Bristol’s Jaguar are a pioneering band of the prime NWOBHM era. Forming in 1979 shortly after leaving school, their first gig was just prior to the coining of the term NWOBHM by Geoff Barton. Guitarist Garry Peppard and bassist Jeff Cox were joined by singer Rob Reiss and the then 16-year-old Chris Lovell on speed beats. The band were typically influenced by the usual metal gods Motörhead, Priest, Sabbath, UFO and Deep Purple but Garry particularly was also a huge fan of punk. As a result they quickly developed a distinctly fast and raw sound that influenced the birth of speed metal. Jaguar, alongside their friends Raven and Venom were the fastest bands around in the early ’80s. Their pioneering speed and heaviness undoubtedly helped birth the thrash Metal monster that still stalks today.
A couple of killer demos in ’80 and ’81 led to the fast-selling single ‘Back Street Woman’ (Heavy Metal Records, 1981). The band then parted ways with singer Rob Reiss and tracked down Paul Merrell (ex-Stormbringer) to voice their classic period. Legendary label Neat Records snapped them up at this point for the 1982 single ‘Axe Crazy’ and the fantastic ‘Power Games’ (Neat Records, 1983) album.
Jaguar famously took many trips to a Holland with Raven at during this peak period. These tours, and their passionate Dutch fans, were documented in the brilliant ‘Dutch Connection’ track on ‘Power Games’. At these shows the crowd would shout “Faster!” at the band who were only too happy to oblige. Speed metal was being born as the crowd pleaser it swiftly became.
Jaguar broke up in 1985 after the relative failure of the comparatively melodic ‘This Time’ album (Roadrunner, 1984) but returned in 1998 and have been present ever since. The current line-up has been fairly solid for the last 14 years and the band are still winning new fans, not only due to their back catalogue but also recent albums and reliably killer live shows. Founding member Garry is now joined by singer Jamie Manton, drummer Nathan Cox and Darren Furze on bass. Jaguar have barely changed musically in all this time and are still one of the very best live bands on the scene. Iron Fist caught up with guitarist and main man Garry Peppard on the eve of a new album and free London show in December.
You still rip it live. How do you keep it so natural and raw? Most of the older bands clean it up and it can often sound rather lame!
Garry Peppard: “Well from my point of view I can only play one way, I couldn’t clean it up if I tried! The other guys want it to be as raw as possible too so we’re all pulling in the same direction. I hate bands that go soft.”
How do you feel about the recent resurgence in ‘good’ metal? You’ve played some great metal festivals in Europe and Live Evil here in the UK. Good times?
“Yes indeed. A lot of older bands like us are getting back together, which is healthy for the whole scene, I think. In mainland Europe I don’t think the interest has ever gone away as we’ve been doing festivals there since 1999. Maybe it’s younger metal fans discovering there’s life in us old dogs yet.”
Have you seen any other old bands playing now that you like?
“Obviously there’s Maiden and Motörhead to name two. But we’ve played with some great older bands like Diamond Head and Vicious Rumors. Elixir are pretty good too.”
Back to Jaguar, you always seem very humble considering how good and ahead of the time your music was. You lack any bitterness that some bands seem suffer from slightly. Is that the case?
“I keep my bitterness well hidden. Seriously though, I suppose I could be bitter if I thought about it. But I think the way things turned out is down in a large part to mistakes of our own making. If I look back at decisions we made, I think ‘What the hell did we do that for?’. With hindsight of course that’s easy to say. You could also argue that we didn’t get that required slice of luck that all successful bands have somewhere in their history.”
Well there is still time. But did you – at the time – notice the brats in the States around ’83 stealing the Raven, Jaguar, Venom sound? Do you think Metallica did steal riffs?
“[Laughs] Yes, the new kids on the block! Metallica stole our song ‘Stormchild’ and turned it into one of their own songs. I’ve got a copy of the interview at home where Lars laughs about it and admits it. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me I should sue them. It’s flattering though. Lars owes me a beer or two!”
Would you be happy to accept it if I said you are one of the most underrated guitarists around?
“I would say thank you very much. I don’t hear that said very often [laughs].”
Well no problem… what do you use – gear wise to get your sound? Anything special? And is the same as always or has varied over the years?
“I guess, as people say, with guitar players, a large part of their sound is literally in their hands. Gear wise though I’m a Gibson and Marshall man, although I have got other amps I can use. I’ve got a couple of genuine old ’80s pedals on my board that I use too. Maybe they help. But really I think it’s all in the way I play.”
Does Jaguar feel very special and personal to you now after so long?
“Yeah, I guess so as it’s been a part of my life since I was 19 years old. It won’t be there forever but for now I can handle it. If Mick Jagger can keep going then so can I.”
Let’s go back to 1979 formation. Does anything stand out about the way you formed?
“Yes, how young Chris Lovell was when he joined. He was only 16 years old and was driven around by his mum. In fact for the first couple of years none of us were old enough to hire a van. We always had to get someone to drive for us.”
What were your general early influences?
