ALIVE AND KICKING with Desolation Angels guitarist Robin Brancher

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Checking out some books in a charity shop I came across two which I’d read in the 1990’s – Trainspotting and The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail. Flicking through the pages I rememberd the storylines. It’s similar to picking up a Heavy Metal album from the 1980’s – Judas Priest, Scorpions, Accept. I’d remember the tracks. Listening to the new album by Desolation Angels recall’s that sound. The thwack of drums, twin guitar attack, powerful vocals, relentless energy. Slower tracks crunch and crackle. Yep, just like that. A quick check on who produced the album and Chris Tsangarides was the man behind the desk. It figures. CT produced some of the classic heavy rock and metal albums during the 1980’s. Thin Lizzy’s Thunder & Lightning, Forged in Fire by Anvil and Spellbound from Tygers of Pan Tang. I asked Robin how did working with CT come about ?
‘The situation with Chris T came about through John Wiggins of Tokyo Blade. John and I talk quite regularly about what our bands are are up to, and the state of music industry in general. And it was through one of these conversations that the idea of Chris coming together with Desolation Angels for our next album. Cheers for that John’.

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‘CT has his studio out near Kingsdown in Kent which is situated on a lovely part of the English coastline. His studio occupies a set of buildings on a large camping site which overlook the English Channel. Bands also get the use of a discounted crew lodge on the site to stay in. That really does help, as it’s fully kitted out and just a stones throw away from the studio itself. A short walking distance away are two pub’s, Zetland Arms, and The Rising Sun. Without these two highly essential recuperating dwellings the recording process would fail !

How long did you record for and did he tell you any stories ? ‘We recorded for about a month. This was done in weekly stints. I think the first one was a ten day shift, just to get settled in, and move the recording on. Then back for the vocals, overdubbing and mixing. Did Chris tell any stories? If there’s one fella on this planet that can tell you a story, it is without any doubt our man Chris Tsangarides! I’m surprised he hasn’t been inducted into The Guinness Book Of World Records for story telling! Yes indeed he told many a wild and wonderful story. To hear about Phil Lynott and his rampaging, to hear how the intro to Judas Priest’s Painkiller came about. To hear about the many laughs CT had with Gary Moore and to hear about the dealings with record companies, good and bad. Just to hear him talk about his own personal life journey – the man is held in very high regard in the rock world, and now in Desolation Angels too. The man is a legend, and rightfully so. I would think it would be safe to say that Desolation Angels will be back to work on the next set of songs with Chris. Now that we know him, and how he works, I can only see an even better album being produced’.

Who were your first influences in music ? ‘Well back in the day along with the Holy Trinity of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin. Keith Sharp and I were headlong into rock music and went to a lot of gigs. We listened to UFO, Free, Montrose, The Cult, The Doors, Ted Nugent, to be truthful, this list is just a small portion of what we were into. And we were into our music in a big way’.

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How did you get involved in playing music and was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ ? ’When we were teenagers we lived in a small town called Woodford in Essex, not far from London. Keith Sharp and I would hang out with a crowd of local boys n girls. Mainly at the off-licence, chatting and trying it on with the girls. The lady who worked at the offy would sell us a can of beer each time we turned up. And I mean that. She would only allow one can per visit, per day. We would play loads of football over the at the nearby park, just being normal kids. But behind that adolescent scene Keith and I had discovered the BBC music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test. Things with the local crowd had taken a marked change. For Keith and I this scene was becoming stagnant, predictable and just mundane. We wanted something different and we were defiantly looking for more adventure!
Both of us were listening to a heavier sound of music compared to our friends. We were into Quo, Alice Cooper and Slade. Even Dutch prog rockers Focus were in there too. Every week without fail we would religiously watch The Old Grey Whistle Test. The presenter Whispering Bob Harris was our man with his finger on the pulse of everything Rock ’n’ Roll. And the pair of us constantly talked about music. So much so that the change from talking music to playing it, was hardly noticeable. Instead of meeting the usual gang down at the off-licence we would now play guitar together at every free moment. This was the start of the move away from the regular world, into our musical adventure’.

