Z Records 
The 1990s was a hard time for melodic hard rock bands feeling the chill wind from Seattle. Joey Tempest from the band Europe told me that they also succumbed to the prevailing trend, and that when visiting his record label at the time all the talk was of Grunge. He was excited by the “new” music but worried also.
Scott Gorham, best known for his time in Thin Lizzy, had got involved with the Phenomena II project (founded by Tom Galley and his brother Mel) in 1987 and met fellow contributors Leif Johansen (bass, keyboards) and Mike Sturgis (drums). They hit it off and formed the band 21 Guns with Tommy La Verdi on vocals.
The debut album, Salute, was released in 1992 but suffered from the common problem of poor promotion. Gorham was particularly frustrated because the label saw them as an “American” band and he wanted to tour in Europe (where he had made his home). The promo video for ‘Knee Deep’ makes them look like 1980s Hair Metal Gods although this song wasn’t typical of the album which, nonetheless, repays investigation.
The follow-up – released in 1997 – featured a new vocalist Hans-Olav Solli who had been in the band Psycho Motel with Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith and Sturgis. (Gorham had contributed to a track on their album).
More guitar orientated than the debut, ‘Nothing’s Real’ is a wonderful showcase for Gorham. The Californian-born guitarist sometimes plays “second fiddle” in band line-ups and is underrated. Here he shines. As he told me, in 2007, with the succession of guitarists in Thin Lizzy (including Brian Robertson, John Sykes and Gary Moore) he could observe and improve his own style.
The album is straight ahead melodic hard rock, opening with the wah-inflected ‘No Soul’ and the equally infectious ‘Underground’.
The only real reference to Lizzy is a cover of their song ‘King’s Vengeance’ (from Fighting). Any reader who enjoyed the dying strains of hair metal at the turn of the 1980s – and bands like Winger, Tyketto and House Of Lords – will find something of interest. The track ‘Movin’ On’ in particular is quite wonderful and reminds of post-Paul Rodgers Bad Company as does ‘Wolves’.
The album was self-produced and financed and, another sign of the times, the band couldn’t get a record deal until it was picked up by the small melodic rock label Z Records. But again there was scant promotion and without a management deal to take them forward the band folded. Also, in 1996, Gorham had re-energized Thin Lizzy starting a touring band that continued successfully until 2012.
Sturgis, who also drummed for Wishbone Ash and Asia, followed a career in teaching. Leif Johansen, who originally trained as a classical musician, moved into studio production in Oslo. Solli went into music marketing and festival management, also in Norway.
The album was reissued by Cherry Red in 2014 with bonus tracks (mainly demos recorded with the original vocalist and also released as ‘Demoliton’).
Strangely not referred to in the sleeve notes is a projected third album. When I interviewed Scott Gorham in 2007 he referred to ‘Nothing’s Real’ as an album of demos (!) but was also putting the finishing touches to a follow-up with new singer Peter Shoulder from the band Winterville (who later joined The Union and most recently Silverthorne). Presumably Black Star Riders took over because he formed this band in late-2012 and it has been going from strength to strength ever since.
In 2007 Scott Gorham chatted to Get Ready to ROCK! In this interview edit he recalls 21 Guns and refers to a new album…
Album review (Phenomena, reissues)
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 23 August 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 25 August 2020.
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