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 Fran├žois 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 www.paganaltar.com

Read our review of The Room Of Shadows here!

Writer and photographer: M. Godding

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. I feel very lucky i got to see Pagan Altar 3 times in 3 different countries with Terry singing. The Montreal gig with Brandon was great too. Such an amazing night full of emotions.

    Peter D/doom patches