The England's Newcastle area has produced some of the finest NWoBHM bands, with Raven being right there at the top of the list. A bit faster and more energetic than many of their counterparts, the band was an important source of inspiration for the early '80s speed/thrash scene, and no one else than Metallica supported them on one of their tours. 45 years later, the trio are still going strong, currently working on the successor to their 2015 release "ExtermiNation". I caught up with John Gallagher before their Glasgow gig, to ask him some fanboy questions about the band's history.
You're going on the European tour with Saxon and Y&T soon. Why didn't you do the UK dates with them as well?
Quite simply, we weren't asked. They'd already, I guess, sorted out the other band before we got asked. So yeah, it's a shame. It's confused people as well, "Oh, we're going to come see you!" and I'm like, "We're not on this, sorry. We're only doing the European shows." But you know, their manager got in touch with me and asked me and I was like, "Yeah, absolutely, we love Saxon, we love Y&T, it's an honour to be on the same bill with them and we're really looking forward to it. We'll certainly warm the crowd up!", ha-ha!
It's been three years since your last album was out so, are you working on any new stuff?
Yes, it's been a little bit up and down, you know? When we decided we wanted Mike in on drums, it turned out to be a problem for us, because usually we were famous for going in to the studio and recording as a band, live, and Mike was like, "Well, I do most of my stuff in my own studio" and I'm like, "Yeah, click track isn't it?", "Yeah, but I'll do it, I'll go faster, go slowly, make it sound real. Send me some demos and I'll prove it." So, I sent him some demos and he played drums and it was phenomenal! So I was like, "I don't care if you're doing it in your own studio if it's going to sound like this. This is awesome!" So, in the past everyone else in the band had the opportunity to go, "Oh, I don't like what I did, maybe I'll try something else," but the drummer was always like, "I have to be just good enough to get through it." Now they have the opportunity to go, "I don't like that, I want to try something else. I wanna try something else and build up the real thing." And the only way you can do that with a band is for everyone to play the whole thing over and over and over which drives everyone crazy. And now he drives just himself crazy. But anyway, we went to the studio and the engineer had the mind-set that he didn't like a lot of busy drums and edited stuff out and didn't tell us so, we did a lot of work and ended up walking away from it. There was a lot of stuff going on. I can't really tell you right now, but basically, you know, we're like half done and it's amazing. It sounds a little bit like an album after "Wiped Out", if we kept on going after "Wiped Out", it's very high energy. It's not so much of a produced sound in that sense, it's not the big overblown reverb thing, it's a lot tighter and closer in your face, which works with us. There's a lot of very fast stuff there but the songs are strong and there's great hooks. So, it's definitely Raven but it's another flavour. So, we're very excited about it. The other thing we found out is somebody got in touch with us with some live recordings from Denmark from last year on the tour, and they're amazing. So, there's a good chance of a live album too.
OK, we'll hopefully talk about the new album when it's out, I've got a couple of fanboy questions now. When you started out in the mid-'70s, the metal scene was in its early stages. So, what kind of bands did you play gigs with? I mean, you didn't really fit the '70s hard rock bills, or the punk rock stuff...
Well, when we were kids, in '76 I believe it was, we played with The Stranglers. Which was really strange, because they wouldn't let us use their PA. That happened to us twice back then. There was a band called The Motors who had a couple of hits, they wouldn't let us use the PA either. We had to bring our own silly little PA instead. So, we played with The Stranglers and Hugh Cornwell, their guitar player at the time comes up and goes, "Anybody got perfect pitch?" and I go, "Yeah," and he goes, "Give me an A," so I go, "Aaaaaaaa...", he tuned up and went on stage, ha-ha! Very trusting, ha-ha! So, we did that, we played with them, and then we never really played with anyone until we did the first single and then we got all kinds of offers, we were playing with Whitesnake, with Ozzy, with Iron Maiden, Motorhead, boom, boom, boom, boom, one after another...
With the two of you being brothers, have the other band members had a say when it came to making band related decisions?
Yeah, it's not just us. I mean, Rob was always a huge contributor to the band, an incredibly talented musician, drummer, he wrote a lot of songs. It's very difficult actually, with a lot of the early stuff, to say who did what. You can say, "Oh, that sounds like a Mark riff," -"Well, no, Rob wrote it!" -"Oh, that sounds like a clever John bit" or something, -"No, that was Mark". Rob did a lot of lyrics, everyone contributed. And the same with Joe, you know? At least initially, everyone contributed a lot, and that's the way we like it, when everyone's there. You know, three heads are better than one. So no, it's definitely not the Mark and John show. It's like a stool, you got one bad leg and it's going to fall over so, you need that extra leg, you know?
