A few weeks ago I had the absolute privilege of spending two hours having a beer under the sun with Mantas. The purpose of the gathering was to ask a few things about the past of the band which burst out like a warhead from the up and rising Heavy Metal scene of the UK four decades ago to ultimately change the face of Metal forever: VENOM! And also, inextricably, about Mantas, the man, past, present and future…
How does it feel to have pretty much given birth to all extreme Metal?
“It’s a question that I’ve had a lot of times. And the answer is always the same: it’s overwhelming. It’s humbling. And to think that this band has had such an effect on so many people, musicians and fans alike, it’s just beyond words for me. I still get people, when I’m doing concerts, the fans and even the support bands, particularly some musicians who come up and say, you’re the reason I started playing guitar, if it weren’t for you there’d be none of this, none of that, you know, you’re the godfather… and all I can do is say thank you. We didn’t set out to do this deliberately, there was no master plan, there was no contrived effort to do it. We just sort of did what came naturally. And every band that starts off in a garage or in a bedroom somewhere… you always dream of making it. But, sadly, very few do. And I think for us it was right place, right time. But to have had that effect and created a whole sub-genre, like I said, it’s overwhelming.”
You didn’t really create a sub-genre, you pretty much created extreme Metal. I remember buying old NWOBHM compilation LPs and VENOM always stood out like a grenade in an egg basket. Lars Ulrich once said: “Welcome To Hell was a classic! Black Metal, Speed Metal, Death Metal, whatever you want to call it, VENOM started it all with that one record!” And Chuck Schuldiner also said: “In my opinion VENOM was the first to have that brutal vocal style, tuned low, that initial brutal aggression. But maybe I’ve kept it going to what Death Metal is today.” Back at the beginning, at a time when you were pretty much ridiculed by other NWOBHM bands, did you ever imagine you would be this influential?
“Not at all. Not in the early days. It’s strange how the band was always loved or hated. With VENOM, there was never any grey areas whatsoever. I never once hear anyone say, yeah, VENOM is ok. They were either totally on board or they hated us with a passion. And as for the NWOBHM, we never felt a part of that, in the first place. We were full of youthful arrogance and we wanted to be different, we were the outcasts. At Neat Records, there were bands who were far superior musicians to us. They were tighter bands, they were more hard-working bands, in the live circuit especially, but there was just something different about VENOM. Now, if you want to be one of those people that goes ahead and analyses those early albums, “Welcome To Hell” and “Black Metal”, it’s old Blues and Rock’n’Roll riffs and progressions. I’ve seen an interview with one of the old engineers from Neat Records who said, yeah, I introduced VENOM to the flattened fifth. But there is no flattened fifth on those fucking albums whatsoever, we didn’t know what a flattened fifth was (laughs). I can remember my first songwriting efforts. I had learned a movable power chord and the first position of the pentatonic scale, and that was it, I was trying to write my own songs. And the first song I ever wrote was ‘Red Light Fever’. So I think it was just a case of what we did to those songs when we got in the studio together, as a collective. We were always sort of three separate entities. We never really, really gelled. So whatever I did with the guitar riffs, and Cronos did with the bass, and then Abaddon fumbling along at the drums, that’s what it became. And everybody says, oh yeah, they’ve got this Punk attitude. I was never into Punk, and I wrote the majority of the early material. I was always a Metalhead, I was always into PRIEST. My Metal world, even today, starts with the word JUDAS and ends with the word PRIEST. As far as what we did see was coming, absolutely not. I didn’t think even Neat Records saw what was coming. Nobody could have predicted what happened. It was instant, it was overnight.”
Concerning that influence, mainly in Black Metal, which you started (and ended, as far as I’m concerned), what do you think about all that BATHORY / Quorthon ridiculous denial concerning VENOM’s influence, considering bands like SODOM, CELTIC FROST, SLAYER always embraced VENOM’s role in their formative years?
“I’ll be absolutely, brutally honest with you here. This is absolutely true. I have never heard a BATHORY song in my life. Not one. If you played it to me now and asked me who’s that, I could not tell you. The first time I’ve seen a photograph of Quorthon, I thought it was Cronos. I thought he had done a photo session by himself. And that is the truth. Now I know, sadly the guy isn’t here to defend himself, but it’s like Yngwie Malmsteen turning around and saying, I owe nothing to Ritchie Blackmore. Fuck off! You are Ritchie Blackmore. Yes, you’re an incredible guitarist, you are amazing at what you do, but come on, some of the stage poses you pull, you use a strat, you look like Blackmore, get out of my face. But the same thing with that, yes, there are bands who have embraced VENOM and said, yeah, we owe everything to them, and that’s great… some of them I look up and think, I don’t see the correlation, but it’s an influence. It’s the same as… I’m lucky enough now, after all these years, to be in touch with KK Downing, who is my absolute hero, and I spoke to him on the phone, and the first time I was, right, I’m going to get all the fanboy shit out of the way straight away, bla bla bla, you’re the reason, you, you, you, and I jokingly said, so you’re responsible for Black Metal, and everything! (laughs) So I suppose it’s the same for the guy who influenced me. If he listens to a VENOM album, he’s probably going to go, wow. That doesn’t sound a lot like JUDAS PRIEST. In the same way as Jimi Hendrix would listen to the PRIEST albums and go, wow, I influenced him? So that’s all it is, it’s an influence, but there is definitely something. Whether you add synthesisers to a downtuned guitar or not, you know… I mean, there’s not a lot that myself and Cronos agree on anymore, but there’s one thing that I do agree with what he said in an interview, and that is, as the Black Metal movement progressed, maybe they should have called it something different. I hate all these genres now, every band that comes out now is its own fucking genre. Fuck off, you’ve got a guitar around your neck, you’re a Rock band, you’re a Metal band, it’s fucking Rock’n’Roll at the end of the day. That’s why I loved what Lemmy used to say: we’re MOTÖRHEAD, we play Rock’n’Roll. It’s as simple as that, and it all goes back to that, even Black Metal. When we were doing M-PIRE OF EVIL, I wrote a song called ‘Devil’, and it’s all about the Delta Blues and all that kind of stuff. Because, yes, VENOM created Black Metal just by actually saying we are Black Metal. We could have called it anything, and that’s what it would have become. But at the end of the day, SABBATH was an influence, BLACK WIDOW, so there were bands playing with the Satanic side of it, they just didn’t stuff it in everybody’s face like we did. But then you take it even further back, you go back into the 1920s or even earlier, and there’s some guy sitting on a porch in the Delta with a beaten-up old acoustic singing about the Devil. The Devil’s been around in music forever. He’s got all the best tunes, he’s always fucking mentioned in it, every Rock band has got something to do with the Devil in it somewhere or the word Hell is mentioned in somewhere. We were the ones who just went, right, you want Devil, you’ve got it, you want Satanic, you’ve got it, and we just stuffed it in everyone’s face… was it for shock value? Absolutely! Did it work? Absolutely! We even got a letter of congratulations from the Satanic Church, from Karla LaVey. It was crazy. But that’s what made us different.”
