Words and Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
30 years of music from GUN has recently seen them touring with Dan Reed Network and FM with each band showcasing a classic album. An extremely well supported nationwide trek has proven that there are certain times in a band’s career that allow you to simply stop and revisit the reason that the majority of fans latched on to you first time around. In the case of both DRN and FM, ‘Slam’ and ‘Tough It Out’ are great examples of what a band could do second time around when they had really honed their sound but with GUN, things are slightly different.
Hailing from Scotland, 1989 saw the release of the band’s debut album, ‘Taking on The World’ and it’s this release the band showcased on the recent tour. It’s the album that launched their career commercially as well, with some five singles being released from it to critical acclaim and chart success. The band would go on to release 4 albums before disbanding in 1997. During that time, a cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up’ also hit the UK Top 10 and has become a staple feature in the band’s live set since reforming in 2008 [with former Little Angels and current Wayward Sons front man Toby Jepson on the mic] and finally settling on a lineup that saw bassist Dante Gizzi step up to the plate as lead vocalist.
We spoke to Dante about 30 years of music, the seminal debut album and why current release ‘R3L0ADED’ mixes the best of the band with some interesting new covers:
DG: When you look at doing covers, it’s too easy to look at Foo Fighters or Nirvana songs and record them but all you’re making is another rock cover. We wanted to look at taking songs that were a little bit different and make them our own. If you look at what we’ve managed with Blondie’s ‘Union City Blue’ and Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’, we’ve manged to approach it in the same way that Disturbed do their covers. they take pop classics and make it their own, very much in the same way we did with ‘Word Up’. That started off as a rap, pop song and we managed to turn it into a hard rock song. It’s good fun to do it that way, it’s good fun to just recreate something.
Typically a band when presenting a covers album will choose some of the same old classics when presenting an album of cover… opting for the songs we all know so well and to be blunt are a little bit tired of. Kudos then to GUN for trying something that can rightly be described as ‘fresh’.
DG: That was the bottom line to be honest. That really was the desire. It was something we’d been asked to do by the label, to pull together a celebratory album for the 30th anniversary and we thought that if we’d got something with all of the singles on, why not also have something that celebrated the covers that we’re known for as well.
Five of those covers, including ‘Fight For Your Right..’ , ‘Word Up’.. ‘Everyone’s A Winner’, these were all songs we’ve done previously so we figured we could add on to that collection of songs and the final version now has these extras on as well. We did trial some that just didn’t work, a couple of Prince songs for example that we messed around.
Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ worked really, really well. We didn’t change the key of the song, kept it as it was recorded and then just made it feel a little darker. With ‘Success’ I can hear David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the background as I’m singing it and we’ve had fans thinking it is our song, the same with ‘Word Up’ as well, the number of fans that think this is our own material. It’s a compliment.
We wanted that to be represented with the music that had experienced chart success as well. If you at ‘Crazy You’, that did well but came off an album of ours that didn’t fare so well. It was one of the last albums we did before we broke up [in 1997].
The album that Dante refers to of course was ‘0141 632 6326’. A bold move, picking an album title that, at the time, was a live phone number for an update line for the band. The album sadly didn’t fare well, it was simply too poppy for most of the rock fans that GUN has taken on their journey with the previous three releases and aside from the single ‘Crazy You’ it sank without a trace. Every curious we asked Dante what had happened to the number but he assumed we meant the album itself and this is what he had to say:
DG: We were going through some tough times when we did that album. It was tough working with the label, our management at the time and dare I say it even Mark [Rankin, the band’s former lead vocalist] so we had a lot on our minds to try and work through.
We wanted to create an album that sounded something like [INXS classics] ‘Kick’ or ‘Listen Like Thieves’. That’s why we got the services of Andrew Farris in the producer’s chair. It was a tough time in music, the whole scene, the whole rock music culture had taken a massive shift. When bands like Nirvana came around, bands like Pearl Jam as well, introducing the whole grunge scene, it was always going to be difficult for bands who had come from that classic rock scene and sound, coming through that easily.
It always reminds me of the Bon Jovi album, ‘Keep The Faith’. I knew they were releasing a new album, I knew that these new sounds and the scene had already embedded, and if you look at how it performed… they were a band that had come from classic albums, massive songs, huge huge hits… it was a definite turning point. No band managed to come out of that scene without having change their sound.
We were happy that we needed to try something else, we would try and change our sound. It might have worked if Andrew Farris hadn’t been such a difficult man to work with [laughs]. Even though he’d helped write most of the songs on ‘Kick’, he didn’t want to produce something like that because he’d already done it before and didn’t want to recreate it.
At that time we’d already spent a lot of money in the studio and working with Andrew on the album so we didn’t feel like we could back out. So we carried on, it was difficult, there were exceptions, ‘Crazy You’ for example, I’m really happy with. The rest of the album though.. just wasn’t up to standard with what Jools (Gizzi, Dante’s brother and member of GUN since the debut) and I wanted. It definitely caused frictions with us and the management, us and the label and with Mark as well.
I think one of the reasons we decided to come back was because we never got to produce the sound we wanted to move towards with that fourth album. When we released the first new album, ‘Break The Silence’ in 2012, we did it because we thought that we’d still got something to offer.
GUN have subsequently followed that up with ‘Frantic’ and ‘Favourite Pleasures’ leading Dante to state that his time in the band at the moment is the best he’s ever had. He puts it down the length of time he’s been involved in the band and that fact that the current incarnation has now such a huge catalogue of music that doesn’t just focus on the albums that featured Mark Rankin as lead singer.
DG: I feel like I’m in a really strong position right now. We’ll have another new album coming out next year as well, we’re touring well and it’s a great feeling. I feel really comfortable singing the older material as well.
Why wouldn’t you be happy as well? Latest album ‘Favourite Pleasures’ charted at Number 16 in the National UK Charts. The album whose anniversary has just been celebrated, ‘Taking On The World’, peaked at 44. Whilst Swagger, the album that featured ‘Word Up’ remains the band’s high point, reaching number 5 in the charts, there’s no doubting that on current form, GUN are definitely back where they should be once more.
For those that might be interested, the infamous phone number is still live. If you call it now, you’ll be able to book driving lessons with the Scottish company DRM Driving Instructors. Tell them GUN sent you!
The latest album ‘R3L0ADED: The Best of Gun’ is out now and available through all of the usual outlets.
The 2 disc release contains the following GUN classics on disc 1 with disc 2 being a collection of some fascinating and well thought out covers:
1. Don’t Say It’s Over
2. Better Days
3. Break the Silence
4. Higher Ground
5. Something Worthwhile
6. Crazy You
7. Take Me Down
8. Steal Your Fire
9. Favourite Pleasures
10. Taking On The World
1. (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)
2. Every 1’s a Winner
4. Union City Blue
5. Word Up
7. Rock the Casbah
8. Take Me To Church
9. Everybody Knows
Our review of their recent London show with DRN and FM can be found here: