PEDAL TO THE METAL with Steve Zodiac from rock n roll speed merchants VARDIS

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The late ‘70s saw Vardis slogging around the Northern workingmen’s club circuit – vital experience for what was to come. In 1980 they released a live album ‘100mph’ and embarked on a brutal touring schedule. Starting on a hot summer day at the Heavy Metal Barndance held in Stafford’s Bingley Hall with Motorhead, Saxon, Girlschool, Angel Witch and South Shields metal band Mythra, this was the high point for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – What did you think of that time ? Very pleased and proud to be part of the scene, however we are just a rock n roll band really. We played hundreds of clubs and UK gigs travelling around in a van. We also played with many different bands over the years, like Hawkwind and Slade.

1981 was a year of momentum with total commitment from the band, they recorded and toured their first studio album ‘The Worlds Insane’, then got a call from BBC radio DJ Tommy Vance inviting them to record a session on the Friday Rock Show, they were regulars in the Heavy Metal singles charts and in August saw them opening the legendary Heavy Metal Holocaust festival held at Port Vale football ground.

I have great memories of all the bands who played, Riot, Triumph, Frank Marino, Ozzy and Motorhead. What are your memories of the day ? I remember that it was a very hot day. We opened the show and it seemed to pass in a few seconds. The crowd enjoyed it and so did we. Afterwards I said hello and had a brief chat with most of the others on the bill, however I had met most of them before at other events or in studios.

Did you hit the road in Europe and have you a following in any country ? Recently we’ve played in most EU countries, and gigged there during the 80’s. We also had releases in Japan but never visited. We still get fan mail from all over the world.

Did you have a manager and how did you get on with the record company ? Yes we had a few managers and they all took too much, too soon. They all let us down in the end and that’s the main reason why I walked away from the business for 30 years.

The early ‘80s saw a vicious two year court battle where Steve finally won back the rights to his songs, and in ’86 released the album ‘Vigilante’. It all went silent for nearly three decades until in 2014 the album was re-released on Hoplite Records and a headlining slot at Brofest and festival dates in England and Germany had the band back on form. They also played an emotional show in Wakefield, Northern England were it all began.

Have you had any magic moments on stage when everything went right ? We always strive to make every show the best so our last one we do is always the most magic. Every show is special to us and we are always improving on what we do.

What have Vardis planned for 2020? We have just recorded a new live album at the 100 Club in London and hope to get it out later in the year.

Contact Vardis on the official website:  www.VardisRocks.com

or social media: facebook/twitter or Hoplite Records.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

YEAR OF THE TYGER – new album & tour dates.

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‘Ritual’ is the second album from the Tygers of Pan Tang with the line-up of Jacko Meille, Robb Weir, Micky Crystal, Craig Ellis and Gav Gray. After recording had finished in 2019 I caught up with Jack, Craig and Gav who talked about the album….When we got into the studio we were ready for it. We knew we were gonna make a great album – and we have.

Jack: It was tough, but rewarding. We were forced to delay the recording twice because we didn’t feel we were ready to record. It wasn’t an easy decision to take but the best.

Craig: Writing the material for the album had begun over a year prior, and regular writing and rehearsal sessions were going on right upto going into the studio.

During that time we would video and record everything for reference and when a song is complete I write out the drum notation so I get it completely under my skin.

Gav: On day one we set up, got some drum sounds and worked towards day two to have some drum and bass takes with guide guitars. Craig is in the live room. Me and Mick would be in the control room with Fred Purser. We had worked on the songs for months so when it came time to record them it didn’t take long. Robb added his guitar and Jackie flew in from his home in Italy to do the vocals.

Craig: Both Jack and I write the lyrics and melodies to the majority of the songs and because of that I automatically absorb a songs structure.

Jack: The 11 tracks on the new album are the best we could ever record. I know it sounds like a cliche, but after all the hard work, we’re all very proud of the result.

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The band recorded the album at Trinity Heights Studio in Newcastle, former guitarist with the Tygers, Fred Purser, is owner and producer. How did that go Gav ? Yeah lovely bloke, we got on really well, he loved my tea and morning hugs (laughs). Being in a two guitar band sometimes requires that ‘less is more’ and most times that’s true, the bass doesn’t need to be too busy, just a really solid rhythm is all that is needed on a lot of hard rock songs. My thing has always been for the rhythm and timing. I was never a practising musician, just a frustrated drummer !

Craig: What makes for a good recording session is the engineer and studio, and Fred Purser at Trinity Heights made the whole thing an absolute pleasure throughout.

Gav: It all worked well, everyone’s playing on the record is fantastic. The whole session and working with Fred was, for me, one of my best yet. It’s a great place to make a record.

Jack: I personally enjoyed every moment spent in the studio with Fred. He is such a talented guy and made me feel at home. I only had 6 days to record, and believe me it’s not very much when you have to record 11 songs plus a couple of bonus tracks. But I made it and have to thank him for that. Also we discovered we have a passion for craft beers. So after recording we managed to ‘indulge’ drinking some really good ones (laughs).

This year the Tygers have lined up a European tour in April and are on the bill at festival dates with Black Star Riders, Gun, and Angelwitch. For gig confirmation go to https://www.facebook.com/tygersofpantangofficial/

Craig: We’ll be doing songs from the new album and I’m particularly looking forward to gigging with the Festival sized backdrop we’ll have for those shows, the Ritual Mask in giant-size taking ownership of the stage!

