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Witchfynde: Back From The Grave To Give 'Em Hell Again!

By Vinnie Apicella, Contributor
Thursday, June 13, 2002 @ 4:45 PM


Witchfynde Brews Up A Concocti

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You'll never see 'em coming… and we never saw 'em leaving. But they did, like many of their era… now they're back to take care of unfinished business. We don't often think in terms of "Dark" Metal when examining the NWOBHM bands throughout the early 1980's. You had your Ravens and Saxons and Samsons and Jaguars and Holocausts and so on… And you had your Venoms with their groundbreaking new style of "Black" Metal that's at least given Nordic extremists a reason to be during those long cold winter nights. And almost as if by accident, you remember Iron Maiden, one of the few that actually transcended their original claim to fame to go on to Heavy Metal elitism. I'm guilty of ill-conceived notions of suffering and starvation when I look back to the prime time for the "New Waver" veterans of the day, where for many, if they made one at all, their careers were noteworthy more for troublesome fifth year implosions rather than the mark they made on the movement. Yet a few went onto mildly successful and respectable careers… too many of them failed however, often drowning in a pool of their own pretense and misused potential. And maybe that's why many of these "classic" underachievers are so endearing to follow today now that a new life above ground is fast becoming a reality.

What did I know about Witchfynde when I popped in the first of the two-disc Britannia Infernus British Black Metal compilation for the first time? Besides the name, little else… And no relation to Angel Witch, yet I'd dare say they've often drank at the same well. Similar to an early Maiden, or even Ozzy before them, Witchfynde built their influences on the Heavy Rock scene of the '70s where the likes of Zeppelin, Sabbath and for those rare, image conscious evil dealing "entertainers" of the day, a man named "Alice" ran through their cerebral collective.

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Musically, Witchfynde's sound fell within rank with the many greats of the day-AC/DC, UFO, Whitesnake… you won't have to listen very carefully to gather it all in, yet like their "bestial" contemporaries, they stood a great distance apart in lyrical motive. Like their peers, Witchfynde made records, made fans, and made a quick impact… they didn't make much money nor did they ditch the leather and skulls in favor of a jacket and tie when it came time to dot the I's and cross the T's… they were musicians first and they let their music do the talking for one breakout single, "Give 'Em Hell," and four full lengths in five years. And so went another story of the ambitious young band that unlike several others, were driven out not by their own philosophical incompatibilities, but the industry itself… and completely! Never to be heard from again… or were they?

In an ironic twist of fate, while one set of external forces successfully drove them out of the music business, little by little another appeared, conspiring to keep their memory alive and eventually resurrect a Heavy Metal original… thus some fourteen years after their demise, Witchfynde was born again. Reemerging from the shadows of darkness and doubt, the band is currently preparing to unleash their latest The Witching Hour release; a record that revisits their roots and combines past classics with newer and unreleased material in a rerecorded remodeling that features the Samson-era "Dickinsonian" styled vocals of new singer, Harry Harrison (?), effectively brings the dead to life and bridges a decade and a half long gap from past to present.

Behind the mysterious aura that surrounds Witchfynde lies an intuitive, opinionated, and free spirited group of four who, a day after their NJ-based Metal Meltdown festival appearance, each contributed to an enlightening hour long dark saga that carried us from the present, past and future, while revisiting a few of the ol' haunts along the way…

Cast of Characters:
Montalo - Guitars
Harry - Vocals
Pete 'Thud' Surgey - Bass
Gra Scoresby - Drums

KNAC.COM: First time in the states?
MONTALO: First time anyone's ever paid us (Laughs)… Yeah, first time ever.

KNAC.COM: Did you have high expectations upon arriving here and doing this Metal fest with so many other bands involved?
MONTALO: We're just amazed that the people actually knew of us here. When we were just starting out back in the early '80s, we weren't even aware our albums had actually been released here. So in the time between then and now there's evidently been a lot of interest in the band… we've just been overwhelmed by the reaction that we've gotten.

KNAC.COM: I caught your performance earlier and was impressed by the number of people in attendance, which I think proves your point. It's nice to see the fans still remember.
PETE: I think we were the only band that actually made a banner.

