PHIL COPE INTERVIEW
Note: This interview was transcribed from a tape sent to me by Phil. I've tried to preserve not only the words, but also the accent in the transcription, so remember that ' = h. Read it with a rough British accent and you'll be fine.
Hi Liam this is Phil.
I'd like to start by sayin' thanks very very much for what you've done. This tremendous website. It's such a help. Just givin' the band a little bit of credit again. Brilliant. Thanks mate.
"Right... Go back to the start. Before the start of the band. This is where we all met... I'll take it from there. It was at school, late 1974. There was myself, Rod Hawkes, Robert Hickmann who is no longer with us 'Rest In Peace'. He played a major part in the band later on as it was 'im who's idea it was to give the name Witchfinder General. So...
Um.. Steve was, (a year older than us. I think he just left school at the time), on drums. Rob was the other guitarist and Dave Potter (who later went on to Cloven Hoof.. you might have 'eard of them), on vocals. We basically did a few gigs and broke up, as you do, left school and after various bands not worth mentioning really, I joined a country and western group. At this time I met this chap who was... well I won't say it this time... [meaning his real name] he'd been with me from school. He'd always been 'anging around me, as a roadie, as a sound engineer, and lights engineer, call it what you want. He was later to become as we know.. Zeeb Parkes. Rod, Steve and Rob, and Dave Potter carried on into another band. I think their name was 'Medway'. As I said I was in this country and western band on the bass, and basically I wasn't good enough to join the band as a guitarist at that time. I was still learning. It wasn't really my kind of music but it was good money on the weekends. I was playing like every Saturday and Sunday.
Anyway, movin' on. Um.. After various bands. It was... I think it was 1979 when we started seriously thinkin' about a rock band. By this time Zeeb 'ad started to sing. He still 'adn't been called Zeeb.. I'm gonna tell you how he got 'is name. We was drinkin' in the Royal Exchange - Darbridge. And at that time, the late seventies '79 it was all the fashion to wear rugby shirts. Zeeb come out in this black and white rugby shirt and there was this orange disco light above 'is 'ead that kept on flashin' away and of course we started calling him the zebra and finally it got shortened to Zeeb.
We had one or two practices with a guitarist called Rob White who was a very VERY good guitarist. I personally learned a lot off Rob and Brian Tatler of 'Diamond Head' did as well. He probably won't admit it but 'e did. He was a very good guitarist Rob. But we never really got off the ground. Ehm the first band really was when Steve Kinsell joined us, Johnny Fisher was on bass and Zeeb 'n myself.. it was the end, shall I say 1973, August, September something like that. Practiced through to 1980 and our first gig was obviously the Crown as you'll see on the newsreels from June the 16th Sunday night. It was fortunate. We got the best crowd. I think the name of the band was obviously paying dividends. It was a success, I should say, the first gig. Um.. we gigged for the rest of 1980 and I think it was just on the Christmas of 1980 when John turned 'round and said he'd 'ad enough. Said he wanted to join 'is mates band. So we.. um.. In the new year 1981 we advertised for another bass player. While we was auditionin' a chap named Zak somebody Baijon or whaetver 'is name was. He come practice with us for a couple of practices. We did a couple of numbers and that was it really. He never really joined the group so I don't really feel he should be credited as a band member. At this time a friend of mine introduced us to 'Toss' Kevin McReady who was a local lad. This was a big advantage to the band, as the previous bassist Johnny Fisher lived quite a distance away, and he didn't drive at the time and this was a nightmare. You know. We all took it in turns to take 'im 'ome.
