One of the true hard-working heavyweights of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Tokyo Blade embody the spirit of the underdog. Dependable and earnest, the band have been responsible for a number of truly great albums over the years, and the trend is set to continue with ‘Dark Revolution’ which like its predecessor ‘Unbroken’ (2018) features the classic line-up of Alan Marsh (vocals), Andy Boulton and John Wiggins (guitars), Andy Wrighton (bass) and Steve Pierce (drums).
“It’s a harder sound,” is how Andy Boulton opens when asked to describe ‘Dark Revolution’, “but I think as we have the original line-up of the band the new album is still going to sound like Tokyo Blade. And as I now have my own small studio I was able to create the sound of the songs that I imagined, more or less. Personally, I’ve always felt that the sound and production on our other albums has never really hit the mark. I’m not saying that I’ve done it with this album either but I think it’s closer to how I imagined the songs to sound.”
Tokyo Blade had been pretty quiet in recent years, and then all of a sudden two albums have followed in relatively quick succession. Before I can finish the question, Andy can see where this is heading… “In my opinion if you’re a true musician and highly creative you never stop being that way. My dear late mother was an amazing musician and pianist who was gifted with perfect pitch; she could literally hear something once and play it flawlessly on the piano. She passed some of that gift to me: it’s in my DNA and I can’t change it or even imagine being anything other than a musician – I have to create music or life wouldn’t be worth shit to me. It’s always been very difficult for us as we’ve suffered from no record company support, no management support and most importantly no cash. To write an album is one thing, but to get it recorded costs money and as we are all skint that’s something that couldn’t happen. I’ve been recording at home for many years but never really had the confidence to record an album for commercial release. So this is my first commercial release of an album that I’ve recorded and mixed myself. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t have been better in a top studio with a really good engineer, but the cost of that would be out of the question – unless someone comes up with thousands of pounds for us to do it. It would be great for me to just concentrate on my playing,” he laughs. “The ‘Unbroken’ album was recorded in a studio in France and it didn’t go very well at all, so I took what we had recorded there and re-recorded most of it myself, and although I didn’t mix it I think it was doing that which gave me the confidence to do ‘Dark Revolution’. And it was mastered by Gwyn Mathias who is a professional and long-standing mastering engineer. He is a fantastic guy and a top notch mastering engineer (and the guy who mastered ‘Unbroken’) so I was confident that the album would be well mastered.
“Alan and I wrote the album with no particular sound in mind,” he continues. “We wrote the way we always have, just trying to come up with fresh ideas and good songs. Hopefully we’ve achieved our goal but the fans will decide if it’s the Tokyo Blade album they wanted. As they say, though, ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. I’m sure there will be people that love it and people that hate it – I think we are maybe a marmite kind of band,” he laughs again.
Asked about any personal highlights on the album, Andy reflects for a moment or two. “That’s a difficult question to answer… It’s very hard to be subjective about one’s own work particularly for Al and me. One of my many personality traits is leaving the past where it belongs. Once I’ve done an album I need to move on to the next album or next challenge. For example, I used to come up with some riff or other and later Al would say ‘What was that riff you played a while ago?’ and I’d already moved on from it. In fact, Al used to call me ‘Mr. Disposable’! Right up until ‘Thousand Men Strong’ all the albums Al and I wrote together we did with me coming up with ideas for riffs and chords, imagining the drums and bass and Alan recording it on a really old knackered ghetto blaster which was so fucked he had to hold the mains lead at a certain angle to get it to work! We didn’t even have a four-track. How we did it all is a bit of a mystery but luckily we’ve always been on the same wavelength. I don’t think there is a track that particularly represents Tokyo Blade’s sound – we just sound like we do whatever we play. Although I would say this is a heavier album, it’s still covered with Alan’s trademark hooks and melodies, and I’ve always loved his lyrics. He puts a lot of thought into them. I think his vocals are really strong and he spends an incredible amount of time writing lyrics and melodies. Personally I like the songs ‘The Fastest Gun In Town’ and ‘Not Lay Down And Die’, but as I say it’s very hard to be objective about one’s own work. I’m just too close to it.”
