When did Elixir get together as a band, and how did you guys actually meet up with each other?
Phil Denton: "I answered a music paper advert for a guitarist late in 1983. When I got to the audition I met Kevin Dobbs on bass, his brother Nigel on drums, and Steve Bentley on guitar. Although we were all young, Nigel was 17, Kev 19, Steve 20, and I was 21, I thought that we sounded pretty good together. Luckily, I got the job, as they needed a songwriter as well as a guitarist."
Who decided to call the band Elixir, and why did you actually choose this name?
Phil: "Kev says that he was in Steve’s flat, and they were trying to think of a good name. They had toyed with ‘Hellfire’ and ‘Purgatory’ but didn’t really feel happy with those names. Steve opened a dictionary, pointed at the page with his eyes shut, and his finger fell near the word ‘Elixir’. They liked the definition and decided to use that name. Steve designed the logo, which I really liked, so that convinced me to go with the name."
I believe that your first singer was a lady called Sally Pike. Couldn’t you find any male singers at the time?
Phil: "No, we couldn’t. We advertised for a vocalist, and Sally was the best vocalist of the batch we auditioned. She had a great ‘rock chick’ image, and turned up on her motor bike all in leather! We didn’t envisage using a female vocalist originally, as I said, Sally was the best of all the singers we auditioned."
Did you record anything with Sally?
Phil: "We recorded our very first demo tape with Sally. It had four tracks, ‘The Idol’, ‘Devil Rider’, ‘Death Toll’ and ‘Satan’s Angel’. As you can guess from the titles, we were influenced by the black arts in our lyric writing back then!"
What happened to Sally when she left the band, and do you know if she is still active in the music scene?
Phil: "We played the demo tape to Neil Kay, the D.J. who is said to have “discovered” Iron Maiden. He liked Sally’s vocals, and was involved in an all-female band called Sweet Sixteen. They were looking for a vocalist, so he persuaded Sally to join them. I haven’t heard from Sally since she left Elixir, so I don’t know if she is still involved with music."
Can we say that you played a different style of music when Sally was in the band or not?
Phil: "No, not really. We started writing songs before we had a singer. It was tough for Sally and for Paul, when he joined, to sing the songs at first because they were quite demanding, and hadn’t been written in a certain key to suit their voices. The great thing about Paul is that even now, he usually sings the song in the key that it was originally written. Obviously, he has input when we write, and contributes ideas of his own, and will suggest changes when we write the songs, but as a song-writer, I find him brilliant to work with for his flexibility."
How did you get in touch with Sally’s replacement?
Phil: "We placed an advert in the music press and went through the usual auditions until the day when Paul turned up."
Did any of the band members of Elixir play in other bands before they joined the band?
Phil: "Paul had come from a band called Midas, who had released one single, 'Can’t Stop Loving You Now'/'Fire In The Sky', which I think is more collectable and valuable than our ‘Treachery’ single. Norms played in a couple of bands in Northern Ireland, that played covers and originals. I had played in a couple of my own bands that played all original material, but we never recorded anything. As for the Dobbs brothers, Elixir was their first band."
Who can we see as the biggest influences of Elixir?
Phil: "For me, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and Michael Schenker are my guitar playing and song-writing heroes. Paul is in to Deep Purple, so he brings that element into our music. Norms is a big fan of Thin Lizzy, and he adds the guitar harmonies that give us that sound. The Dobbs brothers were into the early 80s bands such as Judas Priest and Metallica, Queensryche and Mercyful Fate, so our rhythms come from that genre."
You opened for Tokyo Blade, when you played your first gig in 1985. What was that experience like?
Phil: "It was the first gig for what we call our ‘proper’ line-up, (the ‘Treachery’ and ‘Son of Odin’ line-up), but we had played two gigs in a London pub as Elixir with Sally and original guitarist Steve. As an experience, (the Tokyo Blade gig) it was great. We had been rehearsing and writing, and at last we had managed to get a gig on the circuit playing at The Royal Standard in Walthamstow. We had been pestering Big Mick, the gig manager there, for a while to give us a shot, and eventually, after he heard our demo tape, he put us on with Tokyo Blade. We got a good response from the crowd, and that encouraged us to continue."
Your debut single 'Treachery' c/w 'Winds Of Time' was reviewed by Ronnie James Dio, when he was a guest reviewer in Kerrang in 1985. You must have been very flattered, when you found out that he liked this release a lot?
