Tygers Of Pan Tang Guitarist Robb Weir Discuses New EP, "A New Heartbeat"
The North East of England is truly a special place, being the hotbed of association football and home to some of the friendliest people the country has to offer (as well as some of the toughest!) During the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, it was also where one could find some of the absolute best in British metal music, with bands such as Venom, Raven and Atomkraft, as well as the massively influental Neat Records. A mere ten miles from Newcastle, lies the seaside town of Whitley Bay and within it, one of the most beloved bands of the NWOBHM, Tygers Of Pan Tang.
Tygers Of Pan Tang began life towards the end of the seventies and initially found themselves signed to Neat before agreeing a deal with major label MCA. The group would release three of the best albums of the NWOBHM era ("Wild Cat," "Spellbound" and "Crazy Nights") before disputes with MCA would force them to close up shop briefly and a different version of the band returned to the scene for two albums before going their separate ways. In 1999, the Tygers officially returned at Wacken Open Air and have remained on the scene ever since, releasing a further six full length studio albums, as well as EPs, live records and compilations
Recently, the group released, "A New Heartbeat," a four track tease of things to come, featuring two new songs (the title track and "Red Mist," as well as re-recordings of "Fireclown" and "Killers." The EP has been getting rave reviews and to find out more about this gem, Metal Underground caught up with guitarist and co-founder Robb Weir. You read a transcript or watch the interview in full below.
Diamond Oz: The new EP, "A New Heartbeat" is out now. Why was the decision made to record an EP rather than a full album?
Robb Weir: It was always intended as a taster, to introduce our new guitar player Francesco Marras. In 2020, our old guitar player decided he wanted to go his own way so advertised internationally and we got offers from all over the world: A guy from Australia, a guy from San Francisco who messaged me constantly saying that distance wasn't a problem, but really it was because America was in quite a heavy lockdown and it was just a little bit too far, though his credentials were fantastic.
But rising like a phoenix above everybody else was Francesco. He was recommended to us by a mutual friend and it's just proved to be a tremendous association, although I've never met him or sat in the same room and jammed with him. We've tried on numerous occasions to fly him over from Germany, where he lives, he's Italian, comes from Sardinia, so we have two Italians in the band now. We've managed to write the new album together but I had a track, "Red Mist," and Francesco obviously talks to Jack (Meille, vocalist) in their native Italian tongue and they wrote a song together, which was "A New Heartbeat" and it was perfect for the whole project. It's a great title and perfect for the new blood in the band, new hearts beating, all that kind of association.
We recorded it all in our own studios. I've probably got the most old fashioned studio because I'm old fashioned! Gav Gray, our last bassist who left last year, he's got a great studio so I went to his studio and recorded my tracks with him. He also played bass on the EP and he was very gracious about it, he asked, "Do you want me to play on the EP?" Then Huw (Holding) joined and he asked if I wanted Huw to replace the tracks and I said, "No, it's done now and it can be your legacy." We're still great friends. There was no, "I'm leaving because you get more lollipops than me." I recruited him all those years ago. In fact he played in the Tygers in 1999 when we headlined Wacken, which was a one off show to celebrate twenty years of the Tygers and at the time it was only Jess and I who was available to do it from the original band, so we recruited three local, Tyneside musicians and he was one of them, so, I've known him since then.
So yeah, we recorded our parts there and it was sent across to Marco Angioni, who mixed it for us. He has a studio in Copenhagen which is where our record company headquarters are. It was then sent off to Harry Hess in Germany, who mastered the last two albums and he mastered the tracks and his input was tremendous as well. We came out with a great sounding EP. It was originally going to be a three track, but I had another brainstorm and rang the management asking if it could be four tracks. I've always had a burning desire to re-record "Fireclown" because we've never played it live, or we probably did in the early eighties, but not in the last twenty years, since the band has come back, as it were. So we recorded that as a four track, because "Killers" was Francesco's choice. I said to him, "What's your favourite track out of the old stuff?" and he said, "Oh, 'Killers.'" so that was always the number three track and "Fireclown" came in at number four.
The benefit of recording older songs today is that you have forty years worth of advanced technology. I know purists will say, "But it sounded great back then" and yeah, it probably did, but from an artist's point of view, I think it's always nice just to refresh and get a bit of today into an old track without changing it too much.
Oz: Yeah, absolutely. It used to be that live albums would introduce you to a new take on a song. You'd hear a live album seven or so years after the album was released and think, "Oh, that song sounds really different," so re-recording a song is as much a great way to get that new interpretation out there as a live album.
Robb: Yeah, absolutely. So, that's kind of the backstory. The album was never going to be ready now. In fact the new album, although we're a quarter of the way through recording it, will not be seeing the light of day until probably January 2023, just because of our commitments. We had shows last October, but we had to cancel them because our drummer Craig got COVID. We paid for all the PCR tests for Jack and Francesco and all that so that didn't go ahead. We had shows in January which have been pushed back to the end of the year, as well as British shows in February, which are now scattered throughout the year.
I was supposed to be playing in Milan tonight, then Rome tomorrow and Bologna, but obviously that's been put back because Jack tells us that although night clubs in Italy are allowed to open, they can't serve alcohol. So the promoters are saying, "What is the point of putting on shows if people can't come and have a drink?" So those shows have all been rescheduled for October. The upcoming shows start in May, we're headlining a festival in Madrid, then in June we've got the Cambridge Rock Festival as well as headlining a show in Bradford.
So yeah, we're having to record around personal commitments, but it's good because sometimes, when you record an album in days gone by, you'd take two or three weeks out of your life, go into a studio, intensely record ten, twelve, fourteen tracks or whatever and I'm not sure you get the best out of people in those situations. It puts you under the spotlight and under the gun, as it were, because time is money in an expensive recording studio. An hour goes by and that's a couple hundred quid and that's in the cheaper ones! So, it gives us time, when we record something, to look at it, so I can call up Francesco and suggest changes or ask how he wants to play a solo.
I think it's a lot more relaxed and there's no pressure whatsoever. When I'm recording my guitar tracks, I'm going to a local studio, actually where we recorded the "Crazy Nights Sessions" EP and I'll sit with the owner Dave Hills, who's a great guitar player and he'll suggest recording something four times and picking the best one. He's just great and there's absolutely no pressure. I might play a guitar solo, or a bit of a solo and he'll go, "Yeah I like the front, don't like the middle, so let's do this..." It's very much how I want it to be. I think back to all those studios I've recorded in over the past forty three or four years and this is the least stressful event that I've ever been involved in.
Oz: It's great, like you said, because you want that time to perfect the songs. Every band wants their album to be as good as it can possibly be and when you're locked away for a long time, it gets to a point where you go, "Ah that take will do." So when you've got so much time, you can be really proud of the product you've created. I was speaking with Tino from Praying Mantis recently and he was saying the same thing.
Robb: Yeah. It can go the other way and the journalists say, "What? You've had all this time..." (laughs). Let's hope that isn't going to happen. To be quite honest with you, the amount of reviews this EP has had worldwide, I think the lowest we've dropped is eight out of ten. Most are nine or nine point five, some are tens. It's getting more reviews than "Ritual"! I think that's due to the sad times that we live in, as much as the COVID times and people are craving something different. The other factor is we have a tremendous press guy Fernando Reis, who lives in Portugal, which shows that you can live anywhere and work for a record company and get great results. He's got his finger on the pulse and I've never seen so many reviews. We're getting three or four every day. I've not got time to read them!
Oz: Obviously Tygers Of Pan Tang is very strongly linked with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, as I said I've spoken to a few bands recently that were linked with it such as Praying Mantis, Satan, Vardis... It's interesting because a lot of bands seem to have a different view of it. There's some who say, "It had nothing really to do with us," others that hate it, others who didn't like it but appreciated what it did for them and others who fully embrace it. Where does Tygers Of Pan Tang rank on that scale?
Robb: I've gotta say I can't understand why people would sidestep it if they were around at that time. It's something that happened and really, you have to fully embrace it, because it's where you've come from. Otherwise you're denying your roots. We were lucky enough to be mentioned in Geoff Barton's original double page spread in Sounds and he mentioned us in the same breath as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard, so I've always considered the four of us as being the four bands that formed the foundation of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement. Then the floodgates opened and all sorts of bands came along; Raven, Diamond Head, all the rest of them. Diamond Head were signed to MCA, the same label we were on, nearly two years after us, so we were definitely in there at the beginning as it were. So yeah, I fully embrace it.
A lot of our set does have numbers from that era and that's because people still want to hear them and we still want to play them, but we do release new albums and write new material, but it's not too far away from where the Tygers' roots were, because if it was, it would be two different bands. Hopefully when you hear the Tygers Of Pan Tang music, you'll know it's us. We had one album, "Noises From The Cat House," which had a couple of slightly different style songs, not like jazz funk, but maybe heavier than we would normally go to, but in saying that, the closing track of the album, "Master Of Illusion," is probably one of my favourite tracks. It's ten minutes long and in three parts but that track takes you on a musical journey.
The new material, this new album, is just so exciting to record. Every album you make... I kind of look at it like a staircase. Every album a band makes, you're looking to climb up the next stair. You don't want to go down because that's the wrong way and you should never reach the top of the staircase because if you do, where else is there to go? So you should always be striving to move on and move up and I think with this album, we're going to climb two stairs.
I came up with the ideas when lockdown happened and we couldn't play live anymore. Our last show was in March 2020 where we went out, played a headline show in Holland on the Friday, opened for Saxon in Düsseldorf the next day and did a headline show on the Sunday, came home and there was lockdown. So I set about coming up with ideas and when Francesco came on the scene and was formally welcomed into the ambush, I sent him all the song ideas I had, he took them into his studio, worked on them and sent them back and he made them into great songs into monstrously great songs. Jack and Craig write the lyrics and the melodies between them and it's a great partnership that we all have because if I come up with something quite aggressive, Craig and Jack can put something quite poppy over the top of it. It's a bit like adding sugar to vinegar. You get a nice balance in the middle and it just works really well for us and with Francesco on board, he's putting double cream into it. So, hold on to your hats, this is going to be good!
Oz: It's just a shame that it's going to be around ten months before we can hear it!
Robb: Yeah, as I said, we're working around commitments. We're hoping to have it done by June and then it'll go across to Copenhagen to be mixed and then the record company will do their magic and start getting promos in place. After June, it gets quite heavy for us shows wise and we're going to have to find some time to make a video too and it's not just a case of us all getting together on a Sunday morning to film a video, we have to fly Jack in from Florence, Francesco in from Düsseldorf and it's not just that easy anymore.
In saying that, sometimes we can fly Jack in for less than the cost of a tank of petrol travelling from London, certainly these days! That's the reason why things take a little bit longer. Although we've just been asked to contribute to a downloadable charity album, which will also be available in physical form, for Ukrainian relief. I don't know if I'm allowed to say which track's going to go on it but it'll be an honour to contribute and help those poor people.
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.
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