After the last couple of posts, It’s time for some heavier music, have to prove my Rock credentials. LUCIFER’S FRIEND is a German band, fronted by Englishman John Lawton, who went on to sing for Uriah Heep. They have a definitely Metal image, but they have real Jazz/Progressive musicianship that takes the music in very surprising directions.It’s rare that I’ve seen multiple albums from a group in the bin all at once. If they were unknown to me, I would gamble on one, and hope the others were still there if it turned out good. Frequently I’ve returned to find the other albums gone. Not this time, however, and a very good thing too- the other 3 albums turned out to be as good or better! After much deliberating and nail-biting (at Records-On-Wheels in London, where I’ve made many great delete bin finds) I decided on the most recent one, after factoring in the artwork, and that Curt Cress (Triumvirat, Passport) was the drummer. When I played the first cut, “Moonshine Rider”, a fast rip-snorter that puts me in mind of Rainbow and/or Ronnie James Dio (Lawton’s voice is almost identical) I knew I liked them. Halfway through the 2nd song, “Blind Boy”. with it’s huge catchy chorus and punchy horns, I knew I wanted the other albums. “Fugitive” sealed the deal with a pulsing Funk-rock bass line from Dieter Horns that blew me away. Flip it over, and the speeding Deep Purple-ish riffs of “Natural Born Mover” lit a fire under my ass to get back to the store for MORE!! Thiswas Lawton’s last album with them before joining Heep, although he returned for 1981’s “Mean Machine”. Later on in 2001 he formed The Hensley Lawton Band with Heep’s keyboardist Ken. He’s now doing travel documentaries for Bulgarian TV, and performing at “Heepventions” around Europe. http://www.johnlawtonmusic.com/ is a Heepvention anything do to with hoarding interventions?1974’s Banquet is a puzzler of an album- the Leather Vampire cover art gives it an Ozzy aura. Their 1970 first album is the one that should have this cover, it has the stripped-down organ and guitar heavy metal doom and gloom, but this album is actually furthest stylistically from it. A thirty-piece orchestra makes this album the jazziest of their output. Guitarist Peter Hesslein, drummer Herbert Bornholdt, and keyboardist Peter Hecht played in James Last’s “Disco Dance Party” Orchestra prior to 1970; Including sax/flute soloist Herb Geller, most of the orchestra on this LP did too. The Horn and String arrangements (done by keyboardist Hecht) are extremely creative, showing long experience in working with an orchestra and knowing what it can do. These four albums contain some of the best interaction between rock band and a large orchestra I’ve ever heard. The American-release-only cut “Our World Is A Rock and Roll Band” has kind of a Beatles-meets-Rick Derringer style, more pop-rock than any of their other work. “Spanish Galleon” starts with a very jazzy Santana groove, but then takes off with Geller’s soprano sax solo into a pure fusion space-out. The vocal chorus returns to kick it into high gear for a smoking synth-solo fade-out. “Thus Spoke Oberon” begins like a vocal jazz ballad, but suddenly tears into a guitar solo that really puts the orchestra through their paces. “High Flying Lady” is a straight-ahead rocker. “Sorrow” is Chicago if they had Ritchie Blackmore trading solos with Eumir Deodato, some fantastic playing. 1973’s “I’m Just A Rock ‘n Roll Singer” -The cover art to this one is what kept me from splurging on all the LPs at once- would you buy a rock album from this man? If he’s a Rock Star, then he must have sold his soul for fame. BUT listening to this for the review with fresh ears gave me a whole new appreciation for the musical abilities of Lucifer’s Friend. Guitarist Peter Hesslein in particular does some very tasty playing. The boogie guitar riffs of “Groovin’ Stone” gets the LP nicely warmed up. “Closed Curtains” has a funky piano Joe Cocker drive, Lawton sounds great with the backup “Starlet” singers here. “Born On The Run” hits the ground at full stride, with Prog-ish fuzz guitar dueling with a twisting synth melody and it’s way too short! “Blind Freedom” is full of clever little progressive bits, from a leslied electric piano, varied guitar tones, a sudden trumpet solo from Bob Lanese that downshifts into some great sax work from Herb Geller. Their mini-horn section help save side 2’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer” which suffers a bit from some cheese on Lawton’s part; “….my voice is getting wheezy, my hands are getting greasey” ??
And on the subject of cheese, how about that Billingsgate Records logo? I tried to find out it’s origin and/or meaning, but all I could find was that “billingsgate” is obsolete slang for ‘coarsely abusive, foul, or profane language’ and it arose from the Billingsgate Fish Market in London England, whose denizens were notorious for crude behaviour. I prefer to think it’s representative of “kick-ass music”!!
“Lonely City Days” has a great solo from Hesslein again, perking up a kind of dull ballad. “Mary’s Breakdown” begins with a very familiar bass/conga groove that I know is on several albums by other people, but the only one I can remember at the moment is “Amar Cabarello” by Babe Ruth. Some more tasty guitar playing on this too. “Song For Louie” finishes the album with a piano ballad that drifts off into a mellotron keyboard solo space out.And we finally arrive back in 1972 for their second album, recorded by legendary German producer Conny Plank. It’s the beginning of their change from hard rockers to jazz/progressive musicians (and then back again). “Burning Ships” begins the album with 12 strings and bongo leading into a synth solo a la ELP‘s “Lucky Man”. “Prince of Darkness” definitely announces their new direction with jagged piano, heavy synthesizers and special tape effects. “Hobo” starts with a quick drum/synth proggy intro that settles into a fast rocker with some great electric piano. “Mother” goes through some Gentle Giant complex sections with the keyboards and violin solo, while exploring the mental toll of divorce lyrically. “Where the Groupies Killed The Blues” doesn’t seem to be about Rock & Sex, although John O’Brien-Docker‘s abstract lyrics could be. Kinda reminds me of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band musically. “Rose On The Vine” gives Hesslein free rein to experiment with quirky riffs and odd time signatures. It gets stranger and stranger as it progresses. “Summerdream”‘ brings us back down to earth with it’s soft acoustic guitars, but then they morph into “Delerium/No Reason Or Rhyme” featuring a wonderful string quartet arrangement by Hecht that gradually picks up more orchestral instruments, drums and piano, brilliantly evoking the title emotion.Now it’s time to play Can you spot the band mascot ? (hint; it’s not the banana….)
There’s several YouTube videos of these guys, I’ll leave you with one of the first of their songs that really made an impact on me. “Fugitive” from Mind Exploding, played live on German TV in 1978. Enjoy!