Robbie Tart first emerged from Britain’s rock scene in 1989, when his short-lived hair metal group Heartbreak Angels released the double A-side Shoot Me Down/Desperado. Originally performing under the stage name Robbie Jay Dee, Tart had high hopes for his band as they began to attract the attention of metal magazines, but just as they were on the brink of success it all fell apart overnight.
Disillusioned by his experiences, Tart decided to focus on various projects behind the scenes, before returning to the stage for a short time as a member of the punk outfit The Vibrators. More recently, he has been working with his new group The DeRellas, as well as recording material as a solo artist.
Robbie Tart looks back on over two decades of surviving in the music industry.
Where did you grow up and how did this environment shape your introduction to music?
After moving around a lot, my family settled in St. Albans in Hertfordshire…it wasn’t my favourite place, though I had a couple of close friends there. I spent a lot of time on my own so I guess music was my best friend. Every Sunday (weather permitting) I would sit on the roof of the house with my little transistor radio, listening to the top 20!
What were the first albums you bought and did you fantasise from a young age about being in a rock band?
As a kid I couldn’t afford albums so singles were my thing. The first single I bought was Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. I loved that song…still do! The first album I owned was Double Platinum by KISS. Got that for me birthday!
Was there one specific moment, perhaps an album or TV broadcast, that turned you onto this kind of music and fuelled tour passion?
Seeing the Sweet on Top of the Pops. God, I was blown away. I couldn’t get enough; The Sweet, Gary Glitter, T.Rex. I knew I wanted to be in a band!
Growing up in the late 1970s, were you at all inspired by the punk scene of the New Wave of Heavy Metal? What kind of fashion were you into and which rock stars did you idolise during this time?
I loved Billy Idol and Tony James from Generation X. They really were very influential on me, as was Marc Bolan. I saw a lot of the NWOBHM bands. Girl were my favourite, got to see them a whole bunch of times, even the Wembley show with KISS. Me and my mate Neil used to try and look like Phil Lewis and Gerry Laffy. We were never that cool!
What part did glam rock play in your taste in music and what were you key influences when you started out as a musician?
’70s glam played (and still does) a huge part of my life; Bolan, Bowie, Slade, etc. It was hard to find anyone that shared my passion. There was no internet, so I used to trawl through classifieds of music papers, such as Sounds.
Was your first band one that you formed or did you audition? How did this come together and do you remember the first time you went on stage to perform?
I was fourteen and there was this band at school that needed a drummer, so I told them I could play drums. I borrowed a kit from this guy down the road and managed to get through a rehearsal! We only did one show then split up. I did audition for a few bands as a guitarist but I was crap and never got a call back!
How would you describe the music scene during these early years? Did you build your reputation on the road or did you feel more comfortable in the studio?
The music scene in London was rockin’, so I moved to Doncaster to join the Heartbreak Angels! It was tough up there, us with our make-up and big hair. Then there was the rest of Doncaster who wanted to kill us! We were definitely a live band; studios were way to expensive back then, we worked very hard in the three years together.
What was the story behind Heartbreak Angels?
In February 1988 I had this shitty job; I daydreamed every day of being in a kick-ass rock band. It was a lunch time and I was tucking into a pizza and reading Kerrang!, and there was this classified ad. I phoned up, auditioned, jacked in my job and moved!
I don’t know that we were targeting a particular crowd, more of a creating our own scene. We would tour with The Dogs D’amour and The Quireboys, maybe that was the crowd we wanted. To be honest, I was just happy getting forty quid a week and playing all these shows and meeting some truly wonderful people!
How long were you touring for before you signed with MTI Records and what kind of restrictions or demands did your contract come with?
MTI Records was set up as a subsidiary of FM Revolver…man, did we get fucked! We had to finance the first two thousand singles, which we did. The week the single was released it charted. Being FM Revolver’s fastest-selling single ever, the first pressing had sold out. FM Revolver refused to finance a second pressing and we didn’t get any money from the sales of the first pressing. Our then-manager did a runner with the master tapes! The band was left to rot. I guess this was the start of the end…fuckers!
Your band incorporated the image of what has since become known as ‘hair metal,’ which the back combed bleached hair and make-up. Why do you think bands like Poison and Cinderella were so flamboyant and effeminate, particularly when the majority of their audience were young men?
It was a rock star thang!
It wasn’t just the bands that were dressing up, the fans were as well. It was great; you could look like a star and be on the dole (Rocky quote). A lot of the bands were shit but looked great. Every record company wanted their own Mötley Crüe or Poison.
How do you feel about the way that Penelope Spheeris portrayed hair metal in her 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, insinuating that all those bands were dumb and talentless?
I thought it was funny. Some of the bands were dumb and talentless, but they got their fifteen minutes!
There seemed to be elements of both Michael Monroe and Stiv Bators in your image and style of singing; were either of these a major influence on you?
Well, two of my favourite bands are Hanoi Rocks and the Dead Boys, so I guess you could say there was a slight influence!
The track Desperado had an almost country feel to the acoustic guitar, what other genres aside from rock were you influenced by?
Punk and ’70s glam, baby!