those of you who already follow the Hard'n'Heavy genre for a little bit longer
will most certainly also be familiar with a band called STATETROOPER. These guys
started out in the early 80's, originally formed by ex-MSG singer Gary Barden,
but pretty quickly evolved into a very strong force on their own, with a die
hard and very dedicated international fanbase. Unfortunately their musical
legacy only consists of one self titled album, full of first class melodic Heavy
Rock, but things might change for the better as original guitar player Jeff
Summers revealed in our following interview...
You and drummer Bruce Bisland originally started out together in a band called FAST RELIEF, which later became WEAPON, if I remember correctly... When exactly was that, was it your first serious band, who else was with you in the line-up and did you record / release anything with FAST RELIEF?
"Fast Relief was my first serious band but Bruce was never a member of that incarnation of the band, the original line up was: Danny Hynz (v), Lindsey Broadbridge (d), Pete Armitage (b) and myself on guitar. The band was formed around 1977 and we were playing the London circuit of gigs at the same time as Samson, Nuthin’ Fancy (later known as Thunder) and Iron Maiden... to name but a few, this was a really exiting time in England for young musicians as it was leading to what later became the start of the NWOBHM. We recorded a series of demos one of which was originally named after the band and later on became known as “Set The Stage Alight”."
What lead to the name change into WEAPON and when did you go for that new moniker?
"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 our drummer and bass player. Bruce had been playing drums in my brother’s band Lipservice and was approached to join 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 name also... Danny had a saying, every time that he heard or felt something good he would say it was a “Weapon” - very Irish, so we changed our name!!"
WEAPON only released a 7" / 12" called "It's A Mad Mad World" back in 1980... tell us a bit more about that and why the band was so short-lived in the end.
"Weapon was a very influential band considering its short existence... Metallica sited us as a primal influence as did many Thrash / Speed Metal bands. We in fact recorded a whole album worth of material including 'Its A Mad Mad World' and 'Set The Stage Alight' and after the original success of this double A side and a huge support tour with Motörhead on the “Ace Up Your Sleeve Tour”, Virgin decided to shelve the project and concentrate on more “Pop“ orientated bands. The lack of recording and financial support meant that the band had to split up."
In 1983 you joined forces with ex-MORE singer Paul Mario Day and ex-DUMPY'S RUSTY NUTS bass player Jeff Brown to form a new band called WILDFIRE. What happened to the other WEAPON members Danny Hynes (vocals) and Barry Downes (bass) and what was the main difference in WEAPON and WILDFIRE?
"Danny continued with a new line-up of Weapon for a while and they recorded some more demos, he later formed Paddy Goes to Hollyhead with - amongst others Bruce and myself. He continues to play in this successful “Pub“ band to this day... Baz played with many luminaries including Nik Turner of Hawkwind and later formed a band called The Screaming Marionettes. One of the main differences between Weapon and Wildfire revolved around the song writing construction, the writing was a much more democratic affair involving all five members of the band. I also felt that we had matured musically and played more sophisticated and intricate music. The inclusion of Martin Bushell on guitar gave us a completely different sound; he was a very important member of Wildfire!"
You recorded and released two albums for Mausoleum Records, called "Brute Force And Ignorance" (1983) and "Summer Lightning" (1985)... What kind of memories do you have on those records?
"This was a really exciting time musically and personally, Wildfire was a great band and these two records highlighted just how good and individual the band was at the time; remember, these records were way before the likes of Bon Jovi who as we all know later achieved international success with a similar type of sound… Mausoleum were perfect for us as a record company in as much as they believed in our music as much as we did, if only our management company at the time had as much belief in us as did Alfie Falkenbach, Alfie was the MD of Mausoleum Records at the time and we had a lot of fun recording those records in Shiva Studios in Brussels… Shiva was a little 32 track-recording set-up cleverly hidden at the back of a lovely little restaurant called “Le Jakanna” (the name taken from a combination of the two owners names). “Brute Force And Ignorance” was recorded entirely at Shiva within the space of about two weeks."
