Savage are one of the most legendary acts of the entire New Wave Of British Heavy Metal period. Their debut album “Loose 'n' Lethal” (issued on Ebony in 1983) is one of the cornerstones of the genre, including proto Speed Metal songs such as “Let it loose” or “Ain't no fit Place”. The band originally started out in 1978 thereby pre-dating the spirit of the N.W.O.B.H.M. by a year. Saxon were just making their first steps up in Barnsley and Iron Maiden still experimented with Paul Mario Day as their vocalist. Lead guitarist Andy Dawson travels back in time: “The only bands I was aware of were Def Leppard who had a big feature in a magazine called Sounds. Also I saw Iron Maiden in my home town. I did have the 'Metal for Muthas' compilation but I thought most of the bands were rough, apart from Maiden. It was only the rock media that were interested in the N.W.O.B.H.M., the mainstream press passed it by, not like punk in 1976. Also, the ‘spirit‘ was competitive.” Vocalist/bassist Chris Bradley adds: “There certainly was the start of a scene back then as I remember, there where quite a few bands local to us, Limelight, Witchfynde, Sparta, Dawn Trader, but the most obvious thing was that rock bands where charting and appearing on TV music shows, the big one here in the UK was BBC1’s 'Top of the Pops', it seemed like there was a different Metal band on each week including Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and Motörhead, I’d disagree with Andy in the fact that Metal wasn't becoming part of the mainstream, though it didn’t last that long!”
It took Savage nearly three years to release some vinyl product, their songs "Let it loose" and "Dirty Money" surfaced on "Scene of the Crime" in 1981 via Suspect Records. Andy Dawson explains: “We had to pay to be on it and we were one of the last bands to be added. We seriously rocked it though and that’s how Lars Ulrich came to hear about us, Metallica recorded both tracks as demos. Suspect wasn’t a company as such, just a project, maybe they should have jumped on the bandwagon!” Chris Bradley goes into more detail: “Suspect Records was the label belonging to Sparta and it was their manager that was putting together a bunch of local bands who self-financed the album. We all paid our money, got two days in a studio out near Lincoln and then got 100 copies of the album to sell ourselves. It was all pretty cheap and nasty and Andy was really annoyed because everyone thought we were brothers, so they gave him the same surname as me on the sleeve notes, Andy had all these little stickers made up with Dawson on and stuck them over Bradley on our copies of the album, laughs.”
A year later, Ebony Records came into the picture, firstly placing "Ain't no fit Place" on their "Metal Fatigue" compilation and then issuing the debut 7" single by Savage coupling “Ain't no fit Place” with “The China Run”. Chris Bradley says that it was not a normal single deal: “The single we paid for ourselves and released it through Ebony to save setting up our own label, it was shortly after that when Darryl Johnston (Ebony records owner) asked us to do the first full blown artist album for Ebony.” Andy Dawson adds: “It was with our second drummer Dave Lindley, Mark Brown played on the next two albums. Self-financed, but it didn’t seem to pick up that much interest, to be honest. One review said it sounded like Sabbath. We are sure he had it on at the wrong speed. It was recorded in Hull at Ebony’s studio over a drunken weekend. Double ‘A’ side, not sure why!” Chris Bradley takes over again: “Yeah, Dave played on both the ‘Metal Fatigue’ and double ‘A’ side single, but for some reason that no one could understand (in fact most things Dave did where beyond the comprehension of reasonable human beings!) totally changed the drum beat from the ‘Metal Fatigue’ version, we made Mark Brown play it like it was originally when we did ‘Loose ‘n’ Lethal’ but it sold quite well: 1,600 copies. And it was a double ‘A’ side because we couldn’t decide which song was the best, because they were both awesome!”
It is said that Savage supported Mercyful Fate at the Hammersmith Clarendon in 1982. Andy Dawson confirms that this legendary gig did in fact take place: “Mercyful Fate borrowed our kit for a radio session and then we played with them. Can’t remember much about it but they weren’t especially friendly apart from the guitarist and they never asked to us to play with them again!” Chris Bradley adds: “We knew their UK manager John Kibble, Kimble? Whatever, I don’t remember now, and through him we lent them all of our gear for a UK tour they were doing, the promise was that we would support them on the tour, this however never happened and we did one show which was their last date in Hammersmith in London with them. Yeah, they didn’t seem to want to talk to us much, but the good thing was this was the first time ‘Kerrang!’ saw the band!”
