Welcome to the first edition of Nicky Reviews Rock! I am delighted that you join me today as I’m hosting my first special guest, Scots rockers Iron Claw.
Read on to find out more about the band, peruse my review of upcoming album A Different Game, and take in the amazing interview with the band. I hope you enjoy this feature and look forward to your comments…and I just know the band would love to hear your comments, too!
Who is Iron Claw?
Iron Claw is Ian McDougall (Drums), Alex Wilson (Bass), Jimmy
Ronnie (Guitar) and Gordon Brown (Vocals).
Potted History of Iron Claw:
Iron Claw was founded in the summer of 1969 in Dumfries, Scotland by original members Alex Wilson, Jimmy Ronnie and Ian McDougall. They were joined by singer Mike Waller in 1970. Following a round of comings and goings, Iron
Claw eventually split up in 1974. Interestingly, although Iron Claw was in and out of recording studios, the band never officially released an album. However, much of what they did record saw the light of day in 2009, when the band released a self-titled compilation CD with Rockadrome. Now in the fifth line-up, Ian, Alex and Jimmy have been joined by new vocalist Gordon. The band is signed to California-based label Ripple Music with new album, A Different Game, out on October 4th.
Source: Ripple Music; thanks to Jim, Gordon and Alex for all input and corrections! Photos in this article used with artists’ permission. All photos in this article courtesy of Kelly Barty at Country Images, with thanks.
Find out more about Iron Claw at Ripple Music or on Facebook or Twitter.
Album Review: A Different Game
So the package is here, straight from Ripple music, what excitement! I tear open the envelope and out falls: IRON CLAW’s new album, A Different Game. Wow!
First impression: The cover… it’s amazing. A ramshackle castle, printed in stark oranges and black, and a big, bold gothic-looking font for the title. It heralds the musical experience to come: something dark, mysterious, haunting, something earthy, yet grand, with moments of lightness and clarity. Will the album deliver?
It certainly does. The opening track, What Love Left, is hard and fast and in your face (in a good way). It does everything an opening track is supposed to do: it gets your heart beating, your fingers drumming out the beat on the table or grabbing that air guitar. The guitar and vocals draw you right in, and you’re hooked. From there onwards, the album spans a classic rock repertoire.
There is the more mellow but still rocking Falling Down, soulful Angel
Woman, and then the gentle and seductive It’s Easy. There are strong
riffs suggestive of classic rock influences such as Led Zeppelin, but also some
bluesy undertones in places, partnered with haunting vocals.
My favourite songs include Southern ky, It’s Easy and Falling Down. The very mellow start to Southern Sky evokes a Scottish loch at sunset and then, just when you’re swept away by the mood: Enter the mighty Guitar! That’s a fantastically powerful moment. It’s Easy offers a beautiful and consistent juxtaposition of acoustic and electric guitars which presses my ‘like’ button every time. Falling Down has some… I don’t know, cascading riffs in it that capture my imagination—I ‘see’ music in patterns, and this one definitely spirals! And let me not forget the title song, A Different Game, which aptly declares: “it’s in the music… that rock’n’roll that pounds your soul!”
Being a bit of a ‘words’ person myself, I am fascinated by the running contrast between dark and lyrical moments. In places we hear about ‘falling down’, ‘a
painful road to hell’ and ‘what love left.’ Yet songs like It’s Easy also
offer encouragement and poetry: ‘you are drifting on a sea of emotion/all
alone, no ground beneath your feet.” And Angel Woman rolls the two extremes right up together: “She’s a dark-eyed angel woman…. She’s my baby and I love her so!” Thus the listener runs the whole range of emotions right there with the band.
And finally, there is Closing In which is closing out the album. Closing In makes my heart sing—I adore rock ballads. There’s nothing more seductive than the tough man coming across all tender and gentle, and a rock ballad achieves just that. Closing In definitely deserves a place among the greats! Here, Iron Claw shows a softer side, proving that it’s not all about speed and volume. This is a beautiful and lyrical love song with fabulous vocals and just the right amount of dramatic tension in the bass and guitar instrumental section.
Dark, mysterious, haunting, grand, lyrical: Iron Claw offers its own distinctive brand of Scots rock: and these four Scots, they certainly rock! A Different Game is a must-have in any rock-lover’s collection. I can’t wait to see Iron Claw live and in concert… I’m sure they will blow me away!
