TANK - “No Point Asking Me About What Those Wankers Are Going On Doing”
June 17, 2015, 2 years ago
When there was no Algy Ward on the horizon, it was tolerable ‘aving a go at another Tank. Well, no it wasn’t. Good band as they were, without the chief writer and vocalist and none of the original classic power trio, it simply wasn’t Tank.
Underscore that, because when Algy stormed back with the magnificent old school metal clinic that was Breath of the Pit in 2013, it became graphically clear the overpowering extent to which Algy was Tank. Acceptable quality and perfectly fitting that the use of drum machine was, what was frightful was just how superlative each riff upon each riff was, and is, on that damn thing. Notwithstanding that we got the classic original vocalist for Tank, but man, here was Algy performing the whole damn album, and then every song was sturdy and hooky and loud and proud. If, perchance, it had been recorded with less fuzz and distortion and maybe a live drummer, Breath of the Pit might have been the best metal album of 2013.
And here we are two years later, with the Tucker and Evan version of Tank about to release a new album called Valley of Tears, while Algy...
“The album is Sturmpanzer, and it’s an album that those miscreants didn’t want to play on. So it’s just me. Same as on the last one. Just me.”
That’s Algy, speaking barely decipherable down the line and that’s about all I could get out of the man, on what was about the longest, toughest hour-plus of chat this scribe has had through 1600-plus interviews.
Part of it’s my fault, as I really treated the attempted chat as a retrospective. After all, Algy played on two of my favourite ten punk albums of all time, Eternally Yours from The Saints and Machine Gun Etiquette from The Damned. Plus those first three Tank albums... there are a lot of records in the world, but I’d not deny any of them a slot in anyone’s Top 100, including mine, on any given day.
But yeah, let’s just say I had much trouble following the metal legend’s train of thought as he responded, usually disagreeing but in good nature to most of my questions, and with long pauses and lots of restarts, and often coming around to the answer I expected in the end. Add to that a heavy English accent, many stops for fits of laughter, a general sense of defiance and contrarianism, and that he’d go all muffled when he’s be trying to roll a cigarette, and... you get the picture.
“Same as on Breath of the Pit,” continues Algy, who says stylistically, after one of them long pauses, “it’s about the same. It kind of would’ve been the same as if anyone was playing on it. It’s just what I wanted to do.”
Well, okay, here’s an example of what I mean, even though I’m just going to give you the highlights where I understood the point. Asked if given his Saints and Damned experience, he had put together Tank from more of a punk philosophy than that of your average metalhead, he says...
“No, no, no, those things... not those things. You’re trying out Americanisms now (laughs). No need to apologize. No, no, no, all I did was stuff that was edgy. So that’s it, really. To myself, well, me, personally, there’s no difference. No, no, no, I’m 55 years old, and the first single I ever bought was ‘My Generation’ in 1965 by The Who. And I was listening to jazz and blues when I was in my mother’s womb (laughs). I don’t listen to heavy rock, or I don’t listen... I listen to the stuff I want to listen to.”
But given Tank’s essential pioneering thrashy heavy metal sound, sort of the down-rent end of the NWOBHM... surely there was some knowledge and love for metal in there somewhere?
“In the mid-‘70s? I was listening to all sorts in the mid-‘70s. Oh, no, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin... you’ve got to realize, I’m not... I can’t be confined by what I listened to. I’m esoteric, I suppose. But I like what I like, and if I don’t like it, well then I won’t fucking listen to it. No point, in those days.”
“My brother and I were into ‘70s heavy rock, with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, all that sort of thing, a bit of Led Zeppelin thrown in,” confirms original Tank drummer Mark Brabbs, his brother being classic lineup axe-purveyor Pete Brabbs. “Algy was always a ZZ Top man, and even when he went through his punk period, he was still into ZZ Top, and obviously, Motorhead and Deep Purple. So we were all pretty much rockers. I mean, I got into the punk thing. I hated when it first came out. I remember going to see The Damned before Algy joined them, in Croydon. And Rat Scabies came up, and they were supporting someone like Stray, some heavy rock band. Rat said come up and jam. And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know what you’re playing.’ And they’re like, ‘It doesn’t matter. Get up and make a noise.’ And I thought, this is a bit childish. And I didn’t really get it until I heard, actually, ‘New Rose,’ from The Damned and when Stranglers put out ‘Peaches.’ And then Never Mind The Bollocks came out, the Sex Pistols, and that really kicked the whole industry in England right up the backside.”
