British Lions CD: "Live and Rare"

Sleeve and track listing

Angel Air SJPCD044. (4 stars!)

  1. One More Chance To Run (3:50)
  2. Fork Talkin' Man (4:50)
  3. My Life's In Your Hands (6:00)
  4. Wild In The Streets (3:53)
  5. Booster (5:41)
  6. So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Pretty Vacant (8:06)
  7. Break This Fool (5:59)
  8. Love Now (5:49)
  9. One More Chance To Run (demo) (4:02)
  10. Wild In The Streets (demo) (2:52)
  11. Booster (demo) (4:20)
  12. Big Drift Away (demo) (8:47)
  13. Coming Through (rehearsal track) (4:42)
  14. Acoustic Chair (home demo) (3:02)
  15. Electric Chair (rehearsal track) (4:01)

Running time: 76m 04s

Review

British Lions - one of the great lost bands of British rock. If the name is new to you, let me elucidate. After seminal rock band Mott The Hoople (y'all remember Roll Away The Stone, All The Way From Memphis and All The Young Dudes) imploded in late '74 with the departure of vocalist Ian Hunter and guitarist Mick Ronson, the band found replacements in the form of Nigel Benjamin and Ray Major, and soldiered on for two more years as Mott before Benjamin left. Meanwhile, two-man prog-rockers Medicine Head (who had scored major chart success with singles One And One Is One and Slip And Slide) were also fragmenting for the final time. Cue one band looking for a singer and one singer (John Fiddler) looking for a gig...

With a new vocalist, new name, new management, new label, the band were finally cutting their ties with the past. The Lions should have made it big, for as experienced pros they could write killer tracks and produce blistering live sets as easy as falling off a log. But a hard rock band (firmly in the UFO/Thin Lizzy mould) were always going to find it difficult to break through in the punk dominated Britain of the late 70's. UK support slots with Status Quo and AC/DC were followed by Stateside support slots with Blue Oyster Cult and UFO, which is where the live material here was recorded.

As with the recent Mott release, this was recorded direct onto cassette tape from the mixing desk, so again no overdubs or touching up have been possible. The result is a raw, gritty live sound, exactly as performed on the night. Fork Talkin' Man is loud and strong, and Wild In The Streets (the Lions' first American single) oozes power and confidence.

The rock medley closed the Lions' set, and shows they weren't afraid to play other people's work. So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star shows the band relaxed, confident, taking their time... While It's Only Rock 'n' Roll maybe isn't quite as good as the Stone's (definitive) version, Pretty Vacant certainly stands comparison with the Sex Pistol's version, demonstrating the Lions were certainly in touch with what was happening.

Of the studio tracks, the demos are good and strong. Acoustic Chair is in fact the demo for Electric Chair (which would eventually be recorded for the Lions' second album, Trouble With Women), with just John on vocals and acoustic guitar. The rehearsal track Coming Through has never been available in any form, and gives a tantalising glimpse of just what might have been...

As always with Angel Air packaging is excellent, with a decent booklet containing informative sleeve-notes by John Fiddler, Morgan Fisher and Dale Griffin. John's memories of his first tour of the States are hilarious, and Dale's thoughts on the band's demise are right on the button and for once his "poison pen" is kept out of harm's way - a welcome improvement I think.

Sadly, as the sleeve notes remind us, it all came to an end just a few months later. The record company (Vertigo in the UK, RSO in the States) demanded changes to save costs and the band, having heard it all before, just walked and yet another band with enormous potential ceased to be. With both Lions' studio albums still unavailable on CD (big hint, Angel Air!) this CD is the only evidence just how good the Lions really were.

To sum up: another raw, gritty, live rock album. Highly recommended for all rock fans. To be played at maximum volume only...

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