KERRANG! ISSUE 12 APRIL 1982
THE FIRST thing I knew about the release of the new album was when some kids came up to me before our recent Marquee gig and asked me to autograph their copies. I Was stunned and before I did it I had to ask them if I could have a look! I hadn’t even seen a finished copy. We then found out that it was released at the end of the Sammy Hagar tour and there has only been one advertisement in the music press. We’re at the most frustrating point we’ve ever been at in our career. The single went into the charts at 75 but there’s been nothing to back it up, What’s the follow-up? There’s no tour— nothing. I don’t like to slag off record companies but the truth is that they won’t give us any tour support until May.”
One can’t help but feel sympathetic towards Ralph Hood and the rest of Grand Prix, who haven’t exactly had an easy ride on the road to rock’n’roll success. Having recently opened for Sammy Hagar on his UK trek, eliciting strong audience response practically every night, they now find themselves off the road, biding their time, unable to go out and promote their new ‘There For None To See’ LP. The single ‘Keep On Believing’ which had started to rise up the charts has now faded into obscurity, leaving the band somewhat uncertain as to their next move.
‘We came off those Hagar dates buzzing, ”states vocalist Robin McAuley. “It was great for us, because we were going down so well that we felt ourselves at an all-time high. In fact, whenever there was a day off on the road we were just totally bored.”
“And now’s the time we should be going back to the places where we went down particularly well,” interrupts keyboards man Phil Lanzon.
Grand Prix aren’t asking for sympathy though — all they need is an even break. At this moment in time all they want to do is go out and work. However, with no financial backing from their record company for the next few months their position is uncomfortable, to say the least. Indeed, it now seems ironic that when they first surfaced on the scene at the 1980 Reading Festival Grand Prix were almost hyped’ by RCA. They arrived at the festival in a fleet of limousines and during the afternoon the press were entertained in a special RCA tent. This was Grand Prix’s showcase gig, but sadly it did them a lot more harm than good.
“That gig at Reading put us back about six months,” assesses Ralph. “All the press seemed to write about was what our hamburgers tasted like! We would have much preferred something relevant. But it was all so new to us. We got this big deal and when three limos took us to Reading with champagne everywhere it just seemed to us that this must be the way things happen. Afterwards we came back to earth with a bump. We realised that we’d been manipulated and that it had been a bad move.”
A few months later, Grand Prix’s debut album came out and received lukewarm response from critics. It wasn’t a bad album as far as first efforts go but didn’t really live up to the expectation of their live show. Yes folks, I’m not ashamed to admit that I quite enjoyed their Reading performance! However, over the ensuing months Grand Prix, who had clearly shown that they had leanings towards true hard rock audiences, found themselves on some strange tours.
“Oh yes, we played to a lot of mums and dads,” jests Phil Lanzon recalling the bands outing with Caravan.
My next live encounter with the lads came during their massive Euro-trek with Manfred Mann’s Earth band that took place at the beginning of 1981. Their gig at the Paris Pavilion was an entertaining event, but talking to them afterwards it was clear that not all was well within the line-up. At that point, their singer was Bernie Shaw (now with Praying Mantis) and the other four members of the group didn’t seem happy with the way he was fronting them. There were many jokes about his choice of shiny red spandex strides for stagewear but one could not help feeling that there was more to it than a clash of clothing styles. There also appeared to be ego problems. Consequently, it came as little surprise to learn that by the end of the summer Bernie had been replaced by Robin McAuley. What actually precipitated the singer’s departure?
“He wasn’t really progressing along the same lines as us,” explains Col. Lanzon in true diplomatic style. Hood elaborates: It had actually been in the back of everyone’s minds for some time and the end result was a combination of a lot of things. But. . .you can’t go on stage in Europe looking like a Christmas tree! (The rest of the lads are in hysterics) We spent months and months of pleading with the guy to see things our way but he wouldn’t listen. And then on top of that he didn’t write and lyrics for the album which put more onus on Phil and Mick (O’Donoghue, their guitarist) particularly.”
Be that as it may, I do think that Bernie has a very good vocal range but must agree that Robin appears far better suited to Grand Prix. The ‘big change’ took place mid-way through the recording of the new album, which merely augmented the protracted period spent in the studios. Why did it take so long?
