Review by Pete Finn for MPM
After our previous jaunts around the country, it’s nice to have a ‘local’ one. The two ‘Old Muppets’ are back on the familiar floorboards of Rock City’s little sister, The Rescue Rooms. Tonight, we get to see one of the genuine legends of Heavy Metal in the form of Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris, who will be performing with his other band British Lion, also on the bill tonight are London rockers Stray.
There’s a big excited queue waiting as we arrive. The 450-capacity venue is sold out, but the queue goes down quickly and efficiently and we’re in.
Stray were formed in London during 1966, vocalist Steve Gadd, guitarist Del Bromham, bass player Gary Giles and drummer Steve Crutchley formed the band whilst all were attending the Christopher Wren School in London. The band dissolved and reformed several times with different line-ups over the years. The current line-up consists of Del Bromham (guitar/vocals), Karl Randall (drums), Simon Rinaldo (keyboards), Colin Kempster (bass), and Pete Dyer (guitar/vocals).
There are a couple of connections to Steve Harris, with one example in 2003, Stray were the support band to Iron Maiden on several of their European dates on the Dance of Death World Tour 2003-2004, another being Iron Maiden recorded a cover of the 1970 Stray track ‘All In Your Mind’. The band have released 18-albums in total, with a mix of studio, live and compilation records, with their self-titled debut in 1970 and the most recent being ‘Live In Japan’ during 2014, although the band have a new album ready for release later this year.
Stray make their way out onto the stage, Del Bromham leans into the mic and states, “We’re gonna make a racket”, then it’s straight into ‘Come On Over’ this is taken from ‘Mudanzas’ which was released in 1973. It’s big riffs and strong vocals from the start, all three of the guitarists are singing, Karl Randall behind the drum kit is a blur of hair and drumsticks, Bromham fires out a solo, I’m thinking it sounds like the Rolling Stones, then the band play a snippet of ‘Midnight Rambler’ before they rock out. A cracking start.
Bromham introduces the next track, telling us, “It’s about a terrible night in Texas.” ‘One Night In Texas’ is from 1976’s ‘Hearts Of Fire’. Pete Dyer is on vocals, it’s a southern boogie sound with driving beats delivered by the rhythm section with force. As he plays the solo Bromham is smiling and pointing at the crowd. Randall’s drums lead the way to a big finish. The crowd in The Rescue Rooms cheer and clap in appreciation, we’re liking Stray.
A grinning Bromham tells us “This next song was written many, many moons ago.” ‘Jericho’ is taken from the 1971 album ‘Suicide’, Bromham’s intro is down at the naughty end, a rolling marching beat start, the lyrics are quickly spoken. A combination of rock and prog styles that work well. There’s an urgency, Kempster exercises his bass strings with Rinaldo’s keys rich in support.
The momentum is high throughout. Bromham comes to the edge of the stage for his solo, leading the band into a tight finish.
From 1973’s ‘Mudanzas’ is ‘I Believe It’, this is slower almost a ballad, a track dripping with emotion. The atmosphere builds as the band produce a rich sound. Rinaldo has his keyboards producing orchestral like accompaniment. As he plays the solo Bromham is leaning back with his eyes closed. Another track that the Nottingham crowd enjoyed.
Bromham tells us that the next track was recorded around the same time they toured with KISS, “I wonder, whatever happened to them?” he asks. The title-track of the 1976 release ‘Houdini’ is next. A big riff starts us moving, an underlying Quo boogie has the toes tapping. Dyer is singing vocals, the band are calling for claps from the crowd, who respond by clapping. Harmonies and rolling drums keep the attention, the dual guitars of Bromham and Dyer working in tandem.
Bromham thanks the Nottingham crowd for coming to see them play. The band close what has been a very enjoyable set with their anthem ‘All in Your Mind’ from the debut album ‘Stray’. It’s the track that Iron Maiden covered their 1990’s album ‘No Prayer For The Dying’. It has hard hitting beats from Randall, a crushing solo from Del Bromham, the band are enjoying this as they move around the stage.
Listening, it is like reading through the chapters of a book, the song is arranged in segments each with a different story to tell. Bromham removes his guitar and plays it by rubbing the strings against an overhead speaker then his monitor, the band wait for a final Randall drum roll before hitting the big finish.
