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STRAY/Good Thinking, The Standard, Walthamstow 11 November 2011

Photos by Noel Buckley

Stray, photo by Noel Buckley

A sense of rock n roll history was what this gig was about. It was a night of sadness as one of the longest running pub music venues in London is shortly to go under the developer's hammer, and this was the last show there by original bands. It was fitting then that it should feature two bands who trace their roots way back too.

Compered by none other than GRTR!'s esteemed photographer Noel Buckley, Good Thinking have a fascinating back story. They split up 35 years ago, and drummer Mark Evans went on to international fame with Warrior Soul, but was tragically murdered a few years ago.

After reuniting to make a tribute single to him, the band have again picked up their instruments, even recording a new album, and this was their live debut. With a laid back sound influenced by the likes of the Eagles and Dire Straits, they were some distance in style from Stray but went down well.

Good Thinking, photo by Noel Buckley

Songs like Walking In My Old Shoes and Street In New York had a country feel but the eponymous Good Thinking you could also rock out to as the occasion demanded, with guitarist Warren Davis impressively versatile.

Their tribute to Mark, Warrior Soul, was movingly heartfelt, before ending an enjoyable 40 minute set with the old blues standard Further On Up the Road. Even if it took tragic circumstances to bring them together again, they still have much to offer.

Stray, photo by Noel Buckley

Stray have now been recording and touring on and off for over 40 years but have defied convention by becoming harder and heavier, rather than mellowing, with the passing years.

Sole original member Del Bromham is a fiery guitarist who really should be bracketed with the heroes of classic rock, and Karl Randall and Stuart Uren, whose frenetic drumming adds a whole new dimension, complete a classic power trio, who kicked off at a cracking pace with Come On Over and never let up.

It was not all heavy riffing though, with Move A Mountain and Skin, both from their critically acclaimed last album Valhalla, strong songs with solid choruses.

His evident pleasure in being on the stage, and the way he dedicates songs to individual fans, adds to Del's appeal.

After Our Song - oddly the sole pick from perhaps their classic album, Saturday Morning Pictures, Only What You Make it, the first cut from their 1970 debut got a rare airing and featured some heavy slide guitar playing.

Songs like Jericho, with a jig-like instrumental passage in the middle sounding like Quo's Hold You Back, and Time Machine had me wishing I could step back in a tardis of my own to the early seventies.

Stray, photo by Noel Buckley

However their current act is not based on nostalgia, and, wearing his father's old hat with a remembrance day poppy, Del played a trio of anti-war themed songs from Valhalla: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Free at Last, which had an almost Motorhead-like gruff heaviness; and the epic Harry Farr which judging by the audience reaction has become a modern Stray classic to rank alongside I Believe iI, which soon followed and had fans punching the air to the chorus before Del launched into a great extended solo.

Pete Dyer, who sang on the original Stray's last two albums in the late seventies, came out of the crowd to do a couple from that period, then only with Buying Time did the pace momentarily drop with a drum solo.

The gig ended in spectacular fashion with a lengthy version of All In Your Mind, the song Stray fan Steve Harris has kept in the public consciousness, Del stretching out and leaving his guitar swinging and emitting squeals of feedback from a hook on the ceiling then the amps at the back.

The encores of Hallelujah, with a snatch of Rock and Roll, and their supercharge take on Cliff Richard's Move It were more conventional boogie fare, but no less enjoyable.

While the great sweaty rock n roll venues of our youth are dropping like flies, at least we can enjoy the pleasure of veteran bands like Stray sounding more vital and energetic than ever.

Review by Andy Nathan

Photos and interview by Noel Buckley

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