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MARK EVANS: ROSE TATTOO ‘OUTLAWS’ ALBUM INTERVIEW

The great Australian pub rock sound was originally forged by volume vikings Billy Thorpe and Lobby Lloyd back in the early 70s. It was further flamed by bands like AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, and The Angels later in the 70s, refined by the production skills of studio geniuses Harry Vanda and George Young. It was a sound and an energy which was felt globally and influenced many bands worldwide, particularly those coming out of LA’s Sunset Strip … most notably Guns N Roses. One of the great pioneering Australian rock albums of the time was Rose Tattoo’s debut record Rock N Roll Outlaw, recorded in 1978 at Albert Studios in Sydney with Vanda and Young at the helm. It introduced us to pocket rocket Angry Anderson and his band of mavericks and delivered a host of hard rock classics including Bad Boy for Love, Nice Boys, One of the Boys and many others.

In the decades since the band’s inception, through a revolving door of band members Angry has kept the band afloat, keeping the Tatt’s rock ’n’ roll flame burning brightly. However it hadn’t been until recently that team Tattoo felt the band had really captured a chemistry that could honestly match the spirit of the original 70s-era Rose Tattoo. While Angry is now the only original member in the band, what he does have is the authenticity and the Australian rock ’n’ roll lineage to call this band the real deal. Firstly the band now features Mark Evans, who played bass on all of the classic, early AC/DC albums from 1975-77. You have Bob Spencer on guitar, whose career spans decades with 3 great Australian bands, Finch, Skyhooks and The Angels. There’s Dai Pritchard on slide guitar, who was personally sanctioned by the great Pete Wells to take his place in the band and finally there’s Jackie Barnes on drums, son of the iconic Jimmy Barnes. In the last few years the band has been regularly touring Europe and the UK to great acclaim, reaping the rewards of the legacy established by those who came before. Consequently, Angry and the band’s management felt that the timing was right for this worthy lineup to re-record Rose Tattoo’s debut album, which they did. Today (March 3, 2020) sees the release of ‘Outlaws’ a reproduction of the band’s debut album, recorded with 1970s Australian rock attitude in a 2020 studio production environment. The album also features three bonus tracks, written by Ian Rilen (one co-written with Angry) which never made the cut the first time around.

Ahead of the release of Outlaws and yet another European tour, Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to Rose Tattoo bass player Mark Evans about the band’s history, the recording of this album, his gear and we also got an unexpected little tale about the time he almost cleaned up Humphrey B Bear in charity football match!

Mark, do you remember hearing or seeing Rose Tattoo for first time?
I remember it clearly. It was New Years Eve 1976 at Chequers in Sydney. Bon Scott and had seen them and loved them, so I went down with Bon. Strangely enough it was 3 years exactly, same night, same venue that AC/DC did their first show. We were just about to start recording Let There Be Rock at the time.

How did you come to join this lineup of Rose Tattoo?
It’s got a lot to do with Angry’s take on the band. I think there was a period a few years ago where Angry .. especially when Mick Cocks died, the last of he original line up … we were doing one of those rock cruises together. I was with Mark Gable from The Choirboys. I got to talking with Angry and Dai and there had been a couple of aborted attempts top join Rose Tattoo but the time just wasn’t right. This time the timing was right and we started October 2017 with this lineup and it’s been a blast. It just seems so right. So now we have re-recorded the original Rose Tattoo album and it’s just a great way for us to pay tribute to the guys and what they’d done before this. I was very good friends with the guys in The Tatts, particularly Mick and Geordie and Ian Rilens … and Pete to a certain extent too but I don’t know if anyone could think they were really close to Pete, he was a bit of an enigma. I’m just rapt to have the privilege to honour and pay respect to those guys and to continue on what they started. I mean we can’t go on forever but as far as I’m concerned it’s unfinished business with Rose Tattoo in my books. Right now we are on fire, the album is out March 3rd and we’re off to Europe, the UK and Scandinavia. It’s our 4th tour over there in the last 2 years. Then we come back and do Under The Southern Stars in April with Bush, Stone Temple Pilots and Live.

