The story of V1 is quite extraordinary. It’s a story of a band with roots deeply attached to a scene that shaped Heavy Metal – one that is often referred to by the acronym NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal).
Formed in 1978, after Dennis Willcock and Terry Wapram had left Iron Maiden, the band has reformed and has just released its debut album. Yes, that’s right, the first V1 album in almost 40 years.
Despite having different sounds, the birth of V1 is closely entwined with that of Iron Maiden. In fact Willcock also played with Steve Harris before the latter went on to form one of the biggest Metal bands on the planet.
Dennis Willcock on vocals, Terry Wapram on guitar, Dwight Wharton on bass and Gareth Dylan Smith on drums. Together they are V1 and this is their story…..
Cue back to 1975, before bands such as Motörhead were even formed and before Metal even existed as an appellation of a music genre. A band called Smiler was making a name for itself in London…
Dennis, I’m very much interested in your memories and anecdotes about the time you sang with Smiler.
Dennis: I joined Smiler when Steve Harris and Doug Sampson [respectively bassist and drummer…both with Iron Maiden years later] were members. In the band were also two brothers, Tony and Mick Clee, who are still playing. It was a very good band, we used to regularly play the ‘Cart & Horses’ pub in Stratford [North East London]. Back then people wanted to see more Rock bands and we were more of a Blues-based band. It was a great time…Steve couldn’t even tune his bass guitar yet, it was at that level for him. In fact Tony Clee did the tuning for him. He was still a beginner, still a young lad.
Had you seen Iron Maiden perform before you actually joined them?
Dennis: No. After a while I had left Smiler and joined another band. Steve then got talking with Dough and decided it was not worth carrying on. The band I joined after Smiler was Warlock, where I met Dave Murray [guitar]. Steve played in a couple of other bands after leaving Smiler…Gypsy’s Kiss was one of them but I don’t think they ever played live. In that period I also played in another band called Nitro, with guitarist Bob Sawyer [later with Praying Mantis]. Dave Murray and Bob Sawyer played in an early version of Iron Maiden.
Then Steve Harris set up Iron Maiden and around 1976 invited me along to see them and audition as their vocalist. Eventually he asked me if I’d like the job and I said “Yes.”
Apparently you tried to beef up the image of Iron Maiden….were your efforts in this regards met with any scepticism back then?
Dennis: I joined Iron Maiden on the idea that it was going to be a very creative Rock band. Bear in mind that Metal didn’t even exist back then. When I joined they played Thin Lizzy numbers and loads of other covers. And I said we should really remove the covers and start focusing only on our own material. Steve had some ideas so we worked on them. Once that happened I then brought the theatrics into it.
Are you still in touch with Dave and Steve?
Dennis: [laughs] That’s the million-dollar-question, isn’t it? They won’t talk to me.
Dennis: The reason being [pauses]…..you see people know there are certain songs that I wrote the lyrics for, songs such as ‘Charlotte The Harlot’, ‘Prowler’….
You wrote the lyrics to those songs…..
Dennis: Yes. Even ‘Transylvania’ and ‘Phantom Of the Opera’. So there’s a lot that needs to be talked about. You will not find me on the band’s early years’ CDs. You will find Terry and you will find others but you won’t find me.
Terry: I thought you were dead. [all laugh]
Joking apart, quite a few people actually thought you were dead when they didn’t hear from you after all these years.
Dennis: I know, it’s weird. I went out of music…I didn’t do it any more. The last band I was in was a band called Gibraltar. After that I decided that nothing was going to happen from that so I went off into my business of graphic design. Unbeknownst to me Terry was living about a mile and a half from where I was. I didn’t know that…I thought he was still living in West London. Otherwise I might have got back into music earlier. But as it happened a person was going to see Terry play with Buffalo Fish…a band that also Dwight is a member of. The person asked me to sign a photograph, he said Buffalo Fish were a good band and suggested I go and meet up with Terry.
Anyhow eventually Terry and I got together and he asked me “Have you heard this?” And he played a recording of V1 playing some songs. I hadn’t heard that recording…in fact I didn’t even know it existed. I knew we had recorded 3 songs in a studio…those songs ended up on a split LP with some Gibraltar songs. Terry asked me what I thought and if we should have a go at playing those songs again. Of course there were just two of us so we needed to bring in people.
We brought Chazzie…Charles Borg…the Maltese guy….on bass. We tried several drummers but not one of them lived up to our expectations. We knew a couple of well-known drummers but it didn’t work out with them either. Then we put out an announcement on FaceBook that we were looking for a drummer and a friend of mine spoke to Gareth here and suggested he has a go at it. Gareth turned up and that was it.
Terry, how had you ended up playing guitar with Iron Maiden?
Terry: I was playing at the Marquee [famous London venue, now closed] with a band called Hooker and Dennis was in the audience and he approached me to join him because at that point Dave Murray and Bob Sawyer were put out of the band and they wanted to try it with one guitarist. So I was the only guitarist with the band for a while but because they’d already started harmony work it didn’t really work. In the beginning Steve Harris had already started to play the bass parts according to the guitar harmonies.
