CANCER from Telford in the UK was besides NAPALM DEATH and CARCASS one of the very early bands playing classic Death Metal in the UK. Especially their first three Death Metal outputs left their traces in the all-time Death Metal Hall of Fame. But also 1995’s "Black Faith" offered some really good Death / Thrash tunes. Seeing the band playing live again on festivals around Europe these days, supporting the re-release of their first three classic albums via Cyclone Empire and our personal curiosity was reason enough, to hook up with vocalist and founding member John Walker, who was keen enough to answer our in-depth questions with the help of bass player and also founding member Ian Buchanan…
John, CANCER has been founded 1987 by yourself, Carl and Ian. Tell us a bit about, how you came together and who came up with the idea to found a band? What were your influences back then?
"CANCER got together after a couple of jams, you know, knocking about, playing bits of other people’s songs, and trying to come up with a few ideas of our own. Once a friend of ours suggested after a few beers that we should call our group CANCER. Well, we went along with that purely to see if we got noticed, and as luck would have it, we did. Our influences back then were what everybody else listened to: Death, Thrash, Noise, Grindcore, Metal, and Hardcore Crossover."
The Metal scene grew quickly in the years 1987 – 1989 in UK. How was the scene back then in Telford, was there any local scene? Have you been in contact with the NAPALM DEATH guys or the CARCASS guys even though they came from Birmingham and Liverpool? Have you been involved in the tape trading scene in any way?
"There was a local scene, however it’s not worth talking about it. Well we knew NAPALM through Shane who was actually from where CANCER came from, and subsequently we played with both NAPALM DEATH and CARCASS on a couple of occasions. The tape trading scene was actually a fantastic way of getting your music out there, however the tape trading was finishing by the time CANCER had got sufficient material. But I do confess I used to listen to a bit of HELLHAMMER and DEATH, REPULSION, on those loud hissing cassettes."
In 1988 you already recorded your first demo “No Fuckin Cover” and one year later the band progress was already noticeable with your second demo “Demo # 2”. Any thoughts you can share with us from that period and any memories from the recordings?
"Well not so much, at this point in the group’s career our principle idea was to sound like the name suggested, however working with Scott Burns saw quite a jump regarding progress. These demos were recorded in Birmingham at a studio called The Pits (nothing to do with Brad and Angelina). The studio was very high up and you had to take a few flights of stairs to get to the live and control rooms. The stairs were covered in a nasty loose soggy ripped carpet and were very steep, waiting for an accident to happen. Once the recording commenced so did the drinking. To this day I’m astonished that we didn’t break our necks falling down the stairs in a drunken state. These demos soon got the group signed to our first label Vinyl Solution in which from then on any demos were recorded in Telford on an industrial state with a Health and Safety executive, risk assessing the premises. During the recording of the “No Fucking Cover" demo, Big Mick Hughs turned up by chance and was able to add his advice to the proceedings. Pretty cool eh!"
"To The Gory End" was finally released in 1990 on Vinyl Solution and received pretty good reviews in the underground scene and gave you a major push forward. Do you have any special memories from the recordings? What about touring etc for this album? Have you been in normal jobs at the time or still in school? For me, this album is still an underrated classic and deserves some more attention nowadays…
"To The Gory End" was recorded in Wales at Loco studios with Scott Burns producing and our friend Max helping out particularly encouraging a healthy attitude to alcohol consumption! Recorded in the winter, the weather was quite a shock for Scott as was the strength of the beer which when compared to American beer at the time was significantly better ( I have to say beer in America has improved massively in recent years and now compares favourably to most nations in that respect). At the time we were quite an alcohol fuelled band (which was Max’s area of expertise) and I think this put us in good stead for recording in such a short time frame. Plenty of attitude and bravado, not really giving a fuck certainly helped and probably contributed to the energy of the album. Of course, being so young and having no experience in that situation meant there was lots of excitement and nervous energy so all in all I think it all added up to quite a rough and ready, raw recording. At the time I was an apprentice at a company called Avant Electronics which was pretty good really. I actually had a lot of fun there. There were a few people of similar age on the training scheme so we managed quite a lot of dossing about, plenty of practical jokes and generally having a laugh. Of course at the time I couldn’t wait to get out of there, after all being in CANCER was really what I wanted to do, gigging with the likes of DEICIDE, OBITUARY, MALEVOLENT CREATION was certainly quite an antidote to working for a living!"
