December 8th, 666
STATETROOPER - same (reissue 2002) - DELICIOUS
InterviewsThat the music business is unfair is not in question. Once in a while though, fate decides to top her cruel self to such an extent that even the gods have to protest in a howl of rage. The Scenario: a guitarist contributes one of the better songs to emerge from the NWOBHM heap, goes on to deliver solid metal to the universe with a subsequent unit, then unites with one of rock's eminent vocalists in yet another act and still fails to gain recognition. Fate has outdone herself.
Awaken the metal gods! Jeff Summers is back with weapon in hand, ready to spread the gospel like wildfire and even the law won't be able to stop him this time. Reunited with his old colleagues in Statetrooper, Summers and company have recently re-issued the band's sole album and are set to march back unto the scene in 2003 with new music. And there's other news to report as well!
It is in this context that when the guitarist called on Metallian Towers, Ali "The Metallian" asked the courteous Summers to speak loudly and in-depth. For not only did the serfs record the conversation for the whole world to read, but it was also to serve as a harbinger for the musician's return to the limelight 29.11.2002
"Ali, thanks for your interest. I was born in Kingston upon Thames on the third of March, 1958 as the youngest son of Marion and Fred Summers," Jeff Summers commences our chat by way of portraying his formative years. "I have two older brothers, Steve and Gary, and one little sister named Tracy. Kingston is a small town in the southern county of Surrey, just on the outskirts of London. The town and the surrounding areas have become a breeding ground for brilliant rock musicians and I grew up close to a school called Hollyfield Comprehensive where a certain guitar player called Jimmy Page was educated."
One always wonders how such serene environs yield raging musicians not bound to the norm. Truly how does one youngster get smitten by the venom of heavy metal when the mainstream beckons so strongly, one wonders.
In-house inspiration does not hurt according to Summers. "As a youngster, I was far more interested in playing football than listening to music with anything other than a passing interest. Both of my older brothers played guitar in local bands, but despite growing up in a house surrounded by music, football was my main interest at this stage.
"I can remember my brother Steve had just bought his usual monthly stack of albums. It must have been payday. He was constantly trying to keep up with what was new and happening in music during the late 60's and early 70's. Whilst sitting at the top of the stairs outside his bedroom door casually listening to his new purchases, I found my ears being assaulted by a sudden, powerful and exciting noise. Steve had just put the needle down on a new record called In Rock by Deep Purple. The track was called Speed King, the year was 1970, and I was hooked!"
Under ordinary circumstances that might have been the extent of the story. Except, this is not a traditional story. Jeff Summers will go on to contribute to the cause himself. While much of his road ahead is documented, an even bigger portion is not. The embers are burning hot, dinner is served and the servants record every word.
"My first group was Legs Akimbo which was a school band put together with my old football team-mates circa 1974. The line-up was drummer Julian Aldridge, bassist Tony Padgett and myself on guitars and vocals. We did covers of old rock "n' roll tunes and the occasional glam rock track. Nothing was ever recorded with this band. It was about a few gigs at school dances, family weddings, et cetra. We were too young to play the pubs at the time!
"Flex followed circa 1976 and was my first semi-serious band. The line-up was drummer Lindsay Broadbridge, singer and bassist Pete Armitage, guitarist Kevin Ingles and I on both vocals and guitars. It was at this stage that I first became interested in vocal harmonies and twin and multiple layered guitar lines. We played covers of our favourite Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy songs along with a few early compositions of my own. We never released anything, but made a number of demos that would give me a taste for a recording career.
"Fast Relief was my first serious band and was formed circa 1978. The members of the band swapped around the nucleus of Pete and Lindsey from Flex and myself. Other members included singer Brian Keeting, singer Danny Hynz and guitarist Kevin Ingles. Gigs consisted of touring the live gig circuit throughout Britain, playing mostly original material with some of our own favourites thrown in. Again, we made many demos, one of which was comprised of a song named after the band, namely Fast Relief. This song became quite popular on the London heavy music scene and was played in a number of local discos. I later changed the name of this seminal song to Set The Stage Alight and my next band would benefit from the name change! Eventually after attracting a passing interest from some major record companies, Fast Relief changed a few members and metamorphosed into Weapon.
