On the day that Stray play a special sold-out show to celebrate their 50th anniversary, guitarist/vocalist Del Bromham has been talking to Classic Rock about the “double-edged sword” of a disastrous spell being managed by the legendary East End gangster Charlie Kray.
It was 1976 and the Londoners were seven albums into a career that had begun a decade earlier in Shepherd’s Bush. That same year, the surname of Kray could not possibly have been any more high profile. As the elder brother of Ronnie and Reggie, whose ring of organised crime has long since passed into the realm of folklore, Charlie had also done time inside for helping his siblings dispose of the body of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie.
With major sales continuing to elude them, Stray had just parted with previous manager Wilf Pine, a former heavy in the employ of Don Arden and a close personal friend of the Kray Twins whose own gangland exploits were later detailed in John Pearson’s book One Of The Family: The Englishman And The Mafia. Little did they know it, but in seeking new representation a whole new level of notoriety lay ahead.
“It happened by complete accident,” Bromham relates today. “I went to see Don Arden in the hope that he would take us on. It took weeks and weeks to get an appointment which seemed over in seconds. And sitting in reception for a follow-up meeting, there was Charlie Kray – fresh out of prison, hoping that Don would help him promote a book he’d written.
- The top 10 best Uriah Heep songs from the 70s
- Procol Harum announce 50th anniversary UK tour
- The 10 best covers by Iron Maiden
“We sat there together in silence for hours and finally, Charlie asked: ‘How long have you been here, boy?’ Eventually he asked, ‘Do you get the impression we’re being given the runaround?’ He’d had enough. ‘Are you going anywhere near Bethnal Green?’ he asked. I wasn’t, but of course I couldn’t tell him that. So I ended up giving Charlie Kray a lift home to his mum’s house in my Mini. It was completely surreal.”
With the band about to release their album Houdini it was somehow decided that to present Kray – a showbiz agent during the 1960s – as Stray’s manager would be “a bit of a publicity stunt”.
“The news made the front page the Daily Mail and suddenly we couldn’t get a gig anywhere because people thought we were the mafia,” Bromham sighs. “We were booked to play the Marquee Club and the support band wouldn’t even come into the dressing room. When we invited them they sat there shaking – terrified. On the upside, we no longer had troubled getting paid for live work… promoters thought they’d get their legs broken.”
Charlie Kray died in April 2000, aged 73, whilst serving 12 years for his part in a £39 million drugs plot.
Stray rocked on and, many years later, possibly aided by Iron Maiden covering All In Your Mind on the b-side of their Holy Smoke single, managed to rid themselves of the association.
This evening, Friday November 18, Bromham and the current Stray line-up play a sold-out gig at London’s Borderline that for the first time in decades will feature ex-members Steve Gadd, Ritchie Cole and Gary Giles. There’s no support, with a prompt 7.45pm start. “It will be a night to remember,” promises Del.