As for the album’s title, “I asked Al about the song, and he said it’s a reference to the gathering pace of destruction of our planet by its human inhabitants,” Andy replies. “The big corporations’ agenda is the acquisition of money and more power, they have the politicians in their pocket and they are getting away with murder, literally. Life is the most fragile and precious thing we have, but they only see money in everything. That’s the way society in general has become – sadly it seems that humanity is taking a back seat to profits and greed. We are old enough to have witnessed the change in our society and can only hope that our race comes to its senses before all is lost and our grandchildren inherit all the shit we’ve left behind us. Anyway, off my soapbox,” he laughs again. “That’s our combined view of our ‘elite’, and Alan put it into lyrics incredibly well, in my humble opinion. Andy [Wrighton] loved the song and suggested we should call the album by that name, and then Andrew Batchelor who has done most of our artwork from ‘Burning Down Paradise’ onwards came up with a great album design which we all loved immediately.”
It’s been thirty-seven years since the name Tokyo Blade first appeared in the record shops’ racks. I wondered if Andy had expected the band to have such longevity as to be talking about a new release in 2020. “To be honest, no, I wouldn’t have expected to be releasing albums after all these years, and I do often wonder why anyone is still interested enough in Tokyo Blade with so much new music readily available. I don’t mean that to sound negative, and I am 1000% in debt to our many fans who have stuck by the band through thick and thin (and there’s been a lot of thin!). Being creative can be a curse, as a lot of people have said before me; I’ve barely made a penny from music, but then again I’m not at all interested in money personally and I would rather be creative and broke than non-creative and rich. Writing and recording music and still being loved by our fans is its own reward.”
Over the years Andy and his peers have seen a lot of changes in the music world – some good, no doubt, and some bad – and I wondered what were the biggest changes for him, personally, over the length of his career. “I guess overall the biggest change is how disposable music has become. Artists can no longer expect to earn a living income from making albums and platforms like Spotify, iTunes et al have made the purchase of CDs almost pointless, with the exception of the TRUE” – he emphasises the word – “fans who want them for their collection. Major bands now charge a small fortune in ticket prices for live shows as it’s necessary for them to maintain their affluent lifestyle. I don’t apportion any blame to them for that. It is what it is. Us smaller fish make almost zero and therefore are generally in other full-time employment. Our lives are just as much a struggle as anyone else – we’re just guys that make music, that’s the difference. Struggle breeds strength and character in many people though so there’s definitely a positive in that. Everyone has to endure challenges in their lives, and music is my antidote of choice. The other big change is that technology has enabled many bands like us to record their own albums and get a fairly decent sound. That can only be a good thing for the musician, but not so good for the smaller studios of course.”
So if Andy could go back in time to the earliest days of the band, what advice would he give his younger self? “Simple!” he replies. “It’s the same advice that I’d happily give to anyone in any walk of life. Stay on the course in your heart, never quit or surrender until your passion is gone. Even then make sure that you’ve left a mark on the world, no matter how small.’
As mentioned above, Tokyo Blade have always had the element of the underdog about them and I mentioned to Andy that, in my view, neither the band nor his own skills as a lead player have ever been fully appreciated. Did that never get to him? “Thank you, that’s a very kind compliment,” he says, openly. “I strive to remain consistent in my humility and remain as self-effacing as I can. To be honest it doesn’t bother me, which sounds kind of strange but it really doesn’t. I just do what I do, most of it comes naturally and I don’t really know where it comes from. I am always looking for new ideas and new ways of playing and my tenacious personality gets me to a place with my playing where I’m fairly happy. The fact that guys like you appreciate it is enough reward for me. As for the band in general we’ve never had a big budget behind us to buy the publicity that requires big money. We are just grateful to our many loyal fans who continue to support us. Back in the Eighties when we were a much bigger band it was great, but if we’d reached some kind of superstar status maybe some of us wouldn’t be alive now. Every action, every twist of fate, and every decision carries a consequence and who knows what might have become of us if we’d had fame and the trappings that come from it?”
With time coming to wrap things up, I wondered if there was anything Andy wanted to add. “Well, the current world situation with Covid-19 is extremely worrying for many people. My message to our friends, families and fans is simple. Stay safe and we’ll all get through this. Once again I would like to thank our very dear and loyal fans and close friends for their enduring support of Tokyo Blade. God bless you all.”
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