Interview By Ville Krannila / April 2015
FEW bands from the classic NWOBHM era have persevered as long and steadfastly as Tank. Bands recorded output has also remained at exceptionally high quality with recent albums like “War Machine” and “War Nation” fit to stand alongside Tank’s older material. Steel Mill chatted with their guitarist for the past 30 years, Cliff Evans on both the past, the present and also promising future, which sees them release a new studio record “Valley Of Tears” this summer.
Tank now has two members enjoying 30+ year career with Tank, how do you remember the classic NWOBHM times of early to mid-1980’s?
It was an exciting time for rock music in the UK in the early 80’s. You could see bands such as Iron Maiden, Samson and Saxon playing in small clubs and pubs to just a handful of people. There were metal gigs on seven nights a week and new bands were constantly emerging to add to the competition. Musicians would move from one band to another and you could see that certain bands were starting to evolve to the next level. Angel Witch are the first band that comes to mind. I saw them dozens of times at venues such as the ‘Bandwagon Soundhouse’ and the ‘Brecknock Pub’ in Camden. At one show they headlined a triple bill with Angel Witch, Iron Maiden and Urchin (Adrian Smith on vox and guitar).
They were leading the way but several months later Iron Maiden had become the dominant force of NWOBHM. I think the choice of management for each band played a huge part in their destiny.>
I was at an Urchin show at the Brecknock Pub when Steve Harris and Dave Murray were in the audience. Adrian Smith was offered the job of replacing Stratton but had apparently turned it down. They obviously convinced him somehow.
Even though Iron Maiden were the originators and by far the biggest band of the whole NWOBHM genre, you will rarely see any reference or acknowledgement to it in any interviews with them.
Cliff, you joined the band for 1984’s “Honour And Blood.” Do you still listen to that album and what are your recollections of first hooking up with Tank and recording that particular album?
I was a big fan of Tank before being asked to join the band in 1984. I saw them several times at the legendary ‘Marquee Club’ in London and also supporting Motorhead at the Hammersmith Odeon. I loved their music and punk influenced edgy sound. I’d hung out drinking with the guys many times and also sold Algy a couple of his Thunderbird basses.
I was playing guitar at that time in the blues band ‘Chicken Shack’. We were playing a show at the Golden Lion pub in Fulham when Algy and Mick had come down along with Janick Gers who was, I think with Gillan at the time. The following day they offered me the job of joining Tank which I immediately accepted. I went straight into the studio to work with the guys on ‘Honour and Blood’. It’s an album I still listen to regularly. Especially the intro which then leads into the skull crushing ‘War Drags Ever On’. That is what metal is all about. When the album was released we went out on the road supporting Metallica on their now legendary ‘Ride The Lightning’ tour.
It was a very successful tour for us but management and record label problems put an end to any progress we had made. Unlike Metallica who went on to do rather well. We went on to tour the USA in 1985 but we had no real backing behind us and things started to fall apart.
How about the end of 1980’s? That started to be difficult time to play old school heavy metal, right?
There was still a good market for metal but we had lost any momentum we had gained and there were some internal problems within the band.
Management was still a problem for us. Algy had also lost interest and would often just disappear for months at a time. Tank didn’t split up but we did go our separate ways for a while.
What were you guys up to during the 1990’s when grunge took over?
When Tank ground to a halt I moved to the US and formed the band ‘Killers’ with original Maiden vocalist ‘Paul D’anno’. We signed a major deal with BMG and proceeded to record our first studio album ‘Murder One’ at the Power House Studios in New York.
Upon its release we embarked on a world tour for the next year or so. The album was very well received and is still considered D’anno’s finest post Maiden recording. Around this time grunge was taking a hold and the traditional metal scene was falling apart. We recorded a live album and one more studio album but it became difficult to keep the line up together. We continued touring and headlined the famous Wacken festival but it had come to an end for Killers.
Algy and Mick were playing with different bands and I hadn’t seen them since the late 80s. I contacted them in 1997/98 with a view to reactivating Tank and getting back on the road. We recorded a live album ‘Return of the Filth Hounds’ and went out on tour with Hammerfall around Europe. We were back in business.
What happened with split with Algy Ward and how did you hook up with Doogie White?
After shows in Europe and Japan we recorded another studio album ‘Still at War’. The album wasn’t well received and we had no label backing so we ground to halt once again. Algy had some health issues and didn’t seem interested in doing anything more. After several years of inactivity Mick Tucker and I decided to keep the Tank name and legacy alive. As Algy wasn’t interested we thought we would use this chance to update the Tank sound and image and move the band forward with a new line up.
