“DAVE, YOU’RE A ROCK STAR NOW…”
…said Sean Taylor to guitarist Dave Dawson as the band came off stage at the end of their first gig in thirty years. One of several bands to bear the name, Newcastle’s Warrior, like so many NWOBHM bands, had the songs and the enthusiasm, but still fame and fortune eluded them, as Dave (the most unassuming rock star you are ever likely to encounter) explains...
In 2014, thirty years after their last release, Warrior appeared on stage in their home town at the now legendary Brofest festival. With a line-up that featured founder member and guitarist Dave Dawson together with Sean Taylor (who split drum duties on the night with Battleaxe’s Paul AT Kinson) and vocalist Eddie Halliday from the band’s second line-up, and new recruits Gwaether Bloom [aka Conor Clancy"> (guitar) and Duncan Emerson (bass), the reformed Warrior became the benchmark band of the weekend: no matter how good other bands were, the often-asked question was ‘ah, but were they as good as Warrior?’
“It was absolutely brilliant,” recalls Dave. “I know Sean had been telling us about the enthusiasm for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal in Europe when he’d been playing there with Satan, and we were like, ‘well, great’, but it doesn’t really sink in until you get out there on stage and see it first-hand. I just remember Sean laughing his head off, saying ‘I told you, didn’t I?’ and I was just completely flabbergasted,” he laughs. “We came off the stage and Sean said, ‘Dave, you’re a rock star now’ and I was like ‘ah, get away, don’t be silly,’ but he was all, ‘I told you, I told you what the reaction would be like,’ and he was right... “
In a way, Warrior were the archetypal NWOBHM band, in that they were a bunch of friends first who decided to form a band, make records and get rich and famous. “Well, it didn’t quite work out that way!” concedes the guitarist; “but yes, in the early stages definitely that’s what we wanted to do. We were good mates and we wanted to be in a band and make some money and try and become famous. That was the dream. There were bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden coming through at the time, obviously a little bit older than us, and we looked up to bands like that. And you had the classics like Judas Priest and Sabbath and Zeppelin and Purple, and we loved all that. We were big fans of the music and it was an absolute buzz to play heavy metal, so that’s what we wanted to do.”
It was in about September 1979, Dave reckons, that he started hanging around what used to be known as The Barn. “Tony Watson’s dad was a farmer, and obviously they had a lot of outbuildings and one was a barn,” ideal for what Dave calls “bumming around, playing a few covers and things like that.” At the time, the other lads who congregated there with Tony were Rob Mills, Eddy and Baz Smith, and Dave Hall. Suffering from Crohn’s Disease Dave had to have several operations, but by – to his recollection – April 1980 or so “I was a lot better and by this time Dave Hall had left so I was hanging about with the other lads and it just formed into a band from there.
“Thinking back I’m sure it was me that came up with the name Warrior. I mean it’s a long time ago, but I’m pretty certain it was me. Why I chose it, I have no idea!” Another laugh. “Maybe it just sounded good for a rock/metal band; y’know when you’re a young lad, just nineteen or twenty at the time, it seemed to sound quite good and would be the sort of thing to get ourselves noticed. And I don’t think that there were any alternatives, not that I can recall; there might have been things bandied around at the time but there’s nothing that I can remember.”
Like most new groups vocalist Eddy, guitarists Dave and Tony, bassist Baz and drummer Rob started off playing covers – “the likes of ‘Doctor Doctor’, ‘Another Piece Of Meat’, ‘Armed And Ready’, AC/DC songs like ‘Sin City’ and ‘Back In Black’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘Rosalie’, ‘Breaking The Law’, all that kind of thing” – before Dave suggested they start writing their own material. And with some gigs under their belts and a clutch of songs in their heads they booked time at Impulse Studios, home to David Wood’s Neat Records. Their first demo, recorded sometime in the first few months of 1981, contained ‘Warrior’, and ‘Flying High’, together with a couple of other songs which, according to Dave have “got lost in the mists of time somewhere; one was called ‘Force It’ and the other one was called ‘Cruisin’ And Boozin’’, I think. We used to play them in the set very early on but then they disappeared, and I cannot really remember how they really went now, to be quite honest with you.” Of the four cuts though, it was ‘Flying High’ that caught the attention of David Woods. “We never really thought anything of it. We did a demo and were quite pleased with ourselves, and a few weeks or a month or so later David Wood actually rang me at home. He said he was putting together this compilation, ‘Lead Weight’, and he wanted to use one of our tracks. I was actually taken aback! I must admit I remember I liked the track ‘Force It’ more at the time but he was insisting he wanted to use ‘Flying High’, so it was a matter of ‘oh well, if that’s what you want to put out, that’s great by us.’ That was very exciting, I was buzzing when I came off the phone and I think we were practicing later on that night and obviously when I told all the lads they were chuffed to bits.”
