Andy Boulton, Lead Guitarist for NWOBHM band Tokyo Blade talks about the high’s and lows of being in the music biz…
‘Our first big break came when we did two big festivals in Holland and Belgium with Metallica, then our second big break came when we supported Mamas Boys throughout Europe. We were received in an unbelievably positive way and in a heartbeat we were back out on our own headlining tour. That was really incredible, there we were all in our early 20’s with a big flash tour bus and an Arctic truck full of gear playing sold out shows of 3-4000 capacity venues all over Europe which continued almost non-stop for three years. Then it was the USA tour and back home to film Live in London, a one hour show from the Camden Palace and a live session for BBC Radio One’s Friday Rock show with Tommy Vance. It was all travel, birds, booze and rock ‘n’ roll so we wouldn’t want that for a lifestyle in your mid 20s haha’
That being the high, what was the low ? ‘At the risk of being overdramatic and sounding like a pompous arse the cost has been very high both financially and personally and on more than one occasion I’ve questioned why the fuck I still continue to play guitar with Tokyo Blade !
I think the biggest tragedy in our heyday was Vic Wright leaving the band to live in America just after our first US tour. We were on the verge of signing a major deal with WEA when he left and we never really recovered from that. Plus the fact that we were screwed for an awful lot of money forced Blade to fall apart’.
Let’s go back to the beginning Andy. How did you get involved in playing music was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’? ‘I think if you’re a real musician then it’s in you somewhere. Your soul or spirit, it’s there from birth. My mother was a fantastic pianist and had an amazing ear. She could listen to something once and then play it perfectly, it’s definitely from her that I got my gift for music. I guess that something triggers inside you it must be DNA I guess, that sort of inner feeling to play music.
If I had to name one defining moment that moment would be when I was about 12 year old. I was at a friends house and his elder brother had just bought the second Queen album, he put on the first track of the second side Ogre Battle and that was it for me, my journey to the dark side was underway!
I started digging out my sisters albums she had Schools Out by Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin II and of course the almighty Led Zeppelin IV. I just soaked up everything I could. I begged my mother for a guitar and being a musician herself she understood and bought me one as soon as she could afford it. And I started with a red Jedson a sort of Telecaster’.
When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ‘We started in the way that most bands start, at school with friends just playing youth clubs. As the band got better we started playing pubs, just local stuff at first. As time progressed we all knew that what we wanted to do was to play rock and metal but we desperately needed decent equipment, so we decided that playing working men’s club’s was where the money was. This meant we had to play a load of material that we didn’t like, including country and western !
But we worked our asses off and saved some money to record a demo, we gave a copy to Tommy Vance who played it on the Friday Rockshow, and from there we gigged all over the country’.
‘We did two big festivals in Holland and Belgium one was the Aardschock around ’84 on the bill were Metallica and Venom. We were really surprised by the number of Blade fans there and the amazing reaction from the crowd. Then our first big break came with the support for Irish band Mamas Boys throughout Europe. There were more tours and albums that followed and Tokyo Blade became a well respected part of the NWOBHM genre.’
What were your experiences of recording ? ‘A fucking nightmare in short, everything we ever did was with no real money. We signed to an awful record company who eventually took every penny we made. The first album we done was at Wickham Studios and was recorded and mixed in four days. We slept on the studio floor and lived on chip butties.
The second album Night of the Blade was little difference other than we had two weeks to record and mix it, real luxury ! We slept in a rough Bed & Breakfast it was a working man’s dosshouse really, with bedbugs and really greasy breakfasts, yep the whole 9 yards’. (The album got a USA release in 1984 under the title Midnight Rendezvous). ‘We financed the third album ourselves, Black Hearts & Jaded Spades and had a slightly better time of it and successive albums have been recorded under more or less similar circumstances’.
