Τρίτη, 26 Ιουνίου 2012

Dennis Stratton interview - British words of Iron & Harmony

Dennis Stratton is a legendary British guitarist known to many from his appearance in the first IRON MAIDEN album and for the few, by his long great course with PRAYING MANTIS. The last years he is active bringing the spirit of early Maiden in the new generations and he was kind enough to talk with us about his life in music all over the years.


How did you start playing music? Did you have any influence from your parents on that?

No, I didn’t have any influences from my parents. I started playing because a friend of mine who was in a band decided to sell a guitar, so I bought the guitar and started to learn the basics notes and chords. I used to go and watch in a pub a band called Power Pack, in the early days, at the age of 17. So I learned different notes and chords and then I joined the little band were I bought the guitar from. We were all friends, it wasn’t much of a band, and we just did a couple of rehearsals in a hall upstairs in a pub.

Which ones are the first albums and bands you’ve heard and loved back in the 70s?

The first bands I listened to, have to be The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I was sitting in the bedroom playing “Whole Lotta Love”. So that’s how it all started, staying in the bedroom playing Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple albums.

Most people don’t know that you played music since the early 70s. With Harvest from 1970, with Wedgewood from 1972 and Remus Down Boulevard until the Iron Maiden days. What do you recall from that decade? How were things for music in England back then?

Yea, you’re right. Most people didn’t know that I played in different bands before Maiden. Harvest and Wedgewood were sort of pub bands that did mainly covers, and that’s how we did get improved, by going at the pubs and playing for hardly any money, next to nothing. And then around ’73 we finally got a gig at the Bridge House (where we first watched Power Pack) with Wedgewood and there was another band playing there, with Dave Edwards, and we decided to get together and join forces and then came along Remus Down Boulevard (RDB). There were great times. Remus Down Boulevard started playing bigger gigs and we were signed by Quarry management which managed Status Quo and Rory Gallagher. We played in the Marquee and Jonathan King signed us who had a record company at that time and we recorded a live album at the Marquee around 1975. The biggest step was to go on a tour with Status Quo, because we were signed to the same management and we did a huge European/Scandinavian tour. That was unbelievable and we learned a lot in a short space and time, going from the clubs to a huge tour. And then, when we came back we had a line-up change. We had a different drummer and bass guitarist. We kept playing, but punk scene came along and there wasn’t many bands signed at that time…  

So, in 1980 you joined Iron Maiden. How did this happen and what the Stratton’s diary writes for that year?

Steve Harris and Dave Murray used to come every week and watched RDB at the Bridge House. I didn’t know they were in Iron Maiden, but they were familiar faces. Then I got a telegram that they were looking for a guitarist that would also do backing vocals. Someone with a recording experience and also a touring experience, so I fitted straight in. When I met Steve, Dave and Rod we had a little chat and they gave me a cassette and said to listen to them. I think it was a bit of a surprise to Steve and Rod, because being in a two guitar line-up for most of the bands I’ve worked with and listening to Wishbone Ash and other harmony guitar players, it just came natural for me to pull harmony guitars unto the early Maiden stuff, “The Soundhouse Tapes”, or whatever I was listening to the cassette, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Iron Maiden”, “Prowler”. It just came natural for me to fill out the guitar parts with harmonies. I think it took them by surprise because the harmonies did seem to work. Well, it did work, ‘cause they still using them now!  
It went very well and they asked me to join the band. At the time there were only three of them who signed to EMI because they didn’t have a drummer. I knew Clive from the early days and we were mates. I told him I joined Maiden and took him to the studio where he did a few rehearsals and then they asked Clive to join, so the band was then complete.

I worked only in the earliest stuff because that’s what we wanted to record. Signing to EMI lifted Iron Maiden out of the run of the mill bands that played in England at that time. You know, it was very hard for bands at these days, especially with the punk era coming in, a lot of independent labels opened up and put all these punk bands into singles, EPs and 4-track EPs, so Maiden signing to EMI lifted them out of that and became bigger. With the album coming out, the fan base of Iron Maiden was huge. They’ve done their homework, they did their groundwork, they constantly giged in the early days, so they did have a big fan base. In 1979 I was working with Maiden and in 1980 we carried on. We did some tours, with Judas Priest, Metal for Muthas tour – that’s where I met Tino and Chris from Praying Mantis where in the later days I ended up join them. It was a great year. The biggest thing was when we went to do the KISS tour.

What kind of man was Steve Harris back then?


Steve always knew what he wanted and he run the band with an iron fist. He knew exactly what he wanted – right or wrong - and he always knew that Iron Maiden will be big.   
  
How were things during the recording of the first Iron Maiden album? I know that Steve hates the production of that record but it has a few of the best maiden songs ever, like “Remember Tomorrow” and “Prowler”.

Steve didn’t like the production but you know, in them days it was all a big rush. The album was recorded very quickly. Luckily, I already had recording experience, so I did many guitar parts on my own with the engineers. It was recorded very quickly because there was the Judas Priest and KISS tour waiting. The KISS tour was very good and there I met Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. That’s were the crack started…  

So, why did you part ways with Iron Maiden?

It was just musical taste differences. I like to listen to soft songs when I’m not playing. The best way to relax is to listen easy listening songs and Rod seem to think when I was listening to The Eagles or David Coverdale singing “Soldier Of Fortune”, one of my favourite tracks, that I wasn’t into Heavy Metal or Iron Maiden and the argument started. He tried to keep the whole band together all the time, but everyone needs a bit of space. So the crack started to appear… 


How important do you consider the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement?