“The actual recording only took about five weeks,” states Phil, “and the bulk of the time was spent mixing. When Robin joined he obviously had to learn all the songs and in fact Bernie had already done half of them, but that didn’t take long. Basically it was all down to the mix. When we went in to do the album not enough groundwork had been done beforehand to find the right producer — it was really a last minute thing.”
Grand Prix aren’t exactly enthusiastic about ‘There For None To See’ (an apt title) and feel that the energy of their live shows could have been better captured with the right producer and also after the road experience with Sammy Hagar. One must not forget that this was their first proper outing in front of a real rock audience. According to Robin: “If the reaction on the Hagar tour is anything to go by, then we’re definitely looking forward to hitting Britain again.”
In the past, it has often been stated that Grand Prix’s material leans heavily towards the American radio sound and I was surprised to learn that the American company have decided not to release their two albums in the States. How does the band feel about the references to the US style in their music?
Phil: “As I’ve said in interviews time and time again, it’s not that we go out of our way to write songs like American bands. They haven t got any bollocks – it’s only British bands that seem to have that heavy bottom end. If there are any similarities in our music to US bands it’s not intentional. I think people are gradually realising that we are a straightforward down-to-earth bunch. There’s no ultra posing thing happening anymore. And there’s certainly no big egos”
GRAND PRIX – Marquee, London
THE MARQUEE held its usual sweaty atmosphere with ease during Grand Prix’s return to their second home, and the event was marked by the presence of more stars than you could find on an Argentinean general’s chest.
Not wishing to disappoint, Grand Prix proceeded to remind all who may have doubted the band’s staying power that they are a lasting entity. To open with three new numbers is ambitious to the point of stupidity, but the five-piece carried it off with complete conviction.
Song titles eluded my ears due to the gabbled introductions from the Irish lilt of vocalist Rob McAuley, who spent a good deal of the evening cursing both RCA and rail chief Ray Buckon (who had the audacity to call a strike on the same day as the gig!). What I can report however, is that the new songs are very inspiring, moving more successfully into the realms of US Pomp Rock.
Songs from the newly-recorded demo were given extensive airing — ‘Give Me What’s Mine’ evokes prime-time Styx, in a marvellously-melodic harmony line which has immediately laid roots in my brain. ‘Shout’ is a sing-along live number which worked to excellent effect. Ripping off Billy Squier’s ‘The Stroke’ to an unprecedented degree (and Billy himself stole the song from his own ‘The Big Beat’ number from ‘Tale Of The Tape’) the chorus of shout — turn it up louder met with distinct decibel approval.
The future looks promising If Grand Prix can shake off their last company traumas, but the past was also well catered for at this gig, making me realise that when this band get it together, they are devastating. ‘Heaven To Hell’, ‘Relay’. ‘Tough Of The Track’ and ‘Westwind’ peak at Pomp perfection — Grand Prix could do so well in the States, you’d better catch ‘em quickly before they make a permanent move there’
READING FESTIVAL 1982
Grand Prix are old hands and can cope with any setting, but even they looked a bit pale and haggard in the cold light of day.
Despite recent problems with their record company, singer Rod McAuley seemed in high spirits and made some pleasantly Irish announcements with a satirical edge. “Shout’ is our next single, whether our record company know it or not,” he said slyly. A most sophisticated band, their vocal harmonies and keyboard work came as a welcome relief from endless mayhem. They floated niftily through ‘Look At Me Now’ and ‘Heaven And Hell’ and dedicated ‘Samuri’ to the Japanese rock invasion. Unfortunately ‘East Wind’ suffered from eager hands at the volume controls and the piece disintegrated into clatter.
KERRANG! ISSUE No.44 JUNE 1984
GRAND PRIX ‘Samurai’ (Chrysalis CHR 1430) – PAUL SUTER
GRAND PRIX began life as an attempt to be a ballsy Styx —wasn’t someone forgetting JY? — but have now developed a cultured style that’s very much their own, with lots of mid-range warmth replacing the more normal, toppier, approach. Rob McAuley’s voice fits in perfectly, whereas Bernie Shaw’s higher pitch just didn’t suit what the band were heading towards.