"Weapon was my first professional band. The year was 1979 and the line-up consisted of drummer Bruce Bisland, singer/bassist Barry Downes, I on vocals and guitars and Danny Hynz on lead vocals. It was the tail-end of 1979 and Fast Relief had just been told that to secure a deal with Virgin Music Publishing we would need to replace both our drummer and bass player. Bruce Bisland had been playing drums in my brother Steve's band Lipservice and was approached to join us at this time along with Baz Downes who was a friend of Danny's. We felt that with a change of personnel and such a drastic improvement in the sound of the band we should change the band's name as well. Danny had a saying; every time that he heard something good or felt well he would say it was a "Weapon' - very Irish! So we changed our name (to that)!
"During 1980 we toured Britain extensively including a supporting slot on the Motorhead Ace of Spades Tour. We played all original material and released a 12" double-A side single called It's a Mad Mad World with the second song Set The Stage Alight probably the more successful song of the two. We also mastered the following songs at Virgin's Beautiful Studios: The Townhouse, The Manor, Liar, Take That Bottle Away, One Night Stand, Midnight Satisfaction, Olivia and Remote Control. Despite mastering these songs at the said studio, they were never released due to a change of A&R policy with Virgin at the time.
"Then came Wildfire Circa 1982. The band members were drummer Bruce Island, singer and bassist Jeff Brown, guitarist Martin Bushel, I on vocals and guitars and lead vocalist Paul Mario Day. The band released two albums on Mausoleum Records, in order Brute Force And Ignorance in 1982 and Summer Lightning in 1984. Two singles called Nothing Lasts Forever and Jerusalem were also released in 1984 and we toured the UK and Europe Extensively.
"I next joined Statetrooper circa 1985. We released a 12" EP entitled She Got The Look and another called Set Fire To The Night in 1986. We made an album called Statetrooper in 1987 and toured extensively throughout the UK and Europe.
"My seventh band was Paddy Goes To Hollyhead from 1986/87. It was just for fun and a pub covers band. We did "ham it up' covers of famous songs. This band is still going strong.
"Lastly came The Loudshirts circa 1988. We are still going strong and play covers at pubs and events on weekends mostly."
The rÃ©sumÃ© is impressive and we get more in-depth later on in the conversation. In the meanwhile though, didn't the man also participate in several projects and sessions with famed musicians? "I wouldn't say that they were projects particularly, Ali." This interviewer stands corrected. Summers elaborates that, "like most ambitious musicians I met and befriended a lot of great talent during my professional career. I was lucky enough to play with many very talented musicians, not the least of which were the members of Weapon, Wildfire and Statetrooper. In between these bands I have played with various members from Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, The Sweet and too many wonderful and talented musicians to mention. These were either one-off gigs or studio sessions."
With so many fellow musicians in prior bands, one wonders whether any of the forenamed went on either to form or join more prominent bands. After all, Summers' own story is one of interweaving relationships and reunions. "No, not really," recalls Summers. Although he relates that, "many of the guys that I musically grew up with played in bands that did well. Ralph Hood and Phil Lanson of Grand Prix and Danny and Luke from Thunder come to mind. The only ones who made it really big were Bruce Dickinson and Jannick Gers of Iron Maiden, but they were just friends really and occasional "Jammers' rather than ex-band colleagues."
Next Jeff and this writer chat a little about Weapon, a band whose aforementioned song Set The Stage Alight has been a Metallian Towers constant for many years. The song was featured on Roadrunner Records' 12 Commandments In Metal compilation LP and stood out in a very competitive field. Yet, and as is usual, the people least in control of the music are the participating musicians. Here is what Summers had to say when asked about Weapon's participation in the aforementioned sampler. "Sorry Ali, but I 'm completely unaware of any of these samplers," my interviewee remarks matter-of-factly. "They generally tend to be released without the authors' consent. The only one I was involved with was the one with Lars Ulrich of Metallica. He put together an album full of tracks that had inspired him and his band-mates and Weapon's Set The Stage Alight was one of them. In fact, in about 1983, Metallica were in the UK taking part in some marketing for the band set up by their management company and had turned up at a club in London to see my old band Wildfire perform. They ended up doing an entire support slot with us. Briefly after the show I got the chance to have a chat with Lars who explained to me how influential that song had been on the guys from Metallica."
It is a minor irritant how the topic of Metallica pops up nigh on every time talk reverts to NWOBHM. As the Metallica marketing machine has repeatedly explained, the band wants nothing to do with metal. Still, it is quite annoying to hear the American band's name invoked every time this fan mentions his love for Diamond Head, say. Explaining how one listened to Diamond Head, or other NWOBHM acts, before Lars Ulrich briefly made the issue hip is invariably met with skepticism. The American fairweathers, at least, recognized a good thing to latch onto when they saw one. Enough debutante drivel diatribe and back to Summers' earlier bands. Many fans must be salivating by now having read about the existence of unreleased Weapon music. One wonders in what vein they were. "Very much in the same vein as the material featured on the It's a Mad, Mad World single," reckons Summers. "We actually set out to try and create a different sound at the time, combining hardcore metal with searing melodies and harmony - a strange combination, I guess, but our influences were as diverse as Queen to the Sex Pistols. I guess we were trying to create a vibe that had that early punk energy combined with a more refined musical approach."