You're a three-piece these days, but there were times when you had an additional guitarist...
Yeah, and it was very nice to meet up again with Paul, when we played the first show in South Shields. And Sean was there, Sean Taylor from when we were all together in 1977. So, we got a couple photos taken all together and we're all friends, it's really cool. And Paul's playing again. He's playing with some local bands and having a great time and Sean plays with Satan. And also when I was over for a few weeks before the tour in the UK Sean asked me to come down and do some sessions with the guy from Warrior, Dave. And so I did some vocals, which was great, did some bass, some bass guitar solo stuff and that's all going to come out later. So, that was a lot of fun. That was great.
For many of your fans "The Pack Is Back" is their least favourite Raven record. Do you regret making it sound as it sounds?
Well, it's just one of those things. How many records have we had out? And there's one that somebody doesn't like, that's pretty good. It's a pretty good batting average. People are like, "Oohh, I would've never done that", but you know, sometimes you need to eat. Yeah, we were really getting pushed like, "But if you do this, you'll be able to do that." And then it's like a slippery slope and before you know it you end up wearing the costumes that are on "The Pack is Back" album cover. Why are we here? And why are we doing this? And then the record company doesn't want to promote it and doesn't want to give you money for a video. So, this is a complete waste of time. Why did we do any of this, just to stay where we are? We could have just done what we were doing. So, we learned that we don't want to be in the studio for six weeks, we don't want to be mixing for six weeks, we don't want to record in that sense, which was over click drop, which just sucks the life out of everything. We just want to please ourselves and if we please ourselves and we're honest about it, hopefully people join in. And that's what's happened before and that's what's happened ever since. I still think there's some great songs on that record, it's just the way they were treated. It's definitely of its time, it's very much the commercial '80s, just like Saxon, just like Judas Priest, just like innumerable other bands. But we get more shit for it than most of them which just shows I guess that people were very disappointed really, you know? And the "Stay Hard" album, I love it, it's still great. It's got some great stuff on it. So, you know, a blip in the road, as it were. But I think we've made reparations for that many times over, ha-ha!
I think I read somewhere that you actually burned the costumes from that photo shoot. Is that true?
No, I think he's still got them, believe it or not. He was saying he's found a case, and he's got some of that stuff in. It's probably all mouldy at this point, ha-ha!
OK, talking about style changes, "Glow" is quite experimental so, what was the idea behind recording this another non-typical album?
Aahhh... I'm trying to think the way we were before we did "Glow". Yeah, things were getting tough, even in Europe. I just had a mind-set, sort of like, "There's a lot of stylistic things we do, that are very Raven so, I'm going to try and write some songs that don't have a lot of that in it." So, song like "Altar", it's got very strange guitar chords in it, song like "Spite" is in a strange key, it's in the key of F, so everything's a little off... I've always played acoustic guitar, had a couple of ballady-type things, let's just see where it goes. I like the sound of it, it's very heavy and there's some really good stuff on that. It's kind of like a mixed bag. It's a bit of this and it's a bit of that and we kind of went, "Yeah, that idea's cool." So, I hear that back and it's got some interesting music on it, some good ideas.
When you were on tour with Slayer back in the '80s their fans threw stuff at you. What was the weirdest thing you were hit with?
Batteries. 9 volt batteries. And they hurt when they hit you on the chest. But they were just silly little fourteen-year-olds. So, what we used to do, we had a song called "Overload" from the "Life's a Bitch" album where we put the guitars down and climb over the barrier and stand on the barrier, "Okay, who's first?" And it was a ten thousand seat arena! "Come on! We'll fight every fucking one of you!" And they were like, "These guys are crazy!" And we got respect. You know, we used to play punk rock clubs in Sunderland which was like, you know, you'd be in fear of getting killed or something. So, this meant nothing to us. It was just a challenge and we thrive on that, we love doing that. Some of those older shows we played in places where nobody knew who we were, sometimes we weren't even on the bill. But by the time the show ended they were into it. So, it was entertaining, ha-ha!
I remember a story about Joe being caught with a girl by her boyfriend...
Ha-ha-ha, yes! That was in Utica, New York when we were doing the "Nothing Exceeds Like Excess" album. There were apartments upstairs from the studio and I got up to pee in the middle of the night and I hear "Huh-huh-huh" and I see Joe coming up the stairs holding his boots. He'd been with this girl and the boyfriend broke through the door, and he jumped out of bed and went out the back door. He was running through the gardens with a dog chasing him, stuff like that, ha-ha!
You guys did a cover version of "Born to Be Wild" with Udo Dirkschneider. Have you ever had a chance to actually play that song live with him back in the day?