As a powerful rock guitarist Michael O’Donoghue has now come into his own — he always seemed such an effete player before – and when laid against Phil Lanzon s spirited (although sometimes rather dated) keyboards, the blend is complete. On this album the collective decision to let rip, with drummer Andy Beirne really giving it some stick, has yielded some magnificent moments of high-octane drama, and although a couple of tracks still have question-marks against them – ‘Never Before’ and ‘Freedom’ seem to marginally miss the mark – it’s difficult to resist ‘Samurai’s
The band’s collective ear for effective light and shade gives birth to some of the album’s best moments, notably with the gorgeous, toe curling tranquility of ‘Fifty Fifty’ before it lurches into a moody drive, peaking on a memorable hook.
Similarly ‘High Time’ opens in light and plaintive mood before blasting into a rich, roaring lope fractured by the magnificent exuberant flash of its hook, and the closing quasi-epic title track exhibits a series of attractive facets as it runs its course from its orientally flavoured opening to the muscularly energetic rock-powered peak.
With this album Grand Prix are in a strong position to make their mark seriously forthe first time; their sound is strongly individualistic and their attack is universally attractive to anyone interested in multi-decibel rock power—just ask the Maiden audiences!
Now’s the time to start taking them seriously.
KERRANG! Issue 44 June 1984 – Paul Suter
PANIC IN the streets! It’s seven o clock and Grand Prix haven t amved yet for their 7:30 slot supporting Iron Maiden! Much running around in circles and praying to obscure Gods is in evidence as the band finally manage to make their entrance with a scant ten minutes to spare, a soundcheck being firmly out of the question by then.
Not exactly the best preparation for a gig you’II admit, but the Prix nevertheless put on excellent show that’s well received by the devoted Maiden fans who had bought up every seat in the hall long before anyone knew Grand Prix would be on the bill.
The show is short and sweet with six numbers drafted in from the new alum (the two old survivors being the memorable ‘Keep On Believing’ and a revitalised ‘Westwind’) which isn’t to be released until after the tour. The entire audience is hearing the songs for the first time and despite the inevitably patchy sound they’re clearly keen to hear them again.
Which takes us back a year — more in fact — to the similar enthusiasm the band won from Sammy Hagar’s diehard audience (and not forgetting the man himself) only to be unceremoniously dumped by their label. RCA had, it appeared, poured mucho moolah into Grand Prix and yet as the first signs of significant public enthusiasm began to show on a reasonable scale they dropped the band who virtually simultaneously parted company with their management.
The ensuing period saw the band slowly recovering from the reversals and making what was effectively a new start putting their previous mistakes and disappointments behind them. Now that they’re actually on the case again there’s both enthusiasm and relief in the air as bassist Ralph Hood and vocalist Rob McAuley made clear recently.
“It’s nice to be able to talk without a great depression hanging over us” Ralph smiled. The last two Kerrang! interviews we did were basically just us expressing our frustrations, but now thank God it’s aIl water under the bridge.
The American side of RCA never saw us a suitable act for America and, as a result, none of our records were released there is Ralph’s only possible explanation for RCA’s strange decision to drop the band when British success seemed to be feasible for the first time. Bluntly it was never going to be enough to be successful in the UK if they were to be a real money spinner for RCA so the concrete hand shake was duly proffered.
By the end of the Sammy Hagar tour we were getting the right sort of reaction for the first time and i think we’d adjusted to being more positive as a live band. We were going to do the Blackfoot tour but the record company didn’t see the point in paying for it as a direct result of that we changed management. We were soon dropped, it was inevitable really I suppose. It was a bit of a lifesaver too, in fact, because as you can imagine we had a large debt hanging over us by that time.
We spent that summer doing a lot of demos; we were very lucky a lot of studios offered us demo time and we managed to get 13 songs together for this new album. We also went to East Germany to do a live TV appearance that was broadcast to the whole of the eastern bloc. Whoever was the agent had seen us in Europe with Manfred Mann 18 months before. We knew at the time that the East German government had expressed some interest — its all done at that level — in getting the band over.
