Latest release: Re-Ignition (DeadLine)Website: www.facebook.com/Tank-90444813508/
In the late seventies, the UK was a melting pot of musical ideas and scenes, all bubbling away in various guises. For the most part, London reportedly became the hub for a lot of acts who also played nightly around all sorts of locations across England, from clubs and bars to bingo halls and other gatherings.
It didn’t matter where because live music was being heard by a vast and varied swathe of people, all keen to enjoy new sounds. Of course, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal [NWOBHM] moniker was soon coined but it ran across a variety of sub genres. The key aspect was that it took the hard rock of the day and trimmed it into the more explosive format that suited up and coming scenes such as punk, gothic rock and of course, heavy metal. Tank was one such band that had that energetic focus even with long songs being a staple of their repertoire. Suffice it to say, their first album, Filth Hounds of Hades remains an early eighties classic. Now with a newly reinvigorated line-up, Tank are about to roll their way into Australia as a solid reinforcement for the absence of Venom Inc. and will be joining English heavy metal stalwarts Raven and the Motörhead approved Girlschool, on their tour here this week. Loud Online caught up with guitarist Cliff Evans, one half of the long serving twin guitar, flattening onslaught of Tank.
The NWOBHM tag is intriguing because there must have been stacks of bands influenced by hard rock and punk around at the time. You’ll be here with Girlschool and Raven so what do you recall of their celebrated albums of Hit and Run and Wiped Out?
Yeah, back in the day when we started out at the same time as Girlschool, we used to have the same manager. That was the case for Motörhead as well so we were always hanging out together on the same shows and bills that we did together. We used to hear Girlschool a lot back then and they were a great sounding all-girl band, really cool. We’ve known Raven for a long time and we did our first ever US tour with Raven in 1985 so we were also familiar with their stuff and remained great friends ever since. We played with them last year as well so it is going to be cool to see all these guys on the other side of the world with us all playing at our classic songs. That is going to be a lot of fun.
There were that many bands running around London during what has been coined the NWOBHM.
There used to be that happening in the early eighties where there was a big thing going on. There was a fantastic scene around that time with every club, every pub and all the bars having live bands everywhere. So, where I used to live in London, there was a pub just around the corner from me and you could regularly see Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Samson. Every week, these guys would be on at this small pub in front of twenty or thirty people. There was just live music on everywhere then. A lot of great musicians came out of that and it was just a very good scene because a lot of great musicians came out of there. Those were good times.
Why do you think that a band like Diamond Head didn’t become huge given that scene?
I think that the main problem with them was the vocalist that they had back then. He was a big problem apparently but I don’t know, it is just one of those things because I really like Diamond Head. They really were a cut above the rest and they are doing quite a bit more now having just put another album out and they are a really good band. But maybe back then it was just done to timing or something or not having the right vocalist. I’m not really sure but it was a shame.
For Tank, you joined the band not long after they became a four piece. What were your experiences of that time because it sounds like you joined them whilst they were on tour?
Yeah, that was in 1984 when I joined Tank. I was in another band before and Algy [Ward – ex vocals] and Mick [Tucker – guitars] came along to the show where I was playing but I had known the guys anyway, since Tank started. I was a big fan of the band and used to go along to all their early shows. So, Mick and Algy came along to a show that I was doing and then after the gig they asked me, ‘do you want to join the band?’ and so we had a load of beers and the was the audition, really and then I was in. So it was straight into recording the Honour and Blood album. We were straight out onto the road, supporting Metallica on their Ride the Lightning tour, right across Europe. For me, that was fantastic as it was my first proper tour and it was a really amazing experience to be doing that. Around that time, Metallica were getting big so they became big shows.
Were you aware of Metallica’s potential at that point and was it clear that they would be huge?
Oh yeah, absolutely. They were just starting to do bigger shows back then and since they had just got new management, they brought in this brand new backline of Mesa Boogie amplifiers. You could see that there was a load of money involved and I think that they had just signed to Elektra. The shows were sold out and as soon as they hit the stage, I thought, ‘Well fuck, these guys are onto something really big here,’ and you could both hear and see it straight away. They’ve done pretty well since. Ha ha.
Indeed. Does something like Castle Donington hold good memories? It was sort of like a metal institution of grandeur in the eighties. Do you remember much about it?
Oh, Donington shows used to be brilliant. You used to get an amazing line up every year and it used to just be one day as well. You would get the biggest metal bands there and it was a fantastic day out. Now it has turned into Download Festival with five hundred bands and most of them you do not want to see plus it costs a fortune and it is just too commercialised now. So, I don’t really get off on those sorts of festivals today.
