Four songs on an EP, that was all we knew about this band for a long time. Who were these five people, who became famous in the undergound scene with their song “Death And Destiny”? When a full length CD of the band was released, we still didn‘t know anything about this cult band. Even the song titles of this full length CD were made up, because the original titles were unavailable at the time of pressing. The music on the CD was some of the purest NWOBHM that you can imagine. As a devoted NWOBHM fan, you come up with a lot of questions, after hearing the CD. Reason enough to start searching, who was in this legendary metal band. The internet solves these problems sometimes and Snakepit got in touch with John Roach, guitarist of MYTHRA. Finally, we’d found someone who knew all the answers to our questions. He also forwarded the questions to ‘Mo’ Bates and Vince High, two other bandmembers of MYTHRA. In this interview you can read the facts about a band who became world famous through their EP “Death And Destiny”. In the next issue of Snakepit, I also hope to give you all the information I’ve gathered about FIST, the band that John Roach joined after MYTHRA. But let’s start at the very beginning of the story of NWOBHM legends: MYTHRA.
MYTHRA was formed in 1976. Who were in this very first line up of the band?
John Roach: “The very first lineup of MYTHRA consisted of: John Roach (guitar), Maurice “Mo” Bates (guitar), Peter Melsom (bass) and Kenny Anderson (drums). We recruited Vince High (vocals) and replacement drummer Barry Hopper in 1978. Vince came from a band called HIGHWAY, which was the first live band (apart from the SALVATION ARMY band), I ever saw.”
To which music did you listen to in those days, because the NWOBHM scene was just getting started in the late seventies?
JR: “We used to listen to bands like LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, HUMBLE PIE, plus up and coming bands like JUDAS PRIEST (who had just released their second album), RUSH (we had just gotten “All The World’s A Stage”), THIN LIZZY and QUEEN. We also had diverse musical interests. I used to like BE BOP DELUXE, STEVE HILLAGE, TOD RUNDGREN, TED NUGENT (AMBOY DUKES). In fact anything with a decent guitarist.”
Maurice “Mo” Bates: “Because all of the members of MYTHRA were friends before band members, we had very similar tastes in music. For example: BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN, WISHBONE ASH, ELP, YES, GENESIS, UFO, JUDAS PRIEST, HUMBLE PIE, RUSH, etc.”
Vince High: “I was different to the other lads for as well as listening to the bands mentioned by John and Mo. I also had a great respect for the energy and attitude of the original punk bands. My hair was long, but I always had a subversive side that connected with the whole anti-establishment frenzy whipped up by the SEX PISTOLS, THE DAMNED and in particular THE CLASH in the mid 1970s. I think their influence is evident in the songs written by Mo and I, as we fused the energy and attitude of punk with the playing ability of the first generation rock bands mentioned above: a potent combination described by Matthias Mader in the CD sleeve notes as “the roots of speed metal”.”
Is it true that the band was originally called ZARATHUSTRA and why did you change your bandname to MYTHRA then?
JR: “It’s true, the band was called ZARATHUSTRA, but we changed the name when we realised that no one could pronounce it. Which was probably after our first few gigs.”
Who came up with the idea to call the band MYTHRA and what does the name mean?
JR: “I thought of the name MYTHRA (it had also been my idea to call it ZARATHUSTRA – so I felt I had to make amends). The name is a mis-spelling of Mithras – the god who holds the balance between darkness and light in Zoroastrianism from ancient Persia (Iran), which became the cult of Mithraism in ancient Rome. I though it had a mysterious sound to it, and as a word it didn’t exist until the first time we wrote it down. At the time I thought it conjured up images of darkness. We knew we’d made a good choice when we started to see MYTHRA graffiti appearing on walls in the North East of England.”
Barry Hopper replaced Kenny Anderson in 1978. Why did Kenny leave the band and did he play in any other bands after his departure?
JR: “The truth of the matter is that, although he was a great lad, he was a crap drummer. He was only interested in spending time with his girlfriend and was holding us back. I asked him to leave and he did. He stopped pretending to be a drummer at that point. We trialed another drummer called Bobby Rowlands. He was much better than Kenny, but we weren’t 100% sure. Peter worked with a guy called Barry Hopper, who we knew from school (He was a year younger than us). Barry had been a drummer in a band called HELLANBACH, which had just split up (for the first time). We asked him to audition and when we saw his lovely shiny new Tama kit we were smitten, and as a side benefit he could play. I’m not sure what happened to Bobby, but I know that it wasn’t me who fired him.“
Mo: “Kenny left because we asked him. We needed a drummer who kept time and not one who followed the rest of the band. After ZARATHUSTRA, he never played with any other band.”
You played in the pub scene of North East England, together with bands like WHITE SPIRIT, AXE, GEORDIE, SON OF A BITCH (which later became SAXON) and RAVEN. On the website of MYTHRA it says that RAVEN was a four piece band at that time. Can you remember who was the fourth member of RAVEN???
JR: “I can’t remember his name, but he was a second guitarist. He played a Strat and he used to hold his breath, when he played a solo! I’ve also forgotten the second name of the original drummer with curly ginger hair. It was Sean something. My girlfriend at the time used to fancy him (she used to fancy everyone – ha ha ha).”
