Interview with Jess Cox (Tygers of Pan Tang)

Former Tygers of Pan Tang singer was at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in Newcastle and now runs his own label. Mick Burgess chatted to him ahead of the Brofest Metal Festival in Newcastle whcih starts on 27 February.

Next weekend it’s the Brofest Heavy Metal Festival at Northumbria University. Are you looking forward to it?

Yes I am. There are loads of bands playing over three days and some of them have reformed especially for the festival. This will be the first time some of these bands have played together in many years and may be the one and only time that they do, so catch them while you can.

How did you initially get involved in Brofest?

I mainly run a record label Metal Nation Records which came to be following my ownership of Neat Records which was also based in Newcastle. Regarding the festival I’m just helping out. There’s these three lads from Newcastle who got to all of these Heavy Metal shows in Europe as there was nothing for them in the UK and they made quite a network of contacts over the years. They thought that it’d be a great idea instead of them having to keep jumping on planes to travel all over to see the bands they wanted, to put on a festival in Newcastle and bring the bands here. They are very enthusiastic and put their own money into financing it all so I want to help them succeed long-term if I can. I distributed posters and flyers on the last Blitzkrieg European tour to promote it and have flyers included in all mail orders from my label.

This is the third festival now. How has it grown since the first one?

It’s done really well since the first one three years ago. I’ve been in the business well over 30 years and travelled the world and toured all over working with everyone from Metallica downwards and I’m really impressed how these lads have gone about building this festival up from nothing to where it is today with people travelling from all over the world to come just to see the bands. Much of it was through word of mouth and Facebook. It’s very much an international festival.

Are you involved in getting bands on to the bill too?

No they put the bill together but one of the bands from my label is Blitzkrieg and I offered to put them onto the bill free to help the cause. Blitzkrieg have a big following around the world and they are a high profile act with major press attention in the UK and abroad so it can only help. More people will come if they see a name they recognise and with Blitzkrieg’s connection with Metallica covering the “Blitzkrieg”‘song interest has increased over the years.

What highlights have you got planned for the fans this year?

They’ve pulled in a few local bands like Avenger and Black Rose and also some NWOBHM bands who have reunited for this show such as Mythra, and others like Jameson Raid and Trespass. Some bands are from other parts of England and some like High Spirits are coming from America. These bands have a good cult following and people are travelling a long way to see these play. There’s a fabulous history of Heavy Rock music on their door stop that many may not know about but a lot will but won’t realise that it’s still around. This is a very rare opportunity to see these bands. Their records have been changing hands for hundreds of pounds to collectors so it’ll be great for the fans to be able to see them play. The three lads who run the Festival have a canny knack of being able to persuade bands to shake off their spandex , have a few rehearsals and come back for a show.

What sort of people come to the Festival?

Many Metalheads from overseas as I said. I did notice last year more UK metal fans. I want to see more local rock fans too. Metal is pure escapism. It’s Star Wars, fantasy stuff for lads really but then again there’s a lot more girls coming to shows these days. There’s also a lot of young people getting into Metal again with the internet. Metal bands are playing now to everyone from teenagers to older rockers. They know about the music and come up and speak to us about it. Europeans are knowledgeable on the history of music and Metal fans probably more so. It’s seen as a brotherhood. When I travel I can see the same guys in different counties. We were in Finland last week and a bloke just appeared from Germany from the last tour. They think nothing of travelling hundreds of miles and over borders to see a Metal event that takes their fancy.

The Festival is spread over three days. What time do the festivities start on each day?

Friday will start on the evening and will kick off at 5:00 with the first band on at 6:30. On Saturday and Sunday the festival will run from lunch time until about 11:00pm so it’s a full weekend.

What sort of facilities will there be there?

It’s a well organised festival with a wide range of state of the art clean and comfortable facilities. It’s totally safe and organised. Also on site there is a café, with sport screens and pizza bars and there’s a big record fair stocking loads of rare vinyl, CD’s , shirts and merchandise. There’s going to be plenty of stuff there. In previous years musicians from the area have dropped in with some Venom guys there last year and other local based rock stars so you can do some band spotting in the crowd.

What are your plans for the future of Brofest?

I’d like to think it will grow and expand but maybe the organisers like it the size it is. If it goes mega it becomes a beast and then you need full time staff all year round. It can become that. I have seen it happen in the UK and abroad with other festivals that started off as 500 capacities and now are 5000+ outdoor events like Bloodstock and Wacken to name two. Exhibition Park in two years ! It could happen.

Brofest is a celebration of the New Wave of British heavy Metal that became really popular in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. How important was Newcastle based Neat Records to that scene?

