With The Big 3-0 Tour underway Rushonrock Editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively with Gun’s Jools Gizzi.
Rushonrock: Can you describe the music scene in 1989 and how things have changed in the last 30 years?
Jools Gizzi: It was an exciting time. Back then the scene just seemed to be so much healthier. I’m not just talking about the rock scene but the music business in general was in a much better place. It’s a sad fact that downloads and streams have impacted on income and sales but on the other side of the coin I suppose bands can chart on the back of very few sales these days. In 1989 you had to shift 30,000 or 40,000 singles to get that first Top 10 hit and the competition was intense. That’s how healthy the scene was 30 years ago. People would watch Top Of The Pops or MTV and go out and buy singles on the strength of what they saw or heard. If fans liked a certain song then they’d get behind it in a big way.
Rushonrock: How easy was it to land a record deal with a major label back then?
JG: It was so competitive that it was really tough to get a record deal. It was never, ever easy but I guess it was easier to get a good record deal. It must be so tough as a band signing a record deal now – and signing a deal that’s actually worth something. Labels don’t have the money to support new talent in the same way and in that respect we were very lucky…after we’d done the hard work. And we did work so hard. We did everything that we possibly could to get to that level and sign with a label. It was tough but we knew there was a chance it might happen. I don’t know if bands in 2019 have that same belief. Of course they have streaming services like Spotify and they can stick their videos on YouTube – in theory it’s easier than ever to access a huge audience very quickly. But to turn that into a living? That’s so difficult these days.
Rushonrock: Is it all about playing live in 2019?
JG: There’s no way that you can make the same kind of money from record sales now. The only way we can make money is by going out on the road but at our age that’s no easy thing! In 1989 we thought nothing of sleeping in the back of a van and packing in as many shows as we could! We’d play Newcastle, have a few hours’ kip in the van and then drive to Manchester and do it all again. These days we have to do it properly and make sure we’re as comfortable as we can be! In the old days we knew that the more gigs we played the more records we sold but that’s the big difference now. That incentive isn’t there for new bands – touring can be expensive and you’re relying on selling lots of tickets and making money from merchandising.
Rushonrock: How did your deal with A&M come about?
JG: Three or four years before we released (1989’s) Taking On The World, Dante [Gizzi] and I had a band called Blind Allez. In the mid 80s we were a fixture on the Glasgow and Edinburgh gig circuit and played a few other gigs here and there. We did everything we could do to get to the next level but it just wasn’t happening. But then we were taken on by new management who looked after a band called Hipsway. The bass player, Johnny McElhone, went on to form Texas and that same management team got Texas a record deal. But they really wanted a rock band on their roster. They came to see Dante and I in 1986, by which time we were really struggling to work out where we were going and what the future might hold. But they saw something in us – they liked out hunger and our desire and felt we had some great songs. They owned a studio and were willing to stick us in there and give us time to write some new songs. They couldn’t promise us a record deal but they were prepared to help us cut some demos and that was all we needed. It was a shot in the arm and we knew it was a big opportunity. That was the first step.
Rushonrock: What happened next?
JG: We got to work writing but our management came back to us and said our new songs just weren’t strong enough and that’s when they delivered an ultimatum: they said we should stop gigging and stop going into town. They told us we needed to focus on our songwriting and in return they’d give us access to a rehearsal room free of charge – but they expected to see us in there every day working our arses off. It was music to our ears. As soon as we got told that there was no stopping us. Myself and Mark [Rankin, original vocalist] knew this was out only chance. Even the opportunity to record for free was more than we could have hoped for. We were in there from 10am until midnight every day writing and recording the best songs that we could. One day producer Kenny MacDonald came in and we recorded a 4-5 track demo with him. The songs sounded strong and suddenly record companies started coming up to Glasgow to watch us rehearse. At one point I think we had Island, Mercury, A&M and maybe CBS interested in signing us. The hard work had paid off. A&M showed the most interest – they were a smaller label but a great label with great people behind them. David Rose – who signed us – was a rock man through and through and the label’s A&R Director, Chris Briggs, signed Def Leppard to Phonogram Records. It felt like the right place for Gun.
Rushonrock: Taking On The World always seemed like an incredibly apt album title for a bunch of ambitious Glaswegians – did it sum up your mentality and determination?
JG: It was hard enough to achieve that record deal. I think once we signed that it already felt like we’d been a success. But as the old adage says – it’s tough enough to get there but staying there is even tougher. We’d played all of those dead end gigs and believed all of the false promises but suddenly we had a new fight on our hands. We had a chance to release a record as part of a worldwide deal and that brought it home. At some point people in France, Germany, Japan, Australia and the US were going to get the chance to hear Taking On The World and so when we were in the studio with Kenny we knew we had to give it everything that we’d got. We believed in those songs and the next thing we knew we were in the charts. Keeping that going was the challenge. But we were up for it. We knew where we’d come from and knew where we wanted to go. Yes, we were taking on the world.
Rushonrock: You broke through at the same time as Thunder, The Quireboys, Little Angels, Terrorvision, FM and more – how buoyant was the British rock scene in 1989?
JG: I suppose I looked back to a time when the Beatles, the Stones and the Faces were breaking through and there must have been that same sense of healthy competition. Everyone did their own thing but it helped all of those bands push on. Whenever we were in London we’d all hang out at The Marquee and it felt like there was an exciting new British rock scene happening there and then. I wasn’t a big fan of all of those bands but that’s not to say I didn’t see them all making a key contribution. These days Thunder can still play arenas and they really stuck at it and stuck to the winning formula. The rest of us never achieved the same level of success but we all played our part in growing that scene. In a situation like that if one band breaks through then fans and the media are always looking for the next band and the band after that. For a year or two British rock was on a roll. You’d pick up Kerrang! and you’d see all these great British bands all achieving success.
Rushonrock: Which songs from Taking On The World are your live favourites?
JG: Something To Believe In still goes down a storm today. It’s based around great big power chords and I love playing that song live. Can’t Get Any Lower is another favourite with its guitar riff and stonking bass and drums. And I’m really looking forward to playing I Will Be Waiting. This tour is the first time that we’ve played a lot of these songs in a long, long time. The first time we took the album into Europe we played most of the songs from it. But as the years went by we were able to slot in songs from Gallus and Swagger and only the singles from Taking On The World stayed in the set. Going back and revisiting all of the songs from our first record has been quite refreshing. It’s just about getting everything – rom one to 10 – as tight as we can and making sure it sounds really good on the night.
Rushonrock: How exciting is it to team up with Dan Reed Network and FM across the UK on The Big 3-0 Tour?
JG: We’re loving it. The idea came about last summer and we thought ‘why not?’. It’s turned out to be a fantastic idea. It’s something that bands used to do all the time in the 60s – three bands would go out on tour together all the time in those days. We found two other bands celebrating the 30th anniversary of iconic albums and they loved the idea as much as we did. Nobody knows who the headliner will be on any one night. We’re making the decision during the soundcheck and then from just after 7pm it’s time to party.
Rushonrock: All three bands on The Big 3-0 Tour continue to release new music – how important is that?
JG: It’s so important to us. Our last album, Favourite Pleasures, was our highest charting album for 25 years and the reviews were fantastic. It felt good making that record and if it continues to feel that good then we’ll continue to make new music.
To read our exclusive interview with Dan Reed click here
Catch Gun with Dan Reed Network and FM on the following UK dates in December:
11 London – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
13 Wolverhampton – KK’s Steel Mill
14 Norwich – LCR UEA
15 Nottingham – Rock City
17 Newcastle – O2 Academy
18 Leeds – O2 Academy
20 Manchester – Academy 2
21 Glasgow – Barrowland