Bernie Tormé was one of my first ever guitar heroes. He in some way took the genres of punk and hard rock and made the songs he played on sound like something altogether different, then when it came to his image Bernie looked like no one else on the rock scene back in in the early eighties, in fact he looked more like a cast member of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy than a bullet belted jeans and t shirt rocker. And in my teenage mind this meant everything. Bernie Tormé (as some singer would later declare on live TV) really was a STAR.

When I caught up with Bernie for a chat at the very first Hard Rock Hell festival all the way back in 2007 that tired old adage of “never meet your heroes” never entered into my head, being introduced to the man by his then fellow GMT band mate John McCoy (yup THE John McCoy) with strict prior instructions to tell Bernie just how much his music and playing had meant to me growing up. I soon found that the cocksure Wild Irish six stringer I’d only ever previously seen flaunting his insane talent on stage was anything but that off it. Bernie was initially shy and oh so humble in my presence, but once he’d relaxed into our conversation he opened up about his time being the hippy on the punk scene and playing the Vortex, then becoming the punk in the hard rock band Gillan, before then regaling me with tales of his brief time with Ozzy, his (in my eyes at least) perhaps finest hour in Tormé (with Phil Lewis) and then his time with Dee Snider and Clive Burr in metal supergroup Desperado.

I’m, getting ahead of myself here though, because this four CD box set released via HNE Recordings/Cherry Red Records (the first in a series of such Bernie boxes I’m lead to believe) covers the years 1982 to 1983 and includes the two studio albums Bernie released during this time, initially solo whilst he was still a member of Gillan and then following his departure from that band alongside his bandmates as the Electric Gypsies. Together with these discs we also get two live albums from 1983. It was around that time I also saw Bernie live for the very first time and his ferocious playing that night saw him not only cut his hand but also bleed all over my Wrangler jacket, something that in 2007 Bernie not only apologised for but also offered to pay to get cleaned. A sincere gesture that still makes me smile to this very day.

Something that also makes me smile (a hell of a lot) is the album that kick starts this box set, 1982’s ‘Turn Out The Lights’. It’s a record that at the time confused quite a few of us hard rockers, not least because after the initial Gillan-esque bluster of the opening title track and the album’s only single, up next was a tune most of us had grown up knowing as being by Boney M. All these years on of course I now know ‘Painter Man’ was originally a ‘60s hit for The Creation, but there’s nothing quite like hearing your guitar hero in an all-new context to shake up the senses. Looking back now I can see it was really no different to what Gillan had been doing with their series of cover versions something that had provided them with UK chart hits and saw the band making several appearances on Top Of The Pops. Elsewhere, ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is an interesting mix of up-tempo hard rockers like ‘America’ and ‘Lies’ mixed up with the more elaborate songwriting of ‘Possession’ (which is still my favourite song on the record) and then there’s the brooding instrumental ‘Inda’. I do wonder what Gillan (the band) might have done with some of these songs and what Ian himself might have made of covering the Velvet Underground/Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girls’.

The version of ‘Turn Out The Lights’ included here not only contains the three bonus ‘Back With The Boys’ tracks that were included on Bernie’s very own Retrowrek Records’ version of the album but also adds a live rehearsal of ‘Chelsea Girls’ from 1982 alongside an also previously unreleased version of ‘Boney Maroney’ from 1979?, which I’m actually quite happy to turn a blind eye to timeline wise as it’s a top notch version.

Moving on to the box set’s second disc and 1983’s ‘Electric Gypsies’ album, and where ‘Turn Out The Lights’ had been an album recorded during Gillan downtime with the help of friends like Phil Spalding and Nigel Glockler, the nine tracks that make up this record were songs that the band had fully road tested before entering the studio. The Electric Gypsies at this point featuring one time Def Leppard and soon to be Waysted drummer Frank Noon alongside ex-Bethnal bassist Everton Williams, along with Bernie once again mashing up the musical genres to deliver his music vision. So, from the dive-bombing guitar histrionics of ‘Wild West’ through to pounding album closer ‘Go Go’ (which reminds me of something Gene Simmons would have written for KISS around the same time) ‘Electric Gypsies’ is much more a straight up hard rock record than its predecessor. With just the cover of The Troggs ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ and the acoustic ‘Presences’ proving to be the albums only musical curveballs this time around.

There’s a few nice surprises contained within this CD’s bonus tracks though, with this release adding two previously unreleased live cuts (a cover of the Stooges ‘Search & Destroy’ along with Bernie’s original version of the amazing ‘Star’) recorded in Paris back in 1982 to the already expanded Retrowrek Records’ version of the album that added five additional studio cuts to the running order, the pick of these for me being the much more poppy ‘New World’ which underlines the real depth of Bernie’s songwriting talents when he wasn’t just penning bluesy hard rockin’ anthems.

Just when things were really looking up for the Electric Gypsies a little thing called record company politics would soon rear its ugly head to put a stop to the band ultimately taking the next step up, something that would not only see the record delayed by a year before finally being released on a different label, but also see the band’s line up slowly disintegrate, something that saw the record also move from being promoted as a band record to being a Bernie Tormé solo album.    

With a series of live dates already booked Bernie urgently needed to find a new rhythm section to tour his new record so calling upon the talents of Stampede bassist Colin Bond and one time Iron Maiden drummer Ronnie Rebel this stop gap line up set off on a two week whirlwind trip around the UK and here on discs three and four we get to experience them in all their ragged glory.

CD three in this box set was originally released as ‘Bernie Tormé Live’ via Zebra Records back in 1984, but here it has its track listing expanded from seven to eleven tracks whilst CD four captures the same line up live at Sheffield Octagon, and this boasts the same thirteen song track listing as the version previously released digitally via Bernie’s Bandcamp page.

Both CDs are solid live accounts of the Bernie Tormé band back in 1983, and the bonus tracks tagged to the end of CD three are of particular interest to me, having never previously heard these versions before.

‘Lightning Strikes – Volume One (1982-1983)’ comes complete with the usual high-quality booklet/sleeve notes that you expect from HNE Recordings/Cherry Red Records releases, this one containing some stunning archive photography too.

This box set really set the bar high for any subsequent releases in this reappraisal of Bernie Tormé’s solo career go grab yourselves a copy when it hits the shelves on October 27th.      

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Author: Johnny Hayward