Interview: Mark Rankin, Gun

Gunning for Glory

The first time Gun and myself met was in an empty Town and Country Club, as the band were soundchecking prior to yet another sell-out gig in support of their debut LP Taking on the World. On stage five figures toy around with their instruments, before guitarist Baby Stafford,  resplendent in Rolling Stones t-shirt,  strikes out the opening riff to Start Me Up, and the band cruise through this latter-day Stones classic more than competently.

A pointer to the bands influences aside, this may seem insignificant were I not, some two months later, on the phone to lead vocalist Mark Rankin who's babbling rather excitedly.

"When we found out about the tour, we were in America playing in clubs and things. We've actually been on the road for 14 months, and to go from playing too like a hundred people in clubs to suddenly getting the news that you're coming back to Europe to play to like 50-60,000 people a night comes as something of a surprise."
What is such a surprise to the young singer should be common knowledge to readers by the time they cast a glance over this interview, but for now Mark is little short of gobsmacked at Gun being named one of the support bands for the European leg of The Rolling Stones 25th anniversary tour. Not that playing to such vast audiences should come as too much of a shock to the Scottish five-piece, as they've already supported fellow countrymen Simple Minds at Wembley Stadium.
"We have played to this amount of people and in venues this large, but only on one or two occasions," he points out. "This is like six weeks with most of the shows sold out. It's just remarkable, when you think about it, that one band can play to so many people. I don't think there's any other band in the world that could do it. Maybe your Springsteens or your U2s could just about do it, but it's an awful lot of people."
Regardless of the impressive size of the tour, it remains quite a feather in one's cap.
"Yeah," he agrees, "but we've heard rumours back home that people are more than just a little bit jealous, and to put the record straight, our record company found out that the stones were looking for a young band to support them, and they sent our videos and CD to their office. The next thing we knew was that they'd listened to some sixty bnds and Mick Jagger had chosen us to do the tour. We were very fortunate to get it."
So what was the reaction in the Gun camp when news came through?
"At first it was disbelief. I think we were in Dallas when it was confirmed. There had been a rumour going around about two weeks before, and myself, Giuliano (Gizzi, the band's other guitarist), and our road manager knew it might be a possibility, but I tended to think it was a bit of a vicious rumour. People were also talking about people like ZIGGY MARLEY, FAITH NO MORE, and DAN REED NETWORK,  so we just thought we were in with a load of other bands. When it was confirmed it really was disbelief. We had two weeks left on tour in America before we came over to do the first Rotterdam show, and those American dates suddenly became very insignificant, ha ha. Everyone's mind was on the Stones tour."
It would appear that all has been running very smoothly, with Gun being well looked after by a band they are so obviously very much in awe of.
"I never thought a band this big could be so down-to-earth and helpful. In America we supported a lot of local bands and they treated us like, 'You can't use these monitors or that much of the PA.' But, with the Stones, it's been like, 'Used as much PA, lights and stage as you like.' You've got to admire them for that, even if no one's going to be able to blow this Stones off stage. We are just very happy to be what I suppose is a part of history. Who knows if they'll ever tour again."

"When we were told we were doing it, there was a lot of realism about what it was going to be like. We are not going to sell millions of albums on this tour, but what we are going to do is get the band known. The exposure and prestige is the thing. After this tour a lot of people are going to know who Gun are and a lot of people are going to have seen us. It stands us in good stead for the next album."
The band will be playing three dates at Wembley Stadium, before leaving the tour after the gig in Glasgow, from whence DAN REED NETWORK look set to take over. A nice touch, allowing the band to end the tour on home turf,  so to speak. But it looks like the band will be straight back on the road after that.
"Well, we've just released Taking on the World as a single in America, and if that takes off then we are going to be back over there. If it doesn't take off, then we'll start work on the next album, because by the time that will be finished there'll be a two-year gap between the two, and that's a long time.

After Glasgow we might have a couple of weeks off to see families and friends, and then we'll start on the next album. Taking on the World is, I think, fairly  representative of the band,  but we've learned an awful lot since then.  I think the next album will be along with the same lines, with melodies and guitars, but we'll try to make the songs better. I think it will be a lot more raw sounding, more towards the live sound. Hopefully, we'll have the songs ready so we'll be able to go in and play them as live as we can."
So, how did Mark feel the band had come on with all the touring they'd done?
"With our first album, when we released it, we decided we were going to play anywhere we could, you know. We haven't sold millions and millions of records, but we've laid a lot of ground work, and made a lot of friends in both America and England. We always said it would be a three-album thing. You know, it would have to build. We knew we weren't going to do one and a half million on the first album. It's just not that sort of music."

"In the beginning, you're so naive you just wanna go out and do it, you know. After a while it's still pretty much the same. When we first went to Europe, it was so hard because you go to all these places you've heard of but never been to, and then, when you go back to tour England, it's like a holiday, you know. Then, when you go to America and play all these places in the middle of nowhere, then going back to Europe becomes like a holiday. You learn and get used to life on the road. Living out of a suitcase becomes a way of life when you first hit the road. You miss your family and your friends, but it's all part of this life. You've got to go away for months on end. But hopefully it'll all be worth it."
Being a rock band, it would seem, as Mark points out, Gun will need a fair amount of time to build a truly successful fan base. It took the likes of BON JOVI, EUROPE, and BRYAN ADAMS some three albums to really start getting noticed, and Gun would appear to be a similar case. Not similar, however, is the fact that they’re British and signed to a British record label. With "rock" almost being a dirty word in this country, it would appear to be fortunate to be signed to a label (A&M) who seem to understand just what is required to break the band big time.
"When we signed in 1987, a lot of people were interested, and we looked at labels like Warner Brothers or CBS, and we looked at the bands they had," announces Mark. "We didn't want to be a band who, if they didn't sell a million albums on their debut, were dropped. Look at bands like FM,  TOBRUK, and SHY. Where are they now?  You know, if you didn't get like Bon Jovi sales on your debut, then you were dropped! And, at Warner's, as soon as someone like PRINCE or MADONNA comes into town, you're insignificant and no one wants to know.

When we signed to A&M, we said that it was going to be a long-term thing. It would take two or three albums, and a lot of tour support before it was going to break. They agreed to that, and they've gone along with that and got us the tours and things. We had minor success with Better Days, which was good, but the other singles just didn't get airplay. On the other hand, the audiences at concerts just went up and up, so that was a good thing."
And that good thing would now seem on the verge of really taking off. Even if Mark claims he doesn't think the Rolling Stones tour will shift maximum quantities of Taking on the World, I wouldn't mind betting that the band are in a much stronger position afterwards. Gun's luck would appear to be on the up-and-up, and it's unusual for such a new band to be in such a strong position going into the studio to work on their second LP.

 But has Mark says:
 It's early days yet, and we've got along, long way to go.

Jerry Ewing
Riff Raff
July 1990

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