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InterviewsUnsung Heroes - An Interview with Toby Jepson

Posted on Monday, June 10 2019 @ 22:47:40 CDT by Steven Reid
General

He started as a Little Angel but now he’s a Wayward Son. He’s been a Disciple of Dio, and pulled the trigger of his GUN. He’s been found Raising His Own Hell and offered us Guitar, Bass & Drums. This is Toby Jepson and this is the Whole Truth… 

An extended Interview with singer and songwriter Toby Jepson by Steven Reid. An edited version of this article first appeared in Fireworks Magazine, which is available HERE

Going right back to the start, you formed Mr Thrud with Mark Plunkett while the two of you were still at school. Did you start out doing covers or were you always writing your own songs and how quickly did things evolve into Little Angels playing full blown gigs?

Mr Thrud was formed mutually between myself, Mark and Bruce Dickinson and a drummer we had at the time called Paul Charlesworth, who was a friend of ours from Filey School. It was formed at sixth form college to enter the TSB Rock School competition that used to run yearly at that time. It really was a fun escapade but we didn’t anticipate anything other than having a laugh and for me it was a great way to meet new people. I didn’t know Bruce at the time; Mark had spent some time with him in a thing called The Easy Band, which was an inter school brass band/big band thing, but I immediately recognised Bruce as a great player and it was quite easy for us to get together and start to make some noise.

Me and Mark had been in a band prior to that called Zeus which also included Paul, the drummer, so it kind of evolved in a short space of time and we were immediately writing our own stuff. We played a few covers - Stray Cats’ ‘The Stray Cat Strut’ and other bits and pieces, Van Halen stuff like ‘You Really Got Me’ - but we immediately started writing our own material. I think the competition specified that it had to be original material anyway, so that kind of prompted us to do it. We didn’t win the competition, but it galvanised our desire to be in a band together. I think it was really clear that something was clicking, specifically between me, Bruce and Mark. It then quickly became apparent that we needed and wanted to have keyboards and Bruce’s brother Jim was suggested, who was three years younger than Bruce, I think. So he was drafted in and it started to become something bigger and we started to play local gigs.

It took a time for it to evolve into Little Angels as we went through a number of drummers. We sort of said goodbye to Paul and had a guy from Whitby, just north of Scarborough, called Gary - can’t remember his second name now sadly - he left and we found Dave Hopper. He was our first ‘proper drummer’ - someone who we felt could take us beyond Scarborough. We started playing a lot of local shows and played a lot at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In “The Round”, which was a small venue in the town which used to put on these gigs every Sunday run by a fantastic guy called Paul Todd, who I’m still in contact with actually. He worked for the theatre but it was actually run by Alan Ayckbourn; it was Alan’s theatre really, he used to put on all his plays there. Paul Todd was the music impresario for a while, but he loved Rock n’ Roll, so he used to put these gigs on in a small bar in the theatre, and that became a Mecca for a lot of local bands from all round the Northern region. Funnily enough, when we did eventually become Little Angels, that was where we shot the famous Fifteen Minutes programme that really catapulted us into the consciousness of the record industry at the time. So yeah, we existed as Mr Thrud for, I would say, at least a couple of years before we eventually turned into Little Angels, and that came about by meeting Kevin Nixon who ended up becoming our personal manager. He was a local guy from York who ran a record label called Power Station Records, who put out quite a lot of records for Tokyo Blade and various other British bands of the time. I suppose it was the tail end of the NWOBHM really and he was involved in that. Maniacs was another one of his bands that he worked with and he ran a little label from York and got interested in us just as a sort of second wave of interesting British Rock was beginning. We sort of caught that wave really, you know.

In May 1987 you released the ‘Too Posh To Mosh’ mini-album, which got a lot of positive feedback on its arrival. From the outside, things seemed to come together very quickly. Did it feel a bit like a rollercoaster ride with everything moving so quickly, or were you guys following a clear plan that had been laid out?

It was kind of a bit of both really. I don't think that we had a plan other than just wanting to be successful and we were all incredibly enthusiastic. I’ll hold my hand up and say I was a very unaccomplished musician and very unaccomplished singer but one thing I did have was unbridled energy and enthusiasm and I definitely led form the front. I wanted the band to be a big band, I wanted to play lots of gigs and the timing was great because there was a lot going on. Bon Jovi and Def Leppard and all these bands were all about. Def Leppard had been huge for a while but Bon Jovi were emerging as a real world force and we definitely saw that and the potential that there could be for a British version of that. We could see that Rock music was gathering some pace and at the same time we were starting to be asked to go and play shows down in London where we opened for a lot of cool bands.

The ’87 release of ‘Too Posh To Posh’ was actually a repackaging of an original EP we self financed, called the ‘’87 EP’ and Kevin basically said, “look you need to put it out on mini-album so people can get a sense of who you are. We’ll release it and put it out properly for you and we’ll do proper photo sessions, we’ll do some more recordings.” So he was instrumental in helping us evolve it into what really became out first serious release. I think it was received quite well because it was happening just at the right time.

It was still very, very difficult to put records out in lots of ways. We self financed the ‘’87 EP’ after borrowing some money off a local businessman and pressed a thousand records and sold them at our shows. But we had no idea about what distribution meant, no idea how to get those records out to people. We used to package stuff and put it in the post, whether they were demos or whether they were copies of the album, but we very rarely got feedback from people. It was just one of those things at the time. You sold your t-shirts and your EP, or your cassettes - most people had a cassette rather than putting out vinyl, because vinyl was costly and difficult - but we did take that plunge and I think that encouraged Kevin. We were very proactive, we worked really hard to make sure our shows were as good as they could be. I went on the enterprise allowance scheme and bought a PA and put it together so we could use it, but I also used to run it as a business. So we were all really very dynamic about wanting to achieve what felt like the impossible dream. I mean I often sort of think now, in today’s modern music business, for young bands it’s… I think it’s almost like the flip side. I think there’s this idea that you can put up a website and put out music immediately on your Facebook page and it’s the way to become successful, but of course, it isn’t. You just become part of the white noise in the background. Back in the day none of that existed, all you had was this dream and this idea in your head that the impossible dream was possible. I know that’s a bit of a contradiction but that’s what it was like. It felt like if we worked hard enough and believed so much in ourselves then we’d get there, despite our obvious inadequacies - I mean Bruce was always a brilliant player and so was Jim, but I don’t think me and Mark, or even Dave Hopper were world class at that time at all, I think we were scratching our way forward but Bruce was such a great musician.

We felt that we had to just put it out there - and one thing I think was brilliant about what we did was that we took everything in our stride. I remember when we got offered the Guns N’ Roses support, opening for them at the Marquee club; we didn’t know who they were, they weren’t a big band at the time, they were just coming through, just emerging, but there was massive buzz about them. We just went into it like, “We’re gonna show ‘em. We’ll stand up to them, we’ll be as good as them”. And of course, we weren’t! Actually that gig was a massive lesson to us and taught us a lot of things. But you know, we were very positive about it.

Mums and dads were supporting us, they were paying our petrol for us and that sort of thing, because we rarely got paid for anything. It was a case of, we’ll take on the world. I think that’s one of the strange things of coming from a small town, is that because you're a big fish in a little pond, it’s kind of a challenge. We became kind of a big, successful band from our own town quite quickly. We were selling out shows - I remember we sold 1000 tickets at a venue called the Royal Opera House just before anything really started to happen. It was a major thing for the town, they're were a thousand kids queueing up outside what was really a cinema that had a stage sort of thing, and we sold it out. It was on the front page of the local newspaper, so we thought we were massive, we thought we were doing really well. We were doing really well, but it was localised but that gave us confidence.

The plan only started to happen once we started talking to record labels and there was interest starting to be shown on a serious level. To be fair to Kevin, he was a great manager for that and he knew a lot of people. He was able to court their interest and it wasn’t long before we started to have people knocking on the door.

And then in 1989 you released the phenomenal ‘Big Bad EP’, followed by a slew of singles that reached ever higher in the charts. Then the stunning debut, ‘Don’t Prey For Me’ announced the band proper. How did it feel to have your debut album out there and to realise that people were already beginning to get on board with what you were doing?

It was extraordinary. I can remember the excitement that surrounded people like Polydor and Phonogram and MCA and Warners and all these huge labels that were asking us to come and meet them. That’s the first thing. Here we were, we were little lads, late teens, early twenties being asked to go down to London and sit down with the MD of MCA publishing. Alan Pell from Phonogram was someone I seem to remember that we sat down with who was a big noise at the time and we were doing these meetings all the time. We were literally up and down the motorway all the time, sometimes having three or four meetings a day and this was the results of doing these opening slots for Gn’R and opening for Tesla, opening for Faith No More at the Marquee club, which was the absolute centre for anyone who was anyone at that time. We had a fantastic summer one particular year when we opened for Guns N’ Roses and then we opened for loads of bands, so suddenly there was a buzz about us. It was an exceptionally exciting time and again we were wide eyed - and we were such good friends - and I think that’s the thing. We’d been in a van together for so many years - two, three years really - playing local shows and playing all of the North East of England, coming down to Wales a lot and specifically South Wales. We used to play in the valleys a lot and then into London just playing loads of little clubs and pubs. You know, we were confident, we’d built this head of steam and it did seem possible. So when we signed to Polydor, we kind of… I don’t think it was arrogance, but it was kind of “OK, OK, we get this, yep this has happened to us and almost rightfully so”, because we’d spent a lot of time doing all these gigs and we had all these opportunities, and we were getting better as song writers.

I remember about that time we had the ‘Big Bad EP’, which contained songs that had evolved from the very early days of Little Angels. I’d started to emerge as the key writer in lots ways. I was writing all the lyrics and a lot of the melodies. ‘Big Bad World’ was the first song I wrote entirely on my own, even though, I think, it’s got an entire band credit on that - rightfully so because I took the idea in to everyone to work on, and that’s how we worked; same with ‘She’s A Little Angel’. ‘Sex In Cars’ had been around for quite a while and ‘Better Than The Rest’ had been around for quite some time, but we were beginning to start to really get our heads around what we needed to be and I sort of quickly realised, from my own point of view, that it had to be about song writing.

‘Big Bad World’ and ‘No Solution’ were the first two songs I wrote pretty much independently on my own and then took them into the room for the guys. I was starting to realise that I was never going to be a fantastic guitar player, although I was getting better as a singer, but my interest really lay in composing and writing songs. I knew that it had to be about songs. I can’t explain it anymore than that. I didn’t think it was enough to play loudly in a rehearsal room and hope for the best. Bruce is a brilliant riff writer and he was always coming up with great riffs and great ideas but I quickly realised that it had to be about saying something. You had to have a subject and a narrative and a reason and I think the whole, coming from the North East of England, and being in a little tiny town, made me generate ideas of getting out of that town and talking about young people, our generation of that time. What do we do? Where do we go? What does the future hold for us? I sort of recognised that a little bit and I think it emerged as ‘supporting the underdog’.

A lot of my songs have always been, and probably always will be about supporting the small man, the little guy, you know, trying to give voice to that, because I felt like that. Living in Scarborough, it was a tiny little place and the world seemed so huge… ‘No Solution’ was about teenage suicide, which came about from watching a Panorama programme about that and I felt sympathy for that situation and for those youngsters because they were my contemporaries. I can remember that programme having a massive effect on me. ‘Big Bad World’ was almost like my naive little boy’s view of the world, so this was kind of how my style started to emerge.

We’d put out [the single] ‘90 In The Shade’, which had been a song we’d had knocking around for a long time which we’d written as a band, and I think we’d done a Yorkshire TV style video for it for the local television channel; it was one of the first things we’d ever recorded in a major studio. We did that with James ‘Jimbo' Barton and it was a disaster. We spent a lot of money trying to… you know, we were rabbits in the headlights. We’d always spent time in what you’d call ‘B16’ studios, which were like 16 track, half inch tape machines with low level quality equipment and not great mic’s, not great rooms. They were all small demo studios. To go from that, to signing with Polydor and into Great Lynford Manor to record - which was a Grade A, five star studio with a major producer - we kind of came unstuck a little bit because we didn’t anticipate the amount of work we’d need to do for that.

