If you’re one of those eagerly awaiting the chance to spaff a hundred dollars plus over the prospect of Motley Crue getting back in the ring and touring any time soon, then I would implore you to take some time out of your reckless abandon to spare a thought for Crue’s one-time US touring cohorts, Scottish hard rockers Heavy Pettin, who are just about to re-release three of their albums in expanded CD format.
Formed in Glasgow in 1981 guitarist Gordon Bonnar, drummer Gary Moat, bassist Brian Waugh, vocalist Steve ‘Hamie’ Hayman and lead guitarist Punky Mendoza immediately set their sights on hitting the big time just like their heroes UFO (hence the name) releasing their debut single ‘Roll the Dice’ in 1982 on Neat Records. This almost immediacy lead to them inking a multiple album deal with Polydor and with Warner/Chappell Publishing before working with Queen guitarist Brian May and producer Reinhold Mack on their classic 1983 debut LP ‘Lettin’ Loose’ and touring with the likes of KISS, Ozzy and Whitesnake.
Now that’s what you call an impressive two year career path if ever there was one, eh!
With 1985’s ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ this saw the band looking to take on the world via deals with concert bookers ITB and ICM, but with the hard rock world changing (and hence the reason for my introduction) by the time the band resurfaced with their failed stab at Eurovision glory in 1987 you could almost sense the vultures starting to circle as the UK press was basically working for the Yankee dollar by the time of its release, and Pettin finally called it a day in 1988.
FM Revolver posthumously released the band’s last album for Polydor, the prophetically sounding (and much more AOR tinged) ‘Big Bang’ in 1989 but by then even the classic rock bands Pettin had supported back in their early days had morphed into near mirror images of the Saints of Los Angeles and only the die-hard Pettin fans like yours truly were left to pick up the hand full of copies that eventually did make it into UK record shops.
With the exception of a couple of semi-official reissues in the early noughties these albums have long since been the treasured finds of hard rock collecting eBayers and crate diggers alike…until now that is. And with singer Hamie and guitarist Gordon Bonnar once again touring under the Pettin banner its actually their old drumming pal Gary Moat (who is currently busy fronting his own band Burnt Out Wreck) who we have to thank for these for these three CDs (complete with a handful of bonus tracks) licensing the trio for a late November release via his Burnt Out Wreckords label with distribution through Cherry Red Records.
The big question I suppose though is what will it be like listening to these records again over 30 years on, as the emotional tourism of nostalgia can sometimes cloud the judgement, I’m sure you will agree.
Released the same year as Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania’ 1983’s ‘Lettin Loose’ has lost none of its youthful charm, and the May/Mack production which at the time I felt was a little lightweight now adds an almost timeless charm to the album’s nine original tracks. It’s the fact that songs like opener ‘In And Out Of Love’ plus the hit single that should have been ‘Love Times Love’ can still stand shoulder to shoulder with anything off Leppard’s multi-Platinum seller that really stands out most for me. There isn’t a bad song on this underrated classic of a debut and after all these years it’s only now that I hear just how much in common Hamie had with one Biff Byford, especially on the rifftastic ‘Victims of The Night’, a song guaranteed to still give you a bit of HBN (that’s headbangers neck) after just one listen. Bolstered by both sides of the band’s debut 7” single on Neat Records (giving the CD a total of eleven tracks) ‘Lettin Loose’ is still a fantastic slab of twin guitar driven melodic hard rock, and is a record that promised so many great things for a band who were by the time of the release of its follow up selling out UK venues like London’s Astoria under their own steam and looking to really take on the big boys.
So with this in mind I’d always wondered with such an upwards career trajectory and such big money backing why ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ didn’t thrust Heavy Pettin into the arena circuit worldwide? They seemingly had the songs to follow up their superb debut, they slightly tweaked their image to fit with the times and through extensive touring had all the confidence and stage craft to take on all comers. Polydor put an eager young producer like Mark Dearnley (AC/DC) behind the desk for the record, and yet I still get the feeling listening to this album all these years later that the band themselves simply wanted more.
Of the ten tracks that went on to make up ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ its much easier for me to look behind the hype and for me one of the factors that may have dented this album’s credibility is that all of the sudden for record number two instead of seeing Def Leppard as a peer they suddenly seemingly just wanted to be them. I mean just listen to the bass rhythm of ‘Soul Survivor’ or the ‘Rock Of Ages’ lite of ‘China Boy’ and tell me I’m wrong. Don’t get me wrong they are still decent songs, its just I feel that when Pettin should have been developing and pushing their own sound they actually (perhaps unintentionally) took a sideways step and why oh why anyone thought that Hamie’s upwards inflection shriek at the end of a lot of his vocal lines was a good idea is still beyond me. I do note he has recently dropped these shrieks live during the recent reformation shows, so perhaps I might be onto something here too. It’s only really ‘Heart Attack’ which creeps up just past the half way mark of the album which is in keeping with the adrenalin rush spirit of Pettin’s debut, and the rest, whilst still a very decent record (CD bonus track ‘Crazy’ also being cut of the same striped spandex cloth), actually now strikes me as the sound of a band musically treading water.
Changing management after ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ certainly didn’t help the Pettin cause in the slightest and then to follow this up with the failed ‘Romeo’ Eurovision bid of 1987 it was just short twelve months later before the band were calling it a day, and with Polydor never releasing the ‘Big Bang’ eight track album (and here given the definitive article treatment) from which that single came, it was left to FM Revolver to try and posthumously make something of the record, and of the three reissues this is the hardest one to listen to in 2019.
Chock full of keyboard samples that conjure up images of Patagonian pan pipes, drums that boof like Robocop’s boots chasing you down a corridor and songs that sound like they were specifically written for 80s action film montage sections the eight tracks that make up ‘Big Bang’ at best (‘Looking For Love’ and ‘Heaven Sent’) sound like Saxon outtakes from their EMI commercial phase and at worst (I mean do I have to spell it out) like something from an 80s Cliff Richard or Chris Rea album. With two tracks added to this reissue (‘Romeo’ 12” B side ‘City Girl’ and the previously unreleased ‘Rock You Endlessly’) the thing that immediately strikes me is whilst it’s rumoured this album was actually recorded as a get out clause for the band Polydor must also have been pushing the band in this much more commercial Bon Jovi/Journey-like direction, and what they actually ended up doing was make Heavy Pettin sound like Skagarack a band already signed to Polydor and hardly a household name either.
So, there you have it folks, (2007’s ‘Prodigal Songs’ unreleased songs collection aside) that’s pretty much the story of Heavy Pettin summed up in three very different albums. They are a band who really should have been huge and who knows if a few business decisions had gone another way they might now be one of the bands vying for a position on Motley Crue’s megabucks reformation tour too.
Author: Johnny Hayward
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