Your second album became „Friends of Hell”, do you still remember how was it recorded?
Yeh, like it was yesterday. We had two weeks recording it. Graham came in the studio for the first two days, Saturday and Sunday then went on his holidays. The producer Robin George could not start the album until the Monday and when he heard the drums he was disappointed. This led to the sacking of Graham but at least we are still friends to this day.
Did this record sound closer to what you wanted to achieve with Witchfinder General?
Personally no. I think the guitars were cleaned up too much for my liking. The writing side of the songs didn’t stand up as strong as D P, but the lyrics were a lot better. It’s only my opinion, a lot of people out there prefer F O H to D P, so what do I know?
How do you see, that „Death Penalty” where there is more of a Sabbathian hard rock influence than on „Friends of Hell”, which is more metal and is a great and high quality early 80’s proto doom release and it is part of doom-metal’s history?
Well yeh it does have it’s moments. My favourite General song is Quietus so I’m not knocking it.
You took Black Sabbath’s sound but made the songs shorter and catchier, resulting in songs like „Requiem For Youth” and the simply titled „Music”…
Yeah perhaps we were better at pop music than a rock band. ha!ha!
Would you say, that „Friends of Hell” can be seen as a continuation of the previous record and the same things which were present on „Death Penalty” feature here as well, but whilst improving on a few things it also takes a small step back, although this record still remains excellent in it’s own right?
Well if we had spent two weeks on D P and only two days on F O H you would have seen a hell of a difference on both albums. I think F O H would have been just a normal run of the mill rock album, but D P would have been a classic, but again it’s only my opinion.
The only lineup change from the first album is the addition of bassist Rod Hawkes, whose more adept basswork also helps the band get out of the Black Sabbath rut, how do you see it?
Rod gave the band another direction. Apart from being my best mate, we both go back to when we were knee high to a grasshopper, and started to play the guitars at the same time. Rod is a very good bassist and puts some nice little runs in, to fill in behind the guitar.
Graham Ditchfield’s drumming, your great riffs and quick leads, and Zeeb Parkes’ unique „nasal whine” vocals are all still present, is that correct?
Well it’s like they say 'Sometimes you are tied to the same broom'. You can’t change if you try.
His voice reminds me all in all Ozzy, in your opinion, did Zeeb add a touch of youthful mischief to avoid being derivative?
Zeeb was never out of trouble, he was always doing stupid things. He once dived off the end of Blackpool’s North Pier and swam it back to shore just for a bet ’cause he was skint ha!ha! He didn’t act the wild man of rock, he was!!!
Do you think, that the soloing is as strong as ever and in some cases has improved, and the first track („Love on Smack”) is the best song Witchfinder General ever did, the riffs remain a perfect blend of Doom and NWOBHM and can still pummel the listener into the ground?
I personally am not that keen on Love on Smack, some of the lyrics sound a bit weak like ' can smell the blossom and hear the buzzing bee', to me I don’t think thats rock band material at all, sorry Zeeb. On the other hand my favourite track is Quietus and why I like that one so much is the lyrics, so Zeeb must have had an off day when he wrote Love on Smack he!he! As for the guitar soloing I suppose you improve as you go on.
The album starts off with „Love On Smack”,featuring nice changes and a good mix of fast and slow riffing, „Music”, is a strong track, definitely a song that would have brought you quite a bit of attention if it were released to a wider audience, right?
If the song Music was recorded by a good looking pop outfit they would be more than likely to make the hit parade, but I don’t think it would do Witchfinder General any favours. What I am trying to say is if a teenager today who has just got in to heavy metal and he reads about WFG and doom metal and he manages to buy a copy of the Single Music he would be in for a nasty surprise.
„Friends Of Hell” is Witchfinder General’s most epic song, taking one through a sonic journey and one can see that the song writing has grown a bit, and the songs have become a bit more complex while still being just as potent as they were in the beginning, do you agree with that?
Friends of Hell was an experimenting song for us and the start of the track worked very well.
„Shadowed Images” is a consistently slow song, but it is very well orchestrated and the lead at the end of „Quietus Reprise” is just the perfect way to end the album, how do you see it?
To be quite honest Quietus Reprise was just a filling the gap kind of song. I had no lead break planned so I used two lead solo tracks and kept fading them in and out, but again it worked ok.
Would you say, that it’s nothing incredibly technical, but it thoroughly exemplifies great harmony, and „Friends Of Hell” is not only a pinnacle in Witchfinder General’s career, but a great pinnacle in heavy metal as a whole, standing high above most others that amount mostly to hills and very few other bands have had such a great demeanor and the musical capabilities to back it?
Friends of Hell is something I am very proud of. It was a great time in my life and I am just glad that we did it. I can’t say that we were any better than any other bands from the NWOBHM, in fact there was so many great musicians around then and we were no different.
Do you agree with, that great leaps are made lyrically - instead of an album worshipping „sex, drugs, rock, and beer” with the occasional „evil” track thrown in for good measure, the band touches on some of everything - anthems to youth („Requiem for Youth”) and music („Music”), songs about darkness („Shadowed Images”), suicide („Love on Smack”), and the occult („Friends of Hell”), and even a ballad („I Lost You”) all show the band’s progress?
When we first started Zeeb’s lyrics were a bit naff and he was very green, bearing in mind that he had no background or band experience, but when the band recorded F O H he had progressed into a good lyric writer.
A slight progression towards a wider sound and a more melodic approach is apparent on songs like „Love on Smack” or the moderately-successful single „Music”, complete with a keyboard background, but the general feel of the album is still Black Sabbathy enough to thrill the most endured punter, right?