The band thank the crowd and leave the stage smiling and waving, they have gone down very well. This is the first time I’ve seen Stray, and I’ll be looking out for them touring again.
Setlist: Come On Over; One Night In Texas; Jericho; I Believe It; Houdini; All in Your Mind.
Perhaps unfairly known as ‘Steve Harris’ side-project’, British Lion are a notable band in their own right, and in my opinion should be known as a band that Steve Harris plays bass in. The band have released two albums, the first in 2012 as a Steve Harris solo project, called ‘British Lion’, the second ‘The Burning’ was released eight years later in January 2020, as British Lion.
The sound is more along the lines of UFO and Golden Earring classic rock than Iron Maiden’s heavy metal. Their songs are all based on events they have experienced throughout life. Tonight’s show is part of a 14-date European Tour, and British Lion consists of Richard Taylor (vocals), David Hawkins (guitar/keyboards), Grahame Leslie (guitar), Simon Dawson (drums) and Steve Harris (bass).
A crew member flashes a torch to the soundboard. The lights go out and the band make their way out onto the stage, the intro to ‘This Is My God’ from the debut album starts, it has a bit of a distorted electro sound to it, like early 90’s U2. Richard Taylor raises a fist above his head as his vocal pierces the wall of sound with crystal clear lyrics. Taylor then gets the crowd clapping, as David Hawkins unleashes his first solo of the night. The crowd cheer and clap as the track finishes.
From ‘The Burning’ it’s straight into ‘City of Fallen Angels’, it’s a lot quicker, punky, Taylor chants the lyrics, Harris’ bass is shaking the room. Simon Dawson’s salvo of drumbeats get the heads nodding, Harris and Grahame Leslie leading the clapping. David Hawkins who is wearing a beanie delivers a classic rock solo straight between the ears. Two very different tracks to start, and it’s clear straight away that these boys can play.
We have a chorus of ‘Woah’s’ before the next song, which is from ‘British Lion’ and is ‘Judas’, Richard Taylor grabs his acoustic guitar, it’s is a mid-tempo number, with a prominent heartbeat of Simon Dawson drums. As the track progresses, it slows down further almost to a lullaby, leaving Taylor to caress our ears, just before the rhythm section pull them off in a crescendo finish, which dislodges some confetti on the overhead lighting from a previous gig.
Steve Harris is wearing his customary shorts and ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked’ (repeat it quickly a few times) vest, with his West Ham coloured guitar strap and wrist bands. We’ve been treated to three varied tracks, and one thing is very obvious, vocalist Richard Taylor has an incredible voice, his control, range and variation in styles is top quality.
‘Father Lucifer’ is taken from ‘The Burning’ it’s a good old fashioned classic rock song, this has Steve Harris’ pounding bass all the way through, The Rescue Rooms are shaking, David Hawkins sets his fretboard alight with a high velocity solo. Leslie and Harris are headbanging, Taylor wants to hear us sing, so we have a sing-back with him, before finishing with a round of ‘Hey, Hey’ chants.
Still from ‘The Burning’ it’s the title track, it’s a true story. The beat creates an image of the cavalry charging into battle, we clap along sounding like galloping hoofs. Taylor is doing a high-speed kata; I like the way that Taylor and the musicians alternate trading blows. Steve Harris is in familiar pose, foot on the monitor, ‘shooting’ the crowd with his bass and singing every word, he then cups his ear encouraging more cheering, the band power to a close. That was a very popular track.
The UFO sounding ‘Legend’ from ‘The Burning’ is next, it’s a slower number, it’s very melodic and has an underlying vocal harmony that cleverly bonds the track together. Taylor encourages the Nottingham crowd to join in with a chorus of ‘Wo-ahs’.
The next track sees us return to the 2012 ‘British Lion’ album, it’s ‘These Are The Hands’ about Taylor’s and Hawkins’ home town in East Anglia, a steady Dawson drum beat carries Taylor’s soaring vocal above. There a loads of intricate hooks and breaks deployed by the twin guitars of Leslie and Hawkins, this is a really well constructed track. The arms of the crowd are swaying in time. Richard Taylor is shadow boxing. The Rescue Rooms are cheering and whistling.
A song about losing your father, ‘Spit Fire’ starts with minstrel story telling style vocal intro, leading into a Harris beat that is punctuated with David Hawkins’ lead breaks, the Steve Harris pounding bass riff makes this track the only British Lion one I heard, that conjures up images of Iron Maiden.
