In this case, the original Dr Jekyll was early Eighties New Wave Of British Heavy Metal speed metal innovators Bitches Sin. Originally put together by guitarists Ian and Pete Toomey, the band played a pivotal role in the NWOBHM explosion before hitting the buffers as the movement ran out of steam. However, looking for an outlet for some more melodic material that had been kicking around in his head, Ian had formed Flashpoint as a side project with bassist/vocalist Kev Graham and drummer Steve Turton.
“After Bitches Sin released Invaders I was quite tired in some respects,” recalls Ian. “For two years Invaders had taken quite a lot out of us to rehearse, record and produce, and after it was released in 1986 I wanted to get back to something that was a bit more straight-forward, a bit more fundamental. So Flashpoint was launched originally as a solo project for myself. At the time it was only a three-piece with Steve Turton on drums and Kev Graham on bass and vocals and myself on guitar. It was just a small side project to play some straightforward hard rock.
“Steve and Kev had been playing in a couple of local bands in the Barrow-in-Furness area, and they were both known as very good musicians. They were the ideal guys to work with really, and the result was an album called No Point Of Reference in 1987. It was pretty much a solo project like, say, you know, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Most of the songs were penned by myself. As we drew more and more towards the recording stages, my brother Pete was just kicking around at a loose end so he came in on rhythm and lead guitar to support the rhythm section and Frank Quegan, our vocalist in Bitches Sin, came down to do some backing vocals and harmonies with Kev.”
As for what happened next, “the album came out, and we promptly disbanded!” he laughs. “We had just started to write some new material, songs like Looking For Answers, All My Love and a couple of others like that, and we really started to move apace. But unfortunately Kev and Steve had ideas about bringing in keyboards and moving towards a more American-type softer sound whereas I wanted straightforward and uncomplicated rock. So the good old ‘musical differences’ raised its head and the only sensible thing to do was call it a day really, which was a great shame because we’d covered such a lot of ground in a short time; we were just starting to write some really good material and we had to stop.
“But to my mind at the time No Point Of Reference served its purpose. It was a bit like I’d got an itch and I had to scratch it, and No Point Of Reference was very much that itch. The name of the album was there for just me to stand alone without drawing in any of the Bitches Sin references. Obviously with Peter and I there, and Frank too, people were going to make all sorts of inferences towards Bitches Sin, but it wasn’t that type of band and the material was very different. I mean, the guitar playing remains the same because that’s my style of playing and it’s difficult to change, but certainly it allowed me to play a bit more of a melodic style and as I have said in various interviews, I do like guitarists like Gary Moore, Michael Schenker, Tommy Bolin, Buck Dharma, that sort of style of solo and I was able to explore some of that type of playing.”
Fast-forward seventeen or so years, and Ian and Frank began to realise just how influential Bitches Sin had been, and how revered the band still was. From then, it didn’t take much for them to decide to reform Bitches Sin for the Twenty-First Century.
“This wasn’t really a single event, but more a process that happened over time”, is how Frank remembers it. “The process began with a chance meeting with Ian after a number of years. We decided to keep in touch a bit more often. In conversation, we naturally started talking about the past and how much we all enjoyed the experience and music of Bitches Sin. I had developed an interest in computers and the internet, which I guess is always a sign you should be considering getting out and about more! We agreed it would be great to find a way to continue the Bitches Sin legacy and decided to re-master existing material and look to offer it over the internet via a website we put together. I was taken by surprise by how well received this was. We received lots of positive feedback, initially from existing fans, but as time went on from people discovering our music for the first time. This spurred us on to offer more of our existing music and to consider writing some new material. We made contact with Mark Biddiscombe and Martin Orum who are both now based in Birmingham and who were both previously in Bitches Sin and made arrangements to meet up, and subsequently to organize some practises together in Birmingham.”
