NWOBHM Band of the Week (23rd December 2008): Jaguar

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23 déc. 2008, 19h52m

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

This is the third entry in my new journal based project to look into lesser known bands of the . This week, I'm ready to present my thoughts on Bristol's Jaguar. During my research for this particular entry I discovered a compilation Power Games: The Anthology available second hand at a decent price that covered almost all of the band's material and snapped it up for my research/listening/enjoyment.

Jaguar were formed in 1979 by guitarist Garry Pepperd and bassist Jeff Cox. The band reached a stable line-up with the addition of drummer Chris Lovell and vocalist Rob Reiss - a line-up that released the song Stormchild on a compilation called 'Heavy Metal Heroes' released by a Midlands label, Heavy Metal Records. The same label shortly after put out the single Back Street Woman (one of five streamable tracks on the band's webstie) with the b-side Chasing the Dragon before promptly dropping the band.

Of the three tracks recorded and released by this line-up (all 1981), I have to say 'Back Street Woman' is my least favourite. Reiss' vocals really annoy me on that particular track. I don't know how many people will find this a relateable statement, but Reiss' voice remind of Joe Strummer in a bad way. I might even dare to say imagine Strummer on a very bad day. 'Chasing the Dragon' and 'Stormchild' however I've found to be far superior. Musically all three of the early tracks are clear forebears of thrash, and Reiss' vocals are at their most passable when he's not trying to hold notes for long. 'Stormchild' in particular is a very direct contributor to the origins of thrash as Metallica's Lars Ulrich has admitted under the pressures of interviews that Whiplash was a rip-off of 'Stormchild'. Garry Pepperd is happily quoted as acknowledging this claim in the liner notes to Power Games: The Anthology, but proceeds to claim that he himself can't see the similarities between the two songs.

It wasn't long though before Neat records came to the rescue. With this came a change in vocalists, dropping Rob Reiss in favour of former Stormtrooper vocalist Paul Merrell - a marked improvement. The band proceeded to release one of Neat records best selling singles to date - Axe Crazy with the b-side War Machine (both among the five streamable tracks on the band's website, released in 1983). Listening to these tracks I can hear why it was one of Neat Records' best selling singles. On 'Axe Crazy' the band play as fast as any of the early thrash bands from the West Coast of the USA, though they have sections with dramatic drops in tempo and the band remain more melodic than, say, Metallica throughout. While the b-side sounds more like early Paul Di'anno led Iron Maiden, almost too much like it - Remember Tomorrow maybe? New vocalist Paul Merrell has shades of Paul Di'Anno and Anthrax' Joey Belladonna to his voice creating an overall sound that sits comfortably among better known NWoBHM acts like Maiden, Diamond Head, et al.

1983 also produced another stand alone track Dirty Tricks, appearing on on the dully named Neat compilation "60 Min. Plus" before the bands debut LP Power Games.

Live versions of Dutch Connection and Master Game both from Power Games:

Power Games was a moderate success - a pretty big success by NWoBHM standards - particularly in Holland where they managed to build up a particularly large fanbase prior to the song Dutch Connection. With riffs sounding often incredible like Metallica's early output and matching the pace of the immitators who would later that year release their debut album Power Games is an absolutely great album for fans of NWoBHM or thrash to have in their collection. In fact, the material up to this point was considered so good by the band and fans alike that every single track so far made it onto the recent Power Games: The Anthology (not to be confused with the original Power Games album although it does feature in its entirety). Unfortunately, that's where it went a little bit wrong.