And the fans will be delighted to hear that the material will shortly and finally be released! "We are working on that one as we speak, Ali. we have tracked down about twelve songs, all on tape that had been kept by Danny Hynz and we are in the process of re-mastering them. We have yet to decide on a record label however."
Many fans might recall that a certain Paul Mario Day was an erstwhile Iron Maiden vocalist well before joining Wildfire. Jeff, Did Paul Mario Day retell any interesting Maiden tidbits or trivia that you recall? Summers recalls some interesting trivia, "Paul was in one of the earliest versions of Iron Maiden and the only still-existing member of the band (from that period) was Steve Harris.
"I don't think that Paul and Steve got along too well and this was the main reason for Paul's departure. It's interesting that after Paul Di Anno left the band, they replaced him with a singer who sounded very much like Paul Mario Day. Paul and Bruce Dickinson both have that very powerful voice with a big range. I believe that early on in their careers they were both very heavily influenced by the same vocalists."
As far as this writer knows, and as corroborated earlier by Summers, the man is still active in his two cover bands. How about some details, Jeff? "My covers band is called The Loudshirts and we are a power trio playing pubs, clubs, weddings and corporate events here in the south of England. My eldest brother Gary plays bass in the band and my good friend Nigel Robinson plays drums. I, for my sins, play guitar and sing. It really is just a fun band where we play our own interpretations of famous songs. We try to give the songs "the Shirts' treatment and we play anything from Hendrix to Tom Jones and The Beatles."
What about Paddy Goes To Hollyhead many readers might now ask. "I don't play with "The Paddy's' anymore Summers quickly clarifies. "They are still gigging around the pub and club scene in London though and quite regularly do the circuit in Dublin, Ireland.
"I now play for fun with The Loudshirts and like the Paddy's, we play the pubs and clubs in and around London and also get asked to do the occasional Corporate function."
Before moving on, and while on the topic of the so-called cover bands, this scribe puts it to Summers that most musicians go from cover bands to acts concentrating on original music. In contrast, Summers seems to be weaving back and forth! "It's purely through necessity," he replies with candour. "I am a family man and my priority has to be to take care of my family. My kids were born during the height of my career, while I was playing in Wildfire and Statetrooper, and invariably the last people to make any money from the music business are the musicians themselves. Over the last ten years or so in the UK, playing one's own material meant that options for gigging are limited. One has to expand his repertoire to include well-known songs. I would rather entertain an audience with well-chosen and well-played covers than not play at all. Hence when necessity arises, the covers come out to play!"
How often does the man get recognized as the "former guitarist of"? Not often, "I do occasionally get people coming up to me and asking questions about my previous bands, but not as often as you'd think!"
It is completely dismal that the public prefers to hear a cover song than an original work. After all how many people would say they prefer an actor re-enacting an older movie than star in a current one? Regardless, not all hope is lost for, and as alluded to earlier, Statetrooper is back and ready for attack. The band, as most know, was the band formed and lead by former MSG vocalist Gary Barden in the mid-80's. Many would be curious how the reformation came about and what the goals would be this time around.
The answer is simple. Explains Summers, "I got a telephone call from Gary Barden out of the blue about eighteen months ago. Gary mentioned that there had been a rekindling of interest in Statetrooper, via the Internet, and he was considering re-releasing the original record. He asked me if I wanted to be involved and, of course, I said "yes!' I have always felt that this was an important record and never really got the exposure it deserved."
"Four original members of the band are still very much involved Gary Barden is, of course, on vocals, Bruce Bisland is on drums, Jeff Brown is on bass and yours truly is on guitar. All four of us have a great sense of spirituality about Statetrooper. We love the band! I think we always will."
Be that as it may, why reform now? The question is put to the guitarist honestly and the reply is also uttered in the same spirit. "It was surprising that the band didn't do better than it did commercially," notes Summers. "We appeared to have all the right ingredients to make it work. Gary had just finished as the lead singer with, at the time, one of the biggest bands in the world. He was part of, what can now be seen as, the definitive MSG line-up. So we were a little surprised and disappointed when all our management company could come up with was a comparatively obscure independent label. Most people, even today, believe that the 1987 album was a very strong record with a unique sound and offered very strong songs. It's a difficult one to put one's finger on but in retrospect maybe the time was just not right for us."