I think that the ‘Big Bad EP’ was a reaction to that. We went in with Mark Opitz, who used to produce INXS and the chap who mixed it, Ian Taylor, and they were a great team. Mark Opitz was a real organic producer which really influences me now as a producer. He was very clever at arrangement. He was not the slightest bit pushy, he was more suggestive - “Why don’t you try this? How about cutting the verse in half? Double the chorus there…” - that sort of thing and so we quickly reacted to that really well. By this time we’d got Michael Lee in the band, so of course, Dave Hopper was no longer on drums. We’d gone through that process of having to get rid of another drummer and Dave had been with us right through the early process and played the Guns N’ Roses show with us and all the rest of it, but he just wasn’t cutting the mustard. We had to find someone who could get us up to the next level. I remember it being an awful situation, we all felt so dreadful about about it but I think we were ambitious - clearly we were - we knew that we had to get the pieces in place and Dave sadly wasn’t up to the level that we needed, because we were all advancing quite quickly and he wasn’t.

It kind of came unstuck on the ‘90 In The Shade’ recordings sessions with ‘Jimbo’ and really after that Dave was replaced by Michael Lee who absolutely blew us all away, as you might imagine. We had a load of auditions at No Miss Studios and once we got him onboard things elevated again with the recording of that EP, which was the first thing that Michael did with us. It was an extraordinary experience because we realised that we’d made our first very serious proper, professional recordings for the record label. We sort of dismissed ‘90 In The Shade’ as a bit of a failed experiment really but in lots of ways it made us grow up very quickly. So by the time it came to make the ‘Don’t Prey For Me’ album, we’d learned a lot and we’d been through quite a few different situations with a few producers. We worked with Eddie Kramer for a while, he, in fact, started to record what turned into ‘Don’t Prey For Me’. We spent three weeks down in Rockfield Studios but it was again, sadly, a disaster. He just didn’t understand the band, I don’t think. We’d done some pre-production with him which was really really good, but when it came to recording it was an extraordinarily weird, almost sort of massive sense of inertia where we couldn’t seem to move forward. There was lots of faffing around with changing the drum kits and mic positions and moving the drums from one room to another rather than looking at us as a bunch of really young lads and saying, “right, we’ve got to capture this energy”. Little Angles wasn’t about the technical ability, it was about the energy and the power that we brought because of that, and the kind of connection between all of us. It’s one thing that I don’t think people recognised about the Little Angels. The reason why it worked was that we all came from the same town, we were all very, very, very connected, and actually the shortfalls of, say, me as a singer in the early years, or Mark as a bass player or Jim as, you know, whatever it was, being very, very young and very naive, those things didn't matter because the collective of us all made it work and that was our ingenuity really.

When I think back we were a great team. We used to rehearse all the time and so I think when we got into Rockfield with Eddie Kramer we couldn’t understand why it was taking so long. We lost a lot of money trying to do that experiment with Eddie and we ended up having to go back to Polydor and get some more funds off them to make the first album, so we were already kind of on the back foot. We spent a lot of money up to that point and we hand’t even made our first record. By the time we got into the studio we were thrown together with a producer who, you know, didn’t really… Owen Davis didn’t really work for us, in fact, he didn’t really do very much and we ended up having Kevin, our manager, there all the time. He had to get heavily involved in basically producing that album - I’m quite happy to say that - Kevin was instrumental in forging that record. But we recorded it correctly, because we only had three weeks to make the record, and I think that might have even included the mix, and so we kind of just threw ourselves into this studio in Fulham’s Marcus Studios and literally spent 24 hours a day working on the album. It was all about performance and it was all about capturing that energy and I think if there’s anything that that record does prove, it’s that if you're a young band - and I bring this into my work now as a producer - it’s not about perfection - because we don’t know what that is - it’s about trying to capture the characteristics of the musicians. Those young people doing their music, making their mistakes, being brilliant in some moments and being naive in others, is what this is all about. It’s about personality.

I do think there’s some great songs on that first album. There’s ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ on there, which probably provided the moment when I realised what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life, because that song came out of nowhere. It was one of those sort of songs that visited itself on me. We went into Black Barn Studio down in Surrey somewhere - it was Robin Black’s studio, who was involved with some Black Sabbath albums as an engineer. I remember writing ‘Don’t Pray…’ in about 10 or 15 minutes up in Scarborough. Again, I was just watching a TV programme, and I can’t even remember what it was about, but it just inspired me to write up this kind of story about this lonely character. This character who had gone away from home to try and seek his fortune and it hadn’t worked and he had had to come back home, but at least he had been brave enough to give it a go.

The energy within [the song’s] character was, look, you know I’m OK, you don’t have to worry about me. Even though things haven’t worked out I feel stronger and I’m more able to go and try and achieve other things. I think really I was talking about myself and again, supporting the underdog. When I look now a lot of those songs, especially in the early years, were really me. I was Johnny in ‘Kicking Up Dust’. Again, another standout track from that record, and I think that song, still to this day is THE song; that, ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ and ‘Young Gods’, off all of the band’s albums are still talked about as the band’s moments of glory, if you like. There’s no surprise to me about that. I was a young writer pouring every ounce of my energy into that and again, a lot of it is very naive but kind of sparky and I think inspired by the whole journey and the whole trajectory that we found ourselves on. It did feel like a million miles an hour and it did feel amazing. We couldn’t wait for people to listen to our music and so when the album did come out and was relatively well received - I don’t think the press went particularly overboard about it, but it was generally a warm reception but it sparked with the audiences, that’s the thing. We’d realised that we were onto something when we went out and started playing and started building up the following from there. I think one of the key things about that whole album process was that we got to a point where we hadn’t really had a hit, even though we’d been over to America and made a video for ‘Kicking Up Dust’ and it had done relatively well on MTV, but ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ hadn’t “reacted” properly on radio over here and Polydor were getting very, very frustrated. So frustrated that we ended up re-recording our first big hit, which was ‘Radical Your Lover’.

I think that song was originally an extra track on the vinyl album of ‘Don’t Prey…’ or on the CD, I can’t remember, but basically me and Bruce had written it with Dan Reed along with ‘When I Get Out Of Here’ and ‘Promises’, but it didn’t make it in the pre-production. It was Kevin, again, who said, “I think that song’s potentially a hit, let’s go re-record it." So we got a tiny little budget from Polydor. They gave is like a demo budget, or something, they didn’t want to give us any more money for recording but Kevin managed to get some more money out of them somehow and we went into Slaughterhouse Studios in Driffield with Steve Harris, who’s now a very famous producer. He’s worked with U2 and all sorts of people, but we were the first band that he had any real success with and we re-recoded ‘Radical Your Lover’ with him in a 24 hour period including the mix. That became our first hit and that was also the first song that featured the Big Bad Horns. So it was an incredibly exciting period, lots of ups and downs. We toured with lots of other people, like Marillion and stuff, but that was such an exciting period and that record, despite its flaws, definitely introduced us as band that were here to stay. We didn’t know it at the time of course, but we definitely all felt it was about the strongest thing that we could possibly have done.

The first time I saw Little Angels live was on that tour you mentioned when you opened for Marillion in Glasgow. That bill felt like a strange fit but you quickly won over a sceptical audience. How important was that ability that the band had on stage to win over new fans in such a short space of time?

Yeah that was a massive part of it. We’d cut our teeth in a really important way playing at the Marquee Club, as I say, we’d opened for Gn’R, Tesla, Girlschool, Faith No More, Chrome Molly, all sorts of bands… Thunder… actually it was Terraplane. So all sorts of bands. We’d go from Gn’R, who were almost a borderline Punk band at that time - that’s the way we viewed them, they were so visceral and loud, you know, and we hadn’t seen anything like that at that particular point - so we went form that to playing with Faith No More, which was an Alt-Rock thing. So we would go onto these stages in front of entirely different audiences all the time and have to make the best of it, but we were always very optimistic about it. We always though “well, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” We’ve got guitars, we’re a loud Rock band, we’re just going to make it happen. We used to do all sorts of stupid antics on stage, like I’d pick Bruce up and spin him around and throw him on the floor, there was all sorts of daft stuff, so it used to make people laugh if nothing else, even though we weren’t probably amazingly, brilliantly, musically proficient but we’d always make an impression. So that sort of taught us how to deal with audiences, and we’d done a lot of gigs with Magnum - in fact when we played with them at the Preston Guild Hall, that was the night that we confirmed that we were going to get our record contract with Polydor. So we’d kind of done lots of shows and lots of different things here, there and everywhere.

What we’d learnt was that it was about an action-reaction thing where if you go out on a stage, open yourself up, be really positive and just let the music do the talking. Don’t look like shrinking violets, because we’d seen bands do that, kind of go on stage and stare at their shoes or try too hard, but I also think we genuinely had the songs. You know it was quite unusual for a band like ours to have a frontman who played acoustic guitar and sang ballads and then do something like ‘Bitter & Twisted’, which was our attempt at Heavy Metal at the time, which was probably not particularly brilliant but it gave a different side to us. So when we went on tour with Marillion we could pick and choose the sort of songs off the record to, not ‘suite an audience’, but kind of play into that concept that Marillion were a softer Rock band. They were not a Heavy Metal band, obviously, they were, for want of a better description, a Prog Rock band and they were softer in their sound, but because we had ‘Don’t Pray For Me’, ‘No Solution’ and acoustic songs like ‘Promises’, we were able to play those songs in front of that audience convincingly. By this time we’d played a lot of shows so we were getting better and better live and so that was kind of one of our secret weapons.

After that we played a big tour with Cinderella, if you remember that, and we played our big Rock tracks. We did a couple of covers - we used to throw a couple of covers in now and again - we did a couple of Queen songs. So depending on who we were playing with we’d make the set work accordingly and it definitely paid dividends. I still think the Marillion tour was one of the most important that we did because it opened us up to an audience that were, I wouldn’t say completely different, but certainly an older audience and we were a bunch of young kids, you know. But I think it was obvious that we could play - certainly from the point of view of Michael and Bruce specifically, they were two maestros. Bruce was a staggering guitar player, always had been, always will be and Michael was just a joy to watch, but I think we were all great performers. I think we’d learned that and that was a really good example of a tour that really worked in our favour.

And of course the Big Bad Horns quickly became a part of the band’s sound, giving Little Angels a truly unique side. How did that come about and when did you realise it was something you’d continue to use going forward?

Like I say, that came from the re-recording of ‘Radical Your Lover’. We’d always absolutely loved horns. Bruce was a sax player and Mark Plunkett was a trumpet player, they’d played those instruments in The Easy Band. We’d also done a few gigs with a band called Zoot And The Roots in the York and Leeds area, who were a sort of Soul revival band from Harrogate. Grant Kirkhope, who ended up playing in the Big Bad Horns was the trumpet player in Zoot & The Roots and we were massive fans of theirs. They were a big band around the region, they’d do all these sort of cool Blues Brothers style sort of review songs and they’d always have these incredible arrangements. We loved it and thought they were absolutely brilliant.

Of course one of the big things that happened was that the ‘Permanent Vacation’ album - the Aerosmith record - came out. ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady’ was an enormous influence on us, as it was on so many bands of that time, and they used horns on that and throughout their career at that point. We didn’t think it changed their sound, it augmented their sound and we loved the energy of it, but the only trouble you have with horns is that once you start putting them into a band’s sound you’ve kind of got them. You gotta use them, you know, it’s not something you can use once, instead, it became integral. ‘Radical...’ was a brilliant start to that and we used them live on ‘Sex In Cars’ and then going forward from there the ‘Young Gods’ album had lots of horns. We decided then that we would use the horns as a massively integral part of the band’s sound. Also it gave us a brilliant visual thing as well, there’s something brilliant about the sound of brass played properly and Grant and Uncle Bastard - that was the trombone player, that was what we called him - Frank, they were just brilliant people to watch. Frank had a massive handlebar moustache, Grant had this kind of long black hair but he used to twirl his trumpet around on his finger and the rest of it, so they became really, really important to the way the band appeared, and then, eventually, we got involved with Dave Kemp, the a saxophonist, as well. He came into the band later on but it was something we felt was very embedded in our sound. Like I say, it made us stand out a little, so it was important to us.

You mentioned your second album, ‘Young Gods’, which was released in 1991. However you’d initially intended to call it ‘Spitfire’ but that was deemed inappropriate due to the Gulf War. Then Radio1 banned the single ‘Boneyard’. However the album still climbed to #17 in the UK charts and spawned four Top 40 singles. Did those events have a positive or negative effect on how the album was received and how you guys viewed it?