VH: “Funny you should mention WHITE SPIRIT. They made their name locally by playing cover versions of the first generation heavy rock bands and included guitarist Janick Gers (now of IRON MAIDEN) in their ranks. We played the Bingley Hall bash sharing a dressing room with them. I remember Mo and I joking with Janick about the fact that both bands had to play a thirty minute set. That represented three songs for WHITE SPIRIT (anthems) and seven songs for us (fast, furious, whipping the crowd at the front into a reactionary frenzy, as they didn’t know what to make of the fact that we were younger than most of them. I certainly knew how to wind them up)!”
You played a lot of covers in those early days, could you please name a few songs that you played?
JR: “Yeah, sure. “Killing Yourself to Live” (BLACK SABBATH), “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” (BLACK SABBATH; We loved the Sabs!!), “Paranoid” (BLACK SABBATH; When we first started out this skinhead wanted to sing a song with us and so we played this. He only knew some of the words and Vince helped him out. Anyway, a few months later we played the same place again and he’d been practicing, so we did it again. This means MYTHRA invented karaoke. Ha ha ha ha ha); “Emerald” (THIN LIZZY), “Don’t Believe A Word” (THIN LIZZY), “The Boys Are Back In Town” (THIN LIZZY), “Lights Out” (UFO), “Too Hot to Handle” (UFO), “Doctor Doctor” (UFO) plus many others. Some songs were more successfully than others.”
Who wrote the lyrics for MYTHRA and what are they about?
Mo: “Originally, John was the driving force for song writing. I think the rest of the band didn’t think it was necessary to write. When Vince joined, things changed.”
JR: “At first only I used to write the lyrics and the music, but then Vince started to write lyrics with Maurice writing the music. Eventually they took over when I left. I wrote the lyrics on “Death And Destiny”, “Killer” and “Overlord”. “Death And Destiny” is about the confusion and madness that you can feel when you are young and frustrated, when you are exploring the dark side of your personality. “Killer” is about the creation of a devils assistant on earth – the Devil is telling our hero he is now a slave. “Overlord” is a continuation of the theme – the hero is let loose on the world. All pretty one dimensional, horror story stuff. The lyrics for “UFO” were written by Vince and it’s about an Alien invasion.”
VH: “Most of my lyrics are social comments of one form or another. I’m a very political person although I hate party politics! I write from my personal experiences and observations. Listening to the MYTHRA songs on reflection shows how unique we were not only in terms of our musical style but our lyrics. We were without doubt the first heavy metal band in the world to challenge racism (“England”), the destruction of the planet (“The Age Of Machine”), and the futility of war (“Vicious Bastards”). On a more personal note I was able to express my feelings over the death of my only Uncle in 1980 through my writing (“The Death Of A Loved One” – originally entitled “Together Forever”). I’m also interested in life beyond earth (“UFO”, “Warrior Of Time”, “Paradise” – original title “New Life”). What amazes me is the fact, that the things I was writing about twenty years ago are still happening…. The hatred, greed and violence is still existing all around us!”
Who were your musical influences in those days? I read somewhere in a review that the opening riff of "Killer"was nicked from BUDGIEs "Breadfan". Something you guys deny. I can hear some similarities but I can't say that the riff is exactly the same. But can we see a band like BUDGIE as one of your musical influences maybe?
JR: “BUDGIE were definitely one of our influences, I’ve still got some of their albums. I remember going to see them a few times at the City Hall in Newcastle with NUTZ as the support band. NUTZ always blew them off the stage. The albums and the songs were fantastic and Burke Shelley had a terrific voice but live they were dire. They were one of the first bands that allowed us to feel that we had a chance of success. I think that the venues weren’t intimate enough for them to get in ‘contact’ with the audience. I would have loved to see them in a smaller venue. I definitely didn’t knick the riff for “Killer” from “Breadfan”, ‘cause I knicked it from a track on “Jailbreak” by THIN LIZZY!!!! Ha Ha Ha.“
Your EP "Death And Destiny" was released in 1979 on the Guardian Records label. It was a self financed EP. Was it so important for you to release this EP, that you wanted to spend all your money on it? With this money you pressed 200 copies of this first EP.
Mo: “It wasn’t our intention to make and EP when we first thought of recording, we just wanted to book recording time to see what we sounded like. Terry Gavaghan suggested making an EP and gave us the costings.”
JR: “Yes, we paid everything we had at the time for the first pressing of two hundred. Although we were a working band and by the time we actually were given the two hundred copies we had earned some more money. It cost us £200.00 (200 pounds) which was a lot of money in those days. I think our van only cost about £60. The idea was to attract interest and hopefully get a deal. It was a demo. We invested what we thought we deserved – everything. We recorded it before the NWOBHM name was made up by Geoff Barton in the Sounds. And not only did it showcase our playing it was good enough for general release.”
VH: “We were inspired by DEF LEPPARD, who were the first band to copy the independent approach established during the punk rock era. Their Bludgeon Riffola release “Getcha Rocks Off” gained a lot of media attention. MYTHRA and IRON MAIDEN were quick to copy with “Death And Destiny” and “The Soundhouse Tapes” respectively. Who knows what might have happened if we had been London-based and MAIDEN were from the frozen north?”