Looking to 2021 they share a stage with Tank, Vardis, Kingdom Come and Acid Reign and a headlining slot has been confirmed at the Newcastle indoor festival, Brofest.

 For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Full interviews at:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/09/23/slave-to-the-rhythm-in-conversation-with-gav-gray-bassist-with-tygers-of-pan-tang/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/09/24/white-lines-interview-with-craig-ellis-drummer-with-tygers-of-pan-tang/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/09/25/all-for-the-record-with-jack-meille-vocalist-with-tygers-of-pan-tang/

THE LADY WORE BLACK with Thunderstick vocalist Raven Blackwing

Best known for his time with New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band Samson, Barry Graham-Purkis formed Thunderstick, a band renowned for its female fronted power rock. July 2017 saw the album ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ released, the first new Thunderstick product in over thirty years. Following the success of the album Graham-Purkis put a live band together for a series of festival dates and live gigs. The band recorded one of the shows and Roulette Records are releasing the live album this month.

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I caught up with lead vocalist Raven and asked her about the new album…. I’m pleased with the album. It’s raw and genuine and I’m very excited about the upcoming release. The whole gig was a blast from start to finish, a beautiful way for me to cherish the memory of that performance. It’s my first album with the band and I’m really hoping that people listening to it will pick up on the enjoyment that I and the guys had on stage that night.

How did the job with Thunderstick come about ? I was very fortunate that a guitarist friend of Barry’s had seen me play with my covers band some months earlier and passed my name across to him. I am very grateful that he did ! Although I very nearly didn’t audition because I wasn’t convinced my voice would suit, but love it and I’m learning to perfect the scream.

I’ve been with the band about 11 months now and couldn’t imagine doing anything different.

What is your performing background and are you from a musical family ? I did Theatre Studies at school and performed with the local dramatic society. But my love of music has come from my Dad singing around the house. Although he would confess he could never remember the lyrics, so it was always the same lines repeated over and over !

Have you a highlight or a magic moment on stage ? I would say playing The New Day Festival in Faversham last year, and looking out to a crowd of complete strangers singing the songs back at me. That was an amazing feeling, but then so was going abroad to France for the first time. We had such a great time and met so many amazing people.

Have Thunderstick confirmed any live dates, and anywhere near North East UK ? We are in Birmingham at Breaking Bands on the 24th May, and I’m extremely excited to be launching the next album in my home town of Deal at the Astor Theatre on the 8th August. Would love everybody to come and see where I live!

It would be so good to come up to the North East of the country to play live, an area that takes it’s rock and metal seriously. We have numerous friends and followers, not to mention fellow musicians on our Thunderstick social media pages that ask if the band will be heading out soon – as soon as we have confirmed dates we will let everyone know.

‘Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France’ is released 20th March 2020 on Roulette Records.

Pre-order from: https://www.roulettemedia.uk/thunderstick-store

A follow-up studio album is currently being recorded and is scheduled for release in July 2020.

The full Thunderstick line-up is: Raven Blackwing (vocals) Barry Graham Purkis aka Thunderstick (drums) Vinny Konrad & Lee Quenby (guitars) & Rex Thunderbolt (bass).

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020

ART OF NOISE from the Tygers of Pan Tang new album ‘Ritual’.

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Just when you thought it was safe the aptly titled ‘Art of Noise’ comes at you head on, and returns for another bite. Opening with thick treacly rock sound ‘Worlds Apart’ to ‘Spoils of War’ and the single ‘White Lines’ with plenty of room for ‘Words Cut Like Knives’. Then the MONSTER thunder of ‘Let’s turn up the sound and gather around, To hear…the art of noise’. Deafining indeed. Album closer ‘Sail On’ is a breeze after that. The Tygers of Pan Tang, engineer Fred Purser and additional production from Soren Andersen are the creative team behind the new album ‘Ritual’ which can be added to any hard rock playlist in 2020.

For further info contact the official website:

http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

SMOULT THE BOLT

In 2006 the idea was to make a number of short documentaries in South Shields featuring residents of the town and their hobbies, interests or passion. The first was Colin Smoult, this was his story and a link to the 4 minute film is at the end. 

South Shields has always been a rock town and even when music has faded and past like the indie culture of the late ‘80s, the big dance boom of the ‘90s then you’ve still got the rock scene. We might be gettin’ older, greyer, fatter but I think a lot of people in this town will always have a place in their heart for rock music. We’ve always had people from this town that’s been so fanatical for the bands that they have followed. I’ve grown up with many of them from my late teens onwards and some of them remain just as passionate about their music now as they did over 25 years ago.

My name’s Colin Smoult I’m 42 years old and I live in a town where I was born, South Shields. A small seaside town 10 miles east of Newcastle. My occupation is a shopkeeper, it’s essentially what people used to refer to as a head shop. I sell things like pipes and bongs which 20 years ago might have been seen as very risqué. But this day and age it’s all fairly acceptable. It’s only a tiny shop with a minimum amount of trade but I’m me own boss and if it pays the bills I’m quite happy. That allows me plenty of time to pursue my other hobbies and interests – my main one is local live music.

