The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal spawned many, many bands, but few of them survived past 1981 or ‘82. Raven, alongside Iron Maiden and Saxon, are one of the few that survived and never broke up. Unlike those bands, Raven has endured only one lineup change, and that was back in 1987 when doom metal pioneer Joe Hasselvander replaced original drummer Rob “Wacko” Hunter. Formed by John Gallagher (bass/vocals) and his brother Mark 40 years ago, Raven continues to deliver unbelievable high-energy live shows that make bands half their age look lazy. Their intensity was a huge influence on the next wave of metal bands that became known as the “Big Four”—Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. In fact, it was 30 summers ago that Raven took Metallica out on their first ever full-length U.S. tour. No one who saw that tour has ever accused Raven of getting blown off the stage by their openers.
With no signs of slowing down, Raven are embarking on a major North American excursion that will hit the Saint Vitus bar in Brooklyn on Sept. 18 and The Brighton Bar in Long Branch on Sept. 19. I had the pleasure of speaking with John Gallagher, the humblest Raven lunatic you’d ever want to meet, as he was preparing to athletic rock the nation.
What can you tell me about this new double DVD that Raven has just released?
It’s called Rock Until You Drop: A Long Day’s Journey. The DVD really gives you an idea of what we’re all about. It’s basically the story of the band: Us two young kids from Newcastle, England, in the middle of nowhere. 40 years ago we created a band against all odds and made something out of it.
How long ago did you start working on the DVD?
Quite a few years back, a company in New York wanted to put out a Raven box set, but they flaked out. So we said, “Why don’t we just put something out that’s just all the rare stuff, B-sides, demos and whathaveyou?” We called it “Raw Tracks” and people really liked it. Some of the quality was a little on the rough side, but it was a little treasure trove of stuff.
After that, my brother Mark said, “I’d love to do something like this with video.” Mark’s had some experience with editing and wanted to take on the project, so we started collecting stuff. He took everything we had and built a narrative around it. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the way it’s edited is interesting. Mark will take a song like “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and show the core of it from, say, Japan 2009. Then he’ll splice in footage from every period. It’s interesting how it works. You can see how nothing much has changed, yet a lot has changed at the same time. The energy level is as high, if not higher. You can see how it’s changed over the years, but there’s a common thread all the way through. It’s heavy but there’s also a manic but positive edge to everything.
There’s also a lot of humor. If you see the band live, you get a bit of that. There’s a lot of interaction between the three of us as far as spontaneity, keeping things fresh. We always try to keep the setlist a little different from night to night. And within the songs, we’ll improvise and stretch things out. Sometimes me and Joe just go off and try to outdo each other.
This is the longest tour Raven’s done in a long time, right?
Oh jeez, yes. The last time we did anything approaching a full U.S. tour was probably 1989 with Testament. We’ve only ever played one gig in Florida so we’re gonna do a couple down there. We only played Denver once in 1987. It’s gonna be a grand old time on the road. We’ll be double headlining with Diamond Head once we get to Vancouver all the way down the West Coast and back through into Texas.
Did you ever play with Diamond Head back in the early 1980s?
No, not at all. First time I met [Diamond Head guitarist] Brian Tatler was when we played a festival in England around 2007 or ‘08. They’ve got those classic songs and it’s gonna be a great bill. Really looking forward to it.
One of the things that gives Raven a unique sound is that Mark plays a Fender Telecaster. You don’t see that too much in heavy metal. How did that come about? Was that the only one he could afford in the early days?
No, it came from Status Quo. We were huge Quo fans as kids. That was the guitar to get. Combined with the wrong amp it can sound like hitting sheet metal with a hammer. It can be very brash and trebly and nasty. Played through the right amp and of course these days, you can tart the pickups up with a humbucker to get rid of the noise and hum to give it a bit more power. But the first three Raven albums are single-coil pickups, straight-up Telecaster. It’s got the bite. You hit it hard and it kicks back.
How many instruments have you and Mark broken over the years on stage?
I haven’t been as bad as Mark. I’m sure he’s destroyed about a warehouse full and that was before we had an endorsement deal. When we had an endorsement it was a lot more. He still throws them around.
Raven played at the Hurricane Sandy benefit show sponsored by the Old Bridge Metal Militia. When did you first meet those guys?
Halloween, 1982. We played Jonny Z’s Headbanger’s Ball show in Staten Island with Anvil and Riot. We’ve been friends with Anvil ever since. The Old Bridge Militia guys were the local heavy metal fans—massive heavy metal fans. They were just a fixture. A couple of those guys were crew for Metallica when they toured with us.
30 years ago today you were on tour with Metallica.
Hard to believe, yeah. Lars [Ulrich] did a real cool interview for the DVD talking about that tour. It was their first tour and they were a young band. We’d been at it longer than them. They took it as a learning experience. They pretty much watched every show and were learning their craft. At that point, we’d been playing for about seven or eight years to obnoxious audiences in the north of England—workingman’s clubs. Places where people weren’t necessarily coming out to see a band. It was “entertain me or else.” So we learned to get confrontational with the audience. You’re either gonna love us or hate us but you’re not gonna get bored.
A great example of that is when we played in Oklahoma. It was like the scene out of The Blues Brothers except there wasn’t any chicken wire. Metallica were on and people were throwing shit and they were turning their backs on the audience. They couldn’t get off the stage quick enough. We got on and gave it right back to them. Jumped on the tables, kicked their beers over. “Come on, you fuckin’ assholes! Get into this.” And we won them over. We will get a reaction from an audience one way or another.
You’ll be playing the Saint Vitus bar in Brooklyn again this September. How does it compare to the glory days of L’Amour?
Saint Vitus is a great club; we had a great time playing there. My sound will change from night to night, but it was absolutely perfect there. Looking forward to getting back. We have history with Brooklyn. The second gig we ever played in the U.S. was in Brooklyn at a place called the Brooklyn Zoo [in Sheepshead Bay]. I have a whole bunch of photos from that. Danny Lilker [Anthrax, Nuclear Assault] is standing in the front row.
L’Amour was in the worst area. It was all warehouses; it felt like you’d get murdered. Playing a gig there was such a pain in the ass. You’d get there and you had hours and hours of nothing to do. The original dressing room was right next to the stage. It wasn’t even sealed off. There was a fake wall with a gap at the top. You’d just be pummeled by the noise all night. By the time you went on, you’d be so pissed off you’d go frickin’ crazy.
What’s the plan for a new studio album? It’s been a few years since Walk Through Fire.
I’ve got an awful lot of material together. Mark’s come up with some great ideas; we were jamming on one at the last gig. Joe’s always got a zillion ideas. So we just gotta start putting it together. Hopefully we can squeeze in some recording in November or December. After the U.S. tour, we’re going over to Europe to tour with Girlschool. We haven’t played with them since 1982. We’re trying to get to Australia, New Zealand and Japan in January, February, and then South America in March. Then we want to hit the European festivals in the spring and summer and at some point, have the record come out and do the whole shebang all over again.
Raven’s latest release, Rock Until You Drop: A Long Day’s Journey, is available now. See them live at the Saint Vitus bar on Sept. 18 and The Brighton Bar on Sept. 19. For more information, go to ravenlunatics.com.