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.
Archive for the ‘Stray’ Category
Stray Live in the 1970s
Rush Newcastle City Hall 11 June 1977
I hadn’t heard of Rush at all when I first went to see them. I remember being surprised that this “new” Canadian rock band was headlining the City Hall. Of course, Rush weren’t new at all, and had already released several albums. Anyway, I went along to see them out of curiosity as much as anything, to find out what they were like. There was actually another reason that I went along to this concert, and that was to see support band Stray. I was a big Stray fan from the early 70s onwards and went to see them every chance I had. By 1977 Stray were coming to the end of the first part of the career, but nonetheless Del and the band played a storming set. Rush were touring to support 2112, and it came as a big surprise to me just how good they were. I was also surprised that a three piece band could be play such intricate musical, and that they could also rock and play so loud. The members were, as they remain today: Alex Lifeson (guitar), Geddy Lee (bass) and Neil Peart (drums). The other surprise was Geddy Lee’s high pitched vocals which took some getting used to. Rush opened with Bastille Day and the set included the epic 2112 suite, the wonderful Xanadu (which became a great favourite of all of us rockers in the late 70s) and the excellent Working Man and Finding My Way. I left the City Hall converted to Rush, and went to see them quite a few times over the next few years.
Setlist: Bastille Day; Anthem; Lakeside Park; 2112 Part I-VII: Overture; The Temples of Syrinx; Discovery; Presentation; Soliloquy; Grand Finale. Xanadu; Something for Nothing; By-Tor & The Snow Dog; The Necromancer; Working Man; Finding My Way; Fly by Night; In the Mood; What You’re Doing.
The Reading Festival 1972
I first went to the Reading Festival in 1972 (is it really over 41 years ago 🙂 ?), and continued to go every year until 1980. I missed 1981 as it clashed with a local “Rock on the Tyne” Festival, and have never returned, although I did think of doing so on several occasions. I’m aiming to reflect on one year each week for the next few weeks, starting today with my first Reading experience.
I’d already been to the Lincoln Festival in May 1972 so I felt, as a 15 year old, I was already a hardened festival goer. I didn’t know anyone who wanted to go to Reading, so decided to go along myself. My parents weren’t keen on my idea of hitching so I agreed to go by train. The festival took place over the weekend of August 11th to 13th, 1972 starting on Friday afternoon. For some reason I decided to get the train down to London early on the Thursday night, arriving around midnight. Having nowhere to spend the night I took a tube to Piccadilly Circus and found an all-night cinema. It was showing Elvis films all night; I paid my money and sat close to the front. The cinema was quite empty, the audience was a few couples, some Elvis fans and several people alone like me, and just looking for somewhere to spend the night. I don’t recall which films were shown, I think there were six, and I’m pretty sure one was “Kid Galahad” (which, by the way, is a good movie), and I think another may have been “Fun in Acapulco” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” (not so good). I emerged, very tired, from the cinema in the early hours of the morning, and went across London to get the train to Reading. I didn’t have a ticket for the festival, so when I arrived I joined the queue and bought a weekend ticket. In those days it was all about seeing the bands, so I stayed in the queue to get a good spot in front of the stage. All I had taken was a sleeping bag; no tent; no change of clothes (I told you that I thought myself a hardened festival goer).
The Friday line-up was: Good Habit, Nazareth, Cottonwood, Steamhammer, Jackson Heights, Genesis, Mungo Jerry, Curved Air. The music started at 4pm and there were two stages set alongside each other to make for quick changeovers. I positioned myself close to the front somewhere between the two stages so I had a good view of both. There was a press enclosure right down front, and an area where the Hells Angels would encamp, so you couldn’t get that close to the stage. I got talking to a guy next to me; he was also alone, still at school and a similar age. We stuck together throughout the weekend, keeping each others place in the crowd, and sleeping there on a night in our sleeping bags. This seems crazy now, but hey I was young and just so excited about seeing the bands. You could sleep in the main enclosure in those days; you had to leave in the early morning so that they could clear up and get ready for the next day. Some clearing happened during the night; this didn’t make for a good night sleep as there was a danger that someone stood on you (this happened to me several times). The organisers stopped letting people sleep in the main enclosure a few years later; a punter was run over by a vehicle that was driving around collecting litter….The bands I recall on Friday were: Good Habit (saw them a few times, they used to were monks habits on stage), Nazareth (this was before “Broken Down Angel”; they played a great version of “Morning Dew”); Genesis (Simply amazing. I was a big fan at the time and have written separately about their set which included The Knife, Twilight Alehouse, Watcher Of The Skies, The Musical box, and The Return Of The Giant Hogweed. Classic); Mungo Jerry (got the crowd rocking), and Curved Air (also amazing; It happened today, Backstreet Luv, Sonja Kristina).