I’ve been the singer and guitarist in a band called Shovelmouth for the past 11 years now and we play various gigs in pubs scattered right across the region. The songs are all rock cover versions but the pub rock scene is huge in the North East of England. On a Friday and Saturday night there are probably 100 pubs and more putting on live entertainment featuring full on rock bands.

South Shields alone has half a dozen pubs that put on live music and the largest of these is called The Office. Not only does my band get to play there but I am responsible for booking the acts every weekend. The acts are normally small local bands playing a variety of covers but now and then we put on special events that feature tribute bands, some of these are from out the area.

I’m a rocker at heart but I find there is a lot of people who love this kind of music so I book the bands that people want to see the most. I’m pretty passionate about live music and only book the very best from the talent that we have.

Some people may see it as a bit sad and may view it as a bunch of middle aged folkies trying to re-live their youth but nostalgia is a big booming industry and if people want to see songs from their youth played live in their local pub – then who am I to deny them. Whether I’m the bloke singing the songs or the man who books the bands I’m content to know I’m doing my bit to allow people to have a good time after a long week at work.

I’m also involved with a website called Riffs which pushes and promotes local bands, and apart from news pages and gig guides I also post up my own reviews of the many bands that I get to see here. So I suppose my hobby is full time because as well as being directly involved every weekend, during the week I am always writing things up and arranging things for the venue and my own band.

I like to keep in touch with lots of groups out there and there’s quite a lot of time spent gob shyting with people on the internet as well. Don’t get us wrong I get a big buzz out of being on stage and entertaining people, but if you’ve got any band up there on stage with a superb crowd watching them, for me the atmosphere in the room is just as enjoyable.

The standard of musicianship on the local circuit is extremely high and is way beyond what people would term as pub bands in other parts of the country. The old club scene has become a lot more pop orientated in the last 20 years and a lot of the rock players that used to play that circuit have now moved into the pubs instead. So the end result is that we have some amazing musicians kicking around and most of the bands that you get to see are free admission too.

So for a lot of people aged in their ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s watching a live band on a Saturday night is a very cheap way to have a fantastic night out. If I’m not playing with my own band then I’m here at The Office watching them instead. Either way for me every weekend is dominated by my love for live music. I got tons of pride in what I do. But for me there’s only one true satisfaction and that’s putting a smile on people’s faces.

If I can be involved in any way with live music that others gain a lot of pleasure from I get immense satisfaction from doing that. I suppose as I get older I won’t be able to bounce around on stage in the same way, then eventually there will come a time when I’ll have to retire from live performances, but I’ll always stay involved with the local band scene even if I have to be brought in on a wheelchair.

I’ve jokingly said that when I die I want my ashes scattered under the stage of The Office. But honestly it’s as good a place as any and that way I’ll always be close to what I love.

 

Gary Alikivi  January 2020.

THE FIXER – in conversation with former Impulse Studio and Neat Records owner David Wood

The next person to feature on this blog was owner of probably the most influential independent heavy metal record label in the 1980’s, a label that spawned Chief Headbangers Raven and Venom, who were major influences on the multi-million selling Americans, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeath.

So what was he like ? Was he the Don Arden of Tyneside ? Am I to be flown out by private jet to a yacht on the French Riviera or picked up by a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and driven off to an exclusive restaurant ? Sadly no, it was just a misty September morning when I nipped on a ferry, crossed the river Tyne and taken to a café in North Tyneside by a man wearing a fez.

What or who inspired you to start Impulse Studio ? When I left school I ended up as a Park Keeper in Wallsend Park then found a half decent job as a Technical Assistant at Proctor and Gamble. I was there for 3 year, it was well paid at £11 a week so I had a few quid to go out on a Friday night with me mates, but I couldn’t see myself staying there. For a 21st birthday present off my parents I was given a ticket to go to America on the Queen Mary.

While sightseeing in New York I came across this recording studio called Talent Masters. I went in and got talking to a guy who worked there called Chris Huston. I found out he used to be guitarist in The Undertakers from Liverpool. They had a hit record but he left the UK to be a tape technician in the studio. I’d always liked music, my instrument is the piano while not much of a player, but was really interested in this studio.

So when I returned home on the Queen Elizabeth ship I began to play around with a bit of sound recording. At that time a teenagers club was open in The Borough Theatre in Wallsend called The Manhole. This was around 1966 and people were listening to The Beatles and locally The Animals had made their name. It was a great meeting place was The Manhole, graphics painted on the walls, flower power you know, and a lot of good bands played there. That’s where I really got interested in the music scene. There was a similar place in Tynemouth called The Cave which was underneath The Gate of India Restaurant. (There was also a teenagers club in Beach Road, South Shields called The Cellar Club run by Stan Henry and his mother. Stan later opened The Latino and The New Cellar Club where Cream and Jimi Hendrix played).

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Advert for the opening of The New Cellar Club, South Shields. Taken from The Shields Gazette December 1967.

Yes I used to go to The Cellar. I’d drive to the ferry at Howdon, get on there with my car, you could in them days, then get off at Jarrow. It was a great building I think it was in the basement of their house where Stan’s mother ran the club. South Shields and Sunderland had their own places to run music from, it was great. I ended up doing some work for Stan, we ended up doing his sound equipment and for a lot of other people to keep the business ticking over.

