Album review: LUCIFER’S FRIEND – Awakening (featuring John Lawton)

This is an extract from a John Lawton Special, broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in November 2012. (6:13)

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Lucifers Records [Release date 13.04.15] 2-CD

When I interviewed John Lawton in 2012 I was fascinated with his early seventies back-story when he fronted the legendary, and influential,  Lucifer’s Friend.  The more so as the band featured members of James Last’s band.  Yes he of the ‘Non Stop Dancing’ franchise that was always on your dad’s radiogram.

At the time, John despaired of a reunion – not least because the band members were ageing (original drummer Joachim ‘Addi’ Rietenbach died in 1974 and keyboard player Peter Hecht declined to join the latest reformation).  Now, in 2015, the band played Sweden Rock Festival and they’ve released a 2-CD album.  How a few years can change the landscape.

Before we get too excited the second disc is actually EP length and contains just four songs but they are new songs and all credit to the band for not just relying on their past glories.

They’ve evidently aimed to capture the spirit of their earlier niche – essentially a heavy, riffy, guitar/organ laden complement to seventies Uriah Heep, Sabbath and Purple with a bit of Atomic Rooster thrown in for good measure.  On the later albums like ‘Mind Exploding’ (‘Moonshine Rider’) and ‘Mean Machine’ (‘Fire And Rain’ and ‘Hey Driver’) they sounded like any other respectable American AOR outfit .  Remarkably – on the new songs like ‘Pray’ and ‘This Road’ – there is an energy and vitality for ageing rockers to be proud of.

The first CD is a remastered collection of some of the band’s classic material that featured Lawton on vocals, best known to their cult following and evidently a difficult choice culled from internet forums.  They all dust off very well and a band that was essentially popular in Germany (where Lawton has spent much of his time) may well live again elsewhere.

As John Lawton mentioned in that 2012 interview, his favourite album is ‘Banquet’ (1974) which featured the brass section of the James Last Orchestra and is represented here by ‘Dirty Old Town’.

One thing that is striking about this release is the strength of Lawton’s vocals – listeners can easily trace his trajectory to Heep whom he joined in 1976 -  whilst original menbers bassist Dieter Horns and guitarist Peter Hesslein give a sterling performance throughout and joined by “new boy” Stephan Eggart on the new material.

After Lawton’s departure, the band soldiered on until 1982 although he returned for 1981′s ‘Mean Machine’ and 1994′s ‘Sumo Grip’ which featured their current keyboard player Yogi Wichmann although that album is not represented in this compilation.

The original Lucifer’s Friend discs are now difficult to track down but this accurately entitled offering if not exactly definitive may draw punters to the originals and start a much needed re-appraisal.   ****1/2

Review by David Randall

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