Tank: Their War Drags Ever On

tankroadrunnersmall

By Sean Palmerston

(This article was originally written for METAL MANIACS in 2008 and was scheduled to be published earlier this year. Since its completion, Algy Ward has officially retired from the band due to severe tinnitus and has been replaced by vocalist Doogie White and bassist Chris Dale. Original drummer Mark Brabbs has also recently rejoined the band, who will be doing a number of European festivals this summer.Anyway, onto the article…)

Of all the original NWOBHM bands, few have been as sadly under-valued as London’s Tank. Formed by former Damned/Saints bassist Algy Ward in early 1980, Tank took the raw aggression of Algy’s former punk bands and applied it to a more metal setting. The original trio, fronted by Ward along with brothers Pete and Mark Brabbs on guitar and drums, soon made a name for themselves in the emerging NWOBMH scene through their loud, galloping style and notoriously loud live performances.

The band became influential and popular, sharing tours with the likes of Motorhead and Metallica and gaining a worldwide following, but due to a number of problems on the business side of things with record companies, band management, etc. their legacy has never received the same kind of long running notoriety that many of their original counterparts have received.

Poland’s Metal Mind Productions is hoping to help alleviate that problem through their recent release of the incredible, exhaustive nine-disc box set The Filth Hounds Of Hades: Dogs of War 1981-2002. Collecting all of their studio albums from 1981’s Filth Hounds of Hades right up to 2002’s Still At War as well as a pair of live albums and a compilation DVD containing a number of live performances, the box is an absolute must for die-hard Tank fanatics, as well as a great way to become familiar with the band’s fantastic, yet criminally underrated discography.

A number of the band’s albums have been commercially unavailable since the eighties, with some of the original records even being difficult to find at the time of their original release. The band themselves were constantly being asked by fans how they can get their albums and were taking steps themselves to make the albums available, as long-standing guitarist Cliff “The Riff” Evans explains.

“I was trying to get some of those old albums re-released,” says Evans, “but trying to deal with Universal (who own the rights to the first two albums) and Roadrunner (who have four) was really impossible. They just would not deal with us direct. We had wanted to re-release them ourselves but we couldn’t do it. So when Tomas at Metal Mind said he was doing it, it was pretty cool. Obviously he got all that together and has done a good job.”

The band themselves, while not involved directly with the remastering process on the albums, did help out Metal Mind when asked with the project and have opened up the band’s archives for the collection. “We gave them help putting it together with photos, all the liner notes and getting them some of the bonus tracks. We helped where we could there. We wanted to make it as good as possible and we think it came out pretty well.”

“We had never even thought about doing a box set,” says Evans. “We just thought having those old albums re-released would have been good enough for us.

“If people know Tank it’s a nice thing to have; if they’ve never heard us before it’s a great way to introduce the band to anyone curious. It’s the complete Tank; it’s a good set.”

Evans himself was not an original member of the band. He started off as a fan first, but later joined the band in early 1984 for their fourth album, Honour And Blood, and the ensuing tour, which remains their biggest to date. Evans is still a member of Tank to this day.

“I had known Algy from about 1980,” explains Evans. “I used to work in a guitar store in London and Ward used to come in there – I even sold him one of his Thunderbird basses. I used to go and watch Tank when they would play at the old Marquee Club in London and shows like that, so I was always into them. One day Algy just came in and said ‘come join the band’ and that was great. A couple of weeks later I was on tour with them [in Europe] with Metallica, so that was kind of cool.”

“That was in 1984 and it was the first proper tour that I had done. We went in right away, finished stuff up on the Honour And Blood album and then we went straight out on tour for Metallica’s Ride The Lightning tour. They were just starting to really break it big in Europe then, so it was a bit of an eye-opener. I remember seeing those guys, walking into the sound check of the first show and those guys were – you had never heard anything like that before – and they were great, really good.”

Despite the opportunity to do tours like this and with Motorhead earlier in their career, the band never became as popular as their tour mates despite always having strong audience receptions and a fervent fan base. Evans chalks this up to the fact that their records were just never that easy to get, especially back in the day before the Internet would make everything only a click or two away.

“I think our records were unfortunately always a little hard to find,” says Evans. “Both the label and the management we had at the time were really doing nothing for us, which was a real shame. After doing the Metallica tour, we had played to a lot of people all over Europe and did really well but when we came home you couldn’t find albums anywhere. It’s a real shame, you build up all kinds of momentum on a tour like that and then do nothing for the next six months. It’s kind of pointless.”

“After Honour And Blood we did the Metallica tour, then we did an American tour in 1985. When that finished I stayed on in America and the rest of the band went back to England and nothing sort of happened for a while after that. When the next album finally came around, we still had problems with management and record labels so the s/t album (released in ’87 in Europe, ’89 in North America) was all done really low budget and it just wasn’t a good vibe. You couldn’t find that one anywhere, all the fans have been asking for that one. We’ve never played any of that album live, so it would be nice to play some of those songs.”

After the self-titled album, it would be nearly fifteen years before the band would release another studio album. For the most part, Tank was inactive for most of the nineties, although they did do a sizeable German tour – with prerequisite Wacken Fest appearance – along with Hammerfall and Raven in 1997, but as Evans says the band has never broken up and remain somewhat active to this day.

“We tend to take really long breaks in this band,” jokes Evans. “People think we’ve spit up but we never have, we just take breaks and go do other things for a while.”

There are plans to do release a new Tank album in the next year or so, to be entitled Sturmpanzer but Evans says everything has been delayed much longer than they had anticipated due to Algy Ward’s ongoing battle with severe tinnitus (ringing of the ears). Years of playing in loud live bands have taken their toll on Ward’s hearing, which has improved as of late, but it is still work in progress. One of the things that Evans has remained busy with in this downtime is starting a record label that is exclusively devoted to the NWOBHM scene that the band comes from.

“I wanted to put out an album I did with Paul Dianno’s Killers called Murder One back in 1989,” says Evans. “I always liked that album and it got deleted about ten years ago, so I wanted to get it re-released somehow. The label that originally did it didn’t want anything to do with it, so I thought I’d do it myself. So I put my own label together, licensed the album, put a cool package together for it with loads of photos, some cool bonus tracks and put it out myself. I also did a Tank album, Live And Rare, which had been out before (as War of Attrition Live 1981) but I thought I would put on some bonus tracks and different artwork. So I put them both out at the same time.

“I called the label Soundhouse after the old London club the Heavy Metal Soundhouse. I used to go there all the time and remember seeing bands like Iron Maiden and Angel Witch. That name does mean something to people into that kind of music. People all over the world have been getting in touch with me excited about the label and asking what other stuff I am going to be putting out, so I am trying to arrange that right now for some more releases.”

Nothing else has come out through the label yet, but you can visit it online at http://www.soundhouse-records.com/ for more information and to purchase official Tank merchandise. There is also an official Tank web page, located online at www.tankfilthhounds.net that contains just about everything you could ever want to know about the band. It is also the best place to keep up to date on the progress of the supposedly upcoming Sturmpanzer album, which already has its track listing listed on the site.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.