Given the chance with the release of the compilation album “Majors And Minors” from Mighty Music we are talking with Tygers Of Pan Tang leader, Robb Weir, about their newest songs, the past, the side projects – there are plans for that, we’ll have to wait and see-, John Sykes, the football world cup final, Chris Tsangarides, his return to action, the band’s show in Greece, he new members and lots more. Rob is witty and comprehensive in his answers. He is not beating around the bush, he is honest and true. Enjoy… Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Do you feel upset about the World Cup result?
Robb Weir: Ohh, it’s a game of football, not a game of life or death… hehehe!
Rockpages.gr: Thank God!
Rob Weir: I think a lot of people think it’s life and death and take it a lot more serious than it is, but at the end of the day it’s a game of football. Sometimes the best team wins, sometimes it doesn’t win. But, you know, at the end of the game one team will win and that’s the way it is.
Rockpages.gr: Do you follow any team?
Robb Weir: Well, I live in Newcastle Upon Tyne and I want Newcastle to win, but that doesn’t happen very often. Ahm, but I wouldn’t go out of my way, but on a Saturday night I will put on the highlights of the football games on TV to have a look, but it’s not a matter of religion, or life and death for me.
Rockpages.gr: Well, that’s the healthy approach…
Robb Weir: Yeah, the healthy approach and the sensible one as well!
Rockpages.gr: How did you decide to release a compilation of you newer material?
Robb Weir: Well, we decided we would pick our favourite tracks, rather than the record company. It was stated in the press that it’s not a “best of”, it’s not a career spanning, one track from each album, or whatever… it’s the last four albums on which Jack, our singer, joined us. We decided that we will pick our favourite tracks, the record company was more than happy to go with this. We have a great working relationship with Target Records and the CEO Michael Anderson said “listen, you pick your favourite tracks and let’s see what we’ve got from there”. And that’s what we’ve done. It turned out pretty well. There are different formats and there are different tracks on them. So, the LP has 10 tracks, where the CD has 15.
Rockpages.gr: Actually, I remember that one night when I was in a rock club the DJ played “Only The Brave”, I think it was when the album was released and I went and asked him “what’s this” and he said “The Tygers Of Pan Tang” and I couldn’t believe it. It’s so fresh and modern, but classic as well. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Robb Weir: We know what kind of songs we like to write and need to write to keep the band fresh, but also true to the direction of the sound. Nick, the other guitar player at the time, came up with the riff and he played it to us at rehearsals. We all loved it! It’s actually been a tremendous success. The video had hundreds of thousands of plays and it’s in our live set and I guess it will be in our live set for a long time.
Rockpages.gr: Also, one of the other songs that I think it stands out, even from when it was initially released, is “Hot Blooded”. It’s more classic Tygers, what do you say?
Robb Weir: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of my ideas. I love writing songs like this. Classic hard rock, what the Tygers are known for. I am pretty sure Jack wrote the lyrics and the melody. Jack and Craig (Ellis), our drummer, write all the lyrics and all the melodies for all the songs. It’s such a good rock song that puts your foot tappin’ and your head noddin’. A very dangerous song if you are riding a motorbike, because it makes you want to put the throttle way up.
Rockpages.gr: I believe you have some new material. Any idea when it’s going to be released? Any clue about how it sounds?
Robb Weir: Yes! Well, we have a new guitar player. Mick left the band, wanted to do other things. Our new guitar player is Italian, he is called Francesco Marras, he lives in Germany. Up to this point of me talking to you we still haven’t met him, or rehearsed with him because of the world Covid situation. We’ve tried numerous times to fly him in but we can’t. Not yet, but it will happen surely.
We used last year, since there were no shows –well we did 3- and we used the remaining part of the year to write the next album and we knew it had to be a step up from “Ritual”. Because, each time a band makes an album I view it as a staircase. You want to keep going up the stairs ‘till you get near the top. I don’t believe bands should ever reach the top of the stairs because once you reach the top, where do you go? If you stay at the top and you don’t go anywhere, you are stagnant. You can go back at the bottom of the stairs because that’s not where you want to be. So, you have to keep going up this never ending staircase as it were and almost keep on upping again.