In 1980 you re released the EP on Street Beat Records. Were there so many people asking for the EP that the first pressing had sold out already in a few months?
Mo: “We sold the original two hundred copies to friends and fans at local gigs. It was quite expensive to have a second pressing.”
JR: “The first pressing sold out immediately. There were several more Guardian pressings made (God knows how many) without the band’s knowledge. I’ve heard 50,000 copies before the Street Beat Release. Because subsequent pressings weren’t financed by the band (we had no idea how many copies were pressed), it has been said that there were so many copies of “Death And Destiny” on Guardian that when the band split up there were boxes of them being sold for pennies. This is just one of the ways the band was ripped off. No accounts, no records and no money.”
And why did you change from Guardian Records to Street Beat Records for this second pressing?
JR: “The Street Beat pressing wasn’t the second pressing. The first pressing of two hundred copies would be worth an absolute fortune if that was the case – but there are absolutely thousands of Guardian copies out there – which is why they are not worth as much as the Street Beat versions. Unfortunately there is no way of telling the original two hundred from the thousands of others. But anyway back to the question, MYTHRA had signed to a manager, who got them a distribution deal with Pinnacle, who issued the EP on their Street Beat label and put some money into promotion, getting it into High Street shops instead of only specialist shops and mail order.”
Don't you think it's weird that people want to pay about £50,- for the "Death And Destiny" EP nowadays? It's a very rare item that is wanted by a lot of NWOBHM fans.
VH: “The 7 inch Street Beat version (picture sleeve) is now selling for £100. Incredible really that a band can command so much interest and respect twenty years on.”
JR: “I think it’s amazing! I just wish I’d kept a few boxes.”
Mo: “The EP still stands up musically. Not being vain, but it was a lot better than some of the stuff that was being produced by other bands at the time.”
On the sleeve of this masterpiece (The Streetbeat 12" version) it says "The Dead And Destiny EP~Featuring "Killer" ". I thought that "Killer" was also on the original pressing of the EP? Why was this mentioned on the sleeve then?
JR: “Street Beat released two versions of the EP. The seven inch had “Killer” as an A side with “Overlord” and “UFO” on the B side and “The Death And Destiny” EP was on 12” featuring all four tracks. I assume the marketing was to tie the two together. I know that the marketing referred to “Killer” as if it was the single. Also, the original Guardian release had no A or B side. I think it became known as the “Death And Destiny” EP, because “Death And Destiny” was most peoples favorite track.”
You were number one in the alternative chart of Sounds for about twelve weeks. You must have sold an awful lot of copies of the "Death And Destiny" EP then, to reach this. How come that MYTHRA never reached the status of a band like, let's say ANGELWITCH then?
JR: “We were in the Sounds Alternative Chart for twelve weeks. We weren’t number one for that long. It’s interesting to ponder MYTHRA didn’t achieve the Status of SAXON or DEF LEPPARD. Two bands, which we were compared to in the early days. Probably the biggest factor in MYTHRA not achieving a greater level of greatness is that they split up. If they hadn’t who knows how far they would have gone.”
Mo: “You would have to ask Terry Gavaghan and Street Beat for the numbers sold, but I don’t think they would give you the correct answer.”
JR: “I’ve asked. They say they don’t know, so I asked the MCPS and they say they have no way of finding out. We could hire someone to carry out an audit but as there is a six year statute of limitations there is no legal reason why they should keep records for longer than this period.”
Mo: “MYTHRA never reached the status country wide because of crap management and because we didn’t live in London.”
VH: “Mo is right. We were young and naïve and put our trust in the wrong people. We very badly managed by people, who weren’t prepared to invest in the band’s future. They took the money and ran. We weren’t star struck like a lot of bands. There was hell on when we refused to move to London. Just as well really…London couldn’t have coped with our total attitude. We were liked caged animals before a gig and when we walked on stage…. MAYHEM!”
The band also started to organise their own Heavy Metal Night events in the local scene. Did you play live on these events, or was it just a night full of beer and Heavy Metal music?
JR: “Interesting question…. The Heavy Metal Nights we organised were early in our career and were based on what we had seen in the City Hall in Newcastle. They consisted of two bands, a support band (usually HELLANBACH) and a main band always MYTHRA with a gap in the middle for gear change over. Unlike ballroom gigs, there was no beer or disco. Just the fans, the bands and a fucking big PA.”
VH: “Once again we were ahead of the game in promoting our own shows. We would drive around town at night in our beaten up old van with a bucket full of wallpaper paste slapping posters on shop windows and in bus shelters…. Messy, but fun! It worked, because we used to sell out and, in the end, had to turn people away (much to the annoyance of the police who received complaints about gangs of young people causing annoyance).”
Are there any gigs that you played with MYTHRA, that you have very fond memories of? Please tell us some nice stories about some of your gigs?