‘We had a call one day from our agency, there was a proposal from London Weekend Television who wanted to film one of our gigs and would we mind playing at the Camden Palace and have it recorded for broadcast? Oh theres a fair bit of money in it for you as well. Where do we sign ? haha…the whole thing turned out great, a huge part of the Tokyo Blade history’.
(It’s worth checking out the concert Live in London filmed in 1985 also recorded for the show were Girlschool, Rock Goddess & Warlock. Also the newly released box set CD ‘Knights of the Blade’ received a favourable review by Philip Wilding in May 2017 edition of Classic Rock magazine ’sounding like a fledgling Def Leppard some songs could of bought them their own tour bus).
Have you any funny stories from playing gigs ? ‘Millions my friend far too many to tell but if I had to pick one it would be the tour with Mamas Boys and what follows is 100% fact and perfectly illustrates the luck or rather lack of it that Tokyo Blade has endured throughout its entire history’.
Sharp intake of breath and here we go –
The 1983 European support tour with Mamas Boys had been set up and dates arranged and confirmed. The problem was our record company had persuaded us that our vocalist was not good enough as a front man and we must find a new singer. So we searched but had no luck. Our manager was going to pull the tour when a few days before we were due to leave a demo tape arrived at his office, we listened and it sounded promising. The singers name was Vic Wright. So we called him up and asked him when he could come for an audition. The catch being that he lived in Bradford 300 miles away and had no car. The audition would be the sound check for the first show of the tour !
He eventually made it to my house in Salisbury. How, I’m not sure ! I handed him a Sony Walkman with a cassette of the songs and some of the lyrics. We sat there all night and left my home at five a.m next day for the ferry’.
What sort of budget did you have for the tour ? ‘We had no money for hotels or food, and only a small amount for diesel. The money that we were to receive from the shows would only just cover our diesel to the next show, so our saving grace was to be two boxes of Tokyo Blade T-shirts which our manager said we would need to sell in order to get cash for food.’
What type of transport did you have ? ‘A large Fiat Daily, it had to be large enough to carry five band members, four road crew and all our gear. To be honest there wasn’t enough room to scratch your bollocks plus with no money for hotels we were going to have to sleep in the fucking thing…yes all 9 of us!!!’
We eventually got on the road down to Calais where the charming French Customs Officers searched the two cardboard boxes full of T-shirts. This being pre-EU days we had no license to sell anything in Europe. Oh how we laughed as they deprived us of the T-shirts and they also added a lovely little fine which took care of most of our diesel money.
Anyway we still had all our duty free fags, until that is when we decided to stop and cheer ourselves up with a beer and in the very short time it takes to down one small beer some friend of humanity decided to smash the van window and nick all our duty free and my Sony Walkman which our new singer had conveniently left for them on the front seat.
To look on the bright side we had youth, enthusiasm and testosterone on our side so unanimously we thought ‘we’ll be ok, we’re gonna get through the next 14 days of this tour somehow’. We headed for the first venue’.
What happened when you arrived for the first gig ? ‘When we arrived we were allowed to do one song for a soundcheck and luckily for us our new vocalist Vic Wright sang fine. So with half a ton of gaffa tape one of our road crew stuck his lyrics sheets all over the stage.
The gig itself ? We went down an absolute storm, the entire place erupted from the moment we hit the stage until we left ! We couldn’t believe it we knew this was going to be hard but it was going to be made a helluva lot easier playing shows like this every night. After the show the crew had piled all the gear into the van and we drove to the next venue in a better mood’.
With the first successful gig out of the way, what happened next ?
‘We arrived very early in the morning and parked in some woods nearby to try and sleep. I’ve always been lucky in as much as I can sleep on a tight rope. Having said that sharing the front of an extremely cramped Fiat Daily van with nine very sweaty guys is not conducive for a good nights shut eye. It was at this point that our drummer Steve Pierce smugly announced that he had brought a tent for him and our bassist Andy Wrighton to share. It was pissing down with rain though.
