The Lionsheart teamed up with Briar drummer Dean Cook (Now in Bogus Blooze, Machine Boy and Tiny Rockets) to learn some insights on the history of Briar and what future plans he has in store. For those of you that have been unfortunate enough to not know Briar, I can tell you that they were one of the front runners of the more melodic spectrum of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Together with fellow UK bands Def Leppard, Tobruk, Lyin’ Rampant and Heavy Pettin’ they added some more melody and sometimes a keyboard to the NWOBHM sound. Check out the links at the bottom of this interview and discover a band that should have had much more success than they actually achieved.
1. For a start, can you tell us a little about Briar´s humble beginnings and how the band came to be in the first place? Who were the original members of the band?
Yeh Briar started as a school band, at school myself Dean Cook & Kevin Griffiths were into Motorhead, UFO Black Sabbath etc and all our mates were the same so we decided to start a couple of bands, just really to play in the school hall…the band myself & Kev started was I think called Emerald or Lucifer can’t remember which…but we went thru both of those names at some point, I’ve gotta be honest I can’t remember the names of the people in that original band but we became a band (kinda) for real when we got our mates David Tattam (Bass) & Dean Rogers (Guitar) involved…before that I hadn’t even got a drum kit I used to play on kitchen chairs…I always knew I wanted to play drums, my dad liked Gene Kruper & Buddy Rich, so I grew up listening to that drum based jazz MOR stuff and when my mum and dad bought me a Beatles snare drum when I was about 5 that was me hooked on hitting stuff, I eventually got a Beverley drum kit for Christmas and at that point when I got that kit the band started for real…..
2. In 1982, Darren Underwood and Dave Fletcher joined the band and Kevin Griffiths switched to bass. What was the cause of this major line-up change? How did you find Darren and Dave?
Well the milestone for us just before that was really getting involved with our longtime manager George Bond, he was playing in a band called Street Cruiser, he actually lived just around the corner from us and we had borrowed amps and guitars from him a few times for our rehearsals in David Tattams front room….myself & Kevin went to see his band a few times and eventually badgered him to help us on a regular basis….and basically at that point we realised we needed some serious members to complete the band….so it was kinda gradual…David Tattam & Dean Rogers just dropped out over time…..and I think Darren was the first to join and Dave fairly soon after…both people we had known from school but didn’t know they were guitarists…..Kevin had taken on vocals & Bass when David Tattam left the band…I think he thought it would be easier to sing and play bass…..
3. What impact did this major line-up change have on the band’s musical direction?
I don’t think it had a huge change to be honest…..we were all fans of Motorhead, UFO, Def Leppard….Black Sabbath….Iron Maiden…and in the early eighties were also all getting into all those great new NWOBHM bands Angel Witch, Sledgehammer, Trespass, Samson, all bands who we could go and see at our fave venue The Birmingham Odeon on multi-band gigs…they were great times, you could go and see 4 great new bands for £1.50….amazing!, so obviously we were always going to be a Hard Rock band….Dave & Darren made the band tighter, positive & more serious!
4. Tell us a little about how you landed the first record deal with Heavy Metal records? Did they check you guys out at a gig?
Heavy Metal has spoken to George our manager a number of times before we signed to them…they were a good local label who had some decent bands on their roster…and they were also backed by the mighty EMI, so they could guarantee to get the records into the big shops, HMV, Virgin etc, I suppose what clinched the deal was that George had landed us an appearance on TV on a programme called The Oxford Road Show plus a big BBC 1 Radio session and George realised we needed an album out so soon after we agreed a deal with Heavy Metal for a couple of albums….
5. How was the debut album “Too Young” received by UK media and the fans?
Yeah it went well generally…there was still a lot of people not taking us seriously because we were very young at that time for a ‘happening’ rock band which is why we called the album Too Young!…..but Kerrang, a lot of Radio people and many fanzines thankfully were taking us seriously so that helped big time for us!!…so we were getting a lot of good press.