We’d spent a lot of time getting to the point of making that album and in many ways it was a kind of a concept record. Like I say, we were absolutely enamoured with the whole idea of Aerosmith and ‘Permanent Vacation’ and ‘Pump’ - specifically ‘Pump’, was a very important record for us. We thought, we want to do something like that, we want to make an album that’s got that amount of complexity. We wanted to broaden our horizons and we wanted to make something that would push the envelope a little bit, something that was a real statement. So we put everything into that album including me going off and doing a lot of co-writes. I’d co-written with people on the first album, Dan Reed and whats-his-face from The Stranglers, Hugh Cornwell, which was brilliant. But we pushed the envelope even more; I wrote stuff with Russ Ballard and various other people but it was such a technically difficult record, we’d spent weeks and weeks - we’d started off in the Manor Studios in Oxford doing all the drum tracks and then we’d gone to Great Winford Manor again to the overdubs. We were occupying two studios, because of all the talking between the songs and narrative bits and pieces were being edited in the Coach House Studios. We also occupied the main studio in the whole of the house in Great Linford and in the main building as well. It was an incredibly complicated set of circumstances and so when we came to want to name the album we came up with ‘Spitfire’ and it fed into everything that we thought the record represented and that whole concept. The idea of Spitfire was to literally spit fire, we felt we were energetic and powerful and we’d got to this point and we’d started to break through. We’d had our first major hit and that had then elevated the audiences from 150 people to 400-500 people. That’s what having a hit record in the Top 40 back in the day of Radio1 did for you. We went from playing in front of 150 people, then ‘Radical...’ came out, was all over Radio1, and then we were playing for 4-500 hundred people. It was absolutely staggering.

We were poised and we knew there was more to be had and this album was a massive step forward for us. We did a brilliant photo session with the guys where we all dressed up in these props and we looked fantastic with this backdrop with Pop Art style aeroplanes and all the rest of it, but then we get the call that Radio1 was banning the single because the Gulf War had obviously broken out at this point. I think it was mainly Woolworths - remember Woolworths? - WH Smith and HMV and all these Virgin Record Stores, they were kind of refusing to stock the album if it had the title ‘Spitfire’. It was absolutely ridiculous and we didn’t know what to do. It was literally something like three weeks before the release of the album, so we had to hurriedly put the sleeve together, which to this day I hate. I hate the sleeve to ‘Young Gods’. It’s an awful photograph, it’s a terrible record sleeve but we had no choice, we were literally stuck in this spot between the devil and the deep blue sea. We didn’t know what to do, so it was kind of badly art directed - I think we came up with the idea - it might even have been me coming up with the idea just out of panic - you know, what do we do?? So we rushed down to London and we had this photo session taken and we had to sort of suffer that. We’d spent a fortune making that record. We had Steve Thompson and Joseph Barbiero, who had mixed the Gn’R ‘Appetite For Destruction’ album, mix ‘Young Gods’ in Bearsville in New York. We’d spent months making this album and it had cost a fortune, so to have the slap in the face from the distributors that this album wasn’t going to come out in its original form was really tough.

We just had to roll with the punches and get on with it. We did the session, we put the record out and thankfully it really was the start of big things for us. We started to have continual hits from there, you know ‘Young Gods’ and ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry’ were two specifically big songs for us. They weren’t enormous, but they continued that Top 40 access, if you like, and we then started playing city halls. On that album we elevated from The Town & Country Club, which we’d managed to sell out prior to that, to Hammersmith! On our second album! Even by today’s standards, that’s pretty amazing. So it was absolutely extraordinary and was enormously positive. The only thing that I think had started to come in was the pressure. The pressure of being in the industry, the pressure of being in a young band, being young men trying to figure out what to do. The pressure from the label. You are never successful enough for a major label. Everyone was applauding us and everyone was saying well done and this that and the other but the reality was: ‘What’s next? How do we get bigger? How do we go from here?’ And I think that did start to take its toll a little. We were touring all of the time. We really never stopped touring from the duration of the touring cycle from the ‘Young Gods’ album right through to the ‘Jam’ album. We didn’t really take a breath. We were always out, we were right across Europe with ZZ Top and Bryan Adams at stadium level from the end of that album cycle into the beginnings of the ‘Jam’ album. We were staring to play arenas all the time. So it was enormously pressurised.

We’d had a failed attempt to break America. We’d gone over to America with the ‘Don’t Prey For Me’ album and it had done really well but then Polydor for some reason pulled it from the racks in America and said we’re going to wait for the next album to put a proper push on it. But we’d spent a lot of money going over there and toured with Yngwie Malmsteen and it had cost a fortune, so it was disappointing. I think the ‘Young Gods’ album was prioritised in America. I think Aaron Leavy, who was the guy in charge of Polydor at the time, prioritised us and The Wonder Stuff in America but again it didn’t seem to react, but there wasn’t enough effort made and really, if you want to break America as a band, you’ve got to go live there and spend eighteen months to two years constantly working and touring an album there. That’s the way it had to be back in the day and that was with the support of a major label. We were finding it difficult to get on MTV and stuff like that and so I think it kind of died a death quite quickly, but weirdly we opened up a really successful front in Japan. We went down to Japan and played city halls down there with the ‘Young Gods’ album. So there was some massive positives and some massive lows but it did put us on a very solid footing going into the ‘Jam’ album, which ultimately was our most successful record.

Yeah, you toured extensively after ‘Young Gods’. Including some shows with ZZ Top, but mid-tour drummer Michael Lee left the band under a cloud, having auditioned for The Cult without letting anyone know he was doing so.

Yes he did…

Mark Richardson finished the tour behind the kit…

Well… that isn’t actually true… Let’s just put that straight, Mark didn’t finish the tour of the ‘Young Gods’ albums at all. I mean Mark didn’t get fully involved with the band until the recording of the demos for what turned into the ‘Jam’ album and he didn’t do his first gig with us until we opened for Bryan Adams in the UK stadium tour that we did. But Michael Lee did leave the band, we know he did, that’s history and he did audition for The Cult behind our back and join that band. And he did really hurt us, you know…

It was very hard to know what to do, because we were in this kind of impossible position. We’d been over in America doing some shows, we were in New York and next minute we find out that Michael was leaving the band. We ended up flying back and we were all on the same plane but it was really awkward. He was sat at the front of the plane, we were sat at the back or something, you know, it was ridiculous. And he gets off the plane and I think got straight back on another plane and back to LA to do this audition for The Cult. It was all crazy really. But you know, it hurt us because he was our mate and we’d ‘found him’ in lots of ways. He was from the North East of England, like us, he was from Darlington and apart from anything else he was bloody brilliant and I think we all felt; how are we going to replace him? He was just such a staggeringly brilliant technical player but the good thing was we’d evolved, we were changing as people as well. Our music was changing, our attitude, we were growing up. We were becoming proper young men rather than just young boys. So we were starting to look at how we could push forward a little more and I think ‘mature’ is the word. We were all starting to mature, I was starting to write in an entirely different way. I’d been through a divorce as well, which had a massive impact on me and so my songs were changing. This is what happens, life gets in the way, art is a reflection of everything you do and especially in a band, it’s such a tight environment. You’re in a bubble all the time and it’s hard to see outside of that bubble and so we were obsessed with ourselves and obsessed with our music, like most bands are and should be. Let’s not make a mistake here, having an ego is important when you're in a band, you have to be able to go on those stages and you have to be able to dig deep within yourself to find the narrative and what you want to talk about, etc.

And that was all pouring into this energetic, forward thinking process, so when we came to make the ‘Jam’ album that’s when Mark got involved... I mean obviously people know now that it wasn’t Mark who played the drums on that album, it was Elvis Costello’s drummer, Pete Thomas. Mark had been a lad from Scarborough and he’d roadied for us… Mark actually auditioned for us when we were trying to find a replacement for Michael and we simply couldn’t find anyone we felt was good enough. We went through a whole audition process where we didn’t choose anybody, but Mark was a friend of ours, so we kind of said to each other, why don’t we have Mark round and he can come and sit in on the rehearsals and let’s just use him as a ‘sit in drummer’ who can help out; there’s no pressure. But it quickly became apparent that he’d improved enormously since he’d auditioned. Auditions are terrible anyway, they’re never very representative of somebody’s talent, I don’t think; rabbits in the headlights and all that. But we spent quite a bit of time in Samurai studios near London Bridge just working on demos and eventually we just looked at each other and said, “why don’t we ask him to join the band, because he’s great, he fits in and he’s from Scarborough”. What more of a story do you need than that? You know? And so we went into the making of the ‘Jam’ album with a freshened sense of ourselves… We’ve got another guy from Scarborough; what a great story, but he just wasn’t quite experienced enough to go into a major studio and we went in with - can’t remember the guy’s name - the guy who produced the album was one of the Vancouver sound lot [Ken Lomas], he was a protege of Bob Rock’s and Mike Fraser’s and we went into the studio to make the record and it was clear that Mark wouldn’t have been able to cut it really, because he simply hadn’t recorded at that level. We were in Air Studios in Oxford Circus in the heart of London, working in one of the most important studios in the world. In fact we were the last band to ever work in that studio, they were ripping the gear out of all the other studios while were doing the drum tracks. So we did the drum tracks there with Mark observing what was going on but with Pete Thomas playing the drums and we ended up finishing the rest of the album in Jacob’s studios in Surrey, which is a wonderful studio. So yeah, after that Mark was a fully fledged member, but he didn’t play live with us until we were doing the Bryan Adams tour - actually he did play on one song on the album, he played on the ‘So Tired’ cover version that we did for ‘Jam’ because we needed an extra song for the album and it was an afterthought. So he did play on that to be fair.

The ‘Too Much Too Young’ and ‘Womankind’ singles from ‘Young Gods’ went to #22 and #12 respectively in the singles charts, and you earned slots on tours with Bon Jovi and Van Halen but it still must have been a hugely pleasant shock when the ‘Jam’ album landed at #1 in the UK album charts?

It was. To go in at number 1 in week 1 was just extraordinary. The culmination of those previous years had led to that point, it was absolutely incredible. When you make albums for major labels the pressures are massive and you go in - like I always do when I make albums - you don’t go in with the attitude of ‘oh this is going to be huge, it’s going to be massive, we’re going to make such waves with this album’. You don’t think like that. You just think ‘oh my God, we’re just going to make the best record we can, we’re going to put as much effort into this as we possibly can to make this album and we’re going to do the best we can’. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter what team you have around you, it doesn’t matter who’s going to mix the album, it doesn’t matter who’s making the album, it doesn’t matter what you think. There are so many variables it’s not a guarantee ever, so all you can do is think to yourself, we’re just going to put the best of ourselves into this record. But to get validation like that… I mean we’d had a bit of luck touring with Bryan Adams at stadium level just before the album was released - I think we’d released ‘Too Much Too Young’ and Bryan had very kindly done backing vocals, almost a kind of duet on that - he does all the BV’s on that song. And then we toured with him at stadium level. He loved the band, and he talked about the band with us. He put us on that tour and that was a massive leg up for us. When ‘Womankind’ went in the charts at #12… it actually should have been in the top ten, but Gallup, in their wisdom, had what they called ‘weighted’ the release, so I remember Polydor saying that there were pockets of sales that were ‘too high’ in certain areas of the country and they had to take an average across the country. So we were going to be in the top ten… I think the ‘mid-week’ was #3 and it was going to go in at #6, but they weighted it 6 places, so we went in at #12. But it did blow the doors open for us, we were doing every TV programme and like you say, we ended up touring with Van Halen at European level which was an absolutely staggering experience for us and then ultimately we ended up playing with Bon Jovi on their arena and stadium tour - the ‘Keep The Faith’ tour. Which was, again, a staggering experience because Jon was a massive fan of the band. We didn’t buy on to any of these tours, we were invited on to them by the bands. They loved the band.