After that, Eddy, Dave, Tony, Baz, and Rob knuckled down to more gigs and more songwriting, and also picked up a manager along the way. “Ken Booth took over managing us and obviously we were writing more stuff and playing more gigs – whatever we could get really – and then we went back to Impulse in March 1982 just to record some demos.” The difference this time around though was that the band elected to record the songs live in the studio, with no overdubs. “So we went in and ran through ‘Dead When It Comes To Love’, ‘Stab You In The Back’ and ‘Kansas City’ – the songs that ended up on the live single – plus a couple of others. I think we did an early version of ‘Suicide’ and ‘The Prisoner’ on that same demo.” Although the band had hoped that Neat would issue a single, nothing had been signed at this stage, and while the musicians were doing their thing in the studio Ken Booth was holding discussions with David Wood. The result was the 7” NEAT ‘Live’ 20, a three-track EP with ‘Dead When It Comes To Love’ on the A-side and ‘Stab You In The Back’ and ‘Kansas City’ on the flip, a single which crackles with life. “Oh yes, it certainly does,” agrees Dave. “And as it says on the record there’s absolutely no overdubs, it’s absolutely, completely live in the studio. There’s no tampering. Just a couple of takes, two or three takes, and we chose the best one and that’s what you’ve got.” ‘Kansas City’ would be selected to appear later in the year on Neat’s second compilation, the ‘60 Minutes Plus…’ cassette where it rubbed shoulders with the likes of Raven’s ‘Live At the Inferno’ and Hellanbach’s ‘All The Way’.
Unfortunately, the early material Warrior recorded for Neat Records is now locked away in Universal’s vaults, the label having acquired the whole Neat catalogue when Sanctuary Records went bust a few years back. However, Warrior’s original line-up is represented here through ‘Live In A Dive’, a ten-track cassette the band made available back in the day and which has been lovingly restored for this release. And although looking back now the details are sketchy, the excitement and energy on the night is there for all to hear.
“We did ‘Live In A Dive’,” starts Dave, “that must have been, well, it was after the live single came out, so we must have recorded it maybe May or June 1982, something like that, and released it later that year. I don’t know what the place was called now, but it was recorded at a pub in Gateshead, and I remember it was a Thursday night: I was at work, and I got away early, and we had quite a set-up in this pub, and we recorded the full set. It’s all from the one gig, and that was the lot, that was all our repertoire at the time; but we use to fill the set out with some of the covers I mentioned earlier, like ‘Sin City’ by AC/DC and ‘Breaking The Law’ by Judas Priest, but they weren’t included on the live cassette. So the gig would have been longer than that, with a few of our favourite covers to fill it out. I don’t really know now how it was made available as Ken the manager organised all that, so how he distributed them I’m not really that sure but I think it got pretty far afield, and of course it’s been bootlegged quite a bit over the years. But it was a real buzz that night. I mean, the pub wasn’t absolutely heaving but it was a good turn-out and a good night and everyone played pretty well, and we were very pleased with it.”
So far, so good, but in the best tradition of the NWOBHM it’ll come as no surprise that just when things were looking good it all began to unravel, and ‘Live In A Dive’ was the last thing Warrior’s original line-up would record. “Baz and Rob and Eddy were getting a little bit tired of playing rock music – this would have been at the end of ’82 or the beginning of ’83 – and they wanted to concentrate more on club type of music, y’know, like the bands that were in the charts. Baz was a really good bass player and he was experimenting more with a slap type of style, he was getting more into that type of bass playing, and he wanted to move on, which is fair enough. They wanted to play the hits of the day, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, things like that, and as that’s what they wanted to do, they left the band.”
