GIVE US METAL OR GIVE 'EM HELL! [Mantalo speaks out after 17 years...]

The N.W.O.B.H.M. scene exists for over twenty years now. A few bands like IRON MAIDEN, SAXON and DEF LEPPARD made it to the top, while others like ANGELWITCH, JAGUAR, the TYGERS OF PAN TANG and DIAMOND HEAD reached the cult status in the underground scene. Some bandnames don't even ring a bell to the average metalhead of today, which is a real pity, I think. WITCHFYNDE however, can be seen as a band with such a cult status. Some people even like to call them the founders of the black metal scene. When I heard that the band was back together again, I started to gather information which would be necessary to come up with some good questions. The answers to this interview were given by founding member and guitarplayer Montalo, who still doesn't want to reveal his real name. It's the first interview the band has done for seventeen (!!) years. Can you believe it? At the time of the interview Montalo didn't know that their gig at Wacken Open Air would be cancelled. Besides that, the answers seem to come straight from his heart. WITCHFYNDE is back and here you can read the whole story. My special thanks go out to Jess Cox (Neat Records), Matt Haywood (WITCHFYNDE manager) and Montalo for their cooperation and effort. Thanks guys!!!!

Who is in WITCHFYNDE right now and why did you get back together again?
"At this moment WITCHFYNDE are Montalo (guitars), Gra Scoresby (drums), Pete 'Thud' Surgey (bass) and Harry Harrison (vocals). We decided to start playing together again largely in response to the huge resurgence in interest in the band following the release of the "Lords Of Sin" and "Best Of Witchfynde" CDs and the kind words spoken about us by bands including METALLICA and many rock journalists along with numerous references on the Internet. Indeed, I had always felt that our true potential was never realised at the time due to poor treatment from the various record companies that we were involved with. It would also give people, who have never seen us before, the chance to do so and to re-record some of the songs as they are now quite difficult to obtain along with recording some new material. You see, although I had often thought it would be a good idea, I was unaware of the release of our material on CDs until it was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, called Matt Haywood, a real metal fan, who now coordinates the band's activities. Matt kept suggesting to me that I should consider playing again because of the huge interest in the band on the Internet and in various Metal publications. Around the same time, Luther Beltz contacted me, after being tracked down by several journalists and promotors, and we met up with Gra and the idea of getting the band back together was considered. And so, just over a year ago now, myself and fellow co-founder Gra decided to get the band back together, initially with no expectations or pressures, just to see how things sounded. Pete teamed up with us on bass as we felt that this was the strongest and most creative rhythm section line-up that we ever had and we began working on getting the music sounding good while Luther was comitted to working on a contribution to a DEMON tribute album with some local musicians from a band called STORMWATCH. When we got back together for the first rehearsals we were amazed at how good it sounded. It felt and sounded even better than it ever had before. More importantly, the songs still sounded fresh and valid and it was great fun!!! We were then stunned to hear from Luther that he had decided not to join us, but instead he would stay with the STORMWATCH musicians playing our songs. It seemed totally ridiculous to everyone except Luther and indeed after a couple of weeks he had second thoughts and told us he would be joining up with us after all. However, after a couple of truly awesome rehearsals, he came up with a ridiculous story involving a spiritualist and wanted to split up the band and bring in some of the STORMWATCH musicians. When myself and Gra objected to this, Luther sadly decided he no longer wished to be involved with WITCHFYNDE and wanted to do his own thing with the STORMWATCH musicians playing WITCHFYNDE songs and cashing in on the interest in the WITCHFYNDE name - rather like some sort of tribute band - very bizarre - especially when he had been giving every opportunity to be part of the real thing. Fortunately, Pete asked a long-time friend, Harry Harrison, who had previously sung with SAVAGE, to help us out. Harry had been a fan of the band since the early days and fitted in perfectly. He's a phenomenal vocalist and the songs sound great with his voice."
Please tell our readers how and when WITCHFYNDE came together in the early days?
"WITCHFYNDE came about from the amalgamation of two bands back in the 1970's. I was playing in a band with some schoolmates in 1974 when a band in which Gra was the drummer came to one of our gigs. They wanted me to join up with their band, which I did. There were several line-up changes. Firstly, the bass player left and at the time Andro Coulton shared a house in Derby with Gra and came in with us on bass. Steve Bridges, who was a friend and work-mate of Andro's, came in as vocalist. We then went out playing absolutely everywhere and anywhere all over England for several years. To begin with playing other people's songs, to help finance the recording of our own songs, which was to become the "Give 'Em Hell" album."
What's your real name?