In the Manhole club I met a band called The Chosen Few, and in them were Alan Hull, Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown on bass, singer was Rod Hood, guitarist I think was John Gibson and keyboards was Micky Gallagher who eventually played for The Blockheads, and he’d also played in The Animals when Alan Price left. They were really good and had a recording contract with PYE records. They recorded down in the West End of London at Radio Luxembourg studios. They put a couple of singles out.

Going back to The Manhole Club, that just shut one day and never reopened. I don’t know why maybe someone out there knows something about that. The Borough Theatre was built in 1906, it was a music hall at first, then a cinema, then a bingo hall. I got to know the manager and asked him for some space to run a studio. The studio was in the dressing room and the entrance to the studio was through the old stage door. There was a little booth where the doorman would of sat, well before our time (laughs).

How did you develop the space into a recording studio ? Literally built it up from scratch Gary, it took years to get it all done. At first we used egg boxes for sound proofing then bricked up all the windows. Anything was used for padding because we never had enough money then and at first we only had a mono then a stereo studio. We then purchased a 4 track, then an 8 track, eventually a 24 track machine but this was done over 10 or 12 years. This was all by the 1980’s and by then we had the run of all the building and moved the studio to the top floor, which wasn’t very popular with the bands as we had no lift. Eventually Impulse Studios were on all 3 floors.

What bands did you record and who did you get in as sound engineer ? One day I bumped into Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) by then The Chosen Few had split up, he was working as a nurse at St Nicholas Mental Hospital and still writing songs so I invited him down to record some. Impulse at that time recorded local bands. We were a progressive studio and probably recorded most people in the region who sang and played at one time in their careers. Everything then was recorded onto quarter inch tape. At that time we started to organise pressing records.

Sound engineer was Micky Sweeney, a great character, really popular with everyone. I used to do some recording as well. Micky ended up working with Lindisfarne who were born in the studio because it was there that Alan Hull got together with various members of Downtown Faction. They played together and got to know each other and it all came together.

You recorded an album with North East comedian Bobby Thompson, how did that come about ? I knew his manager Brian Shelley and he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go. So we recorded him in Rhyope Poplars Club and Newcastle Mayfair. This was around 1978. It was around an hours recording that we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it, ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.

Soon as we put the record out it took off, they couldn’t get enough off it, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads. It was phenomenal. Nobody could of appreciated the way it took off like it did, he even appeared on the Wogan show. But his humour didn’t travel well, he was shy of being in other places but up here in the North East he was absolutely fantastic. He could relate to the man in the street up here – the debt, the poverty, the wife and the war, he was incredible really.

With the label doing well, was Bobby responsible for Neat records ? Ha ha well with the profits from Bobby the studio came on in leaps and bounds in no time at all, so yeah we’ve got to thank him for it. We started Neat records as an alternative to what we were doing. A couple of early singles and one by a band called Motorway which was pop, not heavy metal, then a song by Jayne McKenzie written and engineered by Steve Thompson. Then Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of metal records.

Was there any rivalry between the top four North East metal bands – Fist, Raven, Venom and the Tygers ? Ha ha yeah they probably hated each other. No, listen, musicians are very much their own people you know. I don’t blame them. If they are the guitarist they are a ‘great guitarist’, you can’t perform in front of a dozen, hundreds, or thousands of people if you haven’t got an ego. You couldn’t stand on stage if you are a wimp, you’ve got to have something about ya – and they all do.

For Venom, first gig they played was at a church hall in Wallsend and they decided to have pyrotechnics and smoke. That all went off at the start and that’s the last we saw of the band for the whole set – they were playing behind a screen of smoke.

Did you deal with any managers or did the bands represent themselves ? I dealt with Raven directly but some of the bands had managers. One of them was a butcher (laughs) then Venom ended up with Eric Cook who really worked hard for them.  He was very enthusiastic and got a lot of things going for them. Thing was he had no experience but nobody else did really with this New Wave of Heavy Metal, it was all new. And that is something to remember about that whole scene, they were trying to play and we were trying to market, we (Neat) were all on the same level. We were balancing the recording, arranging tours, marketing, it was all interesting times, sort of in development, and some nightmare situations.

How did recording on the Neat label work for bands ? We did singles at first and they were tasters trying to get some interest, get picked up by bigger labels, that sort of thing. Some of them would end up on compilation lp’s later and some of the early Neat stuff were the demos. The first Raven album went into the national charts which was a surprise to all of us. But that was the progress we were trying to make.

How did Tygers of Pan Tang end up on MCA record label ? MCA were interested in the Tygers first single and put it out on their label which put the Tygers in a position to sign an album deal. Through their enquiries I got to know Stuart Watson who was head of A&R so I took the whole Neat project to MCA. They ended up recording albums by Fist and White Spirit. But MCA didn’t get their teeth into what we were doing so it all came back to us. It could have gone further but major companies are looking for big numbers, they didn’t want to sell 5,000 albums they wanted to sell 50,000 albums. We would have been happy to sell 1,000!

If you did sell that many how would the profit be used ? It would all go in the kitty, we wanted to progress the studio and the label – but we didn’t have any Lamborghini’s you know.

How did the label work for Raven ? We ended up doing 3 albums with them and took them to America and worked with Johnny Z at Megaforce Records based in New Jersey. They did some touring over there and Neat were managing the band at the time, paying them a retainer every week. When they came back the band had signed with the Americans. ‘Thanks for telling us’ I said, but hey that’s all in the past and we came to an agreement to release I think a live album over there.

