"People chucked pesetas at us, bottles, you name it": How Gun survived Spanish crowds, an X-rated video and that "strange cookie" from INXS, then hit the bullseye again

Gun studio portrait
(Image credit: Stevie Kyle)

Giuliano ‘Jools’ Gizzi still remembers Gun’s first time on Top Of The Pops. It was August 1989, and their debut single Better Days had charted. Young Glaswegian upstarts in ripped denim and biker jackets, Gun were in seventh heaven – especially when meeting former Prince & The Revolution stars Wendy & Lisa, who were on the show with their solo hit Satisfaction. “I said to Wendy: ‘Can I shake the hand that’s touched Prince?’” Jools recalls, smiling. “She said: ‘Sure. You can shake the hand that’s slapped him a few times as well!’” 

There was a touch of happenstance about this Prince-themed exchange, for Gun’s Better Days had actually been inspired by him. “Yeah, we’d been listening to Prince a lot,” says singer Dante Gizzi, Jools’s younger brother by eight years. “The verse of Better Days owes a lot to Mountains, off his album Parade.” 

“It’s absolutely a heavier version of that,” Jools says in agreement. “Plus we tried to make the chorus a bit like Why Can’t This Be Love by Van Halen. Our management had drilled the importance of strong songs into us. We looked to the best for inspiration.” 

Prince-meets-Van Halen? Way to go. And if Wendy & Lisa clocked Mountains’ palpable influence on Gun’s first hit, they didn’t let on. 

Meanwhile, back in Glasgow, a certain Mrs Gizzi had told half the neighbourhood to tune in to Top Of The Pops that night. “I think that was when mum finally realised we weren’t wasting our time,” says Jools. 

Today, Classic Rock is with the Gizzi brothers at Gun HQ, namely their own Morsecode Studios in Hillington Park, Glasgow. With the release of a fine new album, Hombres, more of which later, they’re ready to tell their whole story. In 1989, Dante Gizzi was Gun’s teenage bassist. Today he’s their frontman, having replaced original singer Mark Rankin for 2012’s Break The Silence. Gun’s story is one of heady highs and crushing lows, of hits, mega-tours and line-up changes. Ultimately it’s the tale of how two Scots-Italian brothers learned to become (largely) self-sufficient – and how they did it the hard way. 

“We’ve got a really great bond with the other guys in the band right now,” Jools stresses, “but the songwriting identity of Gun is me and Dante. We still write in the room that was his at our parents’ house,” he adds, pointing at his kid brother. “There’s a family history there that we can feel. That room’s our sanctuary.”


Jools and Dante Gizzi were born in Glasgow’s Calton district, close to legendary music venue Barrowland. Their transplanted Italian family had emigrated from Lazio, between Rome and Naples, two generations earlier, and now mum was a cleaner at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary while dad worked at a biscuit factory. 

As a teenager Jools almost joined infamous local gang The Tongs. “I thought I was gallus [Scots slang for tough, cock-sure], and stupidly I wanted to be like them,” he says. Fortunately other obsessions soon took over. “I can still picture Jools wheeling his amp to rehearsals in a Fine Fare trolley on a freezing Sunday morning in January,” says Dante. “Now that’s dedication! But he was a bit of a ned,” the younger Gizzi adds, laughing. “Jools even bullied a kid at school into giving him guitar lessons.” 

Gun’s early promise blossomed at the tail end of the 80s, just after the boom that saw record companies flock to Scotland to sign pop-rock acts such as Deacon Blue, Texas and Hipsway. Thatcherism bit hard in Glasgow’s East End, and unemployment and poverty were rife. But if you worked hard and got that little bit of luck, it seemed there was a way out. “Okay, we were a hard rock band,” says Jools. “But we’d seen our friends Heavy Pettin’ get signed to Polydor, and Sharleen Spiteri [of Texas] was our singer Mark’s cousin, so we knew it could be done.” 

Local management duo Gerry McElhone and Rab Andrews had looked after Altered Images and were now handling Texas. Mindful of their city’s love of hard rock, they also sought a heavier act to add to their roster. After Gun caught their eye at a gig in Kirkintilloch, a showcase spot at the Midas pub on Glasgow’s St Vincent Street was duly arranged. “We were Bon Jovi-ed out of our heads,” recalls Jools, smiling. “The long coats, the big hair, the scarves…” 

Initially, GR management couldn’t make their mind up about Gun. They could see great potential, but they felt the band weren’t quite ready. “I remember me, Mark [Rankin] and my girlfriend Lesley, who’s now my wife, went for a Chinese after the Midas gig,” says Jools. “It was like: ‘Okay, probably time to pack it in. We’ve spent so much money on demos and PA equipment.” 