Music was the only track we had used another instrument to the guitar and Robin put down the keys on the track.
Zeeb’s voice is as evoking as ever, and behind him, the band ravages through black riffs and twisted harmonies; „Last Chance”, the title-track and „Requiem for Youth” score really high, while the chilling tale of a betrayed lover contemplating suicide, „I Lost You”, completely acoustic, is probably the most intense moment on the album, what’s your opinion?
When Zeeb and I got the idea for I Lost You we planned to put a piano and keyboards in but when Robin heard it he thought it best if we just kept it to the both of us.
How do you feel, that this was the last offering by you, who later influenced tons of black metal bands, even though you never played a single note of that genre?
If you had asked me this question about five years ago I would have replied 'yeh Witchfinder General are dead and buried mate and forgotten about'. I never realised that there were people out there still listening and enjoying our music.
What do you think about, that the production is great for the period it in which it was released, and this time the bass is more audible, Zeeb remains as good as he previously was, and the drummer shows signs of improvement?
The production was a vast improvement from the last album.
Do you agree with, that really the biggest difference between the two full-lengths is the production, this album has a lot stronger presence in the bass and drums, whereas on „Death Penalty” they were just above being inaudible; every instrument is mixed quite well, although that certainly doesn’t mean this is without that wonderful vintage sound quality?
Yeh like I said before F O H we had a lot more time to throw at it and it’s like any job the more time you put into it the better the job is.
You worked with Robin George, was he an experienced producer? Did he do a good job?
Robin really knew the studio side of the production and did a great job. I think maybe he cleaned the guitars sound up too much but at the end of the day it still stands up as a great rock album so all in all he did a fantastic job along with Dave Lester.
Witchfinder General’s sound is a particularly great one; the guitar tone is dull and low-fi, the riffs are heavy metal with that traditional doom heaviness that makes you all the better, and you have that rock n roll feeling, is that correct?
Yeh, rock on brother!
In your opinion, are both records on the same level in terms of quality?
I suppose they are because what D P lacks in sound production F O H has got it, and what F O H lacks in song material D P has got it, so yeh they must be equal. The only difference is the album covers. On D P we only had Joanne on the cover but F O H we were lucky to have five girls parading their bodies around us. Man we were rock hard stiff for a week ha!ha!
Along with Saint Vitus, you define 80s doom metal, setting the bar pretty high, what do you think about it?
I have never heard any Saint Vitus so I can’t compare us to them but if we both put doom metal on the map then that makes me happy.
What about the touring aspect in support of the record?
A mini tour was arranged to coincide with the album release but HMR cocked it up yet again and we went on the road playing new material from F O H and no album release so people who came to the gigs didn’t know the songs and we didn’t go down as good as we should have.
In the last period of the band you had a new drummer, instead of Graham, Dermot Redmond joined the band, what about his musical past? Was he the best replacement for Graham?
Derm had previously played in a band with Kev McCready, I can’t think what their band was called and I am sure it was Kev who introduced us to Derm. Derm gave us another direction, it changed us from being just a studio band into a live act.
Zac Bajjon never really played bass for Witchfinder General, he only rehearsed with the band for about two weeks, covered a Black Sabbath tune, but no Witchfinder General material or recordings and never even played a live gig, he worked as manager with Cradle Of Filth, is that correct?
Yeh Zac was a very good and solid bass player as I remember. I think we used to cover the Black Sabbath track 'National Acrobat', but that’s about as far as we went.
At which point did he join the band and what about his musical experiences, backgound? Would you say, that on „Friends of Hell” Witchfinder General was at it’s peak, you were at your best?
Derm joined the band just after we came out of the studio recording FOH. As for WFG hitting a peak at that time I would say no. We as a band hit our peak some twelve months later, just before the band split up.
As far as Dermot, he hadn’t any studio works with the band, but only he played shows with you, is that correct?
This was a big regret for me that Derm never got to play on a studio album or any studio recordings for that matter, but at least we had the live album.
By the way, did you have songs written after you released the record? I mean, did you start writing new material for a third record?
After we did our little tour in 1983 we began to write new material for the third album, which of course never got recorded. At the end of that year and the start of 1984 we temporarily lost Rod because he had become a father for the first time and obviously his family commitments came first. He did rejoin the band to record the third album but things went pear shaped for us and the rest is history.
You were featured on several compilations, such as "Heavy Metal Heroes Compilation Volumes 1 and 2", "Metal Inferno", "Metal Killers Kollection Volume 2.", "NWOBHM Vol 3", did these materials help to expand the band's popularity in the underground?
I really have no idea, the Heavy Metal Heroes albums did nothing to help us and the other albums came after we had broken up.Then it was like a black curtain had been draped over my eyes and I had to turn my back on the music scene to stop it from doing my head in.
Did these compilations have the goal to draw more fans’ attention to the band?
I guess they did.
What was the status of the band at this point? Did you disband or were you on hold?
In 1984 we broke for good. Zeeb came to tell me that he was finished. He basically was fed up with being broke, on the dole and tired of waiting for something to happen with the band, which of course never did.
How was the NWOBHM scene in the mid ’80s?
I remember there being a lot of metal bands knocking about at the start of the eighties but come the mid eighties a lot of the bands who were going the same time as us were finished, like ourselves.
Would you say, that the NWOBHM suffered the same fate as many other musical movements; first, the majority of its leading lights were unable to follow up on their initial successes and second, the superstars moved further away from the era towards mainstream hard rock?
??????????? (I’m finding it difficult to respond here)