"I'm very sorry, but as part of the initiation tradition, I am unable to disclose my former name for fears of persecution."
From which bands did you get your influences back in those days?
"In the early days I suppose we were influenced by bands we listened to and went to see live. These included BLACK SABBATH, DEEP PURPLE, JIMI HENDRIX, LED ZEPPELIN, URIAH HEEP, MOTT THE HOOPLE, THIN LIZZY, UFO, RUSH, THE WHO, FRANK ZAPPA, TRAPEZE, NUTZ and THE HEAVY METAL KIDS and STRAY."
Your first album "Give 'Em Hell" came out on Rondelet. How did you get in touch with this label?
"There was a record shop called Roundabout records in Mansfield run by two men - Mike Comerford and Alan Campion - who at the time were also wanting to set up a record label. At the same time, we had developed a huge local following by constant gigging around our hometown and everyone kept telling Comerford and Campion about WITCHFYNDE. They came along to one of our gigs and just couldn't believe the fanaticism of our followers. They wanted to sign us up to their label and release the "Give 'Em Hell" album straight away. We had actually recorded "Give 'Em Hell" ourselves with our own money and so they just took it on and released it. In hindsight, we should have held out and taken it to larger labels like EMI, who we later found out were keen to sign the band, but we were just glad to get a deal at the time - I suppose we were terribly nave and desperate. There was already a label called Roundabout Records, so they called the label Rondelet."
Who was responsible for the lyrics of WITCHFYNDE and what are they about?
"Gra is responsible for most of the lyrics of WITCHFYNDE. The lyrics, like our songs, are actually quite diverse, which I think is a large part of their appeal to many people. Although there are exceptions, they tend to reflect on the deeper meaning of life. We like to make people think and let their imagination run riot so we often find that they mean different things to different people."
The title track "Give 'Em Hell" can be seen as a real NWOBHM anthem. Could you please tell us your favorite NWOBHM songs?
"To be honest, at the time, we weren't aware that we were part of any movement. We were quite insular and isolated living in the wilds of Derbyshire. We didn't really listen to or take much notice of any other bands playing the same circuit as ourselves and in fact the only other song that comes to mind is "Runnin' Free" by IRON MAIDEN, which I remember from when we were playing with them at the Music Machine in London. I also listened to the "Getcha Rocks Off" EP by DEF LEPPARD, when we were deciding which studio to use for "Give 'Em Hell". Both were recorded at Fairview Studios in Hull."
What are your favourite WITCHFYNDE songs and why did them?
"My favourite WITCHFYNDE songs are "Give 'Em Hell" [here it all started off for us and it is our anthem. A great title and chorus. Still sounds fresh and valid.]; "Conspiracy" [dark and menacing with a great chanting chorus and one of my favourite guitar solos.] and "I'd Rather Go Wild" [a great live song because it's so chaotic and full of energy.]. I also love the riff of "Getting' Heavy" and the chorus of "Cloak And Dagger", while "Big Deal" always makes me smile."
Your first tour was with DEF LEPPARD. How was that experience and what do you remember from those days?
"The DL tour was an amazing experience for us. It obviously gave us a massive amount of exposure enabling us to reach far more people in a short space of time than we ever could have done by slogging around the pubs and clubs. Although the tour only lasted for two or three months, it felt like we had experienced a lifetime of emotions and dreams during that short time. The tour really propelled the band into a higher league so that from there we could go on to headline our own large venue shows. We generally got on very well with them as we came from the same part of England and in fact they used to come along to our early gigs which is why, presumably, they asked for us to be part of their first tour. Actually, at that time, we had a lot more stage experience than DL, but as the tour progressed we both learned a lot from each other. The LEPPARD tour also cost us a large amount of money and by the end of the tour we had amassed huge debts to Rondelet for hotel bills, transport costs, road crew wages, etc. One of the things I remember was seeing Bon Scott (the late AC/DC singer) at the London Marquee show, which was the night on which he later died."
Who was responsible for the beautiful drawing on "Give 'Em Hell"? For me it belongs to WITCHFYNDE like Eddy belongs to IRON MAIDEN and Baphomet remembers me of ANGELWITCH. Did the creature have a name, by the way?
"The drawing on "Give 'Em Hell" was adapted by Rondelet from an original drawing, I believe which had something to do with Andro and was used as a poster to advertise our gigs. The creature is the Goat of Mendes."
What happened to Andro Coulton before the release of the second WITCHFYNDE album "Stagefright", and how did you get in touch with Pete'Thud' Surgey?
