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metal talk
By Pippa Lang
15th March 2011
pippa lang

"Did knee..." What Doogie? You did your knee in? Aww, does it hurt?

"Naw naw, ah said "DID NOT,'" Doogie sings operatically and with perfect, English, enunciation. Appropriate, since we've just been talking about vocal lessons, the difference between rock and opera singers, and Doogie's conversation with Robert Plant about voice preservation.

Interesting that accents can get lost in song. Not a trace of Scottish on Tank's latest, ubertastic album, 'War Machine'.

Doogie raises an eyebrow, and slaps his butt plug on the table (I don't ask). My claim to 'selective hearing' or, maybe, a pathetic attempt to rip the piss out of a sweaty sock's accent, is greeted with the derision it deserves, Sassanach that I am (get on the Forum sweaties!). But I should know better. This may not be the same Tank who teased and tormented this very young, naïve journalist conducting her first ever interview in a Stockwell pub nearly thirty years ago, but they're blokes, and I'm still the last one to get the joke. Plus, I really am a tad deaf after decades of direct injection Metal (let it be a warning).

Tank 2011

Anyway. From Tank 1982 in a London pub to Tank 2011 in a London pub. It's like déjà vu. Except this pub is in Turnham Green and instead of frontman/bassist Algy Ward and the Brabbs brothers talking about 'Filth Hounds Of Hades', I'm in the delightful company of ex-Rainbow/Midnight Blue/Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Doogie White, guitarist Cliff Evans and bassist Chris Dale. We're here to talk about 'War Machine', the new line-up, and anything else that crops up, except butt plugs.

It appears that amongst the legions of Tank fans, some are still clinging to the flotsam and jetsam of the past, as they obstinately resist swimming to the Big Rock that is Tank 2011, preferring to faithfully tread water and err on the side of Algy. To err is human, to drown is bloody stupid just because you don't like the look of the nearest rock.

"There were all these people saying 'it can't possibly be Tank without Algayyyy,'" says Doogie, adopting the voice of a woolly old British gent (good at accents, is Doogie).

Nothing wrong with loyalty, but if it's at the expense of ignoring what is, frankly, a metal album of largesse, quality and potential seminality, well that's just downright blinkered, and not very Metal.

I mean, it's not as if they've suddenly turned out a rap album. 'War Machine' does what it says on the tin, and is likely to elevate the name Tank into the Super League, so Algy should be proud to have conceived it, and those particular fans should marvel at the extraordinary seeds of evolution. Doogie continues his minor rant:

"...and I just thought "well, fuck you, if you don't like it, don't come and see us'."

(Quite right.)

"And then they did come and see us," finishes Chris, "and they liked us."

Sweden Rock 2009

Ah yes, the battering-ram approach. Barge onstage all guns a-blazing and show 'em what you can do! So the shotgun wedding had the desired effect. Apart from anything else, they must've noticed that the two guitarists straddling the band like two bookends had, actually, been navigating the, erm, tank for nearly thirty years.

Mick Tucker and Cliff (who joined in 1983 and '84, respectively) have as much right to use the name Tank as anyone else. It's not as if Algy was sacked or anything. Due to health problems, he simply can't play gigs anymore. The band were only fulfilling fans' wishes, as Cliff elucidates:

"We get so many emails asking when we're gonna play live again, and Algy just didn't wanna know. So me and Mick were getting really frustrated. We're guitar players, we like to play, so we needed to get out there."

They'd also just clinched a deal to release an eight-album boxed set, so the need to play live was even more urgent. Of course, replacing Algy meant finding either another singer/bassist or two separate entities. Enter Doogie and ex-Atom Seed Chris (who, apart from running his own, very silly band, Sack Trick, has worked with Bruce Dickinson and – really – Ricky Gervais).

Doogie's initial intention was to listen to the entire Tank back catalogue:

"I'd only heard nine Tank songs, and those were the nine I had to learn for the live shows. Then Cliff gave me the boxed set, and I said 'right, I'll go and listen to them all to get a flavour'. But he said 'for fucks' sake, don't do that, we asked you to do this coz we like what you do, and we don't want you to copy what anyone else has done', so I didn't.

"The point is, if Algy could and still wanted to perform in Tank, I wouldn't be here. If Algy wants to come back and the guys want to work with him, I'm more than happy to step aside and say 'right, go and do it'. I've no problem with him."

In the pub, studying the racing form...

Huh? Cliff and Chris look a bit taken aback. Surely Doogie would put up a fight, wouldn't he?! Anyway, it's hypothetical. This is not a band Algy could front anymore. Doogie, quite willing to simply step into Algy's shoes, was invited to infuse his own Doogishness into Tank, and so he has done.