“But the punk element of the band mainly came from Algy,” continues Mark, “and actually, my brother, he liked some of that. I wasn’t into that. I was more into sort of dinosaur rock bands. But then, obviously, when we started jamming the songs, it just became what it was. We didn’t aim to be anything other than what came out, when we got together. So it wasn’t preconceived, like, let’s do this, let’s do that. And it kind of reflected our lifestyle. Because when we were young, we were party animals. We lived life in the fast lane. So it’s kind of safe if you listen to the early demos of some of those songs that made it onto Filth Hounds. Some of the playing is almost subtle, you could say, compared to what the finished article became, which was a lot faster, a lot more aggressive. And that was probably down to more lifestyle than musical influences, if that makes sense.”
Okay, so, back to Algy, what is the concept behind Tank?
“Well I have the same attitude that I’ve always had. You know, hate the world and misanthropy. You know what that means? And odium as well, just hatred. In-your-face, if you don’t like it, fuck off.”
Pressing the issue, I tell Algy that me an’ the buds always saw the band not only as the baby Motorhead, but the thinking man’s Motorhead.
“Well, I take that as a compliment,” laughs Ward. “My lyrics, I wasn’t into... you know, people say that that we’re Motorhead copyists. I wrote most of those incredibly difficult rhythms and riffs and all that. It was a degree of difficulty that Motorhead... Eddie could never have played those riffs. It wasn’t no influence on me at all, because you’ve got to realize that I already knew them. I knew them since 1977. So no, just because we had the same management... I mean that is just bad journalism.”
So what did Fast Eddie Clarke bring to the table, producing the band’s first album, Filth Hounds of Hades?
“Nothing really, he just brought a lot of drink and a load of amphetamines, that’s all. And said it wasn’t loud enough (laughs).”
Not the favourite then?
“Well, I like them all for different reasons. I like the second one, because it’s the best sounding. And it’s... unfortunately, Nigel Gray didn’t know how to do... he did The Police and various other people, so he couldn’t handle having the loud guitars, you know, properly. He always had to have some other nonsense on it. But I wish Filth Hounds was sounding like the second, and I wish we had enough time on the first and third, that we had on the second, if you see what I mean. Eddie, he had to finish Filth Hounds quick to go and do Iron Fist. And then he pissed off, and then went to what would become Fastway. And then a couple of the songs on the Fastway album would’ve ended up on the Iron Fist album, or, well, whatever the next Motorhead album would’ve been, and he just had enough of that sort of nonsense. And Nigel Gray had, obviously on the same management, Girlschool, so we thought, why not give him a go—why not?”
In any event, not a big fan of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, our Algy.
“When all that fucking load of bullshit was going about, I was in The Damned. Iron Maiden and Saxon and everything else, I had nothing to do with all that shit. You have to remember, I was in The Damned from ‘78 until January 1, 1980, and that’s when all the Maiden and what was it, Toad the Wet Sprocket and all that God-awful bullshit was going on. And I wasn’t interested in all that shit. The first time I saw Iron Maiden, I went to meet somebody at The Marquee, in Wardour Street. And there’s this band playing and they were fucking dreadful. It was awful. And then a few months later, they were on a children’s early morning TV, and they had a video out at the time called ‘Women in Uniform,’ which I knew, being in The Saints, was from some Australian band. And I thought, what the fuck are they doing that for? And that was the video, and they’re on this kids’TV show and they all got custard pied. You can probably find that on YouTube or some other bollocks somewhere. But the first time I saw them in The Marquee, they were fucking awful. I think they did a couple of Montrose covers. They were fucking rubbish. They were really bad.”
“I don’t think we ever did, to be perfectly honest,” agrees Mark, asked to what extent they felt kinship with the NWOBHM. “It was a bit... and again, this is no disrespect to the other bands. I mean, I speak for myself, but at the time, collectively, we thought most of the bands that were coming out were pale imitations of the ‘70s rock bands, like Saxon and Samson and Maiden, and all those sort of things. We thought they were they were pale imitations of what went before them. And so we didn’t actually aim, like I said, to be anything, really. We didn’t aim to be a punk band. We didn’t aim to be a New Wave Of Heavy Metal Band, and we didn’t aim to be a rock band. But obviously with our influences, we were going to be a rock band. And having said what I said, I think, obviously, all those bands have developed and they’ve got their own sound and they’re all superb bands, now. But at the start, I don’t think they... it had all been done before in the ‘70s. And I suppose, you know, a lot of people could say, well, we were an imitation of maybe the Pink Fairies or Motorhead, but we weren’t. Because there was a lot more influences on us, between us. And mainly, funny enough, you have to have a very keen ear, but the big influence on Tank right at the start was the early ZZ Top stuff—especially with Algy and Pete.”
