Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s doubtful that you’ll have missed the ripples that seemed to turn rapidly into a tsunami surrounding Tailgunner. Their debut release, Guns For Hire, is a slab of classic old-school British Heavy Metal. Nothing new, no reinvention per se, but the English quintet are adding a new sheen to those wheels.
Tailgunner – Thomas Hewson Interview, Part One
MetalTalk’s Sophie James was effusive in her review back in July. “What is unmistakable throughout this work, apart from the accomplished songwriting and dazzling playing, is the consistent intensity. Such is the drive and momentum; one is continually reaching for the repeat function to absorb its numerous intricacies. Even after repeated plays, it leaves you feeling breathless.”
The night before Tailgunner heads off to Germany for four shows and then returns for their ten-date UK tour, Paul Hutchings catches up with bassist and founder member Tom Hewson to find out a bit more about these young upstarts and their old-school ways.
We start with the forthcoming tour, which, by the time you read this, will be underway. Tom explains that it’s the biggest the band has done so far. “It’s the longest, and it’s the biggest in terms of the sort of places we’re playing and the people that we’re playing to,” he says. “I believe Keep It True in Germany will be the biggest festival we’ve done, and it’s about the same size as when we did The Steel Mill with KK’s Priest. So, one of the biggest crowds for sure.”
For those that don’t know, Keep It True is a legendary Heavy Metal festival with a long tradition of classic Heavy Metal bands, which is where Tailgunner will fit right in. How did the band get on such a prestigious bill? Tom puts me straight that the Autumn Keep It True is bigger than the Spring event. “They did have Saxon as a headliner last time. This year’s got Doro and UDO, which is pretty cool. On New Year’s Day, Ollie, the organiser, just dropped me a message and invited us to play. We put out our debut EP Crashdive about three weeks before that, so I guess that he got on to that EP and went, do you know what, these would make a great opener for the festival. So, it’s really cool. It’s one of those that when I started the band in the first sort of couple of years, I really wanted to get to, so to tick it off, it’s a real nice feeling.”
It’s a tasty bill, alright. Alongside Doro and Dirkschneider, there is Metal Church, Enforcer, Evil Invaders and Brian Downey’s Alive and Dangerous, as well as several other excellent bands. I’m already jealous of Tom for going to this show.
As well as Keep It True, Tailgunner have three other dates, including Hamburg and Stuttgart, before the full UK headline run. If you scrutinise the UK run, it takes in virtually every current legendary rock club on the UK circuit. Bannerman’s in Edinburgh, the Black Heart in London and, of course, Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff.
It seems that Tailgunner have comparatively gone back to the days when the Marquee was around in terms of their scheduling. Tom agrees. “Yeah, it’s a really cool way to put it for sure. And I mean, it’s like we said to people recently, we hope anyway that this will be our equivalent of people that caught Maiden or Guns N’ Roses or whatever band in the club days that the people that will be there for this tour. This is the chance to be able to say, well, I saw them when they were at the Joiners or the Black Heart or something.
“We’re working on something next year with bigger venues, and hopefully it’s all gonna go upwards. The place we’re playing in Liverpool, The Outpost, is only 100 cap, and it’s just because there are no other venues available in Liverpool on that day. But we love that because it’s like this tiny little punk rock venue. There’s that one stage light, and that’s what it’s all about.
“I think at the start of the band with the first album, you got to have that grit now.” As a tog at many smaller gigs, I laughingly say that that sounds like my idea of hell! “It’s like I said to someone the other day, this is the first tour where we’re big enough for stages now,” Tom laughs, “because last time, we were just playing on the same floor as the audience. So that’s quite literally a step up!”
In Sophie’s review, she references the band’s support slot with KK Priest and Paul Di’Anno at the Steel Mill in Wolverhampton in July. I haven’t seen a review that wasn’t favourable to Tailgunner. It sounded like a stellar night. “It was crazy,” Tom says. “I mean, from day one when the e-mail came through from KK’s manager saying he’d heard the band and really likes us and basically turned around and went, I want them to open the show. Obviously, for us, having an endorsement from someone like KK Downing, it’s unbelievable. It really doesn’t get much bigger than that in, terms of Heavy Metal. We were hanging out backstage and Blaze Bailey was there. It was one of those pinch-me moments.
“But KK was really cool. We got to have a chat with him, and he said he’s been waiting since the early days of Def Leppard for a band like us to come along in this country. So, to hear something like that was extremely cool, and the crowd was amazing. We had only done one support show before that date, which was with Warbringer. I’m glad that we just went out, did headline shows, and sort of built ourselves up in that sense. So, the first time we were opening for bands, they were like real big, legitimate bands.”
We move onto Tailgunner’s sound. For someone who was around when NWOBHM first broke, listening to Tailgunner is a return to those early 1980s. Whilst most Metal fans in their mid-20s are into Malevolence, Trivium, Spiritbox, etc, what is it that makes this band remain focused on what many would say is a 40-year-old style?
Tom is clear in his response. “It’s really simple. It’s just the same thing we get out of those bands as what you get out of those bands. I think because everything must be pigeonholed so much these days because it’s a novelty for people our age to sort of play that style of music. It had to be a conscientious choice. From day one for all of us, since we were kids, the first bands that we got into were Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Priest, Saxon, Motörhead, and Dio. We didn’t start off with what was popular at the time, which would have been Emo or Metalcore or anything. It’s never really had any interest. It’s not a conscientious choice to play old-school Heavy Metal to us. That’s the way it’s supposed to sound.”
If you search for reviews of Guns For Hire, the first thing you will notice is that everyone is positive. Tailgunner also had Olaf from Enforcer involved in the production. “We self-produced the album,” Tom says. “We didn’t go to a proper studio. The whole album was recorded a year before we went public with the band, so it’s before we had a record deal or anything like that. We moved into this old chapel that’s on the South Coast in Bournemouth. It was in the dead of the winter in January 2021. In the middle of the pandemic, as well. We had to learn our way around the law, to go and do it. But that was really cool. We moved ourselves and all of the gear into this place for a couple of weeks and slept in the same place.
“That gave it a really cool sort of atmosphere. We made a makeshift vocal booth for Craig out of all of the spare covers and throws and things that were lying around and held it up with tent pegs. It’s funny because we recorded in an 18th-century church. It sounds really Metal.
“But the reality is because we had no money, we couldn’t go to a proper studio. So that was that was the option that we had. But it was great because it gave a real atmosphere and a real vibe to everything that we were doing. And once we recorded everything, then we sent it off to Olaf.
“The reason that we went for Olof is because I met him after an Enforcer show, and I knew that he’d engineered stuff. I said, look, I’m putting something together. Maybe you’d be interested. He said yeah, I’m cheap!
“We knew with Olaf that we could give him any reference, no matter how obscure, and he would understand exactly what we meant, especially for the first album. With today’s technology and accessibility, it’s easy. Well, it’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier to make a really great, well-produced-sounding first record for a lot of money.
“But there’s a certain romanticism in it being a little bit raw. It sounds like a first record, and that’s what we wanted as well. We knew we could achieve.”
I suggest that what Tailgunner have is the balance between not being too polished and not making it sound like it’s recorded in a portaloo somewhere. “That’s it,” says Tom. “we are looking to do something that’s current and commercially viable in 2023. That’s a tendency with the traditional Metal scene, which is why I think that we fit next to it, but maybe not fully in it, where bands make albums that you can’t tell that it’s not 1984. That’s cool, but it’s not for me.”