Kevin Wynn of Tysondog: The Interview

Kevin Wynn of Tysondog: The Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of Mighty Music/Target Group

Every scene has its myths, heroes, and frontrunners, but what of the lesser-known? To that end, Newcastle’s native sons, Tysondog, were cult heroes in a scene brimming with talent.

Led by bassist Kevin Wynn, Tysondog seemed poised for breakneck success after a deal with Neat Records saw them positioned as the latest darlings of the NWoBHM scene. And the release of Tysondog’s debut, Beware of the Dog, did nothing to dispel that notion. As critical darlings, and scene favorites, Tysondog’s fortunes seemed to be paved with gold, but shoddy label dealings and a general lack of financial support torpedoed the once promising act’s fortunes in short order.

Despite a heavy push from Kerrang! Magazine, Tysondog’s sophomore affair, Crimes of Insanity, fell flat. Making matters worse, Neat Records didn’t stand behind the band, leaving them out in the cold. With no label, no tour, and no finances to continue forward, Tysondog folded its proverbial tent in 1987, seemingly silencing the roaring beast forever.

It’s been said that date works in mysterious ways, and to be sure, that was the case for Wynn when in the early 2000s, the veteran bassist was contacted to potentially reform the mighty Tysondog. Upon reflection, Wynn decided to move forward, rounding up his old cohorts to howl once more.

In the 20 years since, Tysondog has forged forward, creating new music and remaining favorites among those who hold nostalgia for the now-legendary NWoBHM scene. And though they may never reach the heights once prescribed, the future for Tysondog remains bright, linchpinned by the sea work ethic that saw them contend in their brief but powerful heyday.

As he prepares to fire Tysondog’s engines once again in 2023, Kevin Wynn dialed in with to recount the band’s early hours, trials, and tribulations during the ’80s, eventual fall and rise, and what’s next as he moves forward.

What first gravitated you toward heavy metal?

Believe it or not, the first live band I saw was a very heavy pop-rock band called Sweet. I just wanted to be up on stage, and it was loud! Then I progressed to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and other bands like that. My love of rock and metal is born from heavy riffs, big drums, driving bass, and screaming vocals.

What were some of your early gigs where you cut your teeth?

As far as watching live music, I told you about Sweet already. From there, I saw AC/DC with Bon Scott and Queen in a small concert hall before they became massive. And I saw nearly every traveling band at the Newcastle City Hall or The Mayfair, like Black Sabbath, Rush, Rainbow, Status Quo, Bad Company, and Judas Priest. Once Tysondog formed, our first gig was at a Church Hall Rock Disco in Wallsend, around the corner from Neat Records. It wasn’t well-attended, but we rocked it just the same.

Can you recount the formation of Tyson Dog?

We were young rockers in school, and Alan Hunter and I used to practice in the house. I then went from guitar to bass, as there were few bass players in our town. Me, Alan, and Paul Burdis, our lead guitarist, shared the vocals, and we went through a good four or five drummers before we recorded our first single, “Eat the Rich.” By this time, Alan had recorded the vocals, and then we found a singer, Clutch, and he went in and nailed the B-side, “Dead Meat,” in one take. It sold pretty well, so Neat Records offered us a two-album deal.

Tysondog was an essential part of the NWoBHM. Paint a picture of what it was like coming up in that scene. 

We were still learning our trade when the initial NWoBHM explosion happened in ’79. We only left school in ’77 or ’78, but Paul already had written “Eat the Rich,” “Dead Meat,” and “Painted Heroes.” We were working our trade in pubs, churches, and school halls, playing Priest, Saxon, and Black Sabbath covers, along with our songs. I remember that we used to watch bands like Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven, and Blitzkrieg; we wanted to be like them.

How did signing with Neat go down? Did you feel adequately supported by them as a label?

As I mentioned earlier, we had a decent following around the clubs and pubs and recorded a live set. So, we got the attention of Neat Records’ A&R man, Russ Conway, who helped us get the deal. Neat did some press and promo and bankrolled trips to Holland for us, but things started to go downhill. And no, we didn’t get the support we needed on the second album, and we then got dropped from Neat. It wasn’t a fair deal at all.

Beware of the Dog was released nearly forty years ago. Take me through its writing, recording, and reception.  

