Monday, 29 January 2018

Fast Eddie Clarke; A Legend Remembered

"I ain't no beauty, but I'm a secret fox"

Fast Eddie Clarke meant a lot to many people. Not just Motörhead fans of a certain age, but also to anyone who was moved by the fat, biting electric guitar tone that he purveyed. His meat and potatoes phrasing was a delight to behold, providing the kind of sustenance that few speed merchants could hope to offer. Simply put, the man had depth and feel in his playing.

A native Londoner, Clarke first came to public attention with Curtis Knight's outfit Zeus. Brief stints with the likes of Blue Goose and Continuous Performance followed, but before long he was reduced scuffling for work outside of music. While renovating a house boat in Battersea, he was invited to try out for a new band called Motörhead. Clarke later admitted that he initially didn't give the group's musical direction a second thought, impressed as he was with Lemmy Kilmister's already considerable reputation. Once the unhappy Larry Wallis had removed himself from the equation, a trio of like-minded souls were left to focus their energies on the future. 

In Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, Clarke had a willing accomplice in all manner of debauchery, not to mention an occasional sparring partner. There are countless anecdotes of the pair angrily trading blows, only to swiftly settle their differences and continue drinking together unperturbed. Musically, the three characters developed a unique chemistry that remains unmatched to this day. Raw power, unbridled energy and shameless swagger, with Clarke's blues-drenched soloing at the fore. 

By 1982, relations in the band had soured and, depending on whom one believes, Fast Eddie Clarke either left or was edged out. Motörhead fans were appalled by the situation, but it seemed there was no going back. Clarke wasted no time in assembling Fastway, pursuing a noticeably different approach. Cynics anticipating a feeble Motörhead re-tread were quickly silenced as the man revealed a versatility few had imagined him capable of. With the powerful vocals of teenager Dave King and Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley handling drum duties, stylistically the group presented a fresh take on the classic hard rock music of the 1970s. They went on to be very successful in North America.

Gradually the rigours of the road and a tireless drinking schedule intervened, and Fastway endured a series of break-ups and line-up changes throughout the late eighties and early nineties. A solo album, It Ain't Over Till It's Over, appeared in 1994 but for the most part Mr Clarke withdrew from public life until the reformation of Fastway in 2007, this time with Little Angels frontman Toby Jepson. A second solo release, the self-explanatory Make My Day: Back To Blues, emerged in 2014 followed by an appearance on Evo's Warfare album three years later.

Edward Allan Clarke died of pneumonia at the age of sixty-seven on January 10th, 2018.

'Fast' Eddie Clarke: 5th October 1950 ~ 10th January 2018

Writer: George Colwan

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Live Review: Helloween - Pumpkins United @ O2 Academy, Brixton

One feels tempted when writing about a live show to set the scene by granting it some exceptional quality in comparison to other live shows happening at the same time. However, it feels a little redundant so I say the following advisedly: we live at a point in time awash with nostalgia in music generally, and heavy metal in particular. Reformations, album anniversary tours, re-recordings of classics albums (ugh) – the results are ever-present and, shall we say, variable in quality. 

Tonight though, I am travelling to Brixton Academy, both in sore need of a musical pick-me- up and genuinely curious to see whether Helloween (a band I was never quite curious enough about outside of power metal classic Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt II and a smattering of other well-known classics associated with their Kiske-Hansen era) can pull off a genuinely great live outing on their 'Pumpkins United' setup. With, of course, the band’s contemporary lineup of Weikath/Grosskopf/Deris/Gerstner/Loble, and with the addition of returning frontman Mikael Kiske and guitar supremo Kai Hansen. No supports, essentially an “evening with” session spanning the band’s entire back catalogue with a heavy emphasis on the first three albums, regarded as genre classics. How will the multiple vocalist set-up work? Will the gig flow well? Will it all amount to a tired, by-the- numbers rehash through old favourites? I needn’t have worried.

