Cliff Evans Interview
Q: Covid is still around but certainly in the UK things are reasonably back to normal. Give us an update on Tank and the members.
CE: Right now, it’s still difficult trying to get the shows booked and get the right fees as people are still are still a bit unsure about buying tickets before shows. Pre-sales are really low which promoters are worried about so they are not offering the right fees as shows can be cancelled at the last minute due to sales and still with covid, if someone in a band member catches it at the last-minute, they have to cancel so it really is still up in the air. It hasn’t returned to pre-covid yet and I don’t see that happening for a while. We did have some shows booked for March but again, with all the uncertainty, we decided to sit back and re-group when things calm down a little bit. I know a lot of bands are desperate to get out there and will go out for low money just to be out there but we decided to wait until it calms down and go back out on the right level.
Q: Let’s go back a bit - quite a bit – you joined in 1984. Where did you come from and how did you get the gig?
CE: Just before that I was playing with the old Blues band, Chicken Shack…
Q: Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack?
CE: Yeah. That was my first proper professional band. I already knew Mick and Algy and the guys at that time and when Pete Brabbs left they were looking for someone else and they came down to a gig I was playing at the The Golden Lion in Fulham which was an amazing place, Led Zeppelin and everyone used to go or play there and Mick and Algy came down with Janick Gers as well because I think Mick was living with Janick at the time. They came down, saw me play there and I think it was a couple of days later that I actually got fired from Chicken Shack (laughs) and then the day after that, Mick and Algy came into the guitar shop where I was working and said ‘Do you want to join Tank?’ There was no audition anything like that. That was it and I thought ‘This is cool’ but that’s the way Tank auditions have always been done. We went into the studio finish off the Honour & Blood album and then it was ‘Ok guys. You’re going to go on tour with this American band called Metallica’ of which I had heard the name but I wasn’t really familiar with their music. (laughs) That was my first proper tour, going into Europe as well.
Q: So the Honour & Blood album was already started?
CE: Yeah. Mick had done most of the guitar work and I came in towards the end of it.
Q: There’s a cover of Aretha Franklin’s Chain Of Fools on it, where did that idea that come from?
CE: That was Algy’s idea. He liked that song and was always coming up with stuff, strange ideas about different things to do. That was one he wanted to cover and he came up with the arrangement, heavy it up a bit and it’s a different take on that great song.
Q: There was three years between Honour & Blood and the GWR release, the fifth album, Tank. What happened?
CE: The Honour & Blood came out and then the tour with Metallica which was when they were making it really big with the Ride The Lightening album. We were with them and going down really well with great crowds but our management wasn’t giving us any help or promotion. We were going around Europe in an old transit van with part of the floor missing. You could see the road as we went along and we are talking December in Germany and Scandinavia – it was bloody freezing! Anyway, the tour was a success, we came off that and then nothing. There was no tour to follow that, no back-up, no plan so we sat around and then later in ’85 they got us an American tour with Raven but there wasn’t really any promotion for the album which was on Roadrunner in the US, so we were just out there on our own. It was good fun but not successful so that album became a dead album. I ended up staying in America for almost a year because there were no other gigs booked or anything. Algy liked to sort of disappear for a while, just go off the radar and do his own thing until ’87 when Algy said he had a bunch of songs so we went in and recorded them but there wasn’t much of a vibe for it. None of us were in the right frame of mind, I thought the songs were ok but there was a bit of friction between Mick and Algy because Algy wrote all the songs and Mick didn’t get a look-in on them. It wasn’t a great album and once again, no promotion so the whole thing seemed a waste of time. Honour & Blood was great and should have been the album that broke Tank into Europe but without the support, it didn’t happen. Algy was great but as I said, he’d sometimes just go off for a while; Tank was never really a functioning, professional outfit back then. (laughs)
Q: Then after that, Tank seemed to fade away. Bits and Bobs came out up until 2010 when you and Mick released War Machine. What were you doing in those wilderness years?
CE: It was ’87 when that fifth album came out, it bombed, didn’t surprise me and it was shortly after that, in ’89 when I moved to New York. A mate of mine called and said to come over and that he had a band and I was sitting at home on Christmas day thinking ‘What the fuck am I gonna do in life?’ so in the new year I got on a plane and flew to New York. I ended up working in a rehearsal studio there and the guy I was working for was called Arnie Goodman who managed bands including Fastway, Savoy Brown and others and he also owned a big record store in Brooklyn called Zig-Zag Records. Arnie also previously worked with Paul Di’Anno’s Battle Zone as well. Around ’91, there was that Praying Mantis album that came out with Di’Anno and Dennis Stratton on – Live At Last – and it was doing good business and at the same time, I get a call from Steve Hopgood who suggested we get something together with Di’Anno. I spoke to Arnie about it and he said ‘Ok, let’s get Di’Anno and bring him to the States’. It came together really quickly. Paul and Steve came over, we needed a couple of guys from New York. John Gallaher from Raven was living in New York at the time so we brought him in on bass and a mate of mine, Ray DeTone who was playing guitar with a band called Drive, She Said. Great line-up and then it was ‘Ok, what shall we do then?’. (laughs) We got some money from a Brazilian label who wanted some live recordings we brought in a mobile studio into the rehearsal room and recorded a load of Iron Maiden stuff because we literally had nothing of our own. We had two days rehearsals and then recorded all these tracks, pretty much just jamming all this Iron Maiden stuff which became South American Assault when it was released. Then we thought we should actually do a new album but John had gone back to Raven and Ray had gone back to his band so we brought over Gavin Cooper and Nick Burr and did a showcase for record labels. BMG were there, Sony, the head of Virgin flew in and all the major labels were there but we still hadn’t written any songs so we played Phantom of the Opera, Wrathchild and Prowler. (laughs) Now fortunately, all of these heads of the record labels didn’t recognise any of these songs and it ended up in a bidding war between all the labels! They came up to us afterwards and were saying ‘Really good stuff!’ and ‘Fantastic songs!’ and we ended up getting a $250,000 deal with BMG.
Q: That’s berserk!
CE: Yeah. We got a deal playing Iron Maiden covers. (laughs) Now, when you have someone like Paul Di’Anno in a place like New York, it’s not going to end well so the managements sent us to a tiny place in up state New York called Binghamton. We were in the middle of nowhere and our motel was next to some railway sidings. We were there for two weeks and wrote the album there and then went into a studio in Burlington, Vermont, put down all the tracks there and then back to New York to the legendary Power Station and mixed the album there. Our producer was Rob Fraboni who had previously done The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, etc and he did a great job. That album, Murder One, still stands up to date and I’m proud of that one. So that’s how Killers started and then we did pretty much a world tour. Back and forth across America, a few European tours, Japan, etc. It was about ’97 when Killers disbanded and we went into the studio with Tank to record some stuff which we put together with some old live recordings of Tank I found and got a deal with a German label called Rising Sun Records and they put out the Return Of The Filth Hounds live album and from that we got a tour with Raven and Hammerfall. That was Tank back together again.
Q: Enough of Tank, you own and run a record label now, Conquest Music.
CE: It’s myself and my business partner, Alan Bambrough. We’ve been good friends for a long time and for the last ten years had always talked about getting a label together and then during the lockdowns we said ‘Let’s do it’. Alan was at Sony music for thirty years so he knows how to run a label at that major level and I’ve learnt so much from him. We both have similar tastes in music and we have both said that if one of us wants to sign a particular band, then we will all support it.
Q: Bernie Marsden, Mickey Jupp, White Spirit. Excellent start with all those, Bernie’s three albums are a masterclass of Blues.
CE: Oh they are! Bernie is such a great musician and a great singer as well! I didn’t know how great his voice is. The albums are so well recorded, a good vibe and he just goes into a studio and bangs this stuff down. He gets fantastic musicians in who just know those songs, the groove and the vibe, Bernie puts a bit of his guitar and vocals over the top and it’s there. Recorded properly and mastered by Ade Emsley who does all our stuff; his mastering is second-to-none so the albums sound really good. Bernie’s three albums as you know are Chess, Kings and Trios, that last one being a tribute to the great power trios of Rock and Blues and it’s a kick-arse album. I love it, it’s a party album.
Q: Then there’s Mickey Jupp, one of my favourites from the early Stiff Records era. How on earth did you find him after all this time?
