When guitarist Robb Weir formed the Tygers Of Pan Tang back in 1979 the band were to become part of the legendary NWOBHM movement with albums such as Wildcat and Spellbound and hard rocking anthems "Suzi Smiled" and "Rock N Roll Man". Preparing for the imminent release of new album Ambush with a headline performance at the SOS Festival, Sea of Tranquility caught up with Robb for a chat about the history of the Tygers, reuniting with producer Chris Tsangarides and their future plans…
Robb, welcome to the SOS Festival - the Tygers are the elder statesman of the weekend with all of these upcoming bands on the bill. I guess it keeps you feeling young
Yes, very much so. Therein lies the tale you see because in my heart I still feel like I'm sixteen which can be a bit of a problem really but the heart and lungs are still working and pumping blood around the body so we're alright (laughs)
In your younger days you probably never thought you would be on stage in 2012 getting ready for the release of a new album by the Tygers
Probably not, no. It was back in '83 that it stopped for me and Brian, the original Tygers drummer; I went on to put a band together called Sergeant and we recorded an album that was going to come out on CBS records but it never did for a number of reasons. After that Jess Cox, the original Tygers vocalist, contacted me and said do you want to get together and so we recorded a newly written batch of songs in my studio for a band we called Tyger Tyger and unfortunately that project didn't come to fruition either. And so after that I was a bit disheartened really and thought well I need to step back from it all and take stock and kids, families and all of the good stuff in life came along. Then it was in 1999 that Jess rang me and I remember I was sat out in the sunshine and he said to me "We've been asked to play the Wacken Festival".
This would have been to mark the Tygers 20th anniversary?
Yes, that's right, because we had started back in 1979. I asked him who else was doing it and he said he was going to ask everybody and so I agreed. And then I realised I needed to buy guitars, amps….some new Lycra (laughs)….and also I was going to have to ask the Missus if I could have some money. And the deal I struck with Jess is that I was quite happy to do it but the family wants to come along aswell, they think it is quite strange that I'm doing this after all of these years. So we headlined the festival although I don't think we were quite ready for that because there were bands like Hammerfall, Dokken and Saxon on before us. Anyway, we did it and it was recorded for a live album that came out on Spitfire records and it was what it was you know; I said to Jess on the way home I had got the bug again and wanted to do more shows but he was very involved with forming a small record label at the time so nothing more came of that. And so I had two or three meetings with people in the industry and was urged to put the Tygers back together again.
The current line-up has been together for quite a few years now, the longest serving in the bands history…
Yes, absolutely. And you know the press have a bit of a field day with band line-ups and say that "there's only one original member left" but if you look at a lot of older bands…Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, there are no original members left…the John Sykes version of Thin Lizzy if you wanted to get picky then Scott Gorham's not an original member. And so when I read this in the press I think just give it a rest you must have something better to write about. If that's all you can say then you shouldn't be reviewing this product, move on and review something you like. Don't pick something up and your opening statement is about the number of original members left in the band – review the music! Anyway, that's my soapbox rant over for the interview (laughs)
Well the Tygers are far from being a nostalgia act in any case; you've regularly been releasing new music since re-launching the band
Yes we've had Mystical, Noises From The Cat House, Animal Instinct and the new album which is called Ambush.
And you've also reunited with original producer Chris Tsangarides
The story behind Ambush is that we were playing the Bang Your Head festival in Germany the night after we had played in Paris. So that meant we had a quick nine hour drive across Europe to make the deadline (laughs). And so we pulled up in the backstage area and sat in the sunshine and having a sherry was Chris Tsangarides and it was like reuniting with a long lost family member. We just started talking as if we had never lost touch and I introduced Chris to our manager Simon who was travelling with us. And I went off to do an interview and Simon came to see me an hour or so later and said "by the way, Chris is producing the new album" and so we got our writing skates on and started coming up with the goods as it were. In January we went down to Chris' studio called the Ecology Rooms which is down in Deal on the South Coast…
Is the studio actually in his back garden?
It's an old cub and scout camping site and he owns part of the structure of it where he has put this fantastic studio. It's high tech but his desk is a Valve Desk and the heat it generate is immense but the sound he gets out of it is absolutely tremendous and every channel has a valve so there's a lot of glass in there
Does that make the sound fuller, better, different to how you envisaged it when the songs were written?
Yes, absolutely all of that. We obviously didn't know that he had a Valve Desk and as a band we record very quickly, we did the backing tracks for the album in four days which is three songs a day. You've got to do your research and preparation and not just go into the studio and waste time – and studio time is also very expensive time. Going back thirty years MCA used to pay for it all so we could go in the studio and have a Dallas Warhead and enjoy smoking it (laughs) and you didn't care because you weren't footing the bill. But things are so much different nowadays
Aside from his unique recording set up what else did Chris bring to the end result?
Chris has added a sparkle that we didn't quite have with Animal Instinct which we thought we did because it's a great album. But compared to Ambush it doesn't have that producers touch, that certain something…the best way I can describe it is if one of my Grandkids falls over and hurts themselves and Granddad sprinkles some magic dust on it and the cuts fine. Chris just puts his hands in his pockets and brings out his own magic dust and you think Wow!
You've signed to Rocksector for this release who are a label that really get their bands out on tour across the UK, do you think this will happen sometime in the near future?
It will if we can all find the time to do it but we are all very busy. Jac, our Italian singer who lives in Florence, is just about to go out with the Appice brothers, Carmine and Vinnie, and they are doing songs from their collective pasts – Dio, Sabbath, Rod Stewart songs – which sounds absolutely great and then the brothers have a bit of a drum battle. So he's off to Russia quite soon to start that tour so it's a case of fitting everything in but our Manager and Rocksector are busy talking about tours for next year
You mentioned playing at Wacken and Bang Your Head festivals which for many rock and metal bands is the high point of their career; how do you feel the European festivals compare with what we offer here in the UK?
You know it's completely different. I remember a show in Jac's home town of Florence about four years ago, it was about half past ten at night and I had a look to se how many were in the crowd and it was about eighty people, I could easily have counted them (laughs) So I went backstage and told Jac and he said don't worry give it until midnight. We didn't go on until about half past midnight because there are none of the public transport issues that we have over here when people have to get the last bus home and half the venue empties. The whole of Britain is governed by public transport constraints and after 11 o clock people are looking at their watch and thinking how am I going to get home. And true to Jac's word by midnight there were over 800 people in the place and that's just the culture. We've just come back from Spain and it was exactly the same over there. And about five weeks ago we played Sweden Rock which is a festival that is just run like clockwork, five stages all of which are very accessible in two and a half fields and from the moment you arrive at the site you just feel that "this is good". The sound is tight and professional and it's all properly done. We went on and the heavens opened but there were five or six thousand people stood watching us without an umbrella in sight, they just want to stay and watch bands and it's just a totally different mindset.
The facilities seem so much better for both fans and artists...
At Sweden all the bands are fed in this fantastic tent that has chandeliers in it, silver service, Chef's waiting to cook your steak and it's first class service. And I was delighted to be sat back to back with Leo Leoni from Gotthard who are one of my favorite bands and what a nice fellow he really is. I'd truly love do to do some shows with them – so never say never! (laughs)
Robb it's been a pleasure speaking with you, we're really looking forward to the show later on this evening and good luck with the new album.
Tygers Of Pan Tang release the Chris Tsangarides produced Ambush complete with stunning artwork by Rodney Matthews on 24th September 2012 via Rocksector Records. Check out www.tygersofpantang.com
Dean Pedley and Mark Davies for Sea of Tranquility