Were there any ground rules set before you recorded the album?
No there wasn’t really. I should also say that a big motivator for putting the album together was our manager Scott Crawford, he manages James Reyne, Baby Animals and Ross Wilson. He’s a big Rose Tattoo fan and he got together with Angry and said let’s light this sucker up! It was those two saying who should we get and it was lucky for me that they drew my name out of the hat!

The first thing I noticed when I heard the new album was how big drum and bass sound is. It’s a much bigger production compared to the original. Was that one of the reasons for re-recording it?
Angry hand picked each member because he thought it was the right fit for the band. It’s got to sound authentic and there is no way that Bob or Dai or Jackie or myself can play these songs any other way than how we play them. It is different of course to the classic lineup of the band with Digger and Mick and Geordie, Ian and Pete but it is still The Tatts. The way we play and the way you record these days, it’s a bigger sound. I think that first Rose Tattoo album was one of the most wonderfully organic pure rock blues albums of all time, I just love it. We have just recorded it the way we play it and recorded it live playing in the studio, which is how Rose Tattoo used to record back in the day with George and Harry and the same way AC/DC used to record. There are a lot of parallels with Rose Tattoo and AC/DC and that’s probably why I feel so comfortable in the band. I have known the band since it’s inception. But we couldn’t sound any different if we tried. Anything else would be an affectation and punters are really smart. Sometimes they can see a band and maybe they’re not quite sure why they like the band or get the band. The same things goes if a band is bullshitting them. Punters are street smart, they smell bullshit and that’s one thing they’re not going to get with this band because it is honest, straight down the line. We can’t be anyone else other than ourselves, we’re not playing a part or anything like that. It’s the first time I’ve worked on an album where there’s no punches thrown or arguments, it’s amazing. We recorded at Harry Vanda’s studio. He came in and paid us a visit. He’s still kicking, still very tall.

What gear did you use for this recording?
I used a very nice 1966 Fender Precision bass, that I bought in London in October 1976. I had it during AC/DC and it’s the one I used on Let There Be Rock and even though I wasn’t in the band during Powerage, my bass made it onto the album via George Young. The amps I used are the ones I use live, which are Ampeg SVTs with 8×10’s and that has been my go to rig for a long time now. In the studio there was a direct line taken post-amp and it was miked up also and there was a direct line going direct into the desk via a Pultec valve preamp. Combining the three, the bass is recorded very naturally. If you want to get a bit rougher with it you can go to the direct out on the amp and /or what you have coming into the mic. You’ve got three sends really that you can mix and match but most of the time we went with the direct sound vibe through the preamp.

You’ve worked in retail for a long time as well. How many people have come in to the store over the years asking what guitar and amp they need to get that classic oz rock sound?
Oh boy, oh boy! I’m in at the store now, a place called Downtown Music and I have been associated with the store for well over 20 years. I basically come in here to advise on the vintage stuff because that’s my main thing. I love old guitars and basses and amps. It’s funny, I can be in here talking to a guy who is trying out a bass or looking for a new amp and I might have got to know them reasonably well through the shop and they’ll say I really want to get that old AC/DC growl. I’ll look at them and say well this is how you do it because I did that. They’ll know my name is Mark but they hadn’t made the connection with my history. It’s a question I get quite often and the answer to the question is quite simple … keep it simple! Live, I have only ever gone straight into the front of a SVT or old GK800s and gone into the boxes. There’s no effects, there’s nothing. With an old P bass what you do is basically plug into a good strong valve amp with 10” speakers and take a lot of the low mids and high mids out, otherwise you sound really woody and don’t get in the way of the guitars and you create a big V in your sound where there’s a pocket in there for guitars and shit. My rule of thumb playing live with Rose Tattoo and my other band is just to lay it down and get a sound that is building a big foundation and just stick with the drums. The bass is not a feature, it’s just a floor for things to be built on. Keep it straight, play as low and as mean as possible and make sure it swings. I think in essence, bass playing in a rock band is more an attitude than anything else. If you want to get fancy and put effects in there, trying to feature the bass, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

