It took Kirk Brandon more than five hard years to better the chart success he enjoyed as a member of Theatre of Hate, when "Do You Believe in the Westworld?" scraped into the Top 40. Now, with three consecutive Top 30 albums and a No. 14 hit with "Never Take Me Alive", Spear of Destiny have made it big and the already keen interest in Brandon's earlier recordings has been further intensified.
Following the demise of Theatre of Hate in September 1982, the trio of Kirk Brandon, Stan Stammers and manager Terry Razor regrouped as Spear of Destiny, setting out on their first nationwide tour December 1982.
Brandon(vocals and guitar) had previously fronted the band the Pack, whose singles, EP and offical live cassette are now highly collectable. Stammers(bass) had first made his presence known in Brixton band the Straps, and had turned down an offer from Charlie Harper to join the U.K. Subs in order to team up with Brandon.
Two of the Pack's releases had been on the SS label. This and Burning Rome were owned by Kirk Brandon and Terry Razor and were used as outlets for most of Theatre of Hate's releases. That band's fourth single, "Do You Believe in the Westworld?", made it into the Top 40; but even this is now quite scarce. TOH also appeared on two flexis: one was "Ghost of Love", given away with 'Masterbag' magazine. The same track reappeared under its correct title of "Love is a Ghost" on a four-track EP, the source of which was a live broadcast on Swedish radio in late 1981. The "Poppies" flexi was given away with the Dutch magazine, 'Vinyl'.
"Live at Leeds"(original price 2.49), "Live at the Lyceum" and "Live in Berlin"(original price 2.99) are all official bootlegs released to curb the sale of over-priced illegal cassettes. According to Terry Razor, "Original Sin - Live" is effectively a bootleg. The tape was originally purchased in good faith by Dojo from what appeared to be a legitimate third party, who later transpired not to have the rights at all.
For Spear of Destiny, Brandon and Stammers were joined by Chris Bell(drums)- ex-King Trigger and Thompson Twins- and Lascelles James(sax), formerly of the Mighty Diamonds. The foursome set off across the country playing old TOH favorites and songs which had been written for that band's second studio album.
In February 1983, their first single was released. "Flying Scotsman" was backed by "The Man Who Tunes the Drums"(a different version to the one which later featured on the first album). "Flying Scotsman" appeared in an extended version on the 12", which had a bonus track, "Africa"(originally known as "Black Madonna"), taken from a Radio One session taped earlier that year. The first 5,000 copies of the 12" included a free poster. The song was commercially accesible, boasting a traditional tune, reminiscent of "The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond". Despite retaining a strong following from their TOH days, the single failed to give Spear of Destiny a Top 75 entry.
Their first album, "Grapes of Wrath", followed in April. Essentially a re-working of what was meant to have been the second TOH album, it met with a less-than-enthusiastic response from critics and fans alike and did not sell particularly well. It has since been reassessed by many who now regard it as a fine debut and in many ways Spear's best album.
"Grapes of Wrath" had less of a rock'n'roll feel than its successors, which may explain its poor initial reception. There was a certain beauty in much of the lyrics and singing, which replaced the angry screams of earlier TOH recordings, and this was complemented perfectly by the more subtle quality in the music as displayed on songs like "Roof of the World" and "Aria". Much of the album relied on James's sax playing to back up Brandon's menacing vocals. Kirk's love of a guitar based sound was still much in evidence, most notably on "Solution", the closest to any of his previous material. Produced by Nick Launay, the album only reached No. 62 and lasted a mere two weeks on the U.K. album chart. A special cassette version was also issued. Apart from some extended introductions- most notably the first two verses of "The Preacher" sung unaccompanied- the only significant change was the incusion of the 12" version of "Flying Scotsman".
