At the dawn of the 1980’s the new movement of hard rock bands playing a more sophisticated and talented kind of rock compared to their punk predecessors emerged all over the UK, from the Channel Islands in the south to the northern part of Scotland. A few of the bands became superstars (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and maybe even Saxon). A few bands achieved semi-large success (bands like the Tygers of Pan Tang, Heavy Pettin’, Angelwitch to name a few) but the lion’s share of bands only released a demo or a 7″ vinyl single and then disappeared into obscurity. One band that would be placed in the second category is Teeside’s own Black Rose. The band was founded by Steve Beardsley (guitar and lead vocals). The roots of the band can be traced far back to 1976 when Steve recruited school buddies Mark Eason (drums) and Marty Rajn (bass) to form the band ICM.
ICM changed the name to Black rose around 1980 and obviously, the name was taken from the classic Thin Lizzy album going by that name. By 1981 there were major changes in the band and the only players remaining from the original line up was Martin Rajn and Steve Beardsley. In a pub they used to go to they found Kenny Nicholson who agreed to join the band making it a quartet and a twin guitar driven band. Charlie Mack soon thereafter replaced Mark on drums. The very same year this newly installed line-up recorded their first six track demo tape (later released in 2013 on the Loveshock album by German HR Records). It was never released to the public at that point but still got a review in the famous British mag Kerrang!. This was followed by two tracks recorded for and released on the Roxxcalibur compilation album put out by Guardian Records and a 7″ single, “No point running” with “Sucker for Your Love” gracing the B-side.
Original member Martin Rajn left the band and he was replaced by Mick Thompson but the turbulent times continued with both Kenny and Charlie also jumping ship. In came Mal Smith on drums and Chris Watson on guitar. Unexpectedly Black Rose shot a video for the song “No Point Runnin'”. The band continued to play the local circuit relentlessly and supported bands like Diamond Head, Saxon, Raven and Vardis. Another appearance followed on Neat Records compilation One Take No Dubs. With no album deal still in sight, the band went back playing gigs and recording a second 4-track demo tape. Things were slowly starting to move forward and finally the band got a deal with Bullet Records, who released the first self-titled EP in 1983. The EP also moved the band into a more melodic writing approach. The use of harmony vocals and catchy choruses was introduced into Black Rose music.
In 1984 the first album came out called Boys Will Be Boys (reissued on CD for the first time by Blood & Iron Records in 2015) and it showed a natural progression and development of the songwriting with yet stronger songs and more memorable melodies. It is also obvious that Black Rose were honing their craft and slowly getting better at what they did. It was quite far off the raw heavy metal of the first demo and 7″ single. Finally, then the band switched to Neat Records and released another EP called Nightmare in 1985. When the EP was recorded Chris had a “time out” from the band and Ian Iredale played guitar on it.
After the release of Nightmare, the NWOBHM largely had played its role and was on its demise. The mid-80s signaled a different musical direction with glam rock coming back with Mötley Crue ruling the waves, Bon Jovi breaking into the scene and Ratt enjoying major commercial success. Black Rose ditched guitarist Chris Watson again, replaced him with Pat O´Neil and added a guitarist/keyboard player called Gary Todd. Steve dropped the guitar to become a frontman and lead vocalist. They recorded the second album Walk It How You Talk It which was originally released in 1987. The sound was a bit more polished and melodic which alienated some longtime fans but the band also gained new fans with the more commercial and melodic approach. The signature sound of the band is still very evident in this sophomore effort. This was also the first album to be issued on CD and an original copy of the CD has been fetching ridiculous prices on eBay so this reissue is far too long overdue.
The band got rave reviews of the album and was compared to Bon Jovi and Def Leppard and was offered a US tour. That tour unfortunately collapsed and the band went into turbulent times again with only Mack and Beardsley remaining in 1989 and Black Rose called it quits – until…2006 when they reformed. The driving force behind the reunion was to record another album and in 2010 Cure For The Disease saw the light of day. The line up for that album was Steve Beardsley, Chris Watson with newcomer Kiko Rivers on guitar. Mal Smith played drums on the album. The band remains active to this day.
Walk It How You Talk It Reissue
What we have here is Black Rose‘s finest hour in the opinion of yours truly. While still retaining their hard rock/metal past this is where the songwriting matured to a higher level, the riffs became really memorable and the melodic side of things was unleashed. Parallels have been drawn to bands such as Def Leppard and Heavy Pettin’ but to me, the obvious comparison should be fellow UK band Tobruk. “Shout it Out” has a catchy hook and a great riff making it an excellent opener. “E.Z.L.Y “ is a mid-tempo monster with the introduction of keyboard licks into the mix. There is still sharpness and a heavy riff from O´Neil and Todd. The opening of “Honestly Love You” reminds me of Bon Jovi‘s “Runaway” with a prominent keyboard melody carrying the song forward. It’s a catchy and memorable song in its own right when it kicks off. Definitely one of the highlights in the Black Rose discography. The title track is a nice mid-tempo affair. “Keep the Bright Lights Burning” has a monster of a chorus that sticks in your head for a long while. We get served the US flavored “California U.S.A.” as an opener that gives me feelings of early Bonfire. With “Don’t Fall in Love” we get the obligatory mid 80s heartfelt power ballad.
As a bonus, we get the Nightmare EP which in full appears for the first time on CD. It is a great addition to the Walk It How You Talk It album. the songs are a bit heavier and less melodic. “Nightmare” is a heavy track with a cool and memorable hook and makes me think of Tokyo Blade in their early days. “Need a Lot of Love” opens up with a riff that could have been taken from Def Leppard‘s Pyromania. The weakest hand in the deck probably being “Rock Me Hard” which is an ordinary rock song that does not stand out as much of the rest of the material.
Added as an extra bonus and giving a lot of value for money is a second DVD disc that contains TV and live appearance clips. Unfortunately, the Middlesborough Town Hall show is not included which is a bummer. It was sold by the band themselves on DVD-R. This double-disc deluxe edition comes with a thick 20-page full-color booklet. There is an extensive band biography and cool photos along with the lyrics to all the songs. A big plus is also the inclusion of the original artwork to the Nightmare EP on the back of the booklet making it easy to switch cover if you’d like. The biggest flaw is that the song order is printed wrong in all places.
Putting this old and forgotten gem out there for new fans to discover is a great and necessary deed done by Prog AOR Records. With more cool releases lined up for 2018, the label seems fit to deliver more archive recordings to the craving fans. Well done!