Early in 1984, a friend of my brother played me a 12″ single called ‘Liberator’, the current release from Spear Of Destiny, who had formed the previous year from the ashes of Theatre Of Hate. Punctuated by leader Kirk Brandon‘s impassioned vocals and the most powerful music I had ever heard, I was instantly hooked. A couple of months later, I managed to get into one of their over-18 gigs (I was 13!) and witnessed the most incredible performance. This was a post-punk band who threw in saxophones, keyboards and gospel choirs and unsurprisingly ended up with a unique sound, due in no little part to Brandon’s voice, which soared like no other.
Over the next few years, I guzzled up everything I could find by the band and saw them live many times, each show a real occasion as the band drew huge, passionate audiences and even ended up cracking the Top 40 on a couple of occasions. And then for some reason, I just lost track of the mighty SOD. Their 1992 album SOD’s Law would be the last I would buy, (though I never stopped listening to the records that I had), and the accompanying tour the last time I would see them live…until now.
September 2018 finds Brandon and the current Spear line-up visiting Wolverhampton in support of their recent album Tontine and also to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the extraordinary SOD debut album Grapes Of Wrath. The personnel has changed over the years, with Brandon the only constant, but this version is well-established and counts ex-members of The Sisters Of Mercy (bassist Craig Adams) and New Model Army (guitarist Adrian Portas) among its number.
So, how are Spear Of Destiny shaping up in the present day? It takes all of 10 seconds of opener, 1987 almost-hit ‘Strangers In Our Town’ for my love to be fully rekindled, and it’s with some relief that I discover that Brandon can sing with exactly the same intensity as back in the last century. They follow it with the 1985 seriously-how-wasn’t-it-a-hit classic single ‘Come Back’ and it’s already shaping up to be quite a night. Now a couple from the new album – I haven’t heard it yet but these songs are sounding strong on first listen – ‘MK Ultra’ (about mind control, explains Brandon) and ‘Medievalists’, another which doesn’t sound out of place next to the old favourites.
Portas on guitar somehow manages to cover perfectly for the lack of saxophone in this line-up with some truly inventive guitar and throws himself into the band’s debut single ‘Flying Scotsman’, which is happily followed by two more from that mighty debut: ‘The Preacher’ and fan favourite (amongst many!) ‘The Wheel’. I briefly consider, with a wry smile, how dangerous it would have been to stand this near to the stage in the mid-1980s during a rendition of ‘The Wheel’; 35 years on the audience is a little more sedentary, a little more grey. But the love for Brandon and this remarkable music is tangible.
Of course, no-one complains at the inclusion of several more from Grapes Of Wrath, and the other new songs are well-received too, ‘Brighton’ perhaps being the first song to include a reference to the AMEX Stadium in its lyrics. The title track of their commercial high water mark album, 1985’s World Service, begins gently with Steve Allan-Jones’ piano accompanying Brandon before drummer Phil Martini and the rest of the gang come crashing back in to produce an incredible version of the song. The same album’s anti-war anthem ‘Mickey’ (which really might have been a hit had it been released as a single) prompts a mass singalong of its “I wanna go home” refrain. It still brings a tear to the eye. Brandon thanks the crowd and congratulates Wolves on their return to the Premier League (there, got that in!) before leaving the stage to rapturous applause.
The encore has two more from Grapes…the title track and an incendiary ‘Solution’ which is fairly lapped up by the crowd before the band’s signature tune, yes, it’s ‘Liberator’ and I am 13 years old again.
“You’ve still got it, Kirk” shouts an audience member at the end. It’s official. He has. Spear Of Destiny, happily, remain an absolute joy.