Between April and June, the band toured Europe to promote the album. A second single appeared in May. "The Wheel" was backed by "The Hop", whislt the 12" had three bonus tracks recorded live in Aberdeen. Two different numbers from the Aberdeen gig were included in a 7" double-pack. The basic 7" was also pressed in a picture disc. "The Hop" was a rerecording of the old song, although apart from the spoken intro, it varied little from the original. "The Wheel" was lifted from the album and proved to be far more successful than its predecessor, spending five weeks in the charts, peaking at No. 59. The song remains a favourite in their live set.
The band returned to England and their performance on Channel 4's 'The Switch'- at the end of which Brandon smashed up his guitar- was the final appearance of the original line-up. the only reason given in the music press for the departure of Chris Bell and Lascelles James was "religous differences". Brandon later remarked: "the first SOD lacked the challenge...I spent a lot of the time making decisions for others."
With this in mind, he set about forming a new, more committed band. In August 1983, SOD II was announced. Brandon and Stammers were now assisted by former TOH saxophonist John 'Boy' Lennard, Neil Pyzer(sax and keyboards) who had previously worked with the Howard Devoto Band, Dexy's Midnight Runners, and the Case, and drummer Dolphin Taylor, who had already enjoyed considerable success with the Tom Robinson Band and Stiff Little Fingers.
This line-up recorded the "Prisoner of Love" single but, before it was released in January 1984, Lennard had been replaced by Mickey Donnelly(also ex-Case) and an extra guitarist Alan St.Clair.
"Prisoner of Love" lasted three weeks in the charts and reached No. 59. it was backed by their own arrangement of the traditional "Rosie". The single was promoted by 12" and 7" double-pack versions. The former was not particuarly good value, containing just a fairly pointless re-recording of "Grapes of Wrath" as a bonus. The second disc in the double pack coupled "Rainmaker' and "Don't Turn Away", recorded live in Gdansk, on their government-run tour of Poland.
Prior to the release of their next album, another attempt was made to crack the singles chart. "Liberator" appeared in April and spent a disappointing two weeks in the chart, only reaching No. 67. The 12" boasted extended and dub remixes of "Liberator" by Rusty Egan, plus the 7" B-side, "Forbidden Planet". The band's most powerful song on record, "Liberator" remains their biggest crowd-pleaser. From the introductory assault of drums and guitar, through the wailing, blaring sax, to the final tonsil-bursting chorus chant, "Liberator" just has to be the band's most venomous piece of vinyl!
Spear of Destiny went on tour in April and May to promote the new album, "One Eyed Jacks", which was released at the end of April. Produced by Nick Tauber, the songs explored a large selection of the rock spectrum. Gentle yet powerful songs like "The Wheel" and "The Murder of Love" on the first album gave way to the out-and-out attack of songs like "Liberator" and "Rainmaker" or the melodrama of "Don't Turn Away" and "These Days are Gone"; another stand-out track, "Young Men" fused both of these approaches perfectly.
Spending seven weeks in the chart, "One Eyed Jacks" peaked at No. 22. It was afforded a better reception by the music press, although by now the critics were pretty irrelevant: the band's legion of fans was rapidly increasing.
Still being mis-represented in his interviews, Brandon at one point even announced that he had given his final interview; but this was one man who certainly wasn't going to shut up. A sure sign of the band's growing popularity and importance was their appearance at the first York rock festival in September 1984 alongside Echo & The Bunnymen and the Sisters of Mercy.
Before recording the next Spear of Destiny album, Kirk Brandon took time out to release a one-off single with Rusty Egan under the name of the Senate. They recorded a couple versions of the first TOH single, "Origianl Sin", and put them out in July backed by the TOH classic, "Do You Believe in the Westworld?", one on Burning Rome, the other on Egan's War label. The single topped the independent chart, as did the simultaneously-released compilation of TOH singles, "Revolution". This provided a useful reference for any fans who were not familiar with Brandon's former group, whose now deleted early singles were selling for as much as 10 pounds.
