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Skyclad

Even leek het erop dat één van de oudste folk metal bands ter wereld, het Engelse Skyclad, nog enkel teerde op oude successen. Ze vierden uitbundig hun twintigjarig bestaan, maar nieuw werk bleef uit. Acht jaar hebben we geduld moeten oefenen vooraleer de opvolger van ‘In The… All Together’ eind april uitgebracht wordt door Listenable Records. Maar we kunnen op twee oren slapen: ‘Forward Into The Past’ biedt alles wat een rechtgeaarde Skyclad (of originele folk metal) fan wenst. Een pluspunt daarbij is dat de muziek erg gevarieerd is, maar toch altijd herkenbaar als Skyclad. We hadden er een lang en onderhoudend gesprek over met producer, songschrijver, ritmegitarist en zanger Kevin Ridley van deze sympathieke Engelse barden.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

The previous album ‘In The… All Together’ came out in 2009. That’s already eight years ago. What happened next?
Yeah what next… good story. I will try to keep it short for you. We actually made a start in 2011, doing some new tracks and some of them even made it onto the new album. I don’t remember exactly. It were three or four maybe. At that point there was just music, ideas for music. Then some things happened. Some good things and some bad things came into the way. The good things were that we did some projects. I did a solo album for example and everyone in the band had side projects, different bands. But one of the main things was that two of the guys, Steve and Graeme, are in a band called Satan and they had to do some touring with the album they had previously (reunion of the full debut album line-up took place in 2011 – Vera) and then they made another album… and another album and they went around the world basically. Even South America and Japan. It turned into quite a big project actually. That was happening, yet it did not really stopped Skyclad, since it was a side thing. Another thing was that we did quite many anniversary type of shows for Skyclad, because we had been together for twenty years. A lot of people were asking us: ‘Can you play the songs of this album or that album as a celebration?’ We got into doing a lot of that and it seemed that doing a new album was not that important to me. We just kept on playing the songs from the first five albums forever. Then what happened was that we had a couple of illnesses in the band. Serious ones. Our drummer, Arron Walton was really ill for the best part of a year. We actually had to do some shows with another, a stand-in drummer. We did not know what was going to happen. So by the time that this was finished, we found ourselves at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016. We had a kind of brainstorming: ‘what about this new album? Do we really have to do that?’ When we were doing those anniversary shows, we saw all the lucky people and we decided to do it. We decided to go for it and surprisingly, when we decided to do it, it did not take that long. So we were not working on this record like nonstop for eight years (chuckles), we did not really started on it until last year and when we went into the studio in September, it took only eight or nine weeks and it was done.

That made sense. That’s a nice story, with good and bad things. Actually you were pretty busy all the time…
As I said, everybody got different things going on besides the band. Obviously Skyclad was still hot. We did some big festivals, I think in 2014 and to be honest, I felt like it was a sort of end, the finish of the band, the grand parade: playing all these big festivals with a best of. When we were finished with that, we thought: what would we do next, you know? But hopefully this album is the start of a new thing.

I remember that ‘A Semblance Of Normality’ was very layered and orchestral, while ‘In The… All Together’ was stripped down to five musicians. How do you see it now?
Six musicians (laughs).

Aha the return of guitarist Dave Pugh indeed…
The return indeed hehe. I was very happy with ‘A Semblance…’ because we spent a lot of time on it and there were many guest musicians, it seemed very orchestrated, it was a big album. I was very pleased with that. Having done it, we decided to do the opposite on the next album ‘In The… All Together’. We wanted to be able to write and perform everything as a five piece band live. We could do it. We actually could go to the rehearsal room and play the whole album from start to finish all by ourselves. So when we went to record it, we actually just got to play it. So we went into the studio and did the whole album in seven days, because it was so rehearsed and we knew exactly what we were doing. Again having done that, this one was slightly different. As I said, when we decided to do it, it was very quick. We did not had anything written when we were in the studio. We had some ideas. I had a plan in my head, already few years back, of what this album was going to be like and Steve had some ideas and it was a question of us putting these musical ideas into one of the slots, mingled with the words and the melodies. When we were in the studio, it was really, really fresh. It was completely different to the last album. Nobody knew who was doing what (chuckles). It was kind of put together in the studio, to fit into this big plan. So we had a very different approach to each of those three albums. A different feel. The first one took a long time to do, the second was very short and this one in between as a six piece band.

And what is the story behind his big comeback?
As I said before, we did those anniversary shows and on one of them, Steve said that Dave was there. They probably had a drink and then Steve asked: well, would it be alright if Dave joins us on this festival – I think it was in Germany - to play these old songs that featured him? I said yeah, a great idea. He came along and it was great to meet up again. We had a blast. We did some big festivals and he joined us as well. When it came down on making the new album, we decided: this is working really well, why don’t we just let Dave joining the band full time again? He was happy with it and that’s how we got him back in Skyclad. That was a great move, not only from the guitar playing point of view, because obviously it is a different style and feel to Steve, we worked together in the nineties, so that is a different feel, but also in terms of musicianship. He brings something different. He wrote a couple of songs for this album as well. It is fine to have another writer in the band.

