Brit metal exponent Rich Davenport of Black Sheets of Rain takes the Sentinel Daily Seven Age Journey...
In An effort to assuage our base Reithian instincts to both entertain and educate, we’ve decided to address Shakespeare’s famous treatise on humanity and turn it into an excuse to talk to people about ‘our kind of music’. So, indulge us if you will, and with profuse apologies to the Bard and probably Christopher Marlowe as well, come with us as we explore the Seven Ages of Metal…
Before we kick off – for the benefit of our readers, please identify yourself and tell us what you do in Black Sheets of Rain. “”Hello, good evening, and may your trousers be filled with only the ripest of kumquats. This here is Rich Davenport, vocalist and guitarist of Black Sheets Of Rain, at your service to answer questions, answeringly.
A good start. Here you are then – entering the world of metal, probably in your early teens, mewling about the unfairness of it all and puking on cheap white cider… Which band was your introduction to metal? How did you find out about them? And which bands generally do you think make the best ‘entry level’ metal music? “Cheap white cider you say? That brings back sphincter-loosening memories from my errant youth, ‘tis nothing but tramps’ fighting juice, flee while you can young ‘uns, drink not this vile horse’s urine! Sorry, where was I? Introduction to metal for me, as it probably has been for many of my metal brethren and sistren in World-O-Metal, was Iron Maiden. I saw the video for Run To The Hills on a kids’ Saturday morning TV show called Tiswas, which also introduced me to Motörhead (“And now kids…here’s Lemmy!” Seriously, I kid you not, they interviewed Lemmy and Philthy in front of an audience of six to eleven years olds, and then showed the video for Ace Of Spades). I bought the single and that was it, metalhead for life. In terms of best entry level metal bands, given the plethora of metal subgenres these days, I’d suggest bands that originated the sound and had elements in their sound that inspired other subgenres later down the line. For example – Iron Maiden – Piece Of Mind and Powerslave for classic heavy metal, Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance and Defenders Of The Faith – again, classic, aggressive heavy metal, but there are elements of thrash in there, on Screaming’s title track and Freewheel Burning on Defenders. In fact, Priest were playing fast, aggressive double-bass drum proto thrash back in 1977 with the track Call For The Priest on Sin After Sin. I’d also suggest Black Sabbath – Paranoid, which laid the foundations for a lot of metal as we know it, obviously with particular reference to doom metal. And also Sabotage by Sabbath, which has a near-thrash track with Symptom Of The Universe, and songs like Hole In The Sky points to what the likes of Down and Black Label Society would do later on. Pantera covered it too. Other bits and pieces – Diamond Head’s Lightning to The Nations, Motörhead’s Overkill, Metallica – Ride The Lightning. I could go on all night here, I’ll shut up now!
A very full and wide-ranging answer, though I’m surprised you said the word ‘Tiswas’ without mentioning Sally James! Anyways, you’re in! The magical and bewildering world of metal lies at your feet… you’ve assembled a small collection of records and tapes – or CDs of course, if you’re a youngster – but you’re still very much a School child, whining because the olds won’t let you go to a gig – until the scales fall from their eyes – and you’ve got the Golden ticket in your sweaty little palm! Who were the first band you saw in the live arena? Did it confirm your suspicions about just how massive this hidden world was, how inspiring? Or was first ‘in the flesh’ contact a little disappointing? “The first live band I saw was a covers band I can’t remember the name of at a youth club Christmas concert. Not the most auspicious entry into the world of giggery pokery, but the guitarist had been in NWoBHM band AIIZ, which also featured Simon Wright, later with AC/DC. I think his name was Gary, he was a friend of one of the guys who ran the club, who was also in the band, and they did a set of Sabbath and Ozzy solo songs. The club leader guy had said the guitarist was amazing before the gig, and he wasn’t kidding – he nailed all the Randy Rhoads and Jake E Lee solos. Seeing someone let rip like that was pretty inspiring, and also intimidating, cos this was a tiny gig in a youth club, not even a pub, but this guy brought his A-game. The first “name” band was Marillion when I was fifteen, not metal at all, but Fish was, and still is, a very engaging frontman, very down to earth, and they nailed all those fiddly bits in the songs. I was in my first band at the time, and even at that age, I realised that acting like a big-headed turd and drinking yourself stupid before gigs which some people were already doing in teenage bands and pub bands, wasn’t the way to go, because pro-bands like Marillion were so many leagues ahead of that and it was intimidating in a way. Even at the miniscule level we were at, it made me realise you had to put the time in rehearsing and sounding tight if you wanted to make a serious go of it with music. So, inspiring but also intimidating. The following year I saw Metallica on the Justice For All tour, which was just facemelting. They were still “our” band at that point – some older rockers used to sneer at us filthy upstarts who liked thrash, but before the Black album, this was the point where Metallica got so big that they couldn’t be dismissed or ignored anymore. They played the highlights of the first four albums, still one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.
Gary Owens! yes, he was (and probably still is) a great guitarist… You’re now a full-grown acolyte, a fully-fledged lover of the dark arts, as it were. But listening and watching isn’t enough. You need to consummate your love, by forming or joining your own metal band – tell us about your formative bands and what life was like on the bottom rung of the ladder… “I did actually try forming a band when I was eight years old, but none of us could actually play anything, which kind of got in the way. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I’d been playing guitar for four years and felt confident enough to try and get gigs. I formed a band with some mates at school, and we played Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven (the picked out bit on the first half was so fiddly we had to sit down to play it!) and All Right Now by Free. The school was rough as a bear’s arse, but they used to try and get us kids interested in music, so they allowed us to play in a school concert that they were putting on over the summer one evening, so my first gig was in front of about three hundred people, no pressure there then! They used to let the kids put on Christmas concerts on the last day of term and we played two of those over the years, and they even let us play in an assembly once. We were eventually doing wobbly versions of songs by Iron Maiden (Transylvania), Saxon (747) and the Scorpions (Rock You Like A Hurricane), at nosebleed volume. I carried on after leaving school, and highlights of that period include a gig at a Labour club in a part of town where you wouldn’t want to spill anyone’s drink, unless you fancied wearing your testicles as earrings. It had been pitched to me as a bit of a jam on some covers for someone’s mate’s birthday, so we had a few loose jam sessions, and I met the keyboard player for the first time two days before the gig. We were sound checking on the night of the gig at the venue, and one of the bar staff came over and said “If yer play past eleven o’clock, we’ll fuckin’ twat yer!” (cheery North of England expression for beating the crap out of you). Then the parents of the guy who’s birthday it was came over and started thanking us in advance for playing at their son’s party, and words to the effect that it was very kind of us to take a night off from our schedule of paid gigs to play for free… Someone had given them the impression that we were a professional covers band… The place was packed, and I was pretty sure they were going to lynch us once we started playing, due to the fact that we were, how do you say, “an unrehearsed pile of Badger diarrhoea, garnished with weasel turd croutons, served in a sauce of unprofessional chaos’. The singer’s way of dealing with the barman’s threat and the crowd’s expectation that we were going to actually sound good, was to drink heavily. By the time we started the first song, he was so plastered that he was just hanging off the mike stand and possibly dribbling into it. Thankfully, the rest of the audience were apparently in a similar state, so they actually clapped between “songs,” and myself, the bassist and drummer managed to keep it together so that we all started and finished the songs at the same time. The drummer played a drum fill so spectacular at one point that his glasses flew off his head sideways, so there was an aspect of showmanship to the evening. They even got us on for an encore at ten fifty pm just before last orders, which scared the crap out of us all, bearing in mind the barman’s threat of violence if we went past eleven o’clock. I ended up stood in between a row of drunk blokes playing air guitar to Johnny B Goode, and we just managed to stop with a couple of minutes before the Violence Deadline. Oh, the magic of showbiz! Other highlights – playing a rough pub (there’s a theme here, have you spotted it?) in Scotland with a punk band I was in while I was at Uni, a pub where being English was a hanging offence among some of the regulars, who seemed very angry that the landlord would have to move the pool tables so we could set up. We’d forgotten to give the landlord a band biography, so we opened the local paper on the night of the gig to see ourselves advertised as “University pop band make their debut.” The combination of us being a) students and b) English made this statement a red rag to several types of bull, but thankfully most of the people who turned up had been punks in the late seventies and were extremely chuffed to find out we were a punk band, so we actually had a great night. We played there again, and that time several of the audience were tripping their faces off. A tripping crusty punk came and wandered through the middle of the band while we were playing at one point, was he friendly, or were the evil pixies who were quite clearly dancing inside his head telling him to slaughter the band as a sacrifice to their malevolent pixie god? It’s fun to guess! Thankfully, he just smiled, danced a bit, and then wandered off again. Later that night, I had to gently talk another tripping individual into not using my guitar case as a seat, so that I could actually pick it up and go home. Again, he was a dribbly, friendly fruitloop, rather than a stabby one, so all was well. These and other stories will be included in my forthcoming memoir, ‘I Say Landlord, Is There A Venue In This Toilet?’”
