UK-based metallions Neuronspoiler have just come back from a tour with former Judas Priest alumnus Ripper Owens... vocalist JR Vox kept a diary of what went down...
It is sunny, which is unusual in the UK. I got a call from my Dad the day before the tour began asking about safety and how I felt taking Neuronspoiler on tour following the terrorist attack at a concert in Manchester days earlier. I reassured him that we would be fine and that carrying on with the business of entertaining folks across the country was the best way to keep calm and carry on.
In truth the Manchester bombings weighed heavily on my mind, but I was not about to let anything get in the way of our ambitious ten day, non-stop tour with one of the finest metal singers in the business; namely Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.
I had negotiated the tour with the booking agent and felt a great deal of responsibility taking the boys out on the road. I was ably supported by my crew and the first order of business was to secure a vessel. That’s where the RV came in. At first sight she reminded me of girlfriends past. She was ugly but generous and not very demanding. Perfect. We would save money on hotel and hostel bills by sleeping in the motor home on the streets of this great nation. Ambitious to say the least.
The first journey was a long distance to travel from London to Cardiff but anticipation was high that this will be a great tour.
The gig that night was rather uneventful. A modest turnout greeted the bands on the night but that did nothing to dampen the delivery that is synonymous with a Neuronspoiler gig. We played well despite the usual technical gremlins. We were exhausted but adrenaline carried us through and we completed our set and I got my first chance to speak with Ripper backstage. I found him to be a gracious and humble man who looks you in the eye as he speaks with a matter of fact approach while maintaining that typical American confidence.
In Cardiff town centre after the gig we grabbed something to eat and considered our sleeping arrangements. I finished my meal all too quickly and looked up to notice that were being flashed by a youngish lady outside the restaurant window. She saw us in our stage gear all studded and leathered, instantly knew we were a heavy metal band and concluded that this was the appropriate time to get her twins out. She stayed for what seemed, in beer time, like an eternity with her lovely pair of breasts pressed up against the shop glass front as she swayed hypnotically in a somewhat bizzare window washing routine. Her friend had to drag her away, however she kept waving to us but eventually and reluctantly, retreated to safety. Beware the power of rock and roll folks.
After a great first show I reflected on my conversation with Ripper; we mostly talked about Dio and I tried to convince him that we were both evangelists for our art. I’m not sure he bought what I was selling. The boys from his backing bad Sandstone are a great bunch of lads from Northern Ireland. We headed to a nearby campsite and after one of the hottest days of the year in the UK, there was a massive thunderstorm at 4 AM when we finally go to bed.
One of the things that struck me on this tour, lightning notwithstanding, is how many people in the UK crave heavy metal. I have long held the belief that heavy metal (and punk) is the voice of the British public. It was after all, created and perfected here, despite what the Scandinavians may be peddling at the time of writing.
We enjoyed a great gig in Evesham and met lots of great local metalheads. There was however the small matter of technical gremlins which would plague our beloved bass player Erick Tekilla. His wireless transmitter stopped working for the final songs at the gig in Cardiff. His bass amp was acting up and he faced issues for the whole gig in Evesham but managed to carry on. I also had technical issues as the channel on my wireless in ear monitor suddenly ‘died’ after two songs rendering it useless. Without time to investigate the issue properly, I sang the rest of the set without it. The audience didn’t notice the technical issues and really enjoyed the show. We know this because they told us as much after the gig. In some places we have played there is a sort of shyness on the part of the audience to engage with bands after the show. No such issues with the British gig goers, they will tell you exactly what they think of you, and rightly so.
On the road, when you’re together as a band 24/7 driving for long periods at a time, the arguments over who your favourite band is somehow morph into who your favourite porn star is. Oddly many of the points of reference are the same; remembering those who have gone into retirement, the golden age, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, the more obscure the better and being generally disapproving of performers switching genres.
Tonight, before a very appreciative audience we played on the largest stage of the tour so far at Bierkeller in Bristol. We had a longer set and threw in an additional song, Invincible Man from our album Emergence.
Also tonight we welcomed the legendary singer Steve Grimmett, his wife Millie and guitarist Ian North who came to visit. Steve and Ripper are friends and the two of them caught up backstage after the show. I knocked on the door as they were holding court, not really having earned my seat at such a prestigious gathering. I had my fanboy moment took a pic and promptly exited. I came away with a cherished memory and this photo of me flanked by my heroes.
Monday night and we are in Birmingham, the birthplace of heavy metal. We all wonder why heavy music seems to be dying and why fans don’t come to venues anymore. One of the reasons for this came into sharp focus tonight. The venue’s sound engineer managed to piss off every member of each band during a short, sharp sound check. During our check, the engineer started cursing at me, effing and blinding and I got really, really angry. I screamed the words of Take the Stage at him in a rage, and folks as you know I’m pretty loud. After a while I got fed up and walked off. A short while later I had a word with the engineer and said that I felt he was being disrespectful. This engineer, who shall remain nameless, then left his sound desk walked over and squared up to me as if fixing for a fight. I managed to calm him down after he said something to the effect that he does not care about prima donna wannabe stars, or past it stars. I said I’m not any of those things and that I’m simply a musician who wants to do a good job. This seemed to strike a chord with the feisty fella and he backed down from his stance, we shook hands and got on with the show like professionals. If there is a reason why the music scene is dying it is in part because of misunderstandings like this. I don’t blame him for his behaviour, he has probably seen more than his fair share of bad attitudes, tantrums and egomaniacs.
But in any case, to hell with that guy, because news came in that KK Downing, the former Judas Priest guitarist will be coming down to the show. Backstage before the show, the nerves started creeping in ever so slightly.
