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Second Chance For Second Nature: An Exclusive Interview With Former IRON MAIDEN And LIONHEART Guitarist DENNIS STRATTON

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Tuesday, January 25, 2022 @ 11:25 AM

"By using the name MAIDEN for charities I'm involved with, such as PTSD, and Disabled Children in Sport, and others - if using the MAIDEN association will help promote it for a donation, I will."

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Dennis Stratton is sitting in a friend's recording studio near Cambridge outside of northwest London, but at the moment he is mainly there for interviews, openly admitting that he has no computer himself and only does Zoom and other computer-related business with the assistance of friends. However, that certainly does not mean that Stratton, who was famously the guitarist along with Dave Murray on IRON MAIDEN's stunning self-titled breakthrough debut album, doesn't know the proverbial ropes when it comes to music creation in said studio. In fact, the amiable native East Ender has an extensive resume with creating original music dating back to the mid-70s with the seminal bands he played with prior to his stint with MAIDEN (REMUS DOWN BOULEVARD) and many years onward, too, with bands like PRAYING MANTIS and LIONHEART.

We are teamed up on this occasion to discuss the new releases concerning the latter, which, after its 80s heyday, reformed in 2016 after a one-off gig at the Rockingham Festival in Nottingham, England. Since that time, the band, which currently consists of melodic hard rock veterans Stratton, guitarist Steve Mann, bassist Rocky Newton, drummer Clive Edwards, and newest addition, vocalist Lee Small, has released two albums, the original 2017 version of Second Nature (limited to King Records in Japan and AOR in Europe) and 2020's The Reality of Miracles (Metalville Records), in addition to the current international re-release of the 2017 album on Metalville Records, which is the primary topic of this interview.

Along with explaining why Second Nature is being re-released at this juncture (remastered and with bonus tracks), Stratton is also game for giving the lowdown on a new project in the works, and other interesting details on his professional life post-MAIDEN, including the status of his current relationship with the latter.

KNAC.COM: You're at a recording studio right now, so that could mean you're actually working on new material?

STRATTON: We're about eight songs into the new album, right now, so yes. It's easy now because we can't tour or go abroad. Well, I did go abroad at Christmas, but we can't tour. For us, now, sitting at home, it's better to be working on new material.

KNAC.COM: Well, let's talk about the album that's being re-released worldwide this month.

STRATTON: Yeah, alright. So basically, Steve Mann had been working with Michael Schenker and we'd all be doing our projects over the years...And basically, there was this festival in the UK, and we were asked by a few in the press, like Classic Rock and Kerrang!, and all these magazines, about recording a new album after so many years. So, we had a chat, we played Sweden Rock, and we went on tour, and recorded a new album. Some of the songs on Second Nature were written back in the late 80s. So, we decided to keep a few from the past and then also write some new material to bring it up to date. So, basically, we had the 12 or 13 songs together, and, luckily, once it was recorded, we got Steve Mann in to produce our album. He's a great, great musician, but, luckily, he's got his own studio [Flying Vivaldi Studios]. So, the album was recorded and mastered, but we didn't know whether to approach a big company like Frontiers, maybe, to push the album, or whether to go for a smaller company where we may get more input. With Frontiers you're more like one of a catalogue of 30-40 bands. We decided to go with one that could give more attention to LIONHEART. So, we signed the album to AOR Heaven in Germany. Unfortunately, we didn't realize at the time that they weren't that special. We got let down many times on distribution and promotion, and then we realized that it was only coming out in Europe. We already had to deal with King records in Japan. We didn't know that AOR Heaven was just going to release it in Europe. Then along came The Reality of Miracles, which is our last album. With The Reality of Miracles we wanted to step up a gear, and we went to Metalville Records because they promised us that they were going to release it worldwide - and they did. And the promotion was pretty good, and the album was one step up the ladder of Second Nature. But we still felt that Second Nature didn't get a fair run. And, so, Holger Koch at Metalville suggested that it be remastered and that we re-release it worldwide. Thanks to Holger, Second Nature was given a second chance.

KNAC.COM: How did the songwriting evolve for these songs that are on the album? Some are old and some are new...

STRATTON: Well, "30 Years" is about my life growing up on the East End of London and that bands that I worked with. I suppose it was all sort of a trial period for me, Steve, Rocky, and Lee, because me, Rocky, and Steve had written together for many, many years, and so we knew how we were going to react to one another. But getting Lee in was a different angle, and the new songs seemed to work really, really well. They were all songs that were fresh in our minds, if you see what I mean.

KNAC.COM: Yes, and I was specifically going to ask you about the song "30 Years" because it's obvious that it's autobiographical from your angle...and it's especially interesting for that reason. Did you write the lyrics yourself?

STRATTON: No! Funny enough, I wrote most of the song, and I wrote most of the chorus, and I said to Steve and Lee, I need your input. The chorus was where I was coming from in how I felt about the song. So I said to Lee, keep the chorus as it is and write the verses...bearing in mind that the lyrics have to relate to me growing up in East London - in West Ham, the hardest part of East London - and it's a journey from the Marquee, and it's a journey through MAIDEN, and it's a journey through MANTIS, and then coming into LIONHEART. So, he had that all in mind. I wrote a song years ago for MANTIS about me running around the East End of London with a little gang of about seven and eight-year-olds - that's the best years of my life - playing in old bombed out houses, and playing football, and things like that. What I wanted to do was to bring Lee (vocals) into the age where we are now - going back to those years and bringing it up-to-date.

KNAC.COM: Just to go off on that tangent, that was a fascinating upbringing - you know that! Being raised in the East End of London in the post-war aftermath, and then all of that musical talent coming out of that area, too, as well as sports talent. You had mentioned in another interview that people have mentioned to you their interest in seeing you do an autobiography...