By the time the band began writing material for Power Games follow-up "This Time", chief songwriter Pepperd had a remarkable change in tastes leading to the band attempting to invent something they referred to as "Dance Metal", bringing in a keyboardist, Larry Dawson. Cue mass fan abandonment. What they actually ended up with was something that sounds to me quite a lot like U2, albeit slightly sped up, marginally crunchier and with a reduction in use of echo-effects. There's also some resemblance to the hair-metal ballads of the second half of the 80s, name any hair band you like, I might suggest David Lee Roth as I'm most familiar with him and I can see some dramatic similarities, though Jaguar didn't have the fireworks to match Roth's future solo band. It's not terrible though. The songs themselves are good and could have made an unknown band succesful, but having been one of the fastest bands of the NWoBHM and a leading inspiration in the genesis of thrash metal, an album that sounds so close to U2 was seen as a complete betrayal of their fans. If that wasn't enough of a nail-in-the-coffin, the band had signed with Greybray Management (Motorhead, Girlschool) and Roadrunner. Neither managed to find the band's new target audience, and Roadrunner must have been in a state of disarray as This Time onyl saw CD release in Holland, and even then only for a little time - that in itself wouldn't be a terrible, terrible crime given that it was 1984, but apparently Roadrunner now deny that This Time was ever released on CD, and the band themselves don't even have a copy. The only proof the band actually have that the album was released on Cd at all is from some pictures on an eBay auction.

The failure of This Time which was largely replaced on Power Games: The Anthology by live versions of the tracks, prompted Lovell to quit the band and sent the post of drummer into something of a revolving door. Soon leading to the break-up of the band.

That would have been it for the band, if it weren't for a "reunion" in 1998, featuring no more than two of the band's previous members: founders Pepperd and Cox. This time they were joined by Cox's brother Nathan and new vocalist Jamie Manton for Wake Me. Anxious to right the wrong of This Time, the band attempted to return to its roots while simultaneously updating their sound. You could argue that Power Games and This Time sound like two completely different bands and if you did, you'd most likely also consider Wake Me to be yet another completely different band. Wake Me is distinguished by an infusion of and removing it from sounding anything like a band that had started off as part of the NWoBHM. New vocalist Jamie Manton sounds decidedly unusual for a metal vocalist, frequently breaking into bursts of funk metal style rap that the new line-up is capable of backing up with riffs that sound like they could have come from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Extreme or even Rage Against the Machine. Equally though, the listener is bombarded by spurts of Johnny Rotten-esque punk snarling and (insert relevant nu-metal singer here) style shouts of pseudo-teenage rage. It wasn't exactly as if they had an opportunity to make a come back at the point Wake Me came out, but I would be surprised if potential listeners weren't put off by the unpredictability of the vocal deliveries held on the disc. Fortunately for the preservation of my sanity in trying to name something that actually sounds like Wake Me the album does begin to rest harder on standard issue NWoBHM riffs and vocals toward the end, but the speed, tight playing and Paul Merrill of the classic period are sorely missing.

Title track Wake Me is one of the five streamable tracks on the band's website. For whatever reason, (space? availability of masters?) the entirety of Wake Me (the album) made it onto The Anthology.

Since the release of The Anthology the band has been reduced to one original member, Pepperd, as Jeff removed himself from the band (though his brother stayed), and the current line-up released Run Ragged, which (save for the title track, the last of the five streamable on their site), I can't really comment on.

Run for Your Life (originally from Power Games) this is a live version with current vocalist Jamie Manton. It's a poor quality recording, but you can get a limited sense of Manton's nu-metal and funk metal influence even when he's singing the old material:


My verdict on this band (I'll try and be brief since I've written lots already with few samples available) is good. Power Games should be regarded as an essential New Wave of British Heavy Metal release for any fan of the era. Ironically though, it may prove cheaper easier to find the similarly named Power Games: The Anthology which features a lot of This Time and all of Wake Me as well as the band's early singles. While This Time and Wake Me are far from essential neither are intrinsically bad. This Time is actually a pretty strong release if you're prepared for the deviation in style. Wake Me is not as strong, but at the very least it offers something you probably won't have heard before and are unlikely to forget or mistake for another NWOBHM band. Basically, get Power Games if you like the NWoBHM - don't bother with the other releases unless you happen to stumble across them at near giveaway prices.

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