Check out the opening track, “What Love Left”, for yourself here!
Where can you get this album?
Jimmy tells me that digital downloads are available already from all outlets, iTunes, Amazon etc. From Wednesday, the CD will be available from all record stores world-wide, and also from all the usual mail order outlets, Ripple-Music.com, CD Baby, Amazon, Ebay, etc…. as well as Heather’s hippy shop at the Midsteeple, Dumfries!
And here comes… the big interview with Iron Claw!!!
It is my great pleasure to introduce today my very special guest,
IRON CLAW! Welcome to Nicky Reviews Rock! I am a new fan and totally intrigued by the music and your story. I’d love to find out about the people behind the music as well as the music itself. The band have very kindly offered to answer a few questions this here new fan has, so here goes…
Q: Congratulations on the upcoming release of A Different
Game on October 4th! Ripple Music reached out to you regarding
recording this album… how did this all come about?
Hi from Alex: The reformation came about because about 14 years ago a German record company brought out a bootleg CD transferred from a cassette tape of Iron Claw recordings made between 1970-74 that had somehow fallen into their hands. (A second bootleg, in which the German company renamed Iron Claw “Antrobus” also reared its head about 2 years later). The first bootleg gradually spread worldwide due to the effect of the Internet, and eventually in 2008 an American record company, Rockadrome, contacted me to see if I was interested in bringing out a re-mastered version of the early recordings, this time transferred from the original master recordings which I still possessed. At that point in 2008 I was determined that a proper Iron Claw record with a proper sound quality should be released to the world. It took a year of transferring tapes and designing the Rockadrome CD release. When this new recording was finally available to the public in 2009 it generated new interest via the Internet in the band. Fast forward to 2010 and Ripple offered the original members of the band a chance to record an entirely new Iron Claw CD because of the interest in the band’s status as “progenitors” of Metal music, especially the earliest Iron Claw songs. Now after a year’s recording work the new Iron Claw CD is ready for release.
Jimmy: In 2009 the bulk of Iron Claw’s back catalogue of recorded music from the 1970s was digitally re-mastered and released as the album “Iron Claw” (Rockadrome Records, Austin, Texas). It was in response to the interest generated by this album that we decided to re-form and record some more songs. I was aware of a blog called “The Ripple Effect” and their obvious love of the band’s work. They had written a glowing review of the record so I sent them an email giving them the news that there was more Iron Claw material planned. Their response was completely out of the blue; Ripple were in the process of launching their own recording and publishing company and would we be interested in signing with them? Of course we would! We then started work on what was now a full-blown album of new material destined for world-wide release.
Q: Tell me about the title track, A Different Game: what inspired you to write this particular song with these particular lyrics?
Alex: This one’s all down to Jimmy; I’ll let him explain it!
Jimmy: This was a song I wrote a few years ago and recorded it as part of a solo project using hired session musicians on drums and bass / keyboard. It was never released but the project did attract a lot of industry interest with a great deal of radio play and some serious interest from many major record and publishing companies. However, a firm offer from any of them never materialised. I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves but they did come out of a period of intensity for me. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis…whatever it was, it resulted in a few songs. “A Different Game” and “It’s Easy” being two of
Q: Speaking more generally, the album is what I’d call very ‘in your face’ (in a good way!) hard and fast rock with strong, rocking beats and great vocals! What are your influences here? And who or what shaped the gentler numbers like It’s Easy and Closing In?
Alex: personally, I feel the “influence” is all down to the band! We seem to play and “gel” with any given song in a unique way, nobody else sounds like
Iron Claw musically as a unit. You’ve got to remember we started over 40 years
ago, so it’s not really “influences” that most people can remember! All good music (even classical!) influences me subconsciously I suppose….
Jimmy: Every one of us brings different influences to the Iron Claw mix. No surprises from me if I tell you that mine are in the guitar based blues / rock bands of the late 60s / early 70s. Bands such as Free, Johnny Winter, Cream, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin. ….and lots more. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy contemporary music but as a musician your major influences come at the beginning of your musical journey. See my previous answer relating to the song “It’s Easy”.
