VORTEX has never really accomplished a major break-through, despite the fact that they're always mentioned as one of the most important names in the Dutch Heavy Metal scene of the 80's. They were especially known for their great spectacular shows and their "Metal Bats" EP is still a very sought after item amongst collectors. Although things have been rather quiet for a long time, a few things have changed these past few months. VORTEX has reopened the gates for their original singer and played a few gigs here and there. Snakepit got in touch with guitarist Martjo 'Whirlwolf' Brongers and Jurjen 'Thundervox' Tichelaar and together we went through their past, the present and the future of Dutch cult band no.1: VORTEX.
First of all, tell us something about the very early days of VORTEX. Who started the band and when?
"VORTEX was formed in 1979 by myself and a bunch of guys living in the same street. This first line-up included: Gerrit Kuiper (vocals), Peter de Bluts (drums), Gerard Waalboer (guitar), Peter Hummel (guitar), Martjo Brongers (guitar) and Peter Hes on bass. Yes, that's right. VORTEX sported three guitarists. This, however, did not last for long. At that time VORTEX did not play Heavy Metal, but raw Rock music, or whatever you'd like to call it. In 1982 the drummer and me wanted to play Heavy Metal, so we hired vocalist Jurjen Tichelaar and guitar player Andre Rombout. Later that year, the latter left again. After playing as a four piece for some time, Berend Stegeman joined the band."
Did you play in any other band(s) before VORTEX or was this your very first (professional) band?
"Before founding VORTEX, I played with three other bands. I even played drums for a year."
How did you come up with the band name VORTEX and does it have any meaning or whatsoever?
"In the early days of the band its members kept disappearing. I remember reading about a place in America, called VORTEX, where people seemed to disappear, so I thought that should be the name of the band."
Can you tell us something about the Heavy Metal scene in Groningen back in those days? Do you still remember any local bands, that were also very busy creating a distinct profile. Didn't STEEL AGAINST STEEL live nearby?
"In those days there was no (Heavy) Metal scene at all. When we tried to get a gig somewhere, we didn't say we where a Metal band, because if we would have done so, the gig would have been cancelled immediately. Our shows didn't draw many people, but the people that came, quickly became dedicated fans. Some of them even formed their own bands, like LEADER, MEAN MACHINE and STEEL AGAINST STEEL. Later on, our following began to grow steadily.
By whom did you get influenced back then?
"Johnny Többen, streetfighter; Jan de Roos, streetsinger; Plopatov, street-drag-queen; Pief, street-organ-player; Herman Brood, street-dope-shooter; and Doctor Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, is that clear enough?"
Who did actually get this brilliant idea of creating a real stage show in the first place? And did you have a stage show from the beginning on?
"More ideas about corporating theatrical elements grew with the years, in the beginning we just dressed up, then we built our own lighting, and eventually we decorated the stage."
Did you get influenced (show wise) by other bands like KISS, ALICE COOPER or MERCYFUL FATE?
"No, the ideas were the fruits of the sick mind of bloody Whirlwolf and the severe mental illness of Thundervox."
Who created the mask of Jurjen 'Thundervox' Tichelaar? Why did you use corpse paint instead of something you could take on and off?
"It was the result of a tough childhood, diappointment in life, and an unfortunate stint at the University of Phychedelics. The mask just evolved."
What could you expect as a spectator of a VORTEX show in the 80's?
"We tried value for money. We tried to give the fans the impression that they were watching a big act by using limited means."
Did you also throw in any cover songs at your gigs or did you only play original stuff?
"Yes, we played some covers, for example "Nice Boys Don't Play Rock 'n Roll" by ROSE TATTOO. Ten years later Axl Rose, after seeing VORTEX, got the idea to cover this song as well."
Can you name some of the bands, that you supported in the early days. Wasn't it difficult for you to play a whole show with them and did you also play as headliners?
"We opened up for bands like PICTURE, BODINE, SAD IRON, TRANCE, etc. We organised lots of gigs ourselves, with SAD IRON. It was hard for the headlining bands to have us opening for them, with our theatrical show.It was hard to tell which band was actually headlining."
"Metal Bats" was your very first (heroic) deed. How many copies did you actually sell of this EP?
"A thousand copies were pressed, but miraculously many more copies have been sold."
I've seen the EP in record lists doing for over US$ 35 (60 German marks). Did you ever think (or hoped) it would come this far?