So began Warrior Mk.II, featuring Sean Taylor, Steve Telford and Eddie Halliday. “I’m pretty sure that it was Ken that got in touch with Sean. There was just me and Tony left at the time and Ken arranged a jam for us and Sean at a place down in the town, a rehearsal place where the likes of Venom and that used to practice. The one thing that sticks in mind, once we’d had a jam with Sean, was that we had to turn everything up much louder. Me and Tony had full stacks and that but because Sean is such a powerful drummer we had to turn everything right up to the max,” he laughs. “We used to play loud before but me and Tony looked at each other and went ‘blimey, isn’t he loud! He’s really good, but he’s hellish loud!’ He’s so powerful! Such a great drummer too. But after that Friday night jam with Sean he agreed to join, and then I think we got Steve Telford as the next addition. I played with Steve in a covers band when I was about 18 (he used to play guitar then) and I can’t remember if he contacted me or Ken or whatever, but he fancied doing the bass job and he got it. And it was definitely Ken who contacted Eddie Halliday to come along and have a try-out for vocals. He came along, and that was it, he was in. And then I think Eddie was more or less told, ‘by the way, we’re recording in a few weeks’ time so please learn these songs.’ He was more or less thrown in at the deep end.”
Warrior’s second release, the ‘For Europe Only’ mini-album, was recorded at Gosforth high school. “We hired the music room for a full Sunday, and recorded everything we had at the time including the likes of ‘Stab You In The Back’ and ‘Dead When It Comes To Love’ which had been on the original EP just to do it with the new line-up. And, by the way, it was Stu Keeble who recorded it, and he actually does the sound now at Brofest; so we worked with him in 1983 and lo and behold many years later when we did the Brofest gig he was doing the sound there for us. Pretty strange really, eh? But anyway,” he continues, “we took packed lunches with us, because in those days there wasn’t much open on Sunday, and we recorded right through the day.”
In all, nine songs were put to tape. Given they’d recorded so much on the day, you have to wonder why they didn’t go for a full album. “Well, it was Ken who was pretty much putting it all together,” is how Dave remembers it now, “and he was just on about doing an EP with hopefully an album to follow later on. I guess we all had a chat about it, and it was a long time ago now, but maybe he just picked what he thought were the best five songs. But the extra tracks – ‘Dead When It Comes To Love’ and ‘Stab You In The Back’ again, and ‘Rock And Roll Rock Star’ and ‘Addiction’ – I’d actually forgotten all about them. It was Ed who said one day that he’d found an old cassette tape with them on and said he wasn’t sure where they were from but thought they might be from the ‘For Europe Only’ sessions. I had a listen to them and, yes, that’s where they were from, but I’d actually forgotten all about them.”
As for the record’s curious title, “I think it was because it was only getting released in Europe,” thinks Dave, “hence the helmet which, if you’ve noticed, the face is like a map of Europe. I’ve always liked that design; I think it’s very clever. Anyway, that’s how that EP came about. It was a full Sunday’s work and it must have been about February or March 1983 because it was a dark and gloomy day and it got dark early on a night time. I remember Ed bemoaning the fact that he was stuck in a room separately doing the vocals, and Ken kept saying to him ‘we’re going to play this one now’ and ‘sing this one’; and I do remember we were running out of time when we were putting the vocals on. The vocals were overdubbed, as were the guitar solos, but otherwise it was very much a live type of thing again.”
But another release only led to another line-up change. “Once again there was only me and Tony left. I think people got a little bit fed up with the way Ken was going on about doing things… Sean moved on to join Satan because it was looking like a good deal and they were going places, but Eddie left and Steve the bass player left, and we got in Martin Clerkin in and Paul Irwin. So we were rehearsing material... Actually, no, Sean hadn’t left by then,” Dave corrects himself. “Sean was rehearsing with us when we were doing the ‘Breakout’ EP but he left before we recorded it. So we got a guest drummer in, Malcolm Dick, who used to play in the punk band The Toy Dolls who had a novelty hit with a punk version of ‘Nellie The Elephant’; he played the drums on the EP and he did a really good job.”