After the release of "Summer Lightning" the entire WILDFIRE line-up (except for Paul, who joined ANDY SCOTT'S SWEET) hooked up with Gary Barden in his newly founded band STATETROOPER... what lead to this decision? Had Paul already left the band, was WILDFIRE basically going nowhere or have there been other reasons involved?
"No, Wildfire was still a strong unit and we were all such good friends… Paul was a great, great singer, a really powerful British singer with a fantastically powerful voice and we had just recorded “Summer Lightning” which we considered to be the best thing we had done to date!! It happened that Gary Barden had been introduced to us on a number of occasions and after leaving MSG 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 for him, Bruce had obviously been very flattered to play with Gary and the rest as they say is history."
Did Gary contact you or vice versa? And how did you hook up with Steve Glover on keyboards? Had he been playing in any band previously as well?
"As I remember…Gary had been forming a musical and personal bond with Bruce and Statetrooper as it was benefited from Bruce’s positive influence on the band. At about this time Wildfire had been asked to perform 2 songs live on an up and coming UK TV show called ECT and because one of the songs ('Jerusalem') required some keyboard work, Gary offered the services of his keyboard player Steve Glover who consequently appeared on the TV show as part of Wildfire. On hearing the band play live on TV together 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. I am not sure which band’s Steve Glover played with prior to joining Statetrooper."
In the band's bio there's talk of "the Johnson brothers" who started STATETROOPER with Gary before you guys came into the picture... Tell us more about them and why they didn't work out in the end?
"I wasn’t involved in “the Johnson brothers” version of Statetrooper so my knowledge of this period is a little uncertain, but I heard the original demos and thought they were very, very good! Steve Johnson was the guitar player and Fasker Johnson (who later joined SAXON) played bass, I think there were some personal issues between the brothers who were both very talented, but I think Gary was looking for a more song-based writing vehicle for his new project and felt that we could offer something more innovative!!"
The first official STATETROOPER release was a 12" EP on Neat Records, which featured the tracks 'She Got The Look', 'Set Fire To The Night' and 'Veni, Vidi, Vinci'... How did you hook up with Neat at the time and did that release help the band in any way to gain more recognition?
"You have done your homework Frank…The three tracks that are featured on the 12” EP from Neat had been recorded, as high quality demos to try and attract a major label to the band. To be honest we were looking for a major deal and despite the close attention of the biggest labels out there, we managed (Mis) somehow or another to get signed to Neat Records who really got behind the EP, but only had limited resources. As you can imagine, Gary had just finished as lead singer with at the time one of the biggest bands in the world, and 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 with was a comparatively obscure independent label. Most people even today believe that that EP was a very strong record with a unique sound that offered very strong songs!"
Talking about 'Veni, Vidi, Vinci'... was that actually just a spelling error (as the real latin saying is 'Veni, Vidi, Vici') or was it supposed to be a little word game?
"You’ll have to ask Gary about that one, Latin was never my forte…'Veni, Vidi, Vinci' was a dynamic title for a dynamic piece of music and the Latin paraphrase reflected the opening line and general subject matter of the song."
All of the songs later on also appeared on the STATETROOPER debut album. What made you do so? Do they differ in any way from the EP versions? Have they been re-recorded for the album?
"As previously stated, these songs were originally recorded as high class demos and never really intended for general release, they appeared on the album as they were purely because it was the only outlet that we had for our material at the time. We also begrudgingly felt that they were really good anyway and probably wouldn’t benefit too much from a re-recording."
Talking about the album - surprisingly it wasn't released by Neat Records anymore, but on FM Revolver... how did that come about and did you consider that a big step forward at the time?
"The FM and Neat deals along with any other kind of promotional stuff were negotiated by our management company at the time, so we had it put to us that this was the way forward by our “trusted” advisors… I still find it hard to believe that given the quality of the band, the profile of its members and the level of “positive” reviews we were picking up at the time, our “management” company could not tie down a more appropriate record contract for us!"
