||GRAND SLAM - REVIEW AND AUDIO INTERVIEW
The Robin 2, Bilston
Monday June 6th 2016
Roger Berzerk Fauske
It has been a while since the name Grand Slam has come up in the various gig review columns around the globe, 31 years to be exact. By way of a brief history lesson if you need it, the band was around in 1984 and 1985 and featured the late and great one Phil Lynott.
It was sadly just before time was called on his life here with us so the band never got to reach anything like its potential. That original band, as well as Lynott, featured Laurence Archer, Mark Stanway, Robbie Brennan (another who sadly passed away very recently) and Doish Nagle.
It was Lynott, Archer and Stanway who were the major protagonists in the band, both musically and songwriting – it was never a case of Lynott and hired hands, but was very much a band in the true sense of the word. The fact that Archer co-wrote 'Dedication' (yes that Lizzy track) and Stanway co-wrote 'Military Man' should sum it up very well.
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So to the present day and it is the two surviving stalwarts, with a little help from a phone call from Sweden, who have put the band back together. So who else have they got on board?
First port of call naturally is the bassist and if you ask most people in rock circles to think of dynamite bassists, Neil Murray's name will come up more often than not, and once asked he accepted without hesitation. His rhythm partner is someone most will know at least from his days with Magnum, Micky Barker and the last piece of the Grand Slam jigsaw, the vocalist, fell into place with Stefan Berggren (Company of Snakes, M3).
Enough history and back to the present day – the Robin gig was in essence a warm up for the grander stage, namely the Sweden Rock Festival the following weekend. But it was also the first Grand Slam live show for more than 30 years so is monumental in its own way.
The familiar tones of 'Military Man' kicked off proceedings and what followed for the next hour and a half was a collection of songs that definitely took you on a trip down memory lane but it was a lot more than that, this band is very much in the now as well.
'Nineteen', which was a single during Lynott's time, was next followed by 'Crime Rate is Going Up' and this one particularly featured some sublime performances from the star studded line up, showcasing their individual talent but always within the band framework.
I must admit that over the years I haven't seen Laurence Archer live too many times but he is most definitely in the higher echelons of six string activists and particularly impressive is his ability to mix the all out rockers with a ton of feel and emotion. And you know what, I still love a flying V!
Neil Murray really doesn't need too much saying about him – it has all been said countless times. But in my mind at least, he and that Canadian genius Geddy Lee are right at the top of the tree when it comes to rock bassists. Murray isn't about to do quadruple somersaults on stage but stood stage right he looks as imposing as ever and the fact that at times it looks almost too easy for him is testament to his talent. He really is a damn fine bassist.
His rhythm partner Micky Barker fits into the same category, another musician of the highest quality, someone else who is just so at ease doing what he does to the very highest level – don't you just hate some people! His drumming can be flamboyant at times but never over the top, just what you want in a band such as this, and his delicate touch on the cymbals is an art in itself that others would do well to note. Murray and Barker to my knowledge had never played together before this union and honestly you wouldn't have known it.
Stefan Berggren has a good set of lungs on him as those who have seen him with his other bands will testify to and his style as a frontman is very laid back and it has to be said, endearing. This gig was not the easiest for him as other bands' commitments (Stanway had literally just finished a very lengthy Magnum tour before going straight off to Grand Slam rehearsals) meant that game time was very limited heading to the Robin and he hadn't had time to get every vocal line burnt into his head but he pulled it off remarkably well and kudos to him for that as well as his voice.
Last, but by no means least, to the fellow sat behind the synths, Mark Stanway. Everyone knows what a fine keyboard player he is, but the version on display with Grand Slam really took it to a new level. With the restraints of Magnum lifted he was free to deliver patterns and fills that he doesn't get to do with them and as a result he was more animated and having a lot of fun doing it. But this is his (although not only his) baby and the enthusiasm that brings with it is great to see.
'Sarah' the Thin Lizzy classic written about Phil's daughter was next up and a good version too, beefier than the original. 'Cold Sweat' followed swiftly and hot on its heels was the nowadays very politically incorrect 'Gayboys' and 'Crazy'.
A very familiar song filled the Robin with 'Parisienne Walkways' making an appearance and Laurence Archer did a more than good job on his Les Paul, in fact the sustain took me back to Gary Moore at Reading in '82 it was that impressive.
'Back on the Streets' was followed by the aforementioned track that Archer co-wrote 'Dedication', a stomping song guaranteed to get even the most stubborn body parts moving. Next up, and slightly surprising maybe but included as a nod to the man on the bass, was the Whitesnake classic 'Ready and Willing', of course harking back to the days when the snakes were at their incomparable best.
About my favourite Grand Slam track 'Sisters of Mercy' took us towards the end of the set with the final one featuring a jazzed up intro of 'Whiskey in the Jar' (what else!) and it was complete with some quite throaty crowd participation, a fine rendition. So that just left the customary encore but as Mark explained "We're not going to do that walking off and on nonsense, we find it a bit poncey."
Another classic 'Don't believe a word' followed on swiftly and surely that was that...well Stefan had other ideas, whispering into the shell like of Laurence and Mark who both nodded in agreement before announcing they were going to do a couple more that they hadn't really rehearsed but honestly you wouldn't have known, so up came 'Blues Singer' and 'Yellow Pearl', the latter introduced by asking if anyone remembered Top Of The Pops.
So that was definitely that, although the band's work wasn't done as they spent a lot of time afterwards chatting to all and sundry and signing more than a few CDs, albums and anything else the punters wanted signed - that is always good to see from any band.
The gig was not rammed but as I mentioned its purpose was a warm up for Sweden so there hadn't been a full out press and promotion assault but every single one of the crowd lapped it up and would have listened to them all night given half a chance.
There were, as the band admit, some rough edges but to produce a performance like this from literally a few days rehearsals is impressive indeed and after talking to Laurence and Mark it is clear they are more than excited about where this can go and how good it will be. From my point of view it is hard to disagree with them and as they said, finally the songs from back in the day can get the treatment they deserve.
It isn't just a case of resting on their laurels either as they have already started writing new material – this is no fly by night band living off former glories but the genuine article and even better, there are no massive ego's clashing with each other, no pretention, just five superlative musicians doing what they do best and having fun doing it. I for one can't wait for more.
You can catch Grand Slam at the Sweden Rock Festival this Friday, 10th June.
Click here to listen to Roger's interview with Grand Slam's Laurence Archer and Mark Stanway before the gig.