NWOBHM Band of the Week - 6th March 2009: White Spirit


Mar 6 2009, 18h44

(Prevoius NWoBHM Band of the Week) / (Next NWoBHM Band of the Week)

I guess there's not a lot to tell about White Spirit, the band Janick Gers began his career with, but it will be a relief to have a short nwobhm journal for a change, right?

As I mentioned in last week's look at the Tygers of Pan Tang, White Spirit were one of three bands the independent label Neat Records sold on to major label MCA in 1980, (the other of the three bands being Fist).

Prior to this, however, White Spirit (who originated in Hartlepool) had been going since forming in 1975, and had managed to get their debut single Backs To The Grind (released with the flipside Cheetah) released as catalogue number Neat 05, which made it into the 'Alternative Chart', though I'm entirely sure what that was. Also prior to transfering to MCA, White Spirit made it onto the second (and less notable) volume of Metal for Muthas with High Upon High.

The band, whom, apart from Janick, consisted of Bruce Ruff (vocals), Malcolm Pearson (keyboards), Phil Brady (bass) and Graeme "Crash" Crallan (drums) were one of the few nwobhm bands to incorporate a keyboard player in 1980 (though many would add keyboards toward the middle of the decade for financial reasons) and attracted a degree of Deep Purple comparisons, and more importantly criticism for sounding too much like them, particularly for the b-side Cheetah which was described by Sounds journalist Ian Ravendale as "even to a Philistine like me [Cheetah] is so obviously 'Fireball' part two."

High Upon High went on to be re-recorded for White Spirit's September 1980 debut full-length White Spirit. I haven't come across exact sales figures, but for what it's worth, I've generally got the impression the selft titled debut sold acceptably well, though did not perform anywhere near as well as Tygers of Pan Tang's Wild Cat, which became the measuring stick by which White Spirit, Fist and other recent MCA signing Quartz were being judged.

Midnight Chaser (youtube) and the re-recorded 'High Upon High' would become the band's second and third singles (their first and second for MCA).

Midnight Chaser, which was the album's opening track, was backed with the non-album track Suffragettes (youtube).

High Upon High on the other hand was backed with the album track No Reprieve (youtube).

The White Spirit album closed on the ten-minute epic Fool For The Gods (youtube) which went some way to separate them from many of their nwobhm peers who had mostly yet to release albums let alone a ten minute monster such as Fool for the Gods. Since this is a fairly short entry for the NWOBHM series, check out other album tracks Red Skies (youtube) and Way Of The Kings (youtube), by which point you will have heard five of the albums seven tracks. It's just a shame I couldn't find a youtube link for High Upon High or the other album track Don't Be Fooled.

So, with one sort-of success of an album behind them, the band were attracting a following and overcoming a pair of prominently published negative reviews (both by the same guy, albeit 5 months apart). At this point for many of the other bands I've looked at over the past months in the NWOBHM Band of the Week feature, the story had barely begun, but for White Spirit it would end all too abruptly.

The third Metal for Muthas compilation (though only a 4 track EP this time and retitled 'Muthas Pride' again featured White Spirit, this time with the aforementioned Red Skies. Quartz, Wildfire and Baby Jane (strange name for a metal band, huh?) were the other three bands on the Muthas Pride EP.

Early on in '81 Neat issued their Lead Weight compilation, which effectively re-released the b-side 'Cheetah' and could have been seen as an important springboard to Spirit's career if things had gone better.

From my research, it's not totally clear in what order the events happened but three notable contributing factors to the band's dissolution are clearly evident. One is that Ian Gillan stole Janick Gers. Another is that vocalist Bruce Ruff left the band, apparently, of his own choice. The third is that MCA weren't very interested in releasing new material from the band, meaning the only other release the band would issue would be a self-released collection of demos.

White Spirit never reformed and don't look likely to.

Notably drummer Crash went on to play with Tank for a year, before quitting and working on unknown smaller bands. Sadly, Crash passed away last July though after an accidental fall.

The self-titled album was re-released for its 25th anniversary in 2005, but has already gone out of print. It's now a sought-after collector's item that sells for very high prices. Wikipedia quotes "over $100 on Amazon.com through independent sellers," though it's actually more like $140. One of Amazon.co.uk's independent sellers is only asking for just over £30 to import it from Austria though. The re-released album features alternate versions of many songs as well as the non album tracks Backs to the Grind, Cheetah and Suffragettes, as well as Nowhere to Run from the self-released demo and two, seemingly, otherwise unreleased tracks including one with vocalist Brian Howe, who would go on to join Bad Company.

I'm told there are extensive notes in the re-release's booklet, but I haven't bothered getting hold of it, so I can't confirm this.

[edit: Oops, forgot to do a summary with my own opinion at the end]

So, in summary... ;) ... Great band. I'd say toward the top of the nwobhm league in terms of quality, if not popularity at the time. Bruce Ruff often sounds to be one of the more punk influenced singers of the movement, with bits of The Clash influence possibly creeping in here and there, but equally he seems capable of giving it the full Gillan/Joe Lynn Turner/Jeff Scott Soto style operatic metal style. I didn't really make the Deep Purple connection myself until reading (everywhere) that there was a general concensus toward that. Hadn't fully made up my mind before reading the Purple comparison, so I can't claim to be giving it a neutral judgement really, but I would say, even with retrospect it sounds more like Rainbow than Purple to me, though I'd be talking more about the proper album tracks Rainbow not the singles tracks Rainbow, if that makes any sense to you. You can't ignore the keyboards as soon as they come in on Cheetah the first of their tracks I heard, but I never thought Fireball until it was prompted of me, and I also don't think Fireball is a particularly representative Purple track. There are a lot of elements in there that are just typical of the nwobhm, despite how varied that scene was. The punk influence on the vocals for example that was shared at times with Jess Cox (Tygers of Pan Tang), Paul Di'Anno and original Jaguar dedicated vocalist Rob Reiss. It wasn't a total rip-off of everything Ritchie Blackmore had done to that point, it had its own unique energy and sustained quality throughout the single album. The short-lifespan may have been a more sure-fire way to maintain quality in the history books, but it's difficult to go wrong with just the 7 album tracks and selected rarities. If you can find it for less than the price of your house and are not averse to keys, White Spirit is a great album to pick up.


  • GrantRS

    I noticed Sable had beaten me to this one, but I had to do them at some point, so as a short entry after the massive Tygers of Pan Tang entry to recharge my batteries a bit seemed like a good time. Did you manage to get hold of the expensive 25th anniversary cd then? Presumably not if you had to look up Watch Out. You can get CD re-releases of Lead Weight quite easily for around £3 here which is well worth getting for [i]Cheetah[/i] alone, if you need that for your collection. There are a load of other great tracks on there too that are pretty much all great. White Spirit definitely stand apart from most the rest of the field though. The only others I can think of who leaned a little to the prog side seemed to take more from Rush than Purple or anyone else. I'm sure I'll look at Shiva in one of these entries one day, but off the top of my head, they're the most proggy of the others I'm aware of so far.

    Mar 8 2009, 11h08
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