Back in the day we did, twice, yeah. We did it at the Aardschok Festival and then the day after in Zeche in Bochum in Germany. We only did it twice. We were going to do it on the tour we did with Udo back in 2000, but the first night Joe was sick when he came off stage and we didn't do it. Then he got up and was out partying later on and I think Udo was a bit pissed off about it, I don't blame him. We played it for a goof on some of the songs, and it was definitely in the soundcheck on the Udo tour, but he never mentioned it after that. So, it's there, it was great to do and it's one of the crazier things we've ever done.
You played bass for Paul DiAnno on his US tour. How did it come about?
No, I didn't. I didn't play bass with Paul DiAnno on his US tour, because he didn't have a US tour. A friend of mine was managing Paul and we just came off the road from "Architect of Fear" and he said, "Do you want to help me out?" He says, "I've got Paul here, he's trying to get a record deal. He's doing some showcases in a rehearsal room and they're gonna bring record company people in and play some stuff. You think you could play bass for two weeks for me?" And I had a history with Paul, a lot of money disappeared out of my wallet a long time ago, so I thought, "Maybe I'll get my money back here". And I did, in spades. So they had a band, there was a guy called Ray De Tone from Jersey playing for Paul and Cliff from Tank and Steve Hopgood from Tank and me and Paul. And it was all very funny, they were trying to get a record deal for new material, but they were just playing Battlezone and Iron Maiden material just passing it off as new material. And they got a deal from a South American guy and the South American guy went, "Oh, let's do a live album." So, it was recorded live in 547 West 27th Street, New York, New York, live to tour truck, but they added the worst audience of all time. But it is live and it's great, the music is great on it. So, that was a lot of fun for all of us, Paul was great and he had a good time.
How's that possible that through the entire '90s, with four albums out during that period, you only played one single show in the UK?
In that period of time there was a lot of bands that were touring, I mean we toured Europe quite a few times, but a lot of bands just wouldn't play England. They wouldn't even play London. It was just like, "It's too much money to come all the way over and nobody ever comes and sees shows." Well, not much has changed. So, there was a lot of that going on. We actually played our hometown in 1997 and that was purely because it turned out the promoter came from our area and we just said, "All right, we'll do that", because my mom and dad was still alive. That was the guy from Trillians, he was putting a lot of bands on, and that's where we grew up and used to go and meet all our friends so, we just went and did the show. Previous to that there was the tour we did with Running Wild and they were never going to England. Nobody likes us, ha-ha! And then we toured with Risk and that was just European tour. And then grunge happened of course, we only toured Japan, we did some stuff in States and that goes to '97...
You did a video clip for the previous album, for "Battle March/Tank Threats", but before that one, you only had one video clip done, for "On and On". Why?
It's a good question. Well, we had all kinds of grandiose plans. We actually went to NFL Films, you know, like the American football league. They have a big facility in New Jersey and they wanted to shoot us. They had all these plans and then the record company comes and goes, "We'll only give you this much." I think NFL Films actually did Gary Moore at one point, because they had that thing with the camera that clipped on the guitar and they did that with Gary. So, it just never happened and we were just very, you know, turned off by that. We wanted to do a video for "Nothing Exceeds", but Combat said, "You can only do the "Ultimate Revenge 2" compilation", so we had to stick with that instead. Which was an absolute nightmare from top to bottom. The stuff came out OK, but everything about that was just unprofessional.
You guys are well known for your crazy shows as well as for gear abuse. So, how many guitars have you destroyed to the point they were unrepairable?
Oh, we're usually good enough to beat them up but not kill them. But as far as actually destroying them, I don't know, 15-20 over the years. You know, if you really want to destroy your guitar you can do it, but if you just want to throw it around and make a lot of noise and dent it a bit, it's pretty easy, if you know what you're doing. It's more fun that way. Just a little bit of abuse without like, "Hey, I have a more expensive instrument than you and I'm going to just turn it into matchwood." It's a bit sad. So, a little bit of violence is OK, ha-ha!
You put out a covers album along with the previous studio album, but I think it was only available with pre-orders. Are you planning to re-release it?
Yeah, I think we'll probably bring it out. Even if it's just a thing we sell at shows, we'll probably bring it out at some point. We'll probably do another one, 'cause it was such a fun thing to do. I was just listening to that the other day for the first time in a while and it was like, "This is cool." People really liked that.
OK, last question. Raven is turning 45 next year. Are you planning anything special for this anniversary?
I don't know. People come up with that stuff like, "Oh, it's the 35th anniversary." When I was in the studio with Sean I said, "You know the last time we were in the studio together?" -"Yeah, that was 41 years ago," he says, "so, let's make sure we do this again before another 41 years go by!" Ha-ha! So, I don't know what we'll do. Kiss the ground we're still alive and well, ha-ha!