“The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, I’m an old punk at heart. Steve Jones was and still is one of my favourite guitar players. I was also a massive UFO and Motörhead fan and Maiden totally blew me away when I saw them in 1979. I saw Van Halen in 1978 and they were awesome. All power and energy! I’d never seen anything like it.”
Was late ’70s Bristol isolated metal-wise? Or vibrant?
“Well, in my view Bristol never really had a metal scene, back then or now. Metal shows at the Colston Hall and The Granary Club were great but that was about it. It’s more about the dance and trip hop thing in Bristol.”
So punk was an influence on your playing. Was there as much of that around generally in the UK as we hear there was?
“In Bristol, where I grew up, I saw all the greats; The Clash, Ramones, Stranglers and so on, but that was generally pre-1979. My love of it never went away though, it just got mixed in with my metal influences I guess.”
Heavy Metal Records put out the early Jaguar stuff. ‘Back Street Woman’ sold 4,000 copies quickly but they didn’t repress it. That seems a bit silly of them?
“I don’t remember why they didn’t repress, but yes, it does seem silly. My guess is we’d moved swiftly on to Neat Records and so didn’t follow issues up.”
Neat Records seems so untouchably cool now to the new generation of metal heads. Do you agree?
“Signing to Neat was a dream for us as they had the coolest bands like Raven and Venom. We jumped at the chance to join them. They were the[$itals] NWOBHM label at the time and we were honoured. Yeah, suffice to say we were real happy.”
You were close with Raven and did many ‘Dutch Connection’ trips. Any good stories of memories from that time?
“I have so many great memories from that period. I have to say that Raven were not only our friends but a big influence on us. Again they had the massive energy thing going on. I remember Rob Hunter being one of the most original drummers I’d seen. His drum fills were unique and he insisted on travelling everywhere by train.”
Are you still in touch with the Raven guys?
“Yes, on email and stuff. We hope to play with them again sometime.”
And Venom’s Cronos worked at Neat’s studio right? Was he as fun to hang out with he appears?
“He worked on ‘Power Games’ with us and was a great guy, but we never hung out with him socially or anything. I never got to know him really well.”
You have loads of great tracks in your catalogue but ‘Axe Crazy’ seems to be the stand out for a lot of people. Do you have a favourite to play?
“It does doesn’t it? And there are a few covers of it on YouTube. People always call out for it when we play live and we’re happy to oblige! As to a favourite, well that’s probably ‘Dutch Connection’.”
And ‘Power Games’, is such a catchy and fast album too. Was it a fun one to record?
“I’m not sure fun is the word. We only had five days to record it so we weren’t too pleased about that, as I recall. It could have been so much better if we’d had more time. When I asked Dave Wood, the then owner of Neat, for more time he asked me if I was going on a fishing holiday. But I’m proud of the way in which people hold the album in such high regard.”
Do you regret the somewhat more melodic sound of the (still excellent) 1984 follow-up album ‘This Time’?
“I regret the fact that we changed our style so dramatically. What a career killing mistake that was! I don’t regret the album though. There are some decent songs on it and I’m very proud of it. All we were trying to do was to write better songs. But unfortunately we never thought what our fans might make of it. I’ve met people since who have apologised for giving me a hard time about it back then and they tell me actually they quite like the album, which is nice.”
Coming nearer to the present day then. How did you find new singer Jamie Manton for the reformation in the late ’90s?
“We stole Jamie from another band! Nathan had seen him playing with this particular band and thought he would be perfect for us. So we set about trying to track him down. Eventually he did find him and luckily for us Jamie accepted our invitation.”
He’s an awesome front man. The pogo stick is his trademark I guess?
“[Laughs] Yes he is! The pogo stick mic stand is unusual. In fact I’ve never seen another singer with such a thing. He falls off it now and again and of course we’ve got to watch our feet when we play!”
Your second era has been quite a while now. Is it still building?
“Yes it has, it’s been twice as long as it was the first time around. Still building? Yep, although everything takes a long time to get together now, not being 21 anymore and having families and stuff.”
How does it feel to be considered a bit of a metal legend by the new generation underground scene?
“I’m not sure about ‘metal legend’ [laughs]. If we’ve influenced some bands then that’s great and it definitely makes me proud. As does seeing bands covering our songs, that’s brilliant!”
Are you looking forward to your London solo show in December? You’re playing ‘Power Games’ in full, right?
“Oh yeah, I’ve had a look at the venue’s website and it looks like a proper old rock venue. It’s gonna be a good ‘un.”
Any advice for young bands starting up now and expecting glory?
“Yeah, don’t bother! No, only joking. Life for new rock bands is totally different to when we were first starting up. There are virtually no major label deals to be had anymore and web issues to contend with. It’s never been more difficult. On the other hand there are still loads of smaller labels out there and being able to do it yourself on the web is great. So opportunities are still out there. Bands will need to be resilient and stick at it. Learn your trade. Oh, and not forgetting that slice of luck of course.”
Do you have any spare copies of the demos lying around? Wink wink!
“[Laughs] Nice try Marek! On cassette no. On CD yes, no problem!”
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