A Helloween fan couldn’t realistically ask for a better starting point than the first two tracks played
tonight: 'Halloween' and 'Dr Stein', in which vocal duties are handled by both Andi Deris and Mikael Kiske in tandem. These two songs showcase the two key flavours of Helloween’s output: sweeping, epic heavy metal drawing on fantastic themes in the case of the former and goofy, self-deprecating rock, in the case of the latter, 'Halloween' particularly shines as I hadn’t expected to hear one of the “epics” open the set. The rendition includes what appears to be a genuinely clever use of the two vocalist set-up: -

The first two lines (“Masquerade, Masquerade, grab your mask and don’t be late”) delivered by Deris, at which point Kiske emerges to pick up the falsetto. This sets the tone well for the rest of the set; Deris' lower but powerful register complements Kiske’s histrionics well on the numbers they share vocal duties on. A series of short videos on the stage’s screen break up the set every two or three songs, showing a pair of cartoonish pumpkinhead mascots making visual in-jokes about band members, songs and albums. The humour grates somewhat but the skits are harmless enough and serve a purpose of killing time during gear/personnel changes. After the opening three numbers  I confirm that yes, we can expect a performance quality to do the classic material justice. The first third is front-loaded with more recent Deris-era material (broken up briefly by a returning Kiske for 'Kids of the Century' from the…divisive Pink Bubbles Go Ape). Of this part of the set, 'If I Could Fly' and 'Waiting For The Thunder' (the most recently recorded song featuring tonight) stand out as worthy.

For this author, however, the next real high-point arrives when Kai Hansen takes centre-stage to deliver 4-hit combo of speed metal fury in the form of 'Starlight'/'Judas'/'Ride The Sky' and 'Heavy Metal (Is The Law)'. Hansen really shines as a frontman in his own right as well as being a phenomenal guitarist.

Following the above section, Deris and Kiske continue to weave in and out of the show, building to the  “home-stretch” of the evening now, the setlist begins to lean more toward fan favourite material ('Sole Survivor', 'Power', 'Why?' and 'A Little Time' being particular bangers). This section is broken up briefly by a drum solo featuring a short video tribute to deceased drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg (adding some genuine emotion and gravity to the evening). This culminates in 'How Many More Tears' from Walls of Jericho, with vocal duties split three ways between Deris, Kiske and Hansen, sounding mighty triumphant.

Of course, we know this is not the end and the Pumpkins return for two (count ‘em) encores: The
first is focused on Keeper of The Seven Keys Part 2, with gargantuan chorus classic 'Eagle Fly Free' followed by 'Keeper of The Seven Keys' itself, in full. Seeing Keeper being played really feels like being part of something special: the band project this well and there’s a sense of awe in the crowd.

For the final encore, the reader with more than a passing familiarity with these chaps can guess –
'Future World' followed by 'I Want Out'. An inevitably triumphant end for this night. This author’s expectations are exceeded.  An earlier placement for the ballads would have been helpful, and maybe losing the cartoon interludes every couple of songs, however other than that there was little to fault here.

This show exceeded my expectations and, as noted earlier, I’m no major Helloween fan. The band as a whole sounded great (30+ year pros shocking no-one). Kiske sounds frighteningly good on the classic material (anyone who’s seen him with Unisonic or Avantasia these past few years can attest to his consistently impressive ability) and a broad spread of material was made use of. My one real criticism would be in the placement of certain songs, particularly given the length of the set. Following the Walls of Jericho “section” Deris and Kiske take on dual vocal duties for two ballads: 'Forever and One' from The Time of The Oath, and 'A Tale That Wasn’t Right' from Keeper Pt1. I see what they’re trying to do here, effectively showcasing their complementary styles on two vocal-heavy tracks from each singer’s respective era but the placement in the setlist doesn’t really work – I was ready for, at a push, slightly less fast material after the preceding four songs and at this point it felt like some of the energy was taken out of the set. 

Generally speaking, it's safe to say that any fan of heavy metal with catchy melodies and big choruses should take the chance to see a Pumpkins United set if they haven’t already.