Warrior MkIII recorded the ‘Breakout’ EP at Impulse Studios once more, and the band were very pleased with the way it turned out, “largely because the material was getting a little bit more sophisticated. Once again we were back at Impulse, and it must have been sometime early in 1984, maybe March or April time. We booked the place for a full Saturday, just went in and got cracking, and once again the backing tracks were pretty much live with some guitar solo overdubs and Martin overdubbing his vocals, pretty much the usual format for us.”
In fact, the track ‘Take A Chance’ is noted on the EP’s sleeve as being a live cut. “Ah, I’d forgotten about that; yes it is, because I remember going back in to do the solo for ‘Breakout’ and the solo for ‘Dragon Slayer’ but not ‘Take A Chance’. That was live. But yes, we were pretty pleased with the EP; with songs like the title cut and ‘Dragon Slayer’ we were pushing it a bit more, getting a bit more used to songwriting and trying a few different things… I suppose the more you do something the better you get at it, and you try things and move on, and so I think if we could have had the chance to do an album at that time we could have done something pretty good off the back of that. But I must admit when I listened back to the ‘Breakout’ EP now, especially with what High Roller have done, the track ‘Breakout’ in particular sounds great. It’s almost got a new lease of life, especially with the brightness they’ve got on it and all that, y’know? I mean, most of the songs were more or less demos in a way. The energy and enthusiasm is all there and there’s some good songs, but we were lacking the vast production that the bigger bands had. That said,” he pauses to consider the fact that some of “the bigger bands” well and truly overcooked things, “sometimes one or two takes is all you need to capture something special there and then rather than going over it and over it and over it.
“But although we were pleased with the songs, and it was a good line-up, that was really the end of it. A few months after that, well, we did some gigs and that and had some good fun, but once again the line-up changed, and I thought to myself ‘I’ve had enough of this’. I wanted to concentrate on writing more stuff but every time there was a line-up change we were having to go through the same old songs again, to try to work somebody else in, and I just got fed up with it. We were planning on doing an album then, ‘Invasion Imminent’; we’d even listed it on the sleeve of ‘Breakout’, but it never came about. I left, and then within a couple of weeks, I think, it more or less fell apart.” And that was the end of Warrior, for thirty years at least.
The band’s reception at Brofest 2014 showed Dave just how much interest there is in bands like Warrior. “Once we actually got out there on stage…” he pauses. “Y’know, I don’t see myself as a ‘Rock Star’, I’m not that kind of person, and I know Sean was just having a bit of fun, but it was weird, like another world, and that night when I got home I hardly slept a wink and I know Ed felt exactly the same. We just couldn’t believe it. The reaction, and all these people from all around Europe, America, asking for photos and autographs… It was like, ‘wow!’ A real eye-opener. Everything Sean had been telling us… He hadn’t been winding us up, it was all the truth,” he laughs again.
There’s one more thing worth noting about the Brofest gig, to show how well received Warrior were and that’s that the band sold out all their merch before their set was over. (And I should know: I was selling it!) “And I tell you something else,” Dave chips in. “At the gig my wife had one of the original t-shirts I used to wear, I think it was around ‘For Europe Only’ so it goes back to about 1983, but in excellent nick: a bright yellow t-shirt with the ‘For Europe Only’ album cover art. At the start of the night she was offered fifty quid for it and then by the end the night some lads were trying to buy it for 100 quid! It was unbelievable…”
So now, in the guitarist’s words, “it’s onwards and upwards, really. We’re starting to record new stuff now, we’re just putting down a new track at the moment called ‘Who Will Win’ (which is about MotoGP, a passion my son and wife have) and all being well people are going to like the new material when we get it out there. And I’m really pleased with the line-up we’ve got now, which is pretty much the band people saw at Brofest with the addition of new drummer Elliot Sneddon. Hopefully we’ll be going places.
“I hope!” he adds, with a final laugh.
John Tucker January 2016