Everything went through the normal channels and then there we were — 18 months later. We haven’t got anything released over there so we did three songs — its a live show but everyone mimes to backing tracks — that were all demos and they went down a storm. No one knew the difference.
It was done in a Russian garrison town, Schwerin, and they wouldn’t let us into any of the three bars in town except our hotel bar. We were paid in local currency which is virtually worthless in the West, so we had all this cash to blow and nobody in the hotel wanted anything to do with us. They thought we were decadent millionaire westerners guzzling two bottles of champagne at a time. Not that we normally do (no? Well maybe not champagne) but that’s what we had to do to spend the money.”
Once back In Britain the band financed their own autumn club tour desperate to get out on the road again to see if there was still an audience keen to see them. Relieved to find the answer affirmative they were doubly relieved to find their new material had won them a deal (they’re still unsure whether anyone at Chrysalis has heard their first two albums!)
By the time the recording of the new album actually came around they had over 20 songs to choose from and the rapidly escalating enthusiasm within their ranks meant that there were another 17 ready for the next one even before the Maiden tour began! Talk about prolific!
One factor that has always frustrated the band however has been their production. Their first album sounded pretty poor the
second okay, but obviously could have been twice as good and that left them with plenty of room for improvement in a new label, new start situation Bad luck still dogged them though as Ralph explained:
“There simply weren’t any producers available! We’d drawn up a list as long as your arm but, despite the fact that most of them wanted to do it they were booked up well into this year and it would have been silly to wait. Mack, Tom Allom, so many…
John Eden was therefore drafted in and whilst the band show a diplomatic face to yours truly sitting in front of a tape recorder there are garish tales of tired and emotional scenes at Franks (London’s leading lig and meat market for anyone who can tell the difference between a plectrum and a garden gnome) over more production frustrations. Just like before the band went in to remix the results although this time only once — the last album had three remixes and still they weren’t happy with it.
“We knew you’d be expecting it so we just went in and did it!” joked Rob. It wouldn’t be a Grand Prix alum if it wasn’t remixed’ But we feel that this one worked because we had the say. Some of John Eden’s input the ideas and arrangements, were very good, but in the end his overall picture of what we should sound like was very different from ours. The remix was the first time that we were really involved; on past albums the band didn’t have much say.
Chrysalis let us give our own interpretation of what we should sound like whereas RCA didn’t. Ralph enlarged “As far as they were concerned it was the producer’s word that counted totally and that was very frustrating. No hard feelings against Greg Walsh, though, we were going the right way if you listen to the second album compared with the first. Who knows, if we had done the third album with him maybe it would have been another big improvement.”
But along with everything else the production has changed hands and the band have effectively been able to make a completely new start. They now prefer to reflect on current strengths rather than former fumblings.
The seemingly endless string of support dates — actually relatively few in this country but still outnumbering their headline appearances — had them numbered as perpetual Aunt Sallies and its to be hoped that they wont pursue the same course again once the Maiden tour is over. Its seen them impress large numbers of potential converts and its crucial now that the band go out and do their own dates as soon as possible.
“Seeing UFO recently” Ralph observed “reminded me of us in our early days; these people bustling about and getting in each others way. It was five individuals on stage but what the Hagar tour did for us was teach us how to put ourselves over. We went on as one unified body and with a sense of humour too.”
Rob keenly re-emphasised the value of the bands lighter approach.
“For far too long the band has been taken too seriously. I think a lot of people who didn’t know us well were put off by that serious approach. Now we treat the whole thing as a party onstage.”
And Grand Prix seem to have fair reason to be cheerful right now. For starters the Maiden tour is giving them substantial exposure cost them nothing to buy onto and the bands are having a great time together. Ralph Hood and Bruce Dickinson are old drinking partners in fact — both of them potential gold medallists if beer swallowing ever becomes an Olympic
event — and the atmosphere on tour has served to instil the Grand Prix camp with genuine enthusiasm as well as an awareness of what might have been as they see others fall by the wayside.
Later in the year they aim to hit North America for the first time — Chrysalis are clearly enthusiastic about their prospects in
The States. But don t let them be prophets without honour in their own land. They may have been the butt of many (deserved) journalistic jibes but not any more.
Grand Prix are not in fact the prix they used to be.