But first, steps were taken to clear out the cupboard of Bitches Sin material that could have – should have – been made more readily available way back when, which led to the release of the CD The First Temptation along with a second CD’s worth of material (Your Place Or Mine) which, as Frank pointed out, was made available as a free download from the band’s website as a thank-you to the fans. At the same time, a second CD of Flashpoint material was compiled and released under the title Lazer Love. And, as Ian and Frank prepared to re-launch Bitches Sin, that should have been the end of the Flashpoint story. But things are never quite that simple…
“A Bitches Sin reformation first started to raise its head probably roundabout 2001,” Ian recalls, “and we actually got things moving properly in that direction in 2004 going into 2005, but the logistics were horrendous. We had Martin and Mark living in Birmingham, Frank and Ian living in Cumbria and Pete Toomey living in New Zealand! So rehearsals were always really going to be a struggle. It wasn’t off the cards, the wonders of today’s technology would allow you to do something, but I had to be assured that it would be at least as good as Invaders before I’d actually pick up my guitar and set off down that track, and at that time, while there were some good ideas kicking around, we needed to be working together solidly to get that assurance.”
“We aimed to set off early morning to travel down to Birmingham for our first practice,” continues Frank. “Unfortunately it was a day when there was gale force winds sweeping the country. After I picked Ian up, we travelled less than a mile when the main road was made impassable by a flood. We took a detour round the back lanes and found the road blocked by a fallen tree. We detoured again, only to find the main road blocked again by an accident (a lorry blown over or something). All this was within a few miles of home, so we decided it wasn’t going to be sensible to continue down to Birmingham. If you’re a person who believes that life sometimes offers you signs and omens then perhaps our attempt to get to the first practice could be seen as ‘the writing on the wall’. These events were the genesis of the song Blown Away: it’s basically an affirmation that life sometimes puts all kinds of obstacles in your way, but that if you persist you can always find another way, and that you shouldn’t let anything stand in the way of achieving what’s important to you. We eventually met for further practices, but the logistics of travelling to Birmingham were difficult, and overall we didn’t feel that the practices were really capturing the essence of Bitches Sin, so we paused to take stock of the situation.”
“Meanwhile, in 2005, March, if I remember correctly,” says Ian, “we put out Lazer Love. The title track itself track is something that Frank and I had written and was one of that next batch of songs which Flashpoint were due to release, so really Lazer Love was an album which does actually document the period from a year after we’d finished the No Point Of Reference album up until roundabout the 2000 mark, and is a valuable link in the chain to take us up to the present day. It has a couple of live tracks Looking For Answers and Grand Prix at the end of the album which are from our 1988 Scorpio tour when Flashpoint was really at its height. This was like a showcase gig at a large venue, about 400-500 people, and we went down a storm. The two tracks were the highlights of that show, especially Grand Prix with its extended ending – that was Flashpoint running on eleven on the Marshalls! Lazer Love began to receive some very good reviews. It doesn’t hit quite as hard as No Point Of Reference but it is a different style to its predecessor. The new album is very much in the vein of No Point Of Reference which we found was a more natural style for us.
“But we were trying to make the Bitches Sin thing work,” he continues, “but it was almost as if divine intervention had taken its own guiding hand, as it were. No matter how hard we tried to pull people together, no matter how hard we tried to get rehearsals, it just wasn’t going to be. We even tried a ‘running mate’ in the absence of Pete, a very nice guy but unfortunately without the two guitar players, without Pete, it just didn’t have the feel, it just wasn’t going to happen so as Frank said, we had to put that to one side, and at that point we took a breather.
“But the interest was still there, we were getting emails from all over the world asking about Bitches Sin, asking about Flashpoint, so we thought that if Bitches Sin was so difficult to do, why didn’t we look at Flashpoint instead. So in March 2005 we decided, ‘right, let’s contact Kev and Steve, let’s set up a rehearsal. If it works let’s see what happens, and if it doesn’t let’s just walk away and forget everything’.”
