Angel Air Records (label)
11 February 2013 (released)
01 March 2013
Widowmaker was formed almost forty years ago by guitarist Ariel Bender, after he’d left Mott The Hoople and had concluded that being on top of a tree (or on top of anything for that matter) is preferable to joining the dole queue.
Putting a new band together seemed the only logical conclusion, though Ariel (born Luther Grosvenor) was adamant that although it should be him on lead guitar, it wouldn’t be him on lead vocals! After various prospective candidates had sprung to mind, a friend steered Ariel direction Steve Ellis, who also had just departed from a band, Love Affair to be precise. Several meetings convinced Ariel that Ellis would be the man for the job, and luckily, Ellis agreed. The band was to be called Widowmaker, and the rest of the line-up consisted of Paul Nicholls (ex-Lindisfarne) on drums, Bob Daisley (ex-Chicken Shack and Mungo Jerry) on bass, and the late Huw Lloyd Langton (ex-Hawkwind) on guitar.
Things kicked off promising enough for this raw rock ‘n’ roll band with soul. Jet Records even signed the band and gave them carte blanche (although no pay). Still, the label (owned by the shady Don Arden) scored impressive support slots for Widowmaker, and had them opening for the likes of Nazareth, Uriah Heep, and in the summer of 1976 they even opened for The Who on three occasions.
Although the band dished out two albums that boast excellent and self-penned songs, Widowmaker were first and foremost a live band. And boy, did they kick butt back in the day, what with touring extensively! So extensively in fact, that one mega-tour in the US, during which they opened for ELO in front of a whopping one-and-a-half million people, had them on the brink of big success. Alas, the so-called ‘treadmill effect’ was beginning to kick in, as was a general feeling of exhaustion and homesickness. Increasing tensions came to boiling point when the debut album, which did well in the States within the first week of its release, was soon aboard a sinking ship after Jet Records cut a licensing deal with U.A. It didn’t take long before the band found itself on a sinking ship, with Ellis jumping off one year later. Despite being replaced by John Butler on the second album ‘Too Late To Cry’, the old magic had evaporated, and Widowmaker folded for good soon after.
Widowmaker’s first album is now finally available again - not only re-mastered, but with three bonus tracks thrown in as well.
Opener ‘Such A Shame’ is a great ‘warm-up’ number with a choppy drum and bass beat, and Ellis’ unmistakable voice at the forefront. The song doesn’t ride on a fast pace, instead, searing riffs kick in and out – competing for ‘best solo’ play.
‘Pin A Rose’ is an example of the band’s lighter touch – no heavy guitar riffs here, no heavy anything. Instead we get a smooth-flowing rock ballad with slight gospel influences, and Mr. Ellis is crooning to his heart’s content. To ensure he’s not running out of breath, some cool backing vox offer vocal support.
We are talking riff time big time on third track, ‘One The Road’. While the composition itself doesn’t stray too much from classic mainstream guitar rock, it’s crisp and timeless.
As for my favourite track, ‘Straight Faced Fighters’, this is such a superb blend of great harmonies (taking turns in pace), Ellis’ voice (pared down to raw hobo charm), and with a lovely country twang to it all (long before Americana was ‘in vogue’ over here!). What’s not to like?
The blues-rock orientated ‘Ain’t Telling You Nothing’ kicks off in searing mood, before exploding into great balls of fire during the refrain. Constantly changing gear, this is a real kicker, and Ariel’s lead guitar, as well as Langton’s slide guitar, make the most of a killer composition and turn it into sheer riff-mastery!
‘When I Met You’ is beefy boogie woogie hardrock (if you can imagine it), with additional keyboards by Zoot Money. It doesn’t stop here though, for once again, the guitar solos excel. Complete gut-thumping scorcher!
On a much more laid-back clouds floats ‘Leave The Kids Alone’ – another country tinged rock ballad with an inspired mock hand-clapping rhythm, and a little mandolin even. ‘Shine A Light On Me’ has got to be amongst the band’s best-known numbers, and there are several reasons for it. The fact that this blues-influenced song is simply awesome is the main reason, but there are individual facets to consider: a wicked slide guitar, dynamic delivery of vocals, groovy backing vox, top-notch tune, frisky riffs and drum beat… I could go on…
‘Running Free’ might as well be a track composed by Paul Rodgers, it has that vibe about it, and while we’re at it, it’s a very damn cool vibe!
The odd one out on the album appears to be ‘Got A Dream’ – a rather acoustic ditty which gives the impression it was recorded after the band had a few drinks too many. That impression is emphasized through the clic-clic of assorted tumblers, and the shattering of glass at the end. Pass us a bottle then?
Which brings us to the three bonus tracks, recorded live from the BBC’s Paris Theatre in 1976, and introduced by Bob Harris. These non-album tracks provide some idea as to what the band sounded like live back in the day. My verdict: fookin’ amazing!
‘Come On Up’ is yet another ass-shakin’ beast of a rocker, while ‘Too Late’ bounces back on bluesy roots.
Closing track ‘El Doomo’ not only boasts seething licks, but an intriguing title to say the least! It could well be the title of a bitchin’ movie fusion by the likes of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino, but it’s a passionate and raw delivered number dominated by murderous axe work, and Ellis’ extraordinary vocal talents.
What a shame that Widowmaker never achieved the level of success they so clearly deserved, but that’s the music biz for you, baby! On an upbeat note, the album should be a lasting part of everlasting love, and no pun intended.