KNAC.COM: Or at least the only one with "Witchfynde" on it!
PETE: (Laughs) Right…

KNAC.COM: So what finally brought you here?
MONTALO: Concert promoters have been after us to play here the last couple of years really. The first time we were contacted we weren't in any position to come over because we'd just basically put the band back together again and were working Harry into the band as well… so we just weren't ready. We'd also wanted to put the new "Witching Hour" album out first, so then once that was released we started putting the live show together and making plans.

KNAC.COM: It's good exposure too, especially getting back together after a long layoff, to be able to play a festival with so many people that besides your own fans there's always the likelihood to have a spillover effect from undecided listeners, so you're afforded the chance to increase your exposure and maybe land some new fans.
PETE: When we got back together, I was just amazed that even going back 20 years ago, it was still relevant… not getting back in playing it just for the sake of playing it; if it's not relevant and it's not valid, we wouldn't be interested. We've never really had a continuity of vocalists throughout the other records so it was great to get Harry in to work on new stuff and revitalize the old pieces as well. For me, that was vital. It all sounded as good if not better then it ever did and we're happy with the outcome.
MONTALO: Most of the live shows we were contacted to do when we put the band back together were to play the festivals. We've done a few clubs and small shows back in the UK, but it was all from contacts we made from playing the major festivals, which for us was a big difference from when we were doing it in the '80s. Nowadays people are asking us about the Wacken Festival and then there are three other festivals in America--this one, the one in Milwaukee, and November To Dismember…. So it all seems to be targeted to festivals now really than the individual shows, which is good cause like you say you have the chance to play for more people and make new fans. I suppose if there is a downside to the festivals is that we can't bring any sort of stage show. They're very quick running performances and we like to do a stage show with various drapes and candelabras and other sorts of eerie things going up on stage… it'd make us feel more at home.
HARRY: We've found out today we're more of a cult band than we ever realized we were. The really die hard fans… I mean, I had one guy turn up today with records the band's never even seen! Where the hell are they from? (Laughs) We were asking where we could get a copy of them! But I mean it's overwhelming really that people are still that much into the band.

KNAC.COM: Do you think the "cult" tie-in is related more toward your darker image than maybe many of the others that came out during that time?
PETE: I just think we're more a cult because we're simply less exposed than the others. The stuff was less widely available and for some reason, where another band might draw 500 people and it's like, "The show's great, the band's great," and leave the theater… We may draw perhaps half that number and they'd be much more fanatical about it. It's hard to explain but it seems the people will look at the band as more of some kind of entity… It seems to be just this phenomenon that we are a cult band and whether it's lyrically or musically, or both, I'm not sure, but hey whatever works…

KNAC.COM: Maybe the image factor as well. I mean you look at a band like Venom who had obviously arrived the same time as the rest but had a much darker sound and image and yet you certainly don't hear their name mentioned in the same sentence with the rest of the "New Wave" that came out.
"...we like to do a stage show with various drapes and candelabras and other sorts of eerie things going up on stage… [it] make us feel more at home." - Montalo
HARRY: Maybe I'm actually closer to that idea of a "phenomenon" than the rest of the band cuz I actually grew up as a Witchfynde fan and I followed them everywhere… and it's just by chance that I got into the band. I can actually identify with all these fans that are so phenomenally into the band cuz I was too! So I happened to become the singer in the band and I can feel they got that sort of energy that I always loved as a fan…

KNAC.COM: Now would be a good time to look back a little bit then into the history of Witchfynde, cult-phenomenon or otherwise, I think also there's been a mysterious aura related to the band; you spoke earlier of less exposure but you've also been very behind the scenes over the years.
MONTALO: Well Gra and myself put the band together in the mid '70s and we basically toured everywhere throughout the UK for the next five years… without any sort of record deal recognition whatsoever. The press absolutely hated us! The record companies turned down totally… so in the end we decided we'd record our own album and put it out ourselves. The giggin' we'd done built up such a fanatical following that we thought to just put out our own product and the record companies wouldn't be able to ignore us anymore. Thus the "Give 'Em Hell" single was born and later the Give 'Em Hell album in 1980. We ended up signing with Rondelet Records, did a gig and couldn't believe the reception we got. From there we got a tour slot with Def Leppard, went out nationwide… I guess they felt quite at ease with us; we came from a similar part of England. So we were getting to a lot of people on the Leppard tour and we soon put out a second album called Stagefright for which we ended up headlining tours of our own.

