Widowmaker - Running Free: The Jet Recordings 1976-1977 album review

A nice pair from short-lived, pop star-fronted British supergroup

Cover art for Widowmaker - Running Free: The Jet Recordings 1976-1977 album

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So-called supergroups are by their very nature dysfunctional affairs. None more so than Widowmaker, who were actually named after the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter which had the unfortunate habit of crashing and killing its male pilots. Featuring in the band’s line-up former Love Affair man and chart topping scream idol Steve Ellis on vocals, ex-Spooky Tooth/Mott The Hoople guitarist Luther ‘Ariel Bender’ Grosvenor, one-time Hawkwind axe-man Huw Lloyd-Langton and future Rainbow/Ozzy Osbourne bassist Bob Daisley, this curious combo were quite simply an accident waiting to happen. Everlasting love was emphatically not on the agenda.

Widowmaker were a pound-shop supergroup but a supergroup nevertheless. Indeed Ellis once told this writer of an incident when they stormed the office of their label, Jet Records, to confront gangster-like boss Don Arden about his lacklustre approach to their career. Somehow the meeting ended with Bender pleasuring a security guard’s Doberman.

Remarkably, however, Widowmaker’s self-titled first album is a minor classic. Featuring the band in all their preening finery on the cover (think Small Faces-meets-Mötley Crüe in Kensington Market), it brims with power and presence, nowhere more than on the magnificently brooding When I Met You, propelled by big, booming guitar. Ellis’s airy-fairy vocals should be completely unsuited to this sort of music but somehow he pulls it off. Plus the fragile frontman does get to showcase his sensitive side on Pin A Rose On Me. Admittedly the debut has its fair share of mellow moments, but when it rocks it rocks hard and heavy.

Unsurprisingly Ellis quit after the debut, citing the inevitable musical differences. He was replaced by John Butler, but frankly it might as well have been Stan Butler from On The Buses. Second and final album Too Late To Cry is an erratic, unfocused affair: the very essence of a band’s career going pear-shaped. Still, this remaster includes two bonus tracks and is a must for fans of lower-league 1970s British hard rock, when chaos reigned and minor egos ran rampant.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.