JR: “For me, one of the best gigs was my last gig in South Shields. It was one of our organised bashes with HELLANBACH supporting. The arrangement was that we pooled our PA systems and hired what extra we needed. Once HELLANBACH had finished their set and were packing up to leave they wanted to take their PA. We persuaded them not to. I also remember when we had just got two industrial Tungsten lamps for the light show (Mo acquired them from somewhere! Ha Ha). The plan was these lights were to be used in the same way that RUSH used spot lights behind the band to create silhouettes during “Temples of Syrinx” from “2112”. We decided that during “Lights Out” (UFO cover) we would have these lights turned on! Anyway, the first gig with the lights was in a pub in Sunderland, called the Old 29. These lights were behind me and Maurice when they were turned on they nearly set us on fire, they were so hot. They were so bright the whole audience moved back about ten feet, totally blinded.”
Mo: “A selection of my memories:
Hartlepool: Just got out alive. Vince committed the cardinal sin of mentioning ‘Monkey Hangers’ to the crowd. [A local slur, a reference to the Napolionic wars, when a monkey was hanged in Hartlepool as a suspected French Spy].
Retford: We had just signed to ITB – Rod McSween – who made us wear ridiculous clothes, we nearly melted with the light show.
Mayfair Newcastle: If we had been better known, we would have blown SAXON off stage.
Bingley hall: We nearly didn’t get into the venue. The organisers didn’t believe we were MYTHRA. Pete called SAXON’s bass player a baldy bastard, because he asked for his beer at the bar. Walked in on Lemmy during a threesome with two girls Heckled at the front of the stage.
Edinburgh following week: the people who heckled us at Bingley came up after the show and said they loved it. (We replaced OZZY OSBOURNE, who pulled out at the last minute).
Durham Open Air Festival: Blew everyone off stage going on third of six bands. During “Paradise”, no-one could remember the start and fell about laughing (except Vince) after four aborted attempts.
Old 29 Sunderland: The place was so small, that when a new dry ice machine started no one could see anything – punters or band.”
VH: “Mo’s right….I was an animal on stage and went through a personality change on the short walk from the dressing room to the stage. Most lead singers had girls hanging around after gigs looking to get off with them whereas I had lads looking to beat me up – they came close once or twice but never managed it however as we always had a gang of friends at shows who acted as ‘minders’ and looked out for us. Thanks Mick Doran. I miss you! My favorite gig was the first time we supported SAXON at Newcastle Mayfair. The venue was legendary in the North-East of England and we had all seen bands play on its hallowed stage dreaming that it might be us one day! We ended up playing there several times but the first was special. SAXON were excellent to us. The crowd were awesome and SAXON to their credit recognized it and allowed us to do an encore. Unheard of really, as most headliners usually dealt with their support acts by giving them a poor quality sound an minimal light show. We also played with SAXON at Bingley. Biff had to vouch for us and convince the security guys, that we really were MYTHRA as they weren’t going to let us backstage.”
We know that ANGELWITCH had 'Baphomet' as their sign of recognition. IRON MAIDEN had 'Eddie', and WITCHFYNDE had 'the Goat of Mendes', that was part of their image so to say. On your "Death And Destiny EP" we see this big eagle/griffin. Did this have a name, and was it like a recognisable symbol for the band as well or not? Did you use it as a backdrop (if you had one) for example?
JR: “The bird – I thought it was a phoenix – wasn’t our logo as such. As for using a back drop… We used a plain black back drop. We also had a fairly big light show with pyrotechnics, smoke, etc.”
What is your favorite MYTHRA song and why?
JR: “ “UFO” is my favorite MYTHRA song, because I didn’t write it. I tend to be very critical of my own compositions. It’s got a brilliant chord change, which makes my guitar solo sound great even though I’m not doing very much.”
Mo: “ “Machine” is my favorite, but I would like to re-record it today.”
VH: “From the moment John shared “Death And Destiny” with us at rehearsals, I knew it was a classic. I think it is the best heavy metal song ever written. It has everything. The crowds used to go mental, when they heard the opening riff. Our promoter Rod first heard it on Capitol Radio in London, whilst driving to see another band. He stopped the car, rang the radio station for more information and traveled to Newcastle the following night to sign us up! I don’t know, who the other band was but I bet they’ve never recorded anything half as good as our theme tune! Awesome!”
How come that you never were able to record some BBC sessions? A lot of bands, that were a lot smaller than MYTHRA recorded their BBC session, but MYTHRA never did. If I see how much EP's were sold of "Death And Destiny", then you would have been the right band to play there!
JR: “The simple answer to that is, that we were never asked! We were a good live band and we would have easily been able to do the radio sessions.”
VH: “It’s a long way from South Shields to the BBC studios in London. Perhaps they couldn’t afford to pay us the train fare? Ho! Ho! In fairness to the BBC however, they have changed their attitude in recent years and do now recognise that talent does exist outside of our capital city.”
"Death And Destiny" became a NWOBHM anthem in my opinion. It's a song that a lot of fans adore. Can you name us your favorite NWOBHM anthems?
VH: “You already mentioned it: “Death And Destiny”.”
JR: “Strangely enough, and probably because we were involved, I don’t differentiate between the genres. A song is either an anthem or it isn’t regardless of the genre. If I limit my choice to music at the time then it’s either “Name Rank and Serial Number” (AXE) or “Don’t Need Your Money” (RAVEN).”