A must-read! Mission accomplished – you’re in a band. A Soldier of metal mired in the trenches fighting for our way of life, possibly on a tour of the toilet venues of your home locale – what was your first tour like? What valuable lessons were learned? Or was there just to much fun to be had to worry about tedious life craft? “” once played a rough pub (it’s that pattern again!) in Byker, Newcastle, as an audition for an alleged record company who were interested in signing us. The “label executive” arrived, lit his hash pipe, and informed us he’d been drinking cough medicine. How’s that for an opener? After our set, which went down well with all three audience members (we were glad to see them after driving three hours to get there), Mr Record Label, now in a state of extreme inebriation, decided to threaten our bassist, at which point the pub landlord intervened on our behalf and told him he had a baseball bat under the bar and would be whipping it out soon if he didn’t behave. We bid them a fond goodnight, and to add to the fun, the next day a yuppie talking on his car phone rammed into the back of my car as we drove home. When we were loading the car up with the drums, the bassist said “If we crash, it’ll sound like John Bonham.” He was bloody right, it did! Life lessons – hmmm – check out any venues, managers, promoters, labels, et cetera, with other bands who’ve worked with them before you commit to anything or sign anything. They’ll tell you straight whether someone is on the level or a rip off artist. This came in handy back in 2005 with a band I was in called See Red – we were offered a deal by a label that allegedly had two bands featuring former members of well-known bands, so having been burned several times by then, I contacted their managers through Myspace. I got a message back from one of them saying “DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING!! CALL ME!” He very kindly filled me in on all the crap his client had been subjected to, and told me that the label guy was a crook, didn’t have the distribution network he claimed to have (major record store chains all over the US), and we dodged a bullet. I’d also advise any musician to join the Musician’s Union, because with the UK union, you get a free consultation with a music business lawyer every year if you need it, and getting contracts checked out by them has helped me find out that a TV station wanting to do a video was legit, and that a record label was extremely dodgy”.
Away from you now – your career is in full bloom. But what of the elder Statesmen, the justices who still reign, Saturnine and all-knowing? Which of the old-but-still-living Gods still command the most respect in your eyes? And why? “I think the way Michael Schenker has come back since crashing and burning in 2007 has been amazing; he’d been widely written off as a hopeless case, but he’s back and playing better than ever. Maiden have stuck to their guns relentlessly over the years and still put on great shows and make strong albums. Aside from the Bill Ward issue, the Sabbath reunion with Tony Iommi, Ozzy and Geezer Butler was a strong way to finish I thought – the 13 album was good and didn’t detract from their legacy, and the live show I saw was great. With regard to why, for me it’s purely down to whether they can still deliver and whether any new music they release is good, and not a rehash of past glories. Testament have released some amazing albums in the last ten years or so, and were great when I saw them live, and at the more extreme end, Jungle Rot have been around for years, and they put out a facemelting death metal album last year.
And what about those who’ve maybe pushed it a little too far, those bespectacled and pantalooned ‘legacy’ artistes on their nth farewell trip across the globe? Is there anyone on our world you think might like to think about hanging up the old Les Paul and giving themselves and us a rest? “I think bands blow it when there’s no original members left and someone has managed to get their hands on the band name. Southern rock is terrible for that, there’s a band out there calling itself Molly Hatchet which features no original members and is doing one-guitar renditions of songs with three-guitar arrangements, which to me is a travesty”.
Amen to that…Now the final age, of course, is death. We’ll all be left Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything eventually. Which deceased metallian do you miss most? And what are your happiest memories of them? “Man, that’s a tough one. I’d go with Lemmy though. As I mentioned above, I first saw him around 1980 when I was eight years old on a kids TV show called Tiswas! I’d never heard of Motörhead , and I wasn’t sure what to make of them because at that age I’d never heard anything that heavy – they were way heavier than a lot of other bands at that time. By the time Iron Fist came out in 1982, my ears had got used to heavier sounds, and I loved the title track when it came out as a single. I remember doing the old trick that some of your readers of a certain age might remember, where you stuck your mono cassette recorder next to the radio and taped the song! The first Motörhead album I bought was Iron Fist, and it had a lyric sheet – I remember being really struck by Lemmy’s lyrics, at how good they were. People tend to just bang on about the lifestyle he led, and while there’s no doubt that he’s a legend, I think the fact the music and his skill as a lyricist can get overshadowed by that, he had a very concise style and packed in a lot of vivid images. I stuck with the band way after their early eighties commercial peak, and the later line up of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee made some amazing music. Of course, the albums that Lemmy, Philthy and Fast Eddie made have plenty of stone-cold classics on them too, but Lemmy never lost it, he was still a great songwriter right to the end. I saw Motörhead on the 1916 tour at Glasgow Barrowlands, and they tore the roof off the place. I never got to meet Lemmy, but I have mates who knew him quite well at various points, and they all say what a great guy he was. I saw Fast Eddie close up once when I lived in London, this was in 2000 or 2001, he was helping out a band that a friend of mine was in called Ayatollah. He came to one of their gigs, and I saw him walk in to the venue- he must have clocked my reaction, cos he smiled and nodded! Didn’t get to talk to him because the band were going at it full pelt, but I did have some email chats with him in 2016. I was doing a radio show at the time, and I asked if he’d be interested in doing some interviews, cos I wanted to do a tribute to Lemmy and Philthy. I wanted to go through the albums and ask Eddie about his memories of recording and touring them, and he was up for it, he was very friendly. Sadly, he died before we could arrange it”.
He was, indeed, a lovely chap – and that’s a nice memory on which to end our trip through your own personal Seven Ages of Metal… thanks for taking part! “Thanks for the interview, it’s been a pleasure!