So what do you think of the fact that KK Downing is forming a new VENOM INC… I mean, KK’S PRIEST?
“I texted him and I wished him well with it and, you know what, I was speaking with a friend of mine, Riley from DESECRATOR, he’s guitarist and vocalist in this Australian Thrash band, a really really good band, check them out. And he’s a huge PRIEST fan, and he had sent me a message and said, what do you think about KK?, and I was like, eh, fucking good for him, and I even said to Riley that if KK had decided to pursue it and go back to PRIEST, I was fully prepared to send him a message – at the risk of him saying, Jeff, fuck off – to say, why, what are you pursuing this for, or why do you need to go back to that, they clearly don’t want anything to do with you. And I think the feeling is mutual. I’m so pleased that he is doing it… the name, I don’t know (laughs). But he’s got a good line-up there… the only thing he’s missing is me on guitar (laughs). But come on, he’s got Les Binks there, he’s got Ripper Owens, Ripper’s still got a fucking great voice. The PRIEST thing seems to be going off the rails… I don’t think I’ll ever go and see PRIEST again… I’ll see KK when he’s up and about, up and running. I was disappointed the last time I’ve seen PRIEST. I don’t know. Still my favourite band of all time.”
Back in GUILLOTINE, your band, which used to be a JUDAS PRIEST cover band…
“Not at all, never happened.”
But you played the KK parts, in that thing that never happened?
“(laughs) You know what it is, I got this question a couple of weeks ago, yeah, so when you were in GUILLOTINE, and I went, hold on. That band never existed. Do you know what it is, it’s a Cronos-ism. You know, that Cronos joined a JUDAS PRIEST cover band. What a load of shite. You know, we were already called VENOM when he joined, he was the last person to join. He ought to remember the fucking facts, he ought to remember who invited him into the band, and that was me, and the woman who introduced us is down there in the market right now.”
“Yeah, we’re back together. It was at her best friend’s house that she introduced me to Conrad Lant, who was sitting on the sofa. So he was the last piece of the puzzle that came in – this pisses me right off – but GUILLOTINE, JUDAS PRIEST tribute? Nah. You know what it is, we once tried to play ‘The Ripper’, and we failed miserably, because we couldn’t fucking play it (laughs). It was as simple as that. The singer that we had in at the time, Clive Archer, was a massive JUDAS PRIEST fan, as I was, but GUILLOTINE was a name I had bouncing around in my head. The band was never called GUILLOTINE though, it never came to fruition. There was never a logo or anything designed, nothing like that. So it’s a complete fallacy. It’s just made up in people’s minds. And this is another thing that gets me about, especially with the advent of the Internet and all this free information that’s out there, there’s just so much shit that’s written about VENOM. And some of it comes from members as well, and it’s absolute bollocks. Some of it comes from people trying to justify their position in the band. You don’t need to justify, you were in the band, you were there, you did that and that. And that is it. End of story. Just be grateful for what you were in the band. Like I said, Cronos joined as a rhythm guitarist. He became bass player by default because our bass player left and we couldn’t be bothered to advertise for someone else. And then when Clive left the band, he took over vocals, because I had asked him to sing ‘Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil’, because Clive was going to go off stage do a costume change and come back on, so we thought we’ll keep the show going. This was all the ideas we had for the live show. We’ll keep it going, so maybe if Conrad sings a song… because I had asked, can you sing? He said, I’ll give it a shot. So we tried ‘Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil’, I had just written that song. Clive was going to come back on for ‘Schizo’. So a lot of those songs were written before Cronos even joining the band. So, no, we weren’t a JUDAS PRIEST tribute band.”
And why did Clive leave? There is a story, apparently, that he didn’t show up at some rehearsal because he was pissed you had fucked his garden up with some pyrotechnics tests or something? And then Cronos… I don’t know if this is true or not…
“Absolute bollocks (laughs).”
You know it’s interesting that most of these old times interviews I find are usually answered by Cronos.
“Well, there’s your answer. We have a saying in England, that if you fart at one end of the street, by the time you get to the other, you’ve shit yourself. And that’s how rumours spread. To be perfectly honest, I think the reason that Clive left the band was because of the way the band was going. I don’t think he was too happy with the overt Satanist side of it. He was a horror film fan, he was a fan of PRIEST… I’ve got a lot of time for Clive, he’s a really, really nice guy. And we’re still in contact today. In fact, the last time I’ve seen Clive, we were walking out of Newcastle Arena, and our paths just crossed. And it was at a JUDAS PRIEST show. And I looked at Clive, and we were both just pointing at each other and going, fucking hell! And it was like we had just seen each other two seconds ago. There was no awkwardness, there was nothing. He’s in a Blues band now, he’s still singing. But I think it was that, I just think we were just going a little bit too far for what felt comfortable for him. I’ve also heard Abaddon say he was the one that sacked Clive. I was like, I don’t think you were, actually, because you were the one that brought him along for the first meeting and he became the singer, so he was your friend in the first place. And they shared a flat together.”
And still, he was very much, as you say, probably into the horror stuff, because he was the one painting his face back in that early stage.
“Yeah, and I think that was another reason that we didn’t feel comfortable as much as he didn’t feel comfortable with us. I started to think to myself, KISS, ALICE COOPER, do we really need that? And then years later, what happens?! Everybody looks like a fucking panda. But Clive never had the luxury of having theatrical make-up. We used to get paint, like this thin white paint, and just paint his face, and then we used to dry it with a hair-dryer, and wait for it all to crack, and then put the black stuff and everything like that, but he was game for it, he seemed to enjoy it.”
So the idea probably came from ALICE COOPER or KISS?
“Yeah, I think, if my memory serves me correctly, he was also into ALICE COOPER. He liked ALICE COOPER. As I did.”
Not Arthur Brown, for instance, who also painted his face?