We really were on the top of our game and I think we held our own with Van Halen and Bon Jovi every single night. By this time we’d toured so much and we’d made so many records and done so many performances on TV that we were very well versed on what we were doing. We knew who we were by the time the ‘Jam’ album hit #1, despite it never being a financial success for us - I think that’s one thing that’s important to note, that throughout this whole process we were all just partners in a business. We paid ourselves a couple of hundred quid a week. There are a lot of people out there who made a lot of money out of Little Angels and the last people who made any money out of Little Angels, were the Little Angels themselves. That’s a very, very common thread that is often talked about by bands. We just about all survived just renting flats. None of us owned houses, we all had rubbish cars. Every ounce of money that we made, usually, was going into someone else’s pocket. As random as that sounds, that’s the truth. If you play Hammersmith, that’s an expensive gig to do, and of course, we wanted lots of lights and blah blah blah, and by the time we woke up to the fact that every single pound being spent on us was being recouped by the record label - and their recoupment was enormous because we’d made so many mistakes making the first album. With the money that was spent making that first album, it was too late, we were always on the back foot.

So even though the album was #1 and sold lots and lots of records around the world, the ‘Jam’ album, from the point of view of the band was not a success for us at all. But it was an enormous creative and artistic success and it definitely put us on a road to what we hoped was going to be massive things. But then of course, what happens is things start to go wrong. Without putting too fine a point on it, you know I talked about this a lot in the past, but it’s very hard to spend 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with the same people that aren’t your family. Even though I regarded all the guys in the band as family in lots of ways, it was very tough. We were young people and we didn’t know how to deal with the situation. There were strained relationships. My relationship with Mark Plunkett at the time had become difficult for a number of reasons and I think me and Bruce had started to sort of butt heads a little bit creatively as well, I don’t think Bruce liked… I think ultimately it was frustration, what it all came down to was that we were very frustrated and the one thing we were never taught to do particularly well by our management - by this time we were managed not just by Kevin Nixon but also Bill Curbishley’s company, who were brilliant and they helped us get on the Van Halen thing and got us all sorts of stuff and they were all fantastic people - but the one thing that wasn’t talked about really, was how to manage yourselves as people. We were young people and the communication lines were never great. It was always like, you keep it inside, you don’t talk about it.

That’s one of my big regrets, that I wasn’t smart enough at the time to sort of sit everyone down and have some conversations that could try and correct the problem. I know what I’m like, I can be belligerent and difficult, certainly a lot more so when I was younger - and stubborn. I think these things weren’t handled very well by ourselves and also by the people surrounding us. I think the cracks started to widen and get wider and wider and wider until the point where it was becoming untenable. But also the record industry was changing enormously and Grunge was a huge emerging sound and it was changing the environment of the Rock business. Bands like us, with long hair and guitar solos were falling out of fashion a little and so there was a kind of reticence in Polydor to carry on spending the same sort of money.

I have to say that the sadness for me is that I don’t really understand what was going on - I don’t even to this day - I have a better idea of it because I’ve analysed it and I’ve talked to other people, but at the time I certainly didn’t know why it was all finishing… and the next minute we were having conversions about doing our final tour and there’s no point carrying on because Polydor don’t want to commit to another album, which I’ve since found out wasn’t true. They were quite willing to continue but they just wanted to change how they were working with us, but the next minute we were announcing our final tour and show at The Royal Albert Hall. I put my hand on my heart, I was absolutely distraught by this - I can remember when I was standing on stage, doing the last show at the Royal Albert Hall, I didn’t know why it was happening and still to this day I don’t. By this point it was all over, everyone was making new plans about what they were going to do once the band was finished and it was just a disaster for me but in typical fashion of the Little Angels we put a positive spin on it and I think the one thing that is really important about what happened with that particular situation is that once we made the decision that we were going to split up, we did it positively. We did the final big show, we left on a high and I think actually, the one thing I will say is that despite my kind of misunderstanding of the situation, I think if we’d continued, we’d have made lesser records and if Polydor had lost faith in us then we may well have drifted into oblivion and we might just have split up anyway. Maybe it was the best thing to happen and I think certainly that from a point of view of how the industry works, we’re looked upon as one of those bands who did things the right way by going out on a high and leaving our legacy intact.

I don’t believe now - in retrospect it’s very easy isn’t it? - that that would have been the case at all though, I think we could easily have carried on. I think we could have continued to evolve and continued to make great records. I would have loved to have continued making records with the band because I think we had really grown on the ‘Jam’ album and we would have started to make some fantastic records. That’s kind of my sadness with it really, that we were only beginning to scratch the surface of what was possible for us - we were all in our mid-20s at this point so we were all starting to mature as writers and performers and have a comprehensive understanding of what it was to exist inside the music business at major label level. We had a huge following. This is the thing that I think that upsets me now, that that following was there, 7000 people, or whatever it was came to see us at the Royal Albert Hall and I don’t think it would have been long before we would have been into arenas. I don’t genuinely think that the audience were going to desert us because Grunge was happening. I think it was kind of… the discussions that happen behind closed doors in the record industry are entirely different and totally unrelated to how the audience feel about they music they listen to and the bands that they support. The two things don’t correlate, I can remember Polydor having totally different opinions and also having no real idea or understanding of who we were really playing to. They didn’t talk about the audience as real people, they regarded the fans and the audience as something that was just commerce. I don’t think the audience was positively regarded at all, they were just people that we could sell records to or sell other stuff to, because that was their job. They are a sales business, that’s what record labels are, they are a creative sales company but the conversations outside of that weren’t the same and what happens is that as a band you get stuck in the middle, you’re the ones who are making the music, you're the ones that have the focus, but there’s all these shadowy people in the background who are making decisions on your behalf, with or without you that effect your career. Maybe it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. Like I say, there were personality problems, or personnel problems that were beginning to surface as difficulties in the ranks and then there was the business stuff on top of that and that forced us into that position. So very very sad and I didn’t have a real clue how it happened…

The band did that farewell tour culminating in the headline show at The Royal Albert Hall and then just walked away. Did you have a clear plan of what you would do next?

No I did not - I didn’t have a clue. I was just in complete shock. Rabbit in the headlights. I knew I wanted to continue to make music but it was just kinda nuts really… it just seemed to be a very dark time. We were all living in the South of England, me and my wife, in fact we’d just got married just before the band split up, just as we put out the final ‘Too Posh To Mosh Too Good To Last’ album. We were living in a cottage down in Surrey but we didn’t stay there for very long because we couldn’t afford to buy the place and Surrey was incredibly expensive. So we ended up going back up north, back up to Scarborough, licking my wounds and all that sort of stuff. I was in this strange kind of situation, well that’s not entirely true because prior to that I did make my first solo album but we’ll come onto that. What I’m saying is, is that I didn’t have a plan. It was just - I didn’t know what to do next. It was a very strange time…

Going back to you supporting Van Halen, I believe that led to you being asked to be their new frontman. Was that not something that interested you and how far the did the approach get?

The Van Halen thing, is a little out of the chronology really, because that situation didn’t come up until years later actually. I mean, just to put it to rest, it’s become myth now, but all that really happened was that randomly I got invited to go and see Bryan Adams in Huddersfield. He was playing a big open air gig there, and I was still friendly with him and his tour manager, and so me and my wife went down to watch Bryan play at this gig. This would have been, oh I don’t know, ‘96 or ‘97, something like that, I can’t remember precisely, but anyway, he was doing this big tour and I randomly bumped into Grant Kirkhope, who was the trumpet player in The Big Bad Horns, who by this stage had started on a very successful games music writing career - he’s a world famous music composer for gaming now - but anyway, at the time he was somewhere like Wolverhampton doing his first job for a gaming company and he just happened to be at this gig. I bumped into him in the audience and he was with another mutual friend who said to me, “oh my God, you’ve got to ring Roger Gibbons” - I know that this sounds very random, but this guy Roger Gibbons was a guy from Harrogate who had ended up working as a lighting technician for Bon Jovi for Starlights, which was a company run by a guy called Joe Brown, who ran Tasco. Roger worked for him and he ended up doing the Starlight systems, which were like early computer controlled lighting systems, for Bon Jovi. He’d moved to America but he was close friends with Grant and basically what had happened was Grant said, “you’ve got to call Roger, because he rang me last week trying to get a hold of your number, because he’s seen your name on the top of a list in Van haven’s office,” because by this point Roger was working for Van Halen as their - I think he ran their warehouse in Van Nuys, or wherever, in California - and he’d seen my name at the top of a list in the office of Van Halen where they’d had a conversation about trying to get a hold of me to try and audition for the band. So I rang Roger and he said “Yes, I’ve seen your name on a list, they've had a discussion, they're very keen, you need to try and get a hold of someone.” So I got the numbers, I think I faxed through my enthusiasm for trying out, etcetera, and it went backwards and forwards for a couple of weeks with me ringing Roger - I had no direct contact with Van Halen at all - and that’s as far as it went. It never went any further than that. In a way it was a kind of cool thing to happen because, like skipping forward to that period, it reenergised me really and I started to get fit again - I’d been sat around trying to write songs at this point and put on a load of weight… So it was really kind of something and nothing. It was nice to have been considered and if I’d ever got the opportunity I’d have jumped at it. I mean Van Halen are still to me the quintessential American Rock band and I’m a massive fan. So to have had that opportunity would have been extraordinary and I would have given it a go, but they chose Gary Cherone and the rest is history.

You released the Toby & The Whole Truth solo album, ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ in 1995, which musically was quite a departure from what people might have been expecting. It’s a hugely underrated record…

Thank you!

Did you achieve what you set out to with it and how did you feel about how it was received?

After the Little Angels split up I went back and sat in my cottage in Farnham and did very little for a while. I started to write some songs, but I didn’t know what the hell to do but by then Kevin Nixon, our manager, had a record label called Cottage Industry, or Cottage Industries, I think, and he approached me and said, “Look, why don’t you put out a record through me? But you’re going to have to raise the finance yourself, because we can’t afford to pay for it.” So I went to Blair McDonald who was the publisher I was working with at Sony at the time and sort of said, “I’ve got this opportunity to make this album, is there any way you guys could get involved and give me an advance?” And they did. They gave me some money and I bought some equipment. I ended up making that record with Pete Thomas again on drums - the guy who had played on the ‘Jam’ album - me and Pete had become very good friends by this point. We recorded all the drums at his home studio on A-Dat and then I transferred all the equipment to basically a barn, which was on the land that I was living on. It was like an estate village and it was like an Oast House. I installed all the equipment in the Oast House and recorded the rest of the album there and I did it entirely on my own. It was the first album I produced by myself, I engineered it and I took a long long time to record it but it was very exciting actually. It was completely the opposite of what the Little Angels represented but I did do that on purpose.

I wanted to explore the darker side of myself, and also I was bloody angry, I was pissed off with the whole situation and I didn’t want to make a bright, happy Little Angels album. I wanted to express my anger. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but that’s the truth. And so I really focused in on that stuff and a lot of the songs on there - ‘Haven’t Got The Strength To Carry On’ and ‘Probably Better Off Without Me Here’ and all these sort of songs… ‘I Won’t Be With You’. Those were all reacting, again, in typical, heart on my sleeve style. That’s always been the way I’ve written my songs, I hold nothing back. So those songs were all about my anger and my resentment at having to leave the band and a lot of it was entirely aimed at the band members - I’ll completely admit that, although it was obviously shrouded in narrative. I was also sort of beating myself up, something like ‘I Haven’t Got The Strength To Carry On’ was entirely about my sense of despondency and the fact that I felt powerless. I was kind of examining the whole thing really and I was very proud of it. I went over to Vancouver and Bryan Adams, who was still a big mate of mine at the time, allowed me to use his studio in West Vancouver to mix the album with Steven Harris, who again still remains a good friend of mine. We had Ron Obvious, who was one of the legendary figures of Warehouse Studios and the Vancouver sound, he sort of tape-op’ed the record, while another mate of mine, Mike Plotnikoff was the 2nd engineer on the mix. I’ve since worked with him on the Saxon album that I produced. So I made a lot of different friends at that point and I was really proud of that record and what I’d achieved with it on such a shoestring budget, because it cost very little money. In fact the mix and flights over to Vancouver cost more than the entire album did to make. So there was something really extraordinary about doing that and it taught me a lot. Even though I know it’s a flawed album, I am very proud of vast parts of it really, and I still listen to it and I still think it’s one of those records that marked a big change in me as a person… but sadly, it came out and disappeared.