So surely Algy can clarify: Tank were’t a bunch of metal-knowing punks. “No, I’m not, no (laughs); I never had been a punk. I was just a person who’s got attitude.”
And—just testing—were your band mates, Mark and Peter Brabbs, the bringers of the metal? Or did they just have attitude too?
“No, they, just had attitude, you know, and all that long hair. I’m not... it was a brilliant time. Pete, unfortunately, he couldn’t handle the alcohol or the amount of stuff he put up his nose. As I said, I’m not... I’m just myself. The Algy Ward enigma (laughs). What did I like? Everything about Ozzy right from the beginning until... well, lately, he’s just coming out with bullshit. Not necessarily heavy metal, but I liked bits of Rush. Judas Priest, I’ve never liked either. Iron Maiden, never liked. Oh, Metallica, I liked. I’m Uncle Algy to them.”
Back to modern times, don’t look to Algy to be able to tour the new Sturmpanzer album...
“No, no, no, no, I can’t tour anymore. My tinnitus is so bad. I can’t even go... I can’t even have an amplifier. I can’t play into an amplifier anymore. Everything I do is done very quietly on headphones. I do it at home. And the only time I let rip is to do vocals. But I’m nearly finished Sturmpanzer, the next album. I’ve no idea... you know, no point asking me about what those wankers are going on doing. I have no interest whatever. I don’t fucking care. It’s taken a long time to get over my... the loss of my brother. I’ll never get over that, but it can’t be helped. So I‘ve got to move on. So that’s basically what I’m doing.”
Of note, through my discussion with Mark, as I tell him how good Algy is writing, based on what I know, the Breath of the Pit album, Mark wondered if me if it wasn’t too late to contact Algy and offer to drum on Sturmpanzer. I dunno, but I’m gonna email Algy when I get back to the damn office.
As I attempt to wrap up, Algy offers, “Are you sure there’s not anything else you want to ask? Because I don’t like… You seem to be okay. If I didn’t like talking with you, I wouldn’t say anything, so there you are. You can carry on. If you want more stuff, I’ll tell you.”
So I thank him, and we do keep jawing, as I try to get a few nuggets from him about This Means War, which I’ll try fashion into a stand-alone piece one day, to add to my 30 or so short eBooks I’ve got over at zunior.com for 98 cents. There’s also some Saints and The Damned. OK for the former, venomous come the latter. But it’s hard graft, again, with points hard to follow, miscommunication, just tough stuff.
Later, back on another tack, I press Algy on whether this odd trip on a Tank has afforded him the opportunity to meet any of his rock heroes, although I’m gathering he doesn’t have many!
“I’m trying to think. I’m trying to think. Well, the thing is, I already met most of them before I was in a band. Because I was as a roadie for them. I had already met them. I always knew Ozzy. I met Ozzy in 1974. All right, I’m trying to think. I can remember there was somebody who was quoted saying something like, ‘Best not meeting your heroes.’ You know, they’ll let you down. Glenn Hughes, he let me down. He was a total asshole. David Coverdale was perfectly all right. Jon Lord didn’t let me down, Roger Glover didn’t let me down, Ian Paice didn’t let me down. They’re absolute gentleman, as you’d expect they were. Schenker is a fucking idiot—that’s Michael Schenker, not Rudy. I’m trying to think. Jimmy Page is a gentleman, Robert Plant is a gentleman. All of Led Zeppelin are gentleman, were gentleman. I’ve met so many people and drunk with them—and got drunk with them. I liked Jeff Beck. You know, there are quite a lot of those old bastards.”
But old bastards he’s also not seen in a long time are the guys from Tank.
“No, no, I have no idea. Pete hasn’t played with a band since, I think, he was sacked. Mark, no idea. I played with those wankers, Tucker and Evans a lot. But you probably know more about that than I do.”
And with that it’s a goodnight from me, and from Algy, a chortling, “Stay in yer homes!”