Even today there are still people clinging to the myth that Speed Metal was invented in America. Those individuals like to cite Metallica’s “Hit the Lights” (in its embryonic “Metal Massacre” version with Dave Mustaine on guitar) as the first example of a new dawn in Metal history. Obviously, this is total nonsense! Speed Metal (as well as Black Metal and Thrash Metal) evolved out of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement. There is not a shadow of a doubt about that. So if the question comes to the first Speed Metal song in history, there could only be two contenders. Either it’s Raven’s furious “Faster than the Speed of Light” from their second landmark album “Wiped out” (issued in 1982 on Neat Records) or it’s “Axe crazy” by Bristol’s most famous sons Jaguar (released as a 7” single also by Neat Records the same year).
So how does guitarist Garry Pepperd feel when critics describe his band as the forefathers of a whole new Metal subgenre? His reaction is rather British. With cool understatement he answers: “I don't really know, perhaps it was just coincidence. For our part it could have been because we loved both Punk and Metal and it was fun to play fast. So the two styles got married together I guess making us what we were. The faster we played, the more we liked it, ha, ha!” So does Mister Pepperd detect some Jaguar in the early works of Metallica? “Maybe”, he reckons. “Of course they ‘borrowed’ our song ‘Stormchild’ and turned it into their song ‘Whiplash’ but I don't really hear the connection. It is flattering I guess. I haven't ever met them but if I do, they will have to buy me a beer or two, ha, ha!” The Jaguar founder is feeling honoured when people call Jaguar the first Speed Metal band in history: “I guess so, but I don't really give it a lot of thought. We just played what we played, all be it very fast, and didn't realise that we were creating something new. But yes, it is an honour.” Raven (and maybe even Venom) are two more bands often mentioned when the evolution of Speed Metal is discussed. Was Jaguar familiar with the sound of Raven and Venom when they started out? Garry confirms: “Yes, but I must admit I didn't like Venom very much, I didn't get the Black Metal thing. Now Raven were an altogether different matter, I loved them from the minute I first heard ‘Don't need your Money’, a very energetic band. We played in Holland with them back in the early ‘80's and we had a great time. Their first three albums are classics and I still play them nowadays.” Well, who would have doubted Mr. Pepperd’s musical taste anyway?
Jaguar released their first single “Back Street Woman” in 1981 via Heavy Metal Records. But before that they had already recorded a highly praised demo cassette. “Opening the Enclosure” now bans the first four demos (recorded between 1980 and 1983) on glorious vinyl. Garry Pepperd explains about the material in more detail: “Three of these songs apart from ‘Scrap Metal’ (for the “Wake me” CD) were later re-recorded: ‘Stormchild’ for the ‘Heavy Metal Heroes’ compilation, ‘War Machine’ for the B-side of the ‘Axe Crazy’ single and ‘Ain't no Fantasy’ for the ‘Power Games’ album. As to why we never re-recorded any of the others, I don't really know, we could I guess. But some people have told us that they don't want to hear new versions of the songs they only want to listen to the originals, so who knows.” “Opening the Enclosure” does feature material a lot of people have never heard of before: “’Feel the Heat’ and ‘Piledriver’ were the first two songs we ever wrote. I remember being really proud of them at the time which would have been around late 1979, very early 1980. ‘Crack in the Wall’ and ‘Wastin' Time’ were recorded at the same session around mid-1982. They never got used, I don't know why, they seemed to have been forgotten about! ‘Wastin' Time’ was written about people who used to bad mouth us at the time. It was meant to be funny, a bit of a joke, I guess.”
The master CD for the “Opening the Enclosure” vinyl on High Roller Records was marked with the internal name "Archive Alive Vol.1". So does that mean that there is a Vol.2 and maybe even Vol.3 as well? Garry laughs: “Ha, ha, there was meant to be a Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 but the record company we did Vol. 1 with, Majestic Rock Records, went out of business, so Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 never happened. And of course they owed us money which was never paid to us. I haven't forgotten about it though and if the people who ran the record company ever surface again, I'll be chasing them for our money!”
Between their first and their second single Jaguar changed their singers: Paul Merell replaced Rob Reiss. How big was the difference between the two? Garry explains: “There was a big difference between them. Reiss was more of a traditional Metal singer whereas Merrell was more of a bluesy type singer, his hero was always Paul Rogers. Both singers fitted in well with the band being able to accommodate both styles of singing. I am not aware that fans preferred one or the other, no-one has ever mentioned it to me anyway if they did have a preference.”