There was a big problem with the distribution. I think they even got the date of release wrong. I can’t remember who it was that distributed it, one of the small minor distributors and so by the time the album came out I think a lot of people had gone along to buy it and been told that it was coming out on the 6th of whenever but it came out the week after. So people had gone out to buy it and it wasn’t there, and all the record store owners were going ‘oh it’s not coming out until next week’ and people - because people bought a lot more records then - people just bought something else at the time and didn’t bother with it the next week, or something. So it kind of crashed and burnt. It was a kind of really, really difficult period that because I’d lost everyone at that point. I split up from Kevin the manager, and my agent at the time didn’t want to carry on… well to be fair to Mike, my agent, he did put me on tour. We did one tour with Mike, I went to see him and he was happy to keep on working with me, but you know, after that, because I got poorly, we stopped working with each other, and I was just floundering.

I think what I realised was that I’d been helped so much that I’d been kept in this bubble. There’d been so much support and so many of the technical aspects of being in a band had been taken care of by other people that I just didn’t know what to do. So I gathered up a sort of disparate bunch of musicians around me, but the guitar player who I had at the time, who was a wonderfully creative guy, Russ, sadly, just couldn’t get himself together for the tour and, I think, struggled a lot on the road. And the drummer wasn’t up to it. I couldn’t afford to take Pete Thomas on the road, so I gathered this group of guys together, who had never played together and weren’t really, really up to it. They hadn’t had enough experience and so by the time we went on the tour it was kind of the opposite of being in Little Angels. It was a struggle, it was tough, the gigs were difficult, I was heavily smoking at the time, I got very stressed, and so I ended up contracting a very bad cold. I can remember being up in Glasgow where we were doing a show and I had the doctor out to me in the middle of the night. He said, “look, you’re very poorly, you’ve got to stop doing these gigs” and stupidly we carried on for another three days. We played a gig at the Wulfren Hall in Wolverhampton and I genuinely cannot remember doing that show. I can remember going to the gig, I can remember being almost hallucinogenic on stage and eventually it just came to the crunch. I had to say, “I’ve got to go home, I’m not well.”

I got home and I went to the doctor and he said I had full blown lobar pneumonia, which literally stopped the tour in its tracks and destroyed the album. I was probably at this point the lowest I’d been for years in what I could do creatively. And it took me months, and months and months to get over it, probably about six months to recover, because it was a very serious illness. It made me realise how far I’d fallen in lots of ways and a lot of it was to do with the stress and strains of being in the media. So I kind of took a massive step back. We went back up to Scarborough and sat around a bit. The only saving grace was this was the first time, ironically, that I was earning money from the Little Angels because all the publishing had been split up again back into the individuals. So my publishing earnings was quite substantial at that point and I was earning more money than I had ever done from the band because we were no longer in a partnership with each other. That was the only thing I remember about it that was positive. I was able to sit around and get well and get better and to re-evaluate what I was going to do. It really was not a very easy time and that was around the whole time the Van Halen thing happened and that helped me get my feet back and realise that I wanted to carry on being a musician.

Me and my wife decided to move back down to Bristol where she comes from; we’d lived there for a little while anyway when we were making the ‘Jam’ album. I immediately started to write songs again and gathered up a whole body of songs I’d co-written with a number of people and I’d also written some songs on my own. I just decided to get back into it and along with Roger Davis, who was the bass player - and who’s now in Toseland funnily enough - at that period of my life me and Roger worked together quite a lot and we then met Matt Eldridge who we auditioned to be the drummer in the band. We did a lot of rehearsals and a lot of recording in the old barn where we used to rehearse a lot as the Little Angels, which is just outside of Scarborough. So we spent a couple of years just prior to moving back down to Bristol just working on music and demoing and playing as much as we could. We never did any gigs, we just did a lot of recording. I didn’t feel ready to go out and play gigs at that particular point in time, it was not something that I felt I could really do… so anyway, we moved back down to Bristol and I spent quite a bit of time working on various recordings with various producers. Dipping my toe back in the water, trying to get a new publishing deal, working on various things. It was a massive struggle and I think because I’d had had two or three years away, or a little bit longer really - by this point we’re maybe talking ’96-‘97 here - what happens is the record industry moves on, people forget who you are. Well, not forget who you are but move on to different pastures. A lot of the people I used to be able to call up were no longer on the end of a phone and also the honest truth is I’d kind of divorced myself from a lot of the people I used to know. I didn’t want to work with them, I wanted a different path, I wanted a different way in. I was doing a lot of other work and through some of that work I ended up working on some pretty high profile films as an extra. I did that really because I happened to be at a friend’s house in Farnham and came across a newspaper article - ‘Ridley Scott’s new film shooting locally, looking for men between the age of 25 and 50 to audition’. So I went down to this open casting and I got an extra’s role. I ended up on the set of Gladiator! Which quickly evolved into working with lots of casting companies and eventually getting work as a stand-in. I stood in for Christopher Lambert on one of the Highlander movies and I worked on Sleepy Hollow - I actually had a part in that one, which ended up on the cutting room floor, which was a bit annoying! But it was a great experience. I spent two years or so working on that and eventually it led me into working on Band Of Brothers.

When I’d stood on for Christopher Lambert in that movie the first assistant director was a friend of one of the casting people. He’d rung them and up and said, “We’re looking for a reliable 6’ tall guy to stand in on this big TV series we’re making. Have you got anyone to suggest?” The casting company, 20/20 put me up for it and I went along and got the job. By this time me and my wife had had two children so we had them in tow and we just didn’t have a big enough place. We couldn’t afford to buy a bigger house in and around the Bristol region, so we ended up moving back to Scarborough and no sooner had we done that, than I was back down the motorway to work on Band Of Brothers. I worked on that for a year and that was an extraordinary experience. And one thing that was really cool about it was that it allowed me to take a step back.

It was still very creative, you’re working with actors, you’re working with directors and every aspect of the film making process, and as most people know about me, I’ve always been a huge film fan. So to be absorbed into that process, what I recognised about it and why I think I ended up being good at it was because it’s not that dissimilar to the music business. It’s an incredibly work heavy business. You’re up early, you’re home late, it’s lots of waiting around, it’s lots of very similar things, so I felt I fit very easily into it. It didn’t faze me at all to get up at 3am and go through make-up and all the rest of it and then go onstage for twelve hours and then be sleeping on floors. You don’t get paid a lot being an extra, so you have to make your own way through it. I really enjoyed it and I worked on a lot of films: Angela’s Ashes, Sleepy Hollow, I worked on a film with Jean Reno, called The Visitors in Sheperton Studios, which was a wonderful experience. I met some great people, but what was cool about it was that it allowed me to take a proper look at myself and I started writing songs again, quite prolifically, in between it all. Eventually I got offered a publishing deal through a company called Strictly Confidential, a guy called Mike Chadwick, who is a fantastic fellow, he got really interested in my songs and that came through another mutual friend, Phil Hopwood. So it kind of fitted together really weirdly but rather well, because I’d just got to the end of the Band of Brothers TV series.

And I believe that you also had the opportunity to meet Steven Spielberg along the way!?

I did actually! I was a stand-in for a number of actors including Michael Fassbender and Damian Lewis. Part of my job was to stand in front of the camera on whatever set we were working on and do what they called the line-ups and the blocking for them and work out their moves and let the lighting guys see how they were going to light the actor. I found myself in a mock-up of a DC-10 on a gimbal - a sort of hydraulic ram which feigns flight - so I found myself in the fuselage of this plane with the camera operator, a guy called Martin Kensey, who I became very good friends with… sadly Martin’s dead now, but he was a brilliant guy… and he was telling me all about how he’d worked on The Last Crusade with Steven Spielberg and with James Cameron on Aliens. Of course, this is all milk & honey to me because I’m a massive film fan and all I ever did was talk to him about his experiences. So one morning I’m in the fuselage of this DC-10 doing a line-up for him and Remi, the DOP, and next minute Steven Spielberg walks in through the door of this set. I didn’t recognise him at the time, I saw this guy with the beard and the glasses, but I didn’t recognise him at first, and then because Martin had worked with him he was like “Hi Steven, how are you…?” and all that and it was only literally me, Martin, the DOP and Steven Spielberg on this set. So I got introduced to him and that was one of the first times in my life I’ve been absolutely speechless. It might be hard to understand that but I was totally speechless. But I had the opportunity to chat to him briefly about what a big fan of his work I was and all the rest of it. Those experiences were absolutely incredible, you know, and I had a few of those through my working time in the film industry. I had a couple of long conversations with Johnny Depp, I worked with Jean Reno, and had been standing in for Michael Fassbender and Damian Lewis. So you get to know all these people quite well and it was a lovely experience and one I wouldn’t have missed. It certainly taught me a lot - actually what it taught me was that to be successful creatively you’ve got to work - it’s the same as an actor - you have to work, really, really hard and you can’t give up. Every opportunity’s an opportunity whether it’s a bad one or a good one, and so by the time I got offered this publishing deal by Mike Chadwick I was totally ready to start again. I went back to Scarborough and I effectively relaunched my career as a full time musician again.

Yes, you returned to the music scene in 2002 with the aptly titled ‘Refresh EP’ and then hit the road again.

I just felt compelled, and the time was right. It had been five/six/seven years, whatever it was, since the Angels had split up, so it felt like I had to do it. The internet had started to emerge and MySpace was happening so I suddenly realised that there was an opportunity there to release my music unfettered. I didn’t need anyone’s permission, I didn’t need a record label, I could just release music and I could try and regain some steps. It seemed possible, even though it seems impossible as well. Some of the money I got from the publishing deal from Mike Chadwick and Strictly Confidential I put into making the ‘Refresh EP’. I gathered a group of people around me again. The guitar player I used was a fantastic lad from Harrogate who was a great writer as well, so I got him involved with Rog and Matt and it was a joy. I started to reinvigorate myself and started to write Rock n’ Roll again, because a lot of the songs I’d been writing up to that point had been more ballad based, more low key. Kind of a bit of a follow on from the ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ album. And I’d started to write some Pop music as well and started to explore myself in different ways. To sort of find myself again with a guitar was fantastic. I went and bought a Telecaster again, I’d always played Telecasters on stage and I bought a couple of AC-30s. Nick Dunn, the guitar player I was working with, reinvigorated my interest in guitars again because he was like a Classic Rock guitar player really and he was a fabulous musician; really, really gifted. By the time I got him and myself together in a room and started writing ideas, and I got Roger, Matt and him together, it started to feel like a proper band.

By the time we went out and played, and I’d started to relaunch myself through the internet and MySpace, there was an instant response. All of a sudden loads of people came out of the woodwork who were interested in what I was doing. I set up the website and it felt really possible. I went out and played and the first tour that we did in 2002/03 was really successful. I think some of the shows were sold out and I was like ‘Oh my God’. But this was the first time I’d kind of agreed to play Little Angels songs again because I’d kind of started to come out of the blackness of all that. It took me a long time to get over the Little Angels, it took me a decade really, so I was kind of halfway through that process, but one of the big healing things for me was to go out and play those songs again and to see the reactions from the fans. They weren’t big gigs and some of them were half empty but some of them were sold out. So it was kind of a barometer for me, kind of a litmus test, you know, how is this going to work? Are people going to give a toss? But enough people did and there was enough of a reaction for me to want to carry on.

Sadly, however, I wasn’t prepared for the difficulties from a purely business point of view of trying to maintain a band on the road and trying to sell records, to produce merchandise, to manage that whole thing. I didn’t realise how costly it was going to be and I ended up having to remortgage my house to pay off a load of debts, especially with some fans who’d got involved with investments and all that. All of the money just disappeared trying to keep the whole thing afloat. It was really, really tough and so I very reluctantly had to call a halt to it and had to effectively give up again because I just couldn’t financially support myself. I had little kids and was trying to maintain the house and all the rest of it, so that was a very tough time. It was a big, big lesson and a huge, steep learning curve but there were some massive positives that came out of it. I reinvigorated myself, I got in touch with and met a lot of new people - Bruce Mackenzie being one of the big flag bearers for me and Bruce still runs Townsend Music, a very successful music online distribution company. He got involved very early on in the evolution of my new music and he was instrumental in helping me and I’ve got nothing but praise for Bruce. He was one of the guys that got me involved in production, he introduced me to The Virginmarys and so there was a lot gained from it, but financially it was really tough. I had to call a halt and I actually started a building business because my family has a history in construction, but that was purely out of the need to do something that would actually earn some money. It was a weird time and very much a rollercoaster but I was much more interested in staying in the music business again, I just didn’t quite know how I was going to do it. One thing I did say to myself was, ‘I’m just going to let it evolve. Let’s go where things go and let’s see what happens’.