Apparently during the night the tent leaked, a lot, and while Steve was having sweet dreams of steak and chips in a four poster bed, poor old Andy decided he couldn’t take anymore and being soaking wet, extremely tired and pissed off decided to go for a walk. A nice little woodland stroll.
Meanwhile the rest of us who had slept sitting upright in the van began to stir and decided to leave for the venue in the hope that there would be showers inside so we could at least get rid of some of the previous night’s sweat. We all crawled out of the van to discover one very damp drummer and zero bass players. The only conclusion we could reach was that poor old Andy couldn’t take any more and had decided to just go home. So we all piled back into the van and decided to drive about hoping to find him, meanwhile he had returned from his woodland walk to discover no tent, no drummer, no van, no band l!!’
‘To say the poor bloke was in a state of extreme panic would be an understatement, he was left standing damp, cold and very much alone in the middle of the woods somewhere in Northern France with no money, no fags and no idea of how we was going to get anywhere. Remember these were the days before mobile phones. Meanwhile we scoured the nearby area to no avail so unanimously decided to return to the woods where we found a very distressed but a very much relieved bassist. It turned out to be a very emotional reunion and Andy’s vocabulary was now confined to expletives clearly designed to upset our more sensitive little personalities. He hadn’t taken our departure from the woods in good spirit, to say the least’.
With no money for food how did you feed yourselves ? ‘Our roadie Cliff was very adept at stealing things and for the next three days he stole all the food he could get from various shops. This led to some very interesting meals, strawberries and bread, crisps and jam, apples and ham, those meals stick in my mind. After about three days our luck turned and Mamas Boys came to learn of our wild style of existence if you ever read this boys although I’ve said it 1 million times thank you from the bottom of my heart Pat, John and the late and much missed Tommy (RIP brother).
Not only did they allow John and I to sleep on their tour bus but also their catering ladies gave us the left over food they had cooked. All the bunks on the tourbus were taken so John and I slept in the seats at the front but it was a damn site more comfortable than the van.
And so we completed the tour and returned home to good old Blighty in high spirits like conquering warrior heroes. Successive tours saw us in our own tour buses and artic lorries carrying all the gear. Total luxury and as a result of that tour we always treated our support bands the same way we’d been treated by Mamas Boys’.
What are you doing now and did this experience put you off music ? ‘Trust me when I say I am incredibly proud of what Tokyo Blade has achieved over the years because everything we’ve done has been against overwhelming odds. It’s all helped to turn us in to the tough, determined and tight band we are today. Although the music business chewed us up and spat us out, my band of brothers and myself battle on, still making new music still touring and still doing what we’ve always done to the best standard we can.
As I’ve said in more than one interview for me personally Tokyo Blade captures the spirit of the underdog our spirit lies with the working class and the downtrodden or dogged persistence against all odds means we are still out there doing what we do best. I make no apologies for Tokyo Blade and I’m fucking proud of what we’ve achieved’.
‘As of today with our original vocalist Alan Marsh back on board I think we are the only New Wave of British Heavy Metal band still going with an original lineup and the new album to be recorded this year plus more tours to come. Unless I die I’ll crack on with that! Life is not a rehearsal, you get one crack at it so why waste it being unhappy? what ever life chucks at you just duck so it hits some other fucker and laugh your arse off, all the hard times make for the best stories and memories and that’s all we have left at the end of the day isn’t it?’
‘Let’s face facts we were hardly the darlings of the UK music press who slagged us off at every available opportunity and continue to do so, but thanks to all our fans worldwide last year alone we headlined two British metal festivals, several in Europe plus a tour of Chile, Brazil and Ecuador. Apart from anything else music is my raison d’être. If anyone is to blame for my persistence with it blame Brian May for ever recording Ogre Battle oh and my late Mother’s DNA of course!
God bless you all xxx
Tour dates and information is available on the official website at Tokyoblade.com
Interview by Gary Alikivi 2017.