So you wanna be a rock ‘n’ roll star? Yeah, you and tens of thousands. No, you and generations for whom this is an aspiration, a dream, a milestone and a millstone. Only a precious few make it to drink deep from this unholy grail. That’s why we love ‘em. The vicarious orgasm, as it were.
Heavy Pettin should have been contenders. No, that’s unfair - they were contenders. They could have been big time. Some still insist they should have been big time. However, the fates conspired against these celtic warriors. Yet, here we are…a quarter-of-a-century after they first appeared, and the hursuite Heavy highfllyers’ music still sounds affirmative, confident, of its time, yet also timeless. Moreover, they’re back –with the same characteristics that marked out these polydecibel Pets as likely lads when the 1980s first stirred into action.
When they first burst out of Glasgow in 1981, they were vibrant, priapic, anthemic and focused. As they showed on a three-tarck demo, and on the subsequent debut single for independent label Neat (‘Roll The Dice’/’Love Xs Love’), they were much much more than mere Def Leppard slaves. In fact, the Pettin had an international sound that owed something to AC/DC, UFO, Thin Lizzy and Foreigner, but also had its own raging momentum.
Not that the band found the road forward straightforward. But, thanks to a work ethic that took them around the country, plus a valuable session for Radio 1’s prestigious ‘Friday Rock Show’, the band eventually landed a crucial deal with the major Polydor Records. Moreover, their 1983 debut album (‘Lettin’ Loose’) was co-produced by the creative Mack…together with Queen guitarist Brian May. Now, that’s pedigree.
Amazingly, that album has survived more than 25 years of high speed hi-tech developments intact. While other, more celebrated records have dated badly, ‘Lettin’ Loose’ re-affirms the belief back then that the Pettin would plunge to big time stature. What went wrong at the time has little to do with band, or lack of ambition/talent. In America, where they should have broken big long before Bon Jovi gave Love A Bad Name, they were held back by the label’s insistence on an anaemic re-mix (as well as a title change to ‘Heavy Pettin’, which caused more confusion than anything else). If the band’s essential, vital British brio had been left as conceived in the first place, who knows what might have been achieved.
Still, a slot on the bill for the 1983 Reading Festival, the day that Black Sabbath infamously headlined when fronted by Ian Gillan, did them no harm. And touring with both Kiss and Ozzy helped the quintet’s progress.
Two years later, the Pettin return to the studio, this time with producer Mark Dearnley (who’d worked with AC/DC and Krokus). The result? ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’, which surprised many with a slicker yet conversely tougher approach. The lads really had progressed, although ironically if things had gone to plan, this would have been produced by Lance Quinn, of Bon Jovi and Lita Ford fame. However, just hours before the band were due to fly to Philadelphia, to work with Quinn at his Warehouse Studios, the decision was taken by PolyGram (to whom both Heavy Pettin and Bon Jovi were signed in the US) that, instead, he should start work immediately on what was to be Jovi’s second record, ‘7800 Degrees Fahrenheit’.
Perhaps then, it should have been obvious that record company politics were to scupper Pettin.. A third album, ‘The Big Bang’, was released by FM Revolver in 1989 – and still proved this lot were way ahead of so many others who were selling truckloads of ‘units’ and getting acclaim from the media But, as the 1980s faded into memory, so too did Heavy Pettin.
However, what has happened over the past two decades is that, every so often, people will dust down those Pettin recordings, scratch their heads in confusion and wonder what went wrong. Well, recriminations never help; they only serve to fuel frustrations. But, now the band are back ! – not for nostalgic reasons, not re-capture a long past youth. Not to right past wrongs. But to make music. So, here we are, not looking backwards to those years, when this lot were ready to take on the world, and toured with Motley Crue and Ratt. No, this is about the 21st Century. Driven by a desire, passion and a capacity simply to invoke the simple magic and rapport of what this band once stood for. This will delight the older fans, yet should also introduce them to a new, younger audience. It has an edge and a commitment that tells of musicians who aren’t bitter about being let down by past mistakes (made on their behalf), but have got on with their lives, and now want to put their re-kindled enthusiasm for rock music into perspective.
Yet, one can’t help but feel that here also is proof of what might have been. Supposing, Heavy Pettin had got their due rewards in America, is this where they might have developed, musically? Perhaps the answer lies in a parallel universe. But in this one…let’s rejoice in the legacy left to us by the Scots rousers, and revel in the fact that they’re back making music again.
Rock ‘n’ roll stars? Maybe . Rock ‘n’ rollers sprinkled with stardust? Definitely.
Stephen Hamie Hayman