"We didn't think "Metal Bats" would become such a collectable. Of course, we hoped so. Also, far too little copies have been pressed."
Are you any popular outside of The Netherlands? I've heard a lot of people consider you as 'a cult band' in Germany, but I don't know about any other countries. Do you?
"Like they say in Groningen : whoever knows, may tell us."
Why did you switch so many drummers?
"The members just seem to disappear."
How did you get on the compilation albums "Dutch Steel" and "Holland Heavy Metal" and why did you chose the songs "Land Of The Lake" and "Mercenary" to be on it?
""Holland Heavy Metal, part 2" was released by het Popbureau in Groningen, a concert promotor for many bands. "Dutch Steel" was released by Loudness, a Frision fanzine. The people at Loudness were dedicated fans of ours, and they did a lot of recommandation for us. We felt that the songs that appeared on "Dutch Steel" were our best at that time."
What are (to your opinion) the main differences between the "Metal Bats" EP and your first album "Open The Gate"??
"The main difference, of course, is that "Metal Bats" contains six songs and "Open the Gate" contains nine. We had been playing the songs on "Metal Bats" live for a longer period, so those songs were in a more developped state."
How did "Open The Gate" actually sell?
"Once upon a time, there was a secret counter in Friesland with lots of copies of "Open the Gate" stacked on it, that is, until recently. Wish we could say that of "Metal Bats"!"
Why did you guys never really break through in the Metal scene? Any particular reasons for that, you would think of?
What are you talking about? According to our personal astrologist our big break-through is set on 1-12-2003."
What happened after "Open The Gate" or let's rephrase it: why didn't there happen anything at all?
"It was all or nothing at that time, but the gates did not open up, and that was that."
Who's descision was it 'to call it quits with VORTEX'?
"This has a lot to do with the previous question. We did everything we could, and then it all stopped spontaneously."
Did you do anything musically after the band broke up? And what about the other band members? Please tell us about it.
"Each member went his own way and it is hard to trace what they have been doing musically. Thundervox learned to play bass in MEAN MACHINE and he has had a lot of fun singing with SARATOGA. Whirlwolf founded FOXFIRE, played with LIGHTNIN' and WILDROSE, until his sick mind forced him to reform VORTEX."
On "Metal Bats" you guys all used nicknames. Please explain the name 'Macleans' that your drummer Peter Hess used.
"Macleans was some brand of toothpaste. They had a commercial and young Peter used to watch it with increasing anger. He hated this commercial so bad, that he smashed the TV set one day with a full bottle of beer. After doing this he went completely deaf, and kept calling himself Macleans. (This is a fact!)"
Can you tell us something about your project WILD ROSE? What did it sound like and which music style would you compare it to?
"I founded WILDROSE in 1992. At that time I played in LIGHTNIN'. This band was in a terminal fase, and because I could get a tour through the Ukraine in august of 1992, which I just had to do, I founded WILDROSE in one day. The vocalist of LIGHTNIN' joined in, as well a former drummer of VORTEX, John Roffel, who had played on the "Open the Gate" album. Whithin three months we wrote a new repertoire, did gigs and after that the tour. After the tour everyone left exept me. I found three new bandmembers, with whom I recorded the first CD, called "Wildrose 1". Next thing our vocalist quit and we asked Jurjen Tichelaar to join in. With him we recorded "Wildrose II". WILDROSE played hardrock and with Jurjen, it got heavier. On the second album is an AC/DC song covered called "Sin City" and even the "Open the Gate" version of VORTEX. Jurjen, Jack and I are real fans of AC/DC. The three of us also had an AC/DC coverband called THE NICE BOYS. We also played songs from ROSE TATTOO. Afterwards, the VORTEX story came up again and we decided to split up."
Many years have passed by and (to my great pleasure) a real VORTEX reunion has come up in '99. We want to know what caused this reunion. Whose idea was it to reform VORTEX in the first place?
"According to the yearbook of the students faculty of Vera by studentos magnifycos MR. Peter Weening, it is a simple fact that VORTEX has a reunion every five year, which of course happened every time ('92-'97)."
Which role did That's Metal play in your reunion?