KK did come down to the show in Bilston, and Ripper Owens was in inspired form. I sat at the merch stand nodding my head along to the searing vocals, totally and utterly impressed. This was a next level performance from a man who gives his all each and every night. I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the production of the two Priest albums featuring The Ripper on vocals, but throughout the tour I’ve come to love the live versions of Jugulator, Bullet Train and the emotional Lost and Found, which is my personal favourite.
I sat backstage with my band Neuronspoiler, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens himself and the one and only KK Downing. We were just chilling out, had a beer and I flew into full pseudo-journalist mode and proceeded to interview them both. I asked KK about the decision to choose Ripper over the other well known candidates. Ripper interjected that it was mostly down to his own good looks. I mentioned to Ripper that the ‘Spoilers heard that KK was coming to the show and we were nervous as hell and I asked if he felt nervous playing in front of the man he idolised. Ripper said that he feels like such a part of the same family that he considers “Ken” to be a good friend and his commitment to his profession takes him where he needs to be in his performance. I also asked them about autobiographies and Ripper said that, should he decide to write one, KK’s would make for very interesting reading.
I found KK to be extremely generous with his time, taking photos with fans in the general audience downstairs seemingly for an eternity. KK, like Ripper looks you in the eye when he speaks, with the quiet confidence of a man whose humble demeanour belies his guitar God status. He seemed tickled by the fact that the boys in Neuronspoiler come from such a diverse background and that we managed to find a commonality in British heavy metal. We thanked everyone in the room, twice, and headed back to the RV totally buzzing about meeting our childhood hero.
Westcliff-on-Sea came and went without too much bother. We had to put up with yet another incompetent sound engineer. This was the last show for opening support band Lady Jane’s Revenge as they ended their run on the tour.
Now all the way up to sunny Edinburgh where they put on a fabulous gig in underground cellar. I’m really impressed by Scottish metalheads and their love for music. We had a great turnout, with a very vocal crowd, and lots of love showed to Neuronspoiler. On this night was saw an old friend of the band, Stuart Armour. The boys sampled a bit of the Edinburgh night life with the members of Sandstone. We also received origami presents from one Japanese fan.
It is the first of June and we are in Newcastle where we had an amazing venue with the best sound guy ever. The crowd response was phenomenal and at this gig I got called up on stage to share a song with Ripper. A memory I will cherish forever. Stuart Armour made the trip to two shows. Poor man will never be rid of us. After the show, my bass player spent the morning until 5am roaming the streets of Newcastle in underpants looking for a place to relieve himself. I still don’t know if he found something and I didn’t stick around to find out.
The next gig in Pentre (Deeside) went off without a hitch. I was personally honoured to play a venue that was once a “working men’s hall”. Our favourite bands played working men’s halls from Saxon to Maiden, Priest to Deep Purple, especially during their early days. They are a British institution and form the very foundation of the heavy side of live music. Our Italian opening act Echotime played brilliantly. A quick trip to Liverpool city centre on a Friday night proved to be very educational indeed and we ended up getting a free taxi ride after arguing with the driver only to be put out of the cab in the middle of nowhere. Look what we found, Derek Riggs inspired graffiti. Give me this over Banksy any day.
Next on to Grimsby. There is the word grim in the name of the town we played in tonight but I’m happy to report that name and nature don’t always coincide, even though my guitar player ended the gig with his face covered in blood.
Loads of technical issues on the night, the curse of the bass player seems to be never ending and with the stage configuration being restrictive, both bass player and guitar player were on top of each other all gig long. Naturally the bass player smacked his bass against David‘s head and the bass went horribly out tune. Erick ran off stage to tune it leaving us without any bottom end for a fraction of a song. I had terrible issues with my vocal health as exhaustion and hay fever started interfering with my delivery. At one stage I thought I would need to walk off stage unable to sing but after a couple of songs I adapted my body to accommodate the inability to breathe freely.
At the end, I thanked the crowd in the usual manner and turn to walk off stage and noticed that my guitar player David had a large gash on his forehead with a stream of blood covering his face. He somehow managed to smash himself pretty hard in the face with his own guitar. Somewhat hilarious but also indicative of what happens on a cramped stage with an acrobat of a guitar player.
Later that night we made up for his pain by driving off while our other guitarist Pierre was paying for petrol and he had to run after the RV through the cold night with his arms flailing like Kevin from Home Alone. Good times.
On to the final date of the tour and we finish the tour as we started it, with news of a terrorist attack, this time in London. Not the way I would have wanted to bookend a UK tour, but London reminded us of the undefeatable spirit of defiance that heavy metal also embodies.
It’s sunny again. We enjoyed a great final show in London where former Judas Priest drummer Les Binks joins The Ripper for three amazing songs. This was probably our best show, with no technical concerns and we ended the tour on a high.
I ended the night with four measures of dark rum; neat, no ice, no lemon in a single glass. The smoky sweet liquid seared my throat and I finally earned that drink to mark the end of the tour.
I am proud of my band, my bandmates, the friends and fans we met along the way, the pilots and co-pilots (Alec and Boril) who got us to our destinations safely, the booking agent (Jose) the support and backing bands and road dogs that toured with us and the many promoters who worked so hard to make this a successful run of shows. There is a lot of hard work that goes into preparing for a tour like this, but at the end of the day it is us the band who must perform. Despite our exhausted, zombie-like state during the day, we all snapped into action when it was show time at night.
The greatest testament I can pay to my band mates, is that after such a long time living, sleeping, snoring, gigging, arguing, laughing and being with each other, at the end of the tour we all wanted to get up and do the same thing all over again. After a well-deserved rest that is.
The next day I called my Dad and told him the tour went well.