Richard Taylor has his acoustic guitar. ‘The Chosen Ones’ from the first album, is a song written for “The Underdogs”, Grahame Leslie starts the track off, it gets the crowd bouncing and punching the air along to the beat. This has all the parts of a truly classic rock song, driving beat, great Leslie guitar breaks and strong vocal. The rhythm section are hitting it hard, the crowd clap along, before we all sing back as Taylor points his mic at the crowd in front of him, the track builds to a crescendo finish.
‘Bible Black’ is taken from ‘The Burning’, from the hi-hat cymbal and quick riff intro, you know this is going to be a monster of a track, the drums and bass pushing on your rib-cage, the vocals massage the ears. The Leslie/Hawkins dual guitar solos attack, spin and twist your senses. It’s an all-out full body assault and it feels great. Judging by the crowd’s reaction they feel the same way.
Jangly guitars start ‘Land Of The Perfect People’ from ‘The Burning’ a track about Taylor’s personal experiences of growing up with bullies. It’s another song that demonstrates the range and strength of Taylor’s voice, the complementing Leslie guitar skills drive this track along. This is a track full of emotion and passion, that is performed from the heart.
A fierce volley of Dawson drums start ‘Us Against The World’. A powerful and passionate track, with an awesome beat and singing guitars, incorporating multiple tempo changes, it’s fast then slow. David Hawkins leans back as he plays the solo. Drummer Dawson is off his stool as the track concludes.
‘Wasteland’ is a new track, I say that because it’s not on either album, could this be the prelude to a new album? This is quick and heavy, pulling no punches, as the wave of sound batters The Rescue Rooms.
Taylor sounds angry, an animated Harris is head-banging, the guitar riffs are of the ‘full-fat’ variety. This sounds great, a popular track amongst the Nottingham crowd.
From ‘The Burning’, ‘Lightning’ has a hypnotic David Hawkins guitar intro, burbling bass with hard and steady drums power the track forward. All of this aggression is in contrast to Taylor’s silky-smooth delivery of the lyrics, it works brilliantly.
Taylor thanks those who’ve travelled from near and far, including some from Scotland and a couple from the USA. He then proceeds to introduce the band to us.
Taylor, wants The Rescue Rooms to sing with him, we have a ‘Hey, Hey’ sing-back, he wants to see the place erupt. Next, it’s the seven-minute epic ‘A World Without Heaven’ is from the original ‘British Lion’ album. It’s a true classic rock song, a respectful nod to the likes of Thin Lizzy and UFO. A mix of careful lyrics, crunching riffs and thumping beats.
The changes in tempos and melodies are seamless, the squealing solos bringing a smile to your face, you’re drawn in, you become involved.
Revisiting ‘The Burning’, it calms down a bit for the lullaby intro to ‘Last Chance’, Grahame Leslie demonstrates real guitar playing ability. The calm doesn’t last long before the ground shakes to Steve Harris’ bass. Taylor delivers the lyrics with bite and clarity, as he twirls his mic stand above his head. Harris is conducting the crowd in handwaving, clapping and ‘Wo-ahs’. The track concludes with a big crashing finish.
The final song of the night is ‘Eyes Of The Young’, again from the first album, a proper feel good, ‘Send them home happy’ track. Is it a reflection back to the early years, when hopes and dreams are there to be achieved? Taylor carries his acoustic once more. The place is bouncing. The band are grinning, they’re enjoying this too. We get to sing one last time. The show concludes, the band flick picks and sticks and other souvenirs as they leave the stage waving. British Lion are a lot heavier live compared to their records, and personally I prefer it, and looking and listening to the crowd they may agree with me.
Steve Harris is the founding member of one of the biggest, most successful Heavy Metal bands in the world, but tonight he’s just the bass player of British Lion. We haven’t watched Steve Harris’ ‘side-project’, we’ve watched British Lion and they were bloody great.
Setlist: This Is My God; City of Fallen Angels; Judas; Father Lucifer; The Burning; Legend; These Are the Hands; Spit Fire; The Chosen Ones; Bible Black; Land of the Perfect People; Us Against the World; Wasteland; Lightning; A World Without Heaven; Last Chance; Eyes of the Young.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM