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Samson: Bright Lights: The Albums 1979-1981 (5 CD)

Encompassing three studio albums and one live offering, this five disc reissue set from HNE/Cherry Red turns the spotlight on the formative years of Paul Samson and the band that took his name as Samson morphed from hard hitting rockers into NWOBHM hopefuls; giving us one of heavy metal’s best ever singers along the way.

Samson began in the mid-70s, a three piece of guitarist and reluctant singer Paul Samson, bassist John McCoy and drummer Roger Hunt touring the UK over and over as they worked up a strong set of songs. Being offered the bassist’s role in Gillan, McCoy moved on, with Chris Aylmer (from Maya) joining soon to be Iron Maiden bound drummer Clive Burr who took control behind the kit within the Samson ranks. Having released a couple of singles and been involved with the then obligatory metal compilation scene, the band were desperate to finally get an album out there but as their debut, Survivors, was lined up for a 1979 release through Laser Records, so Paul Samson took onboard advice to recruit a dedicated frontman. Enter Bruce Bruce (Mr Dickinson to you and me) who found himself on the album’s cover and credits even though he neither wrote or recorded anything in sight! With Aylmer baulking at the Laser contract and refusing to sign it, so did he, even though he too was nowhere to be heard. Instead McCoy, who produced the album, stepped in to play on a set of songs he’d co-written, with the recording unit being Samson, McCoy and new drummer Barry Purkis - better known as the masked sticks-man, Thunderstick - even though unsuspecting purchasers saw and read the names Samson, Thunderstick, Aylmer and Bruce Bruce! The results were well received, even if the album doesn’t really fall into the NWOBHM box this era of the band is squashed into. Instead there’s a more Free meets Thin Lizzy vibe going down, as mid-paced rockers often become the order of the day - “It’s Not As Easy As It Seems”, for example, quite blatantly aping Lizzy’s “Are You Ready To Rock?” The questionably titled “I Wish I Was The Saddle On A Schoolgirl’s Bike” (yes, really…) is instead a slithering blues delight that highlights that the guitar work of Paul Samson was always much more that of reserved heavy bluesman than the exploits of a metal messiah.

As with previous reissues of this album, tacked onto the original eight songs are early single tracks, “Mr Rock n’ Roll” and “The Shuffle”, alongside the seven vocal led cuts (therefore omitting instrumental “Koz”) with Bruce on vocals, which were recorded prior to the recording of the band’s third album but then shelved. The new recruit is clearly a better singer in all regards and yet for all of his towering presence on the initially slow and then frantic “Tomorrow Or Yesterday” or shuffling “Inside Out”, I have always personally preferred the originals. That said, having both ‘versions’ of this album to contrast and compare is always good fun.

Thankfully the wrongly credited foursome stayed in place for the second Samson album, Aylmer back on board and Dickinson joining Samson and Thunderstick for the first time in the studio as the band hit Head On. Much more in keeping with the times, the album saw Thunderstick wielding a scythe on the cover as he grimaced through his trademark balaclava. The music itself, released in 1980, may not be quite as uncompromising but it did catapult Samson into the NWOBHM scene in quite some style. Dickinson sounds right at home utilising his power and range to great effect on the soaring “Hammerhead”, powerful bark of “Vice Versa” and dramatic “Walking Out On You”. The guitar work from Samson is much more in your face; powerful riffs combined to searing solos and while Thunderstick’s percussive power was always aggression over precision, he certainly brings a lot of energy to the likes of “Take Me To Your Leader”. Also amongst the album’s number is the long controversial “Thunderburst” where Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris is credited as co-writer, with the song being a vaguely different version of the song Maiden were also using about the time, “Ides Of March”. Opinions and explanations of this track’s creation vary wildly, with Thunderstick recently asserting that the only reason Harris is credited at all is his potential power in court… Added to this disc are the single edit of “Vice Versa” and its flip-track “Angel With A Machine Gun” alongside “Kingsway Jam”. However the story of Head On wasn’t quite finished there…

