Every so often, a record producer comes along whose mastery of the studio takes on a legendary status. The early years of pop showed off the technical talents of George Martin and Phil Spector; the world of disco gave a platform to Quincy Jones and Geogio Moroder (Quincy’s hand in making Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ a global success cannot be understated – it’s a stunning sounding record) and the rock scene gave Martin Birch plenty to apply a distinctive style.
In terms of pop, 1982 was a strong year: Madness took a further step towards songwriting sophistication with their album ‘The Rise & Fall’, Prince made a huge breakthrough with his ‘1999’ double platter of much filthiness and Phil Collins showed us that the previous year’s ‘Face Value’ wasn’t just a one-off solo success when his “tricky second album” spawned a #1 hit single and a few of his best solo tunes.
For a lot of people, 1981 is a year where the 1980s really found its feet. It’s a year where fewer things carry a feel of the 70s; it’s a year where the New Romantics and the new wave of synth pop stars dominated the charts. As well as being a solid year for pop, 1981 also found the New Wave of British Heavy Metal reaching its crescendo.
Supergroups rarely last a long time. The combination of various egos usually leads to burnout pretty quickly. In the case of Blackthorne (featuring Graham Bonnet along with members of Quiet Riot, House of Lords and Skull), there wasn’t really anything you’d call genuine longevity, but their course ran a little longer than most. Formed in 1991, they released their debut ‘Afterlife’ in 1993 which led to some success in Japan. Work on a second album was undertaken in the mid-90s, but the band called it a day before the record was ready for release. The tapes remained unreleased until HNE Recordings unearthed them as part of their extensive (and excellent) Graham Bonnet reissue campaign. It’s a shame Blackthorne’s proposed second album couldn’t be heard in 1995, as at least half of it was an improvement over their first release.
Having already released ‘Afterlife’ with a handful of bonus tracks and finally gettiing ‘Blackthorne II: Don’t Kill The Thrill’ out to the fans in 2016, you’d expect that Cherry Red/HNE Recordings would have nothing more to give from Blackthorne’s all too short career, but this compilation (released in October 2019) actually adds a lot more to the band’s recorded legacy. Not so much a career overview with a few unreleased trinkets, this set is actually a vault of demos and alternate takes, peppered with a few album cuts to give a fairer overview of their short life span. Presented among the 44 tracks in this set are 30 unreleased cuts, a couple of which go right back to the band’s origins when the rhythm section featured White Lion men James Lomenzo and Greg D’Angelo. In other words, there’s a huge amount for fans to get their ears around.
In 2016, The Graham Bonnet Band released ‘The Book’, a brilliant release that managed to look forwards and backwards simultaneously. Its first disc presented a selection of brand new hard rock numbers – many of which represented Bonnet’s best work for a long time – and the second celebrated his past by offering re-recordings of songs originally released by Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group, Alcatrazz and more. The record didn’t especially care for being fashionable, but it was a timely reminder – at least for some – that Bonnet could still deliver the goods when backed by the right musicians.