Stallion first appeared in 1972, aiming from the outset to put original compositions at the top of their agenda, performed with a professional and theatrical stage show that was very much in keeping with the progressive musical times. Band founder Steve Demetri had been influenced by early Genesis, King Crimson, Billy Cobham and Frank Zappa, whilst Tony Bridger had developed a guitar style influenced by his love of contemporary rock guitarists, including Rory Gallagher and Jimi Hendrix. Vocalist Tich Turner, meanwhile, had come from a background of American R&B, listening to everything from Marvin Gaye to Little Feat. This first line-up was completed by Steve Kinch on bass, who went on to tour with Hazel O’Connor before joining Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Steve was later replaced on bass by Roger Carey in 1974.
From day one they produced a cohesive and original sound. The set showcasedTich’s compositions with powerful dynamic arrangements, leading audiences on extended musical journeys. Steve Demetri’s penchant for Peter Gabriel-like theatrics inspired Tich to develop a stage persona whereby instrumental sections could be acted out visually. Tich would sometimes wear a full skeleton suit and face paint (surprisingly effective under UV light) and these manic performances were in a similar spirit to Arthur Brown’s Fire. Audiences were immediately sucked in to the band’s world of light hearted musical horror.
The idea of bringing keyboards into the line up, particularly a Mellotron, had already been mooted when, in 1974, Stallion entered the Melody Maker rock contest. Phil Thornton was in the audience; he joined the band the same day, by the simple expedient of marching into their dressing room after the gig and announcing himself as their new “whatever you need” and declaring “by the way I’ve got some ideas.” Despite having no experience with organ or piano, Phil did possess a Korg 700 synth, soon to be augmented by a customised Elka Rhapsody string synth, which when played through a guitar amp, made an incredibly thick wall of sound. This seminal Elka sound was to become influential in shaping the future direction of Stallion’s music.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The band had already booked their first studio session and, within days, the new five piece Stallion set about recording their first single Skinny Kid, together with the B-side In the Wake of the Cobra. Released by the Flyright label early in 1975, the single was supported by a period of constant gigging up and down the country.
Shortly after the single was released Roger Carey was replaced on bass by Phil Gill, a guitarist friend of Steve Demetri. Phil had never played bass before, but the opportunity to play with the band was one that he didn’t want to miss. The band gave him a copy of Skinny Kid/Cobra and he borrowed a bass from Roger Carey, learning the bass parts on the two songs ready for the band’s next rehearsal. On the strength of this, they’d found their new and final bass player.
The line up worked well, but as the band began to write songs more collaboratively, cracks began to appear. It became apparent that the desire to move further towards trading in their preferred currency of prog rock was increasingly at odds with Tich’s preference for shorter, snappier material.
In June 1975 and at almost exactly the right moment, singer JohnWilde came along with new ideas for the band and for how the music could be developed. John was well known in the area for his exciting and off-the-wall stage performances with various local rock groups, but what Stallion were soon to realise was that his art school background had primed him for a much more experimental approach to the songwriting style that they were now all moving towards.
With John on board, Stallion began making something of a reputation for themselves and, as a result, they appeared on the radar of producer and solo artist Phil Cordell. Promptly deciding they should have some studio time with him in the producer’s seat, in July 1975 Cordell took them into the studio to cut an edited version of their seven minute song If Life Were Death, proposing it as the follow up single to his number one hit in Europe, I Will Return, which he had recorded under the pseudonym Springwater.
It was the band’s first outing with a producer. Cordell’s techniques were certainly not wasted on them and his production ideas were quickly assimilated and mentally stored for future use. His producer’s flair for arrangements and overdubs, particularly keyboards, opened the band’s eyes to many new possibilities. Cordell showed them how to double track the string sound, with the second track detuned slightly to give a thicker, richer sound, a technique the band used in the studio thereafter to provide the Mellotron texture they were seeking. Bassist Phil Gill, then on his debut studio outing, was asked to lay down several overdubs of 12 string acoustic guitar. He assumed Cordell was being sarcastic when, at the end of his first overdub, he told him to go and do another take in the toilet. After the band stopped laughing, they realised that Cordell was serious; the lavatory was tiled and provided a great natural reverb which brought the acoustic guitar to life, another trick noted and used again in later recordings. The time they spent with Cordell became something of a defining moment for the band, with the results serving to help crystallise their signature sound.
Nevertheless, Tony Bridger felt the music had moved too far from the rock and blues that he felt comfortable with.Tony was always an honest and authentic player and the band was sad to see him leave, but the opportunity was now ripe for a more open-ended approach to the music. Steve Demetri introduced John Petri, a guitarist whose family had moved to Hastings from the same village in Cyprus as the Demetri family. John’s knowledge of the bouzouki and traditional Greek music, combined with his love of guitarists such as Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix, gave him a unique style, rooted in his Mediterranean background but fused with Latin American overtones. His fresh approach to melody and harmony was influential in sparking the band to compose songs like The Hard Life and Creamed Genes, where Petri’s Greek influenced guitar parts combined perfectly with the keyboards. Finally, Stallion was able to create music as a complete team; everything from the lyrics to arrangements and solos were collaborative.