Score: 8/10

Writer: Craig Stewart

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Interview: Alan Jones of Pagan Altar

Alan Jones and Brendan Radigan at Hammer Of Doom XII

August 2017 saw the offering of Pagan Altar's final album, The Room Of Shadows, with fans feasting on the complex and intricate layers of Alan Jones' guitars and the strong rhythm section of Diccon Harper and Andy Green under the unmistakable powerful warble of Terry Jones. It had been two years since the tragic death of the frontman and many would have experienced bitter sweet emotions as the very first notes played on the opening track 'Rising Of The Dead'.

The following September saw Pagan Altar members Alan, Andy and Diccon join forces with Magic Circle's Brendan Radigan and Cauchemar's Andreas Arango, to perform to a sold out crowd at Montreal's Wing's Of Metal festival. This was to be the only show, but luckily, European fans were treated to a performance at Wurzburg's 2017 edition of the Hammer Of Doom festival, which led to the decision to continue with this outfit to celebrate Pagan Altar's 40th anniversary this year with a handful of dates already confirmed in Denmark, Greece, Romania and Chile.  Born Again's Michelle G talks to founding member and guitarist Alan Jones about The Room Of Shadows and Pagan Altar's future.

Michelle: The album was due for release in 2014 under a different name but you weren’t happy with how it sounded. Understandably, it was left untouched for a few years. What was the driving force behind resuming work on the album? How much of it did you want to change and what did you change?

Alan Jones: The main driving force for me was to finish something we had started five years ago and had been dragging on for what seemed like forever. Neither me nor my dad were happy with how the album had turned out the first time around and after my dad’s death I couldn’t listen to the album at all, mainly because it just sounded awful. I decided to have another go at finishing it and brought in Andy (Green) and Diccon (Harper) who had the imagination and talent to turn it around and make it something that both my dad and I could be proud of.

Michelle: The album is very much entrenched in a deathly theme with added nods to fictional and real life Victorian horror. Is there a way you wanted the album to flow from start to finish?

Alan: The album was originally going to be called Never Quite dead. It started off as a bit of a joke about the band coming back to life after ten years of lying dormant and people writing us off for being dead and buried. My dad probably would have given a more highbrow answer but that’s the truth. We have always liked our albums to have a bit of a theme running through them and my dad had always been interested in the Macabre so it was duck season for him when it came to subject matter..

Michelle: Did you follow the same writing ritual as previous albums?

Alan: For this album, the plan was, I would get ideas, record them roughly and give them to my dad. He would write some lyrics then we would do a demo to hear how it sounded then give it to the rest of the band. 'The Ripper' was different because my dad had already written the words so we sat down together and I put the music to the words for a change. When we wrote the early material we were living in the same house so we would always sit down together and write the music.

The Room Of Shadows
Michelle: The artwork to The Room of Shadows compliments the sound and feel of the album completely. What was the main inspiration behind it and how did you come to find the artist Adam Burke.

Alan: My sister lives in an old Victorian house in Plumstead on the outskirts of London. We took an assortment of atmospheric photos of my niece Ellie (Terry’s granddaughter) in a Victorian dress that related to some of the songs from the album. My friends Annick and François were in London in 2016 and we met up and I took them on a tour of sunny Greenwich. We ended up at my sister’s house in the evening and while we were there I asked Annick if she would be interested in bringing out the album. We showed her some of the photos we had taken for the album cover and she had liked the one of Ellie by the fireplace but thought it would look better as a painting. Adam (Burke) did a wonderful job of the cover and we are all very happy with it.

Michelle: For live shows, Brendan Radigan and Andres Arango fill the vocal and second guitar positions; how did you come to find them and how was it preparing for these two festivals considering they live on a different continent to the rest of you?

