Dennis Stratton Interview
26th October 2020
This interview was conducted as a precursor to the Dennis Stratton Fan Meeting which followed on 14th November.
Q: First and foremost, your health. You had a bit of a scare back in January after some shows in Italy when you were very ill. Have you had it confirmed if that was Covid 19 or not and are you match-fit now?
DS: Yeah it wasn’t just February when I got back from Italy. Before Christmas, I came home from a show about the beginning of December and I woke up in the middle of the night shivering, very ill and couldn’t get warm. The doctor said it sounded like Gastroenteritis and I was ill for about two weeks leading up to Christmas. The beginning of January was fantastic and the second weekend - Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday - at a huge party of Maiden fans and I got up and jammed with the local band. They were very good and we were well looked after by these mad West ham Vikings; the Finland West Ham United Supporters Club. The following week we were in Stockholm staying in a Boutique Bomans hotel near the small part of Stockholm where all the rooms are themed. We had a huge apartment on the grass and it was the Ronnie Wood Suite - fantastic! We did that and filmed a video and then it was Italy. When I was off to Italy, the doctor said to me to be careful because my immune system was very low still and you can easily catch colds and flu on the plane and everything. We got to the first show - we had five shows ending in Rome - and it was quite obvious when we got there that one of the band we were travelling in the cars with had this slight, little niggley cough which seemed to get worse during the day. I explained that my immune system was low so we swapped cars but as the gigs went on, sharing a dressing room and sweaty stage, two of the band got it and then three of the band got it. Basically it was a game of chance and me and my partner were stuck there with it. At the last show, one of the guitarists couldn’t make it as he was so ill but even now they still don’t know if it was Covid 19. I don’t know because I haven’t had an antibody test but when I got back for the first two and a half weeks to three weeks of February, I was here, flat on my back, very very bad. It was so bad with coughing that the doctor thought I had cracked two ribs but fortunately I rallied through and then everything was fine but then we hear the news from Italy that they were in complete lockdown. So, I still don’t know but now I’m ok. Just bored with no work and no touring. The only good thing about the lockdown was that we finished the album so question 2...
The Reality of Miracles
Q: A lot of people including myself were looking forward to The Reality Of Miracles and with the teasers you gave out, I think we all knew it was going to be good but it has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Great reviews and reception everywhere, did you guys envisage this kind of reaction after finishing it?
DS: The funny thing is about this album, is we started it two years ago. I had already written most of Kingdom Of The East and Rock was working on a couple of songs and when we got back from the tour with Airrace, myself Steve and Rocky were staying at Rocky’s house in Grantham and were mucking about with these tunes. Now because Lionheart has musicians that work with other projects - - for instance I have regular stuff every week in the UK and I also go all over Europe, Steve Mann is with Michael Schenker and with Lee in The Sweet - and you have to remember that Lionheart doesn’t generate an income because we are at the bottom of the ladder again so it was hard to finish the album because we were always away. When lockdown happened we revisited it and realized we had done quite a lot, especially Steve who had been at home working on stuff in his studio that we don’t see so in lockdown, we all finished the parts we had to do. We all did them from different places at home or local studios and then flew them over to Steve and he pieced the album together. We knew as the album started to mold itself into one unit rather than bits and pieces that we had something a little bit special. Steve was over moon because he had got the hunger again and he was at home on his own and he is such a fantastic musician and producer. We were working on things right up until the end saying ‘Let’s just put one more song on’...’Let’s do this’ and in the end the management company and record company said ‘Come on, we need you to finish this album and mastered’. We were very very pleased with it and the reaction, I’ve got to tell you, specially from Japan - Thank you so much! It’s been No.1 for ten days in the best sellers and most popular on this chart and that chart...it keeps going down and coming back up! People are still buying it so it’s a fantastic reaction and thank you to you over there for keeping the flag flying for us!
Q: There is a Smorgasbord of twin guitars, keyboard bits, harmonies all the way through all thirteen (fourteen for Japan) songs. In something like High Plains Drifter, how did you work all that out between you given that you couldn’t be in a room together to nut it out?
DS: We work on those parts at home. Certain ideas I’ll come up with for harmonies and I’ll put those down on Cubase and Steve will put the harmonies down where he is. It’s natural for the harmonies to come together because since 1980, the three of us have always sang three-part harmonies so it’s not unusual for us to know it naturally without even working it out. There may be one or two cases where Steve will have to sit at the piano or guitar for a strange part, weird harmony and we have to really pay attention. Steve would send us over something - probably on WhatsApp - him singing each part just so we get it exactly right and then we’ll record it. Sometimes as well, if it’s a really intricate part on the guitar and Steve has worked on the root part of the harmony, Steve may harmonize to himself. That’s not because I can’t do it or laziness, it’s just that because we were pushed for time. The way a guitarist plays, another guitarist playing close harmony to those notes has to learn the phrasing and style so close so that it sounds like perfectly matched harmonies. Well if Steve is playing a really intricate part, it’s probably a million times quicker for Steve to lay the harmony down because it is still in his head rather than me sit at home and try to pick out that phrasing, the trills, the pull-offs and any little tricks he’s used. So for quickness and time-saving, Steve would do the harmony and that’s no problem with me because we all work well together. There is no jealousy or egos in this band and Steve is such a fantastic musician, I trust him with me life.
Q: Mary Did You Know is the Japanese bonus track mentioned above: did you deliberately set out to write a Christmas song or did circumstances meet opportunity?
DS: Yes we did! A couple of years ago...or last year, I can’t remember because me brain has gone being locked down for nine months, Steve heard this song (it’s a cover, the lyrics written by Mark Lowry in 1984 and the music by Buddy Greene in 1991) and we loved it and when we recorded it, with the way Lee sings it and everything, it’s just brilliant. You have to remember that last year when we released it we were not with a proper manager or record company so we had to promote it ourselves. This time, being on a Japanese release, we get the backing from King Records as well as Flying Dolphin and Metalville. Let:s hope it gets the exposure it needed last year and we’ll see what happens but yes, fantastic song. We’ve got the video of us doing it and also, we have a B-side which is a track off the album but re-recorded. It:s broken down so it’s a little bit different from the album and there is a big surprise with the album in that all proceeds go to charity. We’ll talk about that in the Zoom fan meeting.*(See below!)
Q: Your label (Metalville) and management (Flying Dolphin) have certainly put a lot into this release as well. What’s their plans for you once the virus has gone?
DS: They were already putting plans into 2020 and early 2021 before the lockdown. They think we should be and want us on the big stages with the likes of Doro and Within Temptation, festivals and everything and they were planning it but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Hopefully next year as they are pushing for festivals and big venues so let’s keep our fingers crossed.
I have to ask…
Q: West Ham are thumping goals in left right and centre at the moment including three against my beloved Leicester. A place prediction for the end of the season? Top half certainly…Europe?
DS: Well me and Steve Harris are very very happy at the moment! I normally get very strange messages from Steve with exclamation marks. It looks like F---!! or B------!! and there have been quite a few frustrating text messages when we first started the season but now, well I was talking to Steve about four times this week what with the results at Wolves (West Ham 4 Wolves 0) and Leicester (Leicester 0 West Ham 3) and then last Saturday the 3-3 game against Tottenham was unbelievable. Me and Steve were texting everyone with stupid jokes and videos and then yesterday drawing with Manchester City. I know we were 1-0 up but we’ll take a point from Man. City any day! Let’s hope we stay up in the top half for the season