In the same context, one can legitimately wonder how the reformation is connected to the multiple comebacks by Statetrooper's contemporaries. After all, bands as diverse as Witchfynde, Venom and Clientelle are currently seeing renewed activity. Summers is adamant that, "there is no connection. I am completely oblivious to the bands that you mention; the reformation was purely based on the demands placed on us by the fans. Gary's official web site was bombarded with people demanding the re-release of the original record on CD and a Japanese web site was championing the cause by way of an e-mail petition."
It seems as if we have jumped the gun a little bit. A question that should have been posed earlier would have addressed how Summers came to join Barden in Statetrooper in the first place. Better late than never as the guitar player remembers "Gary Barden had been introduced to us on a number of occasions. After leaving MSG he had signed an independent management deal with Wildfire's Management Company. Gary was in the process of putting Statetrooper together and had invited our drummer Bruce Bisland to play on his demos. Gary and Bruce had hit it off big time. At about this time Wildfire had been asked to perform two songs live on an up-and-coming UK TV show called ECT (specializing in heavy metal and generally off beat music ATM) and because one of the songs, namely Jerusalem, required some keyboard work, Gary offered the services of his Keyboard player Steve Glover. He consequently appeared on the TV show as part of Wildfire. Upon hearing the band play live on TV and after a little persuasion from Bruce, Gary decided to invite Jeff Brown, who had also helped on some early Statetrooper demos, Martin Bushell and myself - together with Bruce and Steve - to a practice room where we worked on what was to become some of the songs on the Statetrooper album."
Is it me or is the account reminiscent of the formation of Rainbow? If memory serves correctly the guitarist in Statetrooper, in contrast to Ritchie Blackmore, would soon leave the act. Jeff, is that account accurate? "No, that was Martin Bushell the other guitar player," clarifies summer while setting the record straight. "He was replaced just after the release of the Statetrooper album. Martin wanted to take the band into a direction which the rest of us did not want to pursue and consequently left the band by mutual consent. He was replaced by ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian "Robbo' Robinson. The latter man played with the band live on a number of festivals throughout Europe."
Compared to the members' previous bands, Statetrooper, as indicated by the moniker, is a US-oriented act sound-wise. Is this orientation still a fact? "We just play music in a style that we admire," he points out. "Our collective love of powerful, melodic, song-based and exciting rock music just happens to follow a particular pattern. We were never contrived nor did we ever intend to sound a particular way. However, I would say that I think we have a distinctive, British sound. The vocal harmony collective is probably more influenced by Queen or Sweet - both British rock bands. Furthermore, at the time there were very few British bands attempting that sound.
"In terms of the way the band sounds in this Millennium" it's difficult to say. We will maintain the Statetrooper edge. Gary's voice is, by definition, very distinctive, but we will hopefully sound more definitively "now'. My personal opinion is that a guitar-based sound will override the next album and a more modern production path will be followed. It will provide for plenty of space in the production."
In an earlier chat Gary Barden told me that a new Statetrooper album is a certainty. You have come across as slightly tentative. "Yes, I read that interview Ali and you somehow managed to get more information out of the usually careful Gary than usual" well done! Basically, we have more than an album's worth of material written already and are now working on the fine details, arrangements production, et cetra. Bruce and Jeff are currently on tour in Europe with Andy Scotts Sweet and we will continue with this when they return. I can tell you, however, that we feel this album will exceed the first in terms of maturity, song writing and commercial success. We hope that Statetrooper will be around as a genuinely relevant musical force for a long time to come."
When asked to elaborate further on the Statetrooper's sound he concedes that, "the overriding factor is that we maintain the "Statetrooper sound'; this I believe is based on a style, not an era. We want to retain the elements of the first CD, namely be powerful, song-based and with lots of riffing, but still allow the influences of today to permeate the sound on the new record. It's an exciting time to be a rock musician. There are many great bands around and they seem to be very happy to let their influences shine in their music.
"The new production techniques are based around "space' which allows the individuality of the musicians involved to shine - or fail, as the case may be! It seems to me that modern producers are finally listening to the musicians."
At this point Jeff can provide Metallian's readers with some exclusive news. "One tentative title that we have so far is Casablanca. We are really excited about this tune for it is a huge, mid-paced and almost grungy heavy metal song with a great vocal hook. The lyrics were just completed by Gary. Another title is Love Lies Bleeding, a working title, which is something we have had in the coffers for a while. These are just working titles as stated."