“There’s another one. Arthur Brown, yes. You know what it is, it’s the same with everything in the world, I believe, totally, that everything is cyclic. Everything comes around and around. Music, or fashion, anything. It always comes back around. Sometimes you can be walking down the street and somebody will be wearing something and you will think, fuckin’ hell, I used to wear that in the seventies! And then you go to the shop and it’s all fashionable again. There’s nothing new created. Especially in music, or fashion, or anything like that. Today, which band has come out, now, and shocked anyone? Who? There’s nobody. I don’t believe there is anybody at all. MARILYN MANSON? Fuck off! No. Nobody, there’s nobody who came out and shocked anybody, apart from the mainstream christian fucking whatever, you know, God squad, who think everything is fucking bad, breathing air is bad. But nothing’s out there today, musically, which is shocking anyone. And the reason, that I believe, is because the entire human race has become desensitized to everything. You can turn on the news channel and you can watch, as it’s happening, live, things which are far more disturbing than any lyric or any horror movie. And it’s real. And it’s happening, and it could be happening on your doorstep. You’ve got this corona virus going around now, Ok, that’s fair enough, and everybody is scared about it and bla bla bla, and then straight away, after all the corona virus thing on the news channel, the next thing was an inside report by a British female journalist from Idlib, in Syria. And when you see the conditions there, and what’s happening there – I don’t know anything about it, I’m not into politics, I’m not fucking interested, but when you see kids getting bombed… what Rock band is going to shock you after that? What a load of shit! If VENOM came out right now, at this point, nobody would even give us a second look. It wouldn’t matter how many pentagrams we stuck up on the stage, because of what’s happening in the world, and the access to the news, to the information, as well. We came around at the right time.”
What were your influences back at the beginning? You took the Satanist hints of BLACK SABBATH and blew them up the roof, you took the loudness of MOTÖRHEAD, the pyro of KISS, the leather and studs of JUDAS PRIEST and mixed it together in an attempt to take everything one step further… am I missing anything important?
“Just probably the fact that we couldn’t actually play our instruments (laughs). Which I think actually helped, at that stage. No, like I said, there was never any great master plan. We just knew we wanted to do this, do that, do that, you know. We wanted to be the band that we wanted to see on stage. We always used to say that we would love to be in the audience and watch ourselves, watch our performance, and in fact the first time anything was ever videoed, show-wise, was when we did the 1984 Hammersmith Odeon. I’ll always remember, all of us, we all got to the manager’s house, we were all still living with our parents at that point. So we got to the manager’s parents’ house, and we’re all sitting there, the band, the manager (who was just our friend, Eric was just a friend), his brother Jed was there, and his mum and dad, his mum was running around making cups of tea for everybody, and we had the VHS tape, of Hammersmith Odeon, and we put it in, and we all just sat there and WOOOW! (laughs) It looked amazing! The fact that it sounded like shit… but it looked like what we wanted, and that particular moment, watching that first Hammersmith Odeon show… and nobody had seen it, it hadn’t been edited, and it was just the raw footage of the band… I think we all felt a sense of achievement at that point. That, yes, that was what we wanted to do, and we’ve done it! Look at the amount of fucking studs that idiot was wearing! And look at the size of those fucking ramps up the side, and look at the pyros going off, you know… how many pyro cues did we miss that night? A lot! There were pyros that didn’t go off because one of us was in the wrong position, we were just so excited. And then all of a sudden we’d be running around and, BOOM! (laughs) Fuck! The hydraulic riser at ‘Seven Gates Of Hell’, what you don’t see… the next time you watch the Hammersmith Odeon video, when we play ‘Seven Gates Of Hell’, watch when the riser starts to go up. And then you see the sparks coming out at the side. That’s not intentional, the riser stuck. The hydraulics failed at that point. So then all of a sudden it starts to move. Then the next shot you see is Abaddon playing, and he’s looking at the camera, screaming at the camera. He’s telling the cameraman to get off, you can see him going “fuck off!” He’s telling him to get off because the cameraman got on to the riser and unbalanced the whole thing. What then started to happen was the riser started to go up inclined, and Abaddon, the whole kit, was sliding off the back. So there’s two roadies behind the kit pushing it up, and wedging pieces of wood in to keep it going. This was all happening during the show. There’s another part when you can see I get sent up into the lighting rig and I’m bending sideways, because my roadie pressed the button for the hydraulics and sent me up when the gerbs are coming down, I was getting burnt to fuck. There were so many things that went on. Those ramps you see at the side of the stage, I was in my friend’s garden painting those things as the truck pulled down to take them down to London, to take them to Hammersmith, so the paint was drying on the truck in the way down. There are so many things about that show… but, for us, that was a pinnacle of our career, at that point. We had just done six shows in Europe, massive shows as well, Teatro Tenda, Espace Balard, Hemmerleinhalle, Volkshaus, Poperinge… the shows were absolutely rammed with people, METALLICA were supporting… then we come back and do Hammersmith Odeon as our first official British show. How many bands do that? And then, like I said… that video. Even looking at it now it is so SPINAL TAP it is unbelievable. But when we sat down in that room at Eric’s parents’ house and watched it, we were just like… we did it! And we were so proud at that point as well. It was probably a very close moment of the band, and there were never many of those. On a personal level. But we just felt we’d achieved… this is what we wanted to do, and we fucking did it! And we did it without the help of anybody.”
Still, you had done the 1982 “Live EP” VHS, which was not actually live…
“No. That wasn’t live. That was done in the People’s Theatre in Jesmond.”
But it’s a great production for its time.
“When we had the idea to do that we fought with Neat Records for so long, we want to do a video, we want to do a video… and then all of a sudden it was like, ok then, fuck off, do a video. So we were given a small budget to do the video. And I’ve still got the original plan that I drew for that stage. All the lights and their directions and everything, and how many 4x12s here and there, the riser in the middle, and I was working for my uncle at the time, and he had a haulage firm, and a yard, and he had a gas station at the front, and my job was just pump the gas. That’s all I did, all day. And I remember I drew, in an A4 piece of paper – it was a petrol account. Certain firms used to come in and they had an account, so I used to have to fill the account form in and then file that. And it was an account form for British Gas, and on the back I drew the design for the stage. For the ‘Witching Hour’ / ‘Bloodlust’ video. We also filmed ‘Countess Bathory’, which got lost, somewhere. I don’t know who got that.”
So you already had an idea what you would look like live.
“Yeah, that was it. That video got us into America. That was the thing that made Jon Zazula say, we’ve got to get this band over here.”
It was most impressive back when I saw it as a kid (and still is).
“I can still honestly remember, we would do a day’s filming, and then myself and Cronos would walk back to my house, which was literally a five minutes walk from the venue. My mum would have food ready for us. Essentially, we were just kids. So we’d finish the day’s filming, and then pack up and we would walk back to our mum’s house. Following morning we would get up, walk back down to the venue, do the next day’s filming. And all just felt like, this is what you do.”
Cronos mentions the importance of the SEX PISTOLS for him and that they were a hardcore life-changing experience when it comes to music. But for you it was far more the Heavy Metal thing, right? So I’m asking about the influence of Punk music in VENOM.
“Non-existent for me. Honestly, for me, I had no interest in Punk whatsoever. I was aware of the PISTOLS, I was aware of THE CLASH, probably the main Punk acts, SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES and fucking whatever else, I don’t know. I was aware of them. I was never a fan. I don’t even know if Cronos was much of a fan… all he used to talk about was Kate Bush.”
She was quite good-looking, at least.
