Dennis is joined by his fellow musicians from Lionheart, Rocky Newton and Steve Mann as they discuss their 2020 album The Reality of Miracles and also field questions about their collective pedigree.
14th November 2020
DS: Dennis Stratton (g, v)
SM: Steve Mann (g,v)
RN: Rocky Newton (b,v)
HS: Hiromi Sugou (UPP-tone Music + Host)
GW: Glenn Williams (Moderator)
MK: Louis Sesto (Interpreter)
Pre-fans joining and a chat about The Reality OF Miracles and stuff
GW: So starting off, what a killer album!
SM: Thank you.
DS: Yeah thanks!
GW: I don’t know how it’s been around the rest of the world but in Japan it’s been quite a buzz and everyone I meet is talking about it.
SM: Well that’s really good to hear because we got that impression here too that there has been quite a bit of buzz going on in Japan which obviously makes us very happy and we kind of agree with you to that it’s a great album and for us it’s nice to know it’s starting to get a bit of recognition - that’s fantastic.
DS: Yeah and also from watching the chart with Amazon, we thought that there was something wrong because it kept going up and dropping down and going up again.We thought there was something going on; a fault in the system. (laughs)
SM: It happens quite often that you see yourself at the No.1 spot for maybe 3 or 4 hours and we thought that might be happening but then it was sticking there, at the No.1 spot for 2 or 3 weeks and I think that’s when we started to realize that there was something happening in Japan. Can I ask you a question Glenn; how do you think it stands up to Second Nature?
GW: I think it’s far better. The arrangements are better, the production is better and I think it’s more coherent and flows better as an album.When it ends you want to go back to the beginning and play it again, a lot like the old days where you had Side 1 and Side 2.
SM: Well funilly enough, that’s how it developed. It almost developed into a kind of a concept album. It wasn’t quite there but it almost developed into an album where all the songs became part of a story. All I can say is, wait until you hear the next album. (laughs)
GW: You’re already working on it?
SM: Well not yet but the ideas are there. We always have a surplus of ideas when we work on an album and some of the stuff on The Reality Of Miracles is stuff we just didn’t have room for on Second Nature so we always have head start for the next album.We talked to our management and all agreed that we can’t do shows so we may as well crack on with the next album.
DS: Also Glenn, with Second Nature, we were a little bit under pressure for time because being asked to do another album after the Rockingham Festival (2016), people were thinking strike while the iron is hot but this time I think with Steve’s production and engineering and everything else, we had a little bit more time to go back to some songs, rework them and change a few bits to make them more interesting. To go back to them, we could improve them a bit.
GW: One of the things I get from the album is that although it works as a whole album, every song stands up on it’s own. There’s already been a couple of singles and for me, I am amazed that High Plains Drifter isn’t a single because that has all the elements of what a single should be!
SM: We had a very interesting discussing about which songs should be the first two singles and every single member of the band and management company, all chose different songs and I think that shows how strong each of the songs is. In the end, we said to the management company that we couldn’t make up our minds so they should decide and they did.
DS: There were two songs - maybe three - that stuck out as very commercial including High Plains Drifter and we were very surprised that they chose the two songs that they suggested but you are taking notice of someone who is looking at it from a different angle, not as a musician or a band member. That can help the band and it also can be a mistake: you don:t know until you take that step but you are dead right that High Plains Drifter and a couple of others are very commercial but we took the advice of the management
GW: That’s a good point Dennis in that we are of a certain generation and your management no doubt have their finger on the pulse a bit more with what is going on.
DS: Yeah. I mean, with radio stations, if you could ask the DJs what they wanted to play rather than being told what to play, I think they would all choose different ones and as Steve just said, it’s the sign of a good album because every song is someone’s favourite.
GW: Rocky you’ve been very quiet...
RN: I know! I haven’t been able to get a word in edge-ways! (laughs) Ask me a question!
GW: Who’s going to win the Premier League; West ham or Leicester City?
RN: Oh I don’t know! You put me right on the spot there!
DS: We ain’t going to win the Premiership Glenn...we’re just lucky to get elen players out on a Saturday!
GW: Dennis, I said that four years ago...
RN: Are you from Leicester Glenn?
GW: Born and bred.
RN: Oh well I’m just up the road in Grantham and went to the DeMontfort Hall hundreds of times. I saw Steve play there when he opened up with Liar for UFO.
GW: I was there! We may have been bopping down the front together...
RN: Yeah (laughs)
Fan Chat Starts and questions were asked by:
YK: Yae Kasama
KN: Keiko Nakayama
TY: Teddy Yates
KT: Kuga Takashi
AY: Akane Yokoyama
YS: Yoko Shimamoto
YT: Yasukazu Takahashi
MK: Masatoshi Kageyama
GW: Good evening or morning everyone, thanks for joining us and welcome to Mr Dennis Stratton, Mr Rocky Newton and Mr Steve Mann. How are you all?
SM: Very well, thank you.
GW: Thanks very much for doing this. Apart from enjoying the success of the new album, what have all been doing?
SM: We have a Christmas single coming out and we are working hard on promotion of that and from my point of view I’m working on the video for that and also, while we are not doing shows, thinking about getting the next album together.
RN: Yeah as Steve said we’re just waiting for this Christmas single - which is a charity single - and for me personally I’ve got one eye on the next album, trying to get a few song ideas recorded here in my own studio, to get ahead so I can send them to Steve and he can say :No, they are rubbish’ and he can re-write them for me. (laughs) Yeah to use this down time because we can’t go out and gig which we all want to do so it’s just a case of being as productive as we can.
At this point, Dennis loses the connection so we go on without him for a minute.
GW: So Steve, how do you feel about the album and the reception it’s had?
SM: We are over in Europe of course but we are very very happy about the reception it’s had in Japan. WE feel like we’ve been building this up over the years starting with Hot Tonight (1984) and then Raiders Of The Lost Archives (1999) and Second Nature (2017) and the feeling that bit by bit we have been building up awareness in Japan and this new album seems to have really hit the spot. As a band, we are very happy and as a band from album to album we feel we are improving and this has reached our expectations with what we wanted to do.
RN: I’m absolutely overjoyed! I think it’s the best album I’ve ever been involved with including all the MSG albums and everything else. I just love it, can’t stop playing it and everybody we play it to loves it so happy.
Dennis rejoins us.
GW: Dennis, I guess you are pretty pleased with it as well and this is an ongoing bad obviously.
DS: Well first of all I’d like to say Yuko, that is a fantastic hat so put it on. (One of the fans Yuko has a West Ham hat). Anyway, yeah what Rocky said there I am in total agreement with and us not being able to spend a lot of time together with Steve being in Germany and us being in the UK and us all working on different projects, it just gave us that little bit of extra time to polish up certain songs and certain ideas we had but it is one of those albums that as Rocky just said, you play it and never get fed-up with it. When I first heard Second Nature, to me, after working for fifteen years with Praying Mantis, the guitar solos and songs like Every Boy In Town brought back so many memories from the eighties but working on The Reality Of Miracles, everything sounded so fresh and exciting.We were talking on a Whats App group chat of the band and Steve was sending tracks and I was texting Lee and saying that there was so much excitement and feeling in his voice. It takes you on a journey: one minute it’s emotional and the next you’re jumping about.I’m very proud to be a part of it and the work that Steve has done on it, the writing, the engineering the production, the mastering, we have everything we need in this little unit of ours. We’ve never had a manger really, never had a record company apart from CBS on the first album in 1984 so we’ve always had to look after ourselves.
GW: Ok I’m going to throw this open fro fan questions now. The first is from Yae Kasama.
YK:Hello and nice to see you. I have a question for the three of you: why did you decide on the album title The Reality Of Miracles?
DS: I think Steve can answer this better.
SM: There is a song on the album called The Reality Of Miracles which was originally an idea from Lea Small and because we were working on the album during the Covid time, we knew there was a lot going on in the world that was quite depressing and we wanted to try and put something into the music that was uplifting so that people could listen to it in this very depressing era we are going through at the moment, lift them up and make them feel happy and we thought The Reality Of Miracles is just such a positive title. It’s saying it’s a bad time at the moment but don’t give up hope, great things are going to happen and that’s why we all agreed it would be a good title.
GW: Thanks Yae and Steve. Our next question is a text one from Keiko Yakanama and she asks ‘Dennis what is your songwriting influence for Lionheart?’
DS: I don’t think it’s just for Lionheart; Praying Mantis has the same setup with three harmony vocals and two harmony guitars and a lead vocal. From Day 1, myself Rocky and Steve in the eighties, we were all into the same kind of bands and the same kind of music and a lot of that was American influenced and when you start writing a song, you don’t think :Oh I can’t do that because this is for Lionheart’, it just comes naturally. When you have a little tune in your head, you can automatically hear me Rocky and Steve singing the backing vocals. You get the little melody in your head of the harmony guitars - and Steve is a master at working out interesting harmony guitar parts, not just the basic Thin Lizzy stuff - so it comes quite naturally in Lionheart. It’s in your blood, you don’t purposefully do it.
GW: Ok and next up is Teddy Yates.
TY: Yeah hi. I can’t tell whose solo is which sometimes on the first album as you and Dave had similar tones and styles especially something like Phantom Of The Opera. Were you playing the lead part there?
DS: Dave was always the lead guitarist in Iron Maiden and I just joined as a second guitarist. Luckily I was able to take in the harmony guitar style that I played in the band before Maiden before (Remus Down Boulevard) with Dave Edwards and we always copied Wishbone Ash. I could take that harmony guitar style in although there really wasn’t much room for the harmony stuff in the material that they played but Dave was always the lead guitarist and do the first part of the solos or whatever and if there was a second solo in one of the songs then I would take it.
GW: Thanks Ted. Kuga Takashi next.
KT: Steve, the Second Nature album had a fat sound whereas the new one has a cleaner production. Could you tell us a little bit about the two productions?
SM: My feeling is that the further Lionheart progresses, the better the sound gets. You get to a point where you listen to the sound of the last album and think how to make it better. Hving said that, it’s very much a question of personal taste. My own opinion is that the sounds on the new album is much more powerful than Second Nature but I know some people who prefer the sound of Second Nature so it is very subjective but I think you have to do what you personally feel is better. I’m working now with some sounds that will make the next album sound better still and Make The Reality Of Miracles seem like a step in the process. I’m also listening to a lot of other bands and what they are doing, the sounds they are getting and seeing if I can take anything from that to put into Lionheart. I don’t know which album sound you prefer but for me, they are getting better and better.
GW: A question for Rocky: you did some backing vocals on Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Hysteria albums I believe...
RN: Yes I did.
GW: Care to explain and also, what if anything does that bring to Lionheart?
RN: In one of the early bands I was in, we were based in Sheffield and this was when Def Leppard were just starting out. They became good friends of ours and I bumped into Joe at a friend:s wedding and he asked me to come down to the studio to do Rock Of Ages from Pyromania and then when they did Hysteria, Joe asked me to come in again. The way that worked was that Joe was doing his lead vocal tracks in the evenings as that’s when his voice was strongest and he didn’t want to wear his voice out doing backing vocals all day long so I was doing Joe’s parts in the backing vocals so he could sit those out and save his voice for the evening sessions. We were recording in Dublin and I ended up going backwards and forwards from September ‘85 to January ‘86 working in a studio with Mutt Lange. What a fantastic thing to do and watching him work was an absolute revelation to me with his attention to detail and being the perfectionist that he is. I learnt a lot doing those and what that brings to Lionheart I don’t know, that’s for other people to say really.
DS: I’ll add something to that. Rocky mentioned about doing the backing vocals with Mutt Lange and Glenn asked what that brings to Lionheart. Basically, we were already singing three part harmonies in Lionheart from 1980-84 and had already recorded Hot Tonight so I think it’s more what Rocky took to Def Leppard - it makes a difference.
AY: Ok and the next one says :Not a question but it looks like Dennis is wearing a nice T.Shirt’.
Dennis is wearing a Japanese Rock magazine Burrn! T.shirt
DS: The original!
YS: I saw Lionheart three years ago with Praying Mantis in Tokyo. At the end of the sho I thought I saw Steve crying. Is that right?
SM: (laughs) Ermm...I’m afraid it’s correct - yes. It just suddenly hit me what was happening and it was at the point where we had finished the show, taken the bow and everything had gone way better than any of us had possibly imagined and I unashamed-ably admit, I shed a tear. (laughs)
GW: Nice one Steve. The next question is from Yasukazu Takahashi
YT: Back in the 1980s there used to be a Heavy Metal disco here called the Tsubaki House and it was back then when I first heard Lionheart. There was a song called Lionheart so did the band name come first or the song come first?
