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Music Review: White Lightning – As Midnight Approaches, Paradise…At A Price

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Richard Anthony Crispian Francis Prew Hope-Weston knew a thing or two about music. He was, in fact, one of the leading promoters behind the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement of the early 80s. Better known as Tommy Vance, his radio shows championed new bands and was a fixture in many a rock fans week.

If he played a track by a previously unknown band it could often prove to be a pivotal moment for them. If he played an entire debut album all the way through people would stand up and really take notice. Not many achieved that honour but England’s White Lightning was one of them.

They were formed in Surrey in 1984 by former Iron Pig members, guitarist Simon Pengilly, bass player Gerald Goff, and drummer Jeff Ward. The new band came about when singer Noel Jones, who had previously been with Static, was added. Pretty soon they were out on the live circuit quickly gathering a solid fan base in the process.

This double CD set is a special release indeed. It will appeal equally to fans as well as those that missed out on the band first time around. This, more than generous, Angel Air produced set contains no less than fourteen bonus tracks. It is also the first time that their previously unreleased second album Paradise…At A Price has seen the light of day.

In 1984 White Lightning released a single “This Poison Fountain” b/w the heavier “Hypocrite” on its own Wild Party label. As we have seen their excellent debut album As Midnight Approaches so impressed Tommy Vance that he played it all the way through on his influential Friday Night Rock Show on BBC Radio 1.

Opening with the mission statement that is "Lesson One", it includes timeless highlights such as the memorable "Blue Horizon", and "London Nightlife" one that stopped me in my tracks in a record shop a few years back. It is easy to see why Mr. Vance just plonked down the needle and let it go. 

However, just below the surface there were differences of opinion regarding direction. In many ways this was inevitable as Jeff Ward recalls in the sleeve notes. “The first line-up was always a bit of a compromise, you’d have me and Noel wanting to sound like Black Sabbath and Simon and Gerald wanting to sound like Duran Duran.”

Jeff Ward’s mum sent a demo tape to Metal Hammer and, as a result, they found themselves on the list for The Battle Of The Bands. However, just at this important time, the band was in danger of imploding altogether. The reason for this, and Gerald Goff’s subsequent departure from the band just when they had enough material for an album, is best explained in Joe Geesin’s informative notes.

So to plug the gap Jeff brought in bass player Rich Goddard from his old band Mournblade. White Lightning didn’t win but the judge was Tommy Vance. Soon afterward, the still unsigned band, released their debut album on its own label. The 500 copies were enthusiastically bought at gigs and are now quite collectible.

Following Vance’s influential support for the album the band was signed to the Workshop label. Once again just as things were looking good it all began to fall apart with chief songwriter Simon Pengilly wanting the band to take a more commercial path.

With replacement John ‘Stormie’ Storey on board the band were now united in its aim to record more a traditional British rock sound. A second album Paradise…At A Price was recorded at the Woodcray Studios in Berkshire where Sabbath had just finished their album Tyr.

Meanwhile, out on the live circuit the bands reputation continued to grow resulting in more gigs at London’s famous Marquee and earning support slots with Meatloaf. Sadly, the album was destined to be shelved when Workshop hit financial trouble. Their problems were so bad that the multi-tracks couldn’t be found and the band weren’t able to buy them back or release it themselves.

Disillusioned the band played one more gig, at The Corn Exchange in Dorchester, and fell apart. Paradise…At A Price remained unreleased but is now available for the first time as the second disc of this set. Kicking off with the powerful “Nailed (By The Hand Of Mercy)” and “Under My Skin” the bands now agreed direction is immediately obvious.

Bonus tracks for As Midnight Approaches include original demo versions of “The Secrets In Your Eyes”, and two alternative demos of “Last Flight To Babylon.” There is also a live recording of “Frightened Children”, and alternative takes of “Hypocrite”, and “This Poison Fountain.”

There is a similarly generous bonus selection backing up Paradise…At A Price. Demos of “Murder In Your Eyes”, “Can’t Get Next To You”, the excellent “Dealer”, “Ticking”, and the title track all appear. A demo and live version of “Nailed (By The Hand Of Mercy)” are also added. With John Storey’s searing guitar and a harder yet still melodic flavour it really deserved a better fate.

Jeff Ward has subsequently played with Roy Harper, the late Noel Redding, and, along with Noel Jones, Paul King of Mungo Jerry/ King Earl Boogie Band. Noel also had his own band Blue Fuses which is well worth checking out.

John Storey is working with Argent drummer Bob Henrit whilst Gerald Goff worked with Yes man Peter Banks. Both Rich Goddard, now a lecturer at Nottingham University, and Simon Pengilly both moved away from the music industry.

With a total of 34 tracks this set is ridiculously good value at the low price that Angel Air have made it available for. Not only do you have the album that Tommy Vance loved so much but also the one that he possibly never heard. There is no doubt that he would have been impressed. You will be too.

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