Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Iron Claw - 2009 - Iron Claw (1970-1974)

Iron Claw 
Iron Claw

01. Clawstrophobia
02. Mist Eye
03. Sabotage
04. Crossrocker
05. Skullcrusher
06. Let It Grow
07. Rock Band Blues
08. Pavement Artist
09. Strait Jacket
10. Gonna Be Free
11. Loving You
12. Lightning
13. All I Really Need
14. Knock 'Em Dead
15. Winter
16. Devils

Jimmy Ronnie (guitar)
Wullie Davidson (lead vocals, flute, harmonica)
Alex Wilson (bass)
Billy Lyall (Mellotron, piano, saxophone, percussion)
Ian McDougall (drums, percussion)

Recorded between 1970-1974. Gategold jacket comes with lyric insert + an 11x17 poster. This version is pressed on traditional black.

The band was started in the summer of 1969 in the town of Dumfries, Scotland by founder member Alex Wilson who recruited Jimmy Ronnie (guitar) and Ian McDougall (drums). They were joined by singer Mike Waller in early 1970. Wilson, the group's bass guitarist, decided to form a band after seeing a Led Zeppelin concert in 1969 and the band's name was eventually chosen by Wilson from a lyric from King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man". Wilson and McDougall's attendance at Black Sabbath's performance at Dumfries (which Wilson recorded, representing Sabbath's earliest live recording), convinced them to not only cover their entire first album and single live, but to consciously construct their sound around them. The band had originally performed covers by blues rock artists such as Free, Johnny Winter, Ten Years After, and Taste but soon began writing and performing original compositions.

In 1971 Wilson had to replace Mike Waller (when he left because he wanted to play guitar) and so two new members (Wullie Davidson, vocals / harmonica / flute and Donald McLachlan, guitar) were recruited by Wilson and this changed the sound of the band to a more structured twin harmony guitar direction. However in October 1971 when new recording sessions were looming, Donald McLachlan was asked to leave the band as Jimmy Ronnie was unhappy with his presence in the band. After the recording sessions drummer Ian McDougall left in May 1972 and was replaced by Neil Cockayne. The group finally broke up in 1974. In 1993 Iron Claw performed one reunion show for charity. In the late 1990s a German "bootleg" CD of some of the early recordings surfaced. In 2009 sixteen recorded songs from the early 1970s were remastered and officially released on CD by Rockadrome Records.

In response to the critical success of the Rockadrome album the band reformed in 2010 and began working on an album of new and unreleased material. New vocalist Gordon Brown was recruited by the three remaining members of the band to finish the album; Alex Wilson (bass), Jimmy Ronnie (guitar) and Ian McDougall (drums).

The resulting highly acclaimed CD, "A Different Game" was released internationally by Ripple Music in October 2011. In November 2011 Gordon Brown parted company with the band and following his departure Gary Hair was chosen to take over from Brown as vocalist. In March 2013 the band went their separate ways again.

A product of its time and environment in every conceivable way, Iron Claw is a now-obscure heavy rock group that was launched by a Led Zeppelin concert, which took its name from the first couplet of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." They adopted the same earth-shaking primal stomp as Black Sabbath, but simply lacked the individuality and sheer talent common to all of those rock icons.

