"The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia" by Malc Macmillan(ISBN 3-931624-16-1), Pages: 800, Bands: 533, Pictures: 133, Release Date: August 2001. Matthias Mader (Iron Pages, I.P. Publishing).
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TANK: Alasdair "Algy" Ward(vocal, bass), Peter Brabbs(guitar), Mark Brabbs(drums).
For all its limitations, it's fair to say that the N.W.O.B.H.M. could lay claim to a couple of notable achievements as it began to take shape: for one thing, it inspired hundreds of bands to form and do their own thing in the first place (admittedly, the vast majority failed to amount to anything), when large sections of the media were trying to brainwash everyone into believing that heavy metal was a thing of the past. Secondly, the music of the genre's pioneers provided a welcome starting point (sadly, many made no attempts to do anything except imitate) for many existing or newly-formed acts who were struggling to establish an identity and who were desperately seeking a relevant style with which they could affiliate themselves. For South London's much-loved TANK, who came together in the spring of 1980, this handy renaissance in heavy music was something which hadn't come a moment too soon, the members having served time in various knock about punk and rock'n'roll outfits over the preceding few years, none of which were going anywhere in particular. Experienced frontman Algy Ward, for example, had latterly been helping out in the ranks of THE DAMNED, while the Brabbs brothers (Peter and Mark) had been in a small-time act called the HEROES, although they gravitated together with the express intention of creating something which would appeal to both punks and metalheads.
Taking the unambiguous name of TANK to signify their heavy and forceful personality, the trio set about the daunting task of fusing together punk attitude, rock'n'roll guitar and NWOBHM dynamics, and, in all fairness, they made a pretty good fist of it. In fact, they were to experience a remarkably short period of probation before things started happening, and their strong links with the members and management of MOTÖRHEAD (which went back several years) were to serve them well in their forthcoming activities. First of all, this amicable relationship led to TANK's debut gig (supporting one other than GIRLSCHOOL) being a remarkably high-profile affair, and the lads were soon being courted by promoters and clubs in the capital and beyond. In due course, they came to the attention of Kamaflage Records (whose only other signings of note appear to have been TYTAN and BARON ROJO) at some point in 1981, and TANK's first vinyl assault was soon being planned with all the finesse of a top-secret military operation. In a classic pincer movement (a 7" version in the UK, a 12" version in Europe), the 'Don't Walk Away' EP was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, and saw TANK bringing elements of (for example) MOTÖRHEAD, EDDIE COCHRAN and the RUTS to the fray. It was all an ungodly racket, but strangely compelling, and the EP (completed by "Shellshock" and "Hammer On") was soon endearing itself to an entire generation of rock fans.
TANK might not have been the first act who attempted to develop a bit of crossover potential (the likes of the LIGHTNING RAIDERS, ROGUE MALE and MAYHEM all offered their variation on the punk/metal theme at one time or another), but they were certainly the most successful exponents of this kind of material, and their gigs were soon attracting a remarkably cosmopolitan selection of music fans. Towards the end of 1981, they were given another big break when their chums in MOTÖRHEAD offered them the opportunity to accompany them on their forthcoming European jaunt, and the trio were to enjoy a productive series of gigs throughout the continent. Returning to the UK, they began work on their debut album for Kamaflage, and 'Filth Hounds Of Hades' emerged in the spring of 1982, around the time that TANK were undertaking the second part of MOTÖRHEAD's tour, this time covering the British dates. The album, produced by Fast Eddie Clarke himself, was a typically brusque affair, although the individual tracks were all heavy and memorable enough, and it featured several numbers which would become mainstays of the outfit's live set for years to come, notably "Blood, Guts And Beer", "T.W.D.A .M .O.", "(He Fell In Love With A) Stormtrooper" and "Turn Your Head Around". It also gave the first indications that TANK might just be a bit obsessed with the old war malarkey, with overtly-militaristic titles such as "Heavy Artillery" paving the way for t he numerous belligerent compositions of later years.