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When did you start playing gigs, what venues did you play and did you support name touring bands ? ‘We started a band straight away. In rehearsals we would play mostly Quo, Queen, Deep Purple and Wishbone Ash. We were very quick off the mark when writing our own songs and put them in the set straight away. However this first line-up never gigged so we had to make a few changes’.

The line-up for Desolation Angels during the 1980’s was Dave Wall (voice) Robin Brancher (guitars) Keith Sharp (guitars) Joe Larner (bass) and Brett Robertson (drums). ’There were plenty of rock pubs and clubs in London and all over the UK in those days and it was either 1979 or ’80 when we went downstairs at The Rock Garden in Covent Garden, London to play our first gig. Then we entered a talent competition in a rock pub in Wembley. I remember we played three songs. One of our own called Just Fantasy and two covers, Jumping Jack Flash done in the style of Johnny Winter and Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac. Of which the latter won us the competition. Our prize being a crate of warm beer. I’ll always remember the crowd appreciation as we came to the finale of the song. Hands in the air clapping, whistling and shouting for more…man adultation tasted sweet – cartainly better than the warm beer!’

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Desolation Angels went on to support Diamond Head at The Electric Stadium in Chadwell Heath in 1981. And in the same year at the same venue we suported Samson. That was when Bruce Dickinson was in the line-up. Back then he was very helpful, supportive and encouraging. We also supported Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts and then a whole host of acts once we got into the Marquee in Wardour Street, London. That was a great time.
To be honest, Desolation Angels was, and still is, focussed on doing our own shows. We put a lot of effort into them. Not only musically, but also the theatrics too, plenty of pyrotechnics, smoke, lights, the whole show, and as big a PA as we could afford. Which was pretty substantial back then!

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‘Talking about Bruce Dickinson though, shortly after the Electric Stadium gig Desolation Angels went on to play a gig at The White Heart in Acton. Bruce said he would come along but he didn’t show up. That is, not until after our set. When we met him at the bar, he made his apologies for being late. But went on to tell us in the strictest of confidence, that he had got an unexpected call from the Iron Maiden management, asking him to go along for another audition with the Iron Maiden guys. The thing was while we were talking with Bruce you could see that he had a twinkle in his eyes, and he seemed extra excited. The news hadn’t been announced in any of the music press yet, but he was sure he had got the job as the replacement for Paul Di’Anno. As everybody knows, he certainly did get the gig with Iron Maiden. But it was still very noble and cool of him to turn up at our little gig in Acton and confide in us. I expect that after such an event he had just experienced, he really did need that beer!’

‘Also, and this is for the guitar aficionados. While I was backstage at the Electric Stadium, Paul Samson was there warming up on his trademark Gibson SG. By the side of him, he had two other guitars, both in fitted cases. He opened them up and inside were these Half Moon custom made guitars, really unusual shape. One was a yellow kinda sunburst colour, the other I can’t remember. He used one of them mid set in their gig, the yellow one I think. I was itching to pick one up and have a go, but man, I just daren’t. Paul was rock royalty, and I didn’t wanna overstep the mark. It would be nice to know where those guitars are today?’

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What were your early experiences of recording ? ‘Around 1981 Desolation Angels first recorded a demo at Legend Studios in Sidcup, Kent – we think it was there. It may of been two demo’s at separate times, we can’t really remember it was well over 30 years ago. The tracks recorded at that time where, Satan’s Child, Death Machine, Unsung Hero and All Hallows Eve. They are on our box set, Feels Like Thunder’.

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When did Desolation Angels make the move to LA and what was the reason behind the move ? ‘We moved to Los Angeles in 1987 and lived there for 7 years. We had been gigging regulary at a club in Sheperds Bush in London. It was the guy who managed the club, John Feely, who suggested that LA might be a good move for us. He had contacts out there and a band already playing at clubs along the ‘Strip. It must have taken about a second to confirm that we would go!’

‘We played many cities across the states. There was one gig in Las Vegas, now that was a night to remember, or maybe to forget ! After playing the gig we had an extremely boozy night and the whole band and it’s entourage were rounded up and thrown out of the hotel. Then our vans and trucks were surrounded by a convoy of police cars and escorted by state troopers out of Las Vagas to the Nevada state line. We eventually got to a casino on the border and ended up in the restaurant having a breakfast of steak ‘n’ eggs and more beers. We looked out on to the foyer and on display was the bullet ridden car of Bonnie and Clyde ! Hmmm, that kinda made you think !’