In December 1984 it was announced that Spear of Destiny was to play two nights at London's Lyceum Ballroom, and that the shows were to be recorded for a possible live album. The band had just returned from Berlin, where they had recorded a single, "Come Back", for release the following month.
Although neither of these releases materialized, it's possible that Spear ex-label Epic may decide to capitalise on the band's current success by releasing a live album. The Berlin recording of "Come Back", along with a version of Up All Night from the same sessions and a remix of "Mickey", later surfaced on a promotional 12" at the time of the third album's release.
With Rusty Egan, work began on the third album in February 1985, but it wasn't until June that "World Service" was heralded by the band's fifth single. "All My Love(Ask Nothing)" was released in three formats. The 7" was backed by "Last Card". This reappeared on the 12", together with an extended version of the A-side and a bonus track, a cover of Free's "Walk in My Shadow". A second 12" release replaced "Walk in My Shadow" with three live tracks, taken from the Lyceum recordings.
Although "All My Love" had a reasonably strong tune- similar to "Prisoner of Love"- it lacked Spear's usual hard edge and was far too mainstream. Even Brandon admitted to hating it. Although I doubt it appealed to many existing fans(it was dropped from the live repertoire at the end of the next tour), it did manage to reach No. 61 in its three week stint on the chart. Sales were possibly boosted by the band's support slot at U2's Milton Keynes Bowl concert at the end of June.
In July came the follow-up single, "Come Back". although already a live favourite, the song made a rather disappointing transition to vinyl. Gone was the chainsaw guitar sound of the live version and added were some awful backing vocals on the chorus. Nevertheless the record sold reasonably well, reaching No. 55 and staying in the chart for three weeks. The 12" release featured an extended version of 'Come Back", with the 7" B-side, "Cole Younger", being joined by a new version of "Young Men" on which Brandon's vocals are backed by just a piano. 5,000 copies of the 12" came shrink-wrapped with a free 12" remix of "Come Back", which had the song stripped down to a military-style drum beat, interspersed with vocals, keyboards, sax, bass and guitar.
The "World Service" album was released in August 1985, prior to a nationwide tour. It featured some of the band's strongest songs, the two singles being possibly the weakest tracks included. The lyrical content ranged from the boppy good time message of "Up All Night" to more serious matters like third world starvation(the title track) and the stupidity of drug abuse(the raucous "I Can See"), through to the awful existence of the homeless young girl and baby in "Once in Her Lifetime". However, the album's highlight was the poignant "Mickey", the tale of a young man who finds himself in a dead-end situation in his home town and decides to join the army- like his father and grandfather did before him- in order to prove his manhood. After witnessing at first-hand the troubles in Ireland, he is shipped of to the Falklands, where he loses his sight after treading on a mine. Brandon's suitably impassioned vocals are given an atmospheric musical accompaniment. The gentle sound of the piccolo, the crashing drums, the haunting sax and the screeching guitars give the song real feeling. Brandon's heart-rendering plea of "I wanna go home to you mother" is a genuinely emotional conclusion to the song.
For the album's closing number, "Harlan County", the gentle piano playing of Neil offsets the emotional lyrics. This true to life drama of oppressed workers and their families in an american mining community being confronted with guns when they try to make a stand, makes for one of Brandon's most forthright and angry songs. It also allows Brandon to view his opinions on the state of the nation and working class attitudes.
The album was extremely successful, entering at No. 11 and staying in the chart for seven weeks. It also had the distinction of having every track played on Janice Long's Radio 1 show, albeit some in session versions With this success behind them and their army of supporters growing ever larger, it seemed that after all the hard work Spear of Destiny had finally made it. What could go wrong?
On 16th December 1985 the Spear of Destiny line-up which had been together for over two years played their final British date together at Kentish Town's Town and Country Club. The split was not actually announced in the music press until midway through 1986. Even then all that was said was that CBS had decided not to renew the band's contract and Brandon had decided to call it a day- the split being completely amicable. However, Brandon later suggested that the true reason for the split was that the band seemed to be more interested in getting drunk than upholding the Spear beliefs.
