John Gallagher tells the story of Raven debut Rock Until You Drop
When the N.W.O.B.H.M. emerged back in the day, a lot of bands started their career at that point. Some of them managed to become big, such as Saxon, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Judas Priest, some of them reached cult status, such as Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Chateaux, Jaguar and there were groups that simply faded into oblivion. Newcastle-based Raven belongs to the cult outfits, and had a huge influence on the thrash/speed movement later on. Their debut record Rock Until You Drop came out forty years ago and bassist/vocalist John Gallagher remembered those times.
John, before I ask you about Raven’s first record Rock Until You Drop, how do you view that the UK was a cradle of the first wave of heavy metal, which was born at the end of the 1960’s and bloomed in the early 1970’s?
Yes, the musical explosion of the 1960’s continued into the 1970’s, so many amazing bands of many genres not just heavy metal and in such a small geographic area! Quite amazing really!
Did each of these bands get into a crisis in the mid-to-late 1970’s and lost some of their popularity?
Well, to a degree. The trappings of fame such as hard drugs took a lot of people down and definitely hit a lot of bands very hard. Also the record companies started to flex their muscles and opinions, not often in a good way. Musically many bands lost their way, dabbling in funk etc. which worked for some, but not for others. The fans did not want their rock watered down!
Did this situation create space for the rise of other rock bands in the mid-1970’s including Queen, Hawkwind, Bad Company, Status Quo and Nazareth, all of which had multiple chart entries in the UK and had conducted successful international tours?
I wouldn’t say that. Those bands just were the natural progression. Quo, Naz and Hawkwind all sprang from the 60’s, Bad Company formed from the ashes of Free, Queen were part of the next generation of bands, inspired by Zep etc. But the watering down of many bands left the door open for more aggressive music and then came punk.
Towards the end of the 1970’s, British metalheads coalesced into a closed community that led to the emergence of N.W.O.B.H.M. Do you agree with it?
In a sense. Internally nothing changed but external forces such as a snooty elitist music press and the advent of punk started to encroach on our musical island. Punk was the flavor of the week and anything close to metal was derided by most of the press.
Is the music of the N.W.O.B.H.M. best remembered for drawing on the heavy metal of the 1970’s and infusing it with the intensity of punk rock to produce fast and aggressive songs?
Personally we thought that 99.9% of punk was a joke, but the DIY aspect was intriguing and inadvertently lead to our band getting noticed! But musically? We already had plenty of attitude and aggression, we had local notoriety as the band that smashed their gear up! We loved OUR type of music and wanted to play it.
Did the DIY attitude of the new metal bands lead to the spread of raw-sounding, self-produced recordings and a proliferation of independent record labels?
Well, some enterprising studio owners saw an opportunity and the bands were there for the picking, which is how you got Neat, Guardian, Heavy Metal Records etc…
Did the N.W.O.B.H.M. begin as an underground phenomenon growing in parallel to punk and largely ignored by the media?
Yes, but it was very organic and the bands were very dissimilar musically. It was the passion and energy that distinguished them from what had gone before once Geoff Barton coined the phrase new wave of British heavy metal everything changed. Which is why N.W.O.B.H.M. is really an era as opposed to a genre the bands really were different from each other.
What do you think, did the movement involve mostly young, white, male and working-class musicians and fans, who suffered the hardships brought on by rising unemployment for years after the 1973–75 recession?
Make that 1974-1984, but generally I’d agree. Personally I saw little future outside of the band, things were tough, many people had no work or prospects it was our way out.
Raven was formed in 1974, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by the Gallagher brothers, you bassist/lead vocaist and guitarist Mark, accompanied at first by Paul Bowden on guitars and Paul Sherrif on drums. How did you get together? Was Raven the really first outfit for all of you or did you have any experience as musicians prior to it?
We were kids. Paul Bowden lived in the next street, Paul Sherrif a few streets over and really had no clue on playing drums. We borrowed drums from Paul B’s sister! Once we formed the band we had to get instruments. All we had was a classical guitar until Christmas 1974 when we got cheap electric guitars and a bass and we learned the hard way – by teaching ourselves. Our 1st show was at our school in December of 1975.
How would you summarize the band’s history until Rob „Wacko” Hunter’s arrival?
We were learning our trade basically getting better in all departments learning how to entertain an audience and hold their attention. Once Rob joined and we changed to a 3 piece. It was a huge leap forward in us realizing our potential.
Did you find him relatively easily? Was he immediately your first choice or did you audition other drummers as well?
We had tried a few other guys, but it was obvious they were not a fit. We put an ad on the board of the local music shop with little luck, and the guy from the store recommended Rob.
Was it a key move in the band’s career to recruit Wacko? What about his musical background?
It was THE key moment for sure a guy who was as passionate as we were, who could really play, who liked the music we liked and could write!
Did he start to don padded athletic/ice hockey gear right from the start, that became his trademark later on?
No, that all came a few years later.
When you started rehearsing with Wacko, did you immediately feel that he was the right member for Raven? How long did it take you to come up with new songs with him?
He came with his drums to our rehearsal hall. Mark was running late, so I plugged in my bass and we just jammed feeling each other out. It was instant. No question, he was the guy! We all worked on songs immediately!
Is it correct, that Raven was given the opportunity to release its first single Don’t Need Your Money through the generosity and prudence of the Tygers of Pan Tang manager?
Well, he came to see us play and after the show asked if we wanted to do a single for Neat Records. So I would say yes!
Was it a perfect single for a N.W.O.B.H.M. band? Did it really represent what Raven was about?
It was a brilliant representation of what we were all about. Even the cover of the single gave you an instant impression!
This was how Raven first presented themselves to the world and you would briefly achieve a legendary status among followers of the N.W.O.B.H.M., right?