I seem to recall from what I have read of those early days that pretty much Lemmy was the ringmaster, in a sense. So that if there was a band that he decided to ‘anoint’, then he would come out on stage before they played. For example, he did this with Twisted Sister.
Yeah and Lemmy spoke his mind, didn’t he. We had the same management company as him so we were always around the Motörhead guys. I guess that yeah, back then, people did take note of what Lemmy said. His words certainly did mean a lot back then.
Did you ever cross paths with ‘Fast’ Eddie Clark since he produced Tank’s first album?
Yeah, I knew Eddie pretty well. He had always been around and for a while he lived quite near me so you’d see him now and again. He was a very nice guy, lovely and a fantastic guitar player. It is a shame that he is gone but yeah, he was a really cool guy and he made a lot of great music with both Motörhead and with Fastway, which was a fantastic band. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of respect for Eddie’s guitar playing.
Can you talk about the current tour schedule and the band line-up? You’re doing a good bunch of shows around the world.
Obviously there is Mick Tucker and myself on guitars and we have been playing together for about thirty five years. That is a long time so we know each other pretty well and we do what we do. That is the Tank sound of Gibson Les Paul guitars through Marshall amplifiers, cranked up. It is a real basic rock and roll sound. That is it. Our drummer, Bobby Schottkowski, has been in our band for a while now and he was in the thrash band, Sodom, so he is a great drummer and he holds it all down. We’ve got Randy Van Der Elsenon bass now. He has been with us for a couple of years. He is the youngest in the band but he is the phenomenal bass monster and he is a great singer as well which is really handy as it adds a bit of dynamics to the band. Our vocalist is David Readman who has been with us for a while now. He is great and he brings something else to the band as well, he has a really raunchy voice which suits a lot of the old songs. So he can sing all of our songs, right across our back catalogue. He is a fantastic frontman and a nice guy to work with so the line-up feels really good right now. We then have a lot of work coming in because after we do Australia, we go onto Japan and we haven’t been there for twenty years. It is onto South America after that so we have some good shows coming up.
Great. I believe that you’ve been to Holland, Finland, Sweden but also to the Ukraine.
Yeah, we did that about six weeks ago when we were over there. It was the first time in the Ukraine so that was an experience and it was really cool. It was just a short tour because just a few dates came in there but it was great and it keeps the band out there. You have to keep out on the road as much as possible these days. You’ve got to keep the name out there and keep it rolling.
Which parts of Europe are most receptive to heavy metal in general these days?
It varies between different countries and it is really weird. You’ll go into say Holland or Belgium and they are into their metal there but the fans don’t really get too involved in the show too much as they’re always pretty quiet. Then you’ll go to Germany and they will go crazy over there. It is different in every country that you go to but then when you go to Spain, they are just like maniacs. As long as they are enjoying it then that is the main thing and I believe that we always leave the crowd pleased after a show.
Hopefully Australian audiences will provide an enthusiastic response and raise the bar.
Yeah, we hope so too and we’ve chosen a set of mainly classic Tank stuff with a lot of it from the first four albums. We’ve only got a forty five minute set so we’ve got to cram the stuff in there but it is pretty high energy and we’ve got a good selection of songs. So we are going to hit them between the eyes and just go for it.
How did the association with Venom Inc. happen for Tank since you’re taking their place on this Australian tour? They obviously cancelled for health reasons.
They did and it is such a shame as I know Tony [Dolan – Venom Inc. bassist] and the band. We had been speaking to Hardline [tour promoter] about coming down to Australia anyway so we thought that maybe next year there might be a chance. But then, all of a sudden you get a phone call saying that there is a problem with one of the guys in Venom Inc. so we feel bed for them for that but it is good for us because they asked if we could do it. So we just had to juggle a few schedules around but we could get in to do it at the last minutes. It was a bit of a panic getting visas and stuff but we got all those travel arrangements sorted out and got it figured out so it is all good.
Your choice of frontmen is interesting because before David Readman from Pink Cream 69, you’ve had ZP Theart and also Doogie White, who was a great vocalist for Yngwie Malmsteen over a decade ago. My point being, no matter how good the guitar playing is, the frontman selection is vital.