"Andro formed a very intense relationship with a girl which seemed to drain him of all his energy and creativity, rather like a possession. He became very unreliable and we all felt it was having a detrimental effect on the band. We had been aware of the situation for quite a long time, even before the tour with DEF LEPPARD, and we all knew that the writing was on the wall for him to be replaced at some stage. Pete was a well-known figure to us on the local music scene. He knew our songs and was a number one choice to replace Andro, when the inevitable happened."
I read in some old magazines that a WITCHFYNDE live show was something spectacular. Somewhere I even read about nude - or at least topless - women on stage and you burning black candles on stage. Could you tell us what a WITCHFYNDE show looked like in those days?
"I'm not sure that I would use the word spectacular to describe our early live shows. They were certainly unpredictable. We never knew what was going to happen next and they were definitely different. No one else was doing anything like it!!! We had all sorts of weird characters appearing on stage. One chap dressed in full Viking warrior costume with a huge sword would lurk at the back of the stage, provide us with drinks and towels and disappear without saying a word to anyone. For some shows we did have some girl dancers and while I recall they didn't wear many clothes. I was too busy concentrating on my guitar playing to notice whether they were topless or not. We did use some nude girls both for our promotional photos for "Give 'Em Hell' and the front sleeve of "Lords Of Sin". In our early shows we had black wrought iron candelabras on stage, but the candles were not always black. In fact different coloured candles were used in order to appease the presiding deity on the particular day of the gig. Similarly, the stage was adorned with differently coloured silk drapes while clouds of incense smoke, again specially prepared to appease the presiding deities, filled the air."
Some people see you as the founders of the black metal trend and "Give 'Em Hell" and its lyrics are obviously responsible for that. What do you think about that?
"It's very flattering that some people see us as the founders of the black metal trend, but to be honest we were just a band whose interests and lifestyles dictated and influenced the style of music we produced. We didn't intentionally strive to be anything - it just came natural to us - that we should produce music that was simple, raw and powerful from natural energy."
You once stated that the difference between WITCHFYNDE and BLACK SABBATH was that BLACK SABBATH used their 'black messages' just as an image and for WITCHFYNDE, it was a way of life. Please explain and has your attitude changed throughout the years or are you still having the same 'black thoughts'?
"I really cannot comment on BLACK SABBATH as they were such an inspiration to me and still continue to be my all-time favourite and influential band. Indeed, in the past, Tony Iommi kindly helped us with advice and inspiration. My attitudes haven't really changed at all over the years - natural magic is still a way of life for me and so this obviously influences my music. What is changing is that the ongoing battle between good and evil is gaining an ever-increasing momentum both outside and inside all of us."
Why did you change Rondelet after the release of "Stagefright" for Expulsion Records?
"After the release of the "Stagefright" album, we were informed that Rondelet were in financial difficulties and could no longer afford to promote or finance the band. We were in a very difficult and depressing situation and the only way out was to write and record new songs, but our hands were tied as we were still under contract to Rondelet. We got lawyers, managers and producers involved and eventually a deal was worked out. One of the people, who Rondelet owed a lot of money, set up a record label called Expulsion and Alan Campion from Rondelet went to work for him as some kind of debt retrieval plan in which we would record a one-off album, which would then free us from our contractual obligations to Rondelet. This was the "Cloak And Dagger" album."
"Cloak And Dagger" was your first LP on Expulsion Records. WITCHFYNDE also released this album on picture disc. You found a new singer (Luther Beltz) and released a seven inch called "I'd Rather Go Wild". Things seem to go OK, but one year later you changed again to Mausoleum Records to bring out your "Lords Of Sin" album. Why did you change so soon from Expulsion to Mausoleum? Wasn't Expulsion officially a punk label?
"Expulsion Records went bankrupt shortly after the release of "Cloak And Dagger", which meant that there was a very little promotion of the album and that they got out of paying us any royalties - surprise, surprise!! - but at least we were no longer under contract to anyone. We were soon approached by Dave Moffitt, who we knew as a photographer from nearby Yorkshire. He was working as the U.K. agent for the Belgian label Mausoleum, who were keen to sign the band. We were offered, what on the surface looked like, a perfect deal and eventually "Lords Of Sin" was released."
Why did you part ways with singer Steve Bridges before you released "Cloak And Dagger"?
"We parted company with Steve Bridges basically because he had become very disillusioned with the music industry on account of all the problems with the record company and the business side of the industry. I think he was finding it hard to survive financially as he had more family commitments than the rest of us at the time."
How many copies of "Cloak And Dagger" were printed as a picture disc?
