I always wanted to do an in-depth feature on the British powerhouse TANK, which to me is simply one of UK’s finest and rawest Metal acts from the early 80s. But unfortunately this never turned into reality for various different reasons. Luckily though, things started to change when original TANK vocalist / bassplayer Algy Ward returned to the scene recently with a brand new album entitled "Breath Of The Pit". The record company in charge of the promotion of it asked me if I would be interested to interview him… Needless to say that I was, and so I collected about sixty questions in total, all of them exclusively dealing with the Algy Ward era of TANK (I can’t stand the other bandmember’s way too melodic incarnation of TANK that is also around these days) and sent them over to the UK. Algy obviously wasn’t very amused about the incredible length of the interview and told me just that… I explained him the intention behind this massive feature and was hoping for a more positive feedback this time. But then the worst thing you could ever imagine happened: In another email Algy told me, that his brother is in hospital… dying… and that he would get back to me at some later point of time. Even though I never met Algy nor his brother, that information was still like a shock to me. I already figured that the interview would once again not happen… But then, by pure coincidence, I managed to track down original drummer Mark Brabbs, who kindly accepted my request to answer at least all those questions about the early days, when he was still involved in TANK (thanks again, mate!)… So here it is, the (unfortunately) heavily shortened version of what was to become the ultimate TANK feature… Enjoy it nevertheless! And in case Algy should still return his answers one day, you’ll additionally be reading them here as well of course!
Hey Mark, I would like to take this opportunity to clear up several history related TANK topics that are of interest to me as a longtime fan of the band, so I hope you won’t mind?! Was the 3 song demo (that featured ‘Shellshock’, ‘Run Like Hell’ and ‘Blood, Guts And Beer’) the very first recording of TANK as a band? Did you shop that around to get a record deal or did you send it to magazines to get it reviewed?
"Our first demo, recorded at the Soundsuite Studios in North London, was actually a 5 track demo. The 3 songs you mention plus ‘Don’t Walk Away’ and ‘Hammer On’. Algy, Pete and I produced the demo and Alvin Clark, who had previously worked with MOTÖRHEAD, engineered. There’s a year’s worth of touring, partying and good old hard living between the comparatively naive sounding demo and the album versions – I think you can hear the difference!! Copies of the demo, along with a photo of the 3 of us in front of a large picture of a Tank, were sent to the press and various record companies and it caused quite a stir within the industry! We were lucky enough to have a manager to do all the industry work like shopping demos around, leaving us to make music, drink and party!!!"
You also did a radio session very early on in your career where you recorded the songs ‘Hammer On’, ‘Don’t Walk Away’ and ‘Heavy Artillery’… Do you still recall when and where that took place and for what reasons you did that? Was it broadcasted at some point?
"I remember exactly where and when as I still have a copy of the contract!! The session was at Capital Radio HQ in Euston, London and it was on 3rd March 1982 at 11am!! It was broadcast on Capital Radio and networked across the UK for local radio stations."
Before you signed to Music For Nations / Roadrunner Records in 1983 all of your early releases came out on a label called Kamaflage Records… How did you get together with them originally? It seems TANK was more or less the only band they released (apart from TYTAN and BARON ROJO), so was it your own label maybe?
"Kamaflage Records were part of the Dick James Music Empire (DJM) who were a major record company – The Beatles and Elton John were just 2 of their many mainstream recording artists. DJM’s top A&R man Nick Raymonde asked to see TANK live having heard the demo. We had no gigs planned so our manager invited Nick to a rehearsal and after hearing us play just 3 songs in the studio – ‘Shellshock’, ‘Don’t Walk Away’ and ‘Stormtrooper’ – he offered to sign us ‘on the spot’!!! Nick successfully signed us to DJM but because of DJM’s ‘middle of the road’ image it was agreed by both parties (DJM and TANK) to set up Kamaflage Records within DJM specifically for TANK and for all future ‘New Wave’ signings."
By the way, you once even played with BARON ROJO… was that a full tour or was it just a single gig? Where exactly did you play with them… in Spain?
"We did a full tour of Spain with BARON ROJO! I can’t remember all the venues, although the most memorable one was in San Sebastian! Not because of the gig itself, which was superb, but the fact that we were the only bus to get over the mountains from Madrid in one of the worst snowstorms Spain had ever had!! All the other rigs got stuck in the storm so when we turned up at the venue the following morning it was completely empty – no PA, no lights, no BARON ROJO! The promoter couldn’t believe it when we introduced ourselves and asked us how we made it through the storm!!!! Our Tour Manager Graham (Blake) took a pull on his cigarette and answered "Because we’re English!""
Even though you got compared to MOTÖRHEAD a couple of times back in the early days (probably due to lack of other reference possibilities) TANK had a very original style right from the start and didn’t sound like any other NWOBHM band, not even like more extreme bands such as VENOM or RAVEN… So, did you really feel as a part of the NWOBHM movement? I mean, ok – you played several shows with bands like GIRLSCHOOL, DIAMOND HEAD, ROCK GODDESS, MOTÖRHEAD and the likes, but did you also hang out with all those guys in pubs and / or at parties?
"We definitely had an interest in the NWOBHM movement as it rejuvenated worldwide interest in Rock / Metal music! Although to us, the very first offerings by NWOBHM bands like DEF LEPPARD, SAXON, IRON MAIDEN and SAMSON etc just sounded like poor imitations of 70s Rock bands! Although over the years they all developed superbly! We certainly had no desire to jump on the NWOBHM bandwagon, nor did we think we were a part of it or be accepted as a part of it! We thought what TANK had to offer was actually more creative and dynamic than a rehash of early 70’s rock music. We never really hung around on a regular basis with the guys and gals from GIRLSCHOOL, MOTÖRHEAD or ROCK GODDESS but we would hang out with any of them (and plenty of others!) if we met up with them on the London pub, club and party circuit! As for DIAMOND HEAD, they were great guys but they came from further up North so we never really hung out with them and they kind of kept to themselves on tour!"
From what I recall there’s been at least three different versions of the "Filth Hounds Of Hades" cover artwork (one full coloured, one in blue and one in black / yellow)… Which one was your favorite and how did those different versions come about?
"I drew the original concept drawing of the three headed ‘Filth Hound’ and it was a lot meaner and creepy looking than the one that ended up on the album cover! We were all a bit disappointed with the album artwork to tell the truth but it grew on me and if I was pushed for a favourite, I guess it must be the full colour version!! As for the other versions, it was out of our hands and I have no idea why the various different colours were chosen! I’ve also seen a purple, black and sky blue version that was released in Australia, so who knows how many different versions there are!!"
Was it your personal wish that "Fast" Eddie Clarke from MOTÖRHEAD produced your debut album? I mean, even though he was the guitarist in MOTÖRHEAD and already pretty famous, he didn’t have any producer experiences at all, did he? So, wasn’t it a bit risky to go with him on such an important album as the TANK debut full length?
"Eddie was not our personal wish or choice to have as producer for "Filth Hounds", although we didn’t have anyone else in mind at the time. Eddie was keen to produce the album having produced the EP and it was ultimately our manager’s decision. We were happy with what he’d done with the EP so it just kind of happened."
Was it difficult / expensive to get the support slot on MOTÖRHEAD’s "No Sleep Till Christmas" 1981/1982 tour back then? Musically TANK wasn’t too far away from what MOTÖRHEAD was doing, so did that tour help you to get the name TANK out to a bigger audience?
"It was neither difficult nor expensive (as far as we were aware!!) to get the support slot for MOTÖRHEAD’s European ‘No Sleep Till Christmas’ Tour. We needed to follow up the EP release with a decent tour to promote it and we were lucky enough to have Lemmy as a friend and a supporter of the band. We also had the same management so when Lemmy asked us to support MOTÖRHEAD on their European Tour, it was not only good business but also good to get TANK out to a larger audience!! It was also quite an awesome billing – if you like your music fast, loud, raw and heavy!!"
Tell us a bit more about the pretty funny intro of the "Filth Hounds Of Hades" album… who came up with that and how did it evolve from there?
"The ‘oomba, oomba, oomba’ chant came about after a gig (on tour with GIRLSCHOOL and ANGELWITCH) and after plenty of beer (obviously)! We were waiting for our driver to take us back to the hotel / party and I started drumming on the roof of the car! Algy and Pete joined in by chanting oomba, oomba, oomba in a kind of Zulu warrior style and when our road crew came out they all joined in too!! We had to pay for the damage to the roof of the car by the way!! The ‘Oomba’ song then became a regular part of our pre-gig warm up!!"
Apart from the regular album songs you also recorded a bunch of additional tracks in the early days as well that mostly ended up on 7" or 12" singles, like ‘Hammer On’, ‘The Snake’, ‘Steppin’ On A Landmine’, ‘Filth Bitch Boogie’ and a different version of ‘Crazy Horses’… What made you do so? I mean, was it clear right from the start that you would need some unreleased material for single B-sides?
"We never wrote or recorded songs specifically as ‘B’ sides, it’s just some songs didn’t quite turn out as we’d expected or the record company weren’t too keen. Having said that, we were always having a bit of a laugh in the studio and songs like ‘Crazy Horses’, ‘Filth Bitch’ and ‘Whichcatchewedmycuckoo’ were pretty much recorded ‘tongue in cheek’!"
You also recorded a bunch of pretty unusual coversongs over the years, like the already mentioned ‘Crazy Horses’ (OSMONDS), ‘The Snake’ (PINK FAIRIES) or ‘Chain Of Fools’ (ARETHA FRANKLIN)… who had chosen those songs and was it difficult to convince the other guys in the band to turn them into TANK songs?
"I don’t recall doing Aretha Franklin’s ‘Chain Of Fools’ (you’re right… that was on "Honour And Blood" when you already had left TANK – Frank), but we just started playing the other 2 songs when we first got together in the rehearsal studio by way of ‘breaking the ice’ and we carried on playing them whenever we initially got together to jam."
How did you hook up with producer Nigel Gray for the "Power Of The Hunter" album and how do you judge his work in retrospect these days? That album probably has the most dominant bass sound from all of your releases, so was that Algy’s personal wish maybe?
"Our manager put Nigel Gray’s name forward along with a few other producers for our second album. Nigel had just had considerable success with the first three POLICE albums and we thought that having recorded the first album with a relatively unproven producer in Eddie (Clarke), it would be a progression to work with such an experienced producer as Nigel!"
Why did you not work with him on "This Means War" again and who came up with the idea to work with John Verity instead, who had previously produced bands like ARGENT or SAXON…?
"Unfortunately we changed record companies and the budget for "This Means War" meant that we couldn’t ask Nigel to do the third album! Our manager put forward John Verity’s name and after we’d met him and talked things through, we all thought he’d be the right producer to take us forward – and I think we were right!"
TANK originally started out as the classic 3-piece band and it seems that a lot of people today still like that era the most – so, who came up with the idea to add a second guitarist to the line-up for the "This Means War" album?
"Originally we planned to be a 5-piece band with keyboards and a singer! But after the first few rehearsals the sound we were making meant the 5-piece idea went out of the window! Also, when we signed to DJM they insisted that we should stay a 3-piece. The main reason to add a second guitarist I recall was to boost the sound power of our live shows and in some small way we hoped that by being a 4-piece it would rid us of the ‘Sons of MOTÖRHEAD’ tag that the British press insisted on using!"
The songs on that album are partly longer and you even used some keyboards here and there… Who’s idea was all that? John Verity’s or was it the new influences that newly recruited second guitarist Mick Tucker brought to the table?
"The longer songs on the album were platforms to feature the totally different guitar styles of Pete and new boy Mick (Tucker) and to give Mick an identity in the band by giving him a couple of ‘in your face’ solos! Adding keyboards was totally Algy’s idea! He recorded all the keyboard parts whilst he was on his own in the studio with John (Verity) whilst completing his last few vocal takes! So none of us heard the keyboard parts until we heard the first mixes of the album – it was a very pleasant surprise!!"
While the earlier stuff still had its roots in Punk, this was the first real Heavy Metal album of TANK, would you agree?
"Yes I would agree! "This Means War" was definitely a more Metal album than the previous two albums. It was also a natural progression in the band and definitely influenced by Mick’s more mainstream Metal guitar style."
Why did Pete and yourself actually leave the band after the release of "This Means War"?
"Without going into too much detail, Pete was suffering from the usual rock ‘n roll afflictions which had started to seriously affect his playing, so Algy and Mick decided to sack him! I thought Pete should have been given a chance to sort himself out but it wasn’t to be. For me TANK was and always will be Algy, Pete and me so it felt like the heart of the band had been ripped out! A short while later I was asked to join AC/DC (after Lemmy had recommended me) but they then had to turn me down because of my managerial, recording and publishing commitments with TANK. I quit the very next morning!!"
I always thought that the album in general was totally brilliant, but could easily have lived without ‘If We Go (We Go Down Fighting)’ and ‘I (Won’t Ever Let You Down)’… which to me are kinda weak in comparison to the rest of the record… How do you see this?
"I think I probably have to agree, although as I said before we always have a laugh in the studio and that’s what these songs are about! If you have a listen to the very last line of the chorus in the fade out of ‘I (Won’t Ever Let You Down)’ we change the lyric to ‘My Old Grandad’s Dressing Gown’! You have to turn the volume up high to hear it!! : -)"
At least it seems to be a full band effort as the songwriting credits all go out to Brabbs / Brabbs / Tucker / Ward or was this just printed due to legal reasons maybe?
"There were no legal reasons to giving every member of the band a song-writing credit, we always felt our songs were a band effort no matter who came up with a riff or a lyric so in that sense we were very democratic!"
What’s the story behind the rather weird song ‘Whichcatchewedmycuckoo’, which ended up on the B-side of the "Echoes Of A Distand Battle" 12" together with the other unreleased track ‘The Man Who Never Was’?
"Again, we recorded ‘Whichcat….’ as a bit of a laugh! Algy came up with all the riffs and challenged Pete and Mick to play it! I think Algy played the solo on the recording!! ‘The Man Who Never Was’ was in actual fact one of a number of demos we did for the fourth album, which of course Pete and I never recorded. So that demo was one of the last recordings of TANK with the original line up!"
There’s also two different cover artworks from "This Means War"… what was the reason for that and which one do you personally prefer?
"Definitely not the awful ‘Monster Pizza’ cover! We were in the rehearsal studio when we saw the artwork for "This Means War" and we actually thought it was a joke! We tried to stop it but it had already gone into production! Our manager tried to placate us by telling us the idea was to release a picture disc of "This Means War" and the artwork looked like the monsters were actually climbing out of the record – it didn’t!!! So I prefer the other version – any other version in fact!!"
I noticed that on the 2008 Metal Mind Productions re-release of "This Means War" there’s another bonus track entitled ‘Swapiyayo’, which I’ve never ever heard of… So, where did that song come from after all those years?
"Remember my explanation of the ‘oomba, oomba oomba’ song? ‘Swapiyayo’ was exactly the same only it came to be after a visit to a strip club in Bradford (North England) where we were recording "This Means War" in John Verity’s studio."
What does "ZBA" actually stand for? I noticed that in the liner notes as well as in the thanks list of "This Means War"…
"ZBA were the initials of the name of the bloke who ran our fan club – Zaccariah Biffbum-Alacrity! I have no idea if that’s his real name, I have a feeling it’s not! We also used the word ‘ZBA’ to express every type of feeling! Try it! If you’re contented, say ‘ZBA’ slowly as in ZerBaaaaa! If you’re shocked, say ‘ZBA’ quickly and loudly! It worked for us!!!"
What can you tell us about this double compilation album "Armour Plated"? How come it wasn’t released by Music For Nations / Roadrunner or Kamaflage Records, but by Castle Communications?
"Absolutely no idea!"
To my surprise it also featured all those single B-sides from the early days, but as far as I know it was never released on CD, right?
"I don’t believe so."
In 1992 "Filth Hounds Of Hades" and "Power Of The Hunter" got re-released on CD by a German label called Repertoire Records… what can you tell us about that?
"I haven’t been paid, that’s about all I can say of the CD re-releases! : -) Seriously, I have no idea about the intricacies of the deals surrounding the re-releases on CD."
Why was ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’ actually left off on the Repertoire Records CD re-release of "Power Of The Hunter" and what’s the story behind this nice little song?
"I have no idea why it was left off, maybe they didn’t think it was Metal enough!! We used to sing ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’ along with the ‘Oomba’ song and others as part of our pre gig warm up – I blame the beer!!!"
In 2001 the "War Of Attrition – Live ’81" album got released, which features your Dortmund, Germany show from 1981 where you supported MOTÖRHEAD, as well as the early 3 song demo… who came up with the idea to release that?
"Sorry but I have no idea whose idea it was to release it but I’m glad they did as it brought back some seriously good memories – and I haven’t been paid for that release either!"
Why was an expended edition released by Maniacal Records five years later, with a totally different packaging and additional live tracks from 1982, the 3 songs from your radio session and another two demo songs from the "This Means War" period?
"No idea I’m afraid, I wasn’t asked."
In 2007 another live album, "Live And Rare" was released… what can you tell us about that one?
"No idea, I wasn’t on it, I think Steve Hopgood was drumming!"
The same year also saw the release of the massive TANK boxset "The Filth Hounds Of Hades – Dogs Of War 1981 – 2002", that featured the entire TANK back catalogue, all including several bonus tracks as well as a DVD… Tell us a bit more about that…
"Again I have no idea about the intricacies of the release."
I never really bought a copy of that myself, because I already own all regular TANK CD releases, but would still have liked to get all the bonus songs… but just to get them it is simply way too expensive… have you never considered a CD that compiles all rare studio songs onto one disc?
"I think to compile all the rare studio takes onto one disc would be a good and fair idea, but since I quit in 1983 I have no input in decisions to release back editions or re-releases nor in what form to release them."
If you would put together a TANK setlist these days, which songs would you chose from your personal point of view (and if you wouldn’t have to please any single fan with it)?
"We opened the ‘No Sleep Till Christmas’ tour with ‘Shellshock’ followed straight away by ‘Steppin On A Landmine’ and I think that worked really well so that’s how I’d start! I’d have ‘That’s What Dreams Are Made Of’ and ‘Stormtrooper’ from "Filth Hounds", ‘Walking Barefoot Over Glass’, ‘Used Leather’, ‘Power Of The Hunter’ and maybe ‘Red Skull Rock’ from "Power Of The Hunter" and ‘This Means War’ and ‘Echoes Of A Distant Battle’ from "This Means War" but not in that order!"
Do you know of any bands that covered TANK songs on their releases? If so, which ones are you familiar with and what do you think of their versions?
"I think I’ve heard the SODOM’s version of ‘This Means War’ (according to SODOM’s Tom they only recorded ‘Don’t Walk Away’ on their "Ausgebombt" single and ‘Turn Your Head Around’ on the "Better Off Dead" album and only played ‘This Means War’ live once, together with TANK – Frank) which is pretty good and I’ve heard a version of ‘Shellshock’ too but I’m not sure who it was! Are there any more out there that I haven’t heard?" (some nice folks at Facebook compiled the following list of additional TANK covers for me: ATOMFIST – ‘Turn Your Head Around’, DESTRUCTION – ‘Shellshock’, PUFFBALL – ‘Struck By Lightning’, VOIVOD – ‘Struck By Lightning’, OUTRAGE – ‘Blood, Guts & Beer’, AMERICAN DOG – ‘Blood Guts & Beer’, TRIOXIN 245 – ‘Shellshock’ and POWERGOD – ‘The War Drags Ever On’ – all of them can be found on Youtube… thanks for the help in this! – Frank)
Have you ever thought about a reunion with Pete and Algy or is that completely out of the question? Are you still involved in music these days?
"I’d love to do a reunion gig or tour with Pete and Algy but I don’t think it’ll ever happen as Algy’s health problems mean he can never play live again and Pete hasn’t been on stage for over 30 years! I’m still involved in music and always have been! At the moment I play for a singer songwriter called Anna Goldsmith, I’m in a DEEP PURPLE tribute band called SHADES OF PURPLE and I’m producing, song arranging and drumming for 2 new acts, a band called THE VOWS and another singer songwriter called Mae Challis!! I could be busier but hey, I’m not as young as I used to be!! Oh, and I still party pretty well too!!"
Ok Mark, if you managed to answer all of the questions up to this point, I’m sure we have enough interesting information for all the die hard "Filth Hounds" out there, so all I can say is thanks for taking the time and all the best to you! The last words are yours! Hammer on!!
"All I can say is I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience all the great times that I had with Algy and Pete in TANK on stage, in the studio and in their company and to have met all the amazing people during that time and since – fellow musicians and fans! I’m always pretty humbled to discover that people are still interested in TANK, a band formed by Algy, Pete and me over 33 years ago and also to find out that such mega successful bands like METALLICA and NIRVANA were influenced by the early sounds of TANK! Hammer On!!"