Terrorvision: A journey to Oblivion (and back again)

(Image credit: Will Ireland)

There’s a palpable air of nostalgia filling Nottingham’s Rock City, where a heaving throng of rock fans are anticipating a transportation back to simpler times. Bradford rock band Terrorvision are about to run through their 1994 second – and defining – album, How To Make Friends And Influence People.

Hours before they're due to take the stage, Louder joins vocalist Tony Wright and bassist Leigh Marklew in the bowels of the venue, to discuss what it feels like to be riding a nostalgic high, their 90s ascent and the wilderness years that followed.

"People are genuinely passionate about music, so to get the chance to come back out and see this means a lot," Wright tells Louder of the excitement the reunion shows have been creating among fans. "We get the emails the next day saying, 'I can’t hear, I can’t speak, I can’t wait till next week.'"

But there was also a time where things weren't so rosy for the band. After a meteoric rise, largely on the strength of How To...’s run of singles – Oblivion, Middleman, Pretend Best Friend, Alice, What’s The Matter? and Some People Say – they were dropped by EMI at their peak and disappeared into the wilderness.

Their next album, Regular Urban Survivors, shifted even more units than its predecessor, while its follow up, Shaving Peaches, provided a genuine number one single, as a dance remix of Tequila crossed over to mainstream music fans. This is when the downturn came.

“There’s a period in every band’s life when you set off and appeal to the younger generation," says Wright. "It’s them who discover bands and say 'Listen to this'. And then they grow up with you, because they discovered you. They have a sort of ownership, a pride in discovering you at the start."

“Then they grow up. Within three or four albums, those kids have got kids and have got to get a job, get a mortgage. They can’t go out to gigs. They can’t be getting smashed out their heads all the time – and that’s when the wilderness starts.” 

That 'wilderness' saw Terrorvision part ways for solo projects and 'real jobs' in 2001, with sporadic shows up until 2011 when a new album Super Delux appeared. But for all intents and purposes – save for their hardcore fanbase – the formerly chart-topping act were largely out of mass view.

"If you want to say this is the defining album for Terrorvision, I would find it hard to disagree."

Leigh Marklew

But the 2019 incarnation of Terrorvision – now without original drummer Shutty (replaced by Cameron Greenwood) – is again riding a wave of positivity, contentedness and self-sufficiency. With no representation but themselves, no big label and no need to have hits to survive, the pressure is off. Terrorvision can just be who they want, when they want.

Markew explains that since 2001, the band has never been a “full time thing”, but an ongoing passion project to pick up as and when it suits. 

This position is largely down to breaking through with the album they are currently onstage performing. Even 25 years on, every song holds up. It’s their defining statement.

“I think without a doubt, the middle two albums – this one and Regular Urban Survivors – were quite clearly the biggest selling records for the band," says Marklew. "So, they will always be important to us. It’s difficult to say about strongest albums, I am always hyper critical about our stuff anyway, so I have high points on every album and tracks that we should have worked better on. 

"But yeah, if you want to say this is the defining album for Terrorvision, I would find it hard to disagree."

And at this moment, as the power riffs of Discotheque Wreck emanate from the stage, it's clear this music has not only aged well, but is an album largely without filler. It's a release that gave British rock a leg-up back to the top of the charts and reconnected people with music that could be both fun and meaningful.

The British rock landscape that Terrorvision stepped into was anything but vital. Overshadowed by the powerful innovation coming out of the US, UK rock was going through the motions – rock by numbers, predictable riffs and often cringe-worthy lyrics.

The band ended up looking across the Atlantic for their cues. “At that time, as a rock band, an English rock band, we were thinking 'How do we get as heavy and as powerful as some of those American records?'" says Marklew. "They always sounded really good.

“I remember before we got signed, we’d all go out to gigs together, 19 or 20 years old, going out to watch Nirvana's first gigs in Bradford. Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers – we saw them all. We were massively influenced by them. Well not influenced – more inspired by them. They’re fucking cool. 

"Occasionally we would try and do a riff reminiscent of those bands, but always thought 'No, we can’t do it as good as them.' But they inspired us.”

"Guns N' Roses at Donington," Wright chips in. "We’re nothing like Guns N' Roses, but they're one of those bands that when you see them, they make you think: 'I want to get up there and I want to do that'".

With the awfully named Britpop pushing an agenda of British pride for indie bands, the air was ripe for rock music to get noticed again. A batch of fresh rock bands like Ash, 3 Colours Red, The Wildhearts and Skunk Anansie brought big riffs back to the forefront of British consciousness, all lazily lumped in under the Britrock banner by the press (more on that later). Whether they always get the credit they deserve, Terrorvision were at the vanguard of that new excitement.

Out of the early 90s grunge-driven angst, they emerged as smiling, bouncing, genre-defying jesters of the rock scene. How To... is the embodiment of this, taking in hard rock riffs, doo-wop choruses, jazz breakdowns and pop melodies, taking the listener on an unexpected journey.

“It’s just the way we are, int it?” says Wright of their fast and loose approach to genre.