DS: I think we already had the band didn’t we?
RN: That song was originally called Call Of The Wild and we re-wrote the words after we named the band Lionheart.
DS: Lionheart is also on Second Nature though isn’t it?
RN: Yeah we re-recorded it. It was on Heavy Metal Heroes which was a compilation album* which we recorded with Clive at Battery Studios in London and then re-recorded it for Second Nature. The original is on the Raiders Of The Lost Archives album I believe.
SM: Yes it is.
GW: There was also another band called Lionsheart wasn’t there?.
DS: Yeah that was Steve Grimmett from Grim Reaper - he formed that with two brothers.**
GW: You were first though right?
DS: Yeah this is the problem though Glenn. We’ve been established since 1980, doing the album with CBS in 1984 so we don’t need anything to prove how long we’ve been going with Lionsheart or other ones that sound similar. What a lot of people forget is that while we were all working on other projects, we still carried on behind the scenes as Lionheart, we still kept in contact and that’s why we did Raiders Of The Lost Archives with Pony Canyon which was Praying Mantis’s label in Japan. We never actually split up and it’s very important because when people use words like reunion or reunited, basically it’s not true as we’ve always kept in contact.
GW: That’s good to hear - I didn’t know that. Next is Mastatoshi Kagayama.
MK: Are there any young up and coming bands that you listen to?
SM: I listen to a lot of the new Metal stuff. It depends what you mean by young as most of these bands are young compared to us but bands like Battle Beast I find very good and my son:s band Track 4. Look out for them because they are coming at you! You can check them out on Spotify.
GW: Hi Sylvain, a question from you...
S: Yes I think Dennis is endorsed by Caparison guitars and I:d like to know how he became involved with Caparison.
DS: Through a good friend of ours Itaru Kanno, who we first met in the nineties with Charvel-Jackson. When Charvel-Jackson split up. Itaru decided to start Caparison and he spoke to us on one of the tours we did with Praying Mantis and we decided to stick with him and then endorsed by them. I tend to use the same one - the white one - and I also have the same model in black. They are perfect for what I use them for in Mantis and Lionheart but over the last two or three years, a very good friend of mine, Dan MacPherson, has always wanted to make me a signature guitar. MacPherson have a fantastic range but he took my white Caparison and made my signature guitar identical to that. Most of the time, when I have my eyes closed on stage, I like to have the to toggle switches and control knobs in the same position so I don’t have to keep looking down at the guitar and that’s what the MacPherson and Caparison have. With Lionheart though, I use the Caparison because we use different gauge strings so the MacPherson is at concert pitch but the Caparison is tuned with heavier strings on.
GW: Almost time to wrap this up unfortunately but I:ll take one last question...
RN: I’ve got one!
GW: Go ahead Rocky.
RN: When can we come to Japan and see all you lovely people in person?
GW: Well we are actually not too bad here. We have venues open but the big problem is visas. If the world governments would authorize the visas, we would have you here tomorrow.
HS: I would like to ask you that aside from Tokyo, where else would you like to play?
RN: Anywhere that will have us!
DS: I can only go on the tours I did with Mantis there and the once with Lionheart and we always did Tokyo and then Nagoya, Osaka and maybe Sendai.Whether that is feasible now I don’t know. Steve would maybe know more because of the Schenker shows...
SM: I would like to play Sapporo because a lot of bands stick on the mainland and miss Hokkaido. They seem to be missing out a lot on bands these days so it would be great to go and play up there.
DS: Also, I:m running out of T.Shirts from the Hard Rock Cafe in Osaka.
RN: In 1988 I played in Sapporo when the ice festival was on and that was absolutely fantastic.
DS: Me, Steve and Rocky will settle for a supermarket with some acoustic guitars! (laughs)
GW: I think we can do a bit better than that but I’ll keep that in mind. Dennis, Steve and Rocky, thanks very much for this and we will see in 2021 by hook or by crook.
DS: Thanks and please thank everyone for the support we’ve had for the new album.
RN:Yes from me to.
GW: Consider it done. Thanks guys and take care.