All things considered, it was a most successful debut, and sales of the album (which initially came with a free single featuring a live version of "Don't Walk Away" and the otherwise-unavailable "The Snake") were soon amounting to quite impressive figures, so it was no surprise that a couple of singles were subsequently trotted out to rake in a bit more ready cash for Kamaflage. The lengthily-titled '(He Fell In Love With A) Stormtrooper' appeared in the form of a picture disc (in the UK, at least), backed with a live version of "Blood, Guts And Beer", while the blistering 'Turn Your Head Around' (the A-side being the closest to the NWOBHM archetype on the album) also included the exclusive "Steppin' On A Landmine" on the reverse. Both sold in healthy quantities, and the world seemed to be TANK's oyster, their next move being to record the inevitable session for the 'Friday Rock Show'. Broadcast on the 30th of April 1982, the band's debut session saw them delivering powerful versions of "Stormtrooper", "Heavy Artillery", "Hammer On" and "Don't Walk Away", and a warm reception from listeners suggested that there was now no looking back for TANK. The trio continued to play live at every opportunity, and began to be added to more prestigious bills, with appearances at the Wrexham Festival and the Reading Festival following in due course. Before long, though, they were being encouraged to return to the studio and commit another long-player to vinyl.
The band's second album, 'Power Of The Hunter', appeared towards the end of that year, its release coinciding with their extensive UK tour in support of the immensely popular DIAMOND HEAD. Predictably, TANK had seen little or no reason to change a winning formula, and delivered a fairly analogous album the second time around. It wasn't quite as intense or overpowering as their debut had been, though, and some of the material seemed a bit too restrained for its own good (threatening to drift into mediocre hard rock territory at times), although they approached top form on compositions such as "Walking Barefoot Over Glass", "T.A.N.K." and their energetic cover of "Crazy Horses" by THE OSMONDS (the original is actually fairly powerful, so it's not quite as obtuse a selection as you might think). Only one ancillary release was to emerge this time, a single which coupled the aforementioned "Crazy Horses" with the exclusive "Filth Bitch Boogie", although neither the album nor single performed particularly well in terms of sales, and TANK were soon coming to terms with what must have seemed like an overnight loss of popularity. 1983 was a difficult year for the band all round, with the collapse of Kamaflage leaving them without a deal, and personnel problems leading to some swift rearrangement and restructuring. At first, however, the changes were pretty minor, as former AXIS/WHITE SPIRIT guitarist Mick Tucker was brought in to bolster the band's sound somewhat, and the newly-expanded TANK had relatively little difficulty in win ning a new deal after impressing Music For Nations.
TANK's first album for their new label appeared in mid-1983, and 'This Means War' represented a fairly radical departure for a bunch of so-called 'MOTÖRHEAD clones', the long-player seeing a confident move towards longer and more ambitious compositions. It was, at times, quite an accessible (there were even keyboards in places, something which would have been anathema in the band's early days) collection of tracks, and the presence of some rather more flashy guitar work showed that the much-mocked TANK might actually be a more substantial and forward-looking act than many casual observers had originally assumed. Efforts such as "Just Like Something From Hell", "Hot Lead Cold Steel" and "(If We Go) We Go Down Fighting" were all very listenable, while "This Means War" and "Echoes Of A Distant Battle" constituted the obligatory war-related numbers. A single was released (in both 7" and 12" formats) to capitalize on the album's already-impressive sales, with "Echoes Of A Distant Battle" being used as the main track and non-album material included as B-sides. Not only was TANK's latest material indicative of an unquestionable return to form, it had seen the quartet making a significant progression into more accomplished territory, and Music For Nations were keen to hang onto their new musical investment, commissioning a follow-up release without too much delay.
However, the band hadn't quite finished with their enforced restructuring, and it was a considerable disappointment for the fans that TANK couldn't retain a stable line-up in the wake of the album's release, something which pretty much scuppered any touring plans. During this transitionary period, both of the Brabbs brothers were eventually to depart by the end of 1983 (Pete apparently disappeared off the face of the earth, whereas Mark moved on to DUMPY'S RUSTY NUTS, although he also took time off to help out in a diverse range of projects such as THE BLOOD, Paul Samson's EMPIRE and UK), leaving Algy Ward and Mick Tucker (who was, by this stage, playing a major role on the songwriting front) to rebuild the project around themselves by drafting in drummer Graeme Crallan, one of Tucker's erstwhile colleagues from WHITE SPIRIT. Subsequently, however, they concluded that it would be best to persevere with the four-piece structure which had worked so well on 'This Means War", so experienced session man Cliff Evans (who had latterly been mucking about with nondescript club performers such as CHICKEN SHACK) was given the vital role of second guitarist.