I once read about songs like "Whiskey Telephone", "Sacrifice" and "Tribute". How come they were not released on the "Death And Destiny LP" release on British Steel records in 1998, or don't you have any recordings of these songs available?
JR: “We didn’t record these songs in the studio, which is why they aren’t on the CD. MYTHRA were a band who were interested in making music and unfortunately the people trusted to look after the business were only interested in making money. So the “Death And Destiny” EP was milked. It was recorded at no cost to the record company. Plus the songs you mention were written by me and I had left the band. The rest of the guys probably wanted a clean break. With their own material.”
Mo: “The very early songs were dropped from the set, after John left we only played “Death And Destiny” and “UFO” from the EP and we dropped “Name Rank and Serial Number”.”
JR: “Why didn’t you play ‘Killer’?”
Mo: “We couldn’t find anyone, who could play it. Ha Ha.”
This 'compilation CD' was done without the help of the band. What do you think of it? You can be proud of the fact that people still love your music and show a lot of dedication to something you did twenty years ago. On the other hand I can believe that it makes you mad that they didn't try (good enough) to contact you to get all the information right on the CD. What are your feelings about this release now?
JR: “I’m glad the CD is out. Although I believe it is getting hard to get a hold of now – round two for the collectors. A lot of people have a chance of hearing what the fuss is about without paying collectors prices. We were all a bit pissed off, when we weren’t contacted about the release. We could have provided photos, the correct titles and been available for promotion.” VH: “It’s very flattering to know you’ve created something special. The ‘hits’ on our website from fans all over the world (NB: see the guestbook on www.mythra.fsnet.co.uk) proves our music is still able to connect with fans across the globe twenty years on).”
Some of the titles on the first pressing of this CD were wrong, could you give us the right titles of the songs that were on this great CD?
JR: “Track 1 “Paradise” should be “New Life”; Track7 “Death Of A Loved One” should be “Together Forever”and Track 13 “Blue Acid” should be “W.A.S.A”.“
The last song on the CD was mistakenly called "Blue Acid". The actual title of this song is "W.A.S.A." Where do these letters stand for?
JR: “I’ve e-mailed Alex about this and he hasn’t got back to me.”
VH: “Alex never told us what the initials “W.A.S.A.” stood for. I think it was something personal to him.”
Then I want to ask you about the fact that MYTHRA was not on the Lars Ulrich sampler "NWOBHM-'79 Revisited", another item that was released about which you were not contacted. What went wrong, cause in my opinion, this sampler is simply not complete without a rendition of MYTHRA on it!
JR: “I believe, from talking to Terry Gavaghan (producer of “Death And Destiny” EP and owner of Guardian Records), that he was contacted at the time by someone about this album but that he told them he wasn’t interested. He didn’t try to contact us – we owned the masters – so it didn’t happen. Since talking to Terry, I believe he thought he was doing the right thing. Terry has a lot of experience in the business and everything else he has done for the band has been above board. So I assume that there were some terms he was not happy with. Anyway, there’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
Mo: “I think the fact that the songs weren’t used on the sampler could have been to our advantage in the long run. I feel sorry for John, that METALLICA couldn’t use “Death And Destiny”. He could have retired on the royalties!”
VH: “I thought he had… Have you seen his house?”
Lars made this great sampler, exposing his roots. Now, ten years later he almost stands for the opposite of this all. What do you think of this and what do you think of METALLICA's music nowadays?
JR: “Lars did a lot of dead bands a favour by lending the METALLICA name to them. Speaking as a part of the NWOBHM our influences were obvious. There was not that much good rock music around in those days. However, it would have been very easy for Lars to keep quiet and deny METALLICA’s early roots. I like a lot of METALLICA stuff, especially the early stuff for example “Kill ‘Em All”. The more recent orchestral stuff is a bit off-target for my taste.”
VH: “They deserve their success. I admire bands, who look to progress. It’s probably easier, but not as satisfying to reproduce the same songs year on year. Take the money and run. Music like everything else needs to progress. If some people get left behind on the way then tough shit! They should keep their mouths shut. You cannot blame any band for wanting to move forward. It’s what life is all about!”
MYTHRA also had their version of the AXE/FIST classic "Name, Rank And Serial Number". You once told me that this is the ultimate version of this classic NWOBHM track. What's so different about this version that you think it's so much better than the version we know so well? Was it because you added your version of another AXE song "Big Rig" to this song or are there more reasons why you liked your version better?
JR: “I think MYTHRA’s version of “Name Rank And Serial Number” was more aggressive and more energetic than FIST or AXE (or even WARBECK) for that matter. When you consider that it was written by Keith Satchfield, when he was in WARBECK. When he left WARBECK to form AXE, it was played by both AXE and WARBECK. Then MYTHRA did a version with Big Rig stuck on the front. Then AXE split up and people thought it was a MYTHRA song. Once “Death And Destiny” took off AXE reformed as FIST and released a pretty lame version on Neat (although that is better than the album version on MCA). I think the difference was that Keith Satchfield was the driving force in AXE and FIST and never really considered the bands as Heavy Metal. They were more AOR. When they eventually split and reformed without Keith (with yours truly and Glen Coates), they became a metal band. In summary, MYTHRA were a lot younger and more energetic than FIST.”