Due to how challenging it was becoming you actually announced not long after all those difficulties that you would be stepping away from releasing new content again. Did you genuinely intend to come away from music for good at that point?

Well, no. I know I made this big emotional statement about how I wasn’t going to come back and I put out the ‘Twisted Rhapsodies’ collection, but I think the trouble is that when you’re an emotional person, and most song writers and performers are, you do tend to make these kind of rash statements. I don’t think I ever intended on doing that, I just felt very fed up with it because we all put in so much effort and I’d put my family on the line for it all, as you often do as a musician or an artist. It’s a tough thing to do and a tough thing to put people through, so I think it was just a knee jerk reaction to that. But of course, what happens is you get itchy feet and you want to do something else.

And that’s exactly what happened because you were back in 2005 on the road with Thunder and in 2007 with the first two of three ‘Guitar, Bass & Drum’ EPs. What brought about the change of heart?

I just got a call out of the blue and again from Bruce McKenzie saying, “I know you said you don’t want to do any more but what about going out with Thunder,” because he was involved with Thunder, I think doing some of their distribution. And I did and it was great. The guys at Thunder were massively supportive. I got the guys in the band back together again, Nick, Roger and Matt and we went out and played and it was great fun. I was playing Little Angels songs and getting real reactions from the audiences, so I thought, ‘OK, let’s keep a toe in the water, let’s carry on’. That’s when I did the ‘Guitar Bass and Drum’ EPs because it just seemed to me that I might as well make some more music that reflected how I was feeling at the time, which is always what I’ve done.

They were records that were very low budget. When I made the first ‘GB&D’ EP it was on an extreme shoestring budget. I mixed it myself, we did all the recordings in a small studio down in Surrey and I did all the vocals at home on an A-Dat. It was all spit and polish, there was no real massive production value to it because I just couldn’t afford it. I didn’t want to relinquish the idea of independent releasing because that seemed to be working and I loved the relationship I had with Bruce Mackenzie, he was incredibly supportive. I’d got a new agent, I’d got back in touch with Andy Copping and I was working with Jim Morewood of the Mean Fiddler Group at the time as an agent. He was helping me out a lot so I had a good team around me and I was interested in just keeping it small and contained. When we played live everyone got paid, I did manage to make some money and was able to support the tours and come back with some cash, so it was working as an independent thing and I was enjoying working within that…

It’s very hard, you just can’t put it down when you’re a musician and especially when you’re a touring musician who has experienced the stuff that I had, it’s what I do. I know that sounds like a really tedious cliche, but it is. Ever since I’ve known professional life I’ve been a creative artist and it’s very hard to let go of it. Even though life gets in the way of making plans, as John Lennon said, you still can’t let go of it. It’s something that’s so much a part of me that I always knew that I would return to it at some point and with the kids getting older it allows for all these possibilities to happen again. I have the most incredibly supportive wife and family that have always helped me believe in myself. I think that’s one of the big failings of musicians, is that quite often the biggest struggle we have is with ourselves. It’s not always easy to see that you can carry on in your old world because you can’t look from the outside in. Of course your partner and your family and all that can, they can value it differently for you, so I’ve always been incredibly blessed to have that level of support.

So that encouraged me and like I say, the reaction from the Thunder tours was brilliant. I look at that period as being a bit of a rebirth really, in that I felt smarter and older - I was older, obviously! - and more in control of the situation because I was self releasing. But the course of things never runs entirely easy, does it? Bizarrely, after I’d done the second ‘Guitar Bass & Drums’ EP, sadly I parted ways with Matt and Roger and had to sort of put an entirely different bunch of players together. I did that with Dean Howard, who is now in Cats In Space, who’s been a real good mate of mine, I’ve played with Dean quite a lot over the years, writing together and playing in various versions of my solo bands. I got a whole other bunch of guys together that were wonderful and we went out and did some playing but I got to the end of that second EP run and again there were financial problems; struggling to make ends meet and I was still trying to run a building business just to keep the pennies coming in.

I kind of got this thing in my head that we were … we’d gone out on this run of shows and I’d started working with this other agent, Martin Jarvis, who’s a great guy and been a real good mate of mine for years. I’d stopped working with Jim Morewood and Martin had asked to get involved. I carried on working with Martin in GUN for a while and I’m still really good friends with Martin, he’s a really fantastic guy. So Martin rang me one day and said “I’ve managed to get you a show opening for Glenn Hughes at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, because the guy there that runs the whole thing, Ian Richards, is a fan of yours and he thinks it would be great, would you be interested in doing it?” It was a case of “Yeah, of course that would be fantastic”, but weirdly, I was in a bad situation behind the scenes where I was struggling financially again and I was kind of thinking to myself, ‘well, I’ll finish these shows off, let’s see where this goes, but really if this isn’t going to work any further then I’m going to kind of stop, because it’s really tough…’ Anyway, I went down to do the gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and happened to bump into and old friend of mine, Steve Strange, who used to be a promoter in Belfast. When the Little Angels first went over to Belfast he was our promoter. He came up to me backstage after I’d played this gig with Glenn Hughes and I didn’t realise at the time that he was/is one of the biggest agents in the world and Glenn Hughes was one of his artists. He kind of said, “Oh, I remember you, you’d be perfect for the new project I’m putting together with ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. We’re putting together his band Fastway, do you think you’d be interested in talking about it? Here’s my number...” and he went scurrying off ! I thought, ‘that’s really weird’, but I’d been a big fan of Fastway and spent a summer as a 14-15 year old lad in a pool hall in north Yorkshire listening to nothing but that first Fastway record, because a friend of mine brought it to me when I was working there. This friend said to me - because she knew I was a Motorhead fan - “Oh you’ve got to check out ‘Fast’ Eddie’s new band Fastway, it’s brilliant,” and that’s all I listened to that entire summer.

So it did perk my interest but I didn’t think anything of it. Lo and behold, about two or three days later - if my recollection is correct, although Steve would probably tell you better than me - I get a phone call from Steve saying, “Do you remember meeting me the other night? Do you want to come down to London and meet ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke?” I was like… “Really???” Because I was kind of like struggling to take it in a bit, but he said, “You just tell me what it would take for you to come,” and so basically he got me on a train and I had this meeting with Steve and ‘Fast’ Eddie and also John McManus, who was the bassist out of Mama’s Boys - I didn’t realise that John was going to be the bass player in the band - so I met John as well. Little Angels opened for Mama’s Boys back in day before we actually got signed, and we’d done three or four shows with them, so it was wonderful to meet him again. I always got on great with John and Mama’s Boys were a fantastic band. So it was wonderful to all of a sudden be thrown into this world of like totally new people again. Like ‘Wow, there’s Fast Eddie Clarke’. He was great to me and I explained that I was already on the road, I had a solo band and they were all cool - “You don’t have to change anything, we just want to go and do some festivals, we’re going to do Download and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that,” and reeled off this whole list of shows we were going to do!

It was like back to the festivals, which was the first time I’d played shows like those since we’d done the Bon Jovi tour, where we’d done Milton Keynes. I was being offered this golden opportunity to get back on these huge stages again, not just Download but Fields Of Rock and Sweden Rock and all sorts of thing. You know it seemed far too good to be true, well not too good to be true, that’s not true, but it did feel like a golden opportunity.

And also weirdly I’d been reading a lot of books, self-help books and it might sound a bit ‘hippy’ but my wife had turned me onto this book called The Secret, which talks about… One of the big things to The Secret is that you’ve got to say yes to everything. I think I’d spent a lot of time since Little Angels saying no to a lot of stuff, I’d realised that I’d spent a lot of negative time really. In fact I had been in a negative time, because I’d suffered from it. So I really do think that meeting Steve completely rescued me. I love the man and he’s one of my closest friends. I have nothing but respect for the guy, he’s so positive and such a supporter and such a successful person because of his positive attitude and it rubbed off on me. I appreciate everything he’s ever done for me and it’s because of Steve Strange that I am able to have this interview with you today. That’s the truth of it, he gave me a platform to get back on those stages again.

I don’t think anybody knew if it was really going to work or not,. There was me, Toby from Little Angels, this flossy haired Rock band, this Pop-Rock band, working with this ‘enfante terrible’, that was ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. But me and Eddie got on great. He really appreciated me as a singer, I loved his guitar playing and we all worked really well together in the room. And because it was Steve Strange, everything was five-star and wonderful; nothing was too much trouble. The rehearsals were great and I quickly found myself on stages at Download and wonderful places, playing incredible gigs with this legend. It was an absolutely incredible experience. I think it was just one of those epiphanic moments where you wake up to the fact that everything is possible. I think with the arts, the distance between failure and success is gossamer thin. One minute you can be sat on your sofa, like I was in Scarborough, wondering if the bank was going to knock on the door and call me in. Next minute I’m getting a call from one of the biggest agents in the world wondering if I want to join a band that not only was going to be playing huge shows, but that I was going to get well paid for. It was literally that quick. I think what the lesson is, is that you’ve just got to keep an open mind about it all and you’ve got to stay positive and keep your eye on the horizon and realise that the music business is a difficult place to survive in. But the rewards are enormous and specifically the creative rewards, if you can weather the storm. So it was a brilliant brilliant period and I just haven’t looked back since.

Eddie taught me a lot, he was a tough customer, sadly, as we know Eddie passed away at the beginning of 2018 and I miss him enormously, but he was tough. He made me grow up in lots of ways… he would never, ever suffer fools or take the short way round. He wanted to do things properly, he was very serious about his music because his music meant so much to him and I’ve never worked with anyone quite like him, it was an extraordinary experience. I have such great memories of the things he taught me and the stories he told me about Motorhead and the way he carried himself. Especially the way he was able to conjure that brilliant sense of belonging in a band. He was always at the front of that and he always took it so seriously. And actually, because I’d always taken it so seriously too, it was wonderful to recognise a kindred spirit. We were good friends, really good friends.

That led on to making the 2011 album ‘Eat Dog Eat’, which was a tough record to make - I’ve got to be honest - the first couple of years of working with Eddie was brilliant, we went over to Japan and played a load of shows and then it came to a resounding, sudden end, and that’s when I started on production work. But Eddie rang me again and said “I’d love to make an album would you let me use the songs,” because we’d spent time between the Fastway gigs working on music. I’d gone down to his house and hung out and we’d gone in his studio and we’d written a load of stuff but it hadn’t gone anywhere. So I got this call out of the blue saying “I’d love to use the songs, is that OK?” So I said, “Well what are you going to do with them?” and his response was, “Well, I’m thinking of making a solo album,” I said, of course, “Would you want me to be involved? I’d be happy to be,” and he jumped at the chance.

He insisted on calling it Fastway, because it was an obvious label and all the rest of it, and I think the songs were all in that vein. So that’s what we did. He paid for it all, he put his money where his mouth was and we went into the studio. We used Matt Eldridge on drums, I played bass and sang and I produced the record and we did it at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire. But it was a tough record to make, I mean Eddie hadn’t been in the studio for quite some time making that kind of record, playing live with a band, but I think he had a great time doing it and it was an unusual record. I think people either love or hate ‘Eat Dog Eat’, but we had a fantastic time making it and I know that Eddie loved that album. He said to me on a number of occasions that he thought it was the best record after the first Fastway album that he’d ever made and he was very proud of it, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it, quite frankly.

Although I think strangely over the years since we made it - it’s seven or eight years ago we made it - that I think it’s actually gained in popularity. People talk to me a lot about it because it is a basically a very simple record. A very old fashioned Rock n’ Roll album. But that’s what Eddie loved. He liked to play his guitar and he didn’t like frills, he didn’t want it to be complicated or like a really modern pro-tooled record. He wanted it to be a really emotional and simple album and that’s what he got and I think it stands up. I learned a lot making that record. I learned a lot from him. He was the master of understatement and he had great clarity and knew exactly what he wanted. And that’s one of the biggest problems with making records. If you don’t know what you want, you can flounder about and chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole, but Eddie had none of that, he knew exactly what he wanted to do, so that was a great experience.

I think people expected the band to continue on from there, but that never really happened.