STRATTON: The funny thing is, before we went into lockdown in March of 2020, people brought up about me doing a book, because it also involved me leaving school at 14, and going straight to work in the docks on the East End of London, and playing football [he was on the rolls for West Ham during this period], and mixing with villains and bank robbers, because that is how the East End was in those days. And, during lockdown - because we weren't able to do anything - during 2020 we were supposed to be all over the world! And so many people asked me, "When are you going to write this book?" - So, since March or April of 2020, I've been writing a book in my head. I'm up to the point where I'm about 19 now - that's about as far as I've gotten.

KNAC.COM: And you could just speak into a recorder and have someone else transcribe it...

STRATTON: I know, I know, I could do, yeah. Get someone to do it for me! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Yeah, because that is a fascinating time - and that period of time, in that place, it could really be a movie - what you and some of your mates were up to - what you encountered and did. I know it was very rough, but there's a kind of romanticism to it, too. It would undoubtedly be interesting! But, as you say, everything was on hold in 2020 and even through 2021. What are your plans going forward?

STRATTON: Well, as I say, now that the album The Reality of Miracles has been released worldwide, and we've got good reports and good reviews - it got voted #1 AOR album in the UK, and things like that - and we've got songs we've already written for a new album. So, what I think is going to happen now, because we're not touring now - because shows are still being put on hold in Europe, because Europe are a little bit behind the UK with regard to vaccines and things and everything else - so basically what is going to happen is that we are going to use this time now to finish up these nine songs and we'll be putting the next month or so to good use since we can't tour. I've listened to nine of them and they're sounding really good! But there's still lots to do. Steve Mann is going to be sending over material and I've got to put down three guitar solos and loads of backing vocals. Steve has to get a package - whole set - for each individual member of the band to work on. So, he'll send Rocky his parts, he'll send me my parts, and then we all record them separately, and then we send them back to Steve, and Steve puts the jigsaw together in the studio.

KNAC.COM: Are you located all over the place?

STRATTON: Steve's in Hanover [Germany]- his studio is there - and he lives there, and the rest of us are all back in the UK.

KNAC.COM: Can you tell me how you got Lee into the band? His voice is fantastic for those songs.

STRATTON: Yeah! He gets better every time, Shelly. With The Reality of Miracles, he'd only known us a few months when he did Second Nature, but with The Reality of Miracles he was able to take his time because of lockdown and he has improved and improved each time. He's written a lot of songs on the new album himself - he's been on a run of just writing, and writing, and writing, and he's come up with some great ideas.

KNAC.COM: How would you describe the LIONHEART style of music to someone who has never heard it before? I mean beyond what you notably brought into from the start, with elements such as the harmony guitars and harmony vocals.

STRATTON: Well, I was quite lucky with the fact that my favorite bands - when I was 16 and learning to play the guitar - were bands like WHISHBONE ASH, which always used harmony guitars. But my favorite bands to listen to, from all my musical tastes, have always been American bands like TOTO, FOREIGNER, JOURNEY and KANSAS. TOTO, with all the session guys there, it's a great time listening to them. And I've always loved the American taste for harmony guitars, and also vocal harmonies. So, when we put LIONHEART together, it was quite nice to know that Steve and Rocky also liked that taste in music. It was the same with PRAYING MANTIS - we had the three backing vocals and the singer, and the harmony guitars. When it came to LIONHEART, we've always used that sort of approach. With The Reality of Miracles, we sort of went for more of an orchestral approach - symphonic stuff that we all love, like bands WITHIN TEMPTATION, NIGHTWISH, and BATTLE BEAST - you're hearing heavy metal with all the symphonics and it's fantastic, and we've been trying to branch out that way. It reminds me in a way of some of the bands in America in the 80s and 90s, but it's not done purposely - it just comes natural for us to play guitars with the harmonies, but also the big choruses - we can't help it.

KNAC.COM: It's who you are. To wrap it up - and I am sure you get asked about this innumerable times - with regard to your MAIDEN days, how do you view that period now? I'm sure that over the years you've probably philosophized about that time, but how do you feel about it now?

STRATTON: Yes, I've said many times it was fantastic to be involved with such an iconic album. Again, Steve [Harris] and Dave [Murray] from MAIDEN knew about me because I'd already been touring in the mid 70s in support of STATUS QUO. So, I'd already had a lot of experience with recording and touring around Europe, in places with 60 - 80 thousand people. Being involved in that gave me a lot of credibility and, in a way, a lot of pleasure, because, when people associate you with MAIDEN, it's always nice to hear. Being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is another feather in my cap - and it's just nice to be associated with an iconic album that has lasted 42 years. Yeah, it's amazing, and I'm so glad I'm still friends with Steve and the band - I still go and see them if they're in the UK - and I went over to Vegas in 2019 and saw them on the Legacy tour and I'm going to see them this year at Donnington. So, hopefully I'll meet up with them for a "once a year". It is so nice to still be involved in a way, and at the fan things, too, and there's no bad feelings.

KNAC.COM: For history's sake, you are a part of the MAIDEN family anyway, but I know in real time what went down couldn't have been easy - it had to be a tough thing because MAIDEN was obviously on the rise then...But as it is said in the song "30 Years": "It opened many doors and many opportunities..." So, that experience really did open many doors for you!

STRATTON: Yeah! Exactly, and it also helped me to do a lot of charity work because for auctions and raffles for charity, I've sold so many photographs that I had signed with the band. By using the name MAIDEN for charities I'm involved with, such as PTSD, and Disabled Children in Sport, and others - if using the MAIDEN association will help promote it for a donation, I will.

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