Phil: "Yes, that was brilliant! Dio was a hero to all of us, in fact the first big show in London that we had gone to as a band was Dio/Queensryche on the Holy Diver tour at Hammersmith Odeon. It was totally by chance that Dio agreed to review the singles the very same week that we had sent our single in, and the fact that he liked it, was icing on the cake. Dio is still up there amongst the greats, his ‘Killing The Dragon’ album was great, so was the show in London, so it was extremely flattering and encouraging to get a positive review from someone who we respected and admired."
Then you released your debut album 'Son Of Odin'. How did the press react on this album, and did you also get any negative reviews about it?
Phil: "We had a great review in Kerrang!, which was the major magazine for us at that time, and I remember the reviewer in Metal Forces saying that he would rather listen to our album than Iron Maiden’s ‘Somewhere In Time’ or Priest’s ‘Turbo’, which were the current albums of the two biggest bands at the time! I can’t remember seeing any negative reviews of the album."
The album 'Son Of Odin' was re released with two extra, live bonus tracks. What was the reason for the re release, which was quite soon after its original release?
Phil: "No, that’s not quite correct. We released the album on vinyl in 1986. The first re-release on CD was on the Cult Metal Classics label in 2001, with three bonus tracks, one was a live track, one was the B-side to our rare single release of ‘Treachery’, and the other was a track that we recorded at the same sessions as ‘The Son Of Odin’ but was never on the original vinyl release. Cult Metal Classics only pressed 1000 hand numbered copies of this release as a collectors item and they sold out within a month or two. We kept getting requests for the CD but we couldn’t provide copies as it had sold out, so we decided to look for a label to release ‘The Son Of Odin’ and ‘Sovereign Remedy’. The Swedish label TPL have re-released both albums on CD, and they are not limited editions, so hopefully everyone who would like a copy can get one."
In 1988 you had a very special guest drummer for a short time, because Nigel Dobbs left the band shortly before that. How on earth did you manage to get Clive Burr on your drum stool?
Phil: "Nigel and Kev both left the band at a time when we had written most of the second album (Sovereign Remedy) and were almost ready to go into the studio to record. We found a bass player, Mark White, but were having trouble finding a suitable replacement on the drums. Time was running out with the studio date coming up, when by chance we took our van in for repair at the same garage that Clive Burr was having his car fixed. We asked for his phone number, met him and played him the demo material. We got on well with him personally, and he liked the material, so he agreed to record the album. Unfortunately, he was signed to the ex-Twisted Singer Dee Snider’s band called Desperado at the time, and was due to hook up with them after recording, so he couldn’t join us on a permanent basis. We did manage to play one gig with him in London before he went, and his old mate from Iron Maiden, Paul Di’anno was in the audience. We also got to play a five-a-side football match with Clive in our team, and he wasn’t a bad footballer!"
'Lethal Potion' was your second album, with the aforementioned drummer laying down the rhythms. In which way did this second album differ from your debut album?
Phil: "When we were recording the album it was to be called ‘Sovereign Remedy’, but was changed by the label upon it’s release to ‘Lethal Potion’. As I said, some of the material was written when the Dobbs brothers were still in the band, and was the same style as ‘The Son Of Odin’. However, we went for a more commercial sound on some of the songs, ('She’s Got It', 'All Together Again' and 'Louise') because when we had tried to get a deal for ‘The Son Of Odin’ labels were looking for more commercial songs than we were usually writing. In 1986 Bon Jovi were the big thing as their ‘Slippery When Wet’ album had just come out and was huge. To try to get a deal, we figured that if we could write a couple of more commercial sounding songs to persuade a label to give us a deal, then we could continue writing our usual stuff alongside those songs. Back then we were looking to get a career with a major label, and music is business to them. It sounds a bit mercenary, but if that was what it took to get a major deal, we would do it to get our music out. Fortunately, we can release stuff on our own label now, so we can just write what we like!!"
Who writes the lyrics in Elixir and what are they about?
