Interview with Robb Weir (guitar), Craig Ellis (drums) and Richie Wicks (vocals)
Interview conducted by Michel Renaud
Date online: November 21, 2002
The Tygers of Pan Tang have been around longer than many metal fans of today have been alive - or at least longer than they've been able to enjoy this most fulfilling music. Formed in 1977, their unusual name was suggested by their original bassist who was heavily into fantasy sci-fi and had read a book by David Moorcock in which the "Cliffs Of Pan Tang" are guarded by sacred Tigers - hence the Tygers Of Pan Tang. They were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that spawned such offsprings as Iron Maiden, Venom, Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Saxon, Magnum, Witchfynde and so many others. They were quite successful in the early 80s, and are now back with a vengeance following a highly acclaimed appearance at Wacken Open Air in 1999, ready to release a double album featuring the 2002 edition of the Tygers of Pan Tang. ROOOAAARRR! (yeah yeah, that was cheesy - sue me! :p)
The band was resurrected in 1999 after some 12 years of absence. How did this reunion come to be?
Robb: Jess Cox phoned me out of the blue one day and asked if I would consider playing in an original Tygers line up at the annual Wacken open air festival. I jumped at the chance, but a week later when he contacted me again Jess said that because of work and personal commitments only Jess and myself would be in the line up. We recruited a drummer, bass player and another guitar player and off we went to headline the Friday night with such acts as Doken and Saxon opening for us.
The band released some pretty "radio-friendly" (but still good ;)) stuff in the mid-80s, following the heavier material found on "Wild Cat", for example. With a new album coming, what direction is the band taking, sound-wise?
Robb: Well in my opinion the new songs are very much up with the what’s happening now, quite heavy at times but always melodic. We always write songs to please ourselves and not what’s fashionable this week.
Craig: It promises to be the biggest, most musically eclectic and intelligent Tygers of Pan Tang album in the band’s history. Fans can expect hints of familiar Tyger vibes in the likes of Bad Bad Kitty and Running Man, but also a mature development in powerful melodic rock with songs like The Spirit Never Dies and Deja-Vu and, a heavy, progressive development in Godspeak and our opus: Master of Illusion.
Richie: The music wasn't written with a direction in mind. If we felt pressured to sound like a past incarnation of the band then all the songs would have turned out the same and there wouldn't have been any epic stuff. On 'TSND' you get rock, love songs, something to play when you're caning it up the M11, and no fewer than three breathtaking epics that are products of the many influences brought into this band by five very talented, very different musicians. It's going to be one of those 'un-pidgeonholeable' albums like Queensryche's Promised Land or Dream Theater's Falling into Infinity. People are really going to want to dislike this record because of the name Tygers Of Pan Tang and they think they ought, but I think a few are going to make themselves look really stupid trying to discredit it.
What was the reason for going softer back then? Was it to try to better penetrate the US market? (the pop-loving softies :)) Pressure from the record company?
Robb: The reason for the softer CAGE album, was unbearing record company pressure.
Are there any albums onto which you wish you had done something differently, or even not released it at all?
Robb: I think we were all disappointed with the third album, CRAZY NIGHTS because of the very poor production. This was due to our producer having to work on our album and fly back to the states in the middle of our recording to finish off his project with Stanley Clarke.
I think there's only one original band member left? When did the others come on board? I guess I'm asking for a line-up history here. :)
Robb: Back in 1977 I had this dream to be in a big hard rock band, so I set about creating what was to become the TYGERS. When the demise of the band came in 1983 I started a new project called SERGENT with Brian Dick. We recorded an album, but it was never released. I then became involved in another project, this time with Jess Cox, called TYGER, TYGER. I wrote all the material with my song writing partner Terry Lee, but again only 1 track was released. I left the music industry in 1986 to peruse other goals, but the Tygers were always in my heart and my blood. When I got the call from Jess in 1999 I was excited but cautious because of how the music industry works! After Wacken I got a call from Z records showing interest in a new Tygers album. I recruited a singer who intern recommended the current line up.The singer who was on the MYSTICAL album, released last year is no longer with us. Our management company I.A.D. found our current singer, RITCHIE WICKS. Playing bass is BRIAN WEST,on drums is CRAIG ELLIS and guitar DEAN ROBERTSON. I have to say these guys are the best musicians I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Each one of these guys has their own personal history within the music business.
With only one original band member, how do things work in the band? Does everyone have a say in the songwriting and other band matters/decisions (etc...)?