Hailing from the Scottish town of Dumfries, Iron Claw was founded in the summer of 1969 by bassist/vocalist Alex Wilson (he of the Led Zeppelin gig epiphany), guitarist Jimmy Ronnie, and drummer Ian McDougall, who initiated their trajectory by performing as a covers band tackling the heavy blues standards of the era, including popular numbers by Free, Taste, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, and many others. But it was a second revelation experienced by Wilson later that year, when a nascent Black Sabbath brought their sonic solar eclipse to the band's neck of the woods (The Dumfries Youth Club, to be precise), that would set Iron Claw on the intended stylistic left-hand path which came to be known as heavy metal. So after bidding a definitive adieu to their power trio ambitions, the threesome welcomed singer Mike Waller into the fold and, by the spring of 1970, had effectively become the world's first Black Sabbath tribute band by incorporating that group's entire first album into their set! However, during rehearsals, Iron Claw immediately began composing original material in the image of their heroes, bringing the year to a close with a couple of demo recording sessions whose fruits the band proudly presented to the members of Black Sabbath at their next Newcastle concert -- only to later receive veiled threats of legal action from the metal godfathers' management because of the glaring similarities. Message received, Wilson took advantage of the fact that vocalist Waller had just given notice to replace him with two new members -- Wullie Davidson (vocals, harmonica, flute) and Donald McLachlan (second guitar) -- and take Iron Claw's sound in a different direction, marked by escalating art rock pretensions (think Wishbone Ash, Barclay James Harvest, Gentle Giant). Around this time, an interested label also gave Iron Claw access to a recording studio for the purpose of recording new demos, but the end results captured in the winter of 1971/1972 were often rounded out by ancillary studio musicians, became virtually impossible to reproduce in a live setting, and were ultimately unattractive to their would-be corporate suitors, in any case. And so Iron Claw, left to its own devices once again, continued to struggle along in fits and starts, next losing drummer McDougall in mid-1972 (he was replaced by one Neil Cockayne) and then gradually expanding their jams to dangerous thresholds of indulgence over the ensuing years until finally reaching a breaking point in 1974. Absolute obscurity followed, and although the group came together for a one-off reunion show in 1993, the only reason Iron Claw's existence is even remembered is because a selection of their best 16 demos was assembled for release on CD in 2009 by Rockadrome Records.

Scotland's Iron Claw never made it past the unsigned, demo-recording stage of their career, but the group nevertheless persisted for half a decade through unimaginable adversity, numerous personnel swaps, and a few creative about faces, enough to leave a mark on a memory bank or two and see their largely unheard oeuvre released on CD -- this CD -- 40 years after their creation. Not bad for a band accused of ripping off Black Sabbath before attempting, even if unsuccessfully, to find their muse elsewhere. Sure enough, the first five demos showcased here totally and shamelessly appropriate the essence of early Sabbath; whether it's the rough-and-tumble warped jazz and heavy blues inflections of "Clawstrophobia" and "Mist Eye," the lead-footed brontosaurus plod of "Skullcrusher," or the brutish gallop and extended soloing of "Crossrocker" and "Sabotage" (maybe the only idea that Iron Claw had before Sabbath!). All of these were recorded in late 1970 and fairly reek of all the proto-metal tricks pioneered on (and clearly copped from) the Sabs' eponymous debut and timeless sophomore salvo, Paranoid, but the last three are still rather good in their own right. They are certainly better than what issued after the band's subsequent metamorphosis, which began in tentative fashion (see the very rough 1971 demo "Let it Grow") amid rumors of legal action by the Sabbath organization, and proceeded in 1972 with the addition of a second guitar to complement competent but not always memorable hard rockers like "Rock Band Blues" and "Lightning," the shred-tastic "Straight Jacket," and the Rolling Stones-inspired groovers "Gonna Be Free" and "Knock ‘Em Dead." This change in personnel (Iron Claw Marks II and III, if you will) also delivered a new, flute and harmonica-wielding frontman and mounting studio trickery that saw Mellotron tacked on to "Pavement Artist," saxophone to "Loving You," and strings to "All I Really Need" -- all without great success. So it's not at all surprising to hear further evidence of Iron Claw's imminent demise in the ponderous and unfocused prog rock jamming displayed by this collection's final two cuts, "Winter" and "Devils" (both from 1973), featuring prominent synthesizers along with all the other accessories that had come before. Not pretty. And that final descent into overblown mediocrity would nail the lid on Iron Claw's coffin for good, leaving a not-so-good-looking corpse for future generations to uncover, beyond the first half of this career retrospective, which should interest some proto-metal crate-diggers nonetheless.

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