He's a well-respected singer (even has his own Wikipedia page, which he's delighted to discover), regarded as worthy of stepping into Ronnie James Dio's shoes in Rainbow, so there is no way they'd let him go. Okay, he was gazumped by Blaze Bayley to join Maiden for the ill-fated 'X-Factor' album, but that was a mistake quickly remedied. Had Doogie got the job, who knows? Maybe Bruce would 'just' be an airline pilot:

"And we wouldn't have the pleasure of having him in Tank now," finishes Chris.

This is all academic, so let's move on to Doogie as Tank's vocalist, one of the reasons for the almighty buzz surrounding the album. I say one reason, because a band is only as good as the sum of its parts, and the pieces of this particular jigsaw puzzle are fitting together very snugly indeed.

"Two more pints please barman..."

Mick Tucker is elsewhere today, and ex-Zodiac Mindwarp drummer, Dave 'Grav' Cavill, is in Wales. But last time I saw Tank at The Peel in Kingston in 2009, Mark 'Brabbsie' Brabbs was attacking the drumkit once more. Why, what and how, and where is he now?

"He's on the Isle of Man," smiles Cliff. "Living in a mansion with his rich American wife and six children..."

Six children? I didn't realise Brabbsie was so... prolific (it turns out they're not all his), but now we're digressing. Cliff continues:

"He just did that Peel gig as a comeback, an introduction to the new line-up, but he can't do tours because of family commitments. He does play in the local church band though..."

Mmm. Not many drum solos then, more like a few delicate brushstrokes. No wonder he wanted to do The Peel gig. So how did Grav join:

"We needed someone funnier than Brabbsie, which was a tricky thing," Chris grins. "Plus they needed to be able to play drums... And I think we've found him. Though him and Brabbsie, it's a pretty close thing, humour-wise."

Okay, so Mick and Grav aren't here today, but it's obvious there's a rampant rapport at work within the ranks of Tank 2011. Forget Doogie's easygoing claims that he'd happily step aside for Algy should he, hypothetically, reappear. Doogie is a professional, but a band is a united creative force, a bond built on personal and musical chemistry. From personal experience, I know that leaving some bands is like leaving family. Anyway, if you've listened to the album, you'll know what I mean about chemistry.

After a few gigs in 2009, it was time to work out which tracks worked best live, before committing them to the album. 'War Machine', incidentally, was produced by Pedro Ferreira, well-known for his work with The Darkness, Therapy? and Meatloaf.

"well, fuck you, if you don't like it, don't come and see us."

Doogie: "We asked him to get involved because he managed to get those great guitar noises out of Justin of The Darkness, and I felt, as a vocal producer, he could do a great job for me as well which, of course, he did."

I have to ask Doogie at this point if he's ever had singing lessons, as he hits some extraordinarily high notes on the album. Yes, Pedro Ferreira has done a fantastic vocal production job, but he's only complemented a talent that is obviously innate:

"No, never had singing lessons. You can't teach somebody to sing; what you can do is teach them how to preserve their voice. You either can sing, or you can't. The only guy I know in the rock business who had any singing lessons was Marky from Skin and Jagged Edge. He was a brilliant singer, and he had an edge and everything, and then his voice went. So he got singing lessons, and he never sounded the same again.

"Singing lessons are for people who work in the theatre, where they have to work and do nine shows that (sings) 'all sound the same, they never change, they all have to be perfect'. Rock 'n' roll's not about being perfect, rock 'n' roll's about putting your personality out there.

"When I was a kid, I was friendly with Scottish DJ and journalist Tom Russell, and he used to DJ at the East Kilbride place where I played with my band. One day, he told me he was going to interview Robert Plant, and I asked him if he could ask Robert how he keeps his voice. But Tom went "no, you call him. I'll put you on...'. So I spoke to Robert and said 'so if you're doing a lotta gigs, how do you keep your voice in trim?' and he said 'well, I gave up smoking when I was 40... people expect me to hit the notes... if I can't hit the notes, I know where the next note is, so I just go for that one!' ...and it's absolutely true. People who are trained singers, it's a discipline and what happens is that they lose the improvisational skills that rock 'n' roll requires.

"I've listened to a lot of old black soul guys, and guys like Terence Trent D'Arby, Jeffrey Osborne and James Ingram, all these top singers who can do extraordinary things with their voices. In the same way that Hendrix and Yngwie and Van Halen do with their guitars, these guys were doing with their voices, not within the context of the kind of music that I loved, but what it did was to open up my mind to different ways of phrasing.

"Of course, you also have great original singers within the rock genre too, and I'll give you three: Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan and Robert Plant."