There was conversations about touring and we did want to... I was working on a number of other things, I was producing quite a lot of stuff, and there was quite a lot of time between Fastway finishing in 2007-8 with the gigs we did and to making the album. So in those three years I got involved with GUN, but stayed in touch with Eddie - there was conversations back and forth about doing some gigs but I was playing shows with GUN. You know, I needed to earn. I was out there doing as much as I could. I was earning money as a producer, but being a producer in the modern age is not the same as it was back in the day, so there’s not massive amounts of work out there and you’ve got to go and find it yourself. But I was getting asked to do things, so you know, I kind of was dipping in and out of production, I joined GUN, and it was then that we made the ‘Eat Dog Eat’ album with Eddie. I was still involved with GUN, so it was kind of difficult to make things happen and then Eddie didn’t want to do it. So it all sort of fell flat. There was no sort of conversation beyond when the album had come out… there were discussions but nothing came of it, so I think it was just a set of circumstances really. We rectified it later on obviously, two years ago we went out with Girlschool and Saxon, which was a fantastic, a great way to finish it up for Eddie, and I’m glad that we all had the opportunity to play again. I would have absolutely toured with Eddie and Fastway, no two ways about it, but sadly it didn’t happen at the time.

Initially that link up with Scottish rockers GUN was as a guest at a charity gig in 2008, but you quickly joined full-time, recording the ‘Popkiller’ EP the next year. But you only stayed with the band until 2010. Why was your time with them so short?

At the end of the Fastway thing I joined GUN. The guys were wonderful and I absolutely loved working with Jools and Dante and they were a wonderful family of people to work with. I spent a lot of time in Glasgow, a lot of time rehearsing and we had some fantastic gigs in places like Spain and Portugal. We played up and down the country doing the greatest hits tour thing and it was just brilliant. We opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd, all sorts of stuff happened and I had a wonderful time, but I was doing a lot of production and various other things… there was a little bit of a whisper about me working on a Saxon album then, so my time was getting squeezed. We made the ‘Popkiller’ EP, which I think was OK, and we had some fun with that, but the only thing I think with the situation is that Jools and Dante have got a very specific writing style and they have a very clear view of what they want GUN to be and I don’t think they particularly worked very well with my writing style. Not that that was particularly a problem … we did the ‘Popkiller’ EP and I wrote ‘Popkiller’ and one of the other tracks on that EP and they wrote the other two songs and we toured it and we had some great fun but it reached a point where they were wanting to go off and make a full blown album and they wanted me to commit on a longer term basis, but it wasn’t something I felt I could do at the time and I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to say ‘yes, we’ll do it’ and then be in the middle of a production job or something else that came along that took up that time. So it was a very simple parting of the ways and there was no animosity at all as far as I was concerned. We had conversations and I just said to the guys, “Look, I think we’re going in different directions here. If you want to go off and make your album, that what’s you need to do, I don’t feel I can take part in that”, and that’s what happened. We shook hands and we walked away. I’ve got nothing but respect for Jools and Dante, I think they’re wonderful people, and the new album they put out last year was brilliant. I think they’ll continue to be brilliant because they are brilliant people and brilliant writers.

As you’ve alluded, alongside all of this with Fastway and GUN you started working with numerous bands as a producer, bringing your knowledge and experience to young outfits such as The Virginmarys, The Brew, iLLUSTR8ORS and Toseland. Did you make a conscious decision to move in that direction?

I didn’t make a conscious decision to become a producer, no. It was a bit of a weird one really. Like I said, Bruce Mackenzie from Townsend Records introduced me to The Virginmarys. He rang me one day and said, “I’ve found this amazing band.” They're from Macclesfield, but they were doing some gigs in Manchester, so he said “Come down see the band, I’d love to have your opinion about them and let me know what you think.” So I went down and I genuinely think they're one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live. They only played in front of something like fifteen people the night I saw them, but they were just staggering and the songs were brilliant. Then I got the demos and thought, ‘God, this band are just so talented’. I think Ally Dickaty, the singer/songwriter, is a staggeringly talented person, and it just so happened that they had some finance and had a guy who was investing in them who was helping them and then Bruce started to get involved and help them to evolve. So they asked me to produce and I said, “I’d love to do it - I haven’t ever produced before apart from doing my own stuff, but I’ve got an idea and I’ve got a plan,” and I just went and talked to them about it. I thought that they just needed to be recorded correctly, in the right kind of studio and given the right kind of breadth and time to evolve t o let them have some space and some proper concentrated effort, and that’s what we did. I worked with those guys for nearly three years on and off, which ended up culminating in the release of their first album, and I’m incredibly proud of that. That set me on a course to production.

I ended up making a Saxon album, I’ve been a long term friend of Biff Byford’s, we’ve been mates for years and I talked to Biff about me potentially getting involved with one of their records and he was really keen. I’d done some backing vocals on ‘Into The Labyrinth’ and so when they were talking about making their next record, he said, “Come and talk to the band”. So I talked to the guys in Saxon and they were really up for it because I wanted to get them back to making a Rock album, not a Heavy Metal record. They'd been making, like, very technical Heavy Metal records, really but I said to the guys, “I think you could make a Rock album that is harking back to the glory days in a way, and let’s get back to recording live”. So essentially that’s what we did.

We went into Chapel Studios again and I recorded the guys, essentially live. There were overdubs, obviously, but it was more live in comparison to the way they had been doing it on their previous records. It was a wonderful experience; a wonderful ‘pinch me, is this real’ moment when I was recording Biff doing his vocals, because I had grown up listening to Saxon. One of the first albums I ever bought was ‘Wheels Of Steel’. So to be sat in that studio, on the other side of the glass, pressing the buttons and talking to Biff down the talkback saying, “Can you do that bit again?”, and all the rest of it (laughs), was incredible.

I’ve found over the years that production really suits me, basically because I’ve spent so much time being produced by some amazing producers - James ‘Jimbo’ Barton, even the experience with Eddie Kramer was extraordinary; even though it didn’t work out with Little Angels, it was still an extraordinary thing to work with him. We worked with people like Mike Fraser. Bob Clearmountain mixed our records, and Steve Thompson and Joseph Barbiero… these amazing people. To have that experience as a young man and as an artist, what happens is that it rubs off on you, you can’t help but absorb it. Because actually the operations are very much the same, even though everything’s on computers these days, on pro-tools, you know, we used to record on to tape, it’s no different really. The medium doesn’t matter, media doesn’t matter, rather. It’s not about that stuff. It’s not about what mixing desk you’re using, it’s not about the equipment and the microphones and blah blah blah… it’s partially to do with that, technically you need to have the right atmosphere and the right place to do it in, but really when it comes down to it it’s about the human activity. It’s about the relationship between you and the band. The producer is there to try and elicit the best possible performance you can from that artist and to help the band understand their music.

That is definitely something I experienced as a young man working with great producers. I’ll never forget working with Chris Tsangeridis, who was involved with all kinds of people, you know, Thin Lizzy and all sorts of folk. He taught me that valuable lesson that it’s not the buttons that you press, it’s not the rooms and the microphones, it’s the music that you make and it’s how the human interaction happen and how you encourage the band as a producer to bring those performances out there. That’s what it’s all about, it’s a human activity, it’s not about technology. The gear doesn’t matter ultimately. A great song recorded badly is still a great song, but obviously inspired by degrees. Technically I really enjoy the process. I love mic’ing up a drum kit, I love finding a great studio. I love being in an environment where you get that fission happening in a room where everyone gets excited because everyone understands that you’re making something wonderful. You’re hitting the wonderful little moments of musical brilliance where everyone ‘gets’ it. It’s a great feeling and I love it - I love being a record producer and so even though I don’t do masses of it, whenever the opportunity is presented I love doing it. I specifically love working with young bands. Working with the iLLUSTR8ORS from Bristol, but there’s various bands I’ve worked with including City Of Thieves, who are on Frontiers Music.

Young bands are the best projects really, because you're getting new ideas and fresh perspectives. So I look for those opportunities to work with new bands as much as I possibly can. But then I’ll throw in working with a band like The Brew, who were well established. I’ve made three records with that band and they're very successful on the continent and they are very, very experienced, fantastic people to work with. I’ve worked with The Answer - another fantastic experience and another fantastic bunch of people - so I’ve been very lucky. I’m not a world famous producer, but what I am is... I only work on stuff I’m really excited and passionate about. You’ve got to keep the passion alive and being a producer is, for me, a really good way of keeping that passion alive.

One of the more controversial acts you’ve been involved with over the years was Dio Disciples, put together by Ronnie James Dio’s wife and manager Wendy. The band featured a cast of Dio alumni along with yourself and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens on vocals. You’re a lifelong Dio fan and obviously it was too good an opportunity to turn down…

Yes it was!

However, some fans liked what you guys did and the idea behind it, but some were, as ever, really quite disparaging of the whole thing. What are your thoughts looking back on it now?

Yeah, I mean, look. There’s nothing about the Dio’s Disciples thing that’s at all cynical from the point of view of Wendy and the guys in the band. Every ounce of the reason why they did that was for love. They did that because they love Ronnie, and Ronnie, on his death bed said to Wendy, “Look after the guys, keep the music alive”, or words to that effect. Their desire and their continuing desire is to keep that music alive. We all know what’s happening to the music business at the moment and we know how tough it is and difficult it is to keep people buying records and going to gigs. There is the sad fact that once someone of the magnitude of Ronnie Dio dies, it can enter into myth and be something that over time disappears into the background. If you don’t keep it alive by playing the music, it does disappear, it becomes something that used to happen. I mean look at someone like Deep Purple, they're as relevant today as perhaps they’ve ever been, because they’ve kept the whole thing alive. The guys - although sadly, poor old Jon’s no longer with us - they've kept the whole mantle of Deep Purple alive. Ritchie Blackmore’s no longer in the band but they’ve kept the whole thing alive. They keep playing the music and they keep making records. Sadly for Ronnie that’s no longer possible, because he isn’t with us any more. So it was always done for love.

I was absolutely blown away to be asked to do that given my relationship with Ronnie’s music over the years, I’ve been a life long fan - Dio were THE reason that I wanted to be in a band when I went to see them play at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Donington all those years ago. I’ve had an extraordinarily strange relationship with Ronnie’s music and him over the years because of a couple of things that happened, you know, and to end up in his band, working with Simon [Wright] and Craig [Goldy] and the guys, and Scott [Warren], was just something that blew my mind. To be singing ‘Heaven And Hell’ and ‘Neon Nights’ and ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ and ‘Stargazer’ and all the rest of it from Ronnie’s incredible canon of work, that to me was a privilege. And I’ve got to say that every single place that we played, specifically at the festivals, to hear 50-60,000 people singing the words to ‘Long Live Rock n Roll’ just showed how potent that music is and how important it is to keep it alive.

There wasn’t anyone booing us, or saying oh that was terrible… there was a lot of people in tears saying how terrible it as that Ronnie was no longer with us, but how amazing it was that we were playing the music. It’s very easy for people on the sidelines to say, ‘oh, my God, it’s all so terrible’, because we’re all so precious about our music, aren’t we? I’m mean I’m precious about music - I’m precious about Ronnie’s music! I don’t want it to be rubbed into the ground and I don’t think we did that. You couldn’t get more respectful people than the guys that were in that band and long may it continue as far as I’m concerned, because as far as I’m aware, Ronnie regarded specifically Scott, Craig, Simon and Rudy [Sarzo] as the pinnacle of the bands that he worked with in his career as a solo artist. So I think the fans need to take a bit of a step back and realise that if the music isn’t being played, it’ll probably end up dying. And also, don’t forget that a lot of it was put together for the charity Stand Up And Shout, to raise money, which we did do.

Tragically Little Angels drummer Michael Lee passed away in 2008. That event brought the members of the band back together in the most tragic of circumstances and although it took the best part of four years, that meeting resulted in Little Angels reforming during 2012 and 2013, with festival appearances across Europe and headline shows up and down the UK. How was it to reconnect with the band again after so long and realise that the bond of music and friendship was still so strong?