Gordon: In terms of “Closing In,” it’s about what the music says to me and the mood I’m in when I’m writing the lyrics. This one followed a small domestic dispute!
Q: How much of the material on A Different Game is brand new for the album?
Alex: I would say 6 of the 13 tracks are “brand new” from a musical backing
point of view; the others are backings that were written over the years,
including the early Iron Claw period, but were never recorded at that time.
Jimmy: Even the brand new songs have elements of things that have been kicking around for a while. However, all the songs no matter when they originated have been stripped bare, reworked and re-arranged and that’s what makes them a product of now rather than a look back in time.
Ian: As far as the drumming goes I made no attempt to recreate anything from the past but approached the project with a fresh outlook. That’s why the album has a contemporary feel rather than being retro.
Q: One thing I particularly like about this album, being a ‘words’ person myself, is that it’s very lyrical. There are some beautiful words coming with the music… who’s responsible here?
Alex: The lyrics are down to Jimmy and Jimmy’s son on 3 of the songs. I had some lyrics for some of the songs but made a decision to let the new singer Gordon does his own words, basically to make him feel more involved in the band. I thought it would be difficult to try to make him sing words and melodies that I had done. So Gordon did the other 10 songs with the odd adjustment in the lyrics suggested by Jimmy and me.
Jimmy: The opening track “What Love Left” is the work of my son, Stevie. He’s a full-time creative writer and published poet. As mentioned earlier, “A Different Game” and “It’s Easy” are my lyrics.
Gordon: Jimmy wrote the lyrics to “It’s Easy” and “A Different Game”, his son Stevie did “What Love Left” and I am responsible for the other 10, language is one of my great loves along with music, having the opportunity to combine the two is just fun. The process is very simple, listen to the music, what does it make me feel, get a first line and away you go. Some songs took longer than others, generally when they went the process was very quick, the difficulty is trying to find the vocal hook and work around that.
Q: What’s the most musically complex song you’ve ever made? Do you all have a favourite song—and if so, which one and why?
Alex: Again personally speaking, my favourite Iron Claw song is “Winter” recorded in the early 70′s, literally “live” in one take, from the Rockadrome
CD, the most complex to record was “Devils” again from the Rockadrome
era. From the new CD, the most complex would be “Love Is Blind”, but
my choice for my favourite track on the new CD would be “What Love Left”.
Jimmy: The production of this new album has been kept deliberately simple in order to retain a “live” feel to the work. I agree with Alex that “Love is Blind” is a bit more complex from a production point of view. As for favourite track from this album, it depends what kind of mood I’m in but I think “What Love Left” is the perfect opener and it has been well received by all…even those who are critical of our work.
Ian: There’s nothing rhythmically complex on the album. It’s all pretty basic and solid. My intention was to keep it driving along and work closely with Alex on bass. We hadn’t played together for a very long time and keeping it simple is the best approach in situations like this.
Gordon: On the music front I defer to the musicians. As for a favourite song, I like them all for different reasons, but if one has to be chosen I think for me it is Love Is Blind, lyrically it’s very simple but says what it has to – it’s a true love song telling “it takes a path always unsigned” meaning you can’t plan anything with love, it just hits you and takes you where it will.
Q: I read in a press release that the gig marking the release of A Different Game will be held in a prison. That’s very exciting and quite different! Who came up with the idea and what’s the thinking there?
Alex: Again, this is Jimmy’s pigeon, I’ll let him talk his way out of that one!
Jimmy: I got talking to an old school friend called Derek McGill in a Dumfries pub. He asked me about the band and how the recording had gone as he has been a fan of ours for many years. When I quizzed him on what he was up to he replied that he was the Governor of Barlinnie Prison. I was gob-smacked and impressed at the same time. It took me a few minutes to ask him for a gig and it took him a few seconds to agree! It’s something that Iron Claw and Derek feel could be of real use to the prisoners. Not for the entertainment value (although we intend giving everyone a great show) but for the value that this could have on their rehabilitation. If we can give any of these guys some hope that there is more to life than crime then it will have been very worthwhile for us all.
Q: Looking back in time a little now… What were you all up to in between splitting up in 1974 and getting back together?
