Artist: Shy (Hard Rock/Nwobhm Group)
Title: Break Down The Walls
Format: 12 Inch
Catalogue Number: PT41180
Other Info: 3 Track Gatefold
B/W Talk To Me
Only You Pic Sleeve
SHY Break Down The Walls (1987 UK 3-track 12″, includes Talk To Me and Only You, gatefold picture sleeve with UK tour dates PT41180).
1. Break Down the Walls
2. Talk To Me
3. Only You
There are no prizes for knowing what Shy, Terraplane, Tobruk, Strangeways, Heavy Pettin’, Airrace, Lionheart, and Grand Prix all have in common.
Yes, the answer is that all were popular British-based melodic hard rock acts from the mid-to-late 1980s. The decade, crowned by the success of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Europe, was the golden era of AOR, and for a while every record company craved its own poodle-haired, tight-trousered cash cows. Shy made albums for three major labels, and for a while the band seemed in with a genuine shot at the big time, but it ended up as a pipedream.
Before adopting the name Shy, the band’s roots lay in the altogether heavier, twin-guitar metal of Trojan. But even in 1982 they sensed the wind of change, and set out to leave pub-metal behind, emphasising the contribution of classically trained keyboardist Paddy McKenna.
Coincidentally, on the same day that guitarist Steve Harris (no relation), bassist Mark Badrick and drummer Alan Kelly received an offer to make an album for Hull-based independent Ebony Records, a helium-voiced ball of energy called Tony Mills was sacked by his own band. Early photos confirm Mills’s penchant for Bowie-esque face paint, although after an “arse-slapping incident” in what transpired to be a Birmingham gay bar the make-up box was slammed shut and binned. In late 1983, Kerrang! hailed the band’s debut album Once Bitten… Twice Shy as ‘perhaps the greatest English pomp rock album of all time’.
However, an interview the band did with the magazine was a testy experience that certainly didn’t endear Shy to the rock press and to other bands.
“Being so raw and naïve, we had no real idea how to handle ourselves in those situations,” Harris explained. “We often got portrayed as arrogant, and a lot of that was down to Tony. Things are very black-and-white with him, and we were always extremely confident, which sometimes got misconstrued.”
Kung fu enthusiast Badrick had an unfortunate habit of breaking fingers and thumbs (his own, that is), so Shy poached Roy Davis from local rivals Trouble just as Shy were signing a deal with RCA Records.
Thinking big, the label brought in Tony Platt, who had worked alongside Mutt Lange on records by AC/DC and Foreigner, to produce Shy’s 1985 album Brave The Storm. Platt worked especially hard on the vocals, bringing in Uriah Heep’s Pete Goalby and John Sinclair to multi-track the choruses.
In hindsight perhaps he went a little too far, although Hold On (To Your Love), Keep The Fires Burning and the big ballad Reflections all helped swell the group’s growing fan base. Having already gigged with UFO, Magnum and Twisted Sister, Shy then landed high-profile supports with Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf and Gary Moore.
For their all-important third album, RCA packed Shy off to Los Angeles to soak up the Californian hard-rock radio vibe and write some songs. It turned out to be a masterstroke. As did bringing in producer Neil Kernon, a red-hot property after major works with Dokken and Queensrÿche. The resulting record, 1987’s Excess All Areas (the group’s only top 75 album in the UK) kicked off with the Michael Bolton/Duane Hitchings-penned Emergency, and also boasted top-quality Shy-written anthems like Can’t Fight The Nights, Telephone, Talk To Me and Break Down The Walls.
According to Mills, Don Dokken’s co-credit on the latter was misleading: “We wrote a song with Don called Last Chance, which Neil Kernon thought was bollocks,” he said. “So all that was kept was the intro riff – which, quite frankly, ripped off Queen’s Hammer To Fall. But Don’s name stayed on the track for the association it could bring us.”
Mention of Dokken elicited weary sighs from the Shy men. “RCA paid him £1,000 for a day’s work with us, but he didn’t turn up till 1pm, and although we were halfway through a song he walked out as the clock ticked to 6.01pm,” Mills said curtly.
Such was the quality of Excess All Areas that (just like FM’s Tough It Out, and Native Sons by Strangeways) it still seems inexplicable why its creators weren’t propelled to major stardom on the back of it.
“In any genre, there will only ever be a couple of winners,” Steve Harris reflected. “But it’s surprising how many people talk of that album in hushed tones and don’t actually own a copy – or only bought the reissue.”
“Europe’s The Final Countdown was all over the radio when we were in Holland [where Excess All Areas was recorded]” Davis remembered. “It was an exciting time because everyone kept saying: ‘Shy are next’. But we waited and waited and ‘next’ never happened.”
Part of the problem was that egotism still sullied Shy’s reputation. While acknowledging that too much booze was sometimes consumed, the band still insist that their caustic sense of humour was misinterpreted. And while British rock fans will stomach brashness from American stars, they’re less prepared to accept it from someone who lives just off the M6.
“It got so out of control that people apparently used to come to shows to listen out for things that Tony might say to the audience,” Harris said. “I felt sorry for the guy, especially as I personally have never thought of him as excessively arrogant.”
Another thing Shy were criticised for was using sampled backing vocals in their live shows. In that respect they were far from alone, but Davis mused: “I never understood why we got slaughtered for it and nobody else did.”
Perhaps Mills had the answer: “Once during a gig at the Marquee, some guy in the audience threw a biscuit at Paddy,” the vocalist smiled. “As we played Devil Woman, this biscuit bounced off Paddy’s nose, hit the keyboard that triggered the samples, and the disc skipped: ‘She’s just a… Break down the walls…’. It was absolutely superb! But everyone in the band can sing now.”
Behind the scenes there was also intense friction between Mills and Alan Kelly, and, as Harris reluctantly admitted, the group often chose to back Kelly. It eventually lead to the singer’s departure. “As the band’s other strong character, Alan almost became our spokesman,” Harris explained. “What made things even worse was that, after Tony moved away from Birmingham, Alan sometimes wrote lyrics. Although Alan contributed to some major Shy songs, Tony found it very hard to sing things by the drummer – the band member he had the least respect for.”
After Shy were dropped by RCA, their new label MCA sent them back to California to work with Roy Thomas Baker (whose illustrious résumé includes Queen, Foreigner and Ozzy Osbourne) on the next album, Misspent Youth. But the enthusiasm of both parties vanished in a puff of smoke during a fierce row during pre-production.
Mills: “We’d worked up arrangements and already played some of the songs live. But after Roy heard Burning Up he told us: ‘I’d like to alter the introduction.’ Alan Kelly stood up behind the kit and announced: ‘You’re not changing any of my songs, you fat cunt.’ So Roy went: ‘See you in a fortnight’, got in his Rolls and went home.”
SHY: Excess All Areas LP 1987 Contains “Emergency” (by Michael Bolton) and a Dokken written hit. “Can’t Fight The Night”, “Break Down The Walls”, “Devil Woman”, Talk To Me”, “When The Love Is Over” Check audio + Videos