Did you have any show elements during a MYTHRA gig or was it just a lot of good music, great fun and lots of sweat?
JR: “As I mentioned previously, we used to use a full light show. This was owned by a fan of MYTHRA, who started helping out with the equipment and eventually bought a lighting rig. He became an important part of the early MYTHRA gigs. His name was Louis Taylor. When MYTHRA started to happen and branch out of the North East, he set up his own band called SARACEN.”
Mo: ”Vince was always intense. I think he would have made a good punk front man.”
VH: “Intense is right. The music was everything to us all. If we could take the audience with us it was superb. If not, we didn’t give a shit! We believed in and had confidence in ourselves. That usually meant upsetting some people but, by and large, fans loved our energy and our honesty. With MYTHRA, it was always a case of ‘what you see is what you get’. We certainly gave it!”
If you must compare your sound to any other NWOBHM band. Which band, would come close to the sound of MYTHRA then?
Mo: “We were unique and didn’t try to sound like anyone else. We didn’t listen to any of the new bands.”
VH: “Absolutely right!”
JR: “I haven’t heard any that sound like MYTHRA. Although I’ve been told that when SAXON heard “Death And Destiny”, they delayed the release of their “Wheels Of Steel” album to add the chorus effect (sort of thickening delay), which was very new at that time.”
Is there any video footage of the band?
JR: “No, video cameras were about the size of a large suitcase in those days and cost about £40,000.00. We’re lucky to have still photographs. I can only guess that people were too busy head banging at our gigs to take photos. We certainly played plenty of gigs and there were certainly plenty of people at them and were all a good looking bunch.”
In 1980 you left the band, why was that?
JR: “Barry had a much bigger knob than me. Ha ha ha….(actually it’s bigger than everyone’s). No seriously, I was a student and I made a decision to concentrate on my exams. After I’d finished my studies, I was involved in reforming FIST.”
Mick Rundell became the new guitar player of the band. Did he play in any other bands before he joined MYTHRA and how did they get in contact with him?
Mo: “We advertised for guitarists and auditioned… Never again. What a bunch of spuds! I wanted to carry on as a four piece and re-arrange songs, but Vince wouldn’t hear of it. Mick Rundle had only played in his bedroom with his cousin, who was first choice for the job but didn’t want it. The problem with Mick is, that he was technically very good but shit scared of playing on stage.”
About a half a year after you'd left the band, they played on the Bingley Hall festival in Stafford together with WHITE SPIRIT, VARDIS, ANGELWITCH, GIRLSCHOOL, SAXON and MOTÖRHEAD. The band actually asked you if you could help them out on stage as their guitarplayer. Wasn't that a weird situation? After all you'd left the band for a couple of months already. Did they think that their new guitarplayer wasn't suitable enough for the job?
JR: “You got it. I got phone calls from Terry Gavaghan asking me to help out, because Mick wasn’t ready and these were prestigious gigs. I should have done it, but I don’t know what the other guys would have felt, especially Mick. Anyway, I knocked it back.”
Mo: “John had actually left the band about two or three months, when we had the opportunity to support SAXON at Newcastle Mayfair. We didn’t think Mick was ready and because of interest from the media and record companies we felt it was best to ask John to step in, but he wouldn’t. He has said since, that it was a mistake. Anyway, it turned out to be the best gig we played with Mick.”
MYTHRA also had a demotape, with songs on it as "Warrior Of Time", "Heaven Lies Above", "At Least I Tried" and "Together Forever". Was this tape also for sale and how come that it didn't reach the same status as the EP? Was it because you were not on it?? (BIG SMILE!!!)
JR: “No not at all. The tracks were put out to radio stations to test the water for a release. They were never put on general release, so that the majority of fans didn’t even know they existed. Only serious collectors knew about these tracks. It is the fans who drive the industry, but only if they can get hold of the merchandise. Sort of Chicken and Egg. I’m sure, if Street Beat had released the tracks on either an EP or LP, then MYTHRA would have gone much further than they did.”
Mo: “The second and third times we went into the studio it was when we were signed to Street Beat. The songs were never released because Street Beat wanted us to ‘sell out’ and write/record a pop song like THE SWEET. If the songs had been released, in my opinion they would have done better than “Death And Destiny” as we were being seen by more people and there was a lot of interest in the band.”
Pretty soon after the Bingley Hall festival, that we mentioned here, Mick Rundell was replaced by Alex Perry. Did Mick pursue his musical career and do you know in which bands he played after he left MYTHRA?
JR: “Mick disappeared after MYTHRA. We don’t know where he went.”
Did Alex play in any other bands before he joined MYTHRA, and how did he get in contact with the band?
Mo: ‘Alex played locally in bands in the Hexham area to the West of Newcastle. I don’t know how he got in contact exactly, but he had seen our original advert for a guitarist and didn’t apply. He applied later, just after the TED NUGENT incident. I will go on record to say that if Alex had answered the original advert, he would have been chosen and the course of MYTHRA would have been different. I think we would have made it ‘big time’.”
