Album review: STRAY – Roll Up! Roll Up!

STRAY – Roll Up! Roll Up!

Monstrous Child [Release date 23.1o.20]

Stray’s ‘Roll Up! Roll Up!’ is a very honest warts and all document of what went down on the night.

If anything, it could have done with a few edits to bring a more mellifluous feel to a classic Stray set played to a boisterous capacity crowd.

After an abortive effort to cut a live album at The Borderline which shut down, the band found themselves playing the familiar confines of The 100 Club, with an equally familiar set.

Del Bromham’s opening spiel sets the irreverent tone for an album with few surprises, but it’s shot through with the kind of intensity and musical consistency that you would expect from a band that has flown the flag for blue-collar rock for over five decades.

In truth, Del’s solo albums have taken precedence in recent years, probably because he needed a more broad-based platform for some autobiographically driven songs.

His 2018 ‘Blues Devils Live’ was a good example of that, but Stray remains his gateway to a bigger heritage rock audience still held in the thrall of a strong back catalogue full of searing guitar work.

To his credit Bromham does vary things a little with different arrangements. And he opens with the newer, hypnotic and soulful feel of ‘Let’s Get The Show Started’, featuring a pulsating bass line from Colin Kempster (whose name is misspelt in the liner notes).

The following ‘Genevieve’ also nicely straddles the past and present, having its origins in the early Stray days, before finally ending up on Bromham’s excellent ‘White Feather’ solo album.

There’s a notably harder edge to the Stray material, with the jangling guitar driven ‘Come On Over’ retaining its potency after all this time.

But while the album gains real impetus from Del trademark ripping guitar work, a chant- along hook and even a mid-number Beatles and Stones vamp, the combination of an over extended outro and a horrible post-number edit robs us of a magical moment.

The album’s origins come from a fan who taped the set, but you’d liked to have thought someone could have tidied up the annoying cuts between between Del’s frequent humorous quips and the following songs.

There might also have been room for a more inspired choice than ‘Jericho’, which remains as powerful as ever, but now sounds a little dated. Then again as Del explains: “If I could put all these tunes in a microwave…”

All that said, ‘Roll Up! Roll Up!’ is still a fine album from an enduring band who will doubtless keep on rocking while there’s a rock audience out there.

‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’ from the ‘Valhalla’ album, is a much better choice. Bromham’s refreshingly relevant take on contemporary times and a full-blown rock arrangement featuring Simon Rinaldo on organ and synth make it a real highlight.

For the rest, there’s a crowd pleasing, big toned version of the anthemic ‘I Believe It’ and the ferocious wah-wah driven ‘Houdini’ which pushes up the crowd volume.

However, if you combine the following one minute 20 seconds filled with a few throwaway comments and the meandering jammed intro to ‘After The Strom’ which contributes little to the stop-start dynamics of the song, you have a very strong case for another significant edit.

Still, you could argue it all helps capture the highs and lows of a live gig, while the crowd’s booming response tells its own story.

The evening is rounded off by the triumphant ‘All In Your Mind’ and Del’s parting shot: “you ain’t seen the last of me yet.”

He delivers a welcome reminder that Stray remain an essential part of a Brit rock scene in dire need of the old school qualities of enduring songs, high-end musicianship, essential passion and the ability to make a real connection with a crowd. And it’s the latter quality that makes ‘Roll Up! Roll Up!’ feel like a timeless exhortation to rock. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra  

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