Ais (Hear No Evil Recordings) Records
Our first exposure to Pig Irön was through an ad in Classic Rock 2005. The band had this heir of mystery about them coming out of nowhere with a professional sound, focused direction and ready to take the world by storm. Truth is - they’d been around since 2001 and become friends of Iron Maiden’s Brice Dickinson. At the time, the band were a rough and tumble biker outfit more along the lines of Monster Magnet, Motörhead and Pentagram. After tours with Budgie and Orange Goblin the band entered the studio in 2004 and begin recording their debut EP The Law & the Road Are One. Mid-way through recording they were invited to play a gig in Sweden and ended up taping a live show for what would become Helvete Ja! Live In Sweden released some years later. Their 2005 debut was met with grand praise as Classic Rock declared, “Big rock is back!” The first pressing quickly sold out while it took another 18 months for their next platter to arrive. In 2007 Pig Irön returned with The Paths of Glory...Lead But To The Grave and a tour with the reformed Waysted. They become festival favorites at Hard Rock Hell and in 2010 release Blues+Power=Destiny their sound now more entrenched in classic rock. We caught up with bassist Hugh Gilmour on the eve of the band’s current release IV to give us a more detailed history lesson on the best Southern Comfort to come out of the UK. We give you Pig Irön.
The Cutting Edge: What brought the band together? How did you know each other?
HUGH: From my own perspective, I saw the film “Almost Famous” in 2000 at the cinema had what some might describe as an epiphany, but others may describe as a mid-life crisis, as it made me want to be in a rock band again. I was good friends with Dave Pattenden (guitar) and Joe Smith (drums) from work. Johnny Ogle I met when we both joined this stoner rock/Sabbath/Kyuss type band, and I thought he had a great voice. When the stoner thing collapsed, I called all three guys to have a jam, which would have been the summer 2001. The rest, as they say, is history.
TCE: Did you know Bruce Dickinson prior to forming the band? Did he play a big role in spreading the band’s name?
HUGH: I've known Bruce since 1995, and have worked on every one of his solo albums in some capacity ever since. He loved our first CD, particularly the Aleister Crowley themed “The Pentagram”, which he played on his BBC radio show in the UK 12 times in one year alone. Prior to that, we'd played a three song session for him, which included a Deep Purple cover with Bruce singing. Amazing, really. His BBC6 Music radio show was fantastic, and much missed. It reminded me of listening to Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show as a kid.
TCE: Has your association with key rock magazines (Classic Rock, Kerrang!) helped?
HUGH: I used to think it didn't hurt, but the truth is that if they didn't like what they heard then they wouldn't review it. And when they don’t like it, then they don’t review it. When "The Law And The Road Are One" came out in 2005, there was a genuine sense that Classic Rock were championing us as something they found refreshing. We were up for best new band at the inaugural Classic Rock awards too, but it went to The Answer.
TCE: I know you work a day job and also play in the band. Is this is self-funded group? Are there hopes to go at it full-time?
HUGH: I do the band’s CD and poster artwork, book and design adverts, run both our record labels, book many of the gigs, run the website, arrange the overseas transport when we’ve played abroad, book rehearsals, look after the budgeting, chase any due payments, so it already feels pretty damn near full-time! The band essentially pays for itself. Recording is expensive. Gigging is expensive, especially when you consider the miles you can notch up getting to play one, single gig. We can play a big festival, sell a load of merchandise and still only break even. We have to love doing this.
TCE: Sweden took to you right away - you even recorded “Helvete Ja! Live In Sweden” there. Why Sweden?
HUGH: EMI's product manager in Stockholm, the guy who looked after Maiden's releases in Sweden, put Dave in touch with an EMI Sweden band called Mustasch, who invited us over to support them in Malmo in 2004. It must have gone OK as they invited us back six months later to play in Gothenburg and Stockholm. Mustasch really looked after us, and we were never really able to repay that generosity. People assume bands have lots of rivalries between them, but we absolutely loved Mustasch, and would watch their whole set from the side of the stage. One of their friends invited us back to Sweden in 2008 to headline a club, which again was a lot of fun, but it would have been nice to play with Mustasch again.
TCE: How has the band’s sound developed?
HUGH: In many ways, the sound was intact from the start, as our early covers were 1960s and 1970s songs by KISS, Ted Nugent, MC5, Motorhead, AC/DC, Guess Who, Deep Purple, Cream, Pentagram etc. I keep reading reviews that say we're southern and we're swampy, but apart from the harp, I can't hear it myself. They see a cowboy hat and make a uninformed decision based on that. I always wanted us to sound a bit Zeppelin, a bit Who, a bit Sabbath and a bit Purple. Free are the single biggest influence on the original version of Lynyrd Skynyrd anyway, so draw your own conclusions.
TCE: Is it true you produced the first record “The Law And The Road Are One” for 150 quid? What do you remember from that first recording session? How does the record sit with you now 7-8 years later? Plus “The Paths of Glory...Lead But To The Grave” took 18-month. Why so long?
HUGH: Essentially, Dave (Pattenden) recorded and engineered the first two CDs, which he did in his home studio. The backing tracks were recorded in a very basic set up, with the whole band playing live in a shitty studio just to get a rough backing track, then Dave rebuilt it all from scratch. The basic studio was where the £150 was spent, and listening to the untreated results before overdubbing, I think we were ripped off! Ha, ha! I think Dave did an amazing job with absolutely no resources, and both of those first two CDs received great reviews across the board, but I think we lost a hell of a lot of ground in the 18 months it took to finish “Paths Of Glory…”.