Toss came like I said local and with 'im bein' in the band a month we recorded, in Ginger Studios, Burning a Sinner and Satan's Children. Um Ginger Studios was basically a garage on the side of someone's 'ouse in Aldridge. And then you went downstairs to the cellar to do the mixin'. It didn't take us long, lets say about an afternoon to put Burning a Sinner down. It was basically goin' in there basically playin' it live and then just overdubbin' the guitars, bolsterin' the guitars up and bolsterin' the singer, the vocals. It sounded good to me in the studio. When it actually came out on record. What the problem was we don't know. I've heard so many rumours, like the tapes were left on speakers, magnets, right.. I don't know what the problem was to this day. I think Heavy Metal Records put the single in with about five other groups when they 'cooked' the records. They were all very trebly groups. Ours come through as a bit bassy anyway, but not that boomy like... So um perhaps it was the cuttin' of the record I'm not really sure, but we wasn't really 'appy with the final product. It was a bit embarrassing when they actually played it at the local disco's. But that was just a story of the group really.
Ah after a few more gigs 'round the end of '81 we went back in the same studio. Whether or not Paul Birch blamed Paul Dawson for the record comin' out a bit bassy. I personally don't think it was nuthin' to do with the studio, because it sounded alright there. Right.. so Phil Dawson offered us another days recording. So we went in there with the same lineup Toss McReady, Steve Kinsell, myself and Zeeb and we put down Soviet Invasion, Rabies and R.I.P. Umm we hadn't really got the time to spend on R.I.P so what we just did was we recorded it as if we'd done it live, just overdubbed the crowd in the back. Soviet Invasion and obvioulsy Rabies got the same again with bolstering up the guitars and vocals and acoustics. Um, the single didn't get released until the, the middle of '82. I'll come back to that. At the end of '81 '82. Steve and Zeeb wasn't seein' eye to eye. There was a few fights after the one gig. Things like that. One was my cousin and one was me mate. It was very 'ard. At the start of '82 like I said before the love of my life left me and I was gutted. And we did a gig and it went down pretty rough by our standards and there wasn't much clear sight for the band to go and Steve and Kev were losin' interest and Heavy Metal Records threw us a lifeline really. Asked us to do an album. We wanted a contract before we committed to an album. That was a big breakthrough for the band, but Steve and Kev wasn't committed enough, if that's the word, to sign the contracts and they walked away from the band and there were no arguments. Nuthin'. I was sad to see 'em go. And at that point I could 'ave easily knocked it on the 'ead. Thought 'Naw it's too much." But Zeeb was there pullin' me along and I though "Right this is it. This 'as gotta be the one." Paul Birch wanted the album really, as soon as we could. So we drafted in Graham Ditchfield on the drums. We didn't really feel we 'ad the time to recruit a new bassplayer and learn 'im, so my playin' days in a country and western group payed dividends really, because we went in the Metro Studios in Mansbury I think on the Easter weekend to record 'Death Penalty'. It took two days to record, ummm this is where we first met Robin George, he was engineerin' there. Pete Hinton who 'ad produced Saxon's first album. Birch drafted 'im in to do the producin'. Lookin' back on it now Pete was more interested in playin' 'is pool I think than... I think he was basically in it for the cash but that's the way it goes. But we were very pleased with the way that Death Penalty come out. Um the only problem, if I look back now, then the only problem was when we were mixin' down, there was no bass player in the mix room. All I was concentrating on was really my lead, my guitars, never really thought about the bass and the bass got left behind too much. Which it really should'v come up alot. But that's just pickin' flies really. It turned out pretty good to say it was only three of us. There was lots of songs really where Zeeb didn't know it was a lead break and obviously I couldn't actually play lead when we was actually practicing the songs so the few examples on there, especially the end 'Death Penalty' - there's a lead solo goin' on the back of Zeebs vocals which that shouldn't 'ave 'appened really, but it's *laughter* ..some of those things that you do. But it turned out alright anyway. That's the main thing *big smile*.
The cover to 'Death Penalty' was Paul Birch's idea, to go to a graveyard and to get Joanne Latham to come out with us. I couldn't tell you where it was because I was in the back of the van travellin' there and I couldn't tell you where it was to this day. But umm we wanted to portray the band as a four piece band and the name Wolfy Trope was invented. It was basically a couple of nicknames I 'ad at that time. and.. the fifth member of the group at that time, I've gotta mention 'im, Crave Rockersmith, the band would never 'eve got off the ground if it 'adn't 'ave been for Rocky. The money and time that that chap put into the band was phenomenal. He bought vans, he built lights. Everytime the amps would break Rocky was there with his soldering gun. He was brilliant. And wot else could we.. you know.. say. 'Rocky come do the cover of Death Penalty.' He was over the moon. It still looked like we was a four piece band.