“Nobody then would do it!" adds Marklew. "I mean, why would you choose to do six different styles of music on one album? It’s just what came out."

“We’re all from different backgrounds where we come from," Wright elaborates. "We all like different things. I find that when you get a likeminded band that all like a certain other band, they try to sound like that band they like. 

"Some people aim for that, aim to sound like their heroes. But we’re so varied. You’re into Kiss, aren’t you [he gestures towards Marklew], Shutty would be in to AC/DC, Saxon and all that, all joined by a love of the Ramones. But I love Elton John and the Carpenters, but then I also like Led Zeppelin, so they're always in there somewhere.”  

This is all apparent in the gig we're currently watching, where the band’s bombast comes as much from the keyboard stabs and horn blasts as it does guitar, bass and drums.

"It’s not about saying you should think this way. It’s about saying that there’s an alternative way of thinking.”

Tony Wright

Match this with a formative appreciation of new wave pop and punk and that completes the influence crib sheet for Terrorvision. They sound like all this and nothing like it at all.

They stuck out as different when they first appeared and the music press didn’t really know what to do with them, not exactly embracing them. This lack of genre predictability, their Yorkshire roots, catchy tunes and chipper demeanour saw them often maligned and misunderstood. The dismissals of them being either “not serious” or “throwaway” missed the point – so much so that many missed the album’s deep political edge, a fact that still grates on Wright.

“People never got that!”, he said slightly exasperated. 

“I think they thought because we got a buzz out of playing and we smiled, that it was all a laugh and a joke and a crate of ale. But when you listen to the songs now, you can hear that they're political without dictating to anybody. It’s not about saying you should think this way. It’s about saying that there’s an alternative way of thinking.”

Listening today to songs like Still The Rhythm, Stab In The Back or even Oblivion, you can clearly hear the political messages; ideas that resonate hugely with the political world we live in.

“If you look at the fucking state of the world now, where we are saying 'You can’t come here, you can’t go there,'" says Wright. "We don’t want people that have the mindset, the nouse and the wherewithal to travel across the world without any money in their pocket entering this country. We want to fill this country up with people that can’t be arsed to even get up and walk to the shop."

Politics was always part of Terrorvision’s creative make-up. “Most of our songs have, if not a political comment, a social comment," says Marklew. "An opinion, a view that asks a question. But the music press, especially the mainstream press, chose not to see that. Even Oblivion asks questions, but it’s wrapped up in a doo-wop chorus, so it wasn’t taken seriously.”

When they were given coverage, they were lumped in with ‘Britrock’, a lazy umbrella term to explain the resurgence of rock in a new form. Like almost every band attributed to a “scene”, Terrorvision were never fans of the term.

“We did that tour called Britrock Must Be Destroyed [alongside Reef and The Wildhearts]. That’s a shit name for a tour,” says Wright. “But we set off on tour and watched."

"Dodgy were on there as well, trying to destroy Britrock. They probably have more Spotify hits than all those bands put together. So we went on this tour and played, nothing like Reef, nothing like the Wildhearts and actually it’s this term 'Britrock' that needs to be destroyed. 

"We’re going to show you three of the bands from the 90s that were lumped into that, who’ve come along and said, 'Let’s destroy that shit term – Britrock'. Because it’s laziness, they’d had Britpop and this was just laziness – 'Let’s call it Britrock.' Shit."

As obviously 'shit' as the term is, it did give the band a boost and place to exist. It undoubtedly helped them reach the heights they did.

Now in 2019, it is hard to avoid the fact that Terrorvision’s existence still hangs on that 90s heyday. Many bands hate having to use nostalgia as a tool, but, as Marklew explains, they have no such problem.

“We don’t have an issue with it no, we wouldn’t be doing it, we enjoy it," he says. "We're only doing these four gigs, we aren’t going round the country flogging that dead horse; we're keeping it fun. It needs to be fun for us, then we’ll move on. If we do anything after this, it might be a bit of new music. You gotta keep plugging back into the thought of writing new material."

When How To... finishes, the venue is full of grins and sweat. There’s not a single person in sight who hasn't been loving every minute. They feel part of something again, something they thought they'd lost.

“Connection is a really good word," says Marklew. "There’s that connection, it’s a shared past and shared love of something. First time around you can’t really have that, it’s just youthful excitement I suppose. What makes it fun is the nostalgic element. 

"Nostalgia is a bit of a cheap word but nostalgia is powerful. I saw that Queen movie, which I thought was pretty rank, but the nostalgic feeling and emotion you get from listening to that music again, which meant so much to me as a kid, is great."

And as the lights come up on their Rock City date, that nostalgic feeling is flowing in full force and it really is great. A second set, and two-pronged encore has expanded the evening and proven just how many massive tunes this unlikely bunch from Yorkshire made. It’s almost impossible not to bounce to Perseverance.

“For ten years it was the most crazy, mad experience" concludes Marklew. "We all gave 110%, every day.”

This is what Terrorvision are reminding us of every time they get on stage. They gave everything they had to some of most infectious rock music of the 90s, and the opportunity to bask in that glory again is incredible.