Phil: "When we first started the band, I was the lyric writer, but when Paul joined, he wrote lyrics too. These days, Paul sometimes writes the lyrics himself, sometimes we write them together, or I write them and Paul usually changes them!! In the early days, with my Sabbath influences, I tended to write lyrics with a black magic theme, ('Devil Rider', 'The Idol', 'Death Toll', 'Trial By Fire'). Paul moved us away from there, and wrote more about mythology, ('The Son Of Odin', 'Pandora’s Box'). On the song ‘Treachery’ I remember coming up with the ‘Ride Like The Wind’ line, and that set Paul’s imagination off to come up with the rest of the ‘Treachery’ lyrics, that’s a good example of how we work together. We also write about every-day life, ‘Shadows Of The Night’ and ‘Death Dealer’ were about street violence and drug dealing. On our new album, I have written the lyrics to a song called ‘Mindcreeper’, which is all about being on your own and not sure if you are seeing and hearing things that frighten you, or is it just your mind? That lyric fits with the music, which is kind of creepy. Really, we won’t just write about one subject, we will use any ideas that we have providing they fit together with the music, that is the key."
After a few years you were recording your third album, which is called 'The Idol'. But when I look at your biography, it seems that you didn’t really plan to make this third album. Mainly because the foundations were made on Norman’s 40th birthday, when you decided to play together again. When this short gig wouldn’t have been so much fun, you wouldn’t possibly have recorded this third album or not?
Phil: "That is right. We didn’t plan to get back together at the time we all met up for Norman’s birthday, we just played ‘Treachery’ together on stage for old time’s sake. Events took over, with Cult Metal Classics getting in touch with us just after that party, and we got carried away on a tide of enthusiasm for our music. It was fate really, that it all happened at the same time, and if it wasn’t for those two events, then none of this would have happened again."
'The Idol' was recorded in the original line up of the band. What happened to the other members of Elixir?
Phil: "Sally we have talked about, Steve Bentley we haven’t heard from since he left the band. Mark White was at Norman’s birthday party, that was the last time I saw him. Clive Burr has been struggling with serious health problems, which has been well documented, and obviously we wish him well. As for Stevie Hughes, who was our permanent drummer after Clive had to go, he is still as mad as ever, and he played the Keep It True Festival with us when Nigel couldn’t make it."
There have been some changes in the line up recently, and I am talking about the drummer here. Maybe, to make the story complete, you can introduce the most recent line up of Elixir to us?
Phil: "You must be referring to that Keep It True gig, when we had Stevie back on drums for that one gig. For the record, and to clear everything up, we are back as the ‘Treachery’ and ‘The Son Of Odin’ line-up, which is Paul Taylor on vocals, Norman Gordon and myself, Phil Denton, on guitars, Kevin and Nigel Dobbs on bass and drums respectively. We all said, when we got back together that we would only carry on with this line-up, as this is what we consider our ‘true’ Elixir line-up. It was unfortunate that Nigel couldn’t make Keep It True, and as we had already cancelled the previous time when I couldn’t make it, we felt it was best to play with Stevie on drums rather than turn it down again."
We saw you play at the Keep It True Festival in Germany. And you really sounded excellent that day. What’s your memory about this great festival day, and what did you think of the other bands that day?
Phil: "We had a great day and a really good time at KIT. It was very well organised and the stage set was excellent. We didn’t get a sound-check as there were so many bands on the bill, but that is understandable. I didn’t have any sound out of my guitar for the first half of the first song, which was unfortunate, but that is what happens sometimes in a live situation like that when you don’t get a sound-check. I didn’t feel quite so confident as usual on stage because we had a stand-in drummer, but Stevie did O.K. The great thing was the crowd were really up for it, and that carried us through, so despite the lack of guitar for the first song, and maybe the odd drum mistake here and there, we had a really good gig and the crowd enjoyed it too! I thought that all the bands were of a very good standard, but personally, I enjoyed the music of Attacker the best, and also I had been looking forward to seeing Cloven Hoof, as Kev and myself both had an album of theirs back in 1983/1984 when we were just starting out."
How did your show go during the Headbangers Open Air weekend in Germany, and what can you tell us about the other bands during that weekend? (Note: our editor is the guitarist of Vortex, who also played there!!!)
Phil: "The Headbangers Open Air gig was better because we had our proper drummer back with us, so we were back to our best. It was the first time I had ever played an open air gig, so it was interesting. It was set in a lovely part of Germany, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend. We were staying at a hotel a couple of miles away from the site, and didn’t get to the festival on the Friday. On the Saturday, the bands that I saw were very good, particularly Ritual Steel and Fist. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Vortex."