Um, as I recall we got over to the graveyard very very early in the mornin'. I was still 'alf cooked from the night before because I'd been down the exchange and 'ad a skinfull and probably got out of bed about five o'clock in the mornin'. We got over there... must've been six o'clock. The sun was just about to rise. It was a great mornin' for it and the pictures did come out good. When the tabloids got hold of it we did get a lot of press from the local TV, news, everything. And we just went from an amateur band really to a more professional band. It just come overnight. I think the cover was done... I think it was June. There was no gigging because obviously we were still a three piece at that time and by August the single 'Soviet Invasion' was about to be released. It 'ad been delayed for reasons unknown to me. But it was a bit of an anticlimax really. It got a back shelf from us because 'Death Penalty' come out a lot better than that single and y'now, it.. I dunno... we gave it the back shelf really. It was a shame. I think this was September that 'Death Penalty' was released. We were over the moon and a break come through just after that.. Saxon's manager wanted a band to go on tour with them so we needed to draft in a bass player straight away. Rod Cork "corky orks".. 'es been a long time friend of mine. We go back long to when we were knee high to a grasshopper really. He was drafted in.. I think 'e was.. 'e practiced with us on the Monday. We practiced every night and the following Monday we 'ad the audition for this tour. It was a big breakthrough for the band, but we just was not ready. It wasn't Rod. He played brilliant. But we 'ad just lost track with the live scene and 'e told us so and we failed it miserably. It may 'ave been due to Zeeb's own PA. It was really crap. Story of the band really. Just another failure. We never really took it serious, when we went into the studio on that day we set the gear up and went straight down the pub and 'ad an ale down there. That was us really. We couldn't take it serious.
But never mind, we went away. No gigs in '82. After that. And the start of '83 we started working on new material and in the March we went back into the studio.. Horizon Studios in Coventry, and put 'Friends Of Hell' down. This took two weeks to record. A lot more time was spent doin' it. It was completely different to what we was used to. I think the guitars took two days... two, three days to put down just on their own, and that was a complete different thing to what I was used to. I was just used to playin' the song right the way through and that was it. This time <<< tape garbled can't make out next sentence>>> And the same for the others. Everything was cock-on. Robion George was the producer with Dave Lester, Engineer. I must say at that time we stayed at Dave Lester's house. His missus 'ad just 'ad a young baby. I found it very 'ard stuck in there. I was glad to get away. And I was there the one night. We had just mixed down 'Quietus' and I though I was gonna pack up for the night. And there was a train station right up the street and I though "I've gotta get out." you know, just 'ave a break. I was fed up. And later that night they carried on, Robin George, Dave Lester and Zeeb and mixed down 'Friends Of Hell' and 'Last Chance'. And when I came in the studio the next mornin' I was quite happy with it... 'Last Chance'. That was quite good. But 'Friends Of Hell' was completely different to what I 'ad in mind. It was a lot of guitars. I put there that I wanted right in the background was the ghost guitar. And what they'd done was put it right there at the bloody forefront. And I wasn't very 'appy with it but it stood and It was me own fault really. I just wanted to break and get out of that place. It was doin' me in.
We 'ad a boff crackin' piss-up on that last night. Bloody 'el. We even got locked out the studio... and Dave 'ad to go get a taxi to go get the keys to get back into the studio to get back into... awww Christ we woke up all the bloody neighbours on his bloody estate. Oh god was we pissed. It was a bastard. *laugh* That was us again, never took it serious.
As we was recording 'Friends Of Hell' .. as I said it took two weeks to record but the actual drums by Graham... Graham came in on the Saturday and Sunday and then went away on 'oliday. Never come back in until the final day when we 'ad got everything done and we felt that while we was in the studio that Graham was not committed to the band as we felt and when we came from the studio 'e was asked to leave the band. A VERY 'ard time that was for myself. You don't like to see upsets or whatever. We are still friends to this day. Really he still put two albums down. Looking back on 'Friends OF Hell' now it's got it's moments, but I don't think the material stood up to 'Death Penalty'. I think I personally let the band down slightly on that because the writing was rushed. As 'Death Penalty'.. some tracks there were was in the band for a couple of years before we recorded that. Whereas this one was basically wrote in a month. Um Zeeb improved a'hundred percent with 'is lyrics. 'Is lyrics got better all the time. Some of the lyrics on Death penalty did sound a bit "naff", but he certainly made up for it on Friends Of Hell. But it certainly 'ad it's moments. I'm still proud of it.
With a tour in prospect Derm Redmond 'Derm The Germ' was drafted in on drums. Derm was a very very good player. I'm not knockin' any of the musicians in Witchfinder. They all did a good job for us. Derm added a lot of strength to the backbone of the group. The cover to 'Friends Of Hell' was done at ?? Churchyard. I drink in the pub just down the road from there quite regular and I'm sure if they knew it was me back then I'd probably get me ticket from the place *laugh* but, that was a... there was so many people involved with the cover of 'Friends Of Hell''. By the time we'd actually got down to the churchyard the sun had started to rise. It was well past seven and really the cover turned out in a comedy of errors rather than spooky. It didn't really 'old the scene as well as 'Death Penalty' did. Um... It didn't really work, and when the album got finally released the press knocked the album cover straight away and I feel that we should 'ave put another track to start the album off. I now look back and think 'Love On Smack' did not 'old up as the... as a good number to start the album, and we 'ad some bad press on 'Friends Of Hell' when it did get released. Prior to the release a tour was set up to coincide with the release of the album. It was an 'andfull of gigs really 'round the country, umm we 'ad dropped a lot of the earlier material, 'Soviet Invasion', 'Rabies', 'R.I.P.', 'Satan's Children'. They was all dropped because we'd got enough material from the 'Friends Of Hell' album, but the only trouble is when we toured the album was delayed so we was up against it right from the start. People were shouting for our old stuff. I don't think Rod 'ad even learnt the early stuff so we was up against it. The tour didn't go down as it should. About a month later, then the album got released.. sure another really good cock-up. That basically took... there was nothin' really going the end of '83.
On to '84 we started writing new material for the third album, which never really got a name I don't think. I personally give this album one hundred and fifty percent. My Dad was learnin' the keyboards at the time. He was quite good. And I was learnin' off 'im. A bit of keyboards just to bolster the guitars in places. I think that if that album 'ad of got recorded, it would 'ave been our best. But it's 'ard to say. Lookin' back now it's 'ard to say. Um.. I 'ave got a recording of that material, but it's very very bad. It was just a little portable casette that was put right the back of me guitar speakers so you could 'ardly 'ear the others. It's a shame really.
We were after another record deal. Or should I say... we went down to London first to see a solicitor, who charged us a helluvalot of money to get out of the record contract with 'Eavy Metal Records . He did, he charged us a hell of a lot. It was all the bands funds 'ad gone. There was no other record company came in for us. I don't know if Birch 'ad anything to do with that.. whether he put the blockers put on it, but there was nothing in sight. No direction. And it it was just one night Zeeb come 'round my 'ouse. The bloke wot really spurred me on to start the band in the first place came 'round, (None of us 'ad got any jobs by then. We'd all like, taken it serious.) ...came around and said "I can't afford to do this any longer. I'm going to look for a job. I'm finished with the band." And it was definitely mind blowing at the time. I look back then to now and think Gore Blimey, and that was basically the end of the band. It was the summer of 1984. I was so gutted that we didn't record that last album that I just packed it in and never bothered from that day to this. I was so gutted that it never went on an album or anything. We'd never even recorded anything and it was just a crime really, because 'e really made such a difference to that backbone [Derm's drumming that is]. And that's basically the band. We remained friends. Obviously you go your own way 'cause when you grow up you start your families. Rod actually 'ad 'is first kid while we was still together. He struggled and struggled but 'e managed to keep it all goin'. But came the end of the band it was gutting for all of us.