The wait for new musical activity was a long one. The only Spear of Destiny output in 1986 was an Old Gold 12" EP consisting of the extended versions of "Flying Scotsman" and "Liberator", plus "The Wheel" and "Prisoner of Love"- a sure sign that even if Brandon was never to return to the music scene, he had made his mark.
However, in October 1986, SOD III was unveiled, not as a continuation from SOD II but as a return to basics. "My new stuff is closer to Theatre of Hate than the cluttered and technical 'World Service'" announced Brandon in his first interview since forming the new band. "I want to get back to minimalism, essentialism, without frills. Sharp. Simple. To inspire incredible reactions either way, love or hate"
The first opportunity to hear the new songs was in December, when the new line-up of Brandon, Steve Barnacle(bass), Pete Barnacle(drums), Volker Janssen(keyboards) and ex-Sector 27 guitarist Stevie B set out on a ten-date tour, declaring that the band was moving on "from epic battles to virgin territory", a reference to their signing with Virgin subsidiary, Ten Records.
Although there were cries of "we want Stan" from a section of the audience, the majority must have left the concerts satisfied that Spear were back in business and providing one of the best live sets doing the rounds. The only real disappointment was the loss of the saxophone which really had set both TOH and Spear apart from other bands.
As for Stan himself, he surfaced later on in 1987 with a new band, the Crazy Pink Revolvers. They have already released one album, "First Down", on former Spear support group Living in Texas's Chainsaw label. Neil Pyzer helped out playing keyboards on the album, and Stan was also assisted by J. Adam Bolton on guitar, Daniel Drummond on lead vocals and Jake Slee on drums. However, since the release of the album, the band have been playing some great gigs, mainly in London, with the revised line-up of Stan(bass and lead vocals), Bolton(guitar), Colin Brown(bass) and Laurient Reignier(drums).
The first taste of the new Spear sound on vinyl came in January 1987, with the release of the single "Strangers in Our Town". Choosen probably for its similarity to previous Spear material, the single was backed by "Somewhere Out There" on both the 7" and 12", the latter featuring and extended mix of "Strangers in Our Town" and a bonus track, "Time of Our Lives". As the single commenced its five week stay in the chart(it peaked at No. 49), a 12" double-pack was released combining the aformentioned 12" single with another 12" comprising an alternative mix of "Strangers in Our Town"(basically a slight re-working of the 7" version) and a dub version of "Time of Our Lives".
At the same time, the 'Outlands' tour was announced, covering Britain during April, before moving on to Europe in May. Prior to the tour, a new single was released coupling "Never Take Me alive" with "Land of Shame", which itself would have made a fine A-side.
"Never take Me Alive" was quite a powerful song, but also reasonably commercial. In its third week the single moved up to No. 39. For what it was worth Spear of Destiny had finally achieved a Top 40 single. It eventually peaked at No. 14- following a Top of the Pops appearance- and spent a total of eleven weeks in the chart. Sales were promoted by the usual 12" release, which included extended versions of both songs and the 7" versions of "Land of Shame", plus two 12" double packs. The first included the two extended versions from the basic 12", together with two new songs, "Pumpkin Man" and "Embassy Song", whilst the second package contained the extended versions- but this time edited by Omar Santana in New York- plus another two new tracks, "The Man Who Never Was" and "Jack Staw".
Before the release of the album and the start of the tour, a new guitarist, Mick Proctor, was brought in to replace Stevie B who was apparently only helping out until a permanent guitarist was found. Adam Ant's former partner, Marco Perroni, had also been assisting; he and Brandon laid down the guitar work on the new album.
