When I was young teenager falling in love with the music of It Bites, I didn’t think of them as a ‘progressive’ band at all.
They had little in common with that fey, posh lot who did The Lamb Lies Down On Somewhere Or Other, and they were a lot spunkier than the grumpy old sods going on about bricks in the wall. All I knew was, having lived on a diet of yer Van Halens, Queens and (shudder) Poisons, here was a band that challenged my ideas of what rock music could be, embracing its best melodic tropes and enhancing them with thrillingly imaginative curlicues. Listen past the dated production and that playworn hit about calling heroes, and their 1986 debut The Big Lad In The Windmill has all the hallmarks of the It Bites sound, all that made such an impression. Opener I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand and All In Red show they could be as catchy as any pop-rock band, but they’d throw in odd time signatures (Screaming On The Beaches) then do a 180-degree stylistic handbrake turn and break your heart (You’ll Never Go To Heaven). John Beck, Dick Nolan and Bob Dolan were a crack team, and front and centre was the charismatic Frank Dunnery, his vocals angry and vulnerable, his licks tasteful or mentally fast. (Got away with wearing leather strides too.) Better was to come in ’88. Partly produced by Steve Hillage, Once Around The World had singles (Kiss Like Judas), terrifying fret-melters (Rose Marie) and stunning, multi-layered workouts (Old Man And The Angel). The 15-minute title track clinched the deal. Produced by Queen’s MD Mack and with artwork by Roger Dean, ‘89’s Eat Me In St Louis had good moments (single Still Too Young To Remember) and great moments (Underneath Your Pillow, The Ice Melts Into Water), but overall seemed slighter, disappointing, even. This incarnation had peaked and they knew it, splitting a year later. Live release Thank You And Goodnight was a worthy final bow from a band to whom I, for one, will ever be grateful for providing that first, vital prog kick in the head.