“Plus we’d had grief from my ma about getting a proper job,” Dante adds. But Rab Andrews wasn’t done with Gun yet, and he convinced his business partner to take a punt. Indeed it was McElhone who invited Gun to make use of GR’s studio and rehearsal rooms free of charge. 

“He said: ‘I can definitely get record companies up to see you, but the songs have to be right,” recalls Jools. “So me and Mark worked as hard as we could. We stopped gigging and concentrated on songwriting. Eventually there was a bidding war between Mercury, Phonogram, Polydor and A&M. We’d toughened up our image by that point as well.”

Gun in 1990

Gun’s debut-album line-up of (l-r) Dante Gizzi, Scott Shields, Mark Rankin, Stephen ‘Baby’ Stafford, Jools Gizzi. (Image credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

Released on A&M in July 1989, Taking On The World, Gun’s debut album, was a bold statement of intent from its title down. Jools: “Gerry said: ‘This is where the real work starts – now you’re competing with the big boys’.” 

Yet for all Gun’s apparent front, they clearly had a grasp on the quiet desperation of many working class people’s lives. Better Days and the album’s anthemic title track were hopeful songs, yes, but their lyrics reflected harsh realities. The album’s moody black-and-white cover, meanwhile, was very Glaswegian. A bleak study in Scottish stoicism, it depicted Jools, Dante, Mark Rankin second guitarist Stephen ‘Baby’ Stafford and drummer Scott Shields striding forth. “It was shot close to an old granary building, and the back cover has the cranes on the Clyde shipyards,” notes Jools. “You’re looking at a river that thousands of Scottish people sailed on to try and make better lives for themselves, and that was us setting out too.” 

If Gun were looking for a show of faith, they quickly got one. While touring the US in 1990, a fax came through from the Rolling Stones organisation. Astoundingly, they were offering Gun a support slot on the European leg of their Steel Wheels tour, from May to August. There was just one snag: Gun were committed to two shows at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles on the Friday and Saturday, and would need to fly to Rotterdam on Saturday if they were to open for the Stones there on Sunday. 

“The guy at the US record company said: ‘You can’t pull out, these dates are set in stone!” says Jools. “But in the end we did both shows on the Friday, then hot-tailed it to Rotterdam. We got quite a lot of US press out if it, actually. You know: ‘Scotch [sic] band flees LA to join Stones…’”

Jet-lagged but firing on adrenalin, Gun now partook of the Stones’ rock’n’roll circus. They played to vast arena audiences, and jammed Muddy Waters songs with Keith and Ronnie while partying into the wee small hours. After the two bands played Munich’s Olympic Stadium, Dante found himself behind the velvet rope at some hip club, him and Mick Jagger propping up the bar. 

“I said: ‘Mick, do you mind me asking why you chose our band?’ He said: ‘Because you reminded me of us when we started out.’ I said: ‘Wow, that’s really touching. Can I buy you a pint? ‘He said: ‘Don’t be silly, Dante, it’s a free bar!’”

Gun’s next two albums – 1992’s Gallus and 1994’s Swagger – reflected their growing confidence. They’d already ridden out a number of line-up changes, Gallus’s rip-roaring first single Steal Your Fire reached No.24 in the UK, and the celebrity endorsements kept coming. Gallus was instantly a firm favourite of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, and it was at his insistence that, in September 1992, Gun became the unlikely fourth act playing Spain’s four-date Monsters Of Rock festival alongside metal heavyweights Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Pantera. Gallus had depicted Scottish boxing legend Benny Lynch on its cover, but he was a flyweight. Ominous? Just a tad.

“We were definitely a bit of a mismatch,” confirms Dante. “People chucked pesetas at us, bottles, you name it. Jools got pissed off and threw his guitar stand at this guy who had twatted him with a flying bocadillo [baguette-style sandwich]. Next morning we’re back at the hotel, and the guy from the Spanish label was like: ‘Guys! Come and see this!’ It was us, on the front cover of [major Spanish newspaper] El País. We were like: ‘What does the headline say?’ He goes: ‘Gun Open Fire On Crowd’.” 

Arguably the best hard rock/dance crossover since Aerosmith and Run DMC re-made Walk This Way, Gun’s take on NYC funk act Cameo’s 1986 hit Word Up, Swagger’s first single, became their biggest hit, reaching No.8 in the UK in 1994. Truly inspired, it won Gun a ‘Best Cover Version’ trophy at that year’s MTV Europe Music Awards. 