Briefly legendary? That’s a bit of a contradiction. The single and 1st album gave us notoriety and made quite an impact for sure. Legendary status is more of a current phenomenon!
It was followed by another single Hard Ride/Crazy World. Was it released before or after Rock Until you Drop?
That was released after the release of RUYD. Crazy World definitely showed where we were going to go with the next album.
Your debut full-length Rock Until You Drop wasn’t only the first record for Raven, but also for Neat Records, was it? How were you signed by them, by the way?
I explained the meeting with Tom Noble (Tygers manager) earlier. We did a demo for Neat. They liked it so we did the single then the album and this continued one release at a time. Our single was actually the 6th release on Neat, but the first 3 were local pop acts! The Tygers had Neat 04, Fist had Neat 05 and ours was Neat 06.
Was the label extremely influential in the rise of the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement in the early 80’s?
Yes. You have to understand the record business was in London. The rise of labels like Neat was bucking that trend completely. No London A&R guy would dream of coming to Newcastle (250 mile from London) to check out a band for them that would be like going to the moon. The rise of Neat and the other labels gave an outlet for all these cool bands across the U.K. that otherwise may never have made it out.
It was founded by Dave Wood and owned the Impulse Studios in Newcastle, where most of its recorded output was produced…
Yes. He knew nothing of the music, but knew how to make (and keep) money!
When did you start working on your debut?
It had to be late 1980 or early 1981 and was done here and there between tours etc. over 3 or 4 months.
What do you recall of the recording sessions? Did you get a decent budget to track the material?
Budget? The studio was very primitive by most standards. A 16 track 2 inch tape machine, a mixing board, a reverb unit and an echo machine. We would record live then add vocals and guitar solos etc. Most of the takes were 1st or 2nd as we were well rehearsed.
Were you standing out among your N.W.O.B.H.M. peers with your intense, frenzied live performances, boundless energy and self-described style of athletic rock, donning sports gear on stage and often using it to play – or more often, destroy – your instruments and Rock Until You Drop is the culmination of this hard work?
I would say so. Everything about us was a little different, but it all came down to the songs, the musicianship and the energy!
Did the album display a trio of pure maniacs bound to break the rock’n’roll swing that was a part of the British metal movement?
Our ambitions were pretty much to break everything.
Your musical offer is pretty much an explosion of demonic proportions, widely inspired by the 70’s British glam rock, while on the other hand you remained loyal to the heavy, speedish and hyperactive style characterizing the N.W.O.B.H.M. from the outset. How do you explain this?
Well, our infuences were many and varied, but we gravitated to the faster and more high energy songs of the bands we liked. We took that and distilled it down into our own sound. Actual songs, not just riffs stuck together, but with musical left turns and surprises here and there!
Did every tune showcase ferocious energy, charisma and enthusiasm?
I’d say with every song we have ever done that was the intention.
Did the song list consist of a small variety of fast-paced beats, mid-tempo tracks and impressively delivered, hard-driven riffing and lead guitar-shredding?
That’s your impression. It was full of what WE called metal simple as that!
Do you think that Hard Ride and Hell Patrol are sealed-in-stone proto-speed metal with hard rock entanglements, while For the Future shows the prime influence of the Bay Area metal scene in the US?
Not really. Hard Ride is at its heart rock and roll that’s for sure. Hell Patrol is way more hyper, more involved arrangement, the scream definitely harder to pigeon hole. For the Future is a little less dense in arrangement but showcases the heavy most certainly!
Did the The Sweet covers show an essential component of the group’s style?
We love The Sweet and came up with the idea of doing a medley and really put our own spin on the songs which is something we have always done as opposed to a straight copy which is kinda pointless so it showcases our arrangement skills.
How about the instrumental 39/40 interlude?
I always played guitar as well as bass and had this little instrumental. We figured it was a great set up before For the Future so in I went! A few tracks of classical guitar and the first time I had played a fretless bass which was hanging up in the studio! It’s named after the number 39 and 40 buses we would take into town.
Did Tyrant of the Airwaves step on the border between speed and thrash metal?
That’s hindsight as those genres did not exist! It was the first of our epic or more progressive songs. I’d finally managed to obtain an 8 string bass so that was integral to writing the song. It’s showcased on the middle section and I think no one had really used the instrument like that. It gave us another avenue to explore.
According to you, Don’t Need Your Money was inspired by a money lending issue that the group had with Tygers of Pan Tang. What happened?
That is hilarious! Who told you that? Rob wrote the lyrics about a rich controlling girlfriend. It had nothing to do with the Tygers!
Did the album display an amazing foresight in its semi-thrashing ways? And did you prove to be influential on the burgeoning thrash and speed metal scenes?
Again, that’s not for me to say, but it certainly was different and obviously influenced a lot of people!
Did Rock Until You Drop put the band on the map as one of the leaders of the N.W.O.B.H.M.?
Oh yes, it was the first independent heavy metal album in the U.K. and it was heavily exported all over the world.
In 1983 on your U.S. tour Metallica was the opening act, this was the legendary Kill ’Em All for One tour. How did it go as a whole? What kind of memories do you have regarding the tour?
Headlining a US tour was a dream come true, although it had its nightmare moments! Between us, Metallica and the band crews we had 17 people in our touring party traveling in 2 trucks and a 6-bed motor home. Ouch!!!!! But we were hungry and just took it all in stride. We got on great with Metallica. It was their 1st ever tour so they watched, listened and learned in between acting like maniacs!
John, thank you very much for your answers! What are your closing words?
Thanks to all our fans for the support! Once this virus shit is over we will be touring and if you haven’t heard it yet, go get our most recent album Metal City!