Meanwhile Dennis had been looking at a lot of American bands, bands like Foreigner, and he felt that keyboards would be a good choice because I was a strong guitar player, I could carry the solos on my own but obviously I couldn’t do the harmonies. That was when we got Tony Moore in and at that point Thunderstick also joined Iron Maiden on drums.
Back then which were the guitarists you looked up to?
Terry: Well, you wouldn’t necessarily realise it from the way I play but Jimi Hendrix and Gary Moore…those sort of people. I came from a more Blues background not Metal but Metal is just playing Blues faster really.
Dennis, I’d like to ask a few other things about Iron Maiden before I go onto V1…..if I’m not mistaken you had negotiated the recording of Iron Maiden’s “Soundhouse Tapes” demo, right?
Dennis: No, I had nothing to do with that whatsoever. Basically, as V1 we had a residency at the ‘Soundhouse Bandwagon’ [cult North West London venue]. We had a manager who was also the tour manager of Wishbone Ash. He took us on and I think we had two record deals offered to us but he then disappeared. He had a breakdown in Japan. For a while we had his girlfriend who was doing the dealings but it sort of faded away. We had nothing left, our enthusiasm went away. We would have taken the money because it was good money but he had said it wasn’t enough.
Terry: Also, it’s worth mentioning that we were advised to drop all the pub gigs V1 were doing at the time. So when we followed that advice, Iron Maiden stepped in and took all the pub gigs we turned down. So that advice was pretty bad.
Dennis: In fact when we played with V1 there were always two particular people in the audience: Steve Harris and Dave Murray.
[Dave Murray had returned to Iron Maiden after the departure of Willcock and Wapram.]
Earlier on you mentioned Gibraltar….I heard you were also thinking of bringing that band back together too. Is this true?
Dennis: Yes, I had a couple of messages the other day and they want to get that rolling, do a recording. But I don’t really know yet…we’ll have to see what happens. Gibraltar is totally different from V1, its more grungy, has a more laid-back style. We’ll see. It’s been too long in the making.
OK, now let’s speak about the most important thing…tonight V1 launches the band’s first album since its formation in 1977. What are your feelings about this?
Dennis: It’s been a long tough journey to be truthful….to keep it there. It’s involved a lot of work. The production has raised those songs to a much higher level and we’re so pleased with it. Everybody who has heard it has loved it.
We’re currently looking for another guitarist, a rhythm guitarist, and also possibly a keyboardist.
Would you take the additional guitarist or keyboardist to your live shows too?
Dennis: Oh yes, they will be part of the band.
Terry: The thing is this…..if you hear the album, I play all the guitars but the multiple guitars, the harmonies and keyboards…there are such things on the album that we can’t produce ‘live’ as the four of us. So what we’re looking for is a rhythm guitarist who’s a good singer, not to shake up what we’ve already done so far. And possibly a keyboardist.
It has been a long time coming for Dennis and I…..it’s been about 38 years. The demos I played to Dennis, it had 8 tracks of rehearsal stuff. So we looked at the demo and then obviously Dennis and I had to find the right people to bring those songs back.
So this demo was recorded in the early days…
Terry: Yes. I mean it’s never been heard outside of the band. It’s not a good quality, it was done on a cheap 4-track Revox or something like that. It wouldn’t stand the test of time now. But the songs themselves really stood the test of time and with two younger guys it makes the songs sound even more current. They [the songs] don’t sound dated to my ears.
So were the songs on this album written back in the early days of the band or were they written with Gareth and Dwight?
Terry: No. Gareth and Dwight added new sections to one of the songs, ‘Train’ but they haven’t actually been involved in a whole track yet. But if we get to a second album they would. The way its gone down is there are 10 original tracks from 1978 or whenever it was….maybe 1979…and there are 2 new tracks, one Charlie Borg, the bass player, wrote with Dennis and the title-track is one I’d written with Mick Staddon while I wasn’t in a band. So there are 2 new tracks and 10 old tracks.
The album’s sub-title is very telling…..
Dennis: Yes, ‘The end of the beginning’, we’ve got this together and we know we want to take it to the next level. It’s the end of what we started.
Sort of ‘that was then and now is now’.
Dennis: Yes, absolutely. In fact it ends tonight and the band starts after tonight basically.
Terry, you mentioned that Dwight joined V1 after having played with you in another band….
Terry: Yes, Dwight and I played in Buffalo Fish. Initially Dwight was just going to do our ‘live’ work. Bass player Charlie Borg no longer wanted to play live although he did want to do the album. But then he changed his mind and Dwight did the album as well. Even Charlie said that it made more sense that way because the band you see live is the band that plays on the album. Charlie guested on one song on the album but on the other 11 tracks is the band you will see tonight.
