Back in 1983 I ventured along to my first gig on my own at the tender age of 14 to see Iron Maiden at the Playhouse in Edinburgh (Friday 13th May to be exact) and what a show it was. Maiden were on top form and put in a blistering performance, but the most memorable thing from that night was my one and only live experience with Grand Prix who were the support act.
They left a big impression on me and I bought their new album upon release a few weeks later. That album was ‘Samurai’ and it’s an album I have returned to consistently over the intervening 30 odd years.
The album was the band’s third, and sadly, last release, but they most definitely bowed out on a high. The album cover featured a neon Samurai warrior ready for battle and opening track ’Give Me What’s Mine’ finds the band on a full-on assault. From the big keyboard intro from Phil Lanzon to the power chords rattled out by Mick O’Donoghue the song provides a great intro into what is the band’s heaviest album.
Things get heavier still with the anthemic ‘Shout’ with lyrics recounting the thrill of going to a live gig and the emotions of being caught up in the moment. Drummer Andy Bernie lays down a heavy bottom line along with bass player Ralph Hood but the melodies and harmonies are to the fore.
50/50 is an interesting track with an off beat drum pattern and an impassioned vocal from Robin McAuley. This was McAuley’s second vocal outing with the band after taking over the mic from Bernie Shaw who sang on the self-titled debut released in 1980.
When it comes to guitar intros it doesn’t get any better in my humble opinion than the one provided by O’Donoghue on the opening to ‘Here We Go Again’. The guitar intro leads into a slow building track with a huge chorus, for me it is one of the album highlights.
The Japanese theme is clear on the song which rounded off the first side on the vinyl release. ‘Count Down To Zero’ recounts the tail of the Kamikaze pilots who were sent on their missions which led to both death and glory, the ultimate sacrifice. This is the most rocking track on the album and ends the first side on a high.
Flip the album over, drop the needle once more and things kick off with ‘Somewhere Tonight’ which builds from a swelling keyboard and drum intro into another melodic masterpiece complete with a great chorus and guitar solo. Things keep rocking with ‘High Time’ complete with a complex middle section with excellent drumming from Andy Bernie once more.
‘Never Before’ brings the pace down a bit and is as close as we get to a ballad on the album. This song is another of my highlights although it is probably one of the most straightforward tracks on the record. Lanzon’s keyboard work coupled with an impassioned vocal from McAuley combine to great effect, sometimes less is more.
The pace is then upped once more with ‘Freedom’, a driving rocker with excellent harmonies in the chorus. The harmonies and complex melodies are what made Grand Prix stand out from the rest of the NWOBHM insurgents. Across all their albums the song writing is first class and the band were never afraid of introducing string sections or even the odd jazz passage to break from the norm.
It was left to the epic title track to close the album and ‘Samurai’ is a real tour de force. Starting with a Japanese inspired keyboard opening and a gentle vocal from McAuley setting the lyrical scene, the song then explodes into an all-out rocker with loud guitar and thunderous drums.
Lyrically we are taken on a journey through the history of the Samurai and the disciplines involved in mastering the art of the sword to become a fearsome warrior. This track has it all and is a classic from start to finish.
It may be approaching 40 years old but ‘Samurai’ has stood the test of time well and is still well worth a listen. The other two Grand Prix albums, their self titled debut and 1982’s ‘There For None To See’ are also well worth tracking down.
Management issues led to the band’s untimely demise in 1984 which was a shame as the band were at their peak and gaining a bigger audience, in no small part due to the Maiden tour support. However they left ‘Samurai’ as their legacy and bowed out on a high, quite apt given the Japanese theme.
By Dave Wilson
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 22 November.
More about Josh: http://getreadytorock.me.uk/blog/?s=%22Josh+Taerk%22
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 22 November 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 24 November 2020
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Featured Albums w/c 23 November (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 JEFF SCOTT SOTO Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 LAZARUS DREAM Alive (Pride & Joy Music)
14:00-16:00 RONAN FURLONG The King Of Leaves (Thoroughbred Music)
Power Plays w/c 23 November (Mon-Fri)
L.A. GUNS All That You Are (Golden Robot Records)
THE DUST CODA Limbo Man (Earache)
EBBA BERGKVIST & THE FLAT TIRE BAND 68 Twin (indie)
IRON SAVIOR Souleater (AFM Records)
IVY GOLD This Is My Time (indie)
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