Yeah, it does matter. So that is why, when we got Tank back together in around 2009 or 2010, we thought that we just had to go for the best frontman that we could get and to aim high. Doogie was available then so he came down but he had never really heard anything of Tank but we sent him some of the new songs that we were working on and he really liked it. He came in and then did the War Machine album and War Nation album with us, He is a fantastic singer and really professional. Live, it gave the whole band a different sort of feel with a bit more classic sort of rock. He was a great frontman and a real perfectionist. After he left to join Schenker, we thought, ‘okay, we’ve got to find someone else’ so again, we aimed high. We found ZP Theart who had just left Dragonforce. None of us liked Dragonforce at all but we thought we’d give it a go and he is a really cool so he brought a new energy into the band. We did the Valley of Tears album with him which was great and again, gave a different vibe to the albums with Doogie and ZP live on stage was absolutely brilliant. Then, of course, Skid Row came along and they took him. So then we thought, ‘aim high again’ and so we got David Readman. I am not really a fan of Pink Cream 69 but when he came down to just jam with us, his voice sounded totally different to what it sounds like on the Pink Cream albums. He fits right in with Tank and he can sing right across the board on our material so again, we just aim high and get the best vocalist. That is the frontman and they are fronting the band.
Do you think that it is time for another live recording or even a live Blu-Ray perhaps?
Yeah, I would love to do another one. The one with Doogie [War Machine Live] is always there but I would love to do one with this line-up. Possibly next year we will look at doing that and we’ll speak with our label to see if it is time to do another one. That would be really cool.
The very recent Re-Ignition album sees Tank re-recording some early classics. What was the impetus being doing that album?
Well, we started that off as just a bit of fun, really. We were sitting in the back of a tour bus one day just talking about it because ZP was saying that we still play of lot of our old songs live. However, in the set they do sound completely different to the original recordings because we play them more energy and with a much bigger sound with different vocalists singing them. So, we thought, ‘let’s just go in and record some of these songs for a bit of fun and also as a bit or a promotional album.’ We didn’t want to take anything away from the original recordings or the original albums so we just did this on a very low budget. We went in there and gave the songs a bit of a metal makeover, a much bigger production and we did it pretty quickly. We seem to have to picked the right songs so we put it out and it has done really well. I think that it has introduced a lot of people to Tank who wouldn’t have otherwise heard Tank before, which is a good thing.
I was curious if it might also be a means to take control of the original masters, in a way.
No, the thing with the masters is that we don’t own any of those old albums. That is how it is for a lot of bands out there and they are all owned by say Universal or Warner Brothers. All of these smaller labels that we did the albums on were bought u by another label and now these massive labels own everything. So, unfortunately we don’t have any of those albums at all.
Well, now that you have re-recorded some tracks, that should provide a bit of life into the old material which has to be a good scenario.
Yeah and that is the thing. We’ve re-recorded those songs and that is it. I think that a lot of bands have been doing that recently.
It is funny what you’re saying about monolith labels because from what I can gather, the early days of the NWOBHM scene was a lot of independent labels and start-ups before the majors came along and then once Maiden became huge, that all just changed.
Yeah, that did happen. As soon as you get the majors coming, it is when a genre of music is starting to really happen which means there are big audiences there. Maiden were one of the first bands to get snapped up by a major label and that then changed the whole thing. You then got Def Leppard and Saxon; all of that stuff. A lot of those very first recordings were done on those very small labels. Again, they were soon acquired by labels and then other labels so they all ended up being snapped up by Warners, Sony or something similar.
You get that, I guess. Tank doing cover songs is a curious aspect of your back catalogue. You’ve covered the Osmonds and Aretha Franklin which is somewhat different for heavy metal.
I must admit, I thought that ‘Crazy Horses’ was a great choice and that was a fantastic song. I actually bought that single when it came out; the original one by the Osmonds. It was a great version, yeah because that was a cool song to cover. The Aretha Franklin one, hmm, ‘Chain of Fools’ was a bit of an odd one but it kind of worked. I guess that you have just got to kind of experiment a little bit there. I don’t think that we have done any covers for a while though so perhaps for the next album we might come up with something.
Looking over your discography, is there one album that you are most proud of at this point?
Oh, that is a tough one really. I couldn’t really say one album. I guess that for its time, Honour and Blood was pretty much a very good album. It had good songs on there and obviously had a good line-up on it. I feel proud to have been on that album with Algy and those guys. There are some great, great tracks on there. I think that I am also proud of War Machine, War Nation and Valley of Tears because we brought it all back from the dead when we put those albums out. We also put a lot of work into them so I cannot go with just one album, really. We’ll see, maybe it will be the next one.
Are you planning on releasing the recent albums on vinyl?
The Re-Ignition album will come out on vinyl next month. It will be a double album with a gatefold sleeve in red vinyl. That will be really cool and then we will be back in the studio for the next couple of months to start recording the next studio album which we are going to release in early 2020.
Great, thanks for having a chat to us about all things Tank.
Thanks, it is a real privilege and it is so cool for us to be coming down to Australia. We still cannot believe it so we are really looking forward to getting over there and just playing our style of metal for our Aussie fans. I’ll see you there.