The new songs, which I came up with most of the ideas for them, but I sent them across to Francesco and he’s written more guitar parts for them taking them to the next level. We demoed them in our home studios, so the album is done, it’s written and it’s demoed, we just need to record it in a recording studio. That is planned to come out October/November next year but before that we have written and recorded two new tracks, which won’t be on the new album and two old tracks from “Wild Cat” and they will be coming out on a 4-track EP later on this year. We’ve been told by our record company that there is a 6-month delay at the record pressing plant, so we were hoping it was going to come out mid/late October, but if this pressing plant issue still carries on it might not be out until early January. Because we’d like to bring it out as a very limited edition 4-track vinyl.
That will be the first recording with Francesco on it of course. And it showcases exactly what he can do.
Rockpages.gr: As you said that you re-recorded some of older tracks, I think that an issue in the band’s history is that sometimes you weren’t very happy with the final result of an album. Whether it was the production, the direction of the album… for example the albums “Mystical” and “Crazy Nights”. Did you ever think to re-mix or even re-record one of those albums that you weren’t too happy about?
Robb Weir: Well, yes we’ve talked in fact with my manager and the band’s manager about having “Crazy Nights” remixed because the songs on there are tremendous. We get messages all the times through our website from people who say that it was their favourite album. So, we have done a sort series of sessions, so there is the “Wild Cat Sessions”, which is a 6-track EP, there is the “Spellbound Sessions”, which I think that’s a 5 or 6 tracks EP and we’ve done the “Crazy Nights Session”, so we have recorded five tracks from “Crazy Nights” using modern technology. You can’t buy those anymore unfortunately, because they are out of print. But, we are looking into recording “The Cage Sessions” and releasing all four as a double CD, but that will be any time soon. That will be maybe a year after the next I guess.
Rockpages.gr: Any chance to release anything from the “Sergeant” songs?
Robb Weir: Well, now you see… Yes, Tom (Ed, Tom Noble, Tygers Of Pan Tang manager) and I have talked about that as well… Tom has 6, 10… all 10 tracks that were recorded with Sergeant and we are looking to do something with that. That’s all I am saying! I would certainly love for this to come out, because I loved writing the songs at the time. They have a very kind of a bulky feel to them I guess. So, yes it’s quite possible that Sergeant will come out again, maybe next year but the year after.
Rockpages.gr: Is there a chance of re-working stuff that you weren’t involved in with Tygers, like for example “The Wreckage” album?
Robb Weir: No! I think you have to be involved in something to legitimately re-do it. So, since I didn’t play on those two albums I don’t think it would be too fair to the musicians if I interpreted or took on their songs, so that’s the reason behind that.
Rockpages.gr: Do you like those albums though?
Robb Weir: Yeah! They are slightly different direction to the Tygers… I think they are a little bit more AOR, softer and melodic. So, you can probably tell that I wasn’t involved in the recording process of them, because they would have a bit of a more hard rock edge on them.
Rockpages.gr: I also read in an interview that you maintain a friendly relationship with almost every ex-member of the band.
Robb Weir: Absolutely, life is too sort!
Rockpages.gr: The question is, did you ever think about making an album with some of them, or maybe all of them involved?
Robb Weir: Well, yeah I’ve thought about that. In various ex-members lives there are several factors that would limit them from being able to commit to writing and rehearsing and recording an album. I talk to John Sykes probably once a month and we are still very good friends. When John was in the band we toured the world, we used to share a room together, so we go back a long way. Fred (ed Purser, played guitar and sung backing vocals on “The Cage”)… we recorded “Ritual”, at his studio. So, we are in touch with Fred, he engineered it, although he didn’t mix it. It went to Copenhagen for Soren Andersson to mix. But, if we can, if it’s possible we would certainly consider of going back to Fred’s studio to record the backing tracks for the new album. We’ve just have to wait and see. Of course, when all the material is mixed it’s sent across to the other side of the world in Canada to Harry Hess, who masters it for us.
