For every guitar great that sprang to prominence in rock’s golden age- a Blackmore, a Page, a Schenker – there were other guitar heroes who given the breaks should have become equal household names on musical terms alone, one of them being Del Bromham from Stray, who perennially threatened to crack the big time in the seventies but never made it.
I‘m too young to remember those days, but luckily Del reassembled a new Stray line up over 20 years ago. They have always been an entertaining live act and continued to make albums, indeed one such, ‘Valhalla’, was even this website’s album of the year a few years back.
Recently their profile has been lower, though the original line up reassembled for a memorable Borderline show in 2016 that sold out before I could get tickets. So a new tour was a timely way to reacquaint myself with Stray, not least as the Boom Boom Club, where GRTR!’s Pete Feenstra has been keeping the music alive for nearly 20 years, is not too far from my South-West London heartland.
Del came on stage in a natty feathered hat, but over the course of the evening he wore three hats, metaphorically speaking, with a Stray set, another from his side project the Blues Devils, and opening with a solo acoustic performance.
It is not every day that a guitar hero comes on stage to say it’s all about verses and choruses, but that is exactly what he did and accompanied by his sharp West London wit, his voice is also more than decent.
Many of the songs in this segment had an autobiographical theme including ‘Years’, while for ‘Nine Yards’ long time drummer Karl Randall joined in the rhythmic stomp which got people clapping along and reminded me of Rory Gallagher s acoustic moments.
He then brought on the Blues Devils – who were in fact the new Stray line up in a different guise. While they opened with a Bobby Bland cover in ‘This Time I’m Gone For Good’ and ‘House Of Love’ had a very Texas blues feel with Del’s guitar solo giving the music a harder edge, they did not stick too closely to a pure blues template on songs such as the amusing ‘Ballad of JD’.
The sparkling organ work of Simon Rinaldo, on loan from Pearl Handled Revolver, gave the songs added depth, and was prominent on ‘Words’, as he traded solos with Del in a way which ended the Blues Devils set on a high.
After a short break the same personnel reassembled as Stray, leading off with ‘Come On Over’, surprisingly commercial with Del, Stray veteran Pete Dyer and bassist Colin Kempster singing very strong vocal harmonies. The longer jamming of ‘Jericho’ in contrast was an example of how this expanded line up with keyboards and a second guitar has allowed a subtle rearrangement of the songs I have been used to seeing in the hands of a power trio.
There were a pair from the aforementioned ‘Valhalla’ in ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’ and ‘Double Six’, while old favourite ‘I Believe It’ had a singalong chorus but took off into another dimension with a searing solo from Del.
I am more familiar with the earlier Stray with Steve Gadd singing, so it was great to discover a generous selection of songs from the later seventies albums with Pete. ‘For The People’ was a grower, while he took over lead vocals himself on an impressive pair of ‘Houdini’ and ‘One Night In Texas’, the latter featuring a quite brilliant repeated harmony lead between him and Del in the mould of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash.
They ended with a pair that hark back to the glory days of the early seventies- from their landmark album ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’, ‘After The Storm’ was propelled by an absolutely gargantuan Del riff giving way to some rapid soloing, while a long jam on ‘All In Your Mind’ – so seminal Iron Maiden covered it – included him leaving his guitar hanging on top of a speaker stack emitting feedback. Rather like Leafhound, these are the types of songs the cognoscenti rank right up alongside the best Sabbath and Zeppelin riffs of the period that are better known to the wider world.
But if this night proved anything it is that Del Bromham, whether under the Stray banner or not, has so much still to offer in the present. The new line up worked a treat, breathing fresh life into these songs, and as this tour rolls on into December, I thoroughly recommend catching it.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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