As far as back-together-for-the-first-time-since-’85 reunions go, we’ll take a newly reformed English Dogs—one of the UKs prime purveyors of crossover back in the day—over Van Halen any day. And lucky for us here in the U.S., three-fifths of the lineup that brought us the essential-listening thrash classic Forward Into Battle—drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching, lead guitarist Graham “Gizz” Butt and vocalist Adie Bailey—are about to embark on a February tour with Toxic Holocaust, The Casualties and Havok. We shot some questions across the pond via the interweb and this is what Gizz and Pinch had to say.
It’s been decades since your last US tour with this lineup. What are your recollections of being here in the early years of thrash?
Gizz: Although we had flown over 2000 on Virgin airlines, I had the total of 75p in my pocket. That’s about $1.50 over there! We lived fairly frugal lives back in the UK, so when we landed every detail had a huge effect on us whether it be the weather, the accents, the culture and people. From show to show the turn-outs were breathtaking and we were being supported by bands that I was a fan of: D.I., Youth Brigade, Nuclear Assault, Wasted Youth, etc. Being 18-19 years old meant we couldn’t drink in bars, and at one gig the dressing room was raided by the police. We were fed on pizza and super strong weed, and transported to and fro like puppets at times. We had this tiny pay-out at the end—something like $100 each—so we went out and spent it, only to be asked for it back by the promoter at the last gig! So as each gig went by in this frantic haze of circle pits, mohicans, denims and moshing we remained penniless but happy because the response was so overwhelming. And, of course, there were girls too. They liked our accents and quirky behavior. We were having a blast, dammit. Every where we went there was laughter. There was one or two instances when guys around the same age as me took a disliking at my accent so I would get called “faggot” or whatever. Things are different at that age. That kind of threat hasn’t happened to me for 15 years or more. I had this huge mop of blonde crimped hair, a bleached denim jacket and size 10 Doc Martins and was rising to the stage every night playing solos as fast as I could with this god awful guitar feeding back and going out of tune on me. And yet people were saying that they had never come across such people—young punks, playing that kind of speed and level. We came off thinking we’d blown it, and they thought we played note perfect. Heathen supported us at the San Francisco gig and they still tell me the stories of how we mopped the stage with them. It’s hard to believe we had that kind of effect on these bands.
Pinch: I remember having to go to an in-store signing to prove that we were actually in the country! We had tried several times to play the States, but finally managed to make it over with Golden Voice, who then very kindly took all our money from the shows as “expenses,” but kept us drunk and full of pizza, so we wouldn’t remember that we were supposed to be getting paid. I arrived in California with about $4 in my pocket and left the U.S. three weeks later with about $2, but had a fantastic time. We were just making it up as we went along as far as the music was concerned. We had a couple of great riff writers in the band, and I was doing loads of acid, so had no problem coming up with wacky lyrics that fit all the weird riffs.
It was quite exciting to be playing our UK brand of what we called “Techno Mosh” and meeting and playing with bands like Nuclear assault, DRI, Youth Brigade and others who were happy to play to anyone that loved a boogie to whatever was hard and heavy. It was a chaotic time, as there was a real hybrid scene blossoming, and nobody really knew where it was going; we all just knew it was the dawn of something fresh and out of the jurisdiction of the punk police, who had really stagnated the UK hardcore scene. The UK had only really been visited by Black Flag, as reps of the U.S scene, so the two superpowers of punk were developing completely different styles at the same time, almost oblivious to each other, which is, in a way, very healthy.
There was a cassette doing the rounds in the UK with Slayer’s Show No Mercy LP, along with the “No Life till Leather” Metallica demo and a couple of Exciter tracks that just blew everyone’s ears off. I remember playing it to the guys from Discharge when we were touring with them, and they thought the tape had been sped up! They were supposed to be the fastest band in the UK, and here were these American upstarts showing them what real speed was. It was hard to not get caught up in the excitement that tape generated. I guess as we learned our instruments a little better, we started feeling out our own boundaries, and crossing them, but not really giving a damn. This was all new and we were a big part of it. I was the first punk drummer in the UK to play double bass drums, and got loads of crap for it from the close-minded punks. But a lot of them got on board once they heard what we were doing with it.
English Dogs have been through a lot of lineup changes over the years, but how did you manage to reconvene this classic lineup?
Gizz: I’ve wanted to make this happen for nearly 10 years now and it probably started by two separate events. A guy called Scooter from Malt Soda Records asked if I could get the English Dogs back together to tour the West Coast in 2003, and a separate guy, a fan called Evan Hirch, traveled to the UK to meet, just to let me know how much of a fan of Forward into Battle he was. I felt the undercurrents of needing to do something. Pinch and I have been in several bands together and done some excellent things, and like all relationships, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we kept in touch and I put the question to him which at first he wasn’t totally sold on. I also asked Adie Bailey, and he came over to [my place] and we jammed the old tunes. He still had that voice . Better than ever, in fact. Strangely, I was contacted by members of the English Dogs in the UK [a separate version that didn’t include Pinch and Adie], to rejoin them in a kind of reunion. They wanted nothing to do with the metal era stuff and unfortunately I felt an attitude from them that stops me from having the same affections Pinch has with some of those guys. It was when for a third time, me and Pinch met up again that we finally both agreed to do it. The time was right.