The band also filmed an X-rated promotional clip for Word Up – which was warmly received when screened at the Monsters Of Rock festival that year. 

“I remember that video,” says Dante. “The director goes: ‘Right, we’re about to start filming the X-rated version with the girls, can everybody else leave the set?’ Me, Jools and Mark were halfway to the door before we thought: ‘Wait a fucking minute! We’re paying for this. We’re going to stay here and enjoy it!’”

By now it looked as though Gun really could take on the world. But it was not to be. The results of an ill-fated collaboration with INXS’s Andrew Farriss, who produced it, Gun’s 1997 album 0141 632 6326 saw the band fall apart. Jools was so disappointed with the record’s lack of balls that he flat-out refused to promote it. Which explains why its cover featured a solo shot of Mark Rankin rather than a band shot. 

Gun had long loved INXS albums such as Listen Like Thieves and Kick, and on the back of Word Up a funkier – but, crucially, still heavy – direction seemed like a great idea. But they just didn’t gel with Farriss – “a strange cookie” summarises Dante, saying he seemed aloof and had his own agenda. The exorbitant bill they were running-up at Hook End, a residential studio in a 16th-century Elizabethan Manor in Oxfordshire, didn’t help, either. 

“We became really depressed,” says Jools. “So we split up from Mark, and we ended up going back to Glasgow to open an Italian restaurant with our brother Marco and our sister Carmine,” adds Dante.“It was hard work, but it helped us escape the madness.”


The brothers never stopped writing songs. Soon the restaurant years gave way to El Presidente, a short-lived glam-rock act fronted by Dante, that signed to Sony. The Gizzi brothers didn’t know it at the time, but this was perfect training for Gun’s inevitable comeback, now with Dante as their singer. In the interim, they’d played a number of charity gigs with former Little Angels singer Toby Jepson fronting the band, but the chemistry was never quite right. When Gun returned with 2012’s aptly-titled Break The Silence, they were older and wiser. Jools and Dante’s parents had passed away within months of each other some years earlier, mum to a sudden heart attack, dad to cancer. Now Gun would be more of a family affair, brothers in arms. 

After 2015’s Frantic and 2017’s much-lauded Favourite Pleasures, the pandemic years were testing times, too. “I suffer from anxiety anyway,” says Jools, “so lockdown was even worse. Me and Dante met every day to try and write, but it just wasn’t happening.” When the world opened up again, Gun’s route back was 2022’s The Calton Songs, an homage to their Glasgow birthplace, and a timely acoustic re-working of their greatest hits. 

Ultimately, though, this was but a dress rehearsal for the brilliant new Gun album Hombres. Bedding down somewhere between 80s era Billy Idol, The Cult and Primal Scream circa their single Rocks, Hombres finds Jools and Dante’s amped-up pop nous reigning supreme across stand-out tracks such as Take Me Back Home, Falling and All Fired Up. Backing vocalists Beverley Skeete, Sarah-Jane Skeete and Mary Pierce – who between them have worked with Chaka Khan, Tom Jones and Robbie Williams – add some soul and gospel-flavoured firepower.

"This record really saved us,” summarises Jools. “It’s Gun in its finest form.” 

With a number of songs from Hombres already placed in the upcoming Samuel L Jackson film Damaged, the Gizzis have the bit between their teeth. With young guitar player Ru Moy now on board alongside Jools, the new lineup – completed by bassist Andy Carr and drummer Paul McManus – played to a packed and exultant Barrowland just days before they spoke to Classic Rock

“Ru’s only twenty-eight”, says Jools. “He’s into Rob Zombie and Blink 182.” 

“At Barrowlands I kept looking over at him and he was levitating!” adds Dante. 

“Afterwards we were like: ‘What do you think, then? You in?’ Ru goes: ‘Of course. What a stupid question!” smiles Jools. “I thought [takes a deep breath]: ‘Okay, great! Here we go again…’” 

Hombres is out now via Cooking Vinyl.

James McNair

James McNair grew up in East Kilbride, Scotland, lived and worked in London for 30 years, and now resides in Whitley Bay, where life is less glamorous, but also cheaper and more breathable. He has written for Classic Rock, Prog, Mojo, Q, Planet Rock, The Independent, The Idler, The Times, and The Telegraph, among other outlets. His first foray into print was a review of Yum Yum Thai restaurant in Stoke Newington, and in many ways it’s been downhill ever since. His favourite Prog bands are Focus and Pavlov’s Dog and he only ever sits down to write atop a Persian rug gifted to him by a former ELP roadie.