Review – Strangeways: Complete Recordings Volume 1 – 1984-1995 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The worlds of Prog and AOR often meet and this fine set from HNE/Cherry Red can certainly attest to that, comprising, as it does, the complete recorded output of UK rockers Strangeways and those with US vocalist Terry Brock who replaced original singer Tony Liddell in 1987.

Strangeways were, at the time, championed by the likes of Kerrang and Raw as being rivals to mega US bands like Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon, with their 1985 debut ‘Strangeways’ coming highly commended in that arena. However, as is often the case, the hype was not realised, in part because Strangeways’ record label, Bonaire, were not up to the case and lacked the promotional push to get the album across to the masses properly. So, whilst the album was solid and had much promise, it failed to sell in sufficient numbers to really get to the next level.

The lack of sales meant something had to change and so out went Tony Liddell and Terry Brock was recruited. Brock was unknown but had a glorious voice and the band gelled with his superior vocals. This all bore fruit on 1987’s ‘Native Sons’ album which yielded the minor hit Dance With Somebody, produced by John Punter. The album was, and is still, highly rated as a landmark moment in British AOR recordings, one that could stand side by side with anything the US could offer, it was that strong and was highly enjoyable too.

Sadly though, despite positive press and reviews, again Bonaire failed to capitalise on the groundswell of acclaim and the album floundered and then lost momentum completely, leaving the band high and dry once again.

So it was that, once again, in 1987 Strangeways regrouped to record ‘Walk Into The Fire’, this time for RCA as Bonaire had fallen by the wayside. The album did not even get a UK release but was available as an expensive import. As the album failed to gain much (if any) traction in the UK, and with no tour support or dates in tow, the band disappeared from the public eye.

Such is the way of things I guess, although this new set at least gives us the opportunity to revisit and re-evaluate the bands career. It contains their three AOR albums and also their more progressively inclined fourth album, ‘And The Horse’, from 1994 that was ignored by everyone, despite it being particularly good in parts. Terry Brock had left by this time and joined Mike Slamer’s project and then Giant for their ‘Promise Land’ release.

The great little set also includes thirteen demo tracks and four live tracks, which prove the band to be formidable in a concert setting. The band certainly had the skills and the songs but were sadly let down by the record company and by events that were very much beyond their control, yet they left us with several albums of classy song writing and some sterling performances shown across the four discs.

Of the four albums, obviously, ‘Native Sons’ is the standout with its near perfect blend of classy and distinctive AOR and with a world class vocalist in tow raising the songs to an extraordinary standard and level. The debut ‘Strangeways’ album is also a very strong album but lacks that extra bit of sparkle, polish and magic that Terry Brock adds to proceedings. The third album, ‘Into The Fire’, is almost as good as ‘Native Sons’, but not quite and you can begin to sense the frustrations coming out of the band with their lack of progress to greater success and acclaim.

By the fourth album a seismic shift had taken place in that Terry Brock had gone and Ian Stewart had taken over the vocals. In addition, the musical landscape had changed with grunge coming to the fore and so Strangeways had changed their sound, gone was the AOR instead a more bluesy and jazz influenced sound had emerged. It makes this fourth and final album rather interesting and vastly different. Indeed, the sound is a lot more intimate sounding, Ian’s vocals are efficient at best he certainly is no Terry Brock! but his voice suits what is happening musically. The songs are longer, allowing room for Ian to indulge his inner Pink Floyd to fine effect. The album is not an easy one to find these days, so this set offers a terrific opportunity to make its acquaintance    

For me though, it is the first three albums that really shine and, even more so, the second and third ones where Terry Brock’s fine voice really shake the rafters. This is a notable set and one I heartily Recommend to fans of this Genre.

Released 26th May, 2022

Order from Cherry Red here:

Strangeways: Complete Recordings Vol. 1 1985-1994, 4CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records


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