“It’s the weirdest thing in the world,” says Dante, at the time the band’s bassist. “You’ve just played all these small gigs across the States, then you’re flown from LA to London and you walk right onto the stage that night – it’s just like, ‘Jesus, what’s going on? This is crazy!’”
Between the release of their debut album, 1989’s Taking On The World, and their initial split in 1997, the Glaswegians were one of Britain’s most successful rock bands. Founded by Dante’s elder brother, guitarist Jools Gizzi, and singer Mark Rankin, the band notched up a string of hit singles including Better Days, Steal Your Fire and their Top 5 cover of Cameo’s 80s funk classic Word Up.
But since their reunion 2008, the band have powered from strength to strength. Gun’s last album, 2017’s Favourite Pleasures, took everyone by surprise by crashing into the UK Top 20.
“I was a bit shocked to be honest,” laughs Dante, who swapped his bass for the microphone when he became Gun’s singer in 2010. “I was taking a shower at the time, it was a Saturday afternoon, and the phone wouldn’t stopped ringing. Jools was trying to get hold of me – it was, like, ‘Fucking hell, let me have a shower.’ I eventually got to and he goes, ‘You’ll never believe this – the album has gone in at Number 5 on the Saturday sales.’ It ended up at No.16, which was amazing. The last album to go in that high was [1994’s] Swagger.”
How did you celebrate? “We were absolutely knackered. We never really had a celebration. We kept meaning to, but we never got round to it.”
Let’s talk about the early days of Gun. Did except the band to be as successful as you where when you started?
It was incredible. I came straight out of school – I was only 16 or 17 when I joined the band. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I was half expecting it but only because I didn’t know anything else. We had a great management and a great label. I didn’t see the hardships that Jools had undergone previous to that, going for years trying to get a record deal, trying to get a half-decent management team. I remember him going to rehearsals in the snow, taking his cabinet in a Fine Fare shopping trolley he’d stolen. I didn’t have to do that. I walked straight into a band that was signed.
Was it a help or a hindrance being up in Glasgow, so far away from the music scene in London?
I think it was a bit of a hindrance, because you’re not part of the scene as much. When you’re in London, you go see bands, you hang out with people you know, you have a few drinks – you’re always there. But we went down there quite a lot.
You supported the Rolling Stones really early on. What was that like?
Oh man, getting that tour was incredible. We were in the middle of an American tour at the time, playing small clubs – toilet gigs, we used to call them. It was god-awful. The morale of the band and the crew was all down, then we get this phone call somewhere in Texas saying we’re gonna have to cut the American tour short because the Stones wanted us to open for them. We were, like, ‘Yes!’
It had been going on for a while, all these faxes flying around. There was about 60 bands up for it, and we thought there was no chance of us getting it. They asked, ‘What do you need in order to do the tour?’, expecting us to come back with a list of stuff about the rider, the PA, the lights. But we just sent a fax back saying, ‘We will take whatever you will give us’ in big letters. And I think that helped swing it.
What was the experience like for you?
You didn’t have all the amazing stuff you have on stage these days back then, so you learned pretty quickly how to work a crowd. I remember Mick Jagger saying, ‘A word of advice – you’ve got to look at the people at the back. They’re the people you’re playing to.’
So you met Mick?
Yeah. We were in a bar in Munich, and I said to him, ‘Thanks so much for inviting us on the tour. Why did you pick us?’ He goes, ‘You reminded me of us when we first started out.’ I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Listen mate, can I buy you a pint?’ And he goes, ‘It’s OK, it’s a free bar!’
Your first single, Better Days, was a big hit. But it was your cover of Cameo’s Word Up a few years later that took it to another level. How do you feel about that now?
I’m really happy about it. People have said, ‘You’re remembered more for someone else’s song’, but it doesn’t matter to me. Everybody was doing cover versions at the time. Originally Word Up was going to be a B-side for the last track on (1992’s album ) Gallus. So we recorded it, and the record label heard it and thought, ‘No chance is this going on B-side – this is going to be a single.’ And we were, like, ‘What?’
We only really did it for a laugh – we loved the song, we absolutely loved Cameo. We just wanted to put a rockier edge on it. And it flew into the charts. We got the MTV Award for Best Cover Version – we beat Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around, which was the most played song ever! It was a huge thing.
What was the MTV Awards like?
You know what, I can’t remember much about it. I was steamin’ drunk even before it started. It was in Berlin, near the Brandenburg Gate, and funnily enough, The Cult, who are playing at Ramblin’ Man were there. We been around Europe with them so we kind of new them. I was dying for a piss and Ian Asbury was, like, ‘Where are you going to go for a pee?’ I was, like, ‘I’m just gonna go outside.’ So he comes with me, and the two of us are doing a piss on the pavement next to the Brandenburg Gate. It was just hilarious.
Did you ever have any feedback from Cameo about the cover?
No, nothing. They just took the money and ran!
Was it a good time to be in Gun back then?
It was hard work, but it was fun. You take for granted all the things that happen, going to all these different places, being wined and dined by people. I remember going to Spain, cos we sold a lot of records there, and the guy from the record label took us out to this fancy steak restaurant. I was vegetarian at the time and I was, like, ‘I can’t eat that, sorry.’ And the guy was, like, ‘Why? Are you poor?’
You never seemed to fit in – you weren’t a glam rock band, you weren’t a grunge band, you weren’t a metal band. Did you feel out there on your own?
Yeah, we did. We were never ones for following trends, I think that’s why we’re still here.’ And we were listening to stuff that was contemporary too – we were listening to Madonna and Prince and whatever else was out there at the time. But we always loved AC/DC and Zeppelin and early Rush. But it’s always been the case. Are they rock? Are they pop?
You had success with Gallus and your third album, 1994’s Swagger. And then you made 0141 632 6326 with Andrew Farriss of INXS, which was a very different sound album…
There was a lot going on musically. The whole grunge thing was happening. It was a different environment to be in, and it was difficult for us to sustain the sound that we had. I think that’s partly the reason we wanted to write and record with Andrew Farriss. We thought to ourselves, Gun has to be different again.’ We wanted something like INXS’s Listen Like Thieves or Kick, but it didn’t turn out like that at all.
What went wrong?
Jesus, it was hard work. We in Sarm Studios, paying something like five grand a day, and halfway through the album Jools and I were saying, ‘This isn’t right – this is far too poppy.’ The demos had more heaviness than the tracks we were recording. And Andrew Farriss was a bit of a strange cookie as well. He was, like, ‘Well, I don’t want to do an album like Kick, I’ve done that before, I don’t want to do that.’ We’re, like, ‘Its not for you, it’s for us!’
Me and Jools were, like, ‘We don’t want to record any longer with him – we just want to chuck this album.’ And the record label said, ‘No you’re not.’ We’d already spent a hundred grand or something. After that album, we knew it wasn’t going to go any further. We ended up falling out with everybody.
You split up not long after. Was that a relief or a disappointment?
A bit of both. We’d had a good ten years or so, we’d taken it about as far as we could do.
Didn’t you open up a restaurant?
Yeah. Me and Jools got a wee place, a Mediterranean place. My other brother and sister had been in the restaurant trade for ages, so Jools and I invested the money we made in a restaurant.
How did the restaurant business compare to the music business?
Oh my god, it was more daunting. I found it more difficult to serve a customer than to play onstage in front of 60,000 people. But you could come and go as you please, and we were still writing songs. We always wanted to do another band, Jools and I, and that’s where El Presidente came along. But the restaurant was a great respite. It brought you right back down to earth. But it was fun.
Did you ever think about reuniting Gun during that period?
Not really. I was more focussed on what I was doing with El Presidente. And some of the El Presidente songs were actually going to be songs for Gun. If you listen to a song like 100MPH, we wanted to Mark to sing it, but it was just too high for him. But there was a part of me that was nostalgic. I wondered if anyone remembered the band, or would come to see the band – I wondered if there was still an interest.
Gun reunited in 2008. What prompted it?
We didn’t really want to leave it with the 0141 album. We were at a big charity event in Glasgow. Tom Russell (legendary Scottish rock radio DJ) asked us to get back together. We thought, ‘You know what, that might be quite nice.’ And Toby Jepson (ex-Little Angels singer) was there too, so we asked him if he fancied singing. We still had something to prove.
Did you invite Gun’s original singer, Mark Rankin, to be part of the reunion?
We did. We asked him, but he didn’t want to do it. He works as a radio plugger now, he’s been doing that for years. We still see him from time to time, say ‘hi’ and stuff.
Are you comfortable in the role of singer?
I am now. At the beginning I wasn’t – I felt like, ‘Oh god, I’m having to be compared to Mark.’ But Favourite Pleasures is my third album in, and it’s starting to feel OK. But we don’t shy away from playing the old stuff, which a lot of bands do. We always put all the hits in there.
How are things different in Gun now to the way they were back in the late 80s and early 90s?
This might sound like I’m just saying it, but I don’t think Gun have sounded better than we do now. I think that’s because of musicianship – don’t get me wrong, it was full of energy, but you obviously get better with age. We’ve got a new guitarist, Tommy Gentry, who is getting it absolutely perfect. Some of the parts he’s playing on a song like Better Days or Steal Your Fire, I’m like, ‘Fucking hell, I’ve not heard it like that for a long time!’ And I think because you’re older, you’re more grown up, more mature – you’re not as stupid as you were. You don’t fall out over the slightly wee thing like you used to do: ‘That’s my pizza!’ ‘No, it’s my pizza!’
It’s almost 30 years since the first album. Is there anything you’d have done differently?
There’s a lot of things we could have done but there’s no point dwelling on them. People say Gun should have been bigger than we were, but that’s just life. The thing is, we’re happy where we are now. We’re still doing it and we’re still loving it.
What can we expect from Gun’s set at Ramblin’ Man?
A party atmosphere. We love to instill that, especially in a festival audience. Not everybody’s there to see you specifically, that’s why you make it more flamboyant, have fun, enjoy it. We’re gonna be playing a lot of the old stuff, just to refresh people’s memories, as well as playing two or three of the new tracks, which fit in brilliantly. But it’s just about having a good time – that’s what people are there for.
Gun play Ramblin’ Man Fair’s Main Stage on Saturday June 30