"Arno Hoffman wrote us a letter, which he sent to our previous fanclub address. Coincidentally the boy's father still lived there, who sent it to Jurjen and me. On a full moon night I called Arno, and he gave us an interview in That's It (now called That's Metal). After that, we got a move on. We heard people paid big bucks for our albums. We received letters with 'we want VORTEX' and decided to release a "Best of VORTEX" CD together with a couple of reunion concerts (anyway, it was time to get reunited again after five years). Before we knew it, we existed again. So it's fair enough to say, Arno was the resurrector of VORTEX."
What about the other former VORTEX members, like Jurjen Tichelaar for example? Why didn't he team up with you guys?
"What do you mean? Everyone is present! All previous messages of Thundervox leaving the band (which he did) are all a big misunderstanding. He had some "hard time" to deal with. (well done, my boy)."
Can you tell us something about newcomers Hazzard Harry, Mark Fokko and drummer Henk Bosma and what they've done in the past?
"Guitar player Hazzard Harry is from Friesland and played, among other bands, in SOCIAL SECURITY and MARK FOKKO. Bass player Jan van Dijk is a theatre man from 'work in progress' and played in SPLITSING for instance; he is from Harderwijk. Both gents never even heard of Metal, before they joined VORTEX. Henk "the tank" Bosma from Groningen started in FOXFIRE as roadie and played in the symphonic Metal band ENTIRE."
Do you want to achieve any goal with the VORTEX reunion?
"We don't look any further than 1-12-2003, and you know why now."
I've heard that your reunion gig in Hoogeveen (May 1999) has been filmed. Are you planning on releasing this in the near future at all?
"After 2003, we'll release a complete interactive CD-Rom. Everything will be stuffed on this."
Now we're talking about videos. What can you tell about your early promo clip(s)?
"Yes, we have one, for the song "Open the gate", and it looked great. We'd do it again any day. The video clip for "Open the Gate' was recorded in a fortress near Groningen, called Bourtange. The song is about the invasion of the rebels from Den Briel. And because people wore the folkloristic outfits (from children to soldiers), we could make a proper invasion ourselves. We didn't have any boats to our disposal, so we invited two local motorcycle clubs. Together with about eighty people, we musically avocated the Den Briel invasion."
Are there any bands out there, that you would like to play/support as VORTEX?
"Here we go: Henk wants MANOWAR, Harry wants PANIC PAINTERS, Jan wants THE HAPPY TUNES; Martjo wants P. SADS BAND (DE KAST); Jurjen wants BLOWWHITE AND THE SEVEN ORFS. As you can see, this isn't going to work out. We're not suited as a support act, so we'll just be headliner (joke)."
What about any new material or a new VORTEX CD? Can you give us a clue?
"Right now, we're very busy with new material, and the already new-written songs are being rewritten because of the return of Jurjen. After that we'll look for a suitable record label. We're hoping to release the CD in 2000. We don't want to hurry things."
How did you actually get in touch with Robert Leerentveld, the guy who designed your beautiful sleeves and band logo? He also did the logo of the t-shirts of That's Metal (if I was informed correctly).
"Jurjen had just drawn our first logo for our T-shirts. Robert, who works at the same newspaper as Martjo, ran into Martjo at the Hard Rock shop and said: "I can do better than that". Martjo responded with the words: "Put your money where your mouth is!". And Robert was here to stay."
Please name your fave metal bands of the nineties.
"Yes, and after consulting the bandmembers I came up with the next list: SACRED STEEL, WARDOG, MANOWAR, AC/DC, JUDAS PRIEST, TWO, OLD MAN'S CHILD, RAMMSTEIN, HAMMERFALL, SAXON, ACCEPT, MERCYFUL FATE, THE CARDINAL, U.D.O., SAD IRON, HAMMERHAWK, BLACK SABBATH, OZZY OSBOURNE, THE CULT, PICTURE, VENGEANCE, VICIOUS RUMORS, DEATH, DESTINY'S END, GRAVEDIGGER, METAL CHURCH, MENTORS, FISH-THOMAS, TOM ANGELRIPPER, WITCHBURNER, RAVEN, SAVATAGE, SAVAGE, GODDESS OF DESIRE, METALLICA (old stuff), KILLER, AGENT STEEL, THE RODS, MOTORHEAD, ROSE TATTOO, Y&T, THIN LIZZY, HELLSTAR, RUNNING WILD, HELLOWEEN, EXCITER,KORN, ARNO HOFFMAN, MALICE, TOGETHER, ICED EARTH, KAI WOLWERT, DIO, MOTHER'S FINEST, JAGUAR, VENOM, TRANCE, VANDENBERG, BODINE, ARMORED SAINT, QUEST, STEFAN VAN ZIJL, SLAYER, SEPULTURA, S.O.D., DIMMU BORGIR, MEGADEATH, and then we ran out of beer!
