STARING INTO THE FIRE – interview with Raven bassist John Gallagher

Tokyo 2015Raven were formed in 1974 in the North East of England by brothers John and Mark Gallagher and Mark Bowden. The band’s highly energized live show with a unique image and style of play has been described as athletic. But the first time I came across Raven was in 1980, they were on TV in a Chinese take away. I was with a friend and we were going to the youth club. We walked past the take away and noticed they had a telly on in the corner of the shop. We looked through the big window and saw a band on. They had long hair, it looked live, it looked loud, it must be Metal…!
We went in the shop, and it was loud. Suddenly the little old Chinese woman popped her head up from behind the counter ’They play loud, they Raven’ …That may be an alternative fact so I talked to someone who was actually there…’Once we did the ITV local news live..they also showed a video clip we did for Hard Ride and we did 4 songs for the Beeb’ said John Gallagher bassist and co-founding member of Raven.

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I’ll get straight into the questions John, first one, who were your influences and was there a defining moment hearing a song or watching a band where you said ‘I want to do that’ ? ‘I do remember banging pots and pans while watching The Beatles on Ready Steady Go. But it culminated with Slade, and by then music was an obsession.
I was influenced by basically everything I heard on the radio or saw on TV and gravitated toward the bass guitar. Loving the styles and note choices of Andy Fraser, Ronnie Lane, Gary Thain, Jimmy Lea and Roger Glover’.

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What was the feeling around the band when you were recording at Neat and starting to play gigs, was it a time when things were getting a bit more serious as a band or did you still have a job to fall back on? ‘Until early 1982 I was working at the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) as a clerk and by then we were generating enough to exist on the handouts from Neat’

Have you any memories from playing at the Newcastle Mayfair ? ‘The Mayfair was our ‘office’. We must have played it about 6 or 7 times. Hellanbach were good lads when they supported us, I think we did 2 or 3 dates in a row with them. But it’s such a shame they tore down the Mayfair…what a loss’.

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What was the driving force behind the jump from Neat, a small independent to Atlantic a major label and the USA ? and did this create a friendship with Metallica ? ‘The driving force was the idea to do it right – to have a major record deal and a major agency deal in the USA. We’d seen how major deals had screwed up many of our contemporaries in the UK and wanted to do it right in the USA. Besides, Neat was at this point a total dead end. We were restricted by budget and attitude. That all changed when we made US contacts and did our first US tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening for us. It was their first tour, they were pretty green and learned a lot. We all got on like a house on fire, we actually opened for them in 2014 in front of 70,000 people in Brazil and got to hang out with them for a while. Amazingly they have changed very little!’

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Creatively, what is it like now writing for your new album compared to the early Neat recordings ? Do the songs come quickly or do they take time ? ‘We have never had any problems writing songs. The only difference is that we all live far apart from each other. I’m in Virginia, Joe’s in Massachusetts and Mark’s in Florida.
So theres a lot of home writing then we get together and jam them out. Of course when we do get together, we jam and see what we can come up with! The only issues we have now is we have too many songs!’

Mark & John Montreal 1984

Any funny stories from your gigs ? ‘When our drummer Joe joined in 1988 we did the Nothing Exceeds like Excess album then went straight out on the road for 5 or 6 dates as a ‘trial by fire’…
At the Philadelphia gig we started with a little toe tapper called Die For Allah which is probably 250 beats a minute. The venue owner ran up on stage screaming into my brothers ear gesticulating wildly. Mark then started to die laughing barely able to play! I went over and shouted at him ‘what did he say, are we too loud’ he replied ‘no – he said we are too FAST!!!!!”

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Raven have a gig in the USA in October on a bill with North Eastern UK band Fist, did your paths cross back in the early days and have you been on the same bill before ? ‘Yes, we are one of the headliners on that Frost & Fire Festival in Ventura California on Oct 6th/7th and we know Fist well. They were the elder statesmen when we started I remember them when they were called Axe. We played a few shows with them and they were also on Neat and have always been a great band. It’s gonna be a lot of fun seeing them’.

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Last question, what has music given you ? ‘Looking back, for young lads like us, there was really only two ways out of Newcastle…and we weren’t great footballers….so we chose music. It’s given us so much, the opportunity to travel the world, meet my wife, have my family and just the ability to sit in a room with a guitar and bang out some riffs and create a song. Just to know that you have MADE something. Also there’s people out there that want to hear it, and hopefully the music will help them get through the day, like it does for me.
We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and do not take that lightly, so when we go out its 100% 24/7/365 mate!!!!’

Thanks for the interview John and good luck for the tour.

New album release, tour dates and all information available at the official website

ravenlunatics.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2017.