With things back on schedule at last, TANK were apparently able to make a handful of live appearances once again (although Algy Ward, having been keen to develop his skills as a producer, was to be distracted by his subsequent involvement with WARFARE's debut LP), but the quartet eventually turned their thoughts to their imminent recording activities. Album number four, 'Honour And Blood' (their second for Music For Nations), was recorded over a fairly lengthy period during 1984, and finally emerged late in the year, by which time the lads were in the process of preparing for an extensive tour of large European venues with none other than METALLICA. It looked, on the face of it, like a marriage made in heaven, but I some times wonder if this was really the case after all. I assume, in the absence of any contradictory evidence, that the two acts got on quite amicably at the time (they certainly credited the Yanks on an album cover or two), but TANK were a fairly notable and inexplicable omission on Lars Ulrich's 'NWOBHM '79 Revisited' compilation all those years later...
The newly-released TANK album turned out to be a hit-and-miss affair which largely lacked the impact of its predecessor, although they had kept the extended song structures and dumped any notions of commercial appeal by losing the keyboard backing and rejecting any overly-tuneful interludes. Still, many of the featured compositions failed to leave much of an impression, although the situation was salvaged from possible disaster by such inclusions as "Chain Of Fools" (a rocked-up soul/r'n'b number from the 60's which had originally been written for ARETHA FRANKLIN), "W.M.L.A" (a track in a remarkably different style, with an extremely refined vocal performance ) and the title track itself. At times, TANK had begun to resemble certain NWOBHM hopefuls, notably SABRE (a band from the same neck of the woods) and CRUCIFIXION (on "Too Tired To Wait For Love" and the tenderly-titled "Kill", for example), although the overall strength of their newest material just wasn't sufficiently high to consolidate their position as national heroes. It was a great pity, but Music For Nations had little sympathy for TANK's plight, and, in the wake of this perceived commercial failure , no further albums or singles would appear on the label. Undeterred, the lads continued to ply their trade during 1985, although they were forced to recruit a new drummer early in the year when Graeme Crallan packed his bags (he later had spells with min or acts BRITON and PANAMA), although new member Gary Taylor (a veteran of such outfits as STREETFIGHTER and BUFFALO) turned out to be an eminently capable replacement.
With no contract and nothing to lose, TANK made their way across the Atlantic for a mid- 1985 series of appearances in the States, whereupon they discovered audiences who afforded them a pretty rapturous reception whenever and wherever they played. This was something of a surprise for the band themselves, and the members rapidly came to the conclusion that they might be better off staying in America and attempting to kick start their career by means of hard graft in the live environment. Back in Britain, however, the newly-established Raw Power label was in the process of assembling one of their infamous retrospective collections (see also VENOM, TOKYO BLADE, RAVEN etc., which appeared later that year as the suitably-titled 'Armour Plated'. It was an entirely representative (indeed, it covered most of their back catalogue) selection of TANK material, and it might have raked in a few much-needed pennies at the time, but the lack of exclusive (or even hard-to-get) tracks must have been a serious disappointment for most die-hard fans. Nevertheless, the persevering TANK continued to write new material and play some increasingly low-key gigs (some of which were in support of the touring RAVEN) in the States in order to gauge public reaction, although it took quite a while to convince any record labels to plough some investment into their future projects. In the end, however, GWR Records (home of, you guessed it, MOTÖRHEAD) were inspired to commission another TANK album, which finally emerged as an eponymous effort (with one of the least interesting covers I've ever seen) towards the end of 1987.
