Emerging from the ashes of the relatively short-lived but high impact post-punk early 80s band Theatre Of Hate, singer / guitarist Kirk Brandon and bass player Stan Stammers formed Spear Of Destiny and swiftly set about recording some of the most extraordinary music of that or any other decade. Cherry Red Records are now reissuing the first three Spear albums, plus plentiful B-sides and 12″ mixes, as a handy 3CD set. And it’s about time that these remarkable records got this treatment – surprisingly, none of the albums were released on CD first time around, and although various low profile reissues have happened before, gathering the three, which have always seemed very much like a trilogy, together with all of their contemporaneous additional tracks and a lovely remastering job does seem to put them properly back on the map.
Announcing the new band in 1983 with the gospel-tinged ‘Flying Scotsman’ single, it was immediately clear that Spear Of Destiny had retained the intensity of Theatre Of Hate and, in truth, a lot of the same aesthetic while simultaneously taking a step forward in terms of songwriting and arrangements. The single dented the Top 100 and its follow-up, a truly exceptional single called ‘The Wheel’ became a huge live favourite, harnessing Brandon’s trademark vocal really effectively and using the saxophone as a lead instrument, something that wasn’t too common, and was indeed frowned upon, in post punk circles. The accompanying album, Grapes Of Wrath, wasn’t the easiest of listens but further established the group as a unique proposition; dynamically songs like ‘Aria’ were in another league to the pair’s previous band, while the tribal sound of ‘Solution’ showed that Brandon could still deliver an impassioned, highly-charged vocal performance. ‘The Murder Of Love’ was mystifyingly not chosen as a single, while a lot of the rest of ‘Side 2’ was a lot darker, notwithstanding the title track that closes the original record, which is almost like light relief after the (albeit brilliant) preceding tracks.
Just a year later, Spear Of Destiny returned with a slightly modified line-up (this would be a feature going forward!) and a more commercial record in One Eyed Jacks. Beginning with the irresistible ‘Rainmaker’, the album still has its light and shade, but in songs like ‘Prisoner Of Love’ and the incredible drum-led onslaught of ‘Liberator’, they had tracks which could propel them towards the charts, and also be sung back at them by the large fan base that would pack out their shows all over. It’s unthinkable even to this day that Spear Of Destiny would ever play a gig and not include ‘Liberator’! ‘Playground Of The Rich’ was perhaps the lushest production they had managed so far, a touching song about the perception of class that still rings true today.
World Service showed up just a year later, meaning that just two years had seen the band somehow produce these three outstanding records. The most commercially successful release the band ever had (so far anyway!), it didn’t yield a Top 40 hit, but had (relatively) big singles in ‘All My Love (Ask Nothing)’ and ‘Come Back’. It’s an album with a lot of potential singles, including the perfect opener, ‘Rocket Ship’ with the poignant chorus of “We’re nothing special, nothing at all / I want to love you, my whole life through” which is just somehow so touching. ‘Up All Night’ is another winner, a twangy guitar-led stomper, while the title track is possibly the best thing the band ever put their name to. ‘Mickey’ is a powerful anti-war ballad that would surely have propelled the band further into the nation’s consciousness had it been released as a single, and ‘Harlan County’ is a sweet piano-and-vocals number that showed a softer side to Spear Of Destiny.
Long-time fans of the band might want to know if the far superior 12″ version of ‘Liberator’ is included, (it is, and is worth the admission price alone), while other bonus tracks include the excellent longer versions of ‘All My Love (Ask Nothing)’ and ‘Come Back’ (including the rare white label version) as well as superb B-sides including ‘Last Card’, ‘The Hop’ and ‘Rosie’ as well as countless others, resulting in a 56 song helping.
It’s hard to do justice in words to just how essential these three genius records are. In Kirk Brandon, Spear Of Destiny had / have a truly iconic frontman who literally sounds like no-one else ever, and it’s hard to think of another band who made albums anything like this.
The Albums 1983-85 is released by Cherry Red Records on 26th April 2019.