KERRANG! Magazine Interview
No.29, Nov. 19th - Dec. 2nd 1982
Interview with Zeeb Parkes of Witchfinder General
Witchfinder General and THAT album sleeve
If Venom are the spiritual descendents of the Marquis De Sade and Demon possess links with Dennis Wheatley, then Midlands quartet Witchfinder General have their roots buried deep within the fertile imaginings of Milton Subovsky, perhaps the greatest of all horror movie makers. For, like Subovsky, General have the capacity to invoke an atmosphere of gleeful gothic tormant, whilst never losing the ability to laugh at the ultimate absurdity of it all.
Easily the best of the bands signed to Heavy Metal Records, Witchfinder General were born out of a relationship (purely musical, I must hasten to add) between guitarist Phil Cope and vocalist Zeeb, as the latter explains.
"Phil was in a local club band a few years ago, playing 'Rhinestone Cowboy' and crap like that. At the time, I was just the roadie but he started asking me to write lyrics and the band happened from there."
With Cope's cousin on drums the embryonic General began gigging in early '79, aquiring bassist Toss McReady by the end of June 1980. And, with a replacement drummer in Steve Kinsell soon being drafted in, the original band gained road experience up until Christmas of that year.
At which time enter newly-formed HM Records. Anxious to aquire as much fresh Metal talent as possible, it seems that the company would indiscriminately snap up anyone and stick 'em in a cheapo studio but, fortunately, Witchfinder General proved an inspired signing and early last year came the first single offering from the lads. Entitled 'Burning A Sinner' (known to some wags as 'Burning a Singer'!), it displayed a nice Sabs-influenced primitivism although, with teh advantage of hindsight, Zeeb doesn't regard it as an auspicious debut.
"It was diabolical. We must take much of the blame for it, cos our inexperience in the studio came through. What made it even worse, though was that something went wrong during the cutting of the record and the basslines were all distorted. And the studio itself (Ginger) were also partly at fault, a fact they conceded by allowing us some free time as a way of making up for it."
Thsi extra studio opportunity allowed the band to cut 'Rabies' (which appeared on the compilation LP 'Heavy Metal Heroes' last year) plus the tracks on the recently-released 12" EP 'Soviet Invasion'.
"They were'nt very good either." confessed Zeeb. "At best I'd say the numbers came out only slightly better that 'Burning A Sinner'."
Personally, I rather think the band's opinion of these releases is a little too harsh. Whilst not masterpieces, they do indicate that Witchfinder General have what it takes to make an impact. Obviously Heavy Metal Records agreed with this hypothesis, cos when it came to laying down the first General LP last May, the label hired the none-too cheap services of producer Peter Hinton, of Saxon fame, and the results seem much more to everyone's liking.
"It only took us three days to record the whole thing, but it's come out so much stronger than anything we've previously done." enthuses Zeeb.
THREE DAYS?! Now, that makes even Van Halen seem positively slothful in the studio. And it's all the more remarkable when you consider that the band were forced to use a session drummer, plus a relatively new bassist in Rod 'Corks' Hawks.
"Toss and Steve wouldn't sign a contract with us, they put their full-time jobs before the band, so we politely asked 'em to leave."
Just to bring the personnel situation up to date, I should just add that General do now have a permanent skinsman in Graham Ditchfield, whos only been witrh 'em for two months (he's still learning the set").
But, will this album (called 'Death Panalty) provide Witchfinder General with any sort of success? Certainly, HMR's track record to date doesn't lead one to expect much in the way of mega-sales. However ... this time, teh company seem to be mounting a determined campaign and really getting behind the group.
Not only will this LP be issued in both blood red vinyl and as a picture disc, but the sleeve is bound to attract interst as it features virtually nude Joanne Latham (one of the top 'Page Three' models) lying accross a gravestone, with the group standing over her, dressed as Cromwellian-period judges.
Those of you who remember the classic Vincent Price film that inspired the band's choice of name, will need no explanation of the symbolism here but, in case you are confusedlet me just say that in Puritan England the Witchfinder General was an official appointed to root out the prectice of black magic, supposedly prevalent at the time. Any suspected 'witches' were invariably condemned, with scarecely a chance to defend themselves, to a painful death.
Having a nubile body recling in a titillating manner on the LP cover is guaranteed to get Witchfinder General tremendous gutter-media coverage (already the News Of The World has picked up on it) and may even lead to a ban on teh album.
Fortunately, though, Zeeb & Co. seem to have their heads screwed on the right way and don't sound as if they're about to get carried away by this cheap bid for pseudo-notoriety.
"We all regard Witchfinder General as fun, but it;s also a very serious project. Each one of us has had to make great sacrifices (groan!) to get even this far and we're determined to go the whole way if it's at all possible."
And, if the publicity campaign doesn't bury 'em first, HM fans should have the opportunity (apart from'Death Panalty') to get to grips with the Generals before the year is out. A track is due to turn up soon in such company as Pallas, Lionheart, Mades Prey and No Quarter on the compilation LP 'Heavy Matal Heroes Vol ll', and there's every chance that the lads will be appearing on a major tour in the near future.