Whereas the already mentioned “Power Games” was a prime example of a highly-energetic N.W.O.B.H.M. album, the follow-up “This Time” disappointed the Jaguar fanbase immensly. Garry Pepperd is a bit tired of explaining the drastic change in the band’s musical direction once more: “I’ve answered this question many times, the blame for the change of direction should lie with Paul Merrell and myself. We were getting heavily into bands like U2 and Big Country as well as Metal, and these new influences began to creep into our songwriting. You have to remember that we were still very young at the time and we never really thought about how our fans might react to it, we just did it because we thought we were writing better songs. Obviously with hindsight, it was a mistake as we lost most of our original fans, but we never really thought about the consequences, and this is probably the reason why I don’t have any money now, ha, ha! Some of the people who gave us stick about ‘This Time’ at the time have since told me that they actually quite like it, which is nice. It was properly re-released on CD by Metal Mind Productions in 2009.”
I always wondered if it was clear from the beginning that "This Time" would turn out to be a highly melodic Rock album or if Jaguar had had a plan B? Namely to write a heavy follow-up record to "Power Games"? Garry states that the band never thought about an alternative: “Yes, obviously we realised that ‘This Time’ would be radically different in style as we were writing the songs, let alone recording them! We had no plan B whatsoever, we just didn't give it any thought. We just simply recorded what we thought were the best songs we could write and that was our only criteria. Perhaps we should have had a plan B, ha, ha!” So were the already mentioned songs "Crack in the Wall", "Wastin' Time" or "Scrap Metal" ever considered for "This Time" at all? Garry Pepperd denies: “No, they weren't because as I've mentioned ‘Crack in the Wall’ and ‘Wastin' Time’ were kind of forgotten about and ‘Scrap Metal’ was considered too heavy for our new direction!”
At the time of "This Time" Jaguar also recorded a session for the BBC of which the guitarist is still quite fond of today: “We did record four songs for the BBC session, and yes, I did like the way the songs turned out, particularly as they were all recorded in one afternoon. The guy that used to produce the sessions for the BBC, Tony Wilson, was brilliant. Quite often I used to listen to some of the sessions on the radio and thought that they were better quality than the album versions that were released. Iron Maiden's first BBC session is probably my favourite thing they have ever done. We have never recorded anything else for the BBC.”
Like with a lot of other N.W.O.B.H.M. bands (for example Satan or Raven) Holland took Jaguar to its heart almost immediately, especially the famous Dynamo club in Eindhoven. So is it fair to say that the Netherlands became Jaguar’s second home? Garry Pepperd agrees wholeheartedly: “Oh yes, we played there so many times and it was the first country that really took to us. We loved going there to play and still do.” In contrast to that, Jaguar never made it to Germany at all during their heydays in the early ‘80’s, as Garry explains: “We never played in Germany first time around, our first show there was the Wacken Festival in 1999. We have since played in Germany many times and have shows already lined up there for 2011. We love playing there, too.” Today, Jaguar are playing whereever the fans want them to perform. Their setlists do vary, as Garry points out: “Usually we do a mixture of old and newer stuff, it depends on the show, sometimes we don't play any newer stuff at all. For this year we are going to be playing the whole of ‘Power Games’ at some shows for example. I understand that people want to hear the older stuff and we are happy to play it for them.” Unlike a lot of old bands whose only aim is to re-issue their classic material (to make some cash), Jaguar in the year 2010 are an active band as their guitarist has already stressed: “Yes, we have been active again since 1998, and have put out two more albums of original material along with an anthology, archive and live stuff. We have been working on a new album for a while but with personnel changes and other hold-ups it has been a long time coming, but we hope to have it released sometime late in 2010.”
“Opening the Enclosure” is the first Jaguar vinyl release since 1984’s “This Time” (some 26 years ago). What would Garry say is the rarest ever Jaguar vinyl release? Maybe the purple vinyl Neat pressing of "Power Games" (which I have in my personal collection)? That might well be the case as Garry states: “I think you are right, I don't even have the purple pressing! I am always seeing our stuff on ebay that I didn't even know existed and sometimes at very high prices. I'm not even sure what is out there and available apart from the usual black vinyl pressings.”
I have always wondered why so few bands covered Jaguar songs? I think the German Roxxcalibur did. But apart from that I can't think of too many! Isn't that strange? Maybe Metallica did not cover Jaguar (but Savage, Diamond Head, Sweet Savage and Holocaust) because their style was a bit too close to their own? At least regarding the riffing ... Could that have been the case? Garry Pepperd takes his time to come up with the following answer: “I don't really know, I have been sent tapes over the years of other bands doing our songs in their live sets but perhaps not recording them. Yes, Roxxcalibur covered ‘Axe Crazy’ last year, which was a really good version, but few others have recorded anything. Hmm, as I've mentioned, Metallica ‘borrowed’ ‘Stormchild’ instead of just covering it, which I wish they had! They obviously had their reasons, who knows why.”