We were getting so many requests from promoters and fans around the world who wanted to see Tank on stage again. We couldn’t ignore them. We had always wanted to bring a lead vocalist into the band so we could experiment musically and add a new dimension to our live show. Mick had written some songs for Doogie’s solo album and he suggested we try Doogie on some new Tank ideas. He fitted in straight away and immediately came up with some great melody lines. It was the sound we had always wanted.
The two Tank come back records, “War Machine” and “War Nation” were excellent albums, with band sounding heavy as hell and they also got good reception. Did you think time and climate was right in for again releasing a classic sounding Tank albums?
I don’t think we were really concerned if the time was right or not. We just wanted to make an album of music we love and re-establish Tank as a major force to be reckoned with. You can hear all our individual different influences on both albums. We didn’t try to sound like any one band or follow any trend. We just played what sounded good to us and we were very happy with the end result. Both albums were critically acclaimed around the world and attracted a new audience to our music. Many of the songs from both albums are now fan favourites in our live set.
Doogie White did a fabulous work on your classic “Honour And Blood” and the band also sounded really good. Any plans to possibly re-record some of your other old songs?
Doogie added his own unique style to all the old Tank songs we performed. It was interesting to hear songs we had played for 30 years now sung by a different vocalist. Those old songs still sound great and the fans love to hear them. They now have new life and energy. I’m sure we will be re-recording a couple more old classics to be included on upcoming releases.
Did Doogie’s departure come about, as obviously he has many projects on his sleeve these days?
We knew that Doogie would always be in demand as a vocalist so we didn’t expect him to commit to Tank 100%. It was a pleasure working with him on the 2 studio albums, live DVD and countless European
shows. There is always the possibility of us working with Doogie again in the future. We like to keep all options open. Whatever works best for the band and the fans. Never say never.
As we all know Algy Ward nowadays runs his own version of Tank. What are your thoughts on this?
We wish Algy all the best with whatever he does. I liked his last album. He still comes up with some great riffs. It’s a shame he isn’t performing live anymore. We would love to play with him on stage again. I have so many great memories from those tours we did in the 80’s. You just can’t recreate those kind of experiences. Priceless.
Your current line-up includes member from several successful groups, how has this group gelled together?
It’s always a little bit strange when you play with new musicians for the first time. ZP (Theart) has been in our touring line up for the past year so we know we can rely on him to put 100% into the show and deliver the goods. Bobby (Schottkowski) and Barend (Courbois) were the new guys brought in for our first ever tour of Brazil. We only had one day to rehearse so we had to get our shit together very quickly.
Fortunately we had nothing to worry about as these guys are amazing musicians and nailed it. Within a minute of us all playing together, we knew we had something special. Our songs took on a new energy and where rehearsing is usually not very exciting, all of a sudden it became very enjoyable. The following day we travelled to Brazil and completed a very successful first tour there.
Any problems with the guys playing in other groups as far as scheduling gigs?
I think these days you have to expect musicians to play with more than one band. It’s so hard to make any money from the music business these days. There’s no money from albums anymore and trying to fill your touring schedule is becoming increasingly difficult so musicians have to work whenever they can. It’s a real shame it’s come to that but unfortunately the music business is completely fucked as we know it.
That’s just the way it is
Comparing the current band with the original three-member line-up, are there still traces of that original sound or are you pushing the band forward with new approach?
Tank is constantly moving forward now but we still retain a certain edge to our music. I was a big fan of Tank before I joined which was mainly due to the punk influence in the sound and live show. There will always be a piece of that in whatever we do. That’s why Tank has always stood out from the other metal bands of a similar genre and has been a big influence on many bands including Metallica and Nirvana.
We understand you are planning to play European tour and some festivals this year. What can we expect from those performances?
We’re really looking forward to getting back on stage and making some noise. It’s what we do best. We’ll play classics and songs from the upcoming new Tank album “Valley of Tears” before its official release in June 2015. A full European tour is now being booked for the spring of 2015 and we hope to return to South America in the summer.
You are lining up another record? What kind of material can we expect?
The new material has moved on again from the classic rock sound of ‘War Machine’ and ‘War Nation’. Bringing new musicians into the band means we can approach the writing from a different angle and keep the band sounding fresh but still retain the Tank trademark sound.
We have worked with producer Phil Kinman again on this new album. He did such a great job on our last release ‘War Nation’ and really understands what we’re looking to achieve. The album “Valley Of Tears” will be released through Metal Mind Productions in June 2015.
Any words to readers of Steel Mill?
It’s always our main aim to deliver top quality metal on record and on stage and continue to build our army of fans around the world. We work hard and really love what we do so please give our music a listen
and help keep metal alive! Cheers.
Thank You Very Much for Your Time!