Robb: The band is run as a democracy, everybody has a say, even our manager!
Craig: Its completely democratic. Ideas come from all of us and are kicked around between us until something starts taking shape. Though ideas may be fragmented at first they soon become entire songs. When the lyrics are introduced we work on the songs arrangement and even at the eleventh hour in the studio we may change parts of the song or individual instrument parts. Everyone is mature enough to take comments about the work in hand for the sake of the song. If something isn't working then it gets ditched - end of story! But! - that 'ditched' piece of music will still be recorded and saved so that it may be brought back out of the ideas-library for another song. Who makes the decisions, has final say?….well that'll be Robb…..or is it Brian?……naa…..its Dean and Richie……or then again……?
What musical experience do the new guys have? Are you all pretty much the same age?
Robb: All the new guys have had several years experience in both recording and playing within the music industry. Yes we are all more or less the same age.
Craig: We all come from similar backgrounds - though I'm probably the odd one out a little as I've done quite a varied amount of styles of music not only for my own personal desire to development as a player but also to help keep the wolf from the door!!! If you sliced each one of us in half you'd find 'rock' running through every one of us!
Are some of the former band members still involved in the music scene?
Robb: John Sykes, living, recording and playing in the states.
Brian Dick, is a session drummer.
Fred Purser owns a recording studio in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Jess Cox owns his own record label.
Rocky is a music lawyer in London.
John Deveral is an actor.
Have you already signed with a label for your upcoming album? (My bet is MCA didn't call this time... ;))
Robb: We are currently reviewing several offers.
Craig: At the moment the album is in the hands of Chris Tsangarides who is to do the final mix prior to pressing. We'll have to see what happens as far as input from a label is concerned - but you can bet it'll be out there very soon.
The band started as "Trick" in 1976, then became "Tygers of Pan Tang" in 1978. That was pretty much at the start of the NWOBHM explosion, if I'm not mistaken. Did you actually take part in the birth of the NWOBHM or were you simply thrown in that category by the fans and the press?
Robb: Yes we were part of the NWOBHM explosion and were there right from the start.
How was it like to be part of the NWOBHM scene in the early 80s? Were you in contact with many bands back then? How about today?
Robb: It was a very exciting time, we were in contact with just about everybody, drinking regularly with,IRON MAIDEN,DEF LEPPARD,MOTORHEAD,THIN LIZZY, UFO,SCORPIONS,SAXON,MAGNUM,to name but a few. Still in contact with a few of the boys.
What do you think of the metal scene today compared to what it was some 20 years ago?
Richie: It's a very healthy animal until you examine the UK scene. I'm amazed anybody plays here anymore. In the mainland of Europe, bands are as big now as they ever became, in the UK you are famous for 15 seconds if you're lucky. 2o years ago there wasn't a one-hundredth of the weight of bands there are now, so even the worst of the worst got a deal. Christ, if I was in the position I am now 20 years ago I'd have been front cover material as frontman for the Tygers. Now it won't even raise an eyebrow, and why, because the media controls what's popular. It has absorbed so much pop that the heart of metal has become an underground entity like punk was in the 70's. Ironically, metal and punk remained extremely separate entities back then when the two styles merging would have seemed to be much more understandable . Today you can get Marilyn Manson, Cradle Of Filth and Dani Minogue on the same page in a 'rock' mag, turn the page and they'll slag off Ozzy 'cos his hand was shaking on the Osbournes! It's just trying to sell the same watered down shite to as many kids who can afford it - and it's those same kids who know that if they don't buy into this rubbish because Ant and Deck say so they'll get a f**king good kicking in the playground Monday morning. And the…..you only have to spend a day in Germany at one of the many metal festivals like 'Wacken' or 'Bang Your Head' to remember why you got into this stuff in the first place. Why can't we put on a party like that in England?
The band has a lot of releases (LPs, singles, EPs). Do you have songs that were never released? If yes, are you planning to make them available some day?
Robb: I think just about everything has been released.
Which ONE band would you dream of touring with?
Robb: VAN HALEN would have been great or DEEP PURPLE (Hughes,Coverdale version.)
Craig: A re-united Mr.Big.
Richie: Manowar......Manowar or Atomic Kitton (for the after show sex). (With that in mind, as long as you don't say Halford... :) - ed.)
What's your answer to those who think that older bands are past their prime and should just give it up? (Yes, you can use bad words :))
Robb: It's funny how the new bands are not selling half as many records as the older establishment! And are having to rely on various gimmicks,(dress sense,etc.) to make up for the lack of quality material.