I know that the lyrics are always important and interesting with Skyclad, so we should shine a light on them too. I think we can say that it is about politics, about the environment and the love for nature and also about the music business. Let us start with point number one: politics: very interesting these days I think…
Yes indeed. There’s a lot of topical stuff to draw attention to these days I think. The album had this sort of plan where some songs would be dealing with those issues that you just said. We actually wrote about that in the footnotes. Also songs about drinking, but they are not all about politics, let me put that straight. If anybody thinks that, that is not true, that would be boring. There are actually ten songs on the album and they all have slightly different themes. The obvious political one is ‘State Of The Union Now’ and that talks about big unions around the world. We have to go live in countries like the European ‘Union’ and the ‘United’ Kingdom and the ‘United’ States Of America… and how these people are supposed to be looking after their citizens, while everybody is worried about being great again, about us and them and building walls and all that sort of stuff. I try to be careful not to make it too specific, because otherwise these things get dated very easily. It is not that specific, it is just about the general things that people try to look for simple solutions. I think you have the same thing coming up in Holland for instance, people try to find simple solutions to their problems, whoever they want to blame for these things. ‘We must just get rid of this, then everything would be alright,’ they say. I don’t think that really works. So that is the most political I think.

Is ‘Borderline’ not about refugees?
It is. Hopefully not too obviously. I don’t want to write a song about these numbers of refugees. It is a psychological thing as well I think about these problems like this: how do you respond to something like that. That is more what the song is about. Obviously you see these things on TV in the news and it is very harrowing. But you think: this is happening, but what can I do about it? What does it mean to me? It is more to deal with those feelings you have. ‘The Borderline’ has to do with the psychology of it, not a physical thing.

One of the songs that moved me deepest was ‘Words Fail Me’…
(glad) Thank you, that is a song I have written. The intention for me as a writer was trying to make a response to the world with all these issues and problems. What can I do? All I can do is write these words. That song was a bit as a writer trying to find the words to make a contribution, overcome a writer’s block, the ‘to get it off your chest’ sort of thing…

And where is the nature featured?
In ‘Change Is Coming’. We are just about to unleash a video for that in a few days. Hope you’ll see it soon. We decided to do a couple of videos from these songs, we have not done before. We are really pleased with that. Concerning the theme of this song: again, it is really something that kind of hurts me. This idea that we have got problems with the earth, the pollution, the planet. Some people think that it is some kind of conspiracy and it does not really exist. I think it is really there for people to see. It actually goes on with interesting things, at least from my point of view, what I wanted to write about was this idea of: we can make a mess of this planet and obviously if we want to go somewhere else, another planet somewhere, are we really worthy to start going round space, using all the resources and polluting everywhere where we come. If you cannot even live on this one planet… We are not the best adverts for looking after things…

band image


And then we have point number three: the music business which keeps on changing all day long…
The actual song ‘Forward Into The Past’ is based on that. This song shows it most directly. When thinking about new material, it is difficult putting something out, which you think there isn’t any money in it. People expect to have a great product, but nobody wants to buy it. They all want to download it. The music industry is changed, so that the record part of it does not really make any money nowadays. It is all about playing live and live music has always been very expensive to do. It is hard to make money from doing live music, so it has not been a good time for bands. A lot of bands obviously have to work and cannot make money of their music at all. One of the things that give me hope is that there seems to be a movement where people like to have vinyl records now. Vinyl is making a big comeback, because where it ended up? Everybody wants something for nothing and it ended up into a kind of MP3 download… That’s how people tend to consume music which is not very good, compared to when I was young: having an album that you bought and you own this thing, this artifact and you can keep it and collect it. It was interesting, you had photographs and notes on it to read, you collected these things. It seems that some people were missing that. It is an event, getting a new album from somebody. Therefore I made a note in the album sleeve. I read that the vinyl sales were outdoing the legal downloads. So that is what ‘Forward Into The Past’ is about: the idea that most things change, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. The way that we did things back then: rock clubs, festivals, albums… it is kind of where we belong I think. I feel comfortable in this environment and it is kind of coming back to that. We got a lot of festivals I like nowadays, some of them are really specializing in bands or genres. Not big festivals, but cozy mid-sized happenings. Festivals that have a sort of a theme to them, eighties theme or pagan or whatever it is. Not hundred bands on a five day festival. Things go around and come round again is the theme of ‘Forward Into The Past’. We like what we do.

I remember you used to record with Dario Mollo as producer, but I could not find any information about this record. Where is it recorded?
We recorded in Newcastle, which is quite different for us, because we did not record there for a long time. As I said, we had nothing prepared, we just went into the studio and then we sent it to Dario. He’s got his studio in Italy, a new studio. It is a different studio, but he just moved it to the next town. He mixed it. So we did not go there this time. We had to do it high tech this time let’s say (laughs). We used our own equipment in the studio in Newcastle, something we haven’t done for a long time and that’s one of the reasons why the sound is really warm and heartfelt.