As to who will produce the material, "This is something we are currently considering and have yet to reach a decision on. I think this will be a very important choice!"
What about serious label interest? "One thing we don't seem to lack is label interest," Summers is in the happy position of informing the readers. "We are very lucky to be in a position where we have a choice at the moment."
Readers have by now read our review of the band's CD re-issue of the 1987 debut. The CD received two devil's horns up from this reviewer. As to how other fan and media reaction been to the reissue, "The fan reaction to the re-issue has been incredible," says Summers. He is obviously content, surprised and gratified. "We had no idea so many people were still in love with the album. It really is a humbling experience and I get to witness a lot of it first hand via the band's official web site."
He continues, "fortunately the media has reacted very, very positively to the re-issue. So far we have had nothing but glowing reviews (touches the large oaken wood table) and we have been surprised at just how many magazines and web sites have featured the CD. Dave Ling at Classic Rock (UK-based magazine ATM) was particularly kind in his comments in the October issue."
Speaking of the re-issue, well it is not an exact replica, is it? For, in Juliet, the disc packs one hitherto unreleased song! Is there more in the can and incidentally who was Juliet? If she is an actual person, my interviewee is not about to let on. "Juliet is loosely based on the classic Shakespeare play, but seeped in innuendo to synergize the band's and, in particular, Gary's sense of humour. Juliet is, I guess, every red-blooded male's dream."
Will you speak about the differences between the scene of the 80's and today's music scene? "This is a tricky one" I have my own kids now and they give me a perspective on the current situation with today's successful musical acts. They are able to absorb music from many eras, as they have been brought up listening to their parent's record collection (which is to say the least diverse) and what the radio and TV are playing at the moment. I am first and foremost a musician. I do not have any prejudices in music based on style or era. I like to think, like most people I guess, that I can appreciate good music from contrived music no matter what the style. I believe that today, as with most eras, there is a lot of good and bad music around. I do think that there are some genuinely exciting rock bands around at the moment, I love rock bands like Korn, Nickelback and Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I also really like artists like Robbie Williams and Anastasia. I think that the main difference between today's rock music - nu metal (the passé genre better-known as mallcore ATM) if you have to put a handle on it - and 80's rock is that today's bands put more emphasis on the lyrical and rhythmic aspects of the music. Attitude is all-important and there is less room for the type of guitar hero that was featured in the 80's. The modern production ideals have changed; people are listening for space and individual instrument clarity, which in turn creates a more powerful sound. I think to a certain extent we have gone a little bit "back to basics.'"
As for interests outside the musical world, "I currently run a UK-based audio-visual company called Creative Image Limited. There are many ex-musos in the audio-visual industry in the UK. My hobbies have remained the same since I was a teenager, watching and playing Football (I support Totenham Hotspur), listening to and playing music, reading, writing and hanging out with friends and family. As I said before, I'm a family man now and I like to spend as much time as I can in the company of my Wife Debbie and three lovely girls."
At this point I offer Summers my condolences for being a Spurs fan. As everybody knows, Liverpool always has and always will rule football. So, Glen Hoddle is a bust and Lord Mayor is shutting down the Tottenham and Seven Sisters underground stations. "Ahhh Ali, a man after my own heart," replies Summers ever the gentleman refusing to take the bait. "I love my football and am a purist at heart. I was a big fan of the great Liverpool sides of the 70's and 80's and I think most real Football fans were.
"As for Spurs, we also were a great club and like Liverpool are beginning to regain some of the ground lost to the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal (at this point the serfs and vessels went tense perceiving a slight!) over the last few years. Under Hoddle, who was definitely one of the greatest footballers that England has ever produced, Spurs will continue to progress. I expect us to be back in the top five, where we belong, within the next two years!"
As the logs begin to glow a faint red and the night begins it journey westward, it becomes time for the individuals to retire to their respective quarters. Jeff Summers imparts the following information first. "The album is available through many on-line mail order stores including, Buccaneer Records in the USA, Point Music in Europe and Amazon in Japan. The CD is also orderable directly through our own web site at www.statetrooper.co.uk via PayPal the secure internet credit card transaction provider."
"Thanks for the chat Ali and for your support of Statetrooper. I hope that when you get the opportunity to hear the new record, you will enjoy it as much as the first.
"It has been really fun talking to you and answering some very interesting questions. Good luck with the Metal Encyclopedia and keep up the great work with the Metallian web site. I shall continue to log on and keep abreast of what's new and happening in the crazy world of rock music."