Phoenix Rising were initially formed in 1980 by Pete Bangert (guitar), Jack Bunker (vocals), Chris Hamilton (bass) and Danny Spencer (drums) at the height of the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement. However, at the time of their formation the band was not really aware of the importance of this new Rock movement, as Pete Bangert explains: "We were completely unaware of the N.W.O.B.H.M. when we kicked off. When we formed the band I don't think it had really been publicised as a concept - I may be wrong - but I think it was something that became a classification as more bands like us started to get going. We were certainly aware on a personal level, of the lack of good bands gigging then. Although, as we gigged more we also became aware of a number of good rock and metal bands starting up around us. The bigger stadium type bands like Zep had just about disappeared or were hardly touring and the industry was stultified by the accountants jumping on the punk and post-punk bandwagon. Most of the output around was shamelessly geared towards using bands as cash cows and producing mainstream drivel. There was no creative energy on stages, the energy from the punk output was mainly destructive rather than constructive. As I said above, we wanted to pursue our muse and hopefully produce some memorable and slightly different music on the way. The N.W.O.B.H.M. became much hardened later on into chord centric riff oriented metal (for example Tygers of Pan Tang) which was an area we had only a nodding acquaintance with. Although we were very powerful live, I think we were at the more dynamic/melodic/progressive heavy rock end of the spectrum than that of a pure metal outfit."
The band intially played numerous gigs around the Northern pub circuit and then went on to gig the larger national rock venues. They performed live frequently on commercial radio and then produced a 12" EP entitled "Phoenix Rising" on their own Rising Records label in 1983. The featured track "Understanding" charted at number one in the Kerrang! independent rock charts. Pete Bangert explains the idea behind putting out the record on their own label: "I formed Rising Records as a member of the Independent Label Association, specifically to produce the first Phoenix Rising recording. I have kept the label going ever since. We had very little cash available because we did everything on our own: management, publicity, gigs, sound production and PA, logistics, Road Crew ... the lot. We arranged for time in a little eight track studio in Peterborough (Stix) to coincide with three gigs we were doing there over a weekend. We gigged the first night, recorded the following day, gigged at night, overdubbed the next day, gigged that night and mixed down the day after. I didn't sleep for three days. The gigs paid for the studio costs. Once I had the master tape, I needed to raise some cash for the pressing. I arranged a deal with an 'investor' to inject some cash into the band on the understanding that he would pick up some of the management responsibility around the band and provide us with secretarial and office facilities etc. I then designed the EP cover using our band logo, made the print masters and went back to the Independent Label Association to produce the EP with the cash that I had raised. We cut the vinyl master at Utopia Studios in London."
Following the success of the EP (which sold in excess 0f 10,000 copies), the band supported numerous major acts such as Bernie Tormé, Marillion and Doctor Feelgood. One of the biggest gigs Phoenix Rising ever played was at Sheffield University, as Pete explains: "We headlined the Sheffield University Rag Week in the Top Rank. It was sold out and held over 2,500 people. The Top Rank was the largest venue in Sheffield (bigger than the City Hall). We did play gigs (some pubs and one or two larger venues) in London on occasion. We toured the Dingwalls circuit a couple of times. We also did gigs like the Leeds Fringe Festival and some Biker Rally's and Air Force bases, which were also large gigs."
As you are probably aware of the short recording history of Phoenix Rising in the '80's, it may come as a surprise to you that at one time the band was actually chased by the A&R teams from WEA, EMI, Virgin and Island. Pete Bangert reflects: "That started out when we first won the heats in the Rock and Pop awards and continued with more interest as we went through to the finals and won the rock section. At first it was just one A&R man but it became half a dozen after the final. I couldn't get off stage for people wanting to give me cards. That interest continued on throughout all of our major gigs, we were approached by increasingly more senior guys who insisted on leaving their cards and wanted to arrange meetings back at their offices. At first we weren't interested, partly because we didn't believe anything would come of it and partly because we wanted to continue to do it ourselves. The reps were very interested in the fact that we had produced our own record by then and that it was getting airplay and selling well. When we started supporting bigger acts in venues (arranged by ourselves of course), they became much more insistent. We supported Marillion one night and they got booed whilst on stage (I think mainly due to Fish's attitude to the audience) and the audience started shouting for us. That really made the A&R men in the venue sit up and we had a face-to-face interview with one of the guys from Island in the dressing room that night. We also ended up with a PA company sponsorship for some of our gigs which was more useful as our rig was rapidly becoming too small for our venues."
However, as the original line-up of the band folded in late 1985 "Phoenix Rising" remained the only official vinyl release by the band. Until now that is! High Roller Records has made all eight songs of the 1983 Radio Hallam Session available on vinyl. The numbers "Understanding", "'Bout the Time", "See Ya Babe", "The Minstrel", "So Easy", "Lonely Attack", "Stormbringer" and "Phoenix Rising" were produced by Colin Slade, who also did session work for Panza Division and Seventh Son (from Barnsley). Pete has nothing but kind words for him: "Colin was a great guy and became a good friend to the band during and following the session. He was well respected. The band and I found it very easy to work with him during the actual recording. He was a very competent engineer. When I did the post production mix with him it went like clockwork. It was merely a question of balancing the tracks and EQ'ing for Radio so the mixdown took about as long as the session to record. Colin became quite a champion of the band following the session and included us in a number of his showcase live gigs. He also placed the track 'Phoenix Rising' into his annual New Year 'Top 100 tracks of all time' for a number of years - quite an honour."