When you think back to the seventies and the eighties, the start, so to speak, of the British Rock and Heavy Metal movements, Iron Claw wouldn’t be amongst the names of the bands that sprung to mind. However in the late 60’s, three teenagers, Jim Ronnie, Alex Wilson and Ian Mcdougall came together through a love of the music and formed Iron Claw.
Recently I chatted with guitarist Jim Ronnie about the beginning, how it all started, and the trials and tribulations of the past 40 years.
Jim tells me how it all started. “I was 15 years old. It was in 1969 at an open air concert in Dumfries where I first made contact with Alex Wilson (bass). He was managing a local rock band called Amplified Heat; they were playing at the gig. I approached the band after their set, and told them that I was a guitarist looking for a band. They suggested I talk to Alex, which I did, followed by a visit to his house the next day for some guitar playing. I must have impressed him as he offered me the job of guitarist in the band he was putting together. Alex knew the best local drummer available, Ian McDougall (also aged 15) and so Iron Claw was born.”
Iron Claw, in the very early stages, spanned from 1969 to 1974 which covered the band through their teens into their early twenties. Considering their age at the time and the songs they wrote, the quality of the writing was beyond their years. I asked Jim how they went about writing at that age, and if they found their new career daunting.
“Daunting? Hell no! It’s what I wanted to do and it was great fun. Besides, I’d been in a band before that. We were called 'Jonah’s Kingdom'. We played at local community centres and youth clubs, we had a wide range of material, from Cream and Hendrix to some pop and soul. Iron Claw was my first “real” band though. That’s when I got into exploring more obscure rock and blues, and started writing in earnest. Most of the material, if I remember correctly, came out of jamming with input from all the band members. It was very much a group effort. We always rehearsed hard though, and some of the arrangements got pretty complicated. I listen to some of the real early recordings and think “How the hell did we come up with that?” We recently decided to include the 1970 favourite 'Skullcrusher' into our live set. The problem was I couldn’t remember how to play it. Luckily there was a Norwegian guy who covered the song on Youtube so I got the chords from his video!”
“You ask if I was ever scared or struck with stage fright? No, is the simple answer to that. It’s a privilege to be able to take to the stage and play for people, it’s a great buzz when the audience warms to the music. If you are well rehearsed and therefore self-confident, then any nerves are only pre-gig excitement and that’s good!”
At a point in any music fan’s life, the love of music comes from somewhere. I asked Jim where his love of music started?
“I remember my first performance in front of strangers, I was 5 years old and took to entertaining the rest of the class with my song and dance routine! The teacher must have thought I was crazy as she took me on a tour of the school; I did a repeat performance for all of the other classes in turn! My first performance as a guitarist was age 12, at my cousin’s wedding. It went down a storm playing Shadows tunes and I was hooked!”
Jim discusses his guitar influences
“The influences of the band members are quite diverse. As a guitarist, surprisingly, I’ve taken my influences from other guitar players. This tends to happen to a greater extent during your formative playing years. I started playing at age 12 (1966) so my main influences come from the late 60’s and early 70’s. The usual list of great blues/ rock players such as Clapton, Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Gary Moore (met him), Tony Iommi (met him), Rory Gallagher (met him), Paul Kossoff, Page, Jeff Beck.....the list goes on.”
To have met musicians of such magnitude must have left a lasting impression. I wasn’t sure at what age Jim was when he met them, but investigated further and asked about the experience.
“It was 1969/70 when I met Tony Iommi, Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher. These were guys not much older than me, and weren’t anywhere near famous yet. None of them gave any advice as such, but they were all fantastic guitarists who impressed me greatly …especially Gary Moore. The original Skid Row was an amazing band. They were doing something very different from anyone else at the time and Gary, although only 17, was giving everyone a lesson in what a guitar could actually do. Astounding! These three guitar players, like all the greats, have their own signature sound and are instantly recognizable. That’s what you need to achieve as a guitarist rather than chasing someone else’s sound. That’s my measure of musical prowess.”
Iron Claw had the makings of success, the possibility to rise above and beyond. I asked Jim how it felt when the band disbanded for the first time?
“Financial pressures, and our inability to secure a record deal, were what lead ultimately to the band split. Bit of a shame really, but that’s the way it goes. People decided to go in different directions and the band was no more. We all thought that was the end of the Iron Claw story.....fast forward from 1974 to 2012 and we’re back again!”
Iron Claw have reformed due to Ripple Music; now their label taking an interest in their earlier recordings. Jim tells me how it felt to finally be signed to a record label and back in the running.
“I couldn’t believe it. 40 years of seeking and a recording contract turns up completely out of the blue without even pursuing it! I was aware of the music review blog site ‘The Ripple Effect’. They had given our 1970’s recordings a lot of support and were obviously fans of early Iron Claw. Because of their support I contacted them to inform them of our plans to reform. I had no idea that they were in the process of launching their own label and when they offered to sign us I was blown away.”
Last year in 2011, Iron Claw released ‘A Different Game’ which is their latest album, although they are working on a new album for this year. I wanted to know how difficult it was to piece together the past 40 years of material. Jim tells me how it all came together.
“Some of the songs were first recorded in 1970 but never released. Others were part of the band’s live set in the 1970’s. I brought some songs from earlier solo projects as did Alex and some songs were written recently specifically for this album. Between us we came up with 13 songs and reworked them all for this project.”
Since re-forming Iron Claw lost their previous vocalist Gordon Brown, however they have been blessed with new vocalist Gary Hair. Jim fills me in on what excites him about working with Gary and what Iron Claw fans have to look forward to in 2012.
“As most people already know, we’re now going forward with our new vocalist Gary Hair and it shouldn’t be long before we have some new material for folks to hear. Gary’s a great singer and we’re sure everyone will love his voice.”
“We’re in the studio recording and videoing our first track with Gary and have secured the services of fellow Ripple buddy Tony Reed (Stone Axe) to do the final mix and mastering of the song. Tony worked with us on the album ‘A Different Game’ and did a superb job. He’s keen to work with us again and we’re delighted to have him. Ripple Music have said that they would welcome a second album later this year, and that sounds like a great idea to us, so the chances are that you’ll be getting another Iron Claw album from us. Iron Claw are, and have always been, a live band. We need to get out there and rock a few venues. We’re really looking forward to that!”
“Thanks Chelle for the opportunity to talk about Iron Claw and thanks to everyone for the outstanding support given to us since we reformed and released our first recorded music in almost 40 years! It really does give you heart.”
It’s been great getting a little of the history behind Iron Claw and I am very much looking forward to finding out what comes next in the Iron Claw story, it will, without a doubt be something to remember and revel in. A big thanks to Jim for the chat, it has been a pleasure.
All articles are © Michelle Nevill