The Saturday line-up was: Jonathan Kelly, Solid Gold Cadillac, Man, Linda Lewis, Focus, Edgar Broughton, Jericho, If, Johnny Otis Show, Electric Light Orchestra, The Faces. I watched all of the bands, and also took some time to have a look around the stalls in the arena. I didn’t see any need to venture into town (that would come in later years) and spent the entire weekend within the confines of the festival. The weather was quite warm, sunny with a little drizzle now and then but nothing major, and certainly nothing compared to the rain I experienced at the Lincoln festival earlier in the year. Highlights I can dimly recall now are: Jonathan Kelly (Ballad of Cursed Anna simply wonderful), Solid Gold Cadillac (very jazzy), Man (very long guitar solos; Spunk Rock; great!), Linda Lewis (she looked so tiny on that stage and admitted to being scared), Focus (went down well with the crowd and were one of the successes of the weekend), Edgar Broughton (amazing, I was already a fan. Edgar very unspoken as always. Out Demons Out!!), If (jazzy, great guitarist), Johnny Otis Show (just blogged on them), Electric Light Orchestra (this was a very early performance and one of their first since Roy Wood’s departure. Wasn’t sure what to expect; they were good), The Faces (Rod and the guys on great form, lots of footballs kicked into the crowd, Twisting the Night Away and I’m Losing You were big live favourites of mine at the time).
The Sunday line-up was: Sutherland Brothers, Gillian McPherson, String Driven Thing, Matching Mole, Stackridge, Vinegar Joe, Status Quo, Stray, Roy Wood’s Wizzard, Mahatma Kane Jeeves, Ten Years After, Quintessence. John Peel and Jerry Floyd were comperes for the weekend. Jerry was the regular DJ at the Marquee Club, who organised the festival at the time. I spend much of the weekend chatting about music to the guy that I met on the first day and we struck up quite a friendship. I made a few friend at festivals in those days and would see some people every year but I never ran into this guy again. Wonder where he is now. Highlights of the day were: Matching Mole (featuring Robert Wyatt), Stackridge (“Slark” was a favourite of mine at the time), Vinegar Joe (Elkie just stunning), Status Quo (this was one of the shows that helped them break back. Peel was a big champion of theirs at the time; I think he introduced them as the “Finest rock’n’roll band in the world”, or something like that. They were playing amazing boogie at the time, with Francis giving it some cheeky banter. Someones Learning was a favourite), Stray (excellent, Del in mirror suit), Roy Wood’s Wizzard (pretty good, very retro rock’n’roll. Ballpark Incident had just been released), and Ten Years After (Alvin’s guitar playing was stunning, I’d just seen “Woodstock” and was a big fan). I left as Quintessence’s took to the stage as did many others (TYA were official headliners) to catch the last train to London. The tubes had stopped so I walked across London. I’d missed the midnight train so I spent the night in Kings Cross station.
Monday morning: I was stiff, tired, and scruffy. I got the first train home and went straight to bed 🙂
Wow! that took longer than I thought it would! The scans come from the newspaper style programme which was produced by the Reading Evening Post. The poster (it looks like a cartoon of Leo Lyons from TYA to me?) is from the middle of the programme. Oh and I forgot to mention the “Wally!” chants, which seemed to go on all night.
The Groundhogs and Stray The Cluny Newcastle 3 Feb 2010
Will and I went to see our old hero Tony McPhee with the Groundhogs on Wednesday at the Cluny. This was a true classic rock double header, with the Groundhogs sharing the billing with old favourites Stray. Tony suffered a stroke last year and hasn’t been so well; we were pleased that he was now well enough to play again and were looking forward to seeing him. He hasn’t yet made a full recovery in that his speech is still affected, and as a result his wife Joanna had become an honorary Hog and is deputising on vocals.
The Groundhogs are first up. This is the first time we have had a chance to see the new four piece line-up which includes Joanna on vocals, Tony (of course) on guitar, Dave Anderson on bass and Mick Jones on drums. Its at first strange to see Joanna fronting the band and singing. She really gets into the spirit of it, dancing all over the stage, and making a good fist of the vocal duties. Tony seems to be playing better than the last couple of times we’ve seen the Hogs. He takes over the vocal duties for Still a Fool. Last song is, as always, Cherry Red; the higher notes suit Joanna’s voice well.
After a short break, Stray take the stage. I’d forgotten what a great front man and guitarist Del Bromham is, and how loud a three piece band can be. He obviously loves being on stage, and is still an excellent and very under-rated guitarist. The old Stray tracks stand the test of time, and those from the new album sound just as good. Last up is old favourite All in the Mind, with Del, ever the showman, hanging his Strat from the Cluny ceiling and whipping it with the guitar lead. No strobes, or dustbins with flames and flares like the old days, but just as good all the same.
We have a chat with Del on the way out, and get a poster signed. We ask him if he remembers playing Spennymoor Top Hat in the early 70s (he does) and to pass our regards to our old friend Tony Rolfe who now lives near Del and sometimes plays guitar with him.
A great night. The old ones are still the best.
Groundhogs Setlist: (from memory; I might have missed some) No More Dogging, Eccentric Man, Garden, Still a Fool (Tony singing), Split 1, Split 2, Split 4, Mistreated, Natchez Burning, Cherry Red.
Stray Setlist: Included quite a few (great!) songs from the new album and old favourites Time Machine, After the Storm, Jericho, I believe it, All in your Mind.