent of Nils Lofgren and vocals of Jon Mellancamp ballad style lyrical delivery. The album is refreshingly diverse and brought to a rousing close by those live tracks.
Recording quality is safe generic heavy rock, enough compression to crank up on average domestic systems while preserving the tweeters. Everything is audible, the mix explicit rather than dense. This is not a straight recording using simple valve microphones analogue mastered on rebuilt ancient Studers and sampled at microwave sampling rates to show off the in the room original medieval instruments playing original medieval tunes. Sound quality is just the right balance for that visceral rock quality with the right speakers and enough amplifier headroom, 2x100Wpc into 92dB/W speakers (>110dB peak in room) should cover it in a domestic living room. This is rock songwriting tackling adolescent issues (however late for the musicians) in the traditions of the medium, delivered with directness and no pretensions.
Ok, we get the pun Marshall Law instead of Martial Law, but how does Jim Marshall feel seeing them using the same name as Marshall's in house magazine? Perhaps Marshall Amplification should have chosen the spelling Marshall Lore to imply the wisdom contained therein. Originating, like much fine heavy rock, from Britain's second city, Birmingham, in 1988 and releasing 5 albums of which this is one of two that survive. Marshall Law are not to be confused with the comics of the same name, the Australian Soap Opera nor American country rock band of the same name (presumably 'cos they're fronted by Sam Marshall). No.
This Marshall Law was formed in 1988 by Andy Pyke and Dave Martin. The band flogged 5000 demos at their live shows, just like bands still do; hooray. Their 1990 eponymous debut got good notices and European tours followed while they honed their second album, Powergame, which is what we have here. It quickly shifted 33,000 and reached number 6 in the Japanese album charts, a very heavy rock literate public. Subsequent touring with the aristocracy of heavy, Marshall Law re-surfaced in 2007 making all new Razorhead by November 2008.
Hence a good time to spring clean the back catalogue and expose it to daylight once again. If you like 80s metal you'll love this. Some contemporary critics disliked Psycho Drama but it is a standout track on this collection, great instrument sound and extending beyond the boundaries of typical generic metal; ah, perhaps that's what the heavy metal critics didn't like as they're a notoriously conservative bunch. Produced by Robin George, of Raw and subject to a bootleg release in 2007 while it was off the shelves, demonstrating its enduring popularity. It's been remixed by Robin George, who is increasingly looking like the midwife to every rock rebirth.
Marshall Law will appear at Bloodstock Open Air in August 2010 near Derby, England, following their successful indoor Bloodstock appearance at Derby Assembly Rooms 2006, where my metalhead friends reliably inform me they went down a storm and at Metalfest September 2010 in Dudley so they're maintaining their Midlands metal roots.
While photographing the final Stonehenge Free Festival in '84 (the last before free speech and free performance were temporarily suspended in the UK) I recall seeing vendors of LSD offering White Lightening as a brand of acid, allegedly playing upon the name of a legendary '60s strain of the drug that inspired the injunction to tune in, turn on, drop out. I recall The Enid purveying their brand of Aerie Faerie Nonsense (and supplying the PA) on Solstice Eve and veteran space rockers Hawkwind before them and after them too, but the band White Lightening missed a big opportunity for viral advertising as crusties wandered the fields calling out "Aceeeed! White Lite'nin! Aceeed!" to the reclining crowds, the same year this band cut their first 7" vinyl single.
White Lightening is also a brand of photoflash tube and a brand of very cheap but potent corn liquor popular with alcoholic teenagers that same decade. So an altogether Rock'n'Roll pedigree name for a band. especially one that appeared not so much to turn on than to burn out (the photofloods and the corn liquor victims). There was another band, appropriately a psychedelic bunch, using the same moniker in Minnesota who lasted '68-'71, and released previously unreleased material between '95-'97. There's another post 2007 dancey indie band White lightening too, so all-in-all a pretty poor unique selling point name. Shame really as this double cd is a gem. And cover pics show they were at nearby Glastonbury Tor (the famous hill & folly not the more famous music festival held the week after 'henge) at around that time.
Regular readers know I didn't take enough drugs when I was younger to perceive the mystical properties of magic wires coated in pixie dust nor to hear the spectacular differences wrought by micrometric VTA adjustments, so I can't comment on the LSD tabs sharing a name with this band; never being a teenage girl (not even in my wildest imaginings), I have never tried the corn liquor pseudo-cider; I use mostly Metz flash tubes or whatever the hire shop has in stock; and I've never heard before 2010 any of the 3 bands sharing this name. This White Lightening is the real deal, a pukka 24 carat blues based heavy rock band whose lack of exposure demonstrates how important is plain old good luck.