There is also mandolin on the album, isn’t it?
Yes there is, it is Dave Pugh, he not only came in just as guitar player, I also play mandolin and George did the fiddles and the keyboards. One of the things that we wanted to do was trying to get some more instrumentation and different people playing different things and that is an interesting thing for the future. With the six of us, we can play guitars and mandolins and keyboards and violins and all sorts of things. It can be an interesting mix.

Having one question from the past: I found out that you have been a sound engineer for ‘The Silent Enigma’ of Anathema. Is that true? Can you tell something about that?
Yes, it is true. (laughs) It is a bit off topic… Well, I used to work as an engineer and a producer, years before I joined Skyclad. It was my job. I used to work with a lot of rock bands and heavy metal bands right from the mid eighties. In the ninety nineties we went to a new studio, called Lynx in Newcastle, where we started recording Skyclad albums and I used to work for the Venom Management Company. It was their studio. They had the contacts and they brought different bands in and one of the bands that they brought in was Anathema. We did the recording of it in Lynx Studios. It was a strange album to do, because they were changing what they were doing. I think it was different from the album they had done before, from death metal to – how shall I describe it - more gothic… So we recorded all the music and I think they went somewhere else to mix it. But we were there for a couple of weeks and we laid down the tracks down… it was on Peaceville I think?

Indeed and later they went also to Dario Mollo, for ‘Judgement’…
Yeah. Here you go. You see, it is a small world. I did not know that. Anyways, we got into Dario Mollo because whilst we were working there with another producer, who took some of the stuff recorded at Lynx to Dario Mollo to mix it and that’s how people got to know Dario. When we heard about it, we went there to do ‘A Semblance Of Normality’.

Another thing we should shine a light on: you have another record company again…
Yes, as you said, it is a small world. As I said before, Steve and Graeme were in a band called Satan, and what happened? They had an album out thirty years ago. They were asked to play this album from thirty years ago, got together and it was a big success. They decided to keep it going. And the guys at Listenable… the first thing they did was organizing a tour in America. They had never been to America, but there was a lot of interest and they decided to make a live album of that. Listenable said: if you want to do a new album, we will do that. So they did, even two albums I think. That’s how the connection started and at a certain moment we talked about Skyclad with them. Eventually we said okay, we need to make a new album and we signed a deal with Listenable, which is really good. We are ready for release at the end of April. We are also preparing new merchandising stuff and probably vinyl, it is all exciting stuff.

You talked about the video clip for ‘Change Is Coming’. Are there plans for making more videos?
Well, we discussed the idea. The strategy of what we are going to do: so, the first one is ‘Change Is Coming’. We had a discussion with the guy who did the clip for ‘Words Upon The Street’ from the last album, Fernando J. Martinez. We are planning to do two or three clips before the album comes out. Then we are going to do some audio video and hopefully a second music video. One of the songs we consider it doing for is ‘Starstruck?’. We haven’t don’t this so often before, but we did not want the typical ‘band plays song’ video, so we are working on it.

Duncan Storr created the artwork again, but it is something special I think, with a man with branches… Can you tell anything about that?
It is all part of my plan to go forward into the past, with Dave Pugh coming back into the band and now we returned to Duncan. We used Duncan a couple of years ago, we had not used him for our last album, but anyways… With this idea about looking back to the past and all that sorts, Duncan was an obvious choice. So we went to see him and it was fantastic! He came up with many ideas and we chose one. Out of the blue he said: ‘if you are taking this one, I can do this story as well about the man with the branches.’ It is a very traditional sort of green man storyteller’s image. There’s actually two parts of that: that’s the old one that we’ve got, but there’s a young one as well. He said: ‘We can incorporate this’ plus the back image which is another one of his creations. Obviously his artwork and this Skyclad music fit really well. When we saw the storyteller and the idea of the album having the theme of the introduction with the storyteller, it was perfect. We wanted an intro and an outro and also an intermezzo in the middle, an acoustic little break and that was actually provided by Dave Pugh again.

I see in April there are gigs in Greece and a couple of Summer Festivals booked at the moment…
We have been in Greece three years ago and we had a great time with those guys. They wanted us to come back and agreed to organize it, so here we go. We have some more shows, but when the album comes out, obviously we hope to book more shows throughout the year. We are ready for it. We are back!

We hope to welcome you in our areas as well! If there is anything you like to add, please do…
The only thing I would say or make a point at, is that the album is not all political. There are some other topics, like in ‘Starstruck?’ and ‘A Heavy Price To Pay’ is a sort of traditional drinking song. Also I did a song called ‘The Queen Of The Moors’ which is kind of based on a romantic poem and it is again an old format. So there are other things happening, it is not all politics. There is a variety of stuff on it, quite some interesting things. Take a look at ‘Last Summer’s Rain’: originally, when we first rehearsed it, all those years ago, it was just about three minutes and now it turned into a monster of a track. This huge epic of five and a half minutes… with a very different feel about it. ‘Borderline’ is slightly different too. It has got piano in it, which we don’t do often. We wanted to try some different things into the songs. Sometimes a Middle Eastern flavour, other times a blues feel. People always label us in the folk thing, but we are just Skyclad. Our albums are different and we do a variety of things.

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