With pressure for the single from the record, “Hard Times”, to be remixed for its release, AC/DC producer Tony Platt was drafted in to do the job. Eventually it was agreed that he’d remix the entire Head On album and, interestingly, while only the first 30,000 or so copies of the vinyl release would feature the original mix, subsequent CD reissues have never featured Platt’s work… until now that is! Is there that much difference between the two? Well, yes and no. They both still sound of their time, both have a raw edged attack and both allow Dickinson and Samson to shine brightly. Where things differ is that on Platt’s reworking there’s a shimmering sheen that adds a layer of maturity not heard on the original, however, so too does he allow Thunderstick’s drums to really clatter and echo their way to the forefront. In all honesty it’s difficult to say that one is head and shoulders better than the other, but it’s good to have both in one collection and with each on a separate disc. Back in the day this album was my introduction to Samson and now some 39 years later it still holds a special place in my heart, even if it isn’t the band’s best album from the era.

That accolade goes to Shock Tactics, which possessed a set of songs that took a truly mammoth step up in class and consistency compared to what had come before. The opening, Russ Ballard penned, “Riding With The Angels” takes the band’s early fixation with Thin Lizzy and fires a rocket up its ass to make for a romping riff fuelled delight, before “Earth Mother” lays a groove so deep people are still to this day falling into the ravine it created. Dickinson is on fire and suddenly you can hear the man who would, not long after, tell us all about the number of the beast. With “Bright Lights” absolutely built for his voice - try not singing along with this chorus - it really did appear that Samson finally realised what a weapon they had recruited to propel them from behind the mic. The deeper album cuts are equally vibrant, “Nice Girl” rocking and rolling with real intent, “Blood Lust” revealing another vocal tour de force but this time in a more dramatic setting and “Communion” a slower number that seems to perfectly illustrate the light and shade Dickinson would go on to become known for. The suggestion had been for a long time prior to this album that Samson were on the cusp of something big and it would be more than fair to suggest that with Shock Tactics they fully delivered on that promise. Again, as with previous reissues of this album three bonus tracks are included; “Little Big Man”, “Pyramid To The Stars” and “Losing My Grip” all coming from the album sessions, with all three then going on to appear as either A or B sides of between album singles.

Even though it would inexplicably fail to chart Shock Tactics would find Samson being invited for their second successive appearance at the Reading Festival. With that previous show from the band on that stage being seen as a disappointment due to a lacklustre display coupled with a polite sound from the PA, it was an opportunity to right that wrong. The band didn’t disappoint and the liner notes highlight that reviews of the time put a lot of that down to the introduction of new drummer Mel Gaynor (who would go on to fame with Simple Minds but has performed with everyone from Peter Gabriel and Tina Turner to Little Steven and The Nolans!), who replaced Thunderstick after ‘artistic difference’ formed between the band and their theatrical drummer. A recording of the performance, Live At Reading ‘81, would go on to be released, but not until 1990, but even nine years down the line it illustrated that with Dickinson in full flight and the band tighter and more focused than ever (Gaynor is indeed something of a step up in class), songs like “Take It Like A Man”, “Earth Mother”, “Vice Versa”, “Walking Out On You”, “Hammerhead” and “Riding With The Angels” were deserving of a much wider audience. Again, as with previous reissues of this album we find three bonus cuts, this time in the shape of “Red Skies”, “Turn Out The Lights” and “Firing Line”, which were lo-fi demos recorded on a ‘portable machine’ with a view to work starting on the band’s fourth album.

That release however, Before The Storm, would feature Nicky Moore on vocals. Having been thoroughly and rightly impressed with Bruce Dickinson during his Reading performance, Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood - as the excellent liner notes from NWOBHM expert John Tucker attest - wasted no time in poaching the singer to replace the soon to be ousted Paul Di’Anno in Maiden. The imposing figure actually suggesting the idea of an audition to the singer before the pair had even left the festival site! Dickinson would, obviously, pass the test with flying colours and the rest, as they say, is history. That history for Samson would see a change of musical direction, with a more hard rock and blues horizon stretching off into the distance and with it, possibly any chance of prolonged commercial success. Although there’s no doubt that much of what came after these early days is also well worth checking out.