In tandem, John Wilde and the band were extremely focused on creating the best live show possible. Songs were written and arranged with an exceptionally dynamic set in mind, John’s stage performances and his assortment of onstage alter-egos encouraged the energy levels to change up several gears and the following year saw Stallion gigging, rehearsing and writing in a vortex of creativity. John’s extraordinary and unique view of the world was a real catalyst and the band was inspired to write much original and outstanding music. In addition, the many hours spent writing and playing together allowed bassist Phil Gill and drummer Steve Demetri to discover a synergy which turned them into a totally solid rhythm section, driving and underpinning the performance.
The band’s reputation grew steadily and they were now playing gigs on bills with Curved Air, T. Rex, Edgar Broughton, Stray, Stackridge, Gong, Rare Bird, Magic Muscle, Budgie and Osibisa, as well as slots at all the free festivals – most notably the Watchfield Festival in the summer of 1975, with Traffic topping the bill.
In 1976, Stallion entered the Melody Maker Rock Contest for the second time. This time they won outright, earning a place on the bill for that year’s Reading Festival and a week in a top studio for free. The interest generated also brought them to the attention of EMI, who invited them to record some songs at Pathway Studios in Islington. This time, the band produced the session and the resultant recordings, (three of which – If Life Were Death, Open Door and Creamed Genes – are released for the first time on this CD), provide unambiguous proof of how far they had matured during the year since Skinny Kid.
As the result of a recommendation from Noel Redding to his then managers, Anastasia Productions, Stallion were approached by the company who, after hearing the Pathway tapes, offered the band a management contract. Anastasia had good contacts at the right record labels, and the prospect of becoming stablemates with Colosseum, Mick Taylor, Gerry Rafferty, Tim Bogart, StomuYamashta, Noel Redding and Eric Bell was attractive to the band.
With the performance at Reading Festival now under their belt, Stallion earned themselves a Saturday night residency at the legendary Marquee Club in London’s Wardour Street. Despite not yet being signed to a record company, their live shows had, by then, built them a solid fan base. A Stallion gig always found the prestigious club packed to capacity and many who had queued all the way down Wardour Street to see the band were faced with ‘House Full’ signs.
They were all now emerging as consummate performers. Where John Wilde performed songs in character, he actually became that character. In a typical Stallion show, the band’s complete immersion in their act meant he would usually fall off the stage at least once, grab the other band members and shake them violently, and once managed to knock Phil Gill flat onto his back during a particularly feisty performance of Fresh Out at the Marquee. The crowd ate it all up, demanded three encores and returned the next Saturday for more.
One of the treasures of that period available for the first time on this CD is a live recording of The Hard Life, taken from an all-nighter at The Lyceum, where Stallion shared the bill with Motörhead and regulars on the London club circuit, Stray.
By late 1976, and in parallel with Stallion’s increasing profile, Punk Rock was beating hard and impatiently on England’s doors, spitting out its demands to be heard – a fact Anastasia were keenly aware of. Stallion was certainly used to putting confrontational energy into the music and relished the prospect of showcasing to this new audience the new songs that had been written. Somehow, the management succeeded in missing the point of their highly charged prog rock performances and the band began to feel that Anastasia’s continual references to Eddie and the Hot Rods and power-pop was in many ways scrambling their creativity. Dogged by this management pressure, their retort was to write what became another audience favourite, Arsony in the UK, a pseudo-punk sneer at the whole situation.
Anastasia used the studio time generated by the Melody Maker contest to experiment with the band’s direction, cutting sections out of songs and encouraging them to record their new songs with shorter arrangements.
The reaction within the Stallion camp – particularly given the accomplishment of the earlier Pathway sessions – was that they’d generally been made to waste the opportunity to get some good recordings down. However, they left the studio feeling pleased with what they’d managed to achieve under the circumstances and glad to have captured for the first time on tape the energy of Fresh Out and The Hard Life. Despite this, studio infighting during the sessions meant that the situation reached crisis point, culminating in both
John Petri and Phil Thornton leaving the band.
Those who remained decided to follow the breaks and move forward with new musicians more suited to Anastasia’s view of the world.
Julian Carter was recruited on guitar, his background in mainstream pop/rock and strong vocals making a good compromise between Anastasia’s aspirations and the remaining band members’ desire to retain the quality and tightness of the previous line up. John Petri’s quirky Greek riffs and melodies had now disappeared out the door with his departure. After searching in vain for a replacement for Phil Thornton, the band asked him to return. It had become apparent that Anastasia was not the right choice of management for them and, after their services had been disposed of, Phil rejoined. But they had lost momentum and despite the fact that they persevered for a while, performing some memorable gigs and festivals, as well as writing some great new material with Julian, they eventually bowed to the inevitable and went their separate ways.
The final line-up never had another chance to record; the only song from this period ever documented for posterity was Arsony in the UK.
Intended for an aborted single project, it was recorded in 1979 with Andy Qunta on keyboards (later to join the Hazel O’Connor Band and Ice House). Never happy with the final mix, Phil Gill remixed the recording in 1992, with Julian and PhilThornton overdubbing their original parts onto it in 2005 for the ? It’s about setting fire to things, but nobody knows why.
released 10 August 2013
Steve Demetri – Drums,
Phil Thornton – Keyboards,
John Wilde – Vocals,
John Petri – Guitar,
Phil Gill – Bass,
Tich Turner – Vocals,
Tony Bridger – Guitar,
Julian Carter – Guitar and Vocals,
Rodger Carey – Bass
Andy Qunta….Excellent stuff! Most interesting write-up about a really excellent band!