Dwight, I believe you grew up in U.S.A., is that right?
Dwight: Yes, I grew up in the U.S. until I was about 27 and I left to come to London.
How come London?
Dwight: I wanted to experience the British music scene and pretty much found it. I played with a lot of different guys, from Punk music to Funk, Rock, Metal….all sorts of stuff, all right here in London. It’s been like an educational experience.
In fact my impression is that you’ve got a very eclectic taste in music, would you agree?
Dwight: Yes, I listen to whatever I think is good. Everything from Blues to Rock, Punk, Funk, Country & Western, Bluegrass…whatever. I play the upright bass as well. So my mind is always open to whatever is good.
So perhaps you subconsciously spice up the music of V1, as Terry himself was hinting at earlier.
Dwight: Yeah, I mean I’m sure that everyone here kind of brings their expertise and musical experiences into the band. It just comes in and just works.
Terry: I totally agree with that. Without Dwight and Gareth this wouldn’t have been the album it is. The songs originally are good songs but what they bring into them is very powerful.
Gareth, music is your full-time concern, right?
Gareth: Not quite. I teach music and write about music. So music is at the centre of what I do, yes, but I don’t play full-time.
I was ready on your profile that you’ve played with a number of musicians, such as Roger Glover and Ian Gillan [respectively Deep Purple bassist and singer]. How did the collaboration with Glover and Gillan come about?
Gareth: Yes, I did play with Roger Glover….he was producing a session. I was on his daughter Gillian Glover’s album, which is an amazing record. He wanted to finalise the mix on the album and asked for more cowbells and tambourines. Woody Woodman, who was also David Bowie’s drummer, was the drummer on that album. I came in to sort of spice up the sound.
[Ooops! So it’s Gillian Glover not Gillan (and) Glover.]
Dwight described the more contemporary music scene of London but what was the scene like in the 1970s? I know there were many bands around then and I wish I was there but I wasn’t!
Dennis: A lot of people do. At the moment everything in London is being killed off with regards to music. Back then we had the option of doing many many pubs and clubs. Now you have government regulations on sound levels. Now pubs just want to make money so they set up restaurants instead of bands because they think it’s more feasible to make instant money. And the bigger gigs that you want don’t exist. Take Kaine, who are playing with us tonight…they might get a gig but there might be two men and a dog in the audience. That’s the level they have to play to. After a while it gets disorientating because they all want to have a decent crowd.
In the 1970s there would be a band every night at most of the pubs…the ‘Ruskin Arms’, the ‘Bridgehouse’ in East London, another one in Edmonton….. In the weekend we would go to see the likes of Eric Clapton, John Miles but also lots of unknown bands. Today it’s harder to play if you’re starting up your band and if you want to go on tour, you’ve actually got to pay to do it, to play on a tour. Back then, in the 1970s, it was easier to go on tour, somebody…a promoter…would come up to you with loads of offers. Now there’s no-one around. Recently we had a discussion with a PR rep and he said he only does UK. What good is that? He said if you get known in the UK, you’ll become known worldwide. No, it isn’t, it’s crap over here right now.
Gareth: You might get a venue to play in but then you won’t get an audience. There are so many gigs sometimes….
In fact I know of at least two other gigs taking place in London tonight…that’s probably going to affect your gig tonight.
Dennis: Yes, but there’s also been an increase in charity gigs. Which mean that bands are never going to be paid. And when you spend so much money on an album, as we have, it doesn’t help.
Gareth: That’s the thing. You can hire a venue if you want but getting an audience to cover those costs is harder. The music industry at that level has disappeared I think. I mean there still are venues such as the O2 Arena of course that will get their audiences but I’m talking about the industry at the lower level.
Dennis: In the 1970s, we’d go into a pub, play our demo and ask if we can play. And the manager would tell us “Can you do Tuesday?” The Ruskin Arms was definitely like that.
Who knows, it might get better again, maybe everything goes in circles. Maybe you’ll be able to get a support as Terry did at the Marquee club when I had first seen him play. Where are the band clubs like the Marquee now? They just don’t exist.
But you know, at the end of the day I just love playing.
Gareth: That’s what I love too. All I want to do is to play drums.
Would you be prepared to go on tour should there be any opportunities or offers?
Dennis: There are a few in the pipeline. But first we’d like to sort out our representation. In fact only this morning I bumped into someone that might help on that matter. Sometimes it’s just a question of luck.
A lot of stuff that has been done for us has been done for nothing. I mean we did pay for the recording of the album, yes. But for all the rest…take the artwork, Joao Duarte busted his ass on the album artwork and on our website and his work is amazing. And we’re really grateful to all the people that have been supporting the band’s return.
Buy “Armageddon” by V1 from:
- Taking You Higher
- Devil Devil
- Don’t Cause a Scene
- She’s So Easy
- Ready for Action
- Croydon Boys
‘Don’t Cause A Scene’ (audio with slideshow):