The most legendary "Loose 'n' Lethal" album followed in 1983 on Ebony Records. Although it is surely one of THE classic N.W.O.B.H.M. albums, the question remains: Would it have made even more impact if it had been released a year or even two years earlier? By 1983, Maiden had already released their eponymous debut plus follow up “Killers”, there was Diamond Head's self-financed debut, as well as Saxon's “Wheels of Steel” and “Strong Arm of the Law”. The N.W.O.B.H.M. movement had already reached its peak. “In all honesty, I don’t think it mattered when it came out”, reflects Chris Bradley. “Its impact is still noticeable today, the only way it could have achieved more was if it had been released by a big company with the resources to support it and the band.” Andy Dawson adds: “It made a pretty big impact because it was full of good stuff. The only issue was Ebony not wanting to license it to anyone, so it was all exported overseas but still sold thousands despite that. We were very young; I was still a teenager when we released it. We could have released it maybe two years before as we had most of the tracks by then but we didn’t have a deal ...” When "Loose 'n' Lethal" was originally released in 1983 it sold a very respectable 25,000 copies.
"Loose 'n' Lethal" included a number called “Berlin”. Not too many N.W.O.B.H.M. bands were dealing with historic topics, so Chris Bradley's approach was quite refreshing: “I have always been a bit of a history novice, so the words were my take on what was a prolonged period of hostility suffered by a city thrust in between three opposing ideologies at a point in time during the mid 20th century, first verse references the rise of National Socialism, the second verse is the Allies push to defeat them and the third verse is where the city became the centre of tension between the West and Eastern allies post war. We didn’t see the fall of the Wall at the time the song was written. Perhaps I should have done a follow up, but the Scorpions and ‘Winds of Change’ beat me to it, ha, ha ...”
Also in 1983, Savage appeared at the legendary Aardschok Dag in Zwolle and this must have been their first-ever European appearance. Andy Daswon confirms: “It was our first and best trip to Europe. An amazing night, we were terrified when we saw how many thousands of people were there. But once on stage, it was incredible. We had gone from playing in small pubs and bars in the UK to this. We loved every moment. Treated like rock stars. Metallica came and had a few beers with us and that was cool, but Wayne was so pissed, he was throwing up in the toilet!! We drove all the way there with our gear so we were really tired but adrenaline and beer works well!”
There is a very shabby bootleg vinyl of this gig, which sells for silly money. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any chance this legendary gig will officially appear in decent sound quality on vinyl. Chris Bradley: “Yeah, it was crappy, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the band or the organisers, so we don’t know who recorded it, but it captured me having a good time, laughs.”
The mentioned Metallica, especially Lars Ulrich, have a strong connection to the N.W.O.B.H.M. There is a bootleg 7" single of Lars and the boys playing "Let it loose". Some people have stressed that Metallica did not cover a Savage song officially because they were afraid that people would recognize how much they actually "borrowed" from Savage … “After Aardschok we met up in London for a ‘beer tasting’ session at a London real ale pub”, reminisces Andy Dawson. “They were really cool and pleasant. I have the 7" bootleg; it’s not great, to be honest. I’m not sure that Metallica would be afraid of us; I just wish they would have recorded it on the 'Garage Inc.' album and then we could have made some cash, but more importantly it would have been great to have Metallica pay tribute to us and everyone would know that we influenced them. It’s not too late guys ...” “I play badminton with Lars every Thursday, NOT!”, jokes second Savage guitarist Kristian Bradley. “I remember when 'Garage Inc.' came out and a friend bought it for me for Christmas. I must’ve been 16? I was looking through the booklet and in there was some old set lists from the early days and 'Let it loose' AND 'Dirty Money' were both among several of them. As you can imagine, it was very cool to see and I couldn’t wait to show everyone!” “I would doubt very much they are afraid of us”, thinks Chris Bradley. “Although we were very surprised that ‘Let it loose’ never made it onto ‘Garage Inc.’ especially as there is reference to it, as Kristian said on the sleeve artwork, maybe it was a management thing? They did ask us many years ago to support them at their big London showcase gig back in 1983 but their managers put a block on it, and our Cherry Red label mate Bernie Tormé did the show, great guitar player but totally the wrong style for a Metallica show, but they where just doing their job! Don’t forget at that time we were getting great press too, so what manager is going to risk a support band that may get as much publicity from a show they were promoting? We did meet the guys a couple of times back in those days, that’s true, Jess Cox, the label manager at Neat, also got us on the guest list during the ‘Load’ tour at Sheffield Arena, but the guys wouldn’t come out to talk to us for whatever reason, so maybe they were not that interested in us that much after all ...”