'Tank' had actually been recorded in 1986, although the tapes had languished in the studio while the band patiently waited for a deal to come their way. In the interim, guitarist Mick Tucker had decided to return to the UK and go back to his day job, leaving TANK to struggle on as a three-piece concern. The album consisted of a pretty typical bunch of TANK numbers, although it was beginning to sound very tired and uninspired, as though they were simply going through the motions by this stage. Side one was particularly weak, with a selection of lengthy, laboured tracks which went absolutely nowhere, although things picked up a bit on side two, where "The Enemy Below" and "It Fell From The Sky" were a bit more lively and memorable. It didn't prevent the long-player receiving an utter drubbing from the majority of journalists, though, and even the faithful patronage of Tommy Vance at the 'Friday Rock Show' failed to reverse many opinions. Predictably, the band made light of the criticism, insisting that they had a fanatical following in the States who would always welcome them with open arms, as Algy Ward explained: 'Throughout the world there are a lot of people who want us, but not necessarily in England. We gave up with England years ago. Out there [America] rock'n'roll isn't just fashion, it simply happens'. (Ref: Kerrang No.184, April 1988).
In fact, the truth of the matter was that the latest album hadn't even been released in the States at that time, and it wasn't until 1989 that Restless Records finally picked up on the LP and gave it a welcome American release. Nevertheless, the outfit (who now featured former FASTWAY drummer Steve Clarke in place of the departed Gary Taylor) soon arranged a series of promotional dates to boost sales in America. For some reason, however, even their supposedly-loyal fans across the pond were equally unimpressed by TANK's latest offerings, and the whole tour appears to have been a dismally-attended and disastrous affair. Since it seemed that the dejected members of TANK apparent ly hadn't a friend in the world by the end of 1989, they reluctantly called it a day. Algy Ward was still an in-demand musician, however, and his return to the UK allowed him to play an important role in the activities of post-NWOBHM ventures such as ATOMGOD (with the likes of Bill Liesegang from XERO), WARHEAD (with Evo from WARFARE) and the considerably-heavier NECROPOLIS (basically a revamped version of ATOMGOD). He was, incidentally, joined in both the ATOMGOD and NECROPOLIS projects by erstwhile colleague Steve Clarke, so the TANK connection was pretty strong in both cases.
By 1997, however, NECROPOLIS were taking something of a break while the members attended to unrelated projects (their last album was 'End Of The Line' in 1996), which allowed Algy Ward to turn his attention to various material which had been written with Mick Tucker since TANK's demise. Having decided that the world deserved a chance to hear some of these tracks, the frontman reassembled a version of TANK (with the assistance of Mick Tucker and Cliff Evans, the latter having recently been working with Paul Di'Anno's KILLERS, plus the much-traveled Steve Hopgood, also latterly a member of KILLERS) and proceeded to undertake a mini-tour of Germany. The reception was so strong that a full -scale reformation was instigated, the first fruits of which came in the form of their 'The Return Of The Filth Hounds-Live' CD, issued by Rising Sun in 1998. The album featured recordings from their German tour, plus a couple of exclusive new studio tracks , and the release was welcomed by many of their long-standing fans around the world. With the band now having established itself as a going concern once more, their activities have recently included a handful of UK gigs (appearing alongside GIRLSCHOOL at some of them) and further European touring. They also played an important part in the '20th Anniversary' NWOBHM festival held in Japan in the latter part of 1999, and appear on the live CD set released to commemorate the event.
It's worth noting that one of the reasons lying behind Algy Ward's decision to reform TANK was an apparent endorsement which came from a slightly unexpected source. His long-time associate, Cliff Evans, gave an explanation of their motivation at the time: 'Obviously, the interest in TANK was always still there. Looking back, I remember reading an article in an Italian rock magazine, in which Kurt Cobain was interviewed a few weeks before his suicide. He was asked what his major influences were, and he actually said that one of the biggest influences was TANK. When NIRVANA started out, they often experimented by playing TANK songs'. (Ref: That's It No.11, 1997). No, don't laugh, it's wicked to mock the afflicted. Come to think of it, though, I suppose that certain later acts (particularly MUDHONEY and GREEN RIVER, and possibly even NIRVANA) have taken on board a few influences from the early punk/metal crossover of TANK and their ilk. So there you have it, it turns out that TANK were officially the forefathers of grunge. Who'd have thought it?
Copyright © The NWOBHM Encyclopedia by Malc Macmillan /Iron Pages 2001.