Interview: Andy of Tokyo Blade
Interviewer: Paul Hutchings
Andy Boulton has been guitarist for Tokyo Blade since their formation in the late 1970s. The band changed their name from White Diamond to Killer and Genghis Khan before settling on Tokyo Blade. The band released their first self-titled album in 1983, with their seminal ‘Night of the Blade’ album following in 1984. After the breakup of the band in 1985, Andy kept the name alive, with a series of albums bearing the name but not always with the quality that that sophomore album had brought. It wasn’t until 2009 that things started to take off again with the 2011 album ‘Thousand Men Strong’ a real solid album. With the Mark II line up back together in 2017 when original vocalist Alan Marsh joined Boulton and Steve Pierce, John Wiggins and Andy Wrighton, Tokyo Blade released their ninth album Unbroken in 2018. On the verge of their tenth long player ‘Dark Revolution’, I caught up with Andy at his home just outside Salisbury for a chat about Tokyo Blade.
The Razor’s Edge: Welcome to The Razor’s Edge and thanks for taking the time. Where are you tonight and how are you doing?
Andy: Everything is good. Same as most people. Being a musician, I have time on my hands to write and practice, so it keeps me busy. That and a bit of gardening, keeps me busy.
The Razor’s Edge: I was a teenager in the 1980s and it was an amazing time to be into hard rock and heavy metal. The NWOBHM movement was a phase invented by the music press (Geoff Barton of Sounds took credit I think). Tokyo Blade were right in the eye of the storm. What are your memories of that time?
Andy: You couldn’t really find bands as musically diverse as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, although I guess the one thing we all had in common was that were all influenced by the same people; Thin Lizzy, UFO, bands of that nature. There was that thread running thgouh all of us. It was a very interesting time and a great time to have lived through with so much great music and so many bands producing stuff. It started to wane towards the end with the hair bands coming along and it slipped. If you use hard rock and heavy metal as an encompassing term for bands that produce music with a rough edge to it, there was such diversity but everyone had a distinctive sound; you can tell AC/DC from Iron Maiden from Motörhead so easily, which is a good thing compared to the manufactured pop music and the rap industry. It was good that so many bands who drew their influences from the same area had such a range of sounds.
The Razor’s Edge: I was thinking about this earlier. You had three bands, Demon, Raven and Tokyo Blade, all badged under the NWOBHM flag and none of you sounded anything alike.
Andy: Exactly. All distinctive bands, you could tell each one, and it was when the American influence happened, and although there were great bands it all become a bit blurred, the sound became more streamlined, less diverse. Of course, nothing we were doing was that unique because you’ve only got seven notes to work with! When you consider the massive array of music that sticks within a key it’s incredible. You’ll get comparisons whatever you do.
The Razor’s Edge: You played some big events at the time. European tours with Mama’s Boys, support slots with BÖC, Dio, Ozzy and Scorpions. You also played at Aardshock in 1984 with Venom and Metallica. Can you remember anything about that event and those two bands?
Andy: Yes, I do. It was funny. I became a guitar teacher and worked at Winchester college for a while and this was when TB weren’t active and I remember this lad coming up to me, and it was a very public school and he ran up and he was clutching one of the early Metallica albums and said “You’re on this album” and I said what do you mean? And he said, “you’re in the credits”. And, Metallica slightly misremembered it because it should have been Andy Wrighton of Tokyo Blade. It’s a little-known thing and weird when you go back now but we were at the same level at that stage. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, when they used to come to England, which they did a lot because they were keen to soak up the English Scene and promote the band and they would always stay at Andy Wrighton’s house who lived at Buckhurst Hill, just outside London as he had got to know them through some contacts in the Netherlands. And I would stay with John (Wiggins – guitarist) and Steve (Pierce – drummer) would come up and stay with Andy and we’d go out for a drink and he’d bring James and Lars out for a drink. They got the breaks and off they went. It was interesting times.
I remember hanging out with them at shows, you know, we did the Breaking Sounds Festival just outside Paris and there was Ozzy, Dio, Metallic and Scorpions and we had a great reception. We were very well received as we were big in Europe at the time. Obviously, Ozzy and Dio were bigger than Metallica and us and Venom. Somebody came to my house the other day and there is a poster from Studio 54 in Manhattan, and it says Wednesday March 20th, Venom (from the UK) supported by Slayer and Exodus, then March 27th Anthrax supported by Anvil and TT Quick and then April 3rd Tokyo Blade supported by Trouble and Fates Warning. And this guy said “Wow! Studio 54, it’s such a well-known place, you played there”. And the even weirder thing is that the Venom gig was cancelled, and Slayer and Exodus ended up supporting us on April 3rd! We were up there in the day.
The Razor’s Edge: Tokyo Blade followed the typical NWOBHM pathway. Great album, lots of interest and some success and then poor management, bad decisions, and line-up changes before splitting. What went wrong?
Andy: If I had to pin the blame on anything it was the record company at the time. We had zero support from them and zero money from them. It was tough and getting tougher to live. It was a strange experience. When you were away on tour you didn’t really need any money as you got fed and we had a tour bus or hotels and plenty of the things you want at 21, booze and women, so you were leading a very strange life. It was when you came home and were inactive. After the Aardshock Festival the record company had attended, and they took me and Andy to one side and said “look, Alan Marsh [vocals] isn’t cutting it, you need a better frontman but what they really wanted was one of them had a friend who was a singer and they wanted him in the band. We didn’t know at the time and being naïve we went along with it and Alan was very upset and felt that he was victimised, and it dented his confidence and he resigned. We wanted him to fight and be a better frontman but of course it’s hard to change your persona.
Alan had left and we had already recorded ‘Night of the Blade’ with Alan because we had written it and we were going to have to take off Alan’s vocals and get this new guy to sing them. So, this guy came down from York, and he came to John’s house and we were waiting at the rehearsal room because we had never heard him sing. So, he turns up and says to John, I just need to get some fags and a paper, so John directs him to a shop just around the corner. And he wandered off and disappeared and never came back. The record company finally confirmed he felt out if his depth but we were then left with no singer, and our first European support slot with Mama’s Boys in a couple of months and they said well, you’ll have to sort it out.
After that we put adverts in the music press and we got a whole load of tapes but there was nothing that was anything like what we needed but at the 11th hour we got a tape from a guy called Vic Wright and he wasn’t quite right either but we were desperate. We called him up and asked him to come down to audition. He said “Oh, I can’t this weekend” and we were going on tour. He arrived at my house three hours before we were due to leave for Europe. We’d never heard him sing, no rehearsal so I chucked a Sony Walkman at him with a tape with the songs for the set and told him that he’d have to learn them on the journey.
We had no support from the record company for the tour and our manager had managed to club together enough money for diesel for the van with us, the crew, and our gear, nine of us in this van. We said, “what do we do for food” and he said, “there’s a box of t-shirts, whatever you sell you can use to feed yourselves with”. So off we went with Vic sat there with his headphones on. We got across to France and to a petrol station outside the port and whilst we were filling up, three police cars pulled up, impounded our passports, took us back to the port, pulled the van apart and confiscated the t-shirts as they weren’t on the carnet, fined us most of the money we had for diesel. We were then reliant on the little bit of money we were going to be paid for each show. We had no t-shirts, no food and a few duty frees in the van, some cigarettes and a little bit of cash between us. We were so pissed off that we went to a bar for a drink, had the drink and came out and our van had been broken into and the Walkman and the duty frees had been stolen.
We made it to the first gig, and of course, it was Vic’s first gig with us, the first time we herd him sing. He did fine, he was an excellent front man and we had lyrics taped all over the stage as he didn’t know the words, and luckily for us Mama’s Boys were just brilliant. our road manager (a mate of ours) was an animal of a guy, he was stealing food from shops for us to eat. We had some really weird meals like tomatoes and jam. We were two or three nights into the tour, and I was chatting to Tommy MacManus from Mama’s Boys and he said, where do you guys sleep, and I said, “in the van”. And he was dumbfounded. “we sleep sitting up”. Then he asked about food so we told him and he said there was room for at least two of us in the tour bus which John and I managed to swing so that eased it for the others and he arranged for us to have access to some of the catering which they had provided. Bless him and bless the band. We had a good sound, a sound check which was unusual, and lights, they fed us and let a couple of us on the tour bus and that’s how we got through it. It was a successful tour. We got back and re-recorded Night of the Blade. Then we toured the States which was fine and then Vic fell in love with America, that’s where he wanted to be. We’d been writing and Vic wanted to go in a different direction, so we did ‘Black Hearts & Jaded Spades’, which was a flop.
Another tour came up supporting Blue Öyster Cult and they were paying for everything, but it was a double headline as they weren’t very well known over Europe. So they promised us all the trappings, and a week before we hadn’t got in touch with Vic and we were ringing and the week before I finally managed to get to speak to his dad who told me that Vic had gone to America to live. We were back in the shit, and we managed to get Carl Sentance (Persian Risk) to help but it was totally unworkable by this time. We had no money, the fight with the record company and everything crumbled apart. We rode the crest of the wave, but the scene was changing. We weren’t into the thrash style so it would have been difficult for us.
The Razor’s Edge: You obviously developed your musical tastes in the 1970s. What five albums from that era would you still return to on a regular basis?
Andy: ‘Led Zeppelin II’ and ‘IV’ were rarely off the turntable when they came out. ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and the first two Queen albums. ‘Queen II’ was the album that made me pick up the guitar. I heard it at a friend’s house on a stereo and I heard Ogre’s Battle and that was it. Then I got into Lizzy and UFO. I loved Lizzy. Back then, bands earned a good living from albums and tickets were cheap and tours were only used to promote the albums, not to make any money. Friends and I were out every weekend. We saw AC/DC with Bon Scott, Bad Company, Alex Harvey. There was a list of bands that you could see every week. And that compounded what I wanted to do.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my mother who had perfect pitch and could lift a song easily. I was watching ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the TV and she was knitting. She played piano and was a big opera fan. And I turned to her and said, “now that’s what you call opera, that’s piano playing”. She looked at me, said “what? That?” walked to the piano, lifted the lid and played it note perfect. She shut the lid and turned to me and said “you shouldn’t really cross your hands” like Freddie does in the video. There was always music in the house with my sisters and my dad so that also helped me. That pitch has passed down to me and that’s helped with my music teaching.
