Anvil were once hailed as the demigods of Canadian heavy metal.
The band influenced a musical generation, including the metal bands Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Although Anvil never made it big, the band was persistent, recording 12 albums.
Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow hammering the Flying V guitar.
In the summer of 2005, wondering what happened to Anvil, writer and director Sacha Gervasi, the band’s former roadie, typed their name into Google.
“This semi-official website came up, so I wrote the webmaster, ‘I’m an old friend of the band, my name is Tea Bag, and I’m really anxious to get in touch with them,’” said British-born Gervasi during brunch at Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel.
Steve (Lips) Kudlow, Anvil’s guitarist, wrote back: “We thought you died or became a lawyer.”
Gervasi is now a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, which starred Tom Hanks.
Gervasi telephoned Kudlow and told him, “Dude, you’ve got to come to L.A. man.”
When Gervais got in touch with Kudlow, Kudlow was delivering for a catering company, while the band’s drummer, Robb Reiner, worked in demolition.
“So I got him [Kudlow] a ticket and picked him up at the airport. It was as if no time had passed – it was just magical,” Gervais said.
While in Los Angeles, they met with Gervasi’s friend and mentor Steve Zaillian, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Schindler’s List.
Zaillian and Gervasi talked about Anvil. “I told Steve [Zaillian], ‘I think there’s something – I don’t know what it is, they never quit. They never made it, but kept churning out these albums,’” Gervasi said.
It was Zaillian who suggested that Gervasi do a documentary about the band.
For the film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Gervasi followed the now-fiftysomething rockers, inseparable since their teens, on a world tour. Shot in London; Toronto; Parry Sound, Ont.; and Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, as well as in Austria and Romania, the film also includes footage of moments from their past.
The band performed to enthusiastic audiences at sold-out film festival screenings during Sundance in Park City, Utah, and recently at Toronto’s Hot Docs, where the documentary ranked sixth out of the top 10 audience favourites.
“You’d think that someone who spent 30 years crushed on the sidewalk of life by the shoes of fate would be bitter, but Lips was quite the opposite,” Gervasi said. “He thought, ‘I guess that’s life and I’m not going to quit.’ That’s pretty admirable.”
Gervasi first came across Anvil on the cover of the rock magazine Sounds in April 1982. Gervasi was 15 when he met the band at a concert in London, England, the following September.
“We bonded. I knew everything there was to know about the music, so they invited me on tour the following summer. My parents were divorced, so I ostensibly spent the summer with my father and hopped on the train to join the tour,” Gervasi said.
“My mother went completely nuts, but I didn’t really care. I toured twice more ’cause my mom’s family, the Kosoys, are from Toronto, so I’d visit my family and rehearse and do shows with the group.”
Enjoying a resurgence of popularity, Kudlow, Reiner and bassist Glenn Five, who joined the band 12 years ago, now play in packed clubs. Recently, Anvil performed at the Bovine Club on Toronto’s Queen Street West.
“The Jews of Metal” as Gervasi fondly calls the band, are back on the road, taking the documentary to New York’s BAM Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 31; Sydney’s film festival, at which Anvil will play for 2,000 people; the Melbourne International Film Festival and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
For more information, visit www.anvilmovie.com.