The Story of Gladiators, Ready?

Just a little expansion on the story behind Gladiators, Ready? the first release from the upcoming Dancing with Architects.

All proceeds to Spotlight YOPD, a charity dedicated to helping those diagnosed with Parkinson’s at an unseasonably young age. You can stream it on …

SPOTIFYAPPLE MUSICTIDAL

In short, the tune is a 1995 recording resurrected and re-produced with the help of some fabulous guest artists, namely Bryan McClellan on drums, Mel Gabbitas on bass, Phil Hilborne – Guitar solos 2 & 4 (2.37-2.52: 4.13-4.28), Steve Forward – Guitar solo 3 (4.00-4.13), and Bora Uslusoy – Guitar solo 5 (5.30-5.45). All other guitars by Pete in 1995. Original recording 1995 by Pete Langman and Gregory Humair, re-recording and re-production in 2021 by Bora Uslusoy.

Gladiators, Ready? is the thunderous penultimate track on the album. I really wanted something big and heavy with just a few twists along the way. Looking back, I think it does a pretty good job. Jamie Hunt summed it up on hearing the new version:

Heavy riffs, time signature twists, face melting leads, uplifting melodies. The entire Instrumental Shred Guitar movement is encapsulated within this merciless, sonic battle.

The inspiration (if you can call it that) for this tune was the really scaffy 90s ITV programme Gladiators, in which lycra-clad, bouffanted musclemen and muscleladies took on over-excited members of the public in a series of ‘hilarious’ feats of competitive fitness. A sort of It’s A Knockout (for those of you who remember such things) without the wit or Stuart Hall. All I can remember is that when the voiceover guy enquired as to the readiness of the lycra’d contestants he’d simply say ‘Gladiators, Ready?’ I always thought they ought to have come to the field of ‘battle’ accompanied by some suitably epic music. So I wrote this. It was a blast to play back then, and there were a lot of notes in it.

True to my ‘process’ with the rest of the album’s lead tracks, I pretty much bashed them down. The three fills at the beginning were made up on the spot and then harmonised to order. The first solo was probably my first and only pass, and totally improvised, while the second and third solo sections, namely the big alternate picked passages, were played as one take, twice (the second pass to double it), so the tempo change in the middle was played ‘live’, so to speak. I think Bora chose one of the two passes as they went slightly out-of-sync at the end. Daft, daft stuff. Great, great fun!

When it came to re-producing the tune by adding real drums and real (ie, not played by me) bass, I chose Canadian drummer Bryan McLellan and yorkshire bassist Mel Gabbitas. I think I made two fine choices.

Bryan McLellan was a student at MI London in the mid-90s, and later toured all over with Vega4. We played together at a London Guitar Show in the O2 arena complex, doing a promotional gig of the school with the rather delightfully potty Michael Angelo Batio, the ambidextrous guitarist. Make no mistake, Batio knows what he’s about. We were playing three or four tunes from his solo album, and had run through them a couple of times amongst ourselves. They weren’t difficult per se, but they required a very switched-on rhythm section as there were a lot of ‘one riff here while another swirls over it’ sections, very easy to get lost and if you messed them up, it would be a trainwreck. We went to meet Batio in the green room to say hi just before the show and he said ‘oh, by the way, did you get my message about the arrangements?’ Obviously not. ‘Well, I do them very differently live now …’ We were due onstage in minutes, so we ended up re-arranging every tune there and then and as we did the tranditional ‘hello Cleveland’s’. Bryan’s coolness was a very big reason behind our nailing each and every one. How the hell he tracked Gladiators, with its tempo and feel changes (and the slightly unevenly stretched 25-year old tape) is a wonder to me. But he nailed it.

Mel Gabbitas I have known since 198something, and we played together in a very not metal band called It Takes Presidents in the early 90s. A kind of Brand New Heavies funky 70s pop vibe powered by Mel and Dave Webster, now live performance guru at the Musician’s Union, and fronted by ex-Academy singer Nick Marriot. Mel also toured with Paul Di’Anno so so I knew he’d give the tune a really solid grounding. Mel just is rock bass. I think the rhythm track turned out brilliantly.

When it came to guest guitarists, I could have picked any of a number of players, but the trio of Phil, Steve and Bora seemed really balanced.

Phil Hilborne needs little introduction to English readers. He’s been writing and teaching through Guitarist magazine for more years than he cares to admit – I read his columns when I was starting out, on the rare occasions I could afford to buy a copy of the magazine. He has played with a ridiculous amount of people, including Nicko McBrain, and was the heart of the hit musical We Will Rock You, has taught any number of students and has too many other credits to list. He’s also a top chap. I first met Phil in 1989 at the London Guitar Show, when I clamped a walkman to his ears and forced him to listen to my noodly nonsense. He immediately introduced me to Tony Muschamp and within a few weeks I was teaching at what was then the Musician’s Academy in Wapping.

Steve Forward was a student at Wapping in the mid 90s, and was pretty damn good when he arrived. He swears I made him better by tearing his playing apart at every opportunity. He might even be right. He’s worked all over the place with all manner of people, though he’s perhaps best known for covering Purple Rain in a pub in Essex, a video of which gained over 1.3 million views. He can shred, but he can also turn out a nicely melodic solo, as he does beautifully here.

Bora Uslusoy fulfilled dual roles in Gladiators. The part of him that teaches studio recording and production at America’s prestigious Berklee School of Music is the brains behind this new production of Gladiators. When I began to float the idea of this album around my network, Bora offered his technical expertise. This offer very soon turned into producing a track. It then wasn’t long before the part of him that released a solo album and tuition book in his native Turkey decided to show what he can do on the guitar in the fifth and final solo. Gladiators hasn’t been the easiest production for various reasons, but Bora’s knocked it out of the park.

So, why not download it, crank it up and try not to think of lycra?

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