It’s a bright morning as I cross the road to Bloomfield Square. As I open the door and step inside, I’m greeted by the moustache, baseball cap and avuncular demeanour of the proprietor. “Great timing” he says to me, as he finishes cooing over one of the regular’s babies.
The proprietor is one Tony Wright, West Yorkshire coffee shop owner, print maker and lead singer of Terrorvision, who delivered some of the most memorable hooks of the 1990s. I’m here to chat to Tony, over an expertly-made coffee, about the 30th anniversary tour they’re about to embark on.
Formed in 1988, Terrorvision’s aim to be the biggest band from Bradford (beginning with ‘T’) still holds true. Five hit albums and 13 Top 40 singles (peaking at No.2!) between 1993 and 2001 saw them catapulted from pub gigs in Yorkshire to arenas and major festival stages across Europe.
Whether they were doo-wopping their way to Oblivion, hailing the advice of whales and dolphins in Perseverance, or celebrating the mind-altering properties of one of Mexico’s greatest exports, Terrorvision made friends and influenced fans across the world and confirmed themselves as the ‘go to’ rock band for festival fun and games throughout the 90s.
As we sat down, I wanted to delve back into the mists of the 1990s – what were some of the highlights? Immediately, you get the sense of Tony’s love for creating music and living his life to the maximum.
“I suppose just getting a chance to make some records was a massive highlight,” he says. “Not having to get on a bus or cycle up to where you worked and instead, being able to write music every day.
“You got a chance to just live your life a bit harder than you would have done just going to that same job day in-day out.”
If you’ve seen Terrorvision live before, you’ll know there’s an unbridled joy in the band’s performance. Even now, they deliver with an energy that’s difficult to match, and that’s been hard-wired into Tony from the off.
“When Terrorvision came out, we were known as a laugh and a joke and a crate of ale, and people took other bands more seriously and yeah, other bands did stand still, they wouldn’t smile.
“I smiled because I couldn’t believe where I was and I danced because I couldn’t contain my excitement! Other bands were too cool you know what I mean, they’d stand about.
“You get that adrenaline rush. Sometimes I wonder, did I use it up? Do we get an adrenaline quota in life. If you use it up, do you have to live your life on the edge of boredom forever?!”
So, how does he keep bringing that energy?
“Somehow, gigging brings it all back again. You know what I could be on my deathbed, and if the drummer clicks in on four…I reckon you’ll get another hour out of me. Give him the last rites? Hang on before you do just try this. “1-2-3-4…” Wahey!. Just don’t bury me and then do it.”
As we talk, he’s reminiscing with equal fervour about gigs small and substantial. They’re one and the same in some ways – a chance to get up there and share an experience with the fans.
“Joe (Elliot from Def Leppard) remembered us. And he asked us to open up for them at Don Valley. Maybe 1993 or something. It was before we did How To Make Friends. We played a place called the Yorkshireman’s Arms the night before. It was a pub that probably held 40 people. But there’s about 100 of us crammed into the beer garden at the back, stood on the outdoor loos roofs and stuff like that.
And then yeah, the next night, we walked up onto stage at Don Valley. So it was like, from from a tiny pub to a stadium.”
And there’s the connection with the fans. One thing that struck me was just how little focus Tony put on the reviews, which by his own admission, weren’t always favourable in the 90s. Instead, he’s there for the fan who’s maybe read those reviews, and wants to be there anyway.
“That was the real beauty we were…fan orientated. It didn’t matter what some of them [reviewers] said, they [the fans] didn’t care. They came along for the right reasons, and that’s the same reason we turn up. We turn up to a gig like these three gigs we’ve got now. We’re doing them as much because we want to go to those gigs.
“Not play those gigs. It’s not about standing up there. I do like the space that you’ve got on the stage compared to in the pit nowadays. That’s just because I’m in my 50s! But you know, it’s just great. They were the ones that said, “oh, yeah, you think they’re shit, well I think they’re great and I’m going anyway.””
It’s telling how quickly Tony’s mind heads towards live performance as a highlight, and if you are lucky enough to have a ticket to one of these 3 gigs (details at the end of this article), you’re going to have a blast.
But, I was also interested in how the music developed. What were the influences that drew the band together, and created the unique Terrorvision sound?
“There are 3 of us that wrote songs. We all came from different background. So I grew up listening to Elton John and The Carpenters. And I love it!” he confesses. “I got into rock music when my sister left for college, I were about 12. She left this record collection – the likes of Black Sabbath, Queen were in there. Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Led Zeppelin, Free, Bad Company.
“Then Mark, he likes Mötorhead, AC/DC. Then you’d find a link across to Leigh, he likes The Ramones and The Babysitters and Kiss, and then Shutty would like Kiss and he’d also like a bit of Elton John as well! So we all came from different directions but when we came together all those influences made a sound that was that was ours”
So linking the two together, I wondered if the band write with a live show in mind, rather than the record? Are they trying to put together a set list as much as an album?
“A lot of the time I do think of live. I think “Wow, imagine standing in a crowd and hearing that line” – you’d have to shout about “Whales and dolphins” and stuff like that. You come up with a line that says “Tequila, it makes me happy”. Couldn’t be simpler. And yet, I see it on t-shirts, written above bars. And I hear people say if someone gives them a tequila, “it makes me happy””.
I can confess, there’s a print of that lyric on the wall of my office at home, so I can see exactly where Tony’s coming from on that one.
Underlying so much of the writing though, in Terrorvision’s back catalogue, and Tony’s more recent solo acoustic work, is the principle of storytelling.
One thing I found as I spent time in the coffee shop, is that Tony is a relentless engager of people. Countless times throughout our interview, he stops to greet someone arriving or leaving. He knows these people by name and takes time to hear about their lives. This desire to leave a fresh perspective on record underpins the work.
Talking about a lot of their contemporaries, Tony says “It was like they’re parody bands. We can all mimic what’s been done before. But when the kids look back in 200 years time, when they find a CD where the allotments used to be, it’s like “Oh, that’s what they were like, living in 1992 coming from Bradford.”
“Well, if you listened to a lot of albums, but especially by bands back then, they were really good at sounding like bands that had lived their lives in 1974. So you never got an idea what it were like for that band in 1992 because you knew what it were like for a band in 1992 to tell you stories from 1974”
If you look behind the “laugh and a joke and a crate of ale” reputation that Tony alluded to, there’s a depth in the lyrics, full of social commentary, much of which still resonates today. Tony explains a few of those to me:
“It’s all very societal” he says. “When you’re from Bradford, you know it’s not an advantaged society. You have to push for everything you get. You understand there are some people that have and some that haven’t, but you understand that they’re exactly the same people.
“Friends and Family – I’m thinking, this is where are now in the world. I’m asking the question “would you die for king and queen” and why would you? And “there’s a party over here” – well, that’s what the government were saying to us in the pandemic!
“Then you’ve got songs like Didn’t Bleed Red. The aliens have landed and certain people run along because they’re excited because they want to see something new and meet somebody and learn. And then you’ve got the side of society who go “I’ll bring me gun just in case, cause you can’t trust them, you don’t know who they are.”
“I wonder if Priti Patel’s ever heard that song” he jokes.
I’m willing to bet she hasn’t, but I’d like to see her reaction. Maybe we should try to make that happen.
There was a time though, when this wasn’t so easy. Terrorvision lost their writing mojo towards the end of the 1990s. Having told their stories on those early albums, they found themselves short of real life inspiration. Going back into ‘normal’ life rekindled that energy. For Tony, the coffee shop is a rich, caffeinated vein of inspiration. Sometimes, it gets in there by pure osmosis.
“I don’t think of it as writing songs. I think of it as hearing songs then capturing them and then playing them to somebody else. Sometimes I write a song and I think “what do I know about…farming?” I’ve never been a farmer in me life, but I must have heard it from someone who’s sat in here and I’ve been in that place with them”
And this is what I meant before, when I said that Tony just lives 100% in the world around him. Whether that’s the obscure stories (go and find Janine & Janette from his solo work!), the inspirational elders who were born during the Second World War, or just the quiet, happy, fulfilled life of a family, there’s inspiration everywhere.
“You meet people who are good and bad. And inspirational. Because you can be inspirational and be an arsehole as well!”
We wrap up, as it’s heading towards the lunchtime rush, and Tony’s got people to look after and crucially, stories to hear.
One final thought – what have we got to look forward to in these 3 gigs – TV30 BY REQUEST? The band have already teased us a bit by saying there will be some surprises. I couldn’t get the specifics out of Tony, but safe to say, it will be an experience.
“You won’t come and see us because you think it would be safe would you? Most times after we’ve gigged, we’re messaging “I can’t stand up me knees are killing me” and I can’t talk, I can only type. I can’t hear what people are saying back to me. But what a night!.
“If I don’t come back saying that after gigs, I’m not gonna do ’em anymore!”
Terrorvision’s 30th Anniversary tour – TV30 BY REQUEST – starts on 2nd November at Rock City in Nottingham, before a much anticipated home town gig at St. Georges Hall in Bradford (3rd November) and closing out at the Electric Ballroom in Camden on 4th November.
For tickets go to: Terrorvision (official) Concert Tickets: 2023 Live Tour Dates | Bandsintown