“Ian and I both held Kev and Steve in high regard as musicians,” says Frank, “and obviously still do! They also live in the same area, so the logistics of getting together weren’t too hard. We’d never played together fully as a band before, though I had helped out previously on Flashpoint’s No Point of Reference album. So Ian and I had several discussions about the direction we should go in and came to the conclusion that we were not in the right place to continue as Bitches Sin. We had some song ideas, and felt that if we continued as Flashpoint then we would be able to cover a wider variety of material under that banner. We therefore agreed with Kev and Steve that we would meet up for a practice to see how it went.”
“The call from Ian was very much a surprise,” admits Kev. “I hadn’t really seen much of the guys in the band since the original Flashpoint break. I found out about Bitches Sin reforming on their website and sent Ian an email really just to say hi; before I knew it the phone was ringing with an invite to do some recording. The fact Ian wanted Steve onboard too made the proposition all the more attractive.”
“To be honest, I’d been out of the game for a few years,” adds Steve. “I’d spent the last six years studying and performing classical guitar and had no real intention of playing in a band again, so Ian’s call came right out of the blue. But Ian just ‘phoned and suggested we play together, ‘no pressure, just a couple of rehearsals and see what happens’. After Flashpoint broke up I played in a few bands (but nothing famous) until about 1993, when I got married. But since then, musically, I’d done nothing for about ten years, really. As I said, I’ve spent the last six years learning classical guitar which has improved me both as a musician and a songwriter. I mean, I’d played drums for my own fun, but at that time had no real intention of picking up the sticks again.”
As for Kev, after Flashpoint split up, he “carried on with various projects which included recording and playing, although it must be said none were as successful as Flashpoint. Despite this I have always kept myself busy, as I still (even at my age!) really enjoy gigging. For the last four years I’ve been with a great three-piece blues band called the Cahonies, playing extensively throughout the UK, and meeting a few legends of my youth on the way.”
On April 10th 2005, the four musicians met at the Coach House rehearsal studios in Ulverston, Cumbria, just “to see what happens,” as Ian said. “At the end of the first hour we knew that we had something,” he continues. “It was just there, the chemistry was there; you just know it when it happens. And it was almost as if all the years in-between hadn’t taken place. We were just on fire after that first rehearsal and we even tried a couple of new songs and they were already starting to work.”
“I had never been a full part of the earlier incarnation of Flashpoint,” says Frank, “and it’d been years since the others had last played together. I’d expected the first practice to be mainly talking and stumbling over trying to learn to play one of our songs together. All I can say is ‘wow, was I wrong!’. It was as though there had never been a break. Everything seemed to fall into place. We were very quickly playing through the songs we had, very competently. More importantly though, there was a kind of vibe or feeling or however you would describe it, that just made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. As soon as we started playing the music, it just felt right. Ian, Kev and Steve are all very talented musicians. The sound was tight and energized. I think we were all somewhat surprised at how well it worked. There was no doubt that this was the way to go.”
“The first rehearsal was amazing,” is how Steve recalls it. “I hadn’t seen some of the guys for years but that first rehearsal was magical. I think when we left that day we knew we couldn’t just leave it there. I mean it was a shame that Flashpoint broke up the way it did. I think we always knew we had unfinished business – we just didn’t know it would take seventeen or so years!”
“It was certainly very strange in one respect. I mean, visually we’ve all changed: Steve, where has all your hair gone!” laughs Kev. “But musically it was like we’d only been away for a day, never mind 15 years or whatever it is. I think it says a lot about what a tight unit we were all those years ago, and it had never really left us.”