Well, you’ve answered the question within the question there. It was extraordinary… we met again in the worst possible circumstances with the death of Michael, who was singularly the most talented musician I’ve ever worked with. Never before, or after can I possibly equate the term ‘genius musician’ to anyone else apart from Michael. He was gifted beyond belief and to work with the man was a real privilege. To have him pass away at such a young age threw into sharp relief the actual facts of what it’s about to be in a band. We spent so many years with Michael, not vast amounts of years, but we spent a lot of years touring the world, making music together and then to fall out and spend fourteen or fifteen years in-between not speaking to each other was absolutely ridiculous. I felt embarrassed frankly and it was only when we all got together at the crematorium … one thing that I’ll never forget until my dying day was that when we were walking into the crematorium, Michael had requested to have ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ playing. I think his uncle said to us afterwards that he wanted it played at his funeral, so ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ is playing as we’re walking in … there was all sorts of people there … there was Jimmy Page, various members of Thin Lizzy, it was a who’s who of the Rock business gathered together to say goodbye to this enormously successful, incredibly talented musician and yet they were playing our song from the first band he was properly in. That really effected me. I was just blown away by that and it made me realise that we had to… I stopped to think; at the time why did we fall out? What was it all about? I mean, Michael left the band but I don’t have any problem with that now at all. The guy was only trying to further his own career. It did hurt us at the time, but hey, look what he managed to achieve. It’s not a surprise with talent like that, and we recovered anyway.

We all got together at the wake afterwards and started talking. It was like we hadn’t been away from each other. All those years melted away and next minute we were all on the phone to each other talking about stuff. It took a little while to pull it all together but I was really glad when we got the conversations going about doing some gigs again. We all met down in London - I was still involved with doing stuff with Dio and other production jobs - but it was just a no brainer, we all just had to do it. And to start off at Download, albeit the weather was terrible, but it was an incredible experience to stand on that stage again for the first time after so many years playing to that huge audience and have all those voices singing the songs back at us. It just became so obvious that we still had a huge fanbase that loved the music.

With the passage of time music has a classic sense about it that can last forever and with great Classic Rock, that’s what it does. It has a timeless quality about it and while Little Angels were by no means hugely popular to every Rock fan - I think a lot of Rock fans thought we were just too soft, too lightweight - but I think the music matures and people grow into it. People grew up around it as part of the soundtracks to their lives and it never leaves them.

I think the thing I remember more than anything else about the 2012 tour was talking to the fans afterwards and hearing the stories about how they'd grown up - they'd come to see us as their Rock n’ Roll education, or the first gig they ever went to was Little Angels. The amount of times I heard people say that they met their wife or their husband at a Little Angels gig and we’d helped shape their lives. Hearing all those stories is just extraordinary, it makes you realise what a powerful thing music is and how songs can effect people’s lives so deeply and so intensely. To do that tour and talk to people was a massive rebirth for all of us and we all realised how important that music had been to people. We forgot all the tensions, we forgot all the stupidity, and I think all the silly things that we used to believe were wrong about the band. We realised instead what was right about the band. We were a happy go lucky band and we were a band for the people. We always felt we were fans, a bunch of fans playing music for fans, so yes, it was a brilliant, brilliant time and I’m so glad it happened. We finished on the Isle Of Wight the following year and I’ve got nothing but great memories about it.

I continue to be great friends with the guys, you know, I’m working with Bruce quite closely on his Water Bear thing with my new company that me and Rob Town have set up, Lightning In A Bottle, and I’ve got great relationships with all of them. Jim Dickinson lives just down the road from me in Somerset, he works at Bath Spa University as the head of the contemporary music courses there. I exchange emails and text messages with everyone all the time, so it’s brilliant, we have a great relationship with each other now… after all these years, it’s ridiculous, really, isn’t it…?

The temptation to record new music was resisted �" a move that fans both understood and were frustrated by...

(Toby laughs!)

...but was there not a temptation to stay together to play some shows on a semi-regular basis, as quite a lot of acts do these days?

No, no, we don’t… I think the one massive lesson we learnt was that even though it was a terrible blow to the fans that we split up in the first place, the one thing that everyone remembers is that we went out on that high. We never diminished the potency of what the band represented, so when we got back together in 2012 we said the same thing - ‘we don’t want this to be a sort inexorable slide into nothingness, we wanted to maintain the potency of what it represented to the fans’ - and so that one blast, the Download gig and then playing that whole tour, selling out most of it, rekindling our relationships, reintroducing the music back to a whole new generation of people, which seems to have happened, and to celebrate what we managed to achieve, that was what was most important. I think if we started recording again we all felt that might have been a step too far. I mean, apart from everything else, we’re all doing so many different things. Mark Plunkett is a very successful music business manager, Jim’s teaching, Bruce was in education, I was producing and doing other things, so it was not easy. I think if we’d have done that, at that particular point in time, I don’t think it would have worked, it would have been virtually impossible just from a time point of view. So I think people just have to accept that what we did was the right thing for the situation for us all. Ultimately we’re the people in the band and I don’t think we ever want to fall out again or have a situation where we can’t celebrate what we managed to achieve.

You released the ‘Raising My Own Hell’ EP in 2013, which was an excellent solo return and fans hoped for more, but after a short tour, things went quiet on the solo front again. Why was that?

With the ‘Raising My Own Hell’ EP … what you’ve got to understand is that I spend so much time working on music, not just as a producer, but I write songs. Obviously I’ve worked with James Toseland on two albums and we’ve been working together for five or six years. I wrote all of the songs on those two records. I’m constantly writing songs. If I’m not writing songs for James, I’m writing songs for somebody else, or for myself, because I like to write. I co-wrote some songs for James’ wife Katie Melua.

I got another publishing deal through Katie actually, I’m signed to Katie’s publishing company and that put me on a trajectory where I’m writing with lots of other writers, so I’m constantly writing. Most of what I do is on an acoustic guitar, I’m a very traditionalist writer, I don’t write with a computer, I don’t sit there with drum beats etc, I write from what I call a song-centric perspective. It’s all about narrative, it’s all about subject matter, and so I often have lots of songs kicking around. I woke up one morning and I remember distinctly thinking, ‘you know, I’ve got loads of songs that don’t suit James, don’t suit Katie, aren’t going to be something that I’m going to give to the publishers to try and get on a Pop record, or whatever else, I’m going to use these songs’. I’d written a couple of songs that I really, really, really liked - ‘Four Letter Word’ and ‘Raising My Own Hell’ specifically, so I just recorded them at home. I had a really tiny overdub suite at my house in Scarborough before I moved back down south, so I was unable to record a full blown band really, but I was able to record a small drum kit and everything acoustically, so that’s what I did. It was just another way for me to be able to offer some new music, keep the ball rolling, keep people interested in what I’m doing and also to give me an opportunity to go out and play.

I loved playing that tour. I got Dave Kemp back out with me, playing saxophone but also playing squeeze-box and had Matt Eldridge come out and play some percussion on some of the songs. I did a couple of tours like that and it was absolutely brilliant and I recorded quite a lot of it to sort of document it and I’ve recently put out those recordings on my first solo acoustic album.

I have to be compelled, I’ve got to feel there’s a really good reason to do what I’m doing. I’ve got to have the songs in place, that to me is really important, because I have made mistakes about that, I don’t think all of the songs on the ‘Guitars Bass and Drum’ EPs are that great, I think some of it was hurriedly made because I felt I was slightly under pressure, and also financially it was difficult to pull all of those strands together and run the building business at the same time. This time around I had a lot more flexibility to make that record and I’m pleased with it. I think it’s quite garagey, or organic, but I think there’s something there that I’m very proud of.

Although, of course, you did return towards the tail end of last year with a new band, Wayward Sons. How did that come about and why a new band rather than solo work?

I made a decision that at the end of the Dio Disciples thing I didn’t want to go out playing with a band again unless it was something I was going to do myself. It’s one thing singing other people’s material but it’s another thing making your own music. It’s such a personal thing and also I’d learnt so much about the independent releasing system that I just thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to put out a substandard record, I don’t want to do another ‘Guitar Bass and Drums’’, although they weren’t terrible and I know people love them and I’m very proud of them, but I didn’t have the opportunity to go into a great studio and spend a concentrated amount of effort on it. They were difficult records to make from a technical point of view and so I made a pact with myself. If I’m ever going to do it again I’ve got to have financial support from a record label and proper opportunities to write the record correctly; find the right people, put all the pieces in place.

That seemed like a very difficult thing to quantify and to ‘find’, if you like. I relinquished myself to the possibility that I may never do it again and was just going to carry on being a producer, writing songs for other folk but then the phone rings and this time I get a phone call from Derek Oliver, who worked as a ‘scout’ and a consultant for Frontiers music, and Derek said to me, “Look, I’ve got a couple of projects, and opportunities that…” one was potentially working with Steve Stevens actually, because he wanted to find some guest vocalists. It didn’t work out but I kept the avenues open and next minute I get an email from Serafino, saying “Look, we love what you do, and we love what you’ve done in the past. We’re big fans, would you consider…” well, firstly they asked me to put Little Angels back together and make a record, which I declined, as that wasn’t something that I was interested in doing. Then they said, well would you be interested in putting together a project?

Initially it started off being a situation where I was talking to some American artists, James Lomenzo and me became good friends from the Dio’s Disciples period and we were discussing the possibility of putting something together with Brian Tichy and a guitar player, but that sadly didn’t come to anything. So I went back to Serafino and said, “I’ll do it, but it’s got to be on my own terms” and the brilliant thing about what both Serafino and Mario did, is they said, “OK, we’d just love you to be involved”.

I formed the band with Nick and Dave Kemp and Phil Martini and this amazing young guitar player, Sam Wood, who I’d been working with in another young band from Leeds, The Treason Kings, who were fantastic, but they came to a close, or were coming to a close and I asked Sam if he wanted to get involved in my project. So all the planets aligned and it all happened very quickly. I’ve learned to follow my instincts these days. If things feel right they probably are right. I don’t second guess stuff like that any more, I think, well, it’s been offered to be as an opportunity, it must be something from the universe giving me a new signpost saying, ‘you’ve got to do this’, so I trust my instinct and my gut on this stuff and from the first moment I stepped inside the rehearsal studio with those guys and we started working on material it was absolutely obvious that it was going to work. I simply haven’t been in a better band. I love being in a band and I’m so excited by the way it’s being received. This last twelve months since we released the first album, ‘Ghosts Of Yet To Come’, has been an extraordinary experience and a complete rebirth really for me and I really mean that.

I feel as invigorated about music as I did back when I was 17 or 18 when we first started playing together in the Little Angels. I feel this is something that’s connected to me passionately and I feel the songs and the music I’m writing are the best I’ve ever written in this format. I hope it can last for many albums to come. I massively appreciate finding myself working with not only Serafino and Mario but also with the continued support of Steve Strange, who is not only one of my closest friends but one of my co-managers and my agent. Someone else I need to mention is Martin Tibbetts, who I work with, who is my personal manager and who works for Strange World Management. He also co-manages Toseland with me. I’ve just got a brilliant group of people round me. With the record deal that was offered there was real money involved, I had great management, there’s a real agent there who believes in me and has created a massive support structure for me. It feels totally correct and I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The album’s gone down great, we’re on a whole upward curve, the songs have been received across radio fantastically well, the magazines seem to really have loved the album and it just feels real and honest and correct. I’ve rediscovered the joy of it all again in the way it used to feel back in the day. So I am massively grateful for that.

And finally, can we expect to hear more soon from the band, or do you have other musical projects lined up?

I’m staring to write songs now, I don’t ever stop writing songs really. I’ve got a load of ideas I’m messing around with. I’ve literally just come back from a family holiday in France where I’ve been doing nothing but thinking about writing this next record and I’ll be starting work on fully blown writing sessions with the guys over the rest of this month, and by the time that this smokes out, hopefully we’ll be on the road playing some headline shows and possibly playing some new songs in that set. There’s a long view of making a new album with a possible release at the back end of 2019 but with new songs being released ahead of the album, so we’re in another album cycle really.

It’s just joyous, it’s wonderful to be in this position at my age, you know, thirty years in the business, to be in a new band at 51, feeling as optimistic as I do and having such great people around me and getting the support from the fans. I mean doing the headline tour last year in April, it was extraordinary to see those shows selling out. It just goes to show that no matter how old you are, as long as you feel artistic and you feel that you’ve got something to say, which is the key thing here, anything’s possible. I think that’s my message here - never give up. I’m living proof that if you can go to the up, you can plummet to the bottom. You can climb your way back up that slippery slope and as long as you can still see the sun rise over the horizon, you’ve got a chance. That’s what life is all about really. I want to make music and help people and talk about things that matter and as long as someone gives me that opportunity, I will continue to do that.


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