The second Savage album "Hyperactive" was issued in 1985 on Zebra Records. The Ebony deal was history by then as Andy Dawson explains: “We left which was maybe a bad move. We felt frustrated because he didn’t want to invest in the band. The problem was that we went to the first label that came looking. It would have made sense to go to a major label or one of the US independents but we were very young and stupid. ‘Hyperactive’ had good reviews but it wasn’t right for us, we tried to sound too American and lost the rawness of the band.” Chris Bradley puts it in similar words: “As Andy said, we were unhappy with the fact Ebony would not license the album in other territories, so we looked to get away, our manager pushed us towards the Cherry Red deal but he had not even looked to see who else was interested, we then found out after we got released from the Ebony contract that RCA America had come after us through Ebony. When they realised we were no longer an Ebony act they declined to take ‘Loose ‘n’ Lethal’ because they had no follow up from us, so they took Grim Reaper and Shy, and as you know they sold large amounts of their albums and had the support of a big label. The history of Savage is full of ‘wrong place, wrong time moments’, it's like a scene from the ‘Spinal Tap’ movie, ha, ha!”
Again, if "Hyperactive" would have come out in 1984 (maybe on a label like Roadrunner), would it have made a bigger impact? It seemed as if Savage (just like the entire N.W.O.B.H.M. movement) had lost a bit of momentum by 1985 … “That’s right”, confirms Andy Dawson. “We were mostly in the wrong place at the wrong time!” Chris Bradley explains in more detail: “What 'Hyperactive' lacked was a producer with the skills to achieve what we were trying to achieve. We always hated the sound of ‘Loose ‘n’ Lethal’, we loved albums with a live sound and big guitars, like Ted Templeman (Van Halen), Max Norman (Ozzy's 'Bark at the Moon') and Mutt Lange (AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell'). We tried to create that ourselves in the studio, we found a recently built studio in Bradford, designed by Munroe Acoustics who where the guys in those days. It had a huge live room, state of the art effects and desk and a great engineer, Mike Banks. And we thought we had pulled it off until we took the masters out of the studio. The studio owner who was a bit of an amateur engineer had removed the room equalisation (studios are eq’d to be flat so that the control room does not colour the sound, in other words how it sounds there is pretty much how it should sound anywhere else). When we got the mix out of the studio, we couldn’t believe it; the whole thing sounded muffled and bottom heavy, so we had no choice but to eq the hell out of it at the mastering stage, unfortunately this brought out the backing vocals and snare drum and all of a sudden we had an album that sounded like some big American AOR production. A good producer would have known something was wrong before it screwed us up. In the studio the album was heavier than ‘Loose ‘n’ Lethal’ , we had great songs on there that had been part of the ‘Loose ‘n’ Lethal’ live set, like ‘We got the Edge’, ‘Stevies Vengeance’, ‘Keep it on Ice’, then add ‘Eye for an Eye’, ‘Gonna Tear ya Heart Out’ and one of my all time favourite songs, ‘Cardiac’. So a simple thing like room eq screwed our plans! Though I still think it’s a great album and you can hear all that reverb still, laughs, another Spinal Tap moment!”
“Hyperactive” marked the end of Savage Mark I. There was talk about a further 7" single to be released in France, namely “Cardiac”, but the band does not know anything about it having been released or not. There is certainly no proof of it. Andy Dawson on the end of Savage Mark I: “I think it was 1986. Chris started XL and I started a band called Rebel.” Chris Bradley takes over the story: “Andy, Wayne and Mark effectively left the band in 1986 and started a new one without me. I got disillusioned for a while after that and it wasn’t until an old friend persuaded me to put a band together that I formed: XL. I did that for quite few years until just before me and Andy got back together to do ‘Holy Wars’. We did okay, played around the club circuit, did a 'BBC1 Friday Rock Show' session for Tommy Vance (Andy actually played on that) and got a phone call at one point from Geffen Records saying that they liked some of our demos but that never went any further. The band Andy started with Mark and Wayne didn’t last too long, so Andy has had a whole string of bands the only real consistent throughout was the singer Chris ‘Harry’ Harrison (who as I remember has had a stint in one of the versions of Witchfynde, great singer). Thing is Andy just likes to play, so he changes bands as often as his underwear, laughs, he even had a stint as a drummer for a while! What a waste!”
Savage did re-unite in 1995. New albums such as "Holy Wars" (1995), "Babylon"
(1997) and "Xtreme Machine" (2000) followed. “'Holy Wars' did well for us and so did 'Babylon'”, remarks Andy Dawson. “But 'Xtreme Machine' we never were accounted for but I suspect it didn’t do so well. We (mostly me) were trying to modernise the sound but I don’t think Savage fans got it. Still some great tracks on there though, 'Smiling Assassin', 'Choke', 'Hyde' etc.” Chris Bradley, however, reveals: “None were as successful as 'Loose ‘n’ Lethal' and ‘Hyperactive’ but they were also released in a market that had completely changed. However, there was some great stuff in there, ‘How’, Temple of Deceit’ and another of my all time favourite tracks, ‘Smiling Assassin’, to name but a few.”
