The Lee Harveys – Gun City (FOAD Musick)
Gerry “Bitzy” of The Strougers returns after a 30 year absence, losing none of the passion and power of when he first ascended a stage. Ray Burke reviews his new band’s debut album.
Debut albums tend to be the preserve of youth and inexperience, not so for The Lee Harveys, whose first release puts many younger bands to shame.
Bitzy’s first foray into music was with punk band The Strougers in the late 1970s. After their demise he busied himself traveling, and although his music career seemed to be over, his love affair with punk wasn’t. After starting a young family he began to get the itch to play live again. He initially envisioned forming a punk rock covers band but began to write himself, and The Lee Harveys were born.
In 2010 the band settled on their current line up, Stanto on bass, Paul O’ Brien on drums, and Bitzy on lead vocals and guitar. This week sees the release of their debut album, some 35 years after Bitzy initially leaped about the stage with The Strougers. Paul, too, had his own adventures with groups in his youth, playing with Mclintic Sphere and Thee Amazing Colossal Men/Compulsion.
From the opening it’s apparent that The Lee Harveys have managed to maintain their ferocious live energy. A track like the infectious ‘Bright Light’ retains it’s live power with it’s pulsating percussive-led run through and is a bona-fide punk classic, as is ‘Fake’, the band’s ‘Part-Time Punks’, about those who wear “two different hats”, and “were never born to lose”.
With the exception of the occasional sample, vocal distortions, and the inclusion of guest guitarists, this remains a document of what works with the three-piece. The band is tight, tearing through tracks with animated speed, borne from the rehearsal that comes from a committed live presence. Stanto’s lyrical, rotating bass lines are the heart beat of the band, exemplified in several tracks across the album, notably in ‘Killin’ Season’, a cymbal clash heavy gem, and the pronounced bass line intro of ‘Here Come the Cops’, featuring PA from Paranoid Visions on guitar.
PA returns with his instantly identifiable style on the excellently atmospheric ‘Fear is the Key’, a four minute politicised history lesson on how we are kept in line through fear. It showcases their strength in lyric as well as music.
Lyrically Bitzy swerves in and out of diverse and varied subject matter. It’s a snap shot of a sponge-like brain, a life spent absorbing all around him. A particular fondness for contemporary American history is evident in the name, but also the littered references throughout, from Patti Hearst to the manufacturing collapse of Detroit. The more serious lyrical elements are fused with pop culture and historical references, social and otherwise. The inventive outcome relates mixed motifs that then integrate together coherently due to Bitzy’s delivery.
Whelo (The Dubtones) guests ‘Oh x 5’. The hue of his guitar ignites a tom tom thumping beat before the track completely erupts as the band take their cue from Whelo’s slide down the fret. The intensity and exuberance is perpetuated to the end of the track, two guitars complementing each other providing a weighty and layered sound. Whelo returns on ‘Don’t Dictate’, a track reminiscent of The Clash. Influence wise, you can hear The Ramones, and Northern Irish punk like The Outcasts, but it’s not an attempt to mimic, these hooks and melodies are their own.
The album comprises of fourteen instantly accessible, melodic punk tracks that fit seamlessly into the existing cannon, ’18 Again’ demonstrates the power in Bitzy’s vocal, as he stretches his voice to the limits, always retaining its melody. ‘Don’t Dictate’, replete with backing vocals from Stanto, is a defiant revolt, with a nice nod to one of the kings of the protest song, Woody Guthrie, and ‘Sound of the City’ is inspired in the way it conjures the imagery and intensity of the city at night. ’Radio’ is a potent love song to that little box that has the power to transcend us, much like the music of the band.
Things are brought to a close when the energy reaches climax on the triumphant ‘Burning down the Ritz’, a song like the aforementioned ‘Don’t Dictate’ that inspires accompanying chanting, a sublime end to the album, too, as it perfectly exemplifies the harmonious union on display throughout.
The Lee Harveys, a band formed by a man in his late forties, who had all but hung up his guitar for 30 years, have released a debut album that’s a revelation.
It’s a hook laden blend of rock n’ roll, pop and garage punk that reaffirms the timeless nature of 1977 style punk. The focus is on the tunes, and not on sheen of production, a problem younger contemporary punk bands suffer from. These songs are delivered passionately and energetically throughout, there are teenage punk bands that couldn’t muster half the angst and energy on display here, and The Lee Harveys appear to do it effortlessly.
More than all that, the album is an inspiration – regardless of how long the guitar sits gathering dust, there is always time to pick it back up. If the outcome is going to be this good, can we have more of that please?
All words by Ray Burke. More of Ray’s Louder Than War writing can be found at his author archive here.