They were so important to the scene and signed loads of local rock bands and catapulted them to fame. The label was so prolific that the London press who started the movement called us the ‘(North East ) New Wave of British Heavy Metal’. Neat Records were right in the middle of it signing a lot of bands who went on to make quite a name for themselves like The Tygers Of Pan Tang, Raven and Venom. David Wood started the label and Tygers of Pan Tang were the first band on it. “Don’t Touch Me There” was our first single in 1979. After that came a flood of releases including White Spirit, Hellanbach and Fist all who got a lot of exposure in the national press under the NWOBHM moniker. Conrad from Venom worked in the studio and mentioned he had a band so he was invited to record a demo which was sent to Geoff Barton at Sounds magazine and they did a two page spread and they just took off. Dave then advertised for local Metal bands to send in demos and ended up signing a load of bands who went on to become players in the movement. Janick Gers from White Spirit joined Iron Maiden. Our guitarist, John Sykes joined Thin Lizzy then Whitesnake too.These local bands had quite a footprint on the Metal scene for years after.

Did you then go into the business side to help run the label?

After I finished my performing career, I was about 30 and I’d always had a business head on me and took notice of things I was exposed to as an artist. I did a degree in Media at Newcastle University and whilst there I edited the student newspaper. I then got a job at The Journal writing their music column and while there I interviewed David Wood about Neat Records and he asked me to stay and work as the press officer. The label was dead in the water so I built it back up to a healthy level again and after 10 years of hard work we sold it to Iron Maiden’s company, Sanctuary PLC.

What about now. What is your involvement in the business side?

When I decided to sell up I set up my own label Metal Nation Records and I do what takes my fancy. I have a band in Ireland called Stormzone and I pick up the odd new band plus look after some NWOBHM bands still including Blitzkrieg. I also have worked with Diamond Head, Girlschool and Praying Mantis, Holocaust , Grim Reaper and many more manufacturing their releases or booking them into festivals and help with distribution too. I also have a publishing company and have had tracks on The Sopranos TV show , MTV and all sorts of things. Metallica covered one of my tracks too. I’ve got enough to keep me more than busy let’s say.

Does being the original lead singer in the Tygers of Pan Tang still open doors for you?

Yes, but I don’t use it that much really. I will pull it out the bag if I need to, if I think it’ll get somebody’s ear or a festival slot for one of my bands. A lot of Metal heads now running the industry were fans back in the day so it’s useful.

What is it about Metal music that still resonates so strongly after so long?

The music still stands up today. It is written with passion and energy and not to a formula and there’s great songs, good singers. It’s real, it’s not manipulated or put together by the X Factor generation. The bands are fans too and the fans love the music with a passion.

You scored a Top 20 hit with the Tygers of Pan Tang with your 1st album, Wild Cat. Did that surprise you?

No. It was expected at the time of us but still ,one minute we’re playing in a Whitley Bay pub and the next we were playing with Magnum on a British tour then in the summer we had a Top 20 album. There was no mass media then and everything came through Sounds magazine so we had no idea how big things were becoming while we were out on the road. I remember coming on stage at the first gig on tour and this roar hit you – I actually looked behind to see who they were screaming at before realising it was us.

Do you ever fancy putting the Tygers back together again to play a one of show like Brofest?

I’d never say never but I think it’s unlikely. I’d love to meet up with the lads again but everyone has gone their own separate ways now. Rocky is a successful lawyer in London and Brian has a donkey farm in Somerset , Sykesy lives in the States while Rob Weir started his own version of the Tygers with some unknown guys. I did do the 20th Anniversary Tygers show with Rob Weir at Wacken Festival in 1999 – the other lads didn’t want to do it so we got Blitzkrieg to back us. I’d love to do it with the rest of the real band members one day but I don’t think it’ll happen but who knows. I have learnt to never say never.

How do you view your time with the Tygers of Pan Tang when you look back at it now?

That one short period in my life has set me up for my whole life. It was only 3 years of my life and it was over so quickly but if it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t be here now having the career that I’ve had for the last 30 odd years. It was great to be a part of it then and I have a lot of great memories.

Do you still perform occasionally?

I don’t advertise myself as such. I leave it as an open door. I’ve just been offered some gigs in Greece I may do. I did a show in Brazil a couple of years back fronting a Tygers of Pan Tang tribute band. They were brilliant and knew everything, even my solo stuff. They flew me over into a 5 star hotel and I rehearsed with them for one day and then we did a show at a festival and it was great. So I’m open to playing a few shows here and there if I fancy it. But anyway we are getting off the subject.

Please come, you North East Rock fans. I promise you’ll see some great bands and have a memorable weekend !

Brofest festival is on for 3 days from 27th February to 1st March at Northumbria University Students Union.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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