Dennis Wilcock is probably mostly known as being the legendary Iron Maiden singer following one Paul Mario Day (who later went out to front More and sing for Andy Scott’s Sweet). Alongside Steve Harris he ran the early Iron Maiden. But in 1977, with the addition of keyboarder Tony Moore, cracks began to show. Dennis definitely had his own vision of where Iron Maiden needed to be heading to become successful. Somehow his ideas did not appear to be in synch with what Steve Harris thought. He explains: “I knew that we had to move forward a bit more with Maiden. We had a problem. Our sound was becoming too much like the rest of the groups around at the time. We were sounding like all the other pub bands. We had a good following but we needed something more powerful. I was looking for a fuller sound, almost like a rock AOR sound, with a bit more musical ability. Tony Moore was an incredible keyboard player, he was very good. He came in but I don’t really think it worked for Steve. It wasn’t gonna be working out. In the end it just erupted.”
Dennis Wilcock did not take long to form his own band: “We could have easily taken on Iron Maiden numbers with my new band V1. Guitarist Terry Wapram and myself had both played in Maiden. But we decided the break was going to be a clean break. We wrote a bunch of new numbers. For a year we introduced totally new numbers, we had a totally new set with V1. When I think about it today, then I come to the conclusion that it was total madness. We should have played Iron Maiden numbers as well. We had worked on those Maiden numbers and we could have easily pulled it off.”
Instead of cashing in on Iron Maiden’s growing popularity, V1’s main priority was to ban some of those new numbers on tape: “I had a friend in the music business and he knew a good studio,” remembers Dennis Wilcock. “So we went into Spaceward and recorded a demo. I did the production. V1 had their own live set, we played Neal Kay’s Bandwagon in Kingsbury. We produced the demo properly and it came off very well. It was just three numbers. We used the demo purely to get work, to secure live gigs. I played Steve Harris the tape and he liked the production a lot. We were still on speaking terms back then. He said Maiden should use the studio as well. I said why not, it’s a very good studio, why don’t you give it a go?”
In the end Iron Maiden did just that, as they recorded their famous »Soundhouse Tapes« single at Spaceward studios. “Unlike Maiden, we did pay for our master tapes though,” laughs Dennis. “So I had the original cassette lying around at home, when High Roller Records approached Tony Miles for this release. I was searching through my garage and I found the tape. As you can imagine, I had to be very careful with a tape that had been lying around for over thirty years. I sent it off and had it professionally baked. When I listened to it again I thought, bloody hell, considering it was recorded all those years ago, it still stands up. Obviously, it’s 70’s rock, but it is a good version.”
The line-up of V1 recording the three tracks “V1”, “Schoolgirl” and “The Runner” at Spaceward studios consisted of Dennis Wilcock (vocals), Terry Wapram (guitar), Elliot White (guitar), Charle Borge (bass) and Alan Black (drums).
Soon after the release of the mentioned demo tape, the end had come for V1. Dennis Wilcock explains: “We were advised by some people not to do any more pub gigs with V1. It had become quite stagnant. And that was basically the end of V1. But then we discovered that Maiden had actually taken on all the pub gigs V1 had been offered. They were doing the circuit we would be doing. Nothing was ever done for us. We lost out. That was the end of V1. There was a V1 mark II but it didn’t do much.”
Whereas Dennis Wilcock had left Iron Maiden to form his own band V1, his future colleague, guitarist Tony Miles, was active in a band called Tush. “I worked together with a certain Phil Collen in Tush in 1977/78,” explains Tony. “Phil was initially approached by Iron Maiden to join before Adrian Smith eventually did but turned it down because his band Girl were doing well at the time. When Girl finally split, Phil was very upset that he’d missed a great opportunity with Iron Maiden but then Def Leppard happened for him and the rest is history. After Tush split, I concentrated on starting a new hard rock band, namely Gibraltar, that would be an alternative to punk and would hopefully satisfy the renewed interest in heavy rock. Between 1976 and 1978 Tush played the same London gig circuit as Remus Down Boulevard, Urchin, Iron Maiden etc., everyone used to know everyone else, it was a small world. For example, Micky Tickton was particularly close to Dave Edwards and Dennis Stratton from Remus Down Boulevard. Tush used to watch these bands when we weren’t playing and they watched us when they weren’t playing. It was a close scene. V1 was obviously built from that scene, as eventually was Gibraltar.” In early 1979 Dennis Wilcock was looking to join a new band . And this is how be became the singer of Gibraltar: “Tony Miles had put an ad in the paper looking for a vocalist. I applied and got the job. That was two or three months after V1 had split. I met Tony and we got on like a house on fire. I joined and we did the whole thing again. I was responsible for promotion. I said while we are playing, why don’t we put some tracks down? So that’s why we used Spaceward again. Off we went and recorded the three tracks ‘You Drive Me Crazy’, ‘Mrs Marshall’ and ‘Sixteen And Loose’ down there. The drummer Jim Lassen did take over the production this time.” The line-up of Gibraltar that recorded the demo was Dennis Willcock (vocals), Tony Miles (guitar), Micky Tickton (bass) and Jim Lassen (drums). Other line-ups of Gibraltar included Tony Parsons and Ron ‘Rebel’ Matthews. Bob Sawyer auditioned as a guitarist sometime in 1979 but did not join the band. Parsons, Matthews and Sawyer had all earlier been in Iron Maiden!