Pinch: I went to a New Years party last year in San Clemente [California], and there were a couple of guys there that were at the Olympic Auditorium gig we played on our only ever States tour. They were asking if it was ever going to be a possibility that we got together to play the FIB stuff again, as they swore there were loads of new bands that were wearing our shirts and being influenced by us. I have also been a long-time fan of the thrash scene and its various offshoots over the years and have kind of always had a hankering to play the Dogs stuff better than when it was recorded, when we didn’t know what we were doing. I think Gizz asked me again around that time if i would be interested,and I thought, what the fuck? Why not? It will be a different challenge from The Damned, who are my main gig. I am glad we have three-fifths of the line up that recorded FIB, etc. I wish we could bring Jon Murray, but he is, unfortunately too ill to tour nowadays and I wish him all the best, as we all do.
You’ll be touring the US with a band (Toxic Holocaust) that’s hugely influenced by your legacy. What’s it like to see your music having such a lasting impact?
Gizz: Well, you never know if anything you do will be considered important and even if you have all the self belief in the world you cannot say if anyone will like it or not. It’s amazing that we touched so many great bands with that era of songs—bands that I’m a fan of, like Exodus. It means that occasionally what you do, when you take that gamble and step out for two or three years to make and promote an album, that you did the right thing . When you’re surrounded with gambles gone wrong, to even just have one that went right, makes it all worth it.
Pinch: I’m really excited by the lineup for this tour, and feel it truly reflects the thrash punk ethos that we championed all those years ago. If any of these bands are influenced in any way by what we did, then I am honored and look forward to raising a glass with them to celebrate the fact that you just can’t keep good music down.
In your estimation, what was it about Forward Into Battle, of all your albums, that made it the most influential and the fan favorite?
Gizz: We were stepping out and maybe not 100% able to get those ideas truly realized, but just trying to attempt to do them was brave. We were slagged off by the Brits who just didn’t get it and wanted everything to be dumb or dumber or on the other extreme anarcho punk. Musical ambitions and, to some extent lyrical ones, meant very little in the UK. The bands were giving out the same damn nuclear war and “meat means murder” messages everywhere you looked. It was a fashion! We put the blinkers on and steered our own course, and I believe we created some really great songs for it.
Pinch: It sounds like a gnarled attempt by a bunch of teenagers to capture the energy of the times on vinyl in a shitty recording studio, aided solely by alcohol and cheap speed, which is exactly what it was. I think people could relate to that.
In the early years of punk, no one really thought about the music’s longevity. How does it feel to have people still excited about English Dogs 25-plus years later?
Gizz: I hope it can go on and we can make it a regular thing. That would be make me so happy, to be able to visit and play these tunes. It is now. I feel so comfortable with this style. It’s natural and after 25 years I’ve managed to improve the playing of it too.
Pinch: I hope people are excited to see it and experience it. There is so much to distract people these days, that they often forget what a rip-roaring good time can be had with a set of drums, a set of lungs and some planks of wood with strings on them!
What do you make of all these retro thrash bands that are coming out of the US and UK?
Gizz: In the UK you have Evile and Gama Bomb, and I am a fan of both those bands and a friend [to them] too. I’m up for hearing more because I must admit I’m a creature of habit and will have the same cassette and CD in my car for months or years on end. Let the USA tour introduce us to all the new bands; it would be a pleasure.
Pinch: I listen to a lot of stuff old and new, and I am just happy that kids started to make music with real instruments again, after a decade of samplers and turntables. I really dig Skrillex, but he is a lonely Kleenex in a sea of turds. I have been playing the latest Havok album to death recently, along with The Hunter by Mastodon, and the latest Opeth record. It pumps me up to no end to have exciting music like this in 2012, when it looked for the longest time like the death of the music industry was heralding the death of creativity.
Any plans for recording new material with this lineup?
Gizz: I’ve had a cassette in my car for two years which was recorded in 1986 and was basically a bunch of songs and ideas meant for the album after Where Legend Began. For one, I would love to write with Pinch again. He is my favorite lyricist and songwriting partner! You can’t have an English Dogs without Pinch, that drumming! It is the Dogs! If we can get this tour done first, then maybe we can address other ambitions such as another record.
Pinch: That would be . . . interesting. I wonder what a record would sound like made on Prozac, Ambien and Viagra, as opposed to alcohol, speed and acid. Could be the birth of a new movement—Prescription Punk.
English Dogs U.S. Tour Dates with The Casualties, Toxic Holocaust and Havok
2/10/2012 Ottobar – Baltimore, MD
2/11/2012 The Middle East – Boston, MA
2/12/2012 Europa – Brooklyn, NY
2/13/2012 Les Foufounes Electriques – Montreal, QC
2/14/2012 The Opera House – Toronto, ON
2/15/2012 Peabody’s – Cleveland, OH
2/16/2012 Reggie’s Rock Club – Chicago, IL
2/17/2012 Station 4 – St Paul, MN
2/19/2012 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO
2/21/2012 Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
2/22/2012 Branx – Portland, OR
2/23/2012 The Pound – Oakland, CA
2/24/2012 Key Club – West Hollywood, CA
2/25/2012 Galaxy Theater – Santa Ana, CA