They're No Angels

20 June 2012 | 8:00 am | Michael Smith

This isn’t a reunion, the guys from Heaven insist, it’s a reformation – and they’re hungry and cocky enough to make it happen, Michael Smith discovers.

For a couple of years there in the early '80s, Heaven – signed to a determined little indie label called Deluxe, also home to a young bunch of hopefuls called INXS – looked like they just might be the next AC/DC. Their singer Alan Fryer had, in fact, auditioned to replace Bon Scott. Soon after the core of the band – Fryer, bass player Lawrie Marlow, lead guitarist Bradford Kelly (ex-Swanee) and, a little later, rhythm guitarist John Haese and drummer Joe Turtur – relocated from Adelaide, they signed with AC/DC's former manager Michael Browning. The aim was always to get overseas, and within a year of releasing their debut album, Twilight Of Mischief, in 1982, that's exactly what they did, picking up the opening slots for, among others, Judas Priest and Motley Crue. American guitar manufacturers Jackson even developed a Jackson Kelly model with the now sadly late guitarist. Within another two years, however, it was all over – or so it seemed.

“We kept in touch over the years, everybody,” Fryer explains. He's been living in Dallas, Texas for the past 30 years, as is evident from the drawl that has smothered his otherwise Scottish accent. “With the American guys [Fryer pulled an American line-up together to record the last Heaven album, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, in 1985] and the Australian band as well, and we struck up the chords there yesterday,” – he's calling us from their rehearsal room in Adelaide – “it was like nothin' has changed. It's somethin' special, and it's even more special havin' Rowan [Robertson, Dio's English guitarist who featured on the singer's final album] on board as well because he adds so much to the Heaven sound it's not funny and hopefully the Heaven sound can rub off on him.”

“I knew the name Heaven,” Robertson admits, who'd been recommended to Fryer two days before he was due to fly back to Australia for this tour by American guitarist Mitch Perry, who'd been in the Knockin' On Heaven's Door line-up and had to drop out because of touring commitments in the US. “I wasn't familiar with the material but I was aware that Mitch was in Heaven and I'm learning the stuff now. It's great fun to play 'cause it's such good material – I was really thrilled when I heard and I'm really enjoying it.”

Heaven struck that all too common problem of having to change their name – to Heaven Bent – because an American band of the time was using it. The US label also changed one track on Twilight Of Mischief for what became their first US single, In The Beginning. Arriving in the US at about the same time MTV was kicking off certainly helped them. The clip for Rock School was all denim, leather and big hair. Inevitably the lifestyle as much as the egos got in the way and after a second album, 1983's Where Angels Fear To Tread, things started falling apart. Within another year, despite having the same US management as Def Leppard, Aerosmith and Scorpions, all bar Fryer were back in Australia. When that management company fell apart, it was all over even for the American Heaven. There had been one previous reunion in 2001, the group coming together to tour Australia with Judas Priest.

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“It's not a 30-year reunion,” Turtur assures. “It's a reformation. It's just been time. I dunno – we needed 30 years away from each other to realise we're not such bad blokes after all. And we can actually still play.” d

“Part of deal in doing this tour,” Fryer adds, “was to include an American guitarist so we could play some of the music off the American album as well as some new stuff.”