"And Ronnie?" I interject:

"Sure. But those are the three guys whose styles were based on something else. Ronnie was based on something that no-one had ever touched on. Robert Plant had this wild yelping kinda thing going on, Ian Gillan was based on Elvis Presley, and Ozzy's extremely unique as well. And we're talking about British guys."

Absolutely. But back to the album. I mention 'Last Laugh', one of my favourite tracks on 'War Machine', oblivious to its connotations:

"Ah well, this is a wee sorta aggressive attack," Doogie explains, bit firmly between his teeth. "Originally it was gonna be called 'Rawk 'n' Rule', but there was this whole Algy thing going on when me and Chris joined the band, so we changed it to 'Last Laugh'."

('Exorcism of The Damned' may've been a better, though more obvious title.)

Cliff butts in: "Yeah – you changed it on the day it was about to get mastered!" he reminds Doogie.

So did Doogie write all the lyrics?:

"I did," he replies, warming to the subject. "'Judgement Day' came from two old songs I had lying around, and Micky Tucker came round to the house and I had 'see the tears of the lost and lonely', which I thought was what the riff should be. We just melded these two old songs together."

The two halves of 'Judgement Day', then, originated in 2009 during collaborations between Mick and Doogie for the latter's solo album. Mick subsequently asked Doogie to join the band. Doogie continues:

"'Feast Of The Devil' was another that made sense to me. I was in my 'I'd really like to work with Tony Iommi' moment. 'Feast of the Devil' was really in that Dio time period that I wanted. This was one of the ones that we've been out playing live, because we needed to see if any of the songs worked live. So we did these, did demos of them first and played them live, and they went down remarkably well."

This was in the summer of 2009, when Tank tried out the set at festivals in Sweden, Italy and Germany. Doogie goes on, and I sense a conspiratorial tone:

"Lyrically, in 'Phoenix Rising', I threw in some of the old Tank lyrics, 'you'll feel the Power Of The Hunter', just to see if anyone noticed! I stuck a few old song titles in here and there to see if anybody noticed, but nobody's actually picked up on them yet...'

This could even be news to Cliff and Chris, judging by the looks on their faces. (Wonder if Algy or Brabbsie have noticed?). But Doogie's itching to tell me a tale of woe from the recording of the title track:

"The great thing about 'War Machine' is that it has these huge 'WARRR MACHINE' backing vocals. Well, I'd recorded forty-eight backing tracks at my home studio... yes, all me, individually recorded. Anyway, we lost them! Cliff came round with his machine to take them off and put them on the album, and we lost the whole lot somewhere en-route. They're around somewhere, but we don't know where."

If anyone finds a bunch of backing vocals wandering about lost, singing "Warrr Machine' (obviously), do let the band know. Mind you, it's a bit late now. The whole band, plus a few guests, ended up doing the backing tracks again. Hey, this may be the technological era, but organic is still the unspoken rule of thumb in rock and metal. There is no way Tank would've considered samples:

"That's what I call cheating," says Doogie. "It's like people getting music for nothing these days, but sadly it is the way it is, horses and stable doors and such like. People are used to getting shit for fuck-all. I don't wanna be too down on it (yes I do!)... and, to be honest, real Metal fans buy the albums, something tangible to look at and touch and feel, look through the lyrics..."

"Yeah," Chris chips in. "Most of the time these days, people don't care about the artwork, they don't know who's played on the songs, or what the bands look like. And at the end of the day, it costs money to make a record, and if you can't make that money back, then bands won't make records anymore."

That's why the live circuit is such a hive of activity these days. The internet has opened up a Pandora's Box of free music, which means the only way bands can make money is by playing live. Talking of which, Tank will not be playing the UK.

Boo, you may say, but it is precisely this reason that they're only playing Europe: because it isn't possible, financially, to sustain a professional band on the road on the UK circuit.

In Europe, where the Metal market has always been so genuinely ardent about British bands (and now the European band market is gaining momentum too), Tank can easily play 5,000 to 6,000-capacity gigs. Indeed, they're supporting Judas Priest in Poland in August, so you'd better start planning your summer hols!

Meanwhile, there are, of course, other ways for musicians to make a bit of extra money, and that is teaching, which is what Chris does in his spare time – teaching bass. The conversation takes an academic turn as Chris and I (music student) drift into matters of music theory. It turns out that Tank have "quite a lot of dominant sevenths" in their music, announces Chris. They do, you know.

Doogie looks blankly at his butt plug and strokes his wee beard. Cliff takes another swig of beer and looks a bit cross-eyed. It's all academic anyway. As Doogie says:

"Music either touches you or it Disney..."

Disney? What?

Ohferchrissakes, get a hearing aid woman! I think I will. Either that, or a Scottish/English dictionary. Doogie puts his butt plug in his pocket, and bids us good night. Is it something I said?

Pippa Lang

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