Hartlepool in County Durham may have been White Spirit’s first origins, but their debut single, Backs To The Grind, released on NEAT Records in 1980, saw immediate major label interest, keen to snap up and share with the wider world a band that had so much to offer in and amongst the plethora of NWOBHM bands that were around at the time.
MCA Records won the race to sign White Spirit, and with a line up of Phil Brady, Graeme Crallan, Janick Gers (yes, that one), Malcolm Pearson and Bruce Ruff, their self titled debut album was released. Tours saw the band build up a large and loyal following, but changes in personnel saw Janick Gers join Ian Gillan and be replaced by Mick Tucker, Toby Sadler took over bass duties from Phil Brady and Bruce Ruff make way for a then unknown singer called Brian Howe.
The new and improved White Spirit entered the studio to work on their second album with then Gillan keysman, Colin Towns at the production helm. Sadly, the album was never completed, the band broke up and musicians went their separate ways. Mick Tucker joined Tank, later followed by Graeme Crallan. Sadler joined Airrace. Mal Pearson stepped away from music for a spell before returning to action with legends The Sweet. Singer, Brian Howe crossed the Atlantic and became frontman for Ted Nugent, before replacing Paul Rodgers in Bad Company. Such is life, White Spirit were seemingly consigned to music history, with former members moving onto success elsewhere. Four decades on and the location of those 2nd album sessions remained a mystery. Amazing how many priceless master tapes have been carelessly discarded or lost over the years.
The day following Brian Howe’s tragic death from a heart attack in May 2020, Tucker and Pearson were on the phone reminiscing about those heady White Spirit days. Those missing tapes were talked about, but with no idea where or how to find them. Some call it fate, and so, whilst preparing to relocate to France, Mal Pearson found a dusty old bedside cabinet in storage. Inside were four sets of tapes. One labelled Chiswick Studios – White Spirit. That was history. And now it isn’t just history. It’s got a new life!
The tape was handed over to Conquest Music boss and Tank guitarist, Cliff Evans, for the delicate and risky process of baking the tapes to preserve and retrieve the old recordings and transfer them to digital. Despite overall success, some elements of the tracks weren’t good enough for today’s ears so Tucker & Pearson decided to replace all of the musical accompaniment. Neil Murray (Whitesnake) and Russell Gilbrook (Uriah Heep) made up the rhythm section, with the guitars and keyboards replaced by Mick and Mal. Despite the best efforts in isolating and retrieving the vocals, four of Brian Howe’s original performances couldn’t be salvaged, so guest singers were called upon: Jeff Scott Soto (Journey), Lee Small (Lionheart) on another brace. Finally, as a tribute to Brian Howe, Holy Water (Bad Company) was recorded with the excellent FM’s Steve Overland taking lead vocal duties.
The result is an incredibly fresh body of work with power, finesse, well conceived and produced songs, with positively impressive vocals, both old and modern. Title track “Right or Wrong” is more than just NWOBHM. You’ll get Purple, Rainbow, Heep, and all such classics blending in a powerful opener with some excellent vocals and guitar solo btw. An explosive opener! “Runaway” sees Howe unsurprisingly sounding retro on a number that sounds modern yet of its time with rich Van Halen synths and yet more excellent guitar breaks.
“The Dice Rolls On” may lack the immediacy of the previous tracks, but remains solid, well played and nicely crafted, whilst “Lady Of The Night” has that slightly dark menace and a touch of Foreigner about it. “Gotta’ Get Out” has similar Lou Gramm vibes and that classic feel of the heyday of such bands. “Better Watch Out” works primarily because of the excellent vocal performance over the underlying riff and yes, another excellent guitar solo.
“Don’t Say No” may not be too far removed from the previous track on the album but benefits from different vocalist and races along nicely. “Wait A Little Longer” seems to have its origins more on this side of the Atlantic, and chugs along nicely with Purple influences, and an excellent key change to organ embellishment then guitar solo. It’s possibly worth noting that Brian’s vocals aren’t as fresh as those recently recorded – but what do you expect – enjoy the performances!
“Holy Water” does sound like Bad Company – and so it should! And the excellent Steve Overland makes the song his own. Fittingly Brian Howe closes the album on the ferociously attacking, hook-laden “Rock ’n’ Roll” with thundering bass and a clever guitar break. An exhausting closer. Long live rock and roll indeed. Russell Gilbrook probably needed a lie down afterwards.
Ten tracks with a nod to the past, but with fresh and vibrant arrangements fit for our modern ears. Makes you wonder what might have been if the album was released back in 1982 when the likes of Foreigner, Journey, et al were prominent. It appears White Spirit are planning live shows, with Tucker & Pearson already writing the next album. Remember where the tapes are guys, and make it less than 40 years before that one is released!
- Right Or Wrong (ft. Jeff Scott Soto – Journey)
- Runaway (ft. Brian Howe)
- The Dice Rolls On (ft. Lee Small – The Sweet)
- Lady Of The Night (ft. Brian Howe)
- Gotta’ Get Out (ft. Brian Howe)
- Better Watch Out (ft. Jeff Scott Soto – Journey)
- Don’t Say No (ft. Lee Small – The Sweet)
- Wait A Little Longer (ft. Brian Howe)
- Holy Water (ft. Steve Overland – FM)
- Rock ’n’ Roll (ft. Brian Howe)
All songs feature original members Mal Pearson on keyboards and Mick Tucker on guitar. All songs feature Uriah Heep drummer Russell Gilbrook and former Whitesnake bass player Neil Murray.
Executive Producer – Colin Towns (original keyboard player with the Ian Gillan Band)
Mixed and Mastered in Stockholm, Sweden by Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall)