Not many musicians get to play big venues and tour professionally with a single band. Gizz Butt has done it with several and he is currently on a roll with Janus Stark. Here Gizz chats to Gary Trueman about where he’s at musically right now, how he ended up working with Charlie Harper and his thoughts on the sad passing of former band mate Keith Flint
Let’s kick things off with a look at where you are with Janus Stark. You reformed the band back in 2018 initially to play Hamburg’s Booze Cruise Fest. What made you carry things on from there?
“I was in a German metal band at the time called Pyogenesis but all my friends in Hamburg were more punk characters. I was really close friends with a band called Anna Drinks Dog Piss, a ridiculous name but a great band. We played with them when I was in The More I See and we stayed friends. Every time I was in Hamburg we’d go out for drinks and go to clubs. I met people through them, Hamburg punk guys. One of them called Timo, he’s the promoter of the Booze Cruise which is quite a successful festival. He convinced me to get Janus Stark together and come and play. We were just going to do the one gig. The way the whole day went, the way we felt, it just hit us – this is it! So we decided to keep it going, and then write new material.”
You also recorded around that time with Charlie Harper of the UK Subs. How did that come about?
“I’ve got a long standing relationship with Charlie because we met way back when I was in the Destructors. That was 1981. We met up around the English Dogs period, 95-96. We were touring quite a lot supporting the UK Subs. They had a Scottish guitarist called Al at the time and sometimes he would be late. So I was there, knew a lot of the UK Subs repertoire and Charlie asked if I could play for them. We’d play about 30 mins and then Al would walk in the venue which would be a bit uncomfortable. But it happened a few times and there was one time when he didn’t walk in and I played the whole gig. Charlie said we ought to have a rehearsal and that turned into a song writing session as well. We wrote two songs together. One of them ended up on the first Janus Stark album called ‘Enemy Lines’. After that period that’s when the whole Prodigy thing happened. I got the audition and got in the band. No more UK Subs although I did carry on doing English Dogs. We stayed friends and then a few years down the line when I’d reformed Janus Stark (after coming back to punk via Crass) and I said to him I’d written a brand new song why don’t you do a guest spot? The song was ‘It Can Be Tough Up There’. Charlie did a load of harmonica solos and we chose one although they were all amazing and of course we talked him into doing some backing vocals on one or two tracks. We then got signed to Time And Matter records which is the Subs label. Alvin (Gibbs –UK Subs) kind of got that hooked up, he told them to check out Janus Stark’s new stuff.”
All the bands and inter personal relationships is a bit like connecting cogs isn’t it?
“Yes, absolutely. I mean the UK Subs have always been one of my favourite bands and let’s face it they have to be one of the most prolific.”
You put out Angel In Flames in 2019 and then things went very pear shaped for you in many ways both band wise and on a personal level. There was Covid, and you lost both parents. Take us through that little period of time. There were some positives too weren’t there?
“The first gig we did in Germany was on June 9th 2018 and we launched a video in November. We went on tour with the Wildhearts which was amazing. It was a tour I’d always wanted. They’re an interesting band, I’d always been into them and wanted to tour with them. The fans just took to us and everything was working out and then we released the album straight after the tour. Then my dad died. It was a tragic thing to happen but my dad was dying for ten years. He’d been in and out of hospital and had gone through every one of his nine lives. He’d done well to keep going because I can remember coming off tour in 2001 and seeing him in hospital and thinking this is it. He kept bouncing back until that one time. It was inevitable in the end and I was lucky enough to be with him when he died. So I’m trying to arrange a funeral and the album is coming out at the same time. It’s not good for your head. Then after Christmas my mum is hospitalised, then we begin touring and then my mum dies. All these things are happening at the same time. And then Covid happened. We’re on tour, kind of in denial that this Covid is going to stop everything. But you could see the dominos falling. Everything hit me then. Touring meant I could put the family stuff on pause and kind of blank it out of my mind. But then you’ve got the death of your parents, you’ve got their house you’ve got to deal with, but you’ve got lockdown. It was a really strange time. I just had to get on with it.”
We’ve come out of that period now and some stuff happened in 2021 but 2022 was really the first full year with things opening up. Janus Stark seem to have hit the ground running. You’ve played Rebellion Festival, you released the album Face Your Biggest fear and have toured it extensively after launching at The 100 Club . Did you write that through Covid or was it done after in a shorter period of time?
“A lot of it was written through the Covid experience. Most of it in fact. That was the thing to do. On the day we were told everything is closing, go home and stay at home. So I’m sat in my studio in Peterborough which is close to the city centre and just thought let’s just move the whole lot home. I cleared out the shed and put everything in there and I made a studio in the shed. I knew I had to do something with this time. I set everything up so I could just record myself. I even did the drums myself, I just wanted to put the time into my song writing.”
You played Rebellion with both Janus Stark and The Destructors. How important is that festival to the punk scene in the UK for progressing bands? It puts on a huge number and variety of acts each year and must be an experience to play.
“I’ve played it in the past and long time ago but this was more important to me, getting Janus Stark on there. When we got the email and we were confirmed for Rebellion, that’s when I got in touch with the record label and said we should organise the album (Face Your Biggest Fear) release for this. We had it in the can in January 2022, that’s when it was mastered and ready to send off. We recorded with Andy Hawkins up in Leeds and did the drums first so I could record my parts over it recording at home, putting in the donkey work. Andy Sneap mastered it. He’s one of the greatest metal producers of all time in my opinion. So we launched it at The 100 Club which is a special place. That was the southern launch. Then we did one in Leeds as a northern one. And one in Stamford at Mama Liz’s Voodoo Lounge which is local to us. And then after that Rebellion.”
You then toured that album through to the end of 2022. Have you got any plans to continue that touring into 2023?
“No. I want to come away from it and look at it and look at the feedback. I want to sit back, take stock and look at what’s happened. I want to collect the documentation, there’s been a lot of reviews and interviews. I want to pull it all in quick before it gets lost. I’m so happy with the album, everyone involved with it is so happy with it, I don’t just want to follow it up with something crappy. I want to just take a look around and then decide what we should do next.”
You played in The Prodigy during the ‘Fat Of The Land’ era. In March 2019 Keith Flint passed away. Obviously a very sad time. How did that news break to you that your former band mate had died?
“I probably heard first of all via a text message. I heard very soon after it was first announced. Something like that it just explodes. The way I look at it Keith was a supernatural person. He was amazing. I believe he was the closest thing you could get to a shape shifter. If you watch footage of The Prodigy playing at the Phoenix Festival in 1996, 20 to 40 minutes in, keep an eye on that, Keith is pulling like a dozen facial expressions in two or three seconds. No one can do that. It’s weird and brilliant. I can’t do that and I don’t know anyone else who can. Only Keith Flint could do that. Maxim had that voodoo vibe about him which really came across. It went with the sound The Prodigy made at that period of time coming out of the ‘Jilted Generation’ and going into ‘The Fat Of The Land’. Then you had Leroy who balanced it out as the mellow guy. He was the peaceful guy if you like even though he was a giant at nearly seven foot. He balanced out the chaos of Keith and voodoo of Maxim. Then I came in with my punk rock. And of course Liam is composing these things.”
Since you left The Prodigy had you kept in touch at all?
“No, we are worlds apart. When I joined that band I didn’t join as a session musician, I was never told that. I joined as a guitarist. I was always under the impression I was going to become a bona fide member but that wasn’t going to happen. When it finished for me I kind of kept away from it. It’s like a relationship that’s coming to an end, you can see it coming but it doesn’t mean you have to like it. You keep hanging on and hoping. I came away from it having been right up there in this huge experience for three to four years of endless touring and then you’re disconnected. Where the hell am I? One moment I was the guitarist for The Prodigy and then all these doors are slamming shut and you’re trying to come back down to earth. I guess I should really never have left in the first place in some ways. I did make contact with them again and I did go to some gigs.”
You’ve played all over the globe during your career. Out of all the countries you’ve performed in which is your favourite? And the best gig?
“That’s impossible! I like the States. I’m a fan of Germany. It’s a great place. I love Hamburg and Berlin. I’m pretty comfortable in Germany but I guess as you’ve asked me what’s the best gig I’ve ever done it wouldn’t necessarily be the biggest. However The Prodigy at Phoenix Festival in 96 is up there. Everything about it, David Bowie at the side of the stage, it was just so mind blowing good. But maybe topping that would be some of the gigs I did with The English Dogs on that 2012 tour. Not only did we have venues full of like 2000 devoted fans, they knew every word of every song, but in some places like Canada they were singing my guitar solos back at me. It’s pure joy because you feel that everything you’ve done has been listened to.”
If you could hop in a time machine and travel beck to give a 16 year old Gizz one piece of advice what would you say?
“Stick to your roots. Don’t lose yourself. I did my best. I’ve tried my hardest but I feel I could have tried a little bit harder. I think sometimes we have a voice in our head and it’s not ours. It’s best to ignore that voice. All out life we’re given bits of advice and a lot of it is rubbish. Your own voice that you’ve got in your head is the one to listen to. Your own voice is the real one, the voice that’s in you is the best voice.”