White Lightening's debut album ...As Midnight Approaches, recorded live 4 years after their debut single set the tone for their dot dot dot style album titles. It also set the tone for their commercial struggles by being self-funded (unless you were a red braces wearing stock dealer the eighties were a tough time for getting and financing deals), put out on their own Wild Party label and played from start to finish on Tommy Vance's Radio 1 Friday Rock Show (then as now UK radio was only risk taking and imaginative after dark). HiFi News & Record Review (then the most respected and thorough of the audio comics) gave the thumbs up for "excellent sound quality". Their self funded run of 500 copies sold so a deal was struck with Workhorse records distributed by Pye (one of the biggest and most respected respected valve radio manufacturers in their day and a major British record company by this time) who promptly went bust. How cursed was this album?
Pye Electronics were absorbed by Eindhoven giants Phillips but the record company arm sank without this album reaching the lifeboats. Two tracks were captured and tortured to death in the then trendy Stock Aitken and Waterman style, all drum machines and synths but no soul, leading to Mr Pengilly's exit. If a band ever imagined they'd acquired a heavy blues curse of the kind that so features in so many songs from Crossroads onwards, White Lightening had good reason to believe they're it.
...As Midnight Approaches was released originally in 1988, and combines some post-punk influences, Danger Man, fusion bass (nod to Sting style) Blue Horizon, and too much reverb on the snare, London Nightlife and This Poison Fountain, a viral infection in 1984. Enough tracks regain credibility with good songwriting and playing struggling through the 80s production decisions, if the 70s is the decade that taste (the noun not the band) forgot, the 80s is the decade that music forgot, a bloated industry valuing electronics over craftsmanship; fortunately for White Lightening their craftsmanship is detectable under the 80s electro-flab, to shine dimly through for a new audience in 2010, backed up by the 6 bonus tracks recorded live from 85-87.
Paradise...At A price was completed as that difficult second album 2 years later, but proved so difficult it was never released. Perhaps too talented for 80s commercial success, this is such a shame (twice I've used this word) as it's a killer. In parts classic rock and other parts original songwriting and playing. Guitarist John Storey (still with The Storey Henrit Band, and recruited by the band after former guitarist Simon Pengilly got hooked on computers and drum machines, an addiction incompatible with real rock music) surprises with Mick Ralphs (Mott The Hoople and Bad Company) style guitar work, especially on Everything She said. Bassist Richard Max Goddard is dead on the blues rock groove in Murder in Your Eyes but gets quite funky at times. Drummer & keyboardist Jeff Ward mastered both albums and the bonus live tracks in Co Cork (Eire) last year, the studio tracks are bang on and only a couple of the 6 (yes 6) bonus live tracks suffer tinkly drum EQ that's probably a symptom of the live feed; all else is worth the ticket price.
The individual White Lightening members are all still gigging in different bands and if they're ever in the UK Midlands, the birthplace of heavy rock, they'll be worth the trip.
"The old scribe must be harvesting payola big time now!" accuse plebs, stage left.
'Fraid not; not even a free tour tee shirt or backstage passes these days.
These are tunes to play on your push-pull 6L6 or 6550A output stage, better yet, your NOS GEC KT88 amp. They aren't the last word in refinement so the SET 2A3 crew should stick to lieder and arias to show off their seductive midrange and the boogie PRaTs should choose dance, trance and dubstep. This is music music to heads down no nonsense mindless boogie with bursts of air guitar standing on one leg and grimacing. We've all done it.
The pleasant surprise is that these remasters avoid the current trend to crank the compression to a 6dB window and boost the level to the top on the disc.
I love it when I discover a band I'd missed somehow and this month's intelligent rock discovery for me is White Lightening.
Better yet was the opportunity to hear all three bands through review cd player and amplifier, the Canor CD2 VR+ and Canor TP106 VR+ whose ultralinear push-pull output stage is the perfect rock vehicle.
"The old scribe's writing has become pretentious, pompous and utter b*ll*cks", accuse highbrow plebs, stage left
Utter b*ll*cks are needed for testosterone fuelled heads down no nonsense headbanging, replieth ye mid-life crisis scribe.
© 2010 Mark Wheeler - www.tnt-audio.com