Stray Live in the 1970s
There were a handful of bands who gigged consistently and constantly in the early to mid-70s. They were great rock bands, and some of them went on to much greater success. In that group I would include The Groundhogs featuring the great Tony McPhee, Chicken Shack with Stan Webb, Slade (in their early days), Status Quo, the Edgar Broughton Band and Stray. Stray never quite “made it” big, although on a good night (and there were lots of them), and as a live act, I think Stray were up there with Zeppelin and Purple. I was lucky enough to see them several times during the 1970s. The gigs all sort of blur into one these days, but I clearly remember a gig with Barclay James Harvest at Sunderland Top Rank, two great gigs at the wonderful Spennymoor Top Hat Club, an amazing performance at the 1972 Reading Festival (alongside Status Quo, Ten Years After, The Faces, Genesis and Edgar Broughton Band; happy days), and a support slot for the Groundhogs at Newcastle City Hall (with Gentle Giant also on the bill). The Groundhogs tour came at the same time that Stray released their fifth, and most adventurous, album “Mudanzas”, and the band were experimenting with additional live musicians; including a keyboard player, backing vocalists and a brass section. My friend John recalls seeing Stray at at “far out gig” when they played Sunderland Top Rank with Quintessence. Later in the ’70s I saw Stray support Rush at the City Hall, Kiss at Birmingham Odeon, and much more recently I have seen them at Whitley Bay Dome (probably 10 or 15 years ago, actually), the Cluny (not too long ago, and with their old mate Tony McPhee and his Groundhogs again) and a couple of times at Newcastle Tyne Theatre (with Mountain I think, one of those was Del Bromham solo, supporting Leslie West solo). I am sure there are several other times, that I have forgotten, and are lost in the depths of my ever-diminishing memory banks. I do remember going to a midnight to 4am gig at Newcastle Mayfair, and being disappointed when Stray didn’t show. The gig was headlined by Glencoe and a couple of local bands (Lucas Tyson and/or Brass Alley methinks) instead. We left the Mayfair at 4am and spent the rest of the night in Bowers all night cafe opposite the station (the cafe is featured in Get Carter). More Happy Days.
Stray were at their best in the early 1970s. This was the classic line-up of the band who recorded the first five albums, “Stray” (1970), “Suicide” (1971), “Saturday Morning Pictures” (1972), “Mudanzas” (1973) and “Move It” (1974). That line-up was vocalist Steve Gadd, guitarist Del Bromham, bass player Gary Giles and drummer Richie Cole. Del was the driving force behind the band and was a huge charismatic character. The guys were still very young, which only added to their charm; we felt that they were just like us. Stray had a huge following in Sunderland and the North East and were big favourites at both Sunderland Locarno and Newcastle Mayfair. In 1975 an additional guitarist, Pete Dyer, was recruited. Steve Gadd departed during the recording of their sixth lp “Stand Up And Be Counted”, leaving Bromham and Dyer to share lead vocal duties. The classic line-up folded some time in the late ’70s or early ’80s.
Stray live was an experience like no other band at the time. Those guys always tried to put on “a show”. They had two dustbins which they filled with explosives of some sort, placed them on stage, and set them off near the end of the show. The “bang’ was ear-splitting and the bins filled with flames which would shoot up to the ceiling. This sounds almost unbelievable in these days of health and safety requirements, but I swear it happened. Maybe my mind has exaggerated it over the 40 years that have passed since I witnessed this, but I think (and hope 🙂 ) not. I bet Del didn’t complete a rick assessment form 🙂 The guys, especially Del, and Gary Giles had really long hair, which made us all very jealous. Del took to wearing a mirrored outfit, which was basically a suit covered in small square mirrors, of the sort that are on a mirror ball, or you could buy to stick on your wall at the time. It looked incredible and the stage lights, which of course included the obligatory strobe, would reflect off it, and sends flashes of light all over the ballroom. Del would play his trademark Gibson Firebird guitar. Del: “Having my first Gibson Firebird guitar stolen from Newcastle City Hall was a low-point. It was a rare green one. There were only a few of them made – I think about five at this time. I had one, Stevie Winwood had one, Eric Clapton had one, and guess what – we all had them stolen !!! ” (from an interview with Get Ready To Rock). These guys played accessible, great heavy rock music, with catchy riffs. And Del was (and is) a very under-rated guitarist. “In the late 60’s the first wave of guitar idols were Page, Clapton and Beck. Bromham’s past work should be re appraised as he clearly slipped through the net” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music). But most of all they were our band. I had a few mates who went everywhere to see them, hitching up and down the country. That was what we did in those days oh so many years ago…Classic songs were “Around The World In Eighty Days” and “Time Machine” from the first self-titled lp, my own personal favourite “Jericho” from “Suicide”, and “After The Storm” from “Saturday Morning Pictures”. But the highlight of any Stray gig was of course the classic “All In Your Mind”, which was the stand-out track on their excellent first album, and which would come at the very end of their set, either as the last song or probably the encore. For “All In Your Mind” the strobe was switched on full, Steve Gadd’s hair and mike were flailing around, and Del would go into an extended guitar solo. Towards the end of the solo Del would lay his Firebird on the top of his Marshall stack and start to whip it with his massively long guitar lead. The strobe would pick Del and his mirror suit out, it would look almost as if he was going into slow motion, as he willed strange sounds out of the guitar and continued to thrash it with his lead, and the room would fill with screaming feedback. Then they would set off the dustbins “BANG” and we would feel the heat of the massive flames. The guys would leave the stage with the guitar still screeching feedback. Eventually a roadie would come on and switch off the amp. Amazing stuff. As 14 and 15 year old kids we just lapped it up. Del, you were our hero, and Stray, you gave us some wonderful nights that we all talked about again and again. And thankfully flashes of the memories are still with me.
Del continues to lead Stray with a new line-up. “All In Your Mind” is now, quite rightly, recognised as a heavy rock classic; having been covered by none other than Iron Maiden.
Stray Live in the 1970s
Stray Live in the 1970s