“I heard V1 for the first time in 2014 and was surprised how close in sound Gibraltar and V1 actually were,” resumes Gibraltar guitarist Tony Miles. “Obviously there were differences because of the different line-ups but not significantly so. I think this is why Dennis had been interested in joining Gibraltar in the first place, because we were all more or less on the same wavelength.”
Gibraltar was in existence between1978 and 1981, with a brief reformation in 1984. Tony Miles: “Gibraltar did indeed reform (with drummer Dave ‘Spanner’ Manning) in 1984 for a number of charity gigs and also a Hell’s Angel wedding. For the reunion we had changed the name of the band to ‘Gang Show’. For the same wedding gig Barry ‘Thunderstick’ Purkis also played on the same bill with his band. I have continued to play in numerous bands over the years, previously playing along guys such as Terry Lee Miall (ex-Adam And The Ants), Francis Haines (Tubeway Army, The Hollies) and Colin Peel (ex-Praying Mantis) to name a few. I’ve also played guitar for theatrical companies and contributed to a score for the movie »Gnaw: Food of the Gods II«… probably one of the worst films ever made! Along with the other guys in the band, I never thought that Gibraltar would ever reform, so the new interest from Iron Maiden fans and others from around the world has been quite a nice surprise for us.”
With »The Spaceward Super Sessions« High Roller Records compiles the demos of V1 and Gibraltar on one mini-album. Tony Miles explains how the initial contact happened: “The High Roller connection came about through an unexpected source. I was contacted out of the blue by a Canadian Iron Maiden fan who had seen the Gibraltar YouTube video for ‘You Drive Me Crazy’ and suggested that High Roller might be interested in all or some of the demo tracks. High Roller then e-mailed me and asked what material was available. By this time I had already re-established contact with Dennis so was able to offer both, Gibraltar and V1 recordings, to them. We’re all surprised and delighted that there should be any interest in a couple of minor bands that recorded low-cost demos over 30 years ago. We realize that there is some interest due to the Iron Maiden connection for Dennis but much more than we had expected. This renewed interest has inspired us to reform as ‘GibraltarV1’ and produce new, updated versions of the demo songs and also much original material that was never recorded, only played live.”
As mentioned, Tony Miles and Dennis Wilcock are at the moment putting together a new version of Gibraltar. Dennis has some more details: “When people will see the new Gibraltar, they will see that we’re a party band, we’re a fun band. The people don’t have to adore us, we’re not there for crowd adoration. We are something for them to join in with. We always were! Back in the day, Gibraltar always had a very big following of Hell’s Angels, I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you why – we didn’t have motorbikes. V1 was a bit more musical. With Gibraltar, which was an extension of V1, we went back to the stage props, to the theatrics. I always had a pull on the audience. I would always attack ‘em, that’s the word. Not attack ‘em badly, but attack ‘em nicely, in such a way that there were becoming part of what we were doing. That seemed to work. With the new Gibraltar we will possibly do ‘Prowler’ with my original lyrics. I played this song live with Iron Maiden in 1977. We think we could re-launch ‘Prowler’ with the new band. I have been told by the Iron Maiden family, by the fans, that they would welcome my version of ‘Iron Maiden’, of ‘Prowler’, of ‘Charlotte The Harlot’, of ‘Transylvania’, whatever. They were all on Maiden’s setlist in 1977 when I was in the band.”
“None of us were trying to consciously emulate any other band or specific genre, such as NWOBHM or punk, at the time,” concludes Tony Miles. “From my point of view Gibraltar had been inspired by British rock bands such as Deep Purple, Humble Pie, Lone Star and the lesser-known Hustler. Both Dennis and Micky had brought their own influences, such The Tubes, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top and countless others. Around 1980, there were many, many heavy metal bands on the scene who all seemed to copy each other and we were keen to not follow the same path, i.e. be like sheep. So our gigs tended to be colourful but hard hitting, quite different to the darker NWOBHM approach. We used a lot of audience participation and humour as part of our stage act. You could say every gig was like a party where there was no difference between the band and the audience, we were all contributing to just having a good time. Even though we used to joke with the audience, the music itself was serious and we played as hard as we partied. We want to bring back that same feel to whatever we do in the future.”