KNAC.COM: So really during your early years, or once the first record hit, the band was on a pretty good roll for a while…
MONTALO: Pete actually came into the band for the Stagefright album and we'd basically released an album each year from '80-'84 but towards the end of this time we mainly concentrated on recording rather than doing much live work. For our third album, Cloak & Dagger, we spent a lot of time in the studio with only a few gigs to support it.
PETE: Along the way the negative aspects of what was going on with the record companies and management… we were dogged by a lot of problems in that respect. The label was going bankrupt, we were getting ripped off by management, and so we had to really immerse ourselves in writing and recording to keep trying to set up new deals. Then we spent about a whole year writing and recording the Lords Of Sin album, which was for Mausoleum Records. I guess it was when the Mausoleum deal fell through that we sort of ground to a halt in a way.

KNAC.COM: So this would've been around 1984 that things started to go downhill?
MONTALO: Yes, in '84. It was a good album that we'd spent a lot of time on recording and writing but then the record company went bankrupt before they were ever able to promote it. So we knew the only way back out was to try writing another new album. But by this point we were drained and just fed up with the whole situation… we didn't split the band up but we just sort of drifted apart really.

KNAC.COM: And thus the dissolution of Witchfynde, almost as mysteriously as when you first appeared five years earlier…
PETE: But it wasn't the band or the music itself, rather the people on the outside of it. We had nothing left to give… we'd given it everything we had the last four years. We just basically retired to a darkened room waiting for things to get better.

KNAC.COM: Not so mysterious, actually, when you look at so many of the other NWOBHM acts that hit the scene with so much potential and subsequently broken by internal or external influences… or at best just stayed underground even if in name only.
HARRY: And many of them were really lucky. Montalo told me they'd done some gigs with Iron Maiden during that time and I mean, I didn't know that, so I'm still in awe of all they did manage to accomplish even in such a short time!
GRA: But we'd been playing with some great bands at the time-Iron Maiden, Saxon, Girlschool… there was a whole big scene really. Def Leppard's management wanted to get us on board and I think we were moving into a different league then. But we were contractually tied up and that's what held us back and that was always our problem. Otherwise… no sour grapes, you know, but I think we were on the same level as your Iron Maidens and whoever else. All the other bands around us were going off to Europe, and there was Raven and Venom and all these others from the same background, and it was frustrating for us cause we were held back and they were going forward… and we couldn't do anything about it.

KNAC.COM: That's got to be tough, I mean by this point you were active as a band for nearly ten years then. But before getting into your return, and addressing Pete's suggestion of "retiring to a dark room till it gets better," and when that actually was, lets pick up a little bit from back in the day and your association with some of those other great bands that were fortunate enough to break big.
MONTALO: Yeah, we used to go down with Maiden at the Music Machine, this venue down in London and I mean they used to be great nights. There used to be 4-5 bands on that everyone liked --Saxon, Girlschool… another band called "Girl," Motorhead… they used to be packed!

KNAC.COM: So here we are today, Witchfynde, more than ten years gone, what is it that brings you back after all this time?
"...there was Raven and Venom and all these others from the same background, and it was frustrating for us cause we were held back and they were going forward…" - Gra
MONTALO: The Internet really… Unbeknownst to us, between 1984 and maybe 1996, there's been this sort of simmering with all this interest in the band carrying on and we were totally oblivious to it. I met a guy who was a real Metal "freak" and he told me there was an album out called The Best Of Witchfynde that he'd seen on the Internet… and I had no idea.

KNAC.COM: So how'd that happen?
PETE: (Laughs) Well we'd still like to find out!