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘The whole thing of being in a Rock band is basically funny all the time, and strenuous too, everyday. There’s always something going on that you can look back and laugh at! Spinal Tap and Bad News spring to mind!
I have a few stories from back in the day. I remember playing a small pub somewhere and after finishing one of our numbers, our bassist Joe Larner ordered a pint of Guinness from a tiny hole/bar in the wall at his side of the stage. The pint took ages to settle and we were all there waiting and watching, including the audience. Joe finally got his pint, paid for it right there on stage and held it up high as a salute to the audience. Then took a great glug of the grog and we carried on. It was a rapturous night!’

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‘There was the time when we were driving down the A12 going to Norfolk for a gig. Another motorist was flashing our van. When we stopped, the guy said something was not quite right with our back axle. What happened was the pin in the back axle had snapped, and the vans back wheels were way out of alignement with the front wheels. We were basically going along the road sidewards. We had been driving along like a crab for miles haha’.

At the time where you aware the impact that Heavy Metal & NWOBHM was having and has had since ? ‘Rock music, rock clubs, rock venues were everywhere. Great Heavy Metal and NWOBHM bands just seemed to be on all the time. Back then every second pub had a Rock Night. Keith Sharp and I quickly got into heavier sounding music at an early age. Once into that scene, you could find Rock/Metal music everywhere. We would watch bands at the Marquee who would later go on to headline at the Hammersmith Odeon. Or bands at the Ruskin Arms and other London clubs where Iron Maiden, and others including us would regularly play. We weren’t really aware that we were going through a moment in rock music history that was going to be so well documented as it is these days. The impact for me was all the great bands that I got to see and learn from. You could never imagine it coming to an end.
I’m obviously very glad that these days there is such a vast interest in NWOBHM, and Rock/Metal music as a whole. It seems that there is no stopping it’s popularity. And that my friend is a darn good thing!’

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What has music given you ? ‘Life! No seriously, it has given me life. Here I am at this grand age, haha. I’m still slim, fit and healthy. Alright, I admit my hearing might of suffered a tad over the years, my hair is a mess, and I’m mighty damned cynical too. But otherwise, I’m still very much right there in the thick of it, at the front for the fight for Rock ’N’ Roll music. It ain’t ever gonna die, thats for sure, it’s just to cool !’

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The present line-up for Desolation Angels is Paul Taylor (voice) Robin Brancher (guitars) Keith Sharp (guitars) Clive Chief’O’ Pearson (bass) and Chris Takka (drums).Desolation Angels are very much alive and kicking. I have a great band and team around us to keep me motivated and sure-footed. I’m driven by the thirst for more Heavy Metal. I still believe. I can still dream too. Dreaming’s good. I still have goals. There always seems to be one more riff lurking on the fretboard. It’s my job to chase the bloody thing down then ram it out through amplification as LOUD as possible!
As you can imagine being in a band you get subjected to a hell of a lot more bonkers situations along life’s whirlwind ride than you might do in the average nine to five world. And when you have music as good as what we have produced right there on the recent KING album, believe me – it’s very hard to put something like that down. To walk away from it. To say that’s the end. To say, you know what, I’ve had enough. No, I don’t think so. I’m in it for good. That’s what the music has given me! ‘

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What are the future plans for Desolation Angels ? ‘Recently there has been some very significant news released about Desolation Angels signing a new deal with UK record company Dissonance Productions. This signing will drastically lift our profile and see the band gigging a hell of a lot more. Plus, some new songs are already in place as there is plans to record a new album in the near future. So, yes, really exciting times ahead. We cant wait!’

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Desolation Angels next gig is Sunday December 3rd 2017 at the Hard Rock Hell (NWOBHM) Xmas Rocka 2 held at the O2 Academy in Sheffield, UK. On the bill are headliners Raven plus Diamond Head, Satan, Seventh Son and more. Tickets on sale now.

You can find the latest info, gigs, photo’s, history and new album KING can be bought from the official website http://www.desolationangels.co.uk.

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2017.