Craig: If what they're producing is just not cutting it - then yeah - its time to quit! That goes for any band, any age. But if great music is still being made and is played well then why should they be cut out of the equation?
Richie: They should give up if they can't work together anymore and produce great music. People come and go, it doesn't mean the band has to cease to exist! I still love Liverpool F.C. even though Kevin Keegan has long since moved on!
What have been the reactions to the reformation of the band? There's a sentiment out there that some older bands are getting back together because "metal is back" (although it never went away...) Has anyone accused you of just jumping on the bandwagon? What are your thoughts on this issue?
Robb: The reaction to our reformation has been astounding. We fell there is a genuine need for classic metal.
Craig: This ties in perfectly with your last question Michel. What really pisses me off is some of the media peoples response to hearing the pre-release demos of the new album with comments like: "Well, its not really the Tygers"!!!!! One of my favourite bands: Rush don't write or 'sound' exactly like they used to (Hemispheres versus Vapour Trails?) but they still write and play great material and do actually carry that Rush vibe through. The quality of equipment has moved on over the years and recording techniques have developed to where music sounds different to 20 years ago - period! If ANY band was still writing the same as they did 20 years ago we'd just be buying the same bloody record we bought back then!! Robb's an original Tyger for goodness sake - he plays and writes his way - which is how he always did but now with more experience, ability and maturity. Bottom line is it is still in essence the Tygers.
Richie: If I could strike one word from the dictionary it'd be NOSTALGIA. I don't know who has claimed to have reunited because metal is back! I tell you, any band who reformes with ALL the original members will be regarded as a freakshow. 'OOH, look how old they look', that's all you'll hear, 'how tired they sound!' All I see when I'm fronting the Tygers at one of the shows are smiles, people throwing their fist in the air and singing along with the set. This is because Tygers2002 is a fitter better line-up than ever before and if people want to dislike us because there's a couple of guys in the band under 40 years of age then they can lump it!
Has any live video footage been recorded over the years? Would you releasing a VHS/DVD be a possibility for the near future?
Robb: We have plans to release new footage on DVD next year.
Regarding the new album, what is this about it being a double album, the second CD being live? Where and when was the live material recorded?
Robb: The live material was recorded on tour in England this Year.
How long has the new album been in the making? Where was it recorded? (etc...)
Robb: The album took 6 weeks to record and was recorded at The SOUND STATION, Wakefield. It is currently being mixed by CHRIS TSANGARIDES our original producer from 1980/1981.
Craig: The studio we recorded in is in West Yorkshire, England is a little 'haunt' owned by a good friend of mine (Mark Sturgess). I'd recorded there with a couple of other bands and so recommended it to the guys when the opportunity arose. I knew everyone would like the vibe of the place and would enjoy working with Mark.
What are the promotion plans for the new album? Any touring? (Where?)
Robb: Promotion plans are being finalised as we speak, we are touring this winter in the UK and in early 2003 in Europe and America.
An album named "Mystical" was released at one point, but we don't hear much about it. What are the reasons for this?
Robb: Mystical was released last year on Z Records, they did no promotion and we were very very unhappy with the whole affair. We left Z Records soon after.
Bonus question: What's your best memory of one of your live performances?
Robb: Playing at the Sun Palace in Tokyo, Japan, and La Theatre in Paris where we still hold the house attendance record.
Another bonus one: Now for the worst memory (Spinal Tap moment or whatever :))?
Robb: Falling off the stage while playing a guitar solo, supporting IRON MAIDEN at the Marquee club in London 1980.
What metal bands do you guys like these days? Any favourites?
Robb: Don’t mind NICKLEBACK that’s about it.
Craig: I'll listen to anything!! If it sounds and feels good it stays on…
Couple of dumb questions to finish off. :) After over 20 years, do you still get weird looks when you mention your band's name? :)
Robb: Don’t think so but I’m immune to it!
Have PETA ever harrassed you for having a tiger in a cage on one of your albums? :) (They did get on Judas Priest's case for having an album titled "Hell Bent for Leather"!)
Robb: Never had any problems on that front.
I'm out of questions, thanks for your time! Last words are yours!
Robb: Thanks for all your questions please try and come and see us, E-mail us and we will put you on the guest list, all the best, cheers, ROBB.
Craig: Keep visiting the website (www.tygersofpantang.co.uk) for all kindsa stuff to download n' to get info on us touring etc... :)
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