The Razor’s Edge: 2011 and Tokyo Blade delivered the solid ‘Thousand Men Strong’ with Nicolaj Rhunow. Did that give you the justification to have got the band back together in 2009?
Andy: Yeah, it did. We had briefly reformed in 1996 for the Burning Down Paradise album which again had no support from the record company. I had an email from a guy in the States who initially suggested that he wanted to help put out a solo album but it turned out he wanted to resurrect Tokyo Blade and be part of the band. Anyway, he paid for me to go out to Michigan for a couple of weeks, so I went out there. He talked about Tokyo Blade and was talking about putting the band together as a new version. I didn’t think there was any call for it. He revealed that there was a band in Detroit, and they were up for it. I was reluctant as I had quite a serious health problem. We went to Detroit and met Chris Gillen. Once I’d heard him sing, I just wanted to work with him, so we ended up doing the American Tokyo Blade.
There was tour organised and part of that was a festival and I was amazed because there were people turning up and youngsters getting into the band. We did a festival and there were 15000 people going nuts for Tokyo Blade. So, on the tour we ended up at the Ruskin Arms which was one of the venues we started out (Obviously it was Maiden’s stomping ground). We had set up and I was walking through the crowd and Andy Wrighton stepped out, so after the show I caught up with him. I ended up staying with him and we went to see John’s band in the Royal Standard. From there we decided to put the band back together although I thought it was too offensive to ask Alan. We put the word out and Nicolaj applied. Chris was just logistically impossible. So Nic was in Germany which was a lot closer. Chris was cool about it.
We did some decent shows, Wacken etc, it wasn’t a band album and it was mixed and produced by Chris Tsangarides but Nic was just the worst diva. We couldn’t work with him. I’d always stayed in touch with Alan and he had discussed writing some stuff which we had. The others suggested I ask him, and he came around one night, and I asked him, and he was back in.
The Razor’s Edge: There has been a massive renewal of interest in the NWOBHM movement. ‘Unbroken’ came right in the middle of this, and band’s like Diamond Head are releasing their best music for decades. Why is there this renewed interest, this nostalgia in an era where there were a lot of not very good bands?
Andy: Yeah, very much so. You’ve hit it on the head with the nostalgia thing. When we did ‘Unbroken’ we recorded it in France but the record company, it was more of a hobby for them and the push didn’t come. So, I took all the takes from the recordings and brought them home and redid them at my studio. It was then mixed, and the album got a good reception. We agreed to record Dark Revolution at my place. Alan wondered if it would be a good idea to go back to the first two albums and pick out the best tracks and re-record them with today’s sound. I said I’d talk to Pete Walker who runs our Facebook page with Dave Carpenter, and get him to sound out the fans. The fans were unanimous that those early songs should be left as they were!
I rarely listen to my own stuff and those two early albums the production is awful but the fans like the music as it was, the rawness, the nostalgia of it all. When I grew up all the pop music was good. And then the NWOBHM scene which was a response to punk, and it became a cult (but bigger). I still get messages from fans of 19 and 20 who have just listened to us on You Tube!
The Razor’s Edge: ‘Dark Revolution’ is the new album out on Friday. Congratulations on it. I think it’s your best work. I would say that it’s also possibly your heaviest work. Was that intentional or did it occur organically?
Andy: Everyone has been very favourable about it. ‘Unbroken’ was well received and for this one to get the same kind of response is good. But I think it was a bit of a backlash against the previous album because although the songs were there the mix was very safe and I thought it was missing the balls to it. There was the odd song such as ‘The Last Samurai’ which links back to ‘Night of the Blade’ but most of my writing just comes out. I churn out riffs. Alan used to call me “Mr Disposable” because I would do something and then just move on. I’ve got a copy of ‘Dark Revolution’ on CD but I probably wont listen to it. I spent three weeks mixing it.
This was the first commercial album I’ve mixed, and I was really paranoid about doing it. Mastering needs to be done by an engineer so I sent the mixes to Gwyn Mathias and I asked him if any of the mixes needed more work and he came back and said only you will know if that bass drum needed more compression on it.
The Razor’s Edge: You must have been floored by the lockdown, just like every other band. How has it affected you and the band?
Andy: We didn’t have that much. We had the one festival at Leyendas Del Rock where they were expecting 25000 with Ratt and The Darkness and which we were due to play a couple of years ago but got stuck in Luton airport and missed the flight but apart from that we don’t have much arranged thank goodness!
The Razor’s Edge: And reviews of the album. Do you spend much time checking them out?
Andy: I normally leave it to others. If people are kind enough to send stuff to me, I’ll read it and get it on the website, but I don’t hunt it on the web. What we’ve had so far has been good. There’s a lot of hard work on the album.