KNAC.COM: Anything to do with ex-members or something?
GRA: Well what happens is these companies know there's a resurgence going on and they've got their ear to the ground, you know? They probably thought the band was dead or at least unaware of what was happening… that happens a lot. Whereas now, if people will try to re-release something or whatever… I mean all you have to do is punch in our name on the Internet and it comes up 400 times and then the first thing you see is the band's official website and that puts the brakes on them. So they'll be no more bootlegging everything since the band still exists!
MONTALO: We were fortunate also because there were quite a few bands that were very kind to us and saying how we influenced them… bands like Metallica and Paradise Lost and quite a few others, where we'd get mentioned on their websites and in various interviews and so obviously people were picking up on it and wanting to know who we were. But as soon as we started putting forth the idea of trying to get the band back together just to see how it sounded, we also found the press were being very welcoming as well, which was something we'd never had before. It's quite bizarre really… I'd speak to people at Classic Rock or Kerrang and they'd say about our reunion, "Oh brilliant, you were like the first band I ever went to see…"

KNAC.COM: So were you all fairly active in music outside of the band or did you escape from the scene completely?
MONTALO: We weren't really active as musicians, not really. Gra and myself weren't, but Pete still kept playing… in fact he still does now. He plays all the time with whoever wants him really (Laughs).
GRA: We don't want him most of the time so we rent him out… we'll give ya a call when we need you (Laughs).

KNAC.COM: That's pretty amazing then how you were able to make a comeback, considering how you were laying low for so long and it almost seems by accident… or fate, maybe, that it all came back together for you… an eerie coincidence maybe?
MONTALO: Yes, well it does seem strange… It must've been something on the subconscious level as to how it all came together again. But it all just fit and the time seemed right for Witchfynde to happen again… you know you try and throw real obstacles against it but they'd just bounce off because I think it's just meant to be.
GRA: And in the early days we were such a strong unit. The camaraderie was there and when it came back, it was like there was no gap. It was the same sound… the same playing. If there hadn't have been, believe me this could never have happened. But it was just like we'd never left.
MONTALO: You see we've never really tried to be clever about anything. We're just pretty genuine and simple people really. Even as a musician, I don't play anything terribly complicated, and it all just came back with no problems.

KNAC.COM: So are we getting our first view of Witchfynde 2002 or is the approach the same as when you first left?
MONTALO: There was unfinished business on the last album we did -- Lords Of Sin. It was such a good album and because it didn't have much of a chance at the time, I'd always felt that people really needed to hear it. So it was ideal to just carry on from there.

KNAC.COM: And The Witching Hour is the first step in the process then…
MONTALO: Right, it's our fifth album, which we released in November of last year. It brings people into the situation the band is in now but also captures a bit of the history of the way it was. It's still to be released in the UK… right now it's only available on the Internet I believe but we expect that it'll be in the shops soon.

KNAC.COM: It sounds great-it has that classic vibe from the past and I understand it to be a culmination of past tracks and a few new ones to highlight the current lineup.
PETE: Obviously I think if you're gonna go out and play live shows, you've got four previous albums to pull material from. With Harry on now, since we've never had a continuity of vocalists throughout, we thought to approach it this way. A lot of the past material is very hard to get and also very expensive. I think the Cloak & Dagger album's like $100 on vinyl… if you can find it! So we're saying this is what the band sounded like then, this is what it sounded like now, this is what it'll sound like live… it's a microcosm that catches the band from then to now.
GRA: We've had some interesting feedback where people told us they couldn't tell which were the old songs and which were new. It all sounded fresh and that was really pleasing because we didn't try to write like we used to or cover anything unusual-it's just the way we play and the way we sound naturally.

KNAC.COM: And now that The Witching Hour is out and will be given a wider release in the near future, are there plans to actively tour behind it? You'd mentioned possible festivals later this year.
PETE: It's still to be confirmed but there's a chance we'll do Wacken in the summer. We're happy to do whatever comes our way. If someone will get us there, we'll play anywhere.
MONTALO: There are also a few things probably stemming from this festival where we might return back to the states for those others later this year, which we'd love to do. There's something developing in Sweden and maybe Brazil as well… so that'd be a challenge. But really we're torn between two things. We've got a lot of songwriting ideas for when we're back home that we really want to get down. It'll be a case of juggling between the two… and still get in some live appearances when we can but our first priority is to get new material ready for another album, which will be all new.