What made you use two live songs on a debut album?
"Again, this was mainly a management decision… these songs were recorded live at the Marquee; we were told that this was potentially for a live release later or purely for promotional purposes. We never thought at the time of recording this gig that these songs would end up on our first record!! They are genuinely “live” though… I think it gives some inclination of how powerful the band was at this time!"
I was in particular kind of surprised to see the old MSG classic 'Armed And Ready' resurface on the album, as Gary most certainly wasn't too happy about how his co-operation with Michael Schenker ended. So, why using a Schenker co-written tune then?
"Again, it was a decision made by the management company, one which I think under the circumstances turned out to be a good one! Michael was actually at the show when that song and 'Too Late For Love' were recorded and generously remarked to Gary that it was a really exciting version of the song."
Is it true that the material on the album was originally only demos? Why did you release it as an album nevertheless? Was FM low on money to spend on the band?
"These demos were paid for mainly by Gary, FM and Neat was purely an outlet and distribution point for our already recorded music."
In 1986 you finally got the opportunity to go on the road, supporting BLUE ÖYSTER CULT... did that combination musically work out for you or wasn't STATETROOPER accepted by the die hard BLUE ÖYSTER CULT fans? Any memories you can share with us concerning that tour, good or bad?
"The combination worked very well, I remember it was a three-band bill including BÖC, Girlschool and us… Because it was a varied but connected mix the fans got a real show and we managed to win over a lot of BÖC and Girlschool fans during that tour, in fact the press reviews at the time in both Sounds and Kerrang described us as the most entertaining and relevant band on the bill. My general memories of the tour were good and it was great to be part of a band that was improving day by day… One overriding memory was of myself, Bruce and Jeff B standing at the side of the stage with the BÖC keyboard player during the BÖC set singing our own particularly derisory version of a well known BÖC song, the words of which must remain with us I’m afraid… all for fun though and BÖC were a great bunch of guys, we spent a lot of time in their company and pretty much the same with Girlschool!"
Was that the only STATETROOPER tour ever?
"The only complete tour, yes! We did lots of one off’s including the Marquee and clubs of a similar ilk throughout the UK. We also appeared at a number of festivals in Europe!"
In 1987 Martin Bushell got replaced by ex-THIN LIZZY guitarist Brian Robertson... What was the reason for this line-up change?
"I think this can only be described as “musical differences”. Martin is a lovely guy and a very talented guitar player, he seemed to be pulling the band in a direction we all were trying to avoid… When Martin left, we auditioned lots of up and coming hopefuls, but couldn’t find the right chemistry for the band at the time. At this point the management company suggested we try out “Robbo” at least for a rehearsal to see if we thought we could integrate him into the band… he turned up at the rehearsal and blew us all away with his exiting approach to guitar playing and we decided to give him a go!"
With Brian you started writing and recording new material, like 'Love Lies Bleeding', 'Juliet' and 'How Does It Feel?’ but nothing ever really came out of it and at one time the band disbanded... Tell us more about those days...
"Robbo never recorded with us, he did appear in the video shoot for what was to become the single from the album - 'Last Stop To Heaven' but he never featured on the music itself. We had a great time making that video in Frankfurt and hooked up with Bobby Kimball from TOTO for an impromptu hotel room “jam session” and lots of “celebratory drinks”. After the video sessions we set about playing some more festivals in Europe with Robbo on guitar for the first time, it never worked out live however, but Steve and Robbo seemed to hit it off and Steve eventually left to form a band with Robbo that I think was called Face to Face. After Steve and Robbo’s departure, the new songs were written and recorded without Robbo’s help and in fact I’m the only guitar player on those sessions and the keyboards were played by Phil “Headless” Lanson an old friend and member of Uriah Heep."
'Juliet' is the only song which you used for the CD re-issue of the STATETROOPER CD... any reasons for that? Do you consider it as the strongest composition from that period?