“Yeah, she was, I’ll give you that, yeah. But for me it was, I may get this wrong, May 24th, I think it was, Thursday evening, 1979. “Killing Machine” tour, JUDAS PRIEST. That was the first time I ever witnessed PRIEST on stage. And that was it! That was the one moment when I went, that’s what I want to do. At that point, like I said, I was familiar with Punk but I didn’t know a lot about them.”
What about your stage-names? Because Cronos also mentions in some interviews I read that since the SEX PISTOLS had these aliases, you should also have something of the like.
“Honestly, we just felt we wanted to be so extreme, then why go on stage as Conrad Lant, Jeffrey Dunn and Anthony Bray? So that’s where the stage names came from. And we had one copy of the Satanic Bible between us, which we used to sort of share around and whatnot and have a bit of a read of, and that was it.”
What about the name VENOM?
“There was a guy who used to hang out, Kev Devlin I believe his name was, he used to hang out with the band at rehearsals. We used to rehearse in a church hall, in the west end of Newcastle, then we used to rehearse in an art centre, a Newcastle city centre called Spectral Arts, and this Kev Devlin had a motorbike… I think it was maybe his bike that was on the back of “Black Metal” that I was sitting on doing that fucking eighties shot…”
That large white bike!
“I think it might have been, I’m not sure. Certainly wasn’t mine. But it was him who came up with the name. We were thinking about names, and no one really suggested any name, to be perfectly honest. And at a rehearsal, he was just sitting there and said, what about VENOM? And it was like… that’ll do. Yeah. And it was as quick as that. It was not thought about, there was nothing, it was… VENOM! And of course, for a long time we got… what are you called, snake spit? It was VENOM. And that was it. So there was never any other name for the band, really. Never came up.”
Before the “Seven Dates Of Hell” tour with METALLICA, which ended with the later gig in the Hammersmith Odeon in London on June 1st, 1984, what gigs do you remember?
“The first show that we ever did, ever, was my girlfriend’s birthday party. And that was in a social club.”
Your girlfriend who is down there…
“Yeah, who’s down there now. My girlfriend and I, we were together as teenagers, and then when the band sort of took off we split. We didn’t see each other for 32 years. And then my marriage broke up, her marriage broke up, and then all of a sudden, one night, on Facebook, I got a message, “hello stranger”. And I went, fucking hell! 32 years later, we met for coffee and now we live in Portugal. Ten years later, we live in Portugal. But yeah, first ever VENOM show, with myself, Cronos, Abaddon and Clive Archer on vocals, it was my girlfriend’s 17th birthday party, something like that. After that we played the church hall at Westcott Road, where we used to rehearse. We then did the Methodist church hall, in Wallsend, which was actually just around the corner from Neat Records…”
So you specialized in churches.
“Yeah, yeah (laughs). We were planning early. And I think that was a Friday or a Saturday night, it was a youth club type of thing, but they played music, and it sort of morphed into a Rock night. So we played it. Other than that I think we played a couple of, what they call in the northeast of England, working men social clubs. Again, all with Clive. And then after that, we were rehearsing at the church hall, on a Saturday afternoon, and the following Saturday afternoon, we were in Belgium, in Poperinge, in front of about 3,000 kids. And it was as quick as that. And then after that it was America, then the “Seven Dates Of Hell” tour. So the escalation from playing community centres and church halls to big venues was just like that (snaps fingers).”
So it’s not true the band was banned from the Hammersmith Odeon because of your pyro having ruined the ceiling is it? Since you went back in fact.
“No, it’s another urban myth.”
Your second gig in there, in 1985, is what is in one of the discs in “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (and also the VHS tape “Hell At Hammersmith”, etc). So the first Hammersmith Odeon gig, in 1984, is the one in “Official Bootleg”, right?
“Yes. The audio is “Official Bootleg”. But “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” was mainly recorded in New York…”
Yes, but you have two discs…
“(Laughs) I don’t keep up with it. It’s too much of it now!”
It’s been a while…
“I still sign things today that I go, what the fuck is that? (Laughs) I have no clue.”
So, is it true that “Welcome To Hell” was made of demo tracks and you were surprised by the label releasing them as an album as they were?
“I can remember going into the studio in Neat Records, Impulse Studios, we went in to do more demos, and David Wood, who owned the studio, asked if we had enough material for an album. And we said yes. And he gave us three days do put it together. And that was it. So yeah, it was a case of, we were going to go in and do more demos, but it became the album.”
So, a small anecdote now, I’m old enough to remember ‘The Magic Roundabout’ TV children show, which we also had here in Portugal. There was this joke that the opening riff of ‘Countess Bathory’ was adapted from the theme, but you once told me in a backstage you had in fact gotten it from JUDAS PRIEST.
“We, the band, always used to joke when we played it and say it was ‘The Magic Roundabout’. But the bit you are referring to is actually the centre section, the breakdown in the centre of the song, which was my little tip of the hat to ‘The Ripper’. And it’s the same with ‘Black Metal’. “Lay down your souls to the gods’ Rock’n’Roll” is “Fall to your knees and repent if you please”.”
Were you as crazy as you seemed back then? Thrashing radio studios and whatnot? Any particular stories on the road or the studio that stand out from the haze of bygone decades?
“The other two would always say that I was the boring one. I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t do alcohol. My alcohol days were done before the band. I woke up in my own vomit one day and thought, that’s it.”
So your alcohol days were done when you were still a teenager.