KNAC.COM: It's amazing but everything old is new again. I mean you've seen the music change over the years and here's Witchfynde, ten or twelve years later, sounding as good or better than before -- and I think in a lot of respects like a new band all things considered.
"...the time seemed right for Witchfynde to happen again… you know you try and throw real obstacles against it but they'd just bounce off because I think it's just meant to be." - Montalo
PETE: I've got the same enthusiasm for it now as I always have. At the end of the day you've got to want to work. There is a work ethos involved… I mean yeah, it's good, it's fun and when you're on that stage… you know there's nothing like it. If I couldn't be on the stage with that much enthusiasm, I'd be at home. I think business-wise however, we're still babes in the woods. We're still a band and yet bands have moved on and they've got a good business sense and we've always been the sort of band where we'll do whatever it takes to make it happen ourselves where bands now seem a lot more focused on the business aspect. Maybe some people get into it for the wrong reasons but to us music is its own reward… we didn't get into it to become famous.

KNAC.COM: I see a band like Witchfynde and you're brandishing skulls on the album covers and emerging from dark shadows and such and it's interesting to look at a lot of the newer bands out there today that would look towards a band like yours as an influence… Like going from one extreme to another where yesterday's Venom or Sabbath have become today's Cradle of Filth or Dark Funeral and so forth… "extremist" types.
GRA: I think we were definitely a very musical band from the beginning. I'll admit I don't see a lot of musicality in the "extreme" Metal styles, I mean it's got none of the same feel to it. There are some brilliant bands out there for sure but sometimes it's hard to differentiate between them. Now I also think there's music out there that's got a great mind but not necessarily the heart to go with it and to me you've got to have the two combined if you're going to last.
MONTALO: I see a lot of the emotion that's conveyed a lot of the time is just anger… very one-dimensional.
PETE: I think the scene's still good simply in the respect that people are playing instruments… I mean, you take the so-called "boy bands" and they're not even a band-it's just five people dancing! It's not a fucking band -- it's a vocal harmony group! But I think that's why you've also got this style of Death Metal or Black Metal and it's a big reaction to commercialism… a real extreme reaction to get a point across.
GRA: When we were going in the early days, there weren't that many bands about. If you couldn't play, you weren't in a band because no one would have you. Whereas now, it's not so much the music but, "I wanna make a statement" and so if you can't be a film star or Pop idol or whatever it is, you want to be in a band and it doesn't matter what you do because you've got a statement to make.

KNAC.COM: And like what Pete said before, at least there are some-and I'm coming from a strictly modern viewpoint -- where yeah, they're playing their instruments, but there's not a lot of instrumentality involved anymore but noise plays a more purposeful function in what they're trying to get across…
MONTALO: The weirdest thing is you don't hear guitar solos in the music anymore. They just use like two strings and I mean they know how to play the guitar but there just aren't doing any leads… maybe they're in too much of a hurry (Laughs).
HARRY: If…

KNAC.COM: Welcome back Harry!
HARRY: (Laughs) I think if you could take the average of every style of Rock and Metal and Death and put it all together, that's what I'd like to be. I mean, there are times when I wanna be in yer face and kinda screamin' but there's a softer side to me too. There is to everyone. So let's sort of mix it and let's be loud, soft, in your face… let's be everything! I mean I'd love to go to a Venom concert and then I'd like to go and see Steve Perry tomorrow. And then the next day I'd like to see G n' R, you know? I've got no problem with crossing borders and such instead of everything being sort of pigeon holed into this or that style. But we are still of the old school where we believe if you're gonna go out to a Rock and Roll show, you might as well come out of it with a beaming smile on yer face and not wanting to go home and bang your head against the wall… literally anyway!
PETE: That's the thing we've always said that one of the great tenets of Rock or Metal is if it feels good, do it. And does humor belong in your music? Yes, of course, it does otherwise you'd go insane.

Website: [www.witchfynde.com]

Discography:

"Give 'Em Hell" - 1980
"Stagefright" - 1980
"Cloak and Dagger" - 1983
"Lords of Sin" - 1984
"The Witching Hour" - 2001


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