Alan: Annick knew Brendan and sent me a link to the band Magic Circle which Brendan sings for. She asked me if I thought his voice would be ok for the live show at Montreal and if so could I contact him and introduce myself. I had a listen to the link and watched a couple clips of some Magic Circle live shows and thought Brendan would be perfect for Montreal. Andres plays in Annick's band Cauchemar and knew our music quite well anyway and had worked out most of it before I had even sent him my “Pagan Altar’s play in a day DVD”. For the upcoming live shows we will play as near to the CDs as we can and rehearse them on our own, then ask for a rehearsal where we are playing. That seems to have worked for us the last couple of times.

Michelle: How did Brendan feel taking on the daunting task of filling the ‘Pagan Altar’ frontman spot that Terry had very much made his own?

Alan: I think you would have to ask Brendan that question. For me Brendan has been very aware of the diehard fans and has worked extremely hard at making sure he has got my dad’s phrasing right without trying to copy him. I thought I could never imagine anybody else but my dad singing our songs and just wanted to do the one off at Montreal, however, since this band has been put together I just want to get that vibe of Montreal and Wurzburg back.

Brendan Radigan at Hammer Of Doom XII

Michelle: What was the general response at both festivals you’ve played as ‘Time Lord’?

Alan: Both festivals have been fantastic and I couldn’t be happier with the response. I think we all took a chance of having egg on our faces without being able to rehearse properly but it shows how talented these guys are being able to do the whole set with one or two rehearsals. Yes there may have been a few little slip ups here and there that the band would have noticed but on the whole I think people were happy with how we played.

Michelle: Dance of the Vampires’ has been played at both ‘Wings Of Metal’ and ‘Hammer Of Doom’ festivals. Will other songs be played live at later dates?

AlanWe are working on most of the album The Room Of Shadows at the moment . I have been playing the other songs for the last hundred years and it will be nice to play something different for a change.

Michelle: I read that you didn’t want to play under the name of ‘Pagan Altar’ as you felt it wouldn’t be right. What’s made you change your mind?

Andy, Diccon , Andres and Brendan.

Pagan Altar at HOD XII

Michelle: The early Pagan Altar shows sounded/looked like they would have required a lot of practise to perfect them in terms of lighting, effects and the on stage ritual before your set. Why did you drop the elaborate stage production when the band reformed

Alan: It was just too expensive to do in 2007 and not worth the hassle. Back in the early days we would have to go out in the morning with a couple of friends we could persuade to help us with our rather large and bulky PA that we had basically made ourselves. Take all day getting to the place, putting the PA in place wiring everything up and putting the Altar up ect. Then we would have to play a two hour plus set and after we had finished we had to take it all down ,get it all back in the van and get back in the early hours of the morning. When I was nineteen, twenty I used to love all of that.
From 2006-7 onwards it was turn up with your guitar and a few pedals and off you go.

Michelle: What inspired your noticeably unique playing style? What was the music that you listened to when growing up and who influenced you most?

Alan: My earliest influence I suppose would have been the Everly Brothers and The Shadows. My dad liked the Everly brothers and we had a few of their albums and most of their singles about at the time. Then all of a sudden the albums started to change to the likes of very heavy very humble (Uriah Heep) ELP, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and many more, but the one that really got me hooked was Queens’s Sheer Heart Attack and the opening track, 'Brighton Rock'. That started me off and the rest followed. In 1978 I discovered Rush after watching the Old Gray Whistle Test and was lucky enough to see them play live a couple of months later. I have spend the last thirty odd years trying to play like these guys and ended up a bit of a mish mash mix of all of them.

Michelle: At a time when the ‘in your face’ style of NWOBHM was emerging, was it a natural decision to follow the other path of heavier, doomier, slower rock?

Alan: I think that NWOBHM had its roots originally in the energy of punk and new wave and these guys had progressed from that and were looking for something a bit more challenging to play. Many of our songs had been written in the mid seventies and that was where our roots were and although we did try to incorporate some of that energy into our music it always ended up sounding like us.

Keep up to date with Pagan Altar news at

Read our review of The Room Of Shadows here!

Writer and photographer: M. Godding