Most fans at the recent Islington Assembly Hall show were aware of the Grand Slam history and the fine clutch of songs produced to date. Laurence Archer, the lynchpin of the stage, may be the only remaining original member, but Mike Dyer has the pipes and the tone required, and with Rocky Newton and Benjy Reid, they are electrifying live.
Grand Slam vocalist Mike Dyer joined MetalTalk’s Mark Taylor after the band’s Islington show.
“Tonight was an unleashing of freedom for me,” Mike says. “It’s as if we’ve been set off the leash, especially in Islington, where I drove past the place every day and looked at this beautiful venue. The way it’s been organized, it’s been a joyous evening with the FM boys, who are very generous, and with a beautiful audience that felt as if they needed to get the hell out of their prison cells. It was a celebration of freedom, and I loved every minute.”
Mike received a phone call from Laurence Archer on Christmas Day, 2017. “Last time he had called me was 27 years earlier,” Mike said. “He sent me the demos with Phil Lynott and some bits and pieces that he had been trying to get off the ground. I then had three days of sweat and panic.”
Mike had met Phil Lynott on the Thin Lizzy Black Rose tour. “I met Phil and Scott Gorham in Liverpool, and they were just really kind. I was a fat little spotty scouser aged 14.”
Listening to the demos was emotional. “I listened to Sisters Of Mercy, and I listened to the other songs somebody had put out, which, I thought, if I had been in Phil’s position, I’d roll. I just felt so sad that the demos had gone out. They were better songs than that.”
Mike told his family he could not do Phil’s role. “My little boy said, Dad, you’re not stepping into his shoes. You’ve got your own shoes. I thought, well, I’ve been treading the boards for years. I’m not going to replace Phil. The man was a one-off, but I’ve been treading the boards, and I feel it, and it feels real.”
Last year’s tour with The Dead Daisies and these FM dates have seen the band finally back out again. “The intonation, Scouse and Dublin, works very well, and I’m so grateful that all the Lizzy brigade has accepted me,” Mike says. “I feel like it’s a dangerous position, but it’s something that we want to move on with. We’ve been writing loads of new stuff. There are 11 new tracks, which we’ve been in Spain writing, and we’ve been recording three over here, and we’re just itching, really.”
Dyer was the vocalist for many years in the NWOBHM band Tokyo, and his career has since seen him treading the boards in theatre, plus film and TV. “Rock ‘n’ roll is something which feels totally natural,” he says. “It feels tribal, it feels like I’m at home, but the chaos is hard for me. Rehearsals are never what they should be in rock ‘n’ roll, and things are slightly unpredictable in rock ‘n’ roll.
“Theater to me is something that is beautiful. I did Blood Brothers for three or four years and Jesus Christ Superstar, a bit of Eastenders and a couple of films. I did Fifth Element and a strange voice over for Martini adverts.
“But it was like, what the hell am I doing? Then I had this phone call. It was something where this time around, excuse my French, I don’t give a fuck. I care about the people, and I think people can suss out somebody who’s blagging it. The first time around, I was trying to appease everybody. I was looking at everyone, and you can’t be yourself.”
Dyer, shaken and not stirred, has made the job his. Hit The Ground contained a number of old Grand Slam songs, but there were new ones too. “I went over to Laurence and would sit watching him play something, OCD, five thousand times until it starts moulding like the potter’s wheel in Ghost,” Mike says.
“The top line is there. Laurence might moan about a few little bits and pieces or find a hooky chorus, and then I have a thing about lyrics. I think Phil was a poet. I want to write words that mean something instead of ‘yeah, baby on the Sunset Strip’ or cruising somewhere in your dad’s car. I’m from Birkenhead, and it’s not as cool as L.A.
“We’re in the times of change, and this world is crazy, and people are really locking into things, and I think it’s a big responsibility to make sure songs mean something.” Military Man was played in Islington, a truly prophetic piece.
The new album will contain eleven songs, with the tantalising news that some more vintage Grand Slam songs will appear. “There’s one, Harlem, which has been reworked,” Mike says. There are another two being worked on as well.
The band, though, are embracing writing new material, and Laurence is energised by the team. “He’s like a production line,” Mike says. “Rocky is our grounding implement, and Benji doesn’t sit on the fence.”
The addition of Rocky, who has a rich history, to the band has worked well. “He has had added stability,” Mike says. Rocky may be known for his bass, but a lot of people do not realise that his vocals were backing vocals on the Def Leppard Hysteria album. “He is grounded, a wise man and just a blinking joy to travel with, and musically, he is impeccable. His timing is beautiful. His voice is beautiful. He’s a very beautiful person. I’m in love with Rocky.”
The new lineup appears fantastically solid. “It was originally painful,” Mike says. “I loved the noise that was coming out of the band. But the chemistry now is just beautiful. It’s nice and laid back, and Laurence feels safe. He has to feel safe. He wears his heart on his sleeve. We’ve got a relationship where we can speak our minds to each other, and it works. It really works. We’ve got so much to get rid of.”
It’s impossible not to get swept along by Dyer’s enthusiasm as he talks, but having received “beautiful” feedback from fans who saw the original Grand Slam, Mike says his greatest experience is learning to be upright, standing on a stage.
“I had a road accident when I was 18,” Mike says, “and was in a wheelchair for three years. They were going to amputate my right leg. I was told that I was never gonna walk again and had a series of operations, thinking I could go in and get myself sorted out. It was great for years, but I wore it out.
“I’ve got these lovely Kevlar bits and pieces put together, and it’s given me a new lease of life. But it’s something where the Covid-19 thing has made this so precious. It can be taken away tomorrow. I think there are a lot of mental problems, and people have been battered during this period. And at the beginning of lockdown, it was almost like I didn’t want to sing a song. It’s so irrelevant.
“But slowly and surely, you realise how bloody special it is. Seeing people like you [Mark Taylor] celebrate, who suck the sap out of life, who are gigging every night, is infectious. It makes all the difference. I look at FM and think what a great bunch of lads, and we’re not even competing. It’s two different genres, and they’re lovely. To me, to realise how precious it is to stand on stage and sing was on my bucket list, and it could all be taken away tomorrow.”
Hit The Ground is a great album. “We’ve set the benchmark on that album,” Mike says, “and it just feels beautiful. I felt proud. It feels like I’ve left something on the planet worth leaving.”
Grand Slam was not Phil Lynott at his best, but it still remains an Irish heritage. The band has been invited to a Philo statue unveiling, and they are looking forward to playing in Dublin.
On a personal note, I saw Grand Slam back in 1983/84 at the King Charles hotel Gillingham. I was front row, a 16-year-old boy, right in front of Phil Lynott and shook his hand. Those songs were buried in the vaults. There are dodgy demo tapes and live recordings out there, but seeing Grand Slam again, refreshed, and performing the songs how nature intended them to be, is wonderful to hear.
“Laurence has been carrying this bloody thing,” Mike says, “which people have not understood. They think he’s a moody bugger, but he’s had to carry these songs in his head.”
Laurence Archer has stepped in big shoes before and followed in the footsteps of Scott Goreham and Michael Schenker. He is one of the greatest guitarists out there and an unsung hero.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Mike says. “I’m blessed that he happens to be the guitarist in the band I’m in. The baggage that comes with talent has all gone out the window. We’ve moved on, we’ve made inroads, and I’m happy to watch this man.
“You know, he’s almost like a possessed banana fingered man that plays Paganini. If you look at his fingers, they are the size of sausages. But it’s amazing when he gets on the top frets. He is a miracle man.”