"I'm sorry but I've no idea how many copies of "Cloak And Dagger" were printed as a picture disc and I cannot find any reference to it in any of the promotional material and of course we never received any royalty statements to show any sales figures from Expulsion."
Can you tell us a bit more about the beautiful artwork of that album?
"Alan Campion and Expulsion arranged the artwork and cover design for "Cloak And Dagger", after we provided them with the song titles which we would be using. We never met the artist responsible."
Where did you record the four tracks that were on the free bonus live twelve inch "Anthems" that came out with the first 10,000 copies of "Lords Of Sin"?
"Several shows were recorded during a series of dates from which Phil Chilton, the producer, worked with the best versions to make up the Anthems live twelve inch, so I cannot tell you where each track was recorded."
The album cover of that should originally have some pictures taken at the London Dungeons. Why didn't that go through, the idea sounds great.
"P.K. Edgeley was responsible for the photography, artwork and sleeve design of "Lords Of Sin". He took the two models, one male and one female, featured in chains and shackles on the front sleeve to the London Dungeon after obtaining permission to take photographs at the venue. However, as soon as the models started taking their clothes off, the management were horrified and threw them out. In the end, the photographs of the models and Luther were taken back at P.K. Edgeley's studio in his house. The inner sleeve was also quite interesting as this was photographed one evening at the Dashwood Mausoleum in High Wycombe between Oxford and London. The Mausoleum was built for Sir Francis Dashwood, the founder of The Hellfire Club."
What do the words on the back sleeve of "Stagefright" mean?
"I cannot elucidate on the invocation chant on the back sleeve of "Lords Of Sin", as it was the brainchild of Phil Chilton, who has been in hiding and sworn to silence since producing the album."
Why didn't the song "Belfast" make it to any of your albums and are there more unreleased WITCHFYNDE songs, that we don't know yet?
" "Belfast" was a song, which Luther Beltz had sung for several years before he joined WITCHFYNDE and because it was a song which was associated with him, we used to include it in our live shows for a while after he joined up with us. When we were asked to record a radio session for the BBC Friday Rock Show, they were keen for us to record any unreleased songs and so "Belfast" was an obvious choice, although we felt that it wasn't typical WITCHFYNDE material. There are a few songs kicking around that have never been released."
Did you ever record any of your shows on video or perhaps make a video clip?
"We never recorded any videos apart from an amateur one of a rehearsal when Luther had just joined the band and we were working on material for the "Cloak And Dagger" album."
Could you tell us a bit more about the Accelarators in which Luther Beltz and Pete Surgey played in 1995?
"THE ACCELERATORS were a band playing cover versions of 60's blues and soul."
Wasn't the "Best of" release (on British Steel) the perfect chance to bring out some unreleased tracks? Why didn't you?
"We were never informed of any plans to put together a "Best of.." CD by anyone and in fact it was only after much investigation by Matt Haywood and myself, that we tracked down who was responsible for its release. We hoped that when we made people aware that we were back together and wanting to help promote the CD and record new material, that we would have been welcomed with open arms. However, we seemed to get almost the opposite reaction and we felt like they'd have preferred for us to remain out of the picture so that they could keep all the money."
What can the people expect from your show at Wacken Open Air and is this the only reunion gig you've planned at the moment?
"At the moment Wacken is the only gig that we have got planned mainly because our main priority is working on new songs. Our show should be made up of material from all four albums (hopefully with its original raw power and energy) along with a few of the new songs, which we are working no at the moment."
Are you also planning a new CD or is this just wishful thinking?
"Yes, we are planning a new CD release made up of some new songs along with re-recordings of some of our old songs."
Do you have any future plans besides the Wacken gig?
"A new album promoted by some live shows."
Do you have any messages for our readers or something you'd like to add to this interview?
"Without wishing to sound cliched, we would sincerely like to thank everyone for their interest and support for the band. We have been totally overwhelmed by all the kind words- especially as it was quite the opposite in the early days when, apart from our loyal followers, everyone else either slagged us off or ripped us off. One of the most important reasons why we are so excited at the idea of performing and recording again is that we are absolutely amazed at how good the band is sounding with Harry in the ranks. We're sure that many people will be taken by surprise and we're having such a great time that we can't wait to get out there and see you all. It would appear that the deities have decided that the time is now right for us to return and break the silence. You must appreciate that this is the first time we have spoken out to give an insight into the band or to give any kind of interview for at least seventeen years! Looking forward to seeing you as soon as possible."
I really hope we'll see them on tour very soon. Welcome back guys!!!!!

Interview by: Toine van Poorten
(originally appeared in SNAKEPIT, issue #8, 2000)

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