Alex: I’ve been playing gigs/recording with different styles of bands and music for the 36 years after Claw split and I mean different! Everything from folk to rock, soul and pop! I did discos for a long time as well and set up my own recording facilities, recording local Scottish rock/metal bands. I added it all up
recently and it’s over 3,500 “live” gigs so I’ve kept my hand in, so
Jimmy: I played with various bands over the years, none of whom gained wide recognition. I spent a lot of time writing and recording and have always enjoyed my music. I think that’s the main thing. It should never be a task. The organisational stuff and practical aspects of band work can sometimes be a pain but playing music should always be fun. Re-forming Iron Claw was never on the horizon for me so it just goes to show that you never know what’s ahead for you.
Ian: I had a spell in London playing with a covers band. Things didn’t
happen quickly enough for me and being an impatient type bailed out of that! I
then played with a cabaret band in Glasgow for a couple of years. That was
enjoyable but different. When that folded I had a long period of not playing at
all. I’ve played with a Dumfries rock/soul cover band “Grumpy Old Men” since 2009 and still do occasionally. Then of course, back to Iron Claw because of the attraction of working on original material again.
Gordon: I was at school, I’m the baby of the band!
Q: Where do you see yourself going next? Do you have plans for more albums? Will you take your music on the road…and come on tour?
Alex: I’m looking forward, personally, for the chance to make another CD, I would like it to be a step on from “A Different Game” lyrically and musically but we’ll have to see what develops in the meantime with promoting “A
Different Game”…. It will take the best part of a year I would think to write
all brand new material for a new CD. ….. I want to go “on the road” and I’d love to get round the world but who knows how long that will take to happen? We can only hope “A Different Game” generates enough interest to make such an event possible….
Jimmy: Ripple Music has already said that they would welcome another Iron Claw album as long as (I quote) “It’s as kick-ass as A Different Game”. I’m sure it will be, so it’s safe to say that there will be more to come. We did our first
gig at a one day charity festival, Comlongon Rocks, on 25th September. We have the official launch concert at Barlinnie on 5th October and a couple of other live shows lined up. So the live work is just starting and we hope to see the diary fill up quickly. There are lots of plans for playing in the UK and abroad.
Ian: I’m looking forward to getting back on the road and would love to
follow up this album with another one.
Q: And finally! In my rock star romance, Sophie’s Turn, rock singer Dan reassures Sophie that ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour.’ Now I don’t want to ask you to kiss-and-tell (well, I do really, but we’ll skip that part…) but… would you mind sharing the weirdest, funniest, scariest or most bizarre thing that ever happened to Iron Claw on tour or during a show?
Alex: A funny true story from the original days of the Claw was when we had managed to get a couple of gigs at Dundee Art College and then in Blairgowrie on the same weekend. We needed transport, so we bought a clapped out van for £25. Fortunately, it got us to both gigs, but on the way home there was a great grinding of metal and the engine (or what was left of it!) fell out! Luckily,
there was a garage on the dual carriageway nearby, so we pushed the van into
the forecourt and unloaded all our gear into the garage shop and arranged for
someone to come from Dumfries and rescue us. At this point, a passing gypsy
with his horse and cart wandered by, so I dived out and sold him the wreck for
£5! We watched the first Iron Claw vehicle disappear into the distance hauled
by a poor old knackered beast! ……
Jimmy: I recall turning up at a gig one night and being payed off before we got into the venue. The guy took one look at us and panicked. Not surprising
really. Relentless live gigging from 1969 to 1974 and we never once stayed in a
hotel. We couldn’t afford such luxuries. It was either the back of the van or
the living room of an audience member. We must have looked pretty feral.
Ian: I once had 14 pints on the Windermere ferry on way to a gig. Can’t remember any more detail than that! I was told that one of the roadies
held me on the drum stool that night but I can only take their word for it.
Thank you so much to Alex, Jimmy, Gordon and Ian from IRON CLAW for this interview. I look forward to hearing more from this band… and seeing them Live On Tour sometime soon, perhaps? Rock on!
Hope some of these answers informed and amused you, Cheers, Alex
Thank you Nicky……. Jimmy.
These are fantastic answers, guys, and I really appreciate the time you took for this interview! I wish you the very best of luck as “A Different Game” is released and I will certainly be following new evelopments in your rockin’ career!