When Jess Cox took Savage under his wing, he even secured the band a gig at Wacken in 2000. Andy Dawson: “We were working with Jess at Neat, so we were just part of his entourage of bands. Wacken was great, next best gig to Aardschok for me. Again that was filmed but we never saw the footage. If anyone has it, please let us know. We saw Jess in Germany in April.” Chris Bradley loves huge shows like the Wacken one: “I can’t get enough of them, it’s what rock 'n' roll is all about. Yeah, Jess is a nice guy but completely unorganised, laughs.”
After Wacken, it did not go too well for Savage as Andy Dawson explains: “We never split, just kind of stopped after Wacken and then my dad died, which was a heavy blow. I got divorced and then in 2004 had a child, so was just too busy. I am always making or recording music somewhere so never left it. Even when we started with this album, my father in law died, Mark's mum died, it is really hard to get past those things. My brother died only two months ago and I can barely function some days, so it's amazing we ever got anything together at all.” Chris Bradley has not lost his sense of humour: “Yeah, that pretty much sums it all up, except Andy missed out my divorce from his sister in 2005, the birth of Kristian’s son (my grandson) and his subsequent split form his partner in 2008, then Mark's separation from his partner just before we started recording the album. This band does not get a break!”
It is almost a little wonder that in between all the personal tragedies and turmoil Savage were able to record a mighty fine comeback album in the form of “Sons of Malice”, the first album since the ill-fated “Xtreme Machine” in 2000. “Sons of Malice” is a very rounded effort and bears all the usual Savage trademarks, Andy Dawson's riffs are a class of its own and Chris Bradley's voice sounds as powerful as ever. It's clear from the word go that this is the same band that recorded “Loose 'n' Lethal”. For me “Sons of Malice” is more of a logical second album than “Hyperactive” was in 1985. Some of the tracks are fast and furious, with the band's early proto Speed Metal numbers as a reference point, the opener “The Rage within” is a good example for that. On the other hand you have some more blues-tinged numbers, just listen to the fantastic “Black 'n' blue”. Those clearly show that Savage's roots go back to classic British Hardrock bands like UFO and Thin Lizzy. Altogether it makes a very strong comeback album. With “Holy Water”, “Better Believe it” and “Murder from the Skies” the limited vinyl edition on High Roller Records will include three exclusive bonus tracks which are not on the CD version.
Andy Dawson has every right to be proud of the new Savage album: “Those are all brand new songs, although I had a few ideas cooking away from about 2005/2006, 'Blow' and 'Fallen Idols' I had kicking around.” Chris Bradley adds: “Yeah, it's all new. We started writing in October 2009 and had 16 songs by the end of 2010, then we demoed the lot, and decided to record all 16 for the album. The intention was to use twelve but we were hard pressed to agree on which twelve, hence why the album has thirteen songs. So we have three unreleased songs that are going to be included in a special edition of the album, that will include all 16 songs on a double album on good old fashioned vinyl! Woo hoo!”
Songs like the opener "The Rage within" are classic Savage material, very riff-orientated with Chris Bradley's typical hoarse lead vocals … Kristian Bradley comments: “What a tune! I insisted that this opened up the record. I think dad wanted to put 'Monkey on my Back' first. It just screamed 'Savage are BACK!' and I thought it would make an instant impression.”
The title track "Sons of Malice" is Savage's commentary on the world-wide economic decline, as observed by Chris Bradley: “I do like to get on my soap box and complain about injustice. Someone said recently that they thought Savage were a very politically minded band? Never thought of it like that, I would say we are a very socially aware band and like to comment on the ‘human condition’. We always have been, I guess, as I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, it's easier and more important to articulate that!”
The song "Choose Revolution" includes lines like "we need solutions, ain't got too long, so I choose revolution". Andy Dawson states: “It’s worth writing about things that matter in the world, as far as I am concerned. But I do like ‘Hanging Tree’ because it tells a tale, like a film soundtrack. I don’t follow one ideology or political view but I care about the world and the fact that the vulnerable always suffer at the expense of the well-off.”
As already briefly mentioned, "Black 'n' blue" is a bit more blues-based, almost boogie-ish ... For me the song does indeed go back to Savage's love of bands like UFO and Lizzy. “I always liked the end section of ‘Stevies Vengeance’ from ‘Hyperactive’”, analyses Andy Dawson. “So I wanted to use that groove again and it’s a bit different for us. The end section of ‘This Kids’ by UFO is cool, too.” “It’s a great riff and a great hook”, adds Kristian Bradley. “Definitely makes you wanna boogie!” Chris Bradley has the last words: “‘Makes you wanna boogie’, I'm sure that’s one of Mr. Lynott’s lines? Yeah, and it’s heavy as fuck, too! Great riff, great feel, I love it! Nice one, Andy!”