“Yeah. All the stuff that I did was in my teenage years. It was Abaddon that used to carry me to the bus stop. You know the TYGERS OF PAN TANG? They used to play every Wednesday night at a little Rock bar called Mingles, in the coast, in Whitley Bay. And I would just go down there and get absolutely blitzed! And Abaddon would actually carry me to the fucking bus stop and stick me there and wait for the bus and then I would go home. Many a night I would just wander off and I would walk home, which is god knows how many miles away. And at that point he wasn’t really drinking. But I was. And then when the band really took off, that was when my drinking days ended. Waking up covered in vomit was a big wake-up call… time to quit this shit. But certain members of the band went the other way. And in a way, I’m glad that happened to me, because once you hit that level… it sounds a little bit egotistical or a little bit presumptuous to say this, but that level of fame, everything becomes available. And it’s freely available as well. So I’m glad that that happened to me. At that point, everybody’s going, have a bottle of this, have some of that, put some of that up your nose, do this, do that. And I’ve seen people go downhill, with all that shit. So everything I remember is remembered with a fucking clear head. And all this about smashing radio stations and stuff, there were a couple of incidents, but they weren’t funny. Not funny in the slightest, no. And one of the incidents I wasn’t there for. Because it was a promotional tour and by this time the personalities of the band had drastically changed. And not for the better. And I remember our manager calling me to say that we had a promotional tour to do of Europe. It wasn’t playing, it was just simply interviews and stuff like that, and I refused to go, and said there is no way I’m doing it. And upon their return, then I heard what had happened. And it was not funny. The one thing that was funny was the famous one, which was recorded, and put out live on the air, which was between us and a Newcastle DJ called Alan Robson, and that is the night that, you know, supposedly, VENOM destroyed the fucking BBC studios and all… it was all set up. It was all a massive setup, but it worked, it was massive publicity. There was something going on between Alan Robson and VENOM, because he would promote all the northeast bands. He was really good, he pushed it and pushed it. He’s still doing it today, he’s still a DJ. Still into his Metal. But he always had a thing about VENOM. It was probably because we were musically, probably, to his ears, the worst of the bunch. It was like BON JOVI going, this is the kind of shit that gives Heavy Metal a bad name. Job done, thank you. That is a fucking endorsement from BON JOVI himself (laughs). So that was all set up. But it wasn’t revealed for a long time. Because it made national news and everything. You know, this band had went in and beaten up the DJ… My mother didn’t go out of the house for days (laughs). She went out once and the neighbours are like, was that your son that was on the radio? (laughs) But there were incidents, and it wasn’t clever, it wasn’t funny, it wasn’t Rock’n’Roll, and I’ve always said, at the end of the day, I don’t care what any fucking musician does off stage. I don’t care how much cocaine you put up your nose, how much Jack Daniels you can drink, and how many girls you screw after a fucking gig and how many tour hotel rooms you trash after a gig. What did you do on stage? And when you get these fucking prima donnas who walk off because the mic isn’t working properly or something like that. Fuck’s sake. So none of that impresses me at all. In that respect, no, I wasn’t very Rock’n’Roll at all. My job was on stage, my party was on stage. And I can honestly say I’ve been to some of the biggest parties in the world, and I was the host, and I remember every single bit of it, with a clear head, and I had a fucking great time.”
And I remember BON JOVI, whose band was always a girls band to me, I remember him in Metal Hammer many years ago admitting BON JOVI wasn’t really Heavy Metal. So he knew. Well. Then, in 1986, you left VENOM, before the USA tour. Why did you do that?
“Everybody’s asked, and nobody knows. Let’s put it this way: it was nothing to do with musical differences, it was nothing to with finance, it was everything to do with a personality in the band and a digusting incident which happened at the Loreley Festival. It actually happened back at the hotel. It started at the festival site, and then back at the hotel it escalated, and if you knew the reason, you personally, or anybody, then you’d probably consider not listening to VENOM for quite some time. Abaddon witnessed it, Eric Cook witnessed it, Peter Cronin, photographer, witnessed it, and it was fucking totally unnecessary. And it was at that stage I said, that’s it. I fucking had enough. The honest truth? I was ready to leave after “Black Metal”. As soon as the fame hit, as soon as we were recognizable in the streets, and everywhere we went, the personalities in the band just fucking changed. Some people could not leave their stage persona on stage. It was like, come on, you’re with us now. You know the sad thing is, I’ve seen a photograph of Geddy Lee posted, and it was the final selfie that he had taken with Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart must have been well at that point. But it was the final selfie, and they looked so happy together. And you know how I felt about that photograph? I was jealous. Because I thought, there’s a band that stuck together, and yes they probably had disagreements and arguments, but looking at those three faces in that photograph, they were so happy to be in each other’s company, and there was a point when we were like that. Briefly. Very briefly. And then when things got big very quickly it all just changed. It changed drastically, and it wasn’t pleasant. And it became this thing where there were two of us and one would walk in the room so these two would leave. And then, a few weeks later, a different two of us would be in the room, and the other one would walk in, so those two would leave. Even when we got back together for the Dynamo festival, in ’96, three years in a row we were offered that. And I remember the first time the offer was made, we had a meeting in a pub in Newcastle, a Rock bar called Trillians, and I was running my martial arts gym at the time, so I took some time out to go down and have this meeting. I walked into the bar and Cronos was already there. I saw him, we hadn’t seen each other for a while, so I walked over, there was a tentative sort of handshake, and I looked at him and went, I’ve just come here to say no. I’m not doing it. Whatever it is. And then Abaddon and the management walked in, I sat and listened to the whole fucking talk and just went, right, well that was interesting… no. And walked out. And then I was pursued after that, “yeah, it’s a big festival, we’ll do this…” No! No. And even for “Prime Evil”, when that came around: no. I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it. “But Tony Dolan’s going to do vocals!” … Tony’s going to do vocals… ok. Yeah. And they were doing the same with Tony Dolan. “But Jeff’s in! Jeff’s in!” – “Oh, well, if Jeff’s in, I’m in.” Neither of us knew that each one was asked like this. And it doesn’t matter what configuration of VENOM you have, if you have Mantas and Abaddon, Mantas and Cronos, Cronos and Abaddon. It’ll never fucking work. And if two of us together can’t… look what just happened to the VENOM INC thing. It just doesn’t fucking work. I refuse to do that. When the offer came for the Keep It True festival, Tony Dolan phoned me and he said, yes, we’ll go to Keep It True, I was like, oh, brilliant, yeah, he says, Oliver wants M-PIRE to do this… fucking excellent, because it’s a great old school festival, M-PIRE OF EVIL in Keep It True, brilliant! And Tony said, and if Abaddon were there would you… I went, not a fucking hope in Hell! And I was adamant about it, I won’t set foot on stage with that motherfucker ever again! We were at the Brofest, and I got up to join Tony for ATOMKRAFT’s set. Abaddon was there. I walked past him so many fucking times. And Oliver was there, and he was like, you know, Abaddon is here, and then he was talking to Abaddon, Mantas is here, and I got up with a Canadian band called CAULDRON to do ‘Die Hard’ as well, and it was from there that Oliver had the idea, why don’t we get them back together, and then when I eventually agreed… it was Tony that persuaded me to do it. Tony said, you know, it’s just for the fans, it’s a one-off show, there’s a couple of thousand people there, it’s going to be great. So, I said, ok, here’s the fucking deal. We do not rehearse. Because the songs we played for fucking thirty years, if that motherfucker doesn’t know them, I will personally tell him to get off the fucking stage, and Francesco La Rosa will finish the fucking set. Because he was there, he was our drummer at that point. If our M-PIRE backdrop is up above the drum kit, it comes down before he