STRANGERS AND SINNERS
A miscellany of material that brings together some well-know sinners and unfamiliar strangers from the Bitches Sin archive…
“Lord, have mercy on us miserable sinners…”
Formed by Ian and Pete Toomey in April 1980 Bitches Sin wasted little time and by August they were recording their first demo, ‘Twelve Pounds And No Kinks’. Ten hours of labour over two days produced seven songs: ‘Down The Road’, ‘White Lady’, ‘Bitches Sin’, ‘Two Of A Kind’, ‘Ice Angels’, ‘Tighter Than Tight’ and ‘Heavy Life’. “This was the time of the cassette album,” recalls Ian Toomey [the music industry was predicting that pre-recorded cassettes would soon replace good old fashioned vinyl as the mainstay], “so we decided that it would be better for the fans to have a side’s worth of songs rather than just the usual three or four that you’d get on a usual demo.” The tape brought the band – with Alan ‘Cocky’ Cockburn, bassist Perry ‘Pez’ Hodder and drummer Bill Knowles joining the guitar-playing brothers – to the attention of Neat Records, and the result was their debut single ‘Always Ready (For Love) b/w ‘Sign Of The Times’; the session also produced a new version of ‘Down The Road’ which was later issued by Neat on the label’s ‘Lead Weight’ compilation. [It would have been great for the sake of completeness to have included them here, but the licence holders had better ideas.] Sometime around February 1981 (“probably!” laughs Ian; “I can’t be 100% certain after all this time!”) the band returned to Neat’s Impulse Studios in Wallsend and recorded the first of their two trademark songs ‘Strangers On The Shore’. “We had great feedback from everyone we played it to except [Neat manager] David Wood, who said he didn’t think it fitted the Neat sound. Paul Birch at Heavy Metal Records was so keen to have it on his ‘Heavy Metal Heroes’ compilation LP that he almost had our hands off! ‘Strangers On The Shore’ was a one-off recording, and was the last time we ever recorded at Neat. ” Newly remastered, ‘Strangers On The Shore’ still packs a mighty punch at the ripe old age of 32 and is an instant reminder of what made Bitches Sin stand out from the NWOBHM crowd.
Fast-forward a couple of years and several line-ups, ‘Strangers And Sinners’ plays out with the three songs that made up the band’s ‘No More Chances’ 12” – the last single Bitches Sin would release for over 25 years. By this time vocalist Frank Quegan fronted the band with Mike Frazer on bass and Billy Knowles back behind the drum kit after a leave of absence, and the band had seen the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ebb and flow; they themselves had contributed to it an album ‘Predator’ and a highly-regarded session for BBC Radio’s The Friday Rock Show. Recorded at Linden Sounds Studios in Shap, Cumbria (“known colloquially as Shap Studios,” according to Ian) in September 1983 under the watchful eye of collaborator Guy Forrester and produced by Ian, ‘No More Chances’ coupled new versions of the title track and ‘Overnight’ with ‘Ice Angels’, a song which had originally appeared on the ‘Twelve Pounds And No Kinks’ demo. A second album ‘Invaders’ followed in 1986 but – as exciting as it was – it couldn’t prevent the band calling it a day.
“The Lord careth for the strangers…”
The strangers come from a four-track demo tape which had lain in Ian’s attic for thirty years. “I was looking for any unreleased and/or long-lost material to add to the upcoming reissue of the ‘Invaders’ album,” he says. “I’d overlooked this tape a number of times: I’d assumed it was a master tape and so sent it off to Metropolis Studios for remastering and they returned it, saying it was a four-track tape.” He took the tape to JoLes Studio, home to Bitches Sin vocalist David A Mills, who mixed it properly for the first time and in doing so brought out the energy and exhilaration in these almost forgotten recordings.
“This demo was also recorded at Shap Studios on 9th November 1982. My own thought is that this session took place in the crucible of the NWOBHM fire and the atmosphere and raw dynamism – or is it testosterone! – from it is palpable.” Once again the band committed themselves to getting seven songs – ‘Out Of My Mind’, ‘No More Chances’, ‘Overnight’, ‘Guilty as Hell’, ‘Ain't Life A Bitch’, ‘Watch Out’ and ‘Day In Day Out’ – down on tape and six of them would have limited circulation as the ‘Out Of My Mind’ cassette EP released by Terminal in August 1983; for some reason ‘Guilty As Hell’ failed to make the cut. Again, the line-up here is Toomey/Toomey/Quegan/Frazer/Knowles.
Some of these strangers would of course go on to become sinners in their own right. As mentioned above, ‘No More Chances’ and ‘Overnight’ were re-recorded for the 12” single, the vinyl version of ‘Overnight’ in particular being a favourite of Ian’s who once described it as “the definitive version of the song.” In addition, four of the cuts would be re-recorded – once again at Linden Sounds – for the ‘Invaders’ LP: ‘Out Of My Mind’, ‘No More Chances’, ‘Day In Day Out’ and of course ‘Ain’t Life A Bitch’, the band’s second trademark anthem. The demo version is shorter but no less frenetic than the album cut which also opened the Roadrunner compilation album ’12 Commandments In Metal’; one of Bitches Sin’s strengths was that they never wrote to a formula, never followed the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-end pattern, and as a consequence seemed to be able to fit more into three-and-a-half minutes than some bands can manage in songs twice that length.
Unfortunately Ian has no idea why 'Watch Out' (a playful Purplesque romp) was never re-recorded properly and ‘Guilty As Hell’ (a short, sharp toe-tapper) completely fell off the radar. Time makes amnesiacs of us all...