“So then from April to November 2005,” says Ian, taking up the story, “we rehearsed, we wrote eleven songs and went to the studio to put the tracks down. We went back to Linden Studios and worked with our long-term collaborator Guy Forrester. By December 2005 we had completed Flashpoint, the first true Flashpoint album. The first one No Point Of Reference was very much mine, and the guys helped me achieve what was a very singular ambition. And Lazer Love was a collection of material that we wanted to see released, supposedly to put Flashpoint to bed before re-launching Bitches Sin. This one is a very much a band album, which is why it’s self-titled. And if you look at the track listing, this time round I’ve only written two tracks, and broadly speaking three-four tracks each have been written by Frank, Kev and Steve. And I think the album’s better for it. We have a real breadth of material, and when we came together we wrote what felt good, played what felt good and I’m struggling to think of a track which I find a favourite – I listen to them all and enjoy all of them. And to tell the truth, it was a relief to have other songwriters contributing. After a while, you do find that you don’t always have all the answers. In the old days, with Pete, most of the time it was us writing – a lot of stuff didn’t make the final cut but we feel we got the best stuff out. The strange thing with Flashpoint was that the others would bring ideas down, not always completely matured but something we could work with and I was playing along thinking, ‘bloody hell, that’s good – I’ll have to write something better than that!’ but it never happened!” he laughs. “That’s why there’s just two from me and Frank, Kev and Steve have done the rest! I’m really, really pleased with the standard for them as individuals as much as for the band, because we’ve put 100% behind this album and we’re very pleased with it, and it’s probably the best thing we’ve done.”
“I think the big surprise was the high standard of material that was coming in,” notes Kev. “And I think that kept everybody on their toes, realising if your song was going to get on this album, it would have to be a bit special. When people listen to the album, well, it’s very diverse due to our different writing styles, but held together excellently with the Flashpoint sound and the consistency of the songs. Plus from my point of view it’s great having Frank’s vocal talents on board. Because I was the lead singer/bass player in the original band, I never thought I gave my bass playing enough attention, and also I had a certain lack of confidence in my vocal ability; so with Frank looking after the vocal department it was a real pleasure just to concentrate on what I think I do best. And another nice surprise was in the years since we last got together, Steve has become a classically trained guitar player – smart arse! – and I think using this talent on a couple of songs just gives the album that extra something.”
“I love all kinds of music,” adds Frank, “especially rock; and I especially like contrast and variety. One of the things I’ve always thought about our music is that we don’t sound like anyone else. I really enjoy taking the unique sound that we have, playing with a variety of song ideas and coming up with something that for better or worse is distinctly us. I think that we all brought a refreshing mix of influences and songs together. The other feeling I’m left with, by the way, is that we are still developing as a band, and have a lot of potential yet to realise.”
Recording commenced on 6th November 2005, and the then untitled album was mixed a little before Christmas.
But there was a problem.
“We’d actually finished the recording and had done the final mix but we just weren’t happy with it,” recalls Ian. “We just didn’t have the impact on the album that we’d expected, and no matter what we tried to do, it just wasn’t there.”
“We were all very disappointed, to say the least, with the mix,” says Steve. “It was very flat, as though all the dynamics were missing; very deadpan and not at all interesting – you know, it had become the kind of album you’d play once and put to the back of your collection.”
“We had worked hard to develop the album,” Frank adds. “We liked the way the material was structured and sounding. So the initial mix was something of a shock. It was like a delicious meal that had been carefully prepared with just the right ingredients, then left to burn in the oven. What came back was unappetising to say the least. You could work out what it was supposed to be, but there was no way you were going to enjoy it.”
“But once Chris had worked his magic,” continues Steve, “it sounded so different, and so much more as we’d imagined it.”
Ian agrees wholeheartedly. “The final touch was getting the legendary Chris Tsangarides involved, and even now I still have to pinch myself!. We didn’t do anything with the recording immediately. Over Christmas there were many discussions as to what we should do. So I picked up the Music Week directory and started looking up producers, and as I flicked through the many, many producers’ names, Chris Tsangarides came up. It just clicked a switch from the past so I went to the website and the catalogue of names that Chris has worked with included the likes of my long-time favourite Gary Moore and Yngwie Malmsteen. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I contacted Tim Hole at Audio-Authority Management who spoke to Chris and Chris was dead keen to do it. In the interim period I sent them the Flashpoint CDs and just said ‘look, this is what we sound like, we’re struggling to get there, can you help us?’ And I have to say that both Chris and Tim were absolutely fantastic and helped us to achieve that goal.”