That's basically it about the band really. We never took it serious. It was always a laugh and we was always up against it. It was just one of dem things. Nothing worked right for us. The timing was never there. But looking back on it 'Death Penalty' was a decent album and I always think that the first side of 'Death Penalty' would stand up against any Sabbath albums. I'm quite proud of it.
Right I'll go onto the questions from the internet.
1. When did you start playing an instrument and what was that instrument?
Right, I started playin' the guitar the end of 1974. Me first guitar was a Gibson SG copy. Don't really know what 'appened to it. I must've beat it up sometime.
2. When did you start playing the instrument you are known for playing with Witchfinder General?
In 1977 I swapped the bass I 'ad, a Fender, for a Gibson SG. It's a 1963 SG and this is the one that I played all through the band. I did start the band with a Gibson Explorer. It was brand new. I bought it in 1980. I did that first gig at the Crown with it, and the second gig we was playin' away and I knocked Zeeb and it knocked it out of tune so I picked up the SG and when I came off they all said "Gore Blimey Phil, That''s a lot better sounding guitar." And I never looked back. I never picked up the Explorer again. I just carried on with the SG.
3. Who were your influences then?
Definitely Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi. I think.. I personally think that Jimmy Page was the best guitarist I've seen, but Tony was the one I did admire greatly.
4. What was the name of your first band and what bands did you play in before Witchfinder General? What kinds of music was played in each?
My first band was Electrode with Rod, Steve, Rob Hickman and Dave Potter. Then I joined a country and western band called 'The Jays'. I met up again with Rob and Rod in a band called Medway. Then me n Rod formed a band in late '77 called 'Rabies' and then it was Witchfinder.
5. After Witchfinder General broke up, did you continue to play. If so, then for how long and did you form or play in any other bands?
Naw. No. I was so gutted that the third album didn't go down. I 'ad a lot of approaches. There was a band, local. But that was it I was finished... finished. I put the guitar down, and I don't think I played it for twenty-odd years.
6. What gear did you use during the Witchfinder General years?
Like I said the SG did all the guitars. I used Laney amps and Laney cabs. I 'ad three Laney 100 watt clip amps and six Laney 100 watt cabs at final count. So there was a bit of power there.
Right. On to the famous twenty questions.
Note: Three of the twenty questions were omitted because they were answered in the above history.
1. When it started, how did you get around from gig to gig? Any good stories there?
This was down to Rocky. Rocky bought a Ford Luten van for us. There was many a party in the back of that van. Christ it did stink. The times that band carted more alcohol around in speakers. Unbelievable. *laugh*
2. How did you each fund the project when you started?
We'd all got a job really. Just a few quid every week to 'elp pay for the practice 'alls and to 'elp Rocky out with the petrol. My job at that time was a builder.
3. What bands did you share the stage with and what ones were your favorites and why?
I can't really remember really. It's been that long.
4. Any good memories of onstage antics, onstage rows, or particularly memorable gigs?
I remeber some.. Steve and Zeeb 'avin' a good go down London Electric Stadium. That was all over something to eat. It was late at night and I think Steve wanted to drive to the next restaurant and I dunno, I can't remember wot it was... band members and road crew got into a bit of a scrap. It was a... a real laugh I know.
5. How far did you tour (I know you did Germany and England but any farther)?
We did not do Germany. It was in like one of the press things that we did Germany, but we never left England.
6. Does any video footage of the band exist?
There was a video when we supported a band called New England. But I presume that video got destroyed or... well you know I wouldn't doubt. We didn't really know 'em so, you know it's probably lyin' up somewhere in somebody's loft or it's got damaged.
7. What was the merchandising if any sold through the old fan club?
T-shirts, stickers, badges and basically just records.
8. Were there ever any ever regrets?
Yes there was. As I said before the biggest regret was that Derm The Germ did not get recorded, which was just a crime.
9. How did the album cover concepts come about?
That was Paul Birches ideas.
10. Did you have your say when it came to the different vinyl colour releases? the choice of the second single? the songs chosen for the Soviet Invasion EP? or was this all decided by Paul Birch from Heavy Metal Records? and Who's brainchild was the different vinyl colours anyhow?
No we 'ad no say in that. It was up to Birch.
11. Was the song Satan's Children based on the 70's horror film of the same name?
Not to my knowledge. No it wasn't. Zeeb did all the lyrics. The only lyrics I think I wrote, I wrote a few to Rabies... "From the doors of the dungeon down to the bloody gates of hell." I think that was my only claim to fame.
12. What is the song Last Chance about?
It was about a time traveller travellin' through time and went back to the see the start of life. That's absolutely right as far as I know.
13. Are you aware how many popular bands have slated you at the top of their list of musical influences?
No. Not really no. Amazing.
14. What was the most difficult part of it all?
The most difficult part was sleepin' in the back of the van on top a bloody speaker listenin' to some other bastard fart or snore all night, and gettin' no sleep. *sigh* Yep.
15. What's the funniest memory from your years in Witchfinder General?
Let me think about that one. Right there's a few funny things I can remember. This is probably a good one. When we used two massive bass bins as part of the setup on the stage on the front of the stage so Zeeb could actually go amongst the crowd. But on the rehearsals in the afternoon, Zeeb jumped off the stage onto these bass bins tryin' to do the David Lee Roth thing and struck through the back of these speakers and *laughter* nearly broke his legs. *more laughter* Ohhhh that was a good laugh. *more laughter*
Steve KInsel. There was a gap at the back of the stage and he fell down that. That was another good laugh. You 'eard the drummer just "Whoahhh.... splat! *makes rasberry splat noise and laughs.*
There's Steve and a photograph. He was tryin' to take a picture of Steve Kinsell at the time. And we knew at the end of this song that the pyro would explode and 'e was standin' right overtop this pyro. And we was just "Move away! Get away!!" and of course nothing come from 'im and BANG!!! up when this pyro straight into 'im. We ad to guide 'im off the stage. It was like somebody blinded 'im. He couldn't bloody see this chap. That was funny.
That was fun doing the 'Friends Of Hell' cover. The main police man Jerry is a bit of a.. how do I say.. put it like this.. 'es got a boyfriend and God he was such a scream. He was... He 'ad us all in bloody stitches. That was a good day that was. That was a good mornin'. Even though it turned out like a comedy of errors it was a bloody good laugh.
And the piss-up in the the Rising Studios was brilliant. We were just... we'd got that much beer that we coudn't get through it. We couldn't drink it and we was just gettin' the cans and 'elping them, and just tipping them over each other. A bloody fantastic laugh that was. If I think of anymore I'll let ya know anyway.
16. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
Yeah. Definitely I'd join another group.
17. What (if anything) would you like to say to those fans who have held in there for all these years?
Gob smackin'. Gob smakin'. Rock on, and a BIG thank you really. It's nice to look back on it now and think that there are still people out there that appreciate it. And it makes it worth the time we spent doin' it. It makes it worthwhile. That somebody's appreciatin' it. I thank you very very much, to everybody.
I'd just like to say that my favorite tracks on 'Death Penalty' would be 'Invisible Hate' and a close second from 'Free Country'. And on 'Friends Of Hell' would be 'Quietus Reprise' because I like the lyrics in that song. My best riff I always thought was the start to 'Death Penalty'. Even now when I 'ear that riff it just gives a little shiver up my spine. I'm very very proud of that riff. Dunno why, it's just me. I juts like the start of Death Penalty, that nice slow start and then BANG!
I think I've covered everything now. Again I thank everybody. You're all brilliant.