MYTHRA almost went on tour with TED NUGENT, but WILD HORSES finally got their place instead. What happened that the tour with TED NUGENT didn't take place?
JR: “There is a lot of debate about this. The promoter decided that WILD HORSES were to be used, because they had an album out. I saw WILD HORSES and didn’t rate them. I was a fan of Brian Robinson (THIN LIZZY) and Jimmy Bain (RAINBOW) and was disappointed by the band. I think they supported RUSH at a gig in Bingley Hall. Support tours were pretty hard to come by, even in those days. The cost of the tours were offset in a variety of ways, one of which was to charge the support act for the pleasure of being on the tour. (Who hasn’t heard the story of VAN HALEN being given all of their money back three days into the BLACK SABBATH support slot, because they were too good. I was there, I saw it they were that good!).”
Mo: “Two weeks before the tour Terry and Street Beat said we had the tour. Then TED NUGENT’s people asked for £5,000 up front. Street Beat and Terry wouldn’t put that sort of money up and the band couldn’t afford it. My comment: short sighted, tight bastards.”
VH: “We were a very young band making a big name for ourselves. We would have been playing the first leg of that European tour on home soil in the UK. I think a lot of American acts might have been nervous about that. Also interesting is the fact that the planned third night at Hammersmith Odeon had to be cancelled soon after the announcement, that we had been ‘bumped’. If we’d been given the gig as originally planned, the ticket sales may have made the third night viable.”
Soon after this MYTHRA split up. Why did they break up?In those days it was pretty easy to go on tour with any other band I would say so, and they had enough material to bring out as a follow up to the extremely popular "Death And Destiny EP"?
JR: “I wasn’t in the band, when they decided to split but in those days it was just as difficult to go on a support tour than it is now. There were a lot more bands on the concert circuit then, but there were also a lot of bands on the ballroom circuit trying to get support gigs. The bottom line is always cash. If you have someone bank rolling, you can go far. If you haven’t, then it can be frustrating. Street Beat decided not to release the album or the EP. I may be wrong, but I think they decided that the bubble had burst and that the NWOBHM boom was over. The guess the guys split up because they were tired. Tired of sleeping in the van, when the PA hire company stayed in a hotel at their expense, tired of putting all of their money into the band. Have you heard the expression flogging a dead horse?”
Mo: “As a band, MYTHRA were run both organisationally and financially by Vince and myself. We sat down after the TED NUGENT incident and decided that after five to six years of constantly financing the band, enough was enough. We did play gigs after TED NUGENT, but we asked our management and a person who didn’t know the music industry for funds for a PA and a light show but they wouldn’t advance us, so that was the end.”
VH: “We were locked into a recording contract with a company that refused to release new material and had a promoter who had tried and failed to persuade us to move to London to be closer to the action. John’s right. We were tired. Doing three to four gigs a week across the UK is tiring, when you can’t afford the comforts of decent hotels and good food. Mo’s also right. It was a case of take the money and run for the people we entrusted with our careers.”
You recently told me that you never lost contact with the ex band members of MYTHRA, and that you still hang out with them in some local pubs. Can you please update us here? For instance, what are they doing now, musically?
Mo: “After MYTHRA, Vince and Peter didn’t play again they decided to concentrate on their careers. Barry and myself helped to form the legendary thrash-rockabilly band BESSIE AND THE ZINC BUCKETS. I left at age twenty-seven and Barry still plays with them occasionally. They have been going for seventeen years and are now called THE BUCKETS. I do Mo unplugged at BBQs!”
VH: “After MYTHRA fell apart, I‘d had enough. When you’ve been part of what was in my opinion the best band of the era, then what’s the point in carrying on?!? It was time to move on. The music however lives on and speaks for itself…the original and best!”
You seemed to be good friends with each other after so many years. Have you ever thought about a reunion of the band MYTHRA, maybe with a European club tour and a new album tied to that?
JR: “When we go out in the town, here was always a point in the night where we had a revelation (like in the Blues Brothers and we see the light) and we’d talk about the old days, but we never did anything about it. Until now.” Mo: “Might happen sooner than later.”
VH: “It would be awesome and it would be done, like last time, on our terms!”
You played with FIST after you'd left MYTHRA. We agreed on doing an interview about FIST in our next issue, so we won't go to deep into your career with FIST right now. But could you please update us on the status of FIST right now. Rumours go that the band is very much alive, and they were about to play at W.O.A. 2001, which was blown off, unfortunately. So, is FIST back in business again and do you know who’s in the band at the moment?
JR: “I heard that FIST got back together and that some of the members were Harry Hill (drums), Glenn Coates (vocals), Dave Irwin (guitar), Steve Hutchinson (keyboards). I don’t know, who was on bass. I’d heard they were rehearsing and there was a gig planned in South Shields, but it all collapsed. I think Harry left to play with the ERIC BELL BAND (the first THIN LIZZY –“Whiskey In The Jar” guitarist). So it’s all over.”
Let's lay this subject to rest for a short while and return to the MYTHRA interview. If you would start again with MYTHRA, what would you do different now?