However, for many it’s the NWOBHM years of the band that still hold a certain mystique; both for the excellent songs it produced and for introducing the world to a singer who would go on to help Iron Maiden dominate the next 30 years of metal. Bringing all of the era’s material together in one box - and with the first CD appearance of the Tony Platt mix of Head On - is welcome indeed and most of the material continues to stand up well, especially on Shock Tactics and Live At Reading ‘81. Add in the excellent, insightful but never fawning liner notes (on the back of a fold out montage poster (a booklet would have been better)) and the excellently presented and sounding Bright Lights box set becomes an excellent acquisition for fans of Samson, Bruce Dickinson and the wider NWOBHM scene.


Track Listing
DISC ONE SURVIVORS (1979)
1. IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT SEEMS
2. I WISH I WAS THE SADDLE OF A SCHOOLGIRL’S BIKE
3. BIG BROTHER
4. TOMORROW OR YESTERDAY
5. KOZ
6. SIX FOOT UNDER
7. INSIDE OUT
8. WRONG SIDE OF TIME
BONUS TRACKS
9. MR ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
10. PRIMROSE SHUFFLE
ALTERNATIVE RECORDINGS WITH BRUCE DICKINSON ON VOCALS
11. IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT SEEMS
12. I WISH I WAS THE SADDLE OF A SCHOOLGIRL’S BIKE
13. BIG BROTHER
14. TOMORROW OR YESTERDAY
15. SIX FOOT UNDER
16. INSIDE OUT
17. WRONG SIDE OF TIME


DISC TWO HEAD ON (1980)
1. HARD TIMES
2. TAKE IT LIKE A MAN
3. VICE VERSA
4. MANWATCHER
5. TOO CLOSE TO ROCK
6. THUNDERBURST
7. HAMMERHEAD
8. HUNTED
9. TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
10. WALKING OUT ON YOU
BONUS TRACKS
11. ANGEL WITH A MACHINE GUN (7″ B-SIDE)
12. KINGSWAY JAM
13. VICE VERSA (7” EDIT)


DISC THREE HEAD ON: TONY PLATT ALTERNATIVE MIX (1980) PREVIOUSLY UNAVAILABLE ON CD
1. HARD TIMES
2. TAKE IT LIKE A MAN
3. VICE VERSA
4. MANWATCHER
5. TOO CLOSE TO ROCK
6. THUNDERBURST
7. HAMMERHEAD
8. HUNTED
9. TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
10. WALKING OUT ON YOU
BONUS TRACK
11. HARD TIMES (7” VERSION)


DISC FOUR SHOCK TACTICS (1981)
1. RIDING WITH THE ANGELS
2. EARTH MOTHER
3. NICE GIRL
4. BLOOD LUST
5. GO TO HELL
6. BRIGHT LIGHTS
7. ONCE BITTEN
8. GRIME CRIME
9. COMMUNION
BONUS TRACKS
10. LITTLE BIG MAN (7″ B-SIDE)
11. PYRAMID TO THE STARS
12. LOSING MY GRIP


DISC FIVE LIVE AT READING ‘81 (1990)
1. BIG BROTHER
2. TAKE IT LIKE A MAN
3. NICE GIRL
4. EARTH MOTHER
5. VICE VERSA
6. BRIGHT LIGHTS
7. WALKING OUT ON YOU
8. HAMMERHEAD
9. RIDING WITH THE ANGELS
10. GRAVY TRAIN
BONUS TRACK REHEARSALS
11. RED SKIES
12. TURN OUT THE LIGHTS
13. FIRING LINE

Added: July 15th 2019
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Bright Lights @ Cherry Red
Hits: 518
Language: english

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