"There was a lot of debating about this subject between us… you know, should we include the last demos on the re-issue? And if so where about in the albums running order should they appear!! After much more debating, it was decided that one song should be included from this era as a thank you to those who had supported the band over all these years. We‘re still not sure if it was the right decision but we felt very strongly about all three songs from that period and listening to them again after all that time we realised what great songs they still were apart from the dated production .We felt it was time to stop releasing demos and to try to do the songs justice by recording them to a standard that we would be happy to release. So that started us thinking about a new album and although we would all still like to have another go at 'Juliet' we will have to see. As for it being the strongest composition of that period… only time will tell!!!"
Who actually came up with the idea for the re-issue? Is the original CD still a much sought after item these days?
"It was Gary who got us all together to consider the re-issue… he had had so much feedback from his official website (apparently more interest in Statetrooper than MSG), that he decided that a re-issue was inevitable… after we had heard Michael Voss’s excellent re-master in a lovely little bar in Gary’s home town of Tunbridge Wells, we made a democratic decision to go ahead and give the record another chance to satisfy all of those who had championed the cause (including a Japanese fan site dedicated purely to the re-issue of the album on CD) and a potentially new audience."
What was the reason for using a negative version of the front cover picture on the album's recent CD re-issue?
"Good question! We felt that the re-mastering had given the record a new lease of life, it sounded so fresh and alive to us that we came up with the idea of producing an 8 page booklet, which would tell the interested parties a little about the Statetrooper story and give them something extra that the first record didn’t have. Some of the photos featured in the booklet are from my own personal collection and hopefully give the listener a little personal insight into the band… The negative of the CD cover was mainly (I think) Gary’s idea, and was his way of letting people know that the record was now available on CD, but with differences i.e. re-mastered, with extra track and with an insight into the band within the pages of the booklet."
What have you guys all been doing ever since...? I mean, ok - we know about Gary, and Bruce Bisland re-surfaced in PRAYING MANTIS and ANDY SCOTT'S SWEET... but what about the other guys?
"Jeff Brown also plays with THE SWEET and is now in fact lead vocalist as well as bass player and can be heard singing the majority of the material on the “Sweetlife” record. Steve Glover (as far as I know) no longer works in the music industry and Martin Bushell I believe is producing music somewhere in his studio in the UK! I for my sins have got a “proper job” running an audio visual company and I play in a covers band called the Loudshirts to keep me busy."
You mentioned the possibility of a STATETROOPER reunion and even a new album if the reissue will be successful. Do you think the magic between you guys is still there after so many years? Do you have any idea of how the band would sound like in 2002 / 2003? Any musical changes you'd take into consideration if it would become reality?
"Gary, Bruce, Jeff B and myself have already met up on a number of occasions to discuss the potential for a new Statetrooper CD. We have been really pleased with the reaction to the re-issue, in fact we have been overwhelmed by the response from the fans and industry alike… so far, everybody seems to like the record (touch wood)!! On the basis of this response, we have decided to definitely release a new Statetrooper CD. The standards and expectation levels that we have set for ourselves, mean that the new record must be at least as good as the original and on the evidence of the new tracks already written I would say that the old magic, chemistry call it what you will, is still there. The maturity of the musicians involved will contribute to what I hope will be the best thing any of has been involved with. On the evidence of Gary’s latest work (Silver I & II) I think his voice is better than ever, and the rest of us have managed to retain the excitement and love for each other that made the first record so special. The fact that we will be more “in control” of what we do this time will only help us to express ourselves more creatively, and I for one am very much looking forward to the future of Statetrooper…"
Anything else we might have forgotten? Closing comments?!
"I’d just like to say thank you Frank for your time and your interest in Statetrooper, and for all of those people who have bought the record and continue to support the band… We THAAAAAAAAANK YOU!!"
Interview: Frank Stöver
Reunion pic by: Suchi