In the CD booklet of 'Son Of Odin', I see a flyer of a festival with Elixir, Satan, Chrome Molly, Angelwitch and Chariot. It must have been great to be on the bill next to some of the biggest names in the NWOBHM scene. Do you consider yourself a (post)NWOBHM band, or do you tend to call yourself more an English metal band?
Phil: "We get classed as a NWOBHM band, but I don’t really mind what category we get put in. To me we are just a British Heavy Metal band. Our influences are the same as other NWOBHM bands, ie. Sabbath, Purple, etc. but with the Dobbs brothers being younger, they also had some NWOBHM bands as influences."
What do you think of the music scene of today, and aren’t you longing back to the eighties sometimes?
Phil: "I don’t really long to get back to the eighties, as I think the feeling and spirit is back again now! We didn’t get the opportunity to play abroad in the 80’s, and I think playing in Europe is better than playing in the U.K. We have a bigger following abroad, and the crowds are far more enthusiastic, so we are enjoying the gigs more these days than we did back then. There is a revival in 80’s metal, with shows like the ‘Old School Metal Show’ on internet radio at http://www.hardrockin80s.com spreading the word. There are some great bands around these days, like the ones we have seen at the festivals we have been playing, so I think the scene is as good today as it was back in the 80’s!"
What are the future plans for Elixir, short term and long term?
Phil: "We plan to continue doing what we have always done. In the short term we are finishing the mixing of a live album, and are also halfway through writing a brand new album, which we hope to start recording early in 2005. We hope to play festival gigs again next year and to continue spreading the word. In the long term, we plan to continue writing and releasing albums, and to continue playing live for as long as we can."
You recently also played your first gig in Hoorn for the Heavy Metal Maniacs. How was this gig and how was it for you to see all the fans walk around in their ‘heavy jackets’, decorated with buttons and patches?
Phil: "It was great! We had a fantastic time playing the Heavy Metal Maniacs, and Stefan and his Festival team looked after us really well. I thought that all the bands at the festival were really good too, there was some superb musicianship on show! As for the fans, sometimes it feels like going back to the 80’s when I see the denim jackets with the patches and badges, the spirit is certainly there!"
When will you be coming back in Holland?
Phil: "As soon as possible! If any promoters are putting together any gigs in Holland and would like us to come back, then I am sure we would love to do it!"
You guys must have an awful lot of fun together, when you are playing on a festival. In Germany, I saw people chasing each other, and I also reckon that you guys were very thirsty that day. It almost looked like you were one big family. How important is a good friendship in the band for you all?
Phil: "We are like best friends or brothers. We enjoy being together socially as well as playing on stage. I don’t know whether that is really important or not for a band to function, as you do hear stories of band members who can’t stand the site of each other, yet they still produce great music. It is just good for us that we enjoy each other’s company. We have our little disputes, over song-writing or the set list, but we all just want the best for the band. It’s never a personal thing, and like I say, we are the best of friends off stage."
What’s your favorite Elixir song and why?
Phil: "My personal favourite is the song ‘Son Of Odin’. When we recorded it, I just felt that we had made the song that I had always wanted to create. I love the feel of the song, the intro, the chorus, everything about it. When we finished mixing it, and I heard it back through the massive studio speakers at high volume, I felt very satisfied with the song. I still love playing that song live as I feel it brings something a bit different to our set."
What can people expect when they come to see Elixir play live?
Phil: "Plenty of power and energy, yet with melody too. We give the set running order some thought too, so that we have some variation in the songs. There’s nothing worse than seeing some bands who play double bass drum through every song, it gets really boring! I like a bit of double bass drumming in the right places, but not all the way through every song!! We give the audience good songs, and try to enjoy ourselves, reacting with each other and the audience. You can see from the faces down the front that they would love to be up on stage with us, so I try to get them involved as much as possible with us."
What’s your most memorable concert so far, and why?
Phil: "I think KIT in Germany, because it was a great venue and crowd, I just wish Nigel was there with us. Otherwise, the Marquee Club, in London in the 80’s was a great gig. I remember the doors opening while we were doing our soundcheck, and the fans ran straight down to the front and started headbanging furiously while we were playing our sound-check song, ‘Llagaeran’. I knew then that it was going to be a great night!"
If you could go on tour with the band of your choice, with which band would you like to do an extensive tour then and why?
Phil: "I would choose Black Sabbath, because I would love to meet them and because they are the band who got me into doing this in the first place. I would love to watch them playing every night too. I have the reunion DVD from 1999, when Sabbath got back together for some shows, and they just sound awesome."
