The double life of a 65-year-old rocker: Heavy metal with a side of ham

Robb Weir, the guitarist and founding member of British heavy metal band The Tygers of Pan Tang, playing a recent gig at the Boston Music Hall in London.
Robb Weir, the guitarist and founding member of British heavy metal band The Tygers of Pan Tang, playing a recent gig at the Boston Music Hall in London.

Summary

Robb Weir has played for tens of thousands at music festivals and performed countless gigs, but it’s his day job that’s drawing a new generation of fans.

Robb Weir, clad in tight jeans and covered in sweat, leads a double life.

On a recent night at a London club, he launched into a guitar solo like a 1980s British rock hero, aiming the neck of his guitar at the loving crowd, throwing back his head and pretending to unleash a hail of bullets at 200 fans who recall the era when he strutted the big stage.

Days later, Weir was dressed in a waistcoat and tartan tie, serving tea and ham-on-ciabatta sandwiches to passengers on the 13.43 train from Newcastle to Edinburgh.

Weir, 65 years old, is the longtime lead guitarist of the heavy-metal band, Tygers of Pan Tang, known for such high-decibel songs as “Crazy Nights," “Hellbound" and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Man."

For the past 20 years, he also has been a train steward. “It’s not very rock ’n’ roll, but it is a pretty concrete way to make a living," Weir said, “with a great pension."

The Tyger tune, “Only the Brave," has streamed 6.5 million times on Spotify. That sounds like a lot. But every million streams brings in only £400, about $510 for the five band members on the recording, Weir said. After expenses, Weir is lucky to take home £100 from a gig, he said.

One of the fans at the London show, many appearing to be in their 50s and 60s, said he was surprised to learn that offstage, Weir cooks up barbecue pork and rice to serve first-class passengers.

“It’s sad they never made it real big," said Nick Parrett, a 56-year-old bank worker. “But, they’re big in my eyes."

In the band’s heyday, Weir recalled the Tygers playing to more than 70,000 rock fans at the Reading Rock Festival in 1980.

In 1982, the Tygers’s remake of “Love Potion No. 9" broke into the U.K. top 40 singles charts. The band had three albums in Britain’s Top 40 chart in the early 1980s, including their “Wildcat" record.

“Gloria Gaynor and David Bowie were ahead of us," Weir said of the band’s hit album, “and Michael Jackson just behind."

While playing the festival circuit these days, Weir is always surprised to learn how many rock musicians, some from bigger bands than the Tygers, have second jobs, as cabinet makers, tattoo artists and other gigs.

“Crickey, I thought you had a fortune stashed away," he recalls thinking. “But they clearly are in the same boat as me."

A handful of famous musicians can afford to retire to villas and yachts, with the occasional reunion tour. Some stars pursue their interests in second careers.

Cindy Birdsong quit the famed 1960s Motown group the Supremes to be a nurse. Dan Spitz, the former lead guitarist of American metal band Anthrax now makes boutique watches. Terminator X, of the rap band Public Enemy, briefly ran an emu farm in South Carolina.

Spitz is the go-to guy for metalheads looking to keep good time. “I am the one of the few they trust," he said.

Lesser-known stars leave behind music careers to pay the bills.

Ailidh Lennon, the bassist of 1990s Scottish indie rock band Sons and Daughters, had her financial epiphany in 2008. She was pregnant and waiting to order pizza at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, when she realized the band had likely hit its peak—far short of rock-star riches.

“I really need to do something else more realistic," she recalled thinking.

She quit music two years later. Now, she happily bakes and serves pizza—some topped with lobster, others with fennel and pork sausage—at a takeout joint called ailidhlovespizza on the remote Scottish island of Iona.

Her former partner, the lead singer of Idlewild, an even bigger indie band, sometimes helps out, treating customers to service by indie-rock royalty.

Weir’s record royalties and tour income from the Tygers were never enough to retire on. The winner-take-all economics of music streaming leaves only live performances for small acts to make money. One problem has been that many smaller U.K. concert venues closed during the pandemic.

To make ends meet, Weir also sells chips and sandwiches from a kiosk on the train line from London to Edinburgh.

“We do a variety of ‘meal deals,’ with a hot drink and cake at £3.50, or £6 for any hot sandwich, crisps or chocolate and a hot drink or a cold soft drink," said Weir, who spreads good cheer on stage and at the counter.

Weir’s secret isn’t that he serves food on trains. It’s that he likes it.

Around two or three times a week, Weir is recognized by fans. Once in a while, he serves a customer who is wearing a Tygers’ T-shirt and has no idea Weir is the musician playing the band’s soaring guitar lines.

Weir doesn’t reveal his other life. “I say, ‘Nice T-shirt,’ and I leave it at that," he said.

He is sometimes surprised by his various fans. After playing a recent gig with the Tygers, one of them recognized him.

Aren’t you the guy who sells tea and sandwiches on the train from London?

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