sits on the kit. I will not have him sit in front of my fucking logo for my other fucking band with you, because we’ve worked so hard for M-PIRE, we have been all over the planet in terrible conditions, we had worked and worked. If he fucks up once, I will personally stop the show and tell him to get off the fucking kit. As it happens, we had just come back from Russia and I had some fucking horrible virus, I don’t know what it was, went on for seven weeks, but to this day I can’t remember the Keep It True show. I can remember getting there and walking on stage, and watching the YouTube footage I go, wow, what a blur! I was just sweating and shaking and everything. In reality I should have cancelled it, I was so ill. But I thought, no let’s do it, because it’s a one-off show, and had leaked out so many VENOM fans who were like, oh, fucking hell, they’re going to be back together, and so, right, ok, let’s do it. And then the phone just rang off the hook after that. China, Japan, a European tour, America, and then it just went fucking bad, yet again. And Abaddon would sit there and go, I don’t know what I did wrong, fucking hell… what you did wrong was, you didn’t learn the fucking songs. You couldn’t play. And he’s such a fucking narcissist, he will not accept responsibility for anything. He would come off stage, having played like shit, and go, fucking monitors, I couldn’t hear anything. Fucking hell! I spoke to Dave McClain from MACHINE HEAD one night, after they had just done support slot to METALLICA in the Round. Dave McClain was at that end of the stage, the rest of the band were here, I spoke to him backstage and he said, hey man, I could not hear the fucking band; I just played the songs. And I thought, that’s an interesting concept. A fucking drummer who just plays the songs. That’s fucking great. I can sit down right now in front of you and play any VENOM song you want, without a bass player, without a drummer, without a vocalist. Fucking drummer should be able to do that as well, he should be able to sit there and play through the fucking songs. The amount of times things got fucked up! He fucked up the first American tour we did. It was called the “Blood Stained Earth” tour. Because we had the track ‘Blood Stained’ from “Avé”. So we had two days rehearsal at Philadelphia. And then it was the show there. I walked out after I played the first song in the rehearsal. Fuck. He had not learned, he had not taken the time, fucking nothing, I thought, here we fucking go! And we got to play, and that first show wasn’t sold out. It was oversold! They opened the side doors of the venue so the people in the street could see the fucking show. Got to the track ‘Blood Stained’, Tony Dolan went to the mic, “This is the Blood Stained tour, this is the track ‘Blood Stained’!” I turned round to Abaddon, looked at him, he did the count-in on the cymbal, then he fucked it up! Try again, try it a second time. Fucked it up. Abaddon turned to me, went, “play something else, play something else!” And that was in front of an oversold show! First show of the American tour! Now, with the advent of the Internet and YouTube, if that had gone fucking viral…! Then the next show… when we played the Gramercy Theater in New York… fucking sold out! Still played like shit. And it was like, nah, I can’t do this anymore. We had a meeting at Chuck Billy’s house, Chuck Billy was part of the management, and you would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that one.”
Well, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for everything!
“When he came in to do the Keep It True thing, and I know that I’m going on about this, but it really fucking annoys me, that man had not done anything of any musical consequence for 17 years! From 1998 to 2015… nothing! He was a scaffolder, and he worked in a call-centre. Myself and Tony Dolan, together and separately, had toured and continuously made music, and made a living out of music. Fucking hell, yes, I sessioned for SCOOTER, I did the whole fucking thing, but I was out there, I was constantly working as a musician, with my own band, with Tony Dolan, sessioning for other bands, producing bands, recording… he did nothing! And then he was invited back in, and after 17 years, his first chore is at a fucking festival in front of 2,000 people. Small, festival, but still, 2,000 people. Myself and Tony Dolan, we had just finished Russia, playing every toilet possible, sometimes in front of 20 or 30 people! But we went out and we smashed it every fucking night! We worked hard. He did nothing, zero, a fucking hero, yet again!”
Abaddon complained back then that he asked for some time off because his daughter was about to be born, and then you just kicked him out or something.
“You know what, it’s of his own doing! Because he never, ever contacted us once after that. Not once. Something like, things are ok, we’re going to get back on the road… nothing. He never contacted once. And we thought… that’s it. Forget it.”
For the fans, for me as a fan, it will always be a tragedy that the three of you couldn’t get along. But things are what they are, and being what they were you did what you did, VENOM, so I guess it’s pointless to think of it this way.
“If by some miracle there were to be another VENOM reunion… you tell me right now, give me one reason why the three original members would get back together. Straight away, think of one reason why we would get back together to do a series of shows.”
I can only give you the reason from the point of view of the fan… it would be awesome to have Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon on stage in front of you again. From the point of view of the fan, who doesn’t know anything about all these backstage problems…
“And from the point of view of the band?”
The point of view of the band is different… only you are in the band. I remember seeing VENOM INC live with Abaddon after VADER, of all bands, with any drummer they have at any one time. And then you had Abaddon on stage. The technical difference was obvious, but anyway, your guitar and his playing sounded so much like the albums it was amazing! Tony Dolan is not Cronos but he does a great job, so I was astonished about how much it all took me back to the early days. And I know what it’s like, the fucked up problems you can have in a band context, but still, it’s tragic for us the mega-fans!
“Everybody said that in the early stages of VENOM INC. People who met us after the shows would go, I can’t believe how much it sounds like the album. Fucking incredible. And yes, I will agree that there was a certain element of that, that was probably down to my guitar playing and his drum playing. But, the thing was… it was never consistent. And as you get older you tend to start to think, surely we should have progressed and improved a little bit. Whether or not we’re still playing those songs from thirty years ago, there’s no reason why you should forget the parts. Or, if you can’t hear what’s going on onstage, just sing the song in your head. Play the fucking song. And he didn’t rehearse… we never rehearsed together, as a band. It was like… hold on. These are old songs. And that’s what we were doing in the early stages, we were going out and playing the old stuff, that’s what people wanted to hear. And I actually re-recorded all those fucking songs, just the guitar tracks, in my studio, and then I would send them to Tony Dolan, my guitar and programmed drums. I would send them to Abaddon, bass and guitar. And for myself, I just had drums and bass. So, we all had our own particular mix of the songs, put down in a set so we could sit there and play them. And then we all met up and did the job. As professional musicians, I believe you should be able to do that. It’s as simple as that. And then, night after night after night, it’s different every night, it’s like, the speed varies on the fucking songs every night, and yes, when you’re live you are going to vary speed, we’re not a click track band. We are, essentially, as Lemmy says… I just see ourselves as a Rock’n’Roll band. That’s what we are. But now that we got Jeramie on board, it’s like… it’s just as brutal, he hits – and I’m not saying this just because he is in the band – twice as hard as Abaddon ever did. And he’s consistent, and we don’t have to worry about turning around and watching where he’s coming out of a fill, or he’s doing this, or he’s doing that, or is he going to remember this part or that. And, I’ve got to say, I think a lot of it was to do with drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels every night. It’s got to have an effect, at the end of the day. And like I say, I’m not impressed by that shit. Do your job on stage. So from the band’s perspective the fans don’t know about, it would definitely not be from want of being on the same stage together. It would probably end up being a financial arrangement. And that would be it. And so many bands do that. But would we do it? I don’t believe it will ever happen. I’m not particularly bothered about it happening.”
Nevertheless, it’s already amazing that you achieved what you did.