Paul had most of the songs written before us going into the studio. We dropped in about three or four other tracks, Clutch gave some of them new lyrics, and we played live. There was a lot and rehearsing, maybe two or three times a week, so we were very tight. Everything on Beware of the Dog only took about a week to record, and that’s because we were so prepared. And when it got released, we couldn’t believe the amount of good press it received, the majority being from the Kerrang! Magazine staff; they all had it amongst their playlists. And then, next thing we knew, we were in London rubbing shoulders with many bands and music biz people. For a minute there… things looked rosy. Didn’t last long. [Laughs].

Tysondog seemed poised for success. Why do you feel the band didn’t break?

It was just pure bad luck, I think. There were health problems with Clutch, and his not being allowed into America was a major kick in the pants. And then, the lack of a decent tour was a huge issue, but that was on Neat Records. And then we weren’t located in London, which screwed us. It was difficult back then getting journalists up to Newcastle, as there was no internet, so press was an issue. Lastly, Neat Records completely dropped the ball and screwed us.

There was no support for the second record, and that halted everything. After Crimes of Insanity, that’s when Alan decided to quit, and we went to a four-piece. It was an image change, and although the music is heavier than Beware of the Dog, it didn’t hit. Still, we played at the Kerrang! Magazine’s 100th edition party and we rubbed shoulders with Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Lemmy [Kilmister], which was fun. But maybe the most significant issue was that we lost our way through drink, women, drugs, and all of that.

What led to the end of Tysondog’s first chapter came to an end in 1987?

In short, a proposed supporting slot for Madam X fell through. It fell through because Neat Records wouldn’t pay for travel to play the Dynamo Fest in Holland, which only went on to become one of the biggest in the world! The last gasp came and went when we got knocked back on visas to support Venom in the USA. It was all over after that.

How big of an effect did hair metal have on the fortunes of Tysondog?

I think when Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Saxon, and even Raven started down that route, we were advised by our manager, Eric Cook – who was Venom’s manager, too – that we should go down that route. Our music was still heavier than those other acts, but to be honest, we looked better. [Laughs]. We had better stage gear, hair, and instruments. And for once, we started getting women to the gigs! Honestly, we liked Mötley Crüe and Ratt, but not many others. I guess we liked the better ones, not the fluffy stuff.

Walk me through the sequence of events that led to the reformation of Tysondog. 

I’d moved to Manchester and played in cover bands until about 20 years ago when I received an email from our current manager, Bart Gabriel, from Poland, asking if I was interested in getting the band together, and I was like, “Bloody hell, do people still remember Tysondog?” Anyway, this lit the fuse, so I paid for a Tysondog website, and then Alan Hunter – who I’d remained in contact with – and I got in touch with Rob Walker. So, Rob had just returned from the States, and he’d been running around the world playing drums on cruise ships, and he said he was in.

As for Paul Burdis, he was in the Marines and was challenging to track down, but I eventually managed to find him. And then we drafted in Russ Tippens, and we started to rehearse with Alan singing, as Clutch was retired and wasn’t initially interested, but when he came to see the band at our first gig in Newcastle, he was hooked and got up on stage! And then, by 2012, Clutch was persuaded to rejoin and sing on our re-recorded versions of four classic Beware of the Dog tracks, which became the 2012 Hammerhead EP.

From a songwriting perspective, how have you evolved to this point? What’s changed from your younger years?

I think the youthful angst has gone, but the anger remains. The reality of life hits home; injustice, corruption by many high up in the office, and the loss of loved ones. The world really is a cruel and unforgivable place at times, so the songs tend to reflect it. But there’s also a lot of fantasy in there, which comes down to Paul’s excellent songwriting.

What gear are you using in the studio vs. the live setting?

I have an artist endorsement and use Ashdown Bass Amps and Cabs, and I use Rotosound Strings. My basses are all Fenders Precision’s, and I use Jazz and Boss Pedals. Those companies have been very supportive of Tysondog and me, so I will always support them in turn.

What’s next for Tysondog in all lanes?

Getting back to playing as many gigs as possible. We hope to get out to some countries we’ve never played, including our label’s home Denmark. From there, we plan on getting back into the studio as the next album is already written. I’m looking forward to all that’s ahead, and I feel that 2023 will be our best year yet!

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