Was that the bands natural progression to go to a bigger label ? Yes I suppose that’s fair comment to say that. We had gone as far as we could as basically a smaller outfit. I liked the band, I liked the idea of a 3 piece because it makes it easier to ship around. A 5 piece band can be much more challenging to get around on tour and in the studio.

Did the label have contacts to sell records in other countries ? We tried to get like-minded people in European countries, Holland, Italy etc, to do that but sometimes it was hard. A lot of time was spent trying to get it up and running but perhaps the label never reached it’s full potential. We sold to local record shops in the North East but a good outlet was actually mail order.

How does it work for a band if they released a single in say 1980 and the track ends up on a compilation album years later ? All the contracts were given over to Sanctuary and they had a section to deal with all the necessary releases.

What were Neat paying for as in terms of recording and tours ? We would put money up for tours and we once bought a tour bus for Fist, which was a big mistake cos it got wrecked inside. Their first single was ‘Name, Rank & Serial Number’ and ‘The Wanderer’ came much later, Status Quo ended up doing that, sounding very similar. Doing a more commercial song is a way in. Again I liked Fist and thought they had great potential, Keith Satchfield is a great singer and songwriter.

But just managing it all, controlling it all was a nightmare. There wasn’t a bottomless pit to fund it and you just try your best with the resources. What was surprising about bands playing in the UK was there wasn’t many chances to play on the big festivals, England was a hard place to play. America and Europe was mainly where the market was. I remember Holland was a good place for the bands to go.

Neat released a lot of singles would that have put the label in a good position ? Yes it helped the studio, marketing etc when the next single or album come along to record and promote.

Was there a time when Neat weren’t in a good position ? Yes often, I remember one time a band wanted to go on tour and it was £4,000. A lot to lay out because you don’t get it back cos the band don’t make much playing live. There was a lot of costs involved with going on the road.

When did Neat records fold ? Jess Cox (former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist) got involved and we set up a separate label called Neat Metal, we put a different catalogue together, started licencing from different labels – a different approach to it. At one time we didn’t have any of the original Neat stuff on the catalogue. Eventually Sanctuary Records came in for the label and did some re-releases. A lot of independent labels have been moved around over the years.

With that I checked my watch and time was getting on so we agreed to meet up again soon where Dave will tell more stories about Impulse Studio including Cilla Black, Joan Armatrading and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

 

HEED’S DOON – with John Gallagher from Chief heabangers RAVEN

By 1980 Raven had released their first single on Neat Records. The Gallagher brothers – the original pair not the lot from Manchester who wanted to live forever – made their way out of the North East …For young lads like us there was only two ways out of Newcastle…..and we weren’t good footballers.

They began slogging the hard yards and laying the foundations for speed metal…It all changed when we made contacts in the US and did our first tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening for us.

Was there a plan in the early day’s – gig loads, buy a van, get signed ? The running joke was ‘C’mon let’s git in a van and gan doon  t’ London!’. Slightly impractical! We did quite a few one off support gigs. It was in the back of the truck, drive down to London, play the Marquee with Iron Maiden and drive back straight after the gig.

We just worked, playing shows, writing songs. One thing we’ve never had is a lack of song ideas. Often a riff from a sound check turns into a song. Getting the Neat deal changed everything totally. We had worked hard for years so when the opportunity arrived we dove in head first.

The other main bands on the Neat record label were Fist, Venom and Tygers of Pan Tang. Was there any rivalry ? No. We actually got on well with all of them. There was some passive aggressive crap with Venom where we thought time, resources and money were going to them, and they thought they were going to us….of course the money went elsewhere (laughs).

Did you ever play on the same bill ? We actually played two shows with the Tygers. A show pre-Neat at the Guildhall in Newcastle and a show in Wallsend which was John Sykes first gig with them. We also did at least one show with Fist at the Mayfair and a few with White Spirit. All great lads.

Raven went on a UK tour with Girlschool in 1982 where I saw them at Newcastle City Hall… Aye a 27 date ‘City Hall’ type venue tour of the U.K. was very, very good for us. Their crew treated us well and we got on great with the girls. I ‘ave no idea how it came about but we had done a few shows with Motörhead, and Girlschool had the same management.

Was it a good match up in terms of style and audiences ?  It was a great fit and a great opportunity for us, they were at their peak.

Did you have any warm up routines before going on stage ? No I never bother with all the ‘la la la la la LAH’ vocal stuff. I just do it!

Did you play any festivals in the UK ? Festivals (laughs). Well we did the Wrexham festival with Motörhead and Twisted Sister. The only other rock festival then was Reading and that was a bit political I guess.

Did mainland Europe have better attended gigs or a more organised set up than UK ? Probably both. But it was the fervour of the fans that was surprising. We knew basically in England the further South you went, the fans were more reserved and thankfully that’s kinda gone by the wayside these days. But our first gigs out of the UK were in Italy and Holland…and they were just NUTS!!!

Have you any stories from meeting other bands while on tour – in motorway cafes, gigs in the same town, and you must have come across Lemmy ? Jeez.. actually no! We did run into Fast Eddie Clarke at some motorway cafe back in 2005. But that was it really.

Nearly 40 years since the US tour with Metallica. Did you ever think Raven and Metallica would still be playing in 2019 ? If back then you had told me Metallica were gonna rule the world as they subsequently did, I would have been doubtful. But they evolved fast.