What's the translation of the text (in German) on your recent t-shirts?
"It's Arno Hoffman's. This is forever written in the German Encyclopedia of European Metal Bands. We had to laugh so much, it hurt, and we printed it, so it would never die."
My statement is that Heavy Metal is not only some kind of music, but also a way of life. How do you feel about that?
"It's like this, VORTEX = Heavy Metal. But we think, as musicians, it's important that you have fun with what you do."
What was it like to play with QUEST and HAMMERHAWK on the CD presentation of the Heavy Metal Maniacs fan club day in Hoogeveen earlier this year? Did you enjoy yourself?
"Great! Just like the good ol' times. Good relationships got even better between the three bands. Because of the presence of the Heavy Metal Maniacs fan club, it was a fantastic evening. That's what it's all about…."
I heard about your plans of touring with HAMMERHAWK. Is it true and what can you tell about it?
"We haven't made any concrete plans yet, but we're working on it. The bands fit very well together and we guarantee a pure night of true Heavy Metal."
Do you know Hanneke Kappen? (She aired Stamppij - the very first true Dutch Metal radio broadcast on Hilversum 3 in the early 80's and also lives in Groningen) and what did she do for the band?
"Yes, we bump into her occasionally. Maybe she could have meant something to us, but appearently, she didn't feel like it."
What's the latest (good) joke you've heard?
Profession and dog owners. How dogs start to look like their owners;1st profession: architect; the dog receives wooden cubes and builds them into a building. 2nd profession: surgion; the dog puts the bones into a perfect skeleton. You see, the dog looks like its owner. 3rd profession: hardrock musician; his dog fucks both other dogs, drinks his whisky and asks: "ISN'T THERE ANY BEER LEFT!!?"
You guys are to be found on the Heavy Metal Maniacs CD of Stefan van Zijl with a brand new version of "Open The Gate". Why did you choose this particular song?
"We didn't choose this song, Stefan did. For the simple reason that this is the song of VORTEX, which everybody knows. Stefan wanted the original release of "Open The Gate", but that gave a lot of hassle with the record company. And because I had all new members with VORTEX, I thought it was more appropriate to re-record the song entirely. The idea to record such an album is fantastic, especially because everyone voluntarily helped Stefan in putting it together. As friends amongst eachother. All credits go to Stefan. It's a great push-up! Not only to the fanclub, but to the bands as well."
What do you think of this initiative of Stefan to start a fan club for Metal freaks?
"Personally, I think Heavy Metal need such a H.M.M. fanclub. They are the real 'die hards'. Stefan told me there are a lot of these clubs in Germany, which says it all. For instance the concert in Hoogeveen. 3/4 of the room was filled with the Heavy Metal Maniacs."
Do you have anything to add to this interview?
"We're very happy and surprised by the fact that after all these years people are still interested in VORTEX."
If you could look into the future. What are your future plans for VORTEX on short and longer terms?
"We will not rest until we've set foot on German grounds (operation "crashin' into Germany"). The reappearance of VORTEX wasn't without a lot of set-backs. But with Jurjen 'Thundervox' Tichelaar back in the band VORTEX, we're all back, alive and kicking! At this moment we're working on new material and also rehearsing for new shows. Furthermore, we will search for a foreign record company, who wants to work with us and release our product. The rest will be just having a lot of fun and 'viel Schoppe trinken'! To end with the famous words of our friend Arno Hoffman: "Unterhose wechseln und abwarten! Heavy Metal is king!!"
I hope they don't mind that I keep my pants on. Thanks again Martjo and Jurjen, you guys rule!!!!
Interview by: Toine van Poorten
(originally appeared in SNAKEPIT, issue #6, 1999.)
Heavy Metal Holland Vol. 2 (compilation LP 1982)
Dutch Steel (compilation LP 1984)
Metal Bats (EP 1985; indie)
Open The Gate (LP 1986; Universe)
The Dawning (CD 1998; Tophole records)
H.M. Maniacs (compilation CD 1999; indie)