6. What would you say the biggest differences are when you compare the second album “Take On The World” to the debut album?
For me the biggest difference (obviously) is Too Young was recorded in a million pound studio (owned by UB40) and Take on the World was recorded in our mates home studio….personally I love Too Young but to me it sounds like a studio recording….Take on the world was recorded simply in one or 2 takes its a raw live recording and I personally feel the songs sound fast, fresh and kinda different…I think we had really come up with an interesting style with Take on the World, which I would say was fast power rock!….Too Young was us playing around with styles….Take on the World was Briar streamlined and fully formed!….in my opinion!…..after we recorded Take on the World I always felt we had our sound down….that was our sound! Briar had its own style!
7. What do you remember about finally being signed to a major label (CBS/Sony)? How did you land that deal?
It was great getting a major deal, in those days that’s what we were aiming for, a major deal! the backing of CBS/Sony was amazing….sadly it didn’t turn out how we expected…but hey that’s life! and Rock N Roll!…..we landed the deal after we got involved with the JONJO management company & the UK Records label…I think they basically brokered that deal for us.
8. When “Crown of Thorns” came out you instantly recorded a full album worth of new material (Reach Out). Why was it never released?
Our CBS deal was purely based on our Take on the World recordings….they loved those tracks!…..BUT at this point there was a few bands like Faith No More etc who were doing some weird/interesting tracks people were kinda trying to mash up metal with pop, weird covers and it seemed like to the powers that be we were a perfect young band to play on this weird rock landscape that was out there…..our own material had a pop edge anyway…so at some point it was decided to go into CBS studios in London and just do some unusual covers…just have some fun with it…which we did…we were young we loved being in the studio and its true we loved doing it!….and as soon as we came out of the studio we started working on brand new ‘Real’ Briar material and start recording demo’s which turned out to be Reach Out….
9. Not long after the classic line up fell apart when Dave Fletcher and Darren Underwood left the band. What happened?
Well the CBS thing left everybody cold really…it had all looked great and we felt we had been let down, so it was felt we had gone as far as that line up would allow, myself and Kev had always been best mates so we stayed together and started looking for other people to get involved with…it was that simple!
10. A new line-up was put together and a new album called “Hard Times” was recorded in 1992. Why was it never properly released on CD and vinyl?
Again quite simple really we got the new band together, we started doing gigs, we recorded an album and by the time it was finished and mixed….because the band struggled to get a deal….we kinda all lost interest…it had just run its course by that point…all bands get to that point…unfortunately!
11. Did the Seattle wave and grunge affect Briar in any way?
No not really for us personally, we were all into the grunge thing, Nirvana & Soundgarden etc….I loved Grunge it was right up my street….I always loved punk, The Sex Pistols were amazing and The Ramones are my favourite band!….so I was always gonna love grunge!, I suppose in hindsight, yes what we were doing probably sounded pretty out of date by that point…but we certainly didn’t feel it affected us at the time!….its only in hindsight you realise some of these things!
12. What made the band fall apart permanently in 1993?
Lack of interest, generally you know when things have run their course…and it was time to so something different!…simple really!
13. Is there any plans to release any archive material by Briar on CD in the future?
Yes but we have been involved with about 10/11 record labels a bunch of publishers and a few management people…..so sorting out copyright issues etc is a complete nightmare….but yeh we would like to get all our albums out at some point! if we can sort these things out…..
14. Are you still in contact with the former members of Briar? What are the other guys up to these days?
Yes I see all the members, Kev, Darren & Dave on a fairly regular basis, I am currently playing in a live act called Bogus Blooze with Dave Fletcher, I have played with Kevin in a number of bands at various times….but as far as Darren goes I haven’t played with him since Briar split I think he is teaching guitar at the moment!
I would like to express many thanks to Dean for taking his time to answer my questions and giving some in-depth info on the rise and fall of Briar. I really hope that we will see gems like Reach Out and Hard Times having an official release in the future. These recordings are just too good to stay in the closet.