Rockpages.gr: Are you talking to John Sykes only, or with other guys as well?
Robb Weir: No, Rocky (Ed, Richard “Rocky” Laws payed bass and sung backing vocals from 1978 to 1982) is a retired music lawyer and Jon Deverill (Ed, lead singer of Tygers from 1980 to 1982 and 1985 to 1987) is an actor in the West End of London, so I think really everybody would be really busy to commit to a project like that.
Rockpages.gr: John Sykes haven’t released anything new for a long time. Now, he released a new single and I guess a new album is coming up. How come?
Robb Weir: I’ve been telling for years to get his album out, but he always seem to find some excuse, something that’s happening beyond his control. ‘Cause I wanted our record company to get involved with him and help him to get his stuff out. For whatever reason John is John and John just thinks the way he wants to do things, so I have tried… hahah! …very gently to persuade him. The stuff is coming out now. The current single is great, I love it and the last one was really good as well. So, slowly slowly getting there.
Rockpages.gr: Also, you’ve worked a lot with Chris Tsangarides, who has a Greek/Cypriot root. Can you tell us a bit about working with him?
Robb Weir: Chris was an absolute gem of a guy. Tremendous… I remember… the story how I got Chris involved with the first Tygers album. What happened was: I was listening to “Marauder Live”, which is Magnum’s third album, I think, which Chris engineered and produced, and I really liked the guitar sound. And Tony Clarkin at the time used a semi acoustic Gibson 335, which is quite difficult, in my opinion, to get a great rock guitar sound because you can’t have the guitars very loud, because they feed back. So, I was intrigued how Chris managed to get such a good sound. I said to Tom “I like the sound of this, I think this guy, Chris…” and I couldn’t pronounce his surname at the time! And for years we called him “Chris Tan-Garage-Keys” to which he used to laugh as well… Tom got in contact with MCR record company, who got in touch with Chris, who was working with Gary Moore at the time, which was out on MCA –I think.
We met him, he came up here to the North East and saw us rehearse and we gave him a demo of “Wild Cat” and next thing we knew we were down –by 1980 we did a long summer tour with Scorpions, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Magnum, Def Leppard, well we toured with everybody that summer- at Morgan Studios in London to record “Wild Cat”. And when it came out in September 1980 it went straight into the British music charts. Not the rock charts, the music charts and I remember being in London just across King’s Cross station at a café with Chris and he said “you know what, I think we have a hit album on our hands boys”. And it snowballed from there.
So, Chris when he got involved, he really believed in the band and he got us quite an iconic sound. And then, years later we recorded an album called “Noises From The Cat House”, which we mixed it but we weren’t very happy with the way the mix came out. So, our management at the time, which wasn’t Tom, it was somebody different, contacted Chris on my asking and asked if he would be interested in mixing it and he did. And then, 2012 we went in Chris’ studio and recorded “Ambush”. Which he recorded and produced it. He is just a lovely lovely fellah…
Rockpages.gr: What about your influences. Your guitar idols. Who were they?
Robb Weir: Ahmm, well I always used to like Mick Box from Uriah Heep. I always thought he had a nice feel in his guitar playing. I think Bernie Marsden is a nice blues guitar player. I always liked his playing and Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest, I always thought the always some great rock solos back in the day. I think those guys really.
Rockpages.gr: I think you are the first person who mentions Mick Box as his influence, I think he is very underrated.
Robb Weir: He is very much so. Uriah Heep is quite a big keyboard sounded band, but Mick Box was always there and whenever I went to see Uriah Heep in the early/mid ‘70s I always made sure I was on his side so I could hear his great guitar sound. A Gibson Les Paul and a couple of Marshalls. You can’t go wrong!
Rockpages.gr: How would you say you were you were feeling when you left the band in 1986 to pursue other stuff? Did you have the feeling that you had to go back? Did you miss it?