CE: It was Alan. He has always been a fan of Mickey Jupp and known him for a while and trying to get him to do something because Mickey had something like 230 songs that were unreleased. Alan was on him for a long time to try and get something on the go, saying he needs to get them onto albums and out there. Mickey had been selling them to a few of his fans, a few CDRs to the people who live in his village and stuff but Alan persuaded him to do a proper release and did a deal with Mickey for them. We got in a mastering engineer, John Nichols, who lives here in Hastings because the recordings are made over the years on different tape machines so they needed tweaking so it sounds like an album. Bits of EQ and stuff like that and John spent weeks really fine-tuning the recordings to make them run together as an album. It’s a pleasure to put Mickey’s stuff out and we have a series to release. I think there is sixteen albums of material there. (laughs)
Q: Got to be one of the greatest lyricists of all time. “I’m drowning my sorrows but my sorrows are learning to swim”.
CE: They are brilliant and very amusing. I met him for the first time just a couple of months ago. He does one gig a year – just one – in his local village up there in the Lake District and we thought we’d go up and record the show. We met him in the pub, had a couple of pints and he was such a nice guy. Very amusing, great stories he tells and a very dry sense of humour. He did the gig, a long-time member of his band is his guitarist, Mo Whitham and they have a bass player that comes in from Sweden. They never actually invited him; he just shows up and does it. (laughs) Also, Mickey doesn’t have a set list. He’ll just say ‘Let’s do this one’. He has a catalogue of hundreds of songs to chose from and somehow, this bass player just knows them! The show was brilliant, Mickey was on it. It was a real pleasure to witness that.
Q: For the White Spirit album, you created a technical marvel with a forty-year-old tape. Run us through what you had to do to get it sounding that good.
CE: Originally, they asked if it was good enough to release as it was because they were unreleased demos. I played it and it had the usual issues with phasing and drop-outs and the speed was varying so it wasn’t good enough but Brian’s vocal on it was amazing. I got it to run as evenly as I could but it still sounded pretty dreadful. I managed to separate the vocals from the music with a clever bit of software that I have and put it onto its own track. Now, none of the demos were done to a click track and none of the instruments were tuned to any particular pitch so I re-did all the backing tracks myself and put them onto a grid with a metronome and rearranged each vocal line to fit in. Then I removed the drums from that and got Russ Gilbert from Uriah Heep to go into a studio near where he lives -it’s owned by John Summerton who used to be the guitarist in Flintlock – and Russ put down all the drum tracks. So now I had Brian’s vocal and really good drums and then Mick and Mal replaced all their guitar and keyboard parts. There were ten songs but only six where I could salvage Brian’s vocal so then we got in Jeff Scott Soto, Lee Small and Steve Overland to do the others. That made the full album. We did a pretty good job on it and it’s been very well received.
Q: Where did you learn to do all that stuff Cliff?
CE: It’s really just sitting down and getting into it. A lot of the Tank albums I’ve done in my own studio, Killers stuff that I’ve done so it’s learning things over the years. I do the legwork but when it comes to mixing and mastering, I leave that to the professionals. The White Spirit album in all took me about a year to put together so it was a lot of time and effort but job done.
Q: Given those releases, Conquest could be interpreted as Blues based but I know better because you’ve just done the Hillbilly Vegas album.
CE: Yeah. I don’t want our label to be any particular genre of music. We have three label imprints at Conquest which are Albion which is Folky, Aquarius which is what most of our stuff comes out on and Soundhouse which is more Rock/Metal. Bernie’s label called Little House is also a Conquest imprint but as I said, we just want to work with good music. With Hillbilly Vegas, Alan picked them up off of YouTube, dug a bit deeper to see what they were doing and started to wonder why they are not really big. He got in touch with them and they are a real pleasure to work with. We put the album together and flew them over to London to do an industry showcase and everyone was knocked out. People were saying that it was like seeing The Eagles for the first time. You don’t get a much bigger compliment than that. They are now working on the second album and we are trying to get them into Europe in 2023 on the festival circuit.
Q: Cliff, always good to talk to you and here’s to 2023.
CE: Yeah! Take care and we’ll speak soon.