“I’ve always been fairly self-critical of anything I’ve ever recorded,” says Kev, “but this time I felt we had a really great album in the making, so I was really disappointed on the initial mix. I knew of Chris’s track record – no pun intended! – so I thought if anybody can give us the sound we are looking for, this is the guy. And wow! I knew Chris would do a great job, but I was surprised just how good it is. This guy is a real pro, and when you compare the original mix to the new one you can hear why.”
“We all knew we had to do something,” agrees Frank. “We didn’t want to just discard everything we’d done. First of all I felt flattered that someone like Chris was wanting to work with us. I was optimistic but cautious at the same time. He clearly has a fabulous track record in producing some great sounding music, but maybe the problem was us. What if he produced our songs and they still didn’t sound any better? So it was a bit of a tense time, waiting to hear what would emerge. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. All of the tracks are dynamic and full of energy. Everything sounds great. I particularly like the way the drums and bass cut through now, whereas previously they were just lost. And the guitars sound fantastic. I think Chris has done us proud. I’m very happy with the way the album sounds now.”
“I think Chris brought to the album a love of metal music and thirty years of experience,” nods Ian, “as well as a desire to do it, too. It was evident in the time I spent working with him on the album that he was just really enjoying what he was doing. He loved the opportunity, and for somebody of that stature to get involved was unbelievable. And he has made the album, there’s no doubt about that. I never thought in a million years we could get this far in less than a year. And never in my wildest dreams did I think anybody would have been able to contribute in such a way as Chris has and make us sound that way on CD. He has done a fantastic job.”
As for the songs themselves, as Frank said, Flashpoint is an album of “contrast and variety”, but, as Steve points out, “all the songs on the album are as strong as each other really, from the heavier stuff like Hostage to lighter songs like Frank’s Rivers.”
“All of my songs have very specific meanings for me,” Frank says. “But I guess they may have other meanings for other people. I suppose it’s a bit like reading a book and imagining what the characters look like and then being disappointed when you see the film because they don’t look how you imagined. So on the whole I like the idea of people creating their own meanings for the songs, and don’t like to mess too much with what they imagine they’re about. I told you a bit about how Blown Away came about. I collaborated with Ian on Metal Sun – the lyrics are generally a tribute to the wonderful experiences he had while visiting Japan and experiencing the people and culture there. As for Don’t, and Rivers, I’ll leave people to work those out for themselves.”
Kev points out that “most songs I’ve ever written have been on acoustic guitar and these were no exception. Plastic started with a riff which sounded like ‘that’s plastic’ so I just built the song from there. I was pleasantly surprised the guys liked the song; I had my doubts it would be accepted when I performed it for my judging band mates: these guys are hard, believe me – give me Simon Cowell any day! You’re Going Nowhere is really about apathy in the workplace; most of us have been there. I wanted the song to go from nothing to a really big climax, and I think Ian’s excellent guitar work at the end does just that. And One More Love, believe it or not, started out as a rather jazzy song that I thought would end up on a Cahonies album. But I worked on the riff and the song ended up as my tribute (musically) to the Seventies’ guitar greats.”
“Of my own songs, I think my favourite would probably be Blood Over Sands,” adds Steve. “I’m a big fan of Spaghetti Westerns, and in particular Once Upon A Time In The West, although ironically I only came across it a couple of years ago. I’m a big fan of the genre and while it was made in 1968 I only actually saw it two years ago! We worked hard to try to set the tone and atmosphere of the piece – and as some of the anoraks will recognise, even the windmill was lifted from the film. Hostage was a lot more of a challenge; it was a tough song timing-wise and we were rehearsing it in sections. But it’s kind of a throwback to the first album. On No Point Of Reference I worked with Ian on the melody and lyrics of Blackjack, a song about a vicious card den. Hostage is a sister piece to that – one of the players gets kidnapped by another but doesn’t know who it is until the whisper ‘Blackjack’ midway through gives it away. So it’s kind of a bridge or acknowledgment of what we’d done before really.”
Blackjack was a working title for the album at one point, until the self-referential Flashpoint was finally chosen. A dictionary definition of ‘flashpoint’, incidentally, is “the point at which eruption into significant action, creation or violence occurs”…
Prepare to be blown away…
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