How I wrote ‘Perseverance’ by Terrorvision’s Tony Wright
The singer of Bradford rock band Terrorvision tells the story behind the writing of their riff-tastic ode to whales and dolphins
Terrorvision are one of the most successful bands to come out of the city of Bradford. At the peak of their powers in the 1990s they were writing songs which cleverly blended heavy rock riffs with memorable pop melodies. Singles such as Oblivion, Celebrity Hit List and Josephine could all be considered anthems of the Britrock era. But the song which best sums up their style and appeal is Perseverance.
Taken from the band’s Top 10-reaching third album, Regular Urban Survivors, Perseverance became the band’s highest-charting single up to that point when it reached No 5 in 1996. It wasn’t just the monster riff that caught the imagination; audiences took great delight from singing along to the line, ‘I was right about the whales and the dolphins. Whales and dolphins, whales and dolphins, yeah!’ Such was the popularity of the lyric that Terrorvision even used it as the title of their 2001 greatest hits compilation, Whales And Dolphins.
Frontman Tony Wright takes us through the creation of his band’s marine-friendly hit…
“The song came out of hearing the riff. We’ll have been at a rehearsal space and all putting in ideas. Sometimes someone would come in with a song that was just about written to all intents and purposes, but then when we played it as Terrorvision it became Terrorvision. I might take in an idea and say, ‘I’ve written a song,’ but by the time we got to recording it I would think, ‘This is nothing like it!’ You can still see the bare bones but the hair colour, the size of the stature and everything is a completely different beast. But with Perseverance it was a mishmash of riffs held together by the melody and the lyrics. That’s how that one worked out, it wasn’t one where someone came in and said, ‘I’ve got the majority of a song written here and it goes like this.’
“I have a thing called ‘A Bag of Riffs’ which is all songs that I’ve started to write but have never got past the first verse or the first chorus. It’s an imaginary bag, but I can see it and it’s a hessian sack with a drawstring at the top of it. If I’m writing with the band I’ll play something and hope it’ll trigger other ideas and together we’ll write a song. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes by saying, ‘I’ve written this, everyone play it.’
“You have to be quite open-minded in the band format and so quite often the bag of riffs is just riffs that I’ve come up with which the band haven’t taken any further. If I get to the point where I’m writing a song and I’m stuck, I put my hand in the bag of riffs and I search around and I pick out all these ideas that I’ve had before and I’ll jam them in here and there. Terrorvision have a very similar thing as a band. We have a bag of riffs where people would say, ‘I’ve got this idea,’ and then someone would rummage around and go, ‘It fits with this riff at the bottom of my bag,’ and we’d put them together. We worked it that way.
I LOVE WHALES AND I LOVE DOLPHINS
“At that time I was always trying to cram too many words into small spaces, I think I’ve always been guilty of that. I could just hear the line, ‘I was high on a Molotov of cocktails’. It’s a really weird thing with songwriting, you don’t feel like you write them, you feel like they make themselves appear to you. So that line presented itself to us and the rest of it was just really easy, it came from there. So from the high of a Molotov of cocktails to being low on a hundred things.
“There are certain lines that you really mean and really want people to hear, and the ‘whales and dolphins,’ line was one of those and so I just repeated it – it’s kind of simple, isn’t it. I love whales and I love dolphins. It’s weird because we always got dumbed down by a lot of the press who said that what we were singing about wasn’t as intelligent as someone like Blur, but that was just them being up themselves because Blur never came up with a line as good as that!
“From being, ‘Lost on the road to nowhere,’ to, ‘A guest on a runaway train,’ I kind of like that chaotic journey that the song went on. A lot of Terrorvision songs did this, they’d ask a question and have an answer, but also then have an alternative answer to that question and they’d explore both sides of everything. I think a lot of our songs were exploratory in the searching kind of way that you are in your twenties. I’m not so keen on songs that tell you how it is; I’m much more interested in being asked a question and then being left to find out an answer.
“Then we went to Parkgate Studios down in Battle with Gil Norton and worked the song up from there until it became Perseverance as we know it, with brass sections and everything like that.
“Personally I think the popularity was because we were right about the whales and dolphins. People heard the song and I think that line grabbed them. That’s what you do when you write a song, you’re writing it in your bedroom and then you play it to a crowd and you’re hoping that someone in that crowd thinks the same way as you. A lot of people love whales and dolphins. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet has proved that! Maybe it should have been the theme tune to that. If you come to any of our gigs, the line, ‘Whales and dolphins, yeah!’ is one of the loudest retorts we get. There’s a couple of times in a set that you’ll hear the crowd louder than you can hear the band and that’s definitely one of them. I still love it!”