It was great to get to play a stadium show with them in São Paulo a few years back and hear James (Hetfield) tell the crowd how much they appreciated Raven taking a chance back in 1983 and taking Metallica on tour with them. That meant a lot to us.

What was the impact of that tour for both bands ? Well we saw the opportunity and how huge the US really was. We knew this was where we had to be to move forward and escape the ‘indentured servitude’ at Neat.

The tour had a huge impact on us and on Metallica. Their first tour, they soaked it all up and learnt. It really was a hell of an experience !

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Has there been a ‘magic’ moment on stage or in the studio when you thought ‘This is what I should be doing’….Every. Single. Night. We have given blood sweat and tears to do what we do and feel humbled and fortunate to be able to do what we love. Plus to be able to travel the world to do it!

We know we are better at it now and more importantly appreciate it more. We have a new album ready for early 2020 release and are gearing up for lots more touring!

For more info contact the website:  http://www.ravenlunatics.com/

or follow them on Twitter @official_raven

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2019.

 

ALL FOR THE RECORD – with Jack Meille, vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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Music is life. It showed me I could follow my passion and make it my job. I’m a lucky guy.

Is there a country you haven’t played that you would like to ? Australia! That would be a dream come true.

How did you get the job with the Tygers ? In the past I have been lucky not to have had to audition for a band. Firstly, I was contacted by a Swiss management company who said a British band are looking for a new singer. Without knowing the name of who it was, I sent my CV and recordings from the album released by my band Mantra. So when I got the confirmation it was the Tygers and they wanted to audition me, I said to myself ‘Why not? Let’s do the first and hopefully, only audition of your life’. I went to Darlington on November 4th 2004 ….and got the job!

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Is there a good balance of characters in the band ? It’s a five piece band and we all have different characters, more important, very different musical taste’s. This is a bonus but sometimes it’s not easy to combine everyone’s point of view on a song, if you know what I mean. We are all very passionate when it comes to Tygers songs.

You just recorded the new album, how did that go ? It was tough, but rewarding. We were force to delay the recording twice because we didn’t feel we were ready to record. It wasn’t an easy decision to take but the best. The 11 tracks on the new album are the best we could ever record. I know it sounds like a cliche, but after all the hard work, we’re all very proud of the result.

How did you get on with the producer and former Tyger, Fred Purser ? I personally enjoyed every moment spent in the studio with Fred. He is such a talented guy and made me feel at home. I only had 6 days to record, and believe me it’s not very much when you have to record 11 songs plus a couple of bonus tracks. But I made it and have to thank him for that. Also we discovered we have a passion for craft beers. So after recording we managed to ‘indulge’ drinking some really good ones.

Who were your early influences in music ? I love rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry to Slayer but the first record that really blew me away was Dark Side of the Moon. I have memories of me, about 4 or 5 years old, listening constantly to ‘On The Run’. The first record I bought, or should I say I asked my father to buy was the Queen album A Night at the Opera. Still one of my favorite albums of all time. I’m a record collector – the boys in the band can confirm that – so you can find me at festivals looking at record stalls. When it comes down to singing, the choice would go to Robert Plant, early David Coverdale, Phil Mogg, Paul Rodgers…the list may go on and on.

What has been your best gig with the Tygers so far ? There has been a few. I always enjoy playing the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany. A memorable day was at a festival in Northern Spain where we played a great set and then had the pleasure to hang around with Cheap Trick, then saw the set by John Fogerty with Ty Tabor from King’s X.

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Have you got any gigs lined up for the new album release ? During November we are going to play the UK and Europe. Before that we play Dusseldorf with Diamond Head, Doro and Saxon on 26th October 2019. (Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

WHITE LINES – interview with Craig Ellis, drummer with Tygers of Pan Tang

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The Tygers have just shot a music video for the new single ‘White Lines’, how did that go ? The video shoot went well really, the location was Dynamix Extreme Skate Park in Gateshead. A fantastic place with lots of options for backgrounds to shoot in and around. Moving a six piece drum kit into three different areas was a pain in the a**e but worth it after seeing the superb screen captures on the cameras.

How did you get the job in the Tygers ? Robb had been working on some new material with an ex-Sergeant band member and two friends of mine were drafted in the play bass and guitar. The initial demos were cut together using a drum machine so when it came to the recording a live drummer was needed and my two friends suggested me. The end product of that recording was ‘Mystical’ in 2000 and I’ve been here ever since!

Even though I’d written lyrics and melodies previously in other bands, it wasn’t until our vocalist Jack joined the Tygers that I started to contribute. From day one there was a chemistry that has worked ever since.

Before gigs do you have a warm up routine ? Some stretching exercises, specifically arms and hands to loosen up and a mash-up of sticking exercises/rudiments to get comfortable. I don’t eat anything three hours before a show and if I’m going to have any alcohol, it’s after the show.

 How did you start on drums and who were your early influences ? I didn’t start playing drums until the age of fifteen but I’d been listening seriously to music from around nine or ten year old. My Dad had a reel to reel player and I was infatuated with not only the machine itself, but also the music the spools kicked out…Hendrix, Foghat, Lynard Skynard, Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin.