Robb Weir: I didn’t think I was missing it until I walked on stage in 1999 in front of 22,000 people at 1 o’clock in the morning at Wacken Festival in Germany and played. From that moment on I thought that I had to put the Tygers back together again in one form or another… and that’s exactly what I did. So, it’s one of those things.
I left because I was a bit disillusioned with it all. Left the Tygers, the Sergeant thing, although we recorded an album didn’t really come off. Though it was going to. There was another as well, a thing called Tyger Tyger where again there was an album recorded but never came out. And I just got fed up with everything and just walked away from it all. Sold everything, sold my guitar, sold my amps… sold everything! With no intention of going back.
Then, when I got this phone call in 1999 I went to buy two guitars and a practice amp and started getting the fingers working again. Rock’n’roll is a funny thing. It’s the most lovely disease that you can catch.
Rockpages.gr: How hard is to do this for a living and you don’t have a day job, if this is your hobby and you don’t live off music?
Robb Weir: Well, thankfully I have a day job so I run the two things along each other, which is just as well, because we wouldn’t be able to play. Obviously, you can’t make any money from last March to this October. That is 18-19 months. Nobody can survive without any income. So, I have a day job which pays the bills. I always found it amazing when we played these big festivals and we were sat the next morning having breakfast and various people are walking into the restaurant of which quite a lot I know and we start talking about stuff, probably 80% of musicians that you wouldn’t think have a day job! And I thought to myself “wow, I thought you were quite comfortable in life but you are a computer IT assistant, or something like that, and playing in a band”… it’s goes to show you that the music industry is not quite what it was.
Rockpages.gr: This is a thing that also new bands have to face, but maybe it’s something that makes you more motivated…
Robb Weir: Oh, sure it does. But, I think the music scene has changed quite a bit and I think that for me there used to be an awful lot of places to play and awful lot of shows going on around you in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I think that bands that would do over 250 shows a year, now they would achieve 150. The big headline acts… and I think that where bands would play a big city hall, now they are playing quite smaller venues, or going out on quite a bigger bill with 3,4 or 5 bands in order to play to a bigger place.
Rockpages.gr: What do you remember from playing in Greece?
Robb Weir: We played in Athens, I think it was in 2003 (Ed, 2009) maybe? We played at a club right in the heart of the city. I think there is live footage on YouTube.
Rockpages.gr: What would you say it was the best advice someone gave to you and on the other hand what is the best advice you would give to someone who is into music?
Robb Weir: Okay, I’ll start with the second question first. I would say never give up on your dreams and that’s not something other people haven’t said it in the past, if you are young and play guitar, drums, bass, you sing, you want to sing… you can’t sing, but think you can sing! Get your hair brush up, get opposite the mirror get your tennis racked strapped around you, get practicing and it’s in your hands… there is only you that you can make it happen. There is only you who will put the time to it… to improve you musical talent and your skills. Eventually, it will happen for you. It’s a different world that we live in from when I started. We didn’t have the internet, mobile phones, Tik Tok and Instagram and… Oh, my God all these media platforms. You need to use technology and harness it and make it work for you, rather than you’d be ruled by it. So, that’s what I would say: “don’t give up, carry on! The road is long and hard”.
As for the first question, I wasn’t really given any advice. I can tell you a sweet little story. It was in 1982 on “The Cage” tour, we were headlining Hammersmith Odeon in London, sold out. My mum and dad had come from the Isle of White, which is a little island off the coast of Southampton, and they traveled from there, they were sat in the balcony front row seats for the whole show and the record company had hired the Chelsea Holiday Inn pool area for us, for an after show party and kind of a barbecue, so it was all sorts of fancy people invited, people who thought they were something and people who were something, hahaha! The full night ensued, everybody went to bed and on the next morning I am having breakfast with my mum and dad just before they were about to get on the train and head back down to the coast and I said to my dad, he was a retired surgeon and he could play the piano, he was quite musical, “what do you think of the show dad?” and he said: “I thought the show was really really good, everybody went crazy and mad. I am really proud of you”. Then there was a sort pause. He looked at me in the eye and said: “but, when are you gonna get a proper job, son”? That’s the wisdom of fathers.