JR: “I wouldn’t leave! I’d also get some good financial advice and a lawyer. And watch out for sharks.”
MO: “Taken Rod McSween’s advice and moved to London. Persuade John to stay in the band.”
VH: “ Stick out for the right management deal and sign a long-term recording contract with an established company : talent should be nurtured, not exploited.”
What do you think of the fact that so many NWOBHM bands get back together again and do you follow the scene a bit? What do you think of the new releases that came out in the last couple of years?
JR: “I think its all to do with the so called mid life crisis. Let’s face it: everyone who was involved in a NWOBHM band at the time was older than us and we’re all in our forties! Prime second childhood stuff. Of course we’re not doing it for that reason. We’re doing it for purely artistic reasons. Honest! As for following the scene. I love heavy rock music, always have. All genres, even before there were genres. I’d like to think that all of the guys, who are getting back together, are doing it for the fans to re-live a little bit of the days when they thought they were invincible. Before the bellies expanded and the joints started creaking..…”
VH: “Good for them as long as they’ve got something new to offer and do not rehash the old stuff to make a quick buck. It’s all about creativity and integrity for me.”
To what music do you listen to nowadays?
JR: “I listen mostly to dance music, DESTINY’S CHILD, STEPS and FIVE. He he he he. No seriously, I’m a big fan of STEVE VAI, JOE SATRIANI and DWEEZIL ZAPPA. I like the older bands, the first generation heavy metal bands. I’m still a fan of BLACK SABBATH and OZZY, I still go to see UFO now that they’re touring with Schenker again. By the way, I saw ULI JON ROTH on the same bill as UFO last year. Awesome! There must be a hundred frets on that sky guitar.” Mo: “TRAVIS, RADIOHEAD, WORLD PARTY, STONE ROSES, FATBOY SLIM, FAITHLESS, PAUL OKENFIELD, LOVE AND MONEY, OASIS, BLUR…..”
VH: “I’d like to stop the sparring between the other two and mention one band, MARILLION. I have so much respect for that band having followed them since 1982. They have evolved to become self-sufficient having survived the ravages of the music industry and still produce superb rock music thanks to a loyal fan base who actually financed the recording of their latest album up front! Check out “Anoraknophobia”. It’s incredible. Of the contemporary bands my favourite is LINKIN PARK for their creativity and fusion of styles. Obvious different musical style to us, but a similar approach to the one taken by MYTHRA twenty-one years ago.”
And what do you think of the fact that there are still a lot of loyal fans out there that are very curious about all the information they can read about all these bands that ruled the scene twenty years ago? After all, I also see you as 'THE JOHN ROACH of MYTHRA'. But if you look at it right, this was just a band that only released four songs on an EP. Don't you think that's kinda funny actually?
MO: “Maybe they have heard the CD now and realise there was more to MYTHRA than “Death And Destiny”.”
JR: “I still think it’s great that there is an interest in MYTHRA today, and I’m touched that people can remember us. Although for a long time we were the unsung heroes of the era. I realised that people were interested when I read a few articles in the Virgin Dictionary of Heavy Rock which were incorrect, and realised how little people knew about us. What was four tracks on an EP felt like a lifetime of trying and failing for me.”
VH: “No way!!You wrote the classic, that is still standing the test of time. There’s no failure in that!”
Are there any local talents that you would like to recommend to us, or is the metal scene totally dead in the North East of England. Which wouldn't be a shame, 'cause it's dead in whole England I think, unfortunately! Except for a very few bands that still make some great metal music.
JR: “The only bands which seem to get any work in Britain now are tribute bands. Although this is crap, I think this is better than ten years ago when there were no bands getting any work at all. Maybe we could get a MYTHRA tribute band going.”
Mo: “Just THE BUCKETS!”
Is there anything you'd like to add to this interview. Maybe there are some things that we didn't cover yet?
JR: “What’s happening in the future? As a bunch of guys we’re starting to play together again. We’re writing new songs. It would be wrong for us to try to live in the past and write NWOBHM songs. That time has gone. We’d like to see if we can get the number of songs we’re known for to grow.”
VH: “We’re looking forward to trying out some ideas together. We cannot reproduce what we created twenty years ago. That would be wrong. I like the challenge of creating something new. The approach will be the same however. Passion, honesty and enjoyment.”
The last words are for you....
VH: “If you’re in a band: play what comes natural. If you’re a fan: listen to what feels right.”
Mo: “Don’t write us off. Watch this space.”
JR: “Every year someone says this is the year that everyone will get sick of sequencers and dance music. When we started, MYTHRA we weren’t waiting for something to happen so we could get involved. We did what we wanted to do and it turned out to be at the same time as a lot of other bands. If you check the dates and do your homework you’ll see we were one of the first to release a record. We weren’t waiting for someone else. We weren’t trying to be DEF LEPPARD or SAMSON or ANGELWITCH or WITCHFYNDE, we were trying to be LED ZEPPELIN. Don’t aim low, get your guitars out and form a band. We can’t stay underground forever!!”
Interview by: Toine van Poorten
Originally appeared in SNAKEPIT#10/2001