The 70s Australian pub rock sound was very influential, particularly on a lot of LA bands. What kind of comments have you had from international musicians over the years about that sound?
It is surprising and humbling in a way but there was a period of music here in Australia which basically revolved around Alberts Studios and George (Young) and Harry (Vanda), what they achieved and the way they recorded the bands. When I speak to a lot of guys in bands they really revere that period of music and it is quite humbling. Keith Richards favourite album for a long time was Powerage, he was a big AC/DC fan right from the start and Ronnie Wood was very aware of the Rose Tattoo thing. Then you get into a lot of the LA bands like Guns N Roses, LA Guns, even bands like the UK Quireboys that love that sound. I think with Rose Tattoo in particular, I have been amazed while touring Europe and doing bits and pieces in the States, the regard that the band is held in, you know, the heritage. That’s why it is so special to be involved with The Tatts, particularly with this Outlaw album coming out. We are doing a States tour in May and we start off at the Whisky A Go Go and we have sold out three shows there and the band hasn’t been in LA since 1983, that’s nuts!

There’s so much rock n roll history within the members of current Tatts line up, do you still tell old war stories or have you exhausted them?
Oh yeah the older we get, the better we were! That’s the other great thing about this band, we have known each other for so long and there is a great sense of humour in the band. We know exactly who we are and what we do and it is so easy.

I know that Mark Evans is a fellow Carlton supporter and I couldn’t let Mark go without asking him about Carlton Football Club’s chances of making the AFL finals this year. However, I didn’t expect the bonus Humphrey B Bear story!

I’m ready to fire mate. I’ve been waiting for the call to put me down in the forward pocket this year. I’m feeling pretty good about the team this year, quietly optimistic. I think we are on the right track. It’s only been the last year that I stopped playing. I still have kick with my mates in the park though. I was playing in the Community Cup until 18 months ago. When I got past 60 it was time to give it up. I suffer really badly from white line fever when playing football. I played a match at the SCG at half time during one of the Sydney Swans’ games. We played two ten minute halves. Mick Cocks from Rose Tattoo and I were midfielders. We’d had a big night, the night before, so we were pretty warmed up. There were different people from TV in the other team, a TV and radio team and we were in the musos team. Now this is not going to sound good (laughs) … the other team had Humphrey B Bear (Australian children’s TV series character) at full forward. Humphrey was giving me the shits and I said to Mick, you stay here, I’m going down the back line to clean up Humphrey! Adam Spencer (TV science guy) the captain of the other team said what are you doing down here? I said I am going after Humphrey and he said leave Humphrey alone. Anyway there was this really high ball that come into the forward line and Humphrey is underneath it, shuffling his feet and waving his arms under the ball. I thought this is it! He’s in the goal square and I’m running in and all I could hear was Adam Spencer going Nooooooo. I lost my balance and I just clipped Humphrey, got him on the end of the nose and it span his head around the wrong way. You should have seen the kids, they were screaming. But I have good karma and it was lucky that I didn’t actually collect the person inside the suit. At the time to me it was just Humphrey Bear, you know, this is going to be funny. We got back into the change room and off comes Humphrey’s head and it was this 65 year old lady inside. I would have been shamed for life If I’d connected. So yeah I’ve put the boots up now. But Carlton … I’ve renewed my membership!

Outlaws is out NOW
https://music.apple.com/au/artist/rose-tattoo/59974464

TATTS TOUR DATES

European Tour March 3-29

Australian Tour – Under The Southern Stars:
April 3 Peter Barclay Field Tuncurry NSW
April 4 The Crescent Parramatta Park NSW
April 5 Central Coast Entertainment Grounds Gosford NSW
April 9 Stuart Park Wollongong NSW
April 11 Hastings Foreshore Reserve VIC
April 12 Yarrawonga Showgrounds VIC
April 13 Bonython Park SA
April 17 Sunshine Coast Stadium Bokarina QLD
April 18 Brisbane Riverstage QLD
April 19 Foreshore Park Newcastle NSW

ROSE TATTOO WEBSITE