I guess that you must have some funny stories about the life on the road with Elixir, do you want to share of these moments with our readers please?
Phil: "We played a gig in Poole, England, in 1987, and during the drum solo, Kev said that he needed to go to the toilet. He disappeared through the side door to the dressing rooms, and failed to come back. Eventually, Nigel finished his drum solo, after delaying as long as he could, and played the drum fill to cue us all back in. Kev’s bass came back in with us, but we still couldn’t see him. When we finished the song we could hear banging on the side door. It turned out that the door had a catch that locked him out from his side, and we had to let him back in. He came back in through the door with a sheepish (embarrassed) look on his face! Luckily he was playing with a radio transmitter so he could carry on playing despite not being in the room!"
Do you always play your own written material live, or do you also play any cover songs ocassionally? Did you play any Iron Maiden songs when Clive was in your band, or didn’t you play live during this period?
Phil: "We play all our own material live. When we started out, we considered playing a cover song or two, just to give the audience something that they knew, but we persevered with our own material. When our first album was released, we started getting much more enthusiastic responses, as the audience then knew the songs that we were playing, so we carried on playing our songs. It gets difficult these days selecting a song list from our material. When we played at the Heavy Metal Maniacs Festival, as with Keep It True and Headbanger’s Open Air, we only had a 45 minute slot. That meant that we could only pick 9 songs from all of our material, so someone is always disappointed that we missed out this song or that. Therefore, we wouldn’t play any covers now, as that would take up a valuable slot in our set. We played one cover song live with Clive. At rehearsals we played ‘The Prisoner’ together because it has that great drum intro that Clive played on Maiden’s ‘Number Of The Beast’ album. However, he didn’t want to play it live, however much we tried to persuade him, as he hadn’t written it. In the end, we settled for playing the Thin Lizzy song ‘Are You Ready’ instead! To this day, ‘Are You Ready’ is the only cover song that we have played live. The thing is, we played it pretty much the same as Lizzy, so to me, there’s no benefit in doing it. I would consider playing a cover if we were to take a song and change it into our style from something different, then it would be worth doing. I don’t see the point in playing covers just like the original version. Judas Priest did it well with songs like ‘The Green Manalishi’ and ‘Diamonds And Rust’."
Are you already writing new material for the upcoming CD, and what can people expect from this new material?
Phil: "Yes, we are, we have about seven songs written at the time of this interview. We thought about the direction the material should take, and considered making the songs sound a bit more up-to-date. When we asked our audiences, they said they wanted more of the same, we are an 80’s metal band and they want to hear us playing 80’s style metal. We think they are right, and we are writing material exactly like the style of songs we have always written. We love playing the new songs that we have written at rehearsals, and can’t wait to play them live, when the new album is out!"
Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview, maybe there is something we forgot to mention here that is essential enough to add it to this interview.
Phil: "No, I think you have asked me some very interesting questions, and I don’t feel that there is anything I need to add, except maybe to mention that we are planning to release a live album taken from recordings in the U.K. in 2003/2004. We are hoping to get this out in early 2005, and it will probably be a double CD album, with songs spanning all three of our previous albums, plus live versions of a couple of rarer songs, ‘Winds Of Time’ that was on the B-side of ‘Treachery’ and ‘Death Toll’ from our very first demo tape with Sally, that we have been playing live recently. This will be a kind of sum-up of our career to date, before moving on with a brand new album. We have always had good reactions from our live performances, so this will give people who haven’t had the chance to see us live, an opportunity to hear what a live Elixir show is like. The recordings have captured the energy and power of an Elixir gig, so I think it will be a good release. We have just decided to go ahead with this project, so your readers are the first to know!"
Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
Phil: "Yes, keep the metal flag flying. The fans of metal are truly the best and most loyal fans of any kind of music. This I have seen, when we find fans from twenty years ago at our shows again! We thank you all truly for your wonderful support and hope to see you at one of our shows again soon!"
The last words are for you....
Phil: "The whole band would like to thank everyone for their support. We are not just back together for the short term, we are back in our full line-up to continue where we left off, and hope to be doing this until we drop. As long as you want us, we will keep writing and playing for you guys, so THANK YOU VERY MUCH for giving us a new lease of life!"
Interview by: Toine van Poorten, for Headache magazine NL/2004