You already had Heavy Metal bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, but what the New Wave of British Heavy Metal did, was to bring out younger bands that were watching all these big bands all their lives, grow up, got their guitars, they rehearsed, recorded, doing the pub scene and it just gave them the opportunity to show what they can do. Unfortunately a lot of the bands didn’t get through and somehow disappeared after fighting a while. But other bands like Saxon and Def Leppard really make it. With Lionheart we did some amazing gigs with Def Leppard. So, some bands make it, some not.      

Do you remember Rob Loonhouse? The photographer of Iron Maiden and Praying Mantis? The “myth” says that he was the one who invented “air guitar”.

I remember Rob Loonhouse, he wasn’t a photographer, he use to dance around the dance floor with an imaginary guitar and he use to have competitions of who could do the best air guitar and Rob used to win a lot…

Which bands back then in England stayed in obscurity and deserved more popularity?

As I said before, the good bands made it, but there were some bands that I thought they had bad timing. One typical example of that was Lionheart…

You played with Lionheart, so give us a brief bio of that time.

Those were great times. Me, Steve Mann and Rocky Newton we wrote loads of songs. We used to do lots of sessions for people who couldn’t play or couldn’t sing. Unfortunately we did all the hard work but we did never deal, so that was how we use to earn their money. Lionheart recorded the album in Los Angeles and it took us 4 years of hard work to get us a deal with CBS. In these days, in the 80s, in 1984 you know, the AOR stuff… I thought Lionheart was a great band. It was a shame that when we came back from America, everything we were promised like tours, they all seemed to fell through. Bad timing, I don’t know, but Lionheart wasn’t given a chance after the album was recorded, to go on a tour for that album. We could go on a tour with Kansas, Journey, Foreigner, any other band alike.

From that time and on, you always had a more melodic approach in music, despite the raw Heavy Metal of early Iron Maiden. Which are the things that influence you in music?

I’ve always been in heavy rock bands and not so much into heavy metal. By joining Praying Mantis, that gave me the chance to show more of the harmony guitars and harmony vocals that I like doing.

In 1989 Paul DiAnno, while he was in Battlezone, he was approached by a Japanese contact to put on a show to celebrate 10 years of NWOBHM. So, if I am not wrong, then he contacted you and Tino Troy. “Live At Last” is the live album that followed under the name Praying Mantis & Paul DiAnno, Dennis Stratton. That whole thing had big success in Japan and Praying Mantis was established again as a band, and you became a full member, along with Bruce Bisland on drums, Chris (bass) and Tino Troy (guitars), while you and Chris shared vocal duties in the new (back then)  Praying Mantis album “Predator In Disguise”. This nostalgic NWOBHM celebration gave birth to a whole new music beginning in your career, right?

In 1990 we were approached by a Japanese company, Pony Canyon, to do three gigs in Japan to celebrate 10 years of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Chris said that we can do it and they ask us if we could speak to Paul DiAnno and see if he was interested in doing it. Then we got Bruce Bisland on drums and later Clive Burr because Bruce felt from his bike and couldn’t play. We did the three shows and recorded it for “Live At Last” and I stayed with Mantis for many years.


You knew the Troy brothers since 1980, right? I really love Praying Mantis, but back then you had success mainly in Japan, and not at the rest of the world. Why do you think this happened? Which are your strongest memories from these years?

I know the Troy brothers since 1979 when we did the Metal for Muthas tour. I think we recorded some great albums and it is my kind of a band. Harmony vocals, harmony guitars, it’s not too heavy, and these were good years.
We were very successful in Japan, I think we did about 7 or 8 albums with Pony Canyon and sometimes I and Chris used to share some vocals. Again we had vocalist problems and we keep changing vocalists. That was a huge problem.

Which are the “Best Years” you are referring to the same titled song from “Forever In Time”?

It is about my early days, around East End of London, running around with a gang of kids and playing on sites where the houses were bombed in war and that was a part of the best years of my life that I just wanted to put into a song.

Later you parted ways with Praying Mantis. Why did this happen?

Pony Canyon had some problems and we were basically doing nothing. I spoke to Chris and Tino many times on the phone but nothing was happening. Tino went back into work, Chris was always at work but I wanted to do something different. Out of Mantis it was the first time, since probably my first gig, that I wasn’t contracted or wasn’t playing with a full-time band. I was basically on my own and that gave me quiet a lot of freedom, so I was contacted to go to Germany, Italy… In Italy, I am going the last five years and we are doing some Iron Maiden festivals there with different bands from Germany, Holland, England, all over, and these are great shows. It gives to children the opportunity to hear the songs of the first Iron Maiden albums.

I saw you in Keep It True festival in Germany this year with Roxxcalibur. You really enjoyed playing the old Maiden songs. What does this means for you?
 
We did three songs in Keep It True but when I go to Italy for the Iron Maiden conventions, there is a band, The Clairvoyants, one of the top tribute bands in Italy, or I would say in Europe for Iron Maiden, and they go on stage and play sets of early Maiden albums. And then I go on with them and do a 45 minutes set of the early stuff like the “Prowler”, “Remember Tomorrow”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Running Free”, “Iron Maiden”, “Transylvania”, we go through the whole stuff and I am loving that at the moment. I am going back to Italy to play on the end of June and then I will go back over there in August and September. 


Somehow, I’ve lost your traces the last years… So, what have you done lately?

I am still working very hard in England with three bands so I am constantly working. It is a busy time at the moment with all the festivals coming up. We’ve been in Bulgaria, South Africa and there is lot of stuff on YouTube and Facebook showing clips of us on stage doing the Maiden songs.
  
Knowing the mistakes of your past, what would you change in your music career?

I’ve made lot of mistakes in the past and I am still making them now!

Thank you Dennis! I wish you all the best from the bottom of my heart! West Ham is back in Premier League, also. So, good luck!

Yes, go West Ham! 

Ok Andreas, it was lovely talking to you. Everyone there in Greece, God bless you.



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