Programmes on the TV like Top of the Pops, The Tube and of course The Old Grey Whistle Test were like a drug, I never missed an episode! With the pocket money I saved, I bought vinyl. Even back then I had a varied collection of music as my tastes have always been eclectic, however, once I started playing drums, rock and metal was where I found my niche. Drummers such as Cozy Powell, John Bonham, Ian Paice, Bill Ward and Neil Peart and the bands they played in resonated with me hugely and have never left me.

Where I’m from, we were very fortunate to have venues including The Coatham Bowl in Redcar, Middlesbrough Town Hall, Crypt and Rock Garden and Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall. So I got to see almost all my favourite drummers and favourite bands.

Who were the first band you played for and what venues did you play ? My first cover band at around sixteen was called Overload. We played rock covers by Sabbath, Status Quo, Golden Earring, AC/DC etc in and around the Teesside/Cleveland area. There was a huge Working Men’s Club scene back then, which I played in most venues in the North East, in various cover bands. I’ve always had a passion for original music so I took every opportunity presented to me to work alongside musicians creating original music. From very early on I learned a great deal about the recording process both at home and in studios.

Have there been many memorable gigs with the Tygers ? There’s been quite a few Gary, in no particular order …The fact we were touring in South America and the audiences were insanely awesome was amazing but the night we played Carioca Club in São Paulo on Micky’s Birthday – the whole room sang Happy Birthday to him.

Japan Assault Festival was a humbling experience for this tub thumper from Teesside to have had the opportunity to travel to and perform in Japan to a crowd of people who were so pleased to see the Tygers. Supporting the Dead Daisies at the 02 Academy to a Newcastle home crowd who were just awesome.

The Spodek in Katowice, Poland is a venue that is an assault on the mind! Its incredible both inside and outside. We’ve been very lucky to have been invited back a few times to the incredible Bang Your Head festival in Balingen, Germany. Bully-On-Rocks Festival and Raismes Festival have been our most recent shows in France both with amazing audiences.

Belgium is a special place for the Tygers, we performed some of our very first shows there and met many wonderful people who have remained friends to this day and always do their utmost to get to the shows.

Have you any road stories you want to share ? Robb’s your man for the funny he stories, he collects them! But here goes a couple… When on tour in South America we took an internal flight and got split up throughout the plane. As we were disembarking there were shenanigans going on at the front of the plane. Robb and Gav were sat in the cockpit, Captains and Officers hats on, having a laugh and chat with the crew. Turns out the captain was a huge Tygers fan and invited them in!

Around twelve years ago, travelling to Belgium in what was then the bands tour bus we were badly rear-shunted by a delivery truck late at night on the A1M. We were all thrown around the cabin like rag dolls and the back end of the tour bus was a mess but, we limped on ‘because we had gigs to do!’ The rear footstep had been shoved so far down and as we went up the ramp to board the ferry, sparks were flying from it and the noise was horrendous.

At that same point we also discovered the steering was in a bad way too so we were gliding like a sail boat up the ramp. When it came to getting off the ferry the bus wouldn’t start but the ferry mechanics got us going! With the ignition now faulty at the end of almost every gig fans would give us a push to ‘bump-us-off’! Embarrassing but a laugh and main thing was, we did the shows.

The new album ‘Ritual’, did you feel recording went well ? Time is of the essence when it comes to Recording Studios because as the clock ticks away its costing money. But, you want to enjoy the experience and to do that it’s all about the preparation. Although writing the material for the album had begun over a year prior, regular, concentrated writing and rehearsal sessions started in January of this year right up to going into the studio in April.

During that time we would video and record everything for reference and when a song is complete I write out the drum notation so I get it completely under my skin. Both Jack and I write the lyrics and melodies to the majority of the songs and because of that I automatically absorb a songs structure. Because of the prior work put in, we each completed our parts in a very short time. What also makes for a good recording session is the engineer and studio, and Fred Purser at Trinity Heights made the whole thing an absolute pleasure throughout.

Will the Tygers be promoting the album ? Absolutely! We’ll be doing four, maybe even five, songs from the new album and featuring them in our November shows and from there on. There’ll be a selection of merchandise available supporting the release too. I’m particularly looking forward to gigging with the Festival sized backdrop we’ll have for those shows, the Ritual Mask in giant-size taking ownership of the stage!

What does music mean to you ? It pretty much makes my world go around Gary. I play music, I practise music, I write music and I teach music. It takes me mentally to a different state of mind and physically to many incredible places I likely wouldn’t get to see otherwise. I’m extremely lucky to be doing what I love.

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM – in conversation with Gav Gray bassist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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After their last album in 2016 and touring throughout Europe, the Tygers are back and about to release their new record ‘Ritual’. The second with the line-up of Jacko Meille, Robb Weir, Micky Crystal, Craig Ellis and Gav Gray….. Yes it was a lot of hard work, three months of prep, writing and arranging. So when we got into the studio we were ready for it. We knew we were gonna make a great album – and we have.

The band used Trinity Heights Studio in Newcastle, former guitarist with the Tygers, Fred Purser is owner and producer…..Yeah lovely bloke, we got on really well, he loved my tea and morning hugs (laughs) ! He would say to me during a take, ‘Try and play less hard’, so I tried, and then he`d say, ‘Nah, just play the way you do’. He had a plug in to pull it back in (laughs). Some of the lines I’d written and rehearsed with the lads sounded fine until the guitars were layerd. Being in a two guitar band sometimes requires that ‘less is more’ and most times that’s true, the bass doesn’t need to be too busy, just a really solid rhythm is all that is needed on a lot of hard rock songs. My thing has always been for the rhythm and timing over busy, it’s all about the one. I was never a practising musician, just a frustrated drummer !