Why did it take 18 months? Firstly, I'm sorry to say this, but recording everything yourself in a home set-up does give you a lot of freedom, but it was far too time consuming, and after "Paths Of Glory…" I said we weren't going to record like that again. It almost split the band, as Johnny was threatening to quit if we didn't pull our fingers out and finish it. We are all very busy people, but Dave would often get called off to go to Buenos Aires or Toronto or somewhere with little or no notice, and Pig Irön suffered accordingly. People should put their livelihoods first, and I was happy with the end results, but ultimately it led us to recording the next album in Toe Rag Studios, which took a total of six days.
I don’t think Ben (Ash, guitars) or Dave were particularly impressed with Toe Rag, but myself, Johnny and Joe loved its analogue, old-school set-up. I also think that sonically “Paths Of Glory…” was quite challenging for us. I was listening to it recently on headphones, and I had forgotten how much is going on. There's a lot of sounds on there beyond a guitar, bass, vocals, harp and drums. Of course, this led to a very muddy, murky mix which was salvaged by getting Kevin Shirley's mastering engineer to master it for us. We’ve been pulling favours left right and centre from day one.
TCE: How did the Waysted tour go? Any words-of-wisdom from Pete?
HUGH: I love UFO and Pete Way, and am working on a UFO box set at the moment. They are legends, and most underrated. It was an honour to share a stage with Pete, Fin and the Waysted guys, but as much as I wanted to ask Pete a million questions, I didn't want to hassle him too much either. He was in quite a bad way at the time, but I recently had lunch with his new manager, as I'm reissuing "Vices" and "Save Your Prayers" on Hear No Evil, and it sounds like Pete has cleaned himself up, which is a relief. Those Waysted gigs in 2008 were some of the best we’ve ever played, especially The Yardbirds in Grimsby for the Warlocks motorcycle club.
TCE: Did “Blues+Power=Destiny” really only take four days to record? What were the pros and cons of quick recording?
HUGH: "Blues+Power=Destiny" was recorded in two sessions two years apart. The first session was two days and the second session was four days, recorded two years later, and I loved every minute of it. It wasn't planned that way, but the time delay was due in part to a lack of material, and also a lack of funds, as we were paying for everything ourselves. Some songs are more loved than others, but one of the reasons we take so long to put out a new album is that everything has to be right, and that includes the quality of the songs and music. I'm proud to say that in my opinion, there's been no filler on our albums. The latest album “IV” was recorded in two bursts exactly a year apart, so maybe we’re getting quicker. "Blues+Power=Destiny" was also released on vinyl, which I’m really proud of.
TCE: Most memorable gig so far? Are festivals intimidating?
HUGH: Hard Rock Hell VI last December was brilliant fun, and possibly one of the best of our career to date. It's a very well run, organized festival, which makes our job so much easier. My hangover was so bad (again!) that I was not really nervous at all. I was in too much pain! We also got Krusher Joule to introduce us, which again gets everybody riled up and in the right mood. We've played with lots of bands; Iron Maiden, Budgie, Stray, Orange Goblin, Leaf Hound, The Answer…I lose track!
TCE: Who would you still like to tour with?
HUGH: There was talk… twice… of us supporting Skynyrd. It would have been amazing, but it evidently wasn't to be. Danny from Thunder told us he thought our sound was very "epic", and as much as I used to have some romantic notion of being some biker bar band thrashing away in some smoky bar behind a mesh of chicken wire, I think a nice big arena support tour would be just the ticket.
TCE: Did the addition of Dan Edwards change the sound of the band? Any of the new songs on “IV” standing out as ones your most proud of? You recorded “Another Mule...” with Emma Wilson, would you ever consider bringing on a female vocalist full time (i.e. Black Oak Arkansas)?
HUGH: Dan has a really good voice, so that has certainly broadened things out when it comes to reproducing vocal melodies, plus he’s a great guitarist and accomplished song writer too. He also is a top, funny guy, who fits in perfectly with the rest of us, and our often oblique senses of humour. I quite like having a female voice on the albums, as Emma sang a bit of backing on “B+P=D”, and Hannah Curton from Coda sang with Johnny on “Paths of Glory…”. I had actually wanted to ask Lynne from Saint Jude to duet with Johnny on ‘Carve Your Name’ on the new album, but didn't have the guts to ask her. I have a habit of drunkenly asking people to guest on our albums when I've had a drink or ten (Luke Morley, Andrew Bown and Bruce, to name but three!), and they agree, but then when times comes to it, I don't have the gumption to ask.
TCE: There was a US jazz-rock band also called Pig Iron (Columbia, 1971), has that ever come up in conversation?
HUGH: I have that LP, as a friend brought it back from America for me quite a few years ago, but you're the first to ever bring it up. Didn’t know about them (or any other group) called Pig Iron when I first suggested the name to Dave in 1998, so what can you do? This band started in 2001, and the internet was still in its relative infancy as far as that degree of detail is concerned. There was already a band called Nirvana. There was already a band called Iron Maiden. There was already a band called The Charlatans. But guess what? We're Pig Iron with an umlaut over the “O”, and there's only been one of them!
Many thank to the great and noble Hugh Gilmour and his band Pig Irön.
Website: Pig Irön, Hugh Gilmour