Jimmy Kay from Canada’s The Metal Voice spoke with former Iron Maiden, Praying Mantis, Lionheart guitarist Dennis Stratton. Stratton spoke about the upcoming new studio album by Lionheart on Metallville Records (tentatively titled “Reality Of Miracles” mid 2020 ), unpaid session work on compilations albums over the years, his time with Iron Maiden and his plans to re-record the classic Maiden song ‘Phantom of the Opera’ as it was originally intended, with multi layered back vocals and guitar harmonies as a bonus track on the new Lionheart Album.
Watch the interview below.
When asked about the backstory of the band Lionheart
“Lionheart was actually formed at the end of 1980 directly after I’d come out of Iron Maiden. Singer Jess Cox contacted me (Tygers of Pang Tang) and said do you wanted to put a band together with me? I then contacted guitarist Steve Mann , bassist Rocky Newton and drummer Frank Noon. When we got together we realized that the sort of music that we listened to was very American sounding, like Foreigner, Toto and Journey. We soon found out that the direction of the band wasn’t going to be Heavy Metal because we were fans of a more of a melodic rock, with harmony vocals. Not too long after that we realized that after some rehearsals and demo recordings. Jess Cox basically didn’t have a voice that would fit the band. So for the next four years from 1980 to 1984, myself, Steve and Rocky did session work for Def Leppard (Back Vocals), Girl and other musicians that we doing albums, while we were still trying to pull a bang together and trying to get the right vocalist and the right drummer.”
“It also took a good two or three years to get management to contact record companies with our demos. In 1984 we finally signed to CBS records in New York and Los Angeles. Then we got a singer called Chad Brown who had a great voice and we also got a session drummer in called Bob Jenkins who was working with a lot of top bands including Rod Stewart. We then went to L.A. to do the first album at Sound City studios with REO Speedwagon producer Kevin Beamish. After that we went from L.A. to New York and met the big CBS guys in New York before we went back to England and you talk about bad timing and bad luck. We were suppose to do a tour with REO Speedwagon and Kansas but when we got back to England we were then told that CBS the record companies for Kansas and REO Speedwagon they weren’t happy with the final mixes on their new album so they basically put REO Speedwagon and Kansas back in the studio to remix their albums and our tour with them was cancelled. So we sat around, exactly what we didn’t want to do. So in the meantime around 1984 we went out on tour with Def Leppard and Whitesnake as part a free band package through the early eighties and after about 1985 when the album came out we were still wondering what’s going to happen, nothing did. At the end of 1985 the band just sort of dwindled away because nothing happened and we couldn’t promote the album that we spent so much time putting it together. So we actually split up around about the end of 1986. Then I joined Praying Mantis in 1990 and I was with them for 15 years. It was just a lost love with Lionheart, it was our life, it was just something we believed in and we still do.”
When asked about the bands reunion and album in 2017
“We got asked to do a festival in Nottingham 2017, someone said we want Lionheart to get back together and just do one show in Nottingham. So we got back together and we got a singer a guy called Lee Small who was a fantastic. We did the gig and it was unbelievable. When we came off stage we had people interviewing us backstage and they were saying you got to do another album. So we did, we had two or three songs that never actually put on the first album and we decided to put them on our second album ‘Second Nature’. Then we started writing new music, we just piled in loads of suggestions, we did the album ‘Second Nature’ from start to finish in about four months and it was just incredible, absolutely, incredible.”
When asked about their upcoming new Lionheart studio album and the musical direction
“The good thing about Lionheart is we don’t pursue any musical direction on purpose but whenever we start writing we are influenced by newer different bands of the time. The main sound of Lionheart will always be harmony guitars and Harmony vocals leaning towards an American sound like Journey and Kansas but with a bit of new influences of the newer bands in our sound. When I first heard our album ‘Second Nature’ once it was mastered I sat in my in my living room and put it on, I went through a journey, one minute as I was rocking, the next minute I was laughing, the next minute I had tears in my eyes so, it takes you for a journey and that’s why I love about that album, when it’s finished you want to play it again. I never thought we would be able top ‘Second Nature’. But now I’ve heard three or four songs rough mixes from the new album and I play it to people and it sounds absolutely phenomenal. The album will be released around January, February, March 2020.”
When asked about his unpaid session work over the years like the albums with Paul Dianno ‘The Original Iron Men’
” Lea Hart was putting out a compilation album and so he had Paul Di’Anno do some vocals on some songs and then he asked me to come in and I spent a good six months singing on and playing guitar. Lea Hart had all different artists on them, the albums were called All Stars N.W.O.B.H.M. or if you look up English Steel there are about five albums that I’m actually singing on and playing guitar. We did loads of recording sessions and he started putting compilation albums together. You have about 20 musicians singers, from Saxon, Girlschool you have all different people coming down to do session work on this album. Once he got a collection of about 20 songs Lea Hart became a little bit of a crook he became greedy, so what he did is he never paid any of us. He never paid anyone for recording all this stuff but he put these albums out as like under a different name under a compilation.”
“In regards to The Original Iron Men albums, I never spoke to Paul Di’anno. Lea Hart put that together with two different session and I never knew he was going to do it. And there is me on the front of the album cover with like a tin hat on my head and I’m thinking what is he doing? It was only Pony Canyon in Japan the record company that contacted me and said do you realize that all these albums are on sale and some of them are bootlegs some of them were imports and we can’t stop it. Then later on Pony Canyon records tried to find this guy Lea Hart and no one knew where he was. I couldn’t contact him, we had people looking for him we couldn’t contact him and then when the record company finally tracked him down at the end of 1992 he tried to blackmail Pony Canyon by saying, I will stop releasing these albums if you pay me X amount of thousand of pounds and of course the were not going to pay him and so he was left to do what he liked. To be honest it made a lot of people angry here especially in the East End of London. I have seen him a couple of times because he had some dealings with Paul Dianno in Italy and basically he’s very lucky to still be walking because there were a lot of people that were very angry with him and no one got paid.”
When asked about when he was first asked to join Iron Maiden
“I was with my band R.D.B. we were the resident band at Bridge House which was well known for a live music venue. Steve Harris and Dave Murray used to come and watch me play. In around 1976 R.D.B had just singed to Quarry Management which was Status Quo and Rory Gallagher’s manager, Colleen Johnson. We were signed to Quarry Management so the next minute we’re on tour with Status Quo and we’re playing 60-70 thousand people in Germany and all over, with Status Quo. So when we came back from touring we had so much experience, it was like we grew up cause we were playing on the big stage and I’ve also been involved in recording in the studios. So when Iron Maiden signed to EMI there was only three of them in the band, they didn’t have a band, there was no band because they got rid of their drummer and they got rid of the other guitarist because they weren’t good enough. So basically when they signed to EMI, they also signed a big deal with Rod Smallwood and they need another guitarist with singing abilities and who does second guitar and who’s got recording and touring experience. So I go down and see them, they gave me the Soundhouse tapes and when I got home I’m listening. I realize It’s only one guitar, it sounds like a kid’s band that’s just starting up, it was punky. I’m used to working with two guitars and three vocals, So they asked me would I join the band, I say yes. I learnt the songs and went down to the studio without a drummer and we played Prowler, Wrathchild wherever it was. So then I say to Dave Murray I’m used to playing with two guitars in harmonies, I know you play on your own you’re a solo guitarist let’s do harmonies we need to make it sound bigger, so he said great, so I spoke to Steve I said Steve do you mind? He said no. So I went home and started working on Phantom of the Opera and I worked on Running Free and I worked on the Harmony guitar stuff I’ve been doing since I started playing and we went back to the studio. We started running through the songs and they sounded twice the size. Then I told my buddy Clive Burr I joined Iron Maiden and they are looking for a drummer are you interested? He said yes, so that day the band went from a three piece into a five piece.”
When asked about the recording of the song Phantom of the Opera
“The funny thing about Phantom was that when we were recording I would sit in the studio with the engineer on my own. I was left with the engineers so we started working on the Harmony guitars we start building the songs up Then I would put down two or three parts of the vocals and the engineer loved it, it sounding really big. So we did it and we were listening to it back and then Rod Smallwood walks into the control room and he listened to it he went absolutely mental, he went potty and he said take all that off it sounds like Queen. So we said it’s your band can we leave one of the vocals for harmony and a harmony for guitar he said yeah but no more because it sounds like Queen. So that’s what we ended up with.”
When asked about his idea of re-recording Phantom today as it was originally intended to sound, the Queen Like version
“I shouldn’t really say this but, after a quite well-known interview regarding Rod Smallwood asking me to take the guitar layers and the vocals harmonies off of Phantom because it sounded like Queen. Everywhere I’ve gone since 1983-84 when Maiden started becoming one of the big bands in the world fans would come up to me and they would say you know the interview you did where you say the The Phantom of the Opera sounded like Queen? I said yeah. Why don’t you record it now and see what it sounds like you originally had in mind. So basically I told Steve Mann a couple of weeks ago when we do the new Lionheart album why don’t we do Phantom of the Opera as it was originally intended with vocals and guitar harmonies like a big production on it. And he said we can have it as the bonus track for Japan, so we both agreed. So I’ll go speak to Steve Harris and I’ll ask him if he’s ok with that. So I’m going to ask his permission if he says yes then we’re going to record it for the new Lionheart Album as a bonus track.”
In 2017, LIONHEART released its first studio album since the classic “Hot Tonight” record from 1984. Titled “Second Nature”, it was hailed by the critics as a triumphant return for the band, and LIONHEART has now headed back into the studio to record a follow-up album.
Lee Small (lead vocals)
Dennis Stratton (lead guitar, backing vocals)
Steve Mann (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals)
Rocky Newton (bass, backing vocals)
Clive Edwards (drums)