Only one year later, you released the second classic "Death Shall Rise". This was another huge step forward and brought you major attention, because of the quality of the material and because James Murphy joined you guys. How did James find the way to you and why was he leaving so quickly again? You also released the second album via Restless Records. Was this because of the limited power and distribution of Vinyl Solution ? Also here any good memories from the recording sessions and the touring back then? It seemed that all was in good order back then. Proper label, proper line-up, impressing songs and good artwork and a growing audience…
"We went to Florida to record "Death Shall Rise" because Scott was keen to record the album in Morrisound where he worked, which thanks to a bigger budget from Vinyl Solution we were able to do. Of course it was also nice to go to Florida in the winter and enjoy a break from the weather back home. At the time, Morrisound was a popular hub with the Florida Death Metal bands, MORBID ANGEL were recording "Blessed Are The Sick", members of DEICIDE and OBITUARY dropped in to say hi and of course James Murphy came and said hello. He offered to play lead on one song which seemed like a good idea at the time and of course one thing lead to another and pretty soon he was doing most of the leads on the album. We didn’t really plan it that way, it just sort of happened. Anyway, after the album was recorded we toured with James as a full member of the band but we were three guys from Telford, England who had known each other for years and sometimes it can be difficult for someone from outside the group to click into that situation. Looking back now, I don’t think we ever really clicked with anyone else which is why we are now a three piece again, the way it was always meant to be for us! The album was released through Vinyl Solution and licensed through other labels for different territories. Restless were very good for us in America but we also had a German release and a few other licenses around the world. I think it was quite normal for small indie labels to work in this way in order to get decent distribution, but it was difficult to keep on top of sales figures etc, but who cares, we were never really in it for that anyway. Those indie labels had some good guys working for them though, people like Rob Tennents at Vinyl Solution and Ron Goudie at Restless."
"The Sins Of Mankind" was released in 1993 and again on Restless Records. The material went into a more Thrash Metal orientated way. Was this planned or a natural development?
"The change in style for "The Sins Of Mankind" was a natural progression really, we always thought of ourselves as a Metal band, whether it was Death Metal, Thrash Metal or whatever. It just happened that way. Of course working with Simon Efemey contributed to a different approach to recording and changed the sound somewhat, his enthusiasm and professionalism was inspiring and he creates a great vibe. He’s a fun guy to be around really. Not everyone liked the album but we certainly felt it was a step up for us."
In 1995 you released “Black Faith “ on East West Records. How did you get in touch with them to sign a contract with a big company like them and how did the co-operation work out? The material was far more Thrash Metal, was this the style you wanted to play with CANCER at last?
"Signing with East West was both a blessing and a curse for us. We were able to record a very self indulgent album, which was only possible with the kind of budget you get with a major label. We spent a month recording at Linford Manor, which was a great studio, we recorded through an old analogue neve desk which once belonged to Abbey Road, so there was a great sense of history as well as a great sound from the desk. We loved all that stuff really, speculating whether PINK FLOYD may have recorded "Dark Sound Of The Moon" through that actual desk, probably not, but why not enjoy the possibility! Again we had Simon Efemey to guide us through the experience which was great fun. The album was mixed at Brittania row (another PINK FLOYD connection!) with a brilliant state of the art mix by Swedish genius Sank. I personally rate this as the absolute best CANCER album, although I do appreciate why such a radical departure would alienate and even annoy a lot of our hardcore fans. People tend to think that major labels control the creative output of the bands they own but for us this wasn’t the case and as I said this was actually a very self indulgent album. Of course the majors do like to have a great deal of control over all aspects of their artists and for this reason I think our relationship was doomed right from the start, we really weren’t a band that could be controlled. Something we should all be proud of!"
After that, there were some years of silence. What happended between 1996 and 2004, when you released the "Corporation$" EP?
"Well we took some time off. It was time to do other things."
In 2005 you released your last album with “Spirit In Flames”. How were the reactions back then and what happened after the release?
"The "Spirit In Flames" album was more progressive than our previous stuff. It’s a really good album but I guess CANCER fans expected something more old school, like our first three albums. Nevertheless, we finally decided we needed a break because we felt like starting other projects. I started LIQUID GRAVEYARD, Ian and Carl got involved in other projects such as CURRENT 93… and after 9 years we’re up and running again."
After that you took the mentioned break to return now with some live gigs and your first three classic albums have been re-released by Cyclone Empire in the meantime. Are you happy with the cooperation and how are the reactions of the fans, especially live?
"It has been a real pleasure and an honour to play again in support of the re-releases. The reaction has been incredible for me to witness as I really couldn’t understand why the hell anyone would want to come and watch us after all these years. It has been particularly inspiring to see so many young people in the audience. I honestly expected, that we would have been long forgotten about, so yes, this has been quite humbling and inspiring for me. Another surprising factor has been how much I personally have enjoyed playing the old stuff. As I said previously, for me "Black Faith" is the absolute best CANCER album album but in terms of playing live, I have thoroughly enjoyed banging out the old Death Metal classic CANCER stuff."
What are your future plans? Is there any new material we can expect and if yes, what direction will the material take??
"As for the future, we intend to keep doing the live shows, particularly the festivals as long as people keep wanting us. As for new material, who knows. One thing I have learned is not to rule anything in or out. If it does happen, I really wouldn’t like to predict what direction it will go in."
John, I thank you and Ian for your time and patience in answering this shitload of questions and digging in the past for us. Any final words to the Voices readers?
"I would like to say thanks to everyone who came out to see us this year and hopefully we will see some more of you out there again in the future. Thanks also to anyone who has bought any of the re-releases, cheers for making it happen. Cancer Fucking Cancer \m/."