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How did it go in the studio ? On day one we just set up, got some drum sounds, got comfortable and worked towards day two to have some drum and bass takes with guide guitars. This is how we do it. We will play the songs that have an easier approach, leaving the harder ones for later. Craig is in the live room. Me and Mick would be in the control room with Fred. We had worked on the songs for months so when it came time to record the song’s it didn’t take long. We were well prepared. Me and Craig (drummer) did a couple of the songs in one take as a drum n bass jam, which are on the album.

Robb added his guitar and Jackie flew in from his home in Italy on the last week of recording to do the vocals. It all worked well, everyone’s playing on the record is fantastic and because we were tight, the songs just came together as we expected.

The whole session and working with Fred was, for me, one of my best yet. It`s a great place to make a record.

How did the songs come together for the new album ? We each work on ideas at home doing demos and then take them into reheasal’s and work out how it`s all going to fit together. ‘This is the bridge, That’s good for a chorus’, Big riff intro`sort of thing and dissect the structures for each song until we have a rough arrangement. Then all the bit’s that make a song special, you fine tune them. When they get into the studio we play them through and maybe somebody make’s a mistake but sometimes that’ll work within the song – a nuanced piece, a happy accident really. When that happens, it’s a great feeling. That’s a great part of making music – just by playing, those accidents can become your favourite part of the song.

Do you write some songs just to be recorded in the studio ? No, all songs are wrote to play live. Whether or not we play all of them live is another thing. I don’t know any band who plays just for the studio and to be honest you should be able to play all your songs live.

How did you join the Tygers ? This latest run has been since 2011. But back in the ‘90s I originally met Jess Cox at a gig I was playing at the Riverside, Newcastle. He approached me after the gig, told me about owning Neat Records and having a few bands on his roster. He was looking for a bass player for future touring and recording. This was a big deal for me cos I was just playing around local bars on Tyneside. We met up and he mentioned Blitzkreig who I had heard of and I said yeah sounds good so I done that for a short while, doing a handful of shows and a festival in America.

Then Jess wanted to get the Tygers back together, this was 1999. Robb Weir was already in and me and Chris Percy the drummer came as a rhythm section cos we had bounced together from band to band. I said to Jess he (Chris) was really solid and will kill it. And he did. Then a guy you interviewed not long ago, Glenn Howes was brought in on guitar. We rehearsed for a couple of months in the Off Quay buildings near The Cluny in Newcastle then went off to Germany to play the Wacken Festival in front of 10,000 people. The biggest gig of my life at the time.

But when we got back to the UK there was some bitterness within the band and it ended, it’s the way it goes sometimes. But Jess had always been good to me and got me a lot of gig’s. I think around that time I must have been in about 3 bands on his roster.

Then out of the blue I got a call from The Almighty. They were a big name so what ya gonna do eh ! I turned them down haha! I was fed up with the music scene and wanted out. It wasn’t til a few months later I came home from a night out and my girlfriend told me that the Almighty management had been on the phone again. I thought, hell, why not, it’s what I wanted to do so jumped on a bus down to Oxford after learning 5 songs, talked to the band, played a bit and got the job. Loved my time there but unfortunately only lasted about 18 months cos the band were dropped from the label.

A couple of years later Ricky ends up in Thin Lizzy, he’s a great bloke and I still keep in touch with him. In fact he just got the Tygers the gig supporting Saxon in the Dusseldorf Arena. He called me up and said ‘Can the Tygers do it ? I talked with the rest of the band and our manager and agreed it would be great for us to play in front of 7,000 people just before we release our new album.

(Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

In the Tygers live set the band play a few songs from their first album Wildcat…..Love playing those songs from the first album, it’s my favourite, there was just something about it. It’s got a great, dirty sound – it’s got attitude, and Robb wrote song’s from the heart. When it was released in ’79 they were just out of the punk explosion and ‘Insanity’ was one of my favourite songs. Around that time I went to see local bands Fist, Hellanbach and Angelic Upstarts in South Shields. The first single I bought was Hanging on the Telephone by Blondie, still one of my favourite ever songs. Then I saw Lemmy on Top of the Pops and thought ‘That’s what I wanna do’.

It wasn’t until I was 21 when I started playing bass in bands. Everyone wanted to be a guitar hero so I thought that if I buy a bass I might get a gig haha. I played along to my favourite records for a year and just wanted to join some band’s, have a laugh, have a beer and just have some fun playing. Being from South Shields I started looking around the Tyneside, Sunderland and Washington areas to get a few gigs. That’s where I joined a band called The Junkies around ‘89/90. That was my first band and first gig.

Are you looking forward to the new album release in November ? Yeah, the record company will set the exact date. The mix is now finished by Soren Anderson he worked on our last album. Harry Hess will be mastering it again, making it as fat and big a sound as you possibly can – basically sprinkling fairy dust on it (laughs). Finally it goes to print so yeah the record company will have a date soon. I’m just really looking forward to hearing the final tracks cos we worked so hard on that album. I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we really feel it is one of the Tygers best albums.

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.