John Lawton is a very busy man. From his work with Lucifer’s Friend, Uriah Heep, and the Les Humphries Singers, he’s been around from day one and he is often overlooked and never get recognition's he deserves in the history of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. One of the band’s he formed which would be later known as the John Lawton Band (JLB) is Gunhill.
Formed in January of 1994 and taking their name from a little village in the south of England of Sussex, the band received word-of-mouth from their performance in the UK and did a lot of gigs because of their popularity and did covers from the realms of Deep Purple, Spooky Tooth, The Beatles, Bill Withers, and Whitesnake. That and the release of the 2-CD set reissued and distributed by the Cherry Red label and remastered by Mike Piertini shows the history of the band’s music.
It contains their debut album which is hard to find and out of print released in 1997 entitled, Nightheat and One over the Eight which was originally released on cassette and was a fan club only release in 1995. There are some okay moments on the fan club release of One over the Eight and shows Lawton at his best including four centerpieces that sees Gunhill at their best.
The group do some of their original compositions and some of the covers they do on the 1995 release. Riki Robyns shredding wailing cry and clean guitar pieces on Ain’t No Sunshine sees Lawton doing his soulful arrangements in their take of a melodic rock approach as Riki channels John’s voice near the very end. But Riki delves into the styles of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton as the cover of Spooky Tooth’s Better By You, Better Than Me sees Gunhill not just paying tribute to Judas Priest, but paying homage of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.
But it’s their take of Whitesnake’s Walking in the Shadow of the Blues which opens the fan club release of the track that sees Riki playing the booming militant guitar introduction between the rhythm and lead sections channeling Ritchie Blackmore and Gunhill paying homage to Rainbow’s Man on the Silver Mountain while showing their tribute to the sound of Motown in a soulful waltz of Every Little Bit Hurts.
The bonus track, River of Dreams which is the 11th track, at first I felt that Lawton is showing the styles of John Lennon’s Post-Beatles sound, and then the kick of guitars, organ, and it’s a very interesting combination as Lawton himself sings about going through the memories and as the tides go fast, it’s a reflection to see through while we might be gone, the legacy will keep going.
Their debut album released 19 years ago entitled, Nightheat, was released in the mid-to-late ‘90s was ahead of it’s time. It has the heavier and melodic followed by some of the covers on here, could have been released in the early part of the 21st century of the mid 2000’s.
The opener, Don’t Stop Believing has this ‘80s Arena Rock vibe that could have been a hit single, but it has some incantations. There are some selective highlights on Nightheat that I enjoyed on here. You have the passionate and poignant touches of When a Man Loves a Woman, Wall of Silence and Waiting for the Heartache, followed by the driven acoustically ride tuned upwards of looking forward on Don’t Look Back, and one of the Bad Company’s tribute (Post-Rodgers era) for Clearwater Highway are excellent for Lawton and the band to show their soft and hard rock side.
I have to give Glass Onyon a huge amount of credit for getting me into John Lawton’s music from the realms of Lucifer’s Friend. And my take of Gunhill’s music, is that it didn’t grabbed my taste. But there is some amazing takes on here that will make you want to enjoy. What I was a little disappointed about on the 2-CD reissue, is that there is no history about the band’s music with liner notes and that was a big bummer.
All in all, Gunhill’s reissue shows more than just Lawton’s work with Uriah Heep and Lucifer’s Friend. It shows his melodic, hard, and bluesy rock side with Gunhill's music. So I recommend checking this out who admires his music and passion for what he's accomplished.