At the end of April, "Outland" was released. Containing nine Kirk Brandon compositions, the album was produced by Zues B. Held, whose previous credits had included Simple Minds, Dead or Alive and Pete Wylie. The cassette version varied in that it included the 12" versions of "Land of Shame" and "Strangers in Our Town", plus "Time of Our Lives", "Pumpkin Man", and a dub version of "The Traveller". The CD version was also different, including "Time of Our Lives" plus the extra tracks from both the 12" double-packs.
Peaking at No. 16 in its first week of release, "Outland" became the band's best selling album to date. It included the two singles, "Land of Shame" and some other fine songs, the quality of which was proved on their tour, but as with the previous album they were let down by over-production. This was very disappointing, considering all the promises in interviews of back-to-basics, no-nonsense rock'n'roll. Nevertheless, "Was That You?" showed Brandon hadn't forgotten how to rock out, whilst "The Whole World's Waiting" and "Miami Vice" proved that he was still capable of thought-provoking lyrics, and the title track reaffirmed his concern about society closing in around us.
With the success of "Never take Me Alive", Epic thought that it would be a good- and no doubt profitable- time to release a compilation album containing tracks from the band's three LPs for them. "SOD- The Epic Years" was a pretty good account of what the band had achieved in their three years with the label, however a double album would have been necessary to show all the different nerves which Brandon had managed to touch upon in that time. The album lasted three weeks in the Top 100, reaching No. 53. At the same time, a video EP was released. "SOD- The Epic Videos"(CBS/FOX 3862-50) contains the videos for "the Wheel", "Prisoner of Love" and "All My Love" and lasts approximately eleven minutes.
In June 1987, Spear of Destiny were invited to support U2 at Wembley Stadium. A slightly remixed version of "Was That You?" was released in July. The B-side was a live version recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon during the 'Outlands' tour. The 12" backed an abysmal remix of "Was That You?"(including amongst other things underwater vocals!) with live versions of "Miami Vice" and "Outlands". A limited edition packaged this 12" within a poster sleeve. A second, more interesting 12" contained the 'Psychological Mix' of "Was That You?"(which has Brandon almost rapping the opening tale of street-kid drug dealers in LA), followed by some "Do You Belive in the Westworld?"-style guitar heroics, which lead into what sounds like a combination of the 7" and LP versions of "Was that You?". This time the B-side contained a further three tracks from the Hammersmith concert.
As fans had already purchased "Was That You?" on the album and as none of the above permutations actually included any new songs, it's not surprising that the single failed to emulate the success of "Never Take Me Alive". Nevertheless it had a respectable four-week stay in the chart, peaking at No. 55.
In September, a fourth track, "The Traveller", was lifted from the album. It had obviously been selected for release a while before, as the accompanying video was shot in New Mexico at the same time as the promo for "Never Take Me Alive". The promo films for all four singles have since been released by Virgin Music as the "Outland Videos", lasting approximately seventeen minutes.
A brand new track, "Late Night Psycho", was included on the B-side of "The Traveller", whilst the 12" singles contained more material from the Hammersmith Odeon recordings. The single looked all set for the Top 40 when it entered the chart at No. 44. However, this turned out to be its peak position, probably due to the availability of a limited boxed edition of the 7". The single soon slipped down the chart, disappearing two weeks later. Nevertheless, the album benefitted from this extra airplay and recharted.
While in the studio recording "Late Night Psycho", Brandon suffered an old illness known as reiters disease, which made his leg swell up to twice its normal size. This ruled out the band's appearance at the Reading Festival and also the band's first tour of the States. Nothing else was planned for Spear of destiny for the rest of 1987, but a new single is apparently scheduled for release very shortly, with an album and tour to follow a couple of months later. The album is intended to be a lot rawer than the last and hopefully the promises will be fulfilled this time around.
With nine chart singles notched up and premier league status beckoning, it's hardly surprising that Spear's early singles are already changing hands for tidy sums. and with Kirk Brandon's other recordings with the Pack, Theatre of Hate and the Senate now commanding high prices, collectors are faced with one of the most challenging discographies of recent years.