Iron Claw

Iron Claw 1970
Iron Claw - 1970

{Iron Claw} Hailing from the town of Dumfries in South West Scotland, the origins of the band Iron Claw started in the summer of ’69! Founder member Alex Wilson, who was then aged 21, and was at the time assisting in the management of another local band, as well as recording music as a hobby, was inspired by seeing Led Zeppelin on their first concert tour of Britain at a show at Newcastle City Hall on June 20th 1969. This “revelation” planted a seed of the ambition to start a band good enough to eventually release recordings of their own songs. Having been involved in the local music scene, Alex knew the best young guitarist and drummer in the area who were still uninvolved with any other bands, and on August 13th 1969, Jimmy Ronnie (15) (guitar) joined, followed by Ian McDougall (15) (drums) on August 23rd 1969. Finding a vocalist proved more difficult, and Alex had to handle vocals as well as bass during the early rehearsals and for the first three public appearances! Playing cover versions at first to “tighten up”, songs by the likes of Johnny Winter, Free, Taste, 10 Years After, Blind Faith, Keef Hartley Band, and Black Cat Bones gave an indication of the type of blues based material that the band were developing. Finding a name at this point was also a problem, and their first public appearance on October 3rd 1969 was under the name “NAJ”, which continued until mid November. Then another “revelation” occurred on November 16th 1969. While Alex was recording a local band at Dumfries Youth Club, Black Sabbath played a set and amazed everybody who was lucky enough to be there that night. As well as pointing the way to a heavier type of music, in the audience that night was a local musician who agreed to join as vocalist for the impending Claw, Mike Waller (17). One public appearance with Alex still on vocals went under the name “Mad Dog”, before Mike commenced vocals on December 6th 1969 with the name “Mother Earth” now the preferred option. This name continued in use until February 28th 1970 when Alex chose the name Iron Claw (taken from the first line in King Crimson’s song “21st Century Schizoid Man”). At this stage, Iron Claw probably became the world’s first Black Sabbath tribute band, as they incorporated the entire first Black Sabbath LP and single into their set! Regular public appearances kept the band getting tighter, and the first attempts at song writing began. Entering a competition, where the prize was a demo recording session, on June 1st 1970 Iron Claw won by performing 3 songs, “Same Old Story”, “Wicked World”. and their own song “Sabotage”. The first demo was recorded at Edinburgh on a 4 track machine on September 17th 1970, two songs “Sabotage” and “Mist Eye”. Song writing began apace now, and on December 5th 1970, another recording was done, this time in London, but still on a 4 track, and all songs recorded in one day! The first two songs were re-recorded, as well as new songs, “Crossrocker”, “Clawstrophobia”, “Skullcrusher”, “Take Me To Your Leader”, “Saga”, and “Bright Future”. The LP was designed to have 3 heavy long epics on one side, and 5 shorter “singles” type songs on the other. Gigging continued further afield, and on January 15th 1971 at Edinburgh Empire, Iron Claw met Black Sabbath after their concert, and Sabbath agreed to listen to a copy of the Claw tape, which was duly supplied to them on January 18th 1971 after their Newcastle City Hall concert. During all of this, Alex had supplied the band with an impressive Simms-Watt amplification set-up, and Iron Claw became one of the bands mentioned in the Simms-Watt Supergroup adverts, along with Genesis, Uriah Heep and the Strawbs. Towards the Spring of 1971, word filtered back that Sabbath’s management was “unhappy” with the soundalike Iron Claw, and a veiled threat of litigation was mentioned if this first attempt was released. When Mike Waller announced his intention to leave to concentrate on guitar in May 1971, Alex took the opportunity to change the style of music that the Claw were writing, and invited two new musicians to replace Mike.

Wullie Davidson (23) (vocals, harmonica and flute), and Donald MacLachlan (22) (guitar) joined, and thus Iron Claw (Mark 2) was formed at the end of May 1971. Intensive rehearsals commenced with cover versions of songs featuring a twin guitar approach, and songs by Free, Steppenwolf, Fleetwood Mac, James Gang, Blind Faith, Skid Row (the Irish band), and Wishbone Ash signalled the change of musical direction Iron Claw were heading in. A demo recording of the new line-up, made on August 11th 1971 on a 4 track machine in one night at Edinburgh, featured 2 new songs “Let It Grow” and “Lightning”, and a cover version of Wishbone Ash’s “Lady Whiskey”. Although rough in sound quality, due to using too powerful amps in a small room, it led to an offer of a recording contract with unlimited studio time in a new 8 track studio, top of the range in that era! Unfortunately, a personality clash between the guitarists was taking place, and after receiving an ultimatum, the job of having to ask Donald to leave the band fell to Alex on October 2nd 1971.

Reduced now from a 5 piece band to a 4 piece, Iron Claw (Mark 3) commenced recording in Edinburgh in November 1971 lasting through until April 1972 with an 8 track studio, and much experimentation took place! Additional keyboards and saxes were supplied by the then studio engineer Billy Lyall, who went on to later fame with a band called Pilot. Billy only played in the studio with the Claw, but never “live” on stage. Mike Waller added backing vocals as a guest on “Knock ‘Em Dead” in December 1971. Other songs recorded in this period were “Lightning”, “Pavement Artist”, “All I Really Need”, “Loving You”, “Devils”, “Rock Band Blues”, “Gonna Be Free”, “StraitJacket”, “Real Mean Rocker”, and “Spider’s Web”. At this stage in their live appearances, Iron Claw were beginning to play concerts playing to seated audiences in theatres and halls, backing such concert acts as Barclay James Harvest and East of Eden and the music they were recording in the studio was impossible to reproduce live with only a 4 piece band. Then came a bombshell in May 1972 when original drummer Ian (Dougal) announced he was leaving the band. Despite appeals from the studio, he stuck to his decision. He soldiered on until July 1972 fulfilling the live dates, until another local drummer, Neil Cockayne, was brought into Iron Claw as his replacement.

Thus Iron Claw (Mark 4) came into being, and a new drummer helped develop a more “jamming” type band, with existing original material like Strait Jacket extending into a 10 minute opus. Basically, the band got rid of the “frills” of keyboards, saxes and synths, and reverted to a 4 piece hard blues band. After a demo recording session in Edinburgh with Neil on drums, featuring a song called “Lady Heroine”, the recording contract was ended and bought out. The band now concentrated on playing live, tightening up and extending the songs, developing a more “spacey” sound, and song writing became a slower process. Recording new songs was mostly done in a live setting, but in Newcastle on September 15th 1973 Iron Claw recorded in an 8 track studio in 2 takes, a new song “Winter”, and a re-recording of “Gonna Be Free”. Other new songs which were in their live set but never recorded in a studio setting were “Wanna Tell You” and a 10 minute epic “Cry For Help”. Personal changes and financial constraints started to exert problems with the band and Iron Claw’s last appearance was at Lancaster College on April 6th 1974, appearing with Hackensack.
During their 4 line-ups, Claw played as far North in Scotland as Oban, Fort William, Aberdeen and Dundee, as far West as Stranraer and Girvan, as far East as Newcastle, Sunderland, and Gateshead, as far South as London, and many places between these points of the Compass. Claw shared the stage with some legends over the 54 months they were in existence, bands like the Kinks, Spencer Davis Group, Troggs, Pink Fairies, Mick Abrahams Band, Juicy Lucy, Barclay James Harvest and East of Eden spring to mind.
Times were hard, money was always tight, but sometimes the music was transcendental.