“That’s the one thing I’ve always said, that I think I’m justified of being proud in what the band achieved. It never reached the heights of a METALLICA or anything like that, but at the same time, when VENOM INC played in San Francisco, James Hetfield was in the balcony and he headbanged all the way through the set. And then he came into the dressing room afterwards.”
By 1988 you released “Winds Of Change”, an obvious departure from the VENOM sound, playing a kind of American commercial Metal, albeit on the heavy side, and you adopt corresponding aesthetics, as the ‘Deceiver’ video promptly demonstrates. Why were you trying to break into this more mainstream scene? Was it because VENOM were very big in the eighties, when Metal ruled the world, and you missed the highlights in a changing musical world, but this time in a more sophisticated way, without the accusations of belonging to a group of musical brutes?
“Do you know what it honestly was? It was a breath of fresh air. That’s all it was. It was just a silly period – it was definitely the eighties. As much as the music that I write is heavy, I’ve always been into hooklines, choruses and melody. And I suppose that comes from the PRIEST side of it. Because you can get some brutally heavy PRIEST stuff. One of the heaviest songs that PRIEST has ever done is ‘Painkiller’. And I remember seeing a festival appearance, I’ve seen it on YouTube… I’m sure it was from Poland… but it was ‘Painkiller’ anyway. And I don’t know what happened that night when they played that song, but it was an absolute fucking masterclass in Metal! That version of ‘Painkiller’… It was Tipton and Downing, together, it was early on… it was fucking brutal! It was amazing. And then they slipped straight into fucking ‘Living After Midnight’ (laughs). So they’ve always had that commerciality thing about them. So I suppose I’ve always had that, and when I write songs, I always write with the audience in mind as well… I mean, we’re busy recording the new VENOM INC album at the moment and I’m 18 songs in, on guitar parts, at the minute. So the “Winds Of Change” thing… and again, it was rebellion on my part as well – I always thought to myself, say for example, you’ve got a white wall in your room, and you want to change the room. What the fuck are you going to paint it white again? You know, change it. And that, for me, was the analogy for the “Winds Of Change” thing. It went from being a part of this, we’re satanic and so on, and now I’m doing this. And everybody went, what the fuck? (laughs) Out of that, I did the Friday Rock Show with Tommy Vance, which was a prestigious thing to do, it got great reviews, which surprised me, we did the ‘Deceiver’ video for it, which was on rotation on MTV. But again, it was a home-made video. Neat Records helped out, but it was pretty much the same thing we did with the ‘Witching Hour’ / ‘Bloodlust’ thing, it was that same kind of thing. and it was just at the point where we were about to start doing gigs that I got the offer for the “Prime Evil” thing. Hence Al Barnes came along into the VENOM thing. But it was great, it was really, really good fun to do. I just totally enjoyed it. Whether that would have lasted as a live thing, I don’t know.”
The video seems very tongue-in-cheek, you know, the blonde chick and everything…
“Of course it was! Everybody missed that side of VENOM as well. We had a sense of humour.”
“That’s the thing that people tend to forget, even on “Welcome To Hell” you had ‘Poison’. Everything was sort of on the dark side, but there was always that sense of humour, and I think it came to the forefront on ‘Teacher’s Pet’. Ironically, on probably the biggest VENOM album as well. But yes, the “Winds Of Change” thing was a total departure. As was when I did “Zero Tolerance”. From one album to the other, that was a fucking complete flip side.”
It’s like another band.
“But the thing with me is, I’ve got so many musical things buzzing around in my head, constantly, if you open up my hard drive on the audio computer, you’ll see that there’s Blues tracks, there’s instrumentals, there’s all kinds of stuff. And it’s all stuff that I want to get out there as well. I’ve got a meeting next week, there’s this guy putting a website together for me, and I’m going to release all this music. Just put it up as MP3s, downloads… and I want to do it, again, for the animal shelters I want to donate to and stuff like that. I’ve got a lot of rescue animals myself, so I’m sort of passionate about that thing. All this fucking music that nobody’s ever heard is sitting in a hard drive doing nothing, and a lot of people will go, fucking hell, that’s Mantas from VENOM. Tony Dolan said a great thing one day. There’s two kinds of people when it comes to music. One is in a band, the other is a musician. One has got to be in a band, or they don’t exist. The other can go off and do and fit into a number of different things. I like to think I can do that. And that’s why I did the SCOOTER thing. At first, I was, never going to do that! When the offer came through, I thought, fucking SCOOTER, you are joking me? Fuck off. And then, everybody that I knew was saying, you can do it. Who’s in charge of your destiny? Who’s going to tell you not to do that? And it’s like… I suppose you’re right. Fuck it. Call the management. Yeah, I’ll do it, why not. And it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. I did a full year on tour with them. Do I regret it? Not at all! It was an experience. And I sessioned for a German Metalcore band as well, and this band had time signatures that I’d never even heard of. I had to learn all that, and it was a challenge. And that’s another thing, I like that challenge as well. So in a way, I suppose with “Winds Of Change” I was challenging myself. Same with “Zero Tolerance”. I did a Blues and Classic Rock project with a friend of mine who actually used to be Abaddon’s drum roadie in the early days, Gordon Atkinson, who’s got an incredible Blues voice. So we did this little project together in my studio, there are ten songs, all recorded, mixed, mastered, ready to go. So that’s another thing that I’ll stick up. Then there was DRYLL, there’s different music on that yet again. So I’m constantly delving into different things. Metal is always the main thing for me. But the way I describe it is, it’s like driving down the road and you’re going from A to B. You can go straight. Straight down that road and that’s it, you’ll get there, but you’ll never know what’s over here. And there might be a road that goes that way. You don’t know that it’s going to lead back to there. But why not just try it? So that’s the way music is for me. I’ve got a musical path which is Heavy Metal. But as I’m going down that path, sometimes I’ll go, ah fuck it, I’m going over here. So I’ll go off and I’ll do something else. You cannot tell me that every Metal musician on the planet, particularly the older generation of Metal musicians, you cannot tell me that that is all they have fucking listened to 24-7. Yes, I listen to a lot of Metal, I listen to a lot of old school Metal. I couldn’t tell you one modern Metal band from another. I really couldn’t, I’m not into it. But I’ve got so many different musical tastes. If it’s good music, it’s good music. If it’s shit music, if it’s ONE DIRECTION, you can shove it up your arse. Manufactured crap like that does absolutely nothing for me. But if it’s good music, and I’ve always been into guitar-driven music as well, if it’s got a guitar in it… fucking hell, I don’t know if you are aware of them, but in the eighties there was this band called LEVEL 42. They had one of the best guitarists on the planet. Alan somebody, his name was… I think he sadly died. But, fucking hell, some of their stuff, his fucking guitar licks, his solos were like, wow! Unbelievable. And I mean the songs as well, Mark King, as a bass player… he is to bass-playing probably what Neil Peart is to drums, you know. He’s ridiculous. He’s a sort of Pop Jazz fusion version of Billy Sheehan. He’s incredible. LEVEL 42 themselves, the music was amazing. I’ll listen to anything that’s really good. One of the last albums that I’ve just bought? THE GODZ, from 1978. Remember them?”
No, I don’t. What kind of music is that?
“It’s just straight forward, down the line Rock’n’Roll. I’ll show you the album itself (grabs phone). See? Recently added… ROXY MUSIC, “Avalon”. JEFF BECK. THE GODZ. It’s 1978. At that point they were hailed as being so fucking heavy. I went out and bought it straight away. I love the album. It’s the same as when you go to the NWOBHM, I got interviewed about this and asked: “So, you didn’t really feel a part of the New Wave”, and I was like, “Not really, we just sort of took a back step from that.” “So who was your favourite band of the NWOBHM? IRON MAIDEN?” or this or that band… And I: “No. No. No. SAMSON.” SAMSON were my favourite, when Bruce Dickinson was in SAMSON.”
“Head On”. Fine album.
“That’s the album. And you know why I bought that album? The same reason you bought “Live After Death”. I looked at the cover and WOW! Big guy with a mask and a fucking axe! I’m having that! And I was a SAMSON fan from then on. Same thing happened with KISS. I remember being in a department store, with my mum. I was looking through these battered old vinyls. It was a store which sold everything. You know, furniture, toilet roll, fucking biscuits, fucking vinyl albums (laughs), everything was in this one store. So my mum was off doing some shopping, me, as a kid, I was going through the vinyls, and I look and – GASP! – And it was KISS “Alive!” And it was a battered copy, so people had obviously pulled it out, looked at it and put it back. And I looked at it, went for my pocket, I was counting the money and I didn’t have enough. That was my allowance money. Oh no! So I looked and, behind it, “Hotter Than Hell”! And it’s the same band! I can afford that one. So I went and bought it. And you know what? “Hotter Than Hell” is the only vinyl album in my collection that I brought to Portugal. It’s in my studio. It’s the Holy Grail. That got me into KISS. And then, when I could afford it I got the live album. My vinyl collection is in my daughter’s house, in storage, in a garage, somewhere. But when I drove to Portugal, “Hotter Than Hell” came with me. It’s an original.”
It’s one of those things that belong with us from those times.
“Absolutely. Another one I actually lost, but I found again on Ebay, and I bought it for £5: it was the first vinyl album I ever bought with my own money as a kid. And that was T. REX, “Ride A White Swan”. And the first single I ever bought as a kid, 7” vinyl, was ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’. QUEEN. And I remember when ALICE COOPER hit number 1 with ‘School’s Out’ in England. For some reason my mum wouldn’t let me have that vinyl (laughs). And then my auntie, her sister, took me out for a day trip one day in the school holidays and we ended up in a Woolworths store – which are now all closed, finished with, in England – it was an old department store, and at that point, in the early seventies, Woolworths was very important for chart success; it was just as important as the mainstream records stores like HMV and all those. So if you could get your single into Woolworths, that was important. So we walked into the store, and there it was: number one. ‘School’s Out’, by ALICE COOPER. And so I pleaded to my auntie to get it for me. And I still remember being at school and it was a rainy day, so we weren’t allowed to go outside. We were all stuck in the classroom. It was break time, so the teacher put the radio on, and it was the top ten national charts countdown, so I’m sitting there listening and waiting, and at number one this week, T. REX, ‘Metal Guru’. Yes! Because if you had a number one, it was a guaranteed appearance on the BBC show “Top Of The Pops”. So that meant on Thursday night I could sit in front of the TV and watch Marc Bolan. Brilliant! First favourite band? SLADE. That was my first official favourite band.”
So you were always into Rock, and Heavy Rock.
“Always into Rock. If a band had guitars, I was there. SLADE, SWEET, T. REX… all that stuff.”
Still, right after the “Winds Of Change” album you were back in VENOM, that Abaddon was getting together again with Tony Dolan. “Prime Evil” was a successful album, which made an impact, but then things seemed to go a bit downhill and the following two albums didn’t receive much recognition. What are your thoughts concerning that period?
“It was the same as always that happens with VENOM. It all started out great and the prospect of it all happening was fucking wonderful. Then things are promised, they don’t happen, payments don’t happen, and again, all the wounds start opening up, and I remember sitting backstage with Tony Dolan in some terrible fucking venue, I think this was after the “The Waste Lands” or whatever it was. It was fucking terrible anyway. And I remember, halfway through a tour, I remember looking at Tony Dolan and just going: Last one? And he went: Fucking right. Last one. That was it, we went out and played it, got back in the bus, Abaddon said, Right, we’re off to the next one. Right… turn it round, we’re going home. And Abaddon was complaining, I was like, fucking bollocks. Made some excuse up that I had to go home and that was it. Because we were totally dissatisfied with the whole thing, it was just shit. I mean, “The Waste Lands”… where the fuck did that title come from? Have you seen the cover for it? And then the cover for “Temples Of Ice”… I suppose it was somebody’s vision of what it should be and it was just fucking terrible. And it just got worse and worse and it just seemed to be… what’s this, fucking VENOM by numbers? We just got sick of it and that was it. We just fucking fell apart again.”
Do you know of any plans to write any VENOM biographical book? It’s surprising there isn’t one, with the vast amount of books on Metal history currently available. I guess it’s something waiting to happen, somehow…
“Yeah, and it’s about halfway through (laughs).”
Ok! Written by whom, if I may ask?
“Me! I’ve been writing it for a while now, I got asked ages and ages ago to write a book. I didn’t want to do it. And then I remember being in Japan, years ago, and we went out for a meal with promoters and an English guy, Glenn, who lives in Japan, who is a journalist as well, and we were just sitting at the dinner table. I think it was Glenn who said, so, when is this book happening? And I said, oh, no no. And everybody was saying, yes, you have to write a book! So eventually I agreed to do it. I’ve had a lot of contributions, from people like Gary Holt, Jon Zazula, a lot of journalists, musicians… a lot of it is catalogued now, ready to go. There’s a chapter in the book that is going to be called “Legions Iron And Steel”, all written by the fans, totally unedited. It’s their stories, how they discovered the band, what the band means to them, good or bad, it’ll go in the book. Some of the stories I’ve had back from fans, including one from military personnel, who drove into a firefight in Bosnia with VENOM playing. I spoke to him on the phone and asked him to send the story. And he met his best friend under fire. He says they were holed up, bullets whizzing around, they started talking just to alleviate the tension, the subject got to music, and they both loved VENOM. They’ve been best friends ever since that day. Some other stories are from people with illness and the music helped them to go through it… I’ve always said I’ve been incredibly lucky. I was a kid from Newcastle who wrote some songs in his bedroom, and people dig them. That’s the way it happened. There’s no miracle about it, there’s no fucking business