Singer John Lawton is best known for his work with Lucifer's Friend, Uriah Heep and the Les Humphries Singers. However only a few people do know that he also was a member of Gunhill. With this outfit he released the albums One Over the Eight (1995), Night Heat (1997) and Live In Germany '99 (1999). For me those albums were unknown as well until lately. Thanks to Cherry Red those who missed the two studio albums can enjoy them again. Because they were out of print already several years.
Gunhill was of course not only John Lawton. On their debut One Over The Eight he was accompanied by Riki Robyns on guitar and keyboards, Lloyd Coates on drums, Neil Kavanagh on bass and backing vocals and Mike Raxworthy on keyboards and backing vocals. For their second album Nightheat a few line-up changes happened and Lawton was assisted in the studio by the bands new guitar player Brian Bennet and new drummer Chris Jones. Only Neil Kavanagh stayed with him from the bands former line-up and helped him out on bass, vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar and flute.
Strangely enough the first disc contains the bands second album Night Heat, which is certainly worth a listen. Most of all the ballads Wall Of Silence, Waiting For The Heartache, Far From Home and Come Back To Me sound fantastic. Mainly due to the fact they contain amazing guitar playing by Bennet and fine keyboard parts done by Kavanagh . The last title is a strong cover of an original Uriah Heep composition. It is one of two covers done by this band. Also the other one Sympathy sounds very strong. Both songs are the bonus tracks on the reissue of Night Heat and don't appear on the original album. The great cover of The Beatles composition Eleanor Rigby can also be found on the original album. It has a fine orchestral keyboard intro and is a little bit faster as the original version. Also more rock orientated thanks to the strong guitar parts. The cover of Journey's Don't Stop Believing also sounds perfect. The same can said about Nobody Loves You The Way I Do from Melissa Etheridge and the Bad Company cover Ready For Love. Also the new version of Don't Look Back from Lawton's former and present band Lucifer's Friend has my approval. When A Man Loves A Woman, a song written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright and recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966, sounds OK but is not really a song you will play very often. More covers can be found but I will not go deeper into them. The overall feeling is that this album certainly has its fine moments and from time to time made me think about the rock bands Lawton fronted.
The second disc with the complete version of One Over The Eight plus the bonus track River Of Dreams is also an album worth a listen. On this release you can hear more rock and roll and rock ballads as on Night Heat. Strangely The Beatles composition Eleanor Rigby is included again. Wonderfully done with the orchestral keyboard intro but the acoustic guitar at the start missing on this version. Most of all the harmony vocals are really outstanding just as on the other version! Better By You, Better Than Me, a song by the English rock band Spooky Tooth, is very well covered. The same can be said about the Rainbow cover Stone Cold and In The Shadow Of The Blues, originally done by Whitesnake. On the other hand Ain't No Sunshine from Bill Withers sounds very average. The same can be said about Every Little Bit Hurts, originally a 1964 hit single for Motown soul singer Brenda Holloway and covered by Small Faces and the Spencer Davis Group, could have been done better.
The cover of Harlem Shuffle also gave me mixed feelings. This R&B song written and originally recorded by the duo Bob & Earl in 1963 and 1986 covered by The Rolling Stones probably shouldn't have been on this release. It doesn't add much extra to the album as far as I am concerned. But then again the rock song Soldier Of Love sounds pretty good. The same can be said about the bonus track River Of Dreams. Here the band with Dave White on guitars and keyboards and Rich Wagner on bass, percussion and keyboards move more into progressive rock territories. Also a band such as Journey comes to mind. Maybe I loved Night Heat a little bit more due to the fact the covers are more enjoyable than on this release.
Listening to both albums Nightheat and One Over The Eight gave me two fine hours of reasonable good music. The mix of songs which could have been recorded by Lucifer's Friend and Uriah Heep worked very well for me. Mainly due to the fact that John Lawton is in fine form. His voice is one of the strongest from the hard rock/ classic rock era. Also the musicianship on electric guitars and keyboards is of a very good standard. Too bad the cover songs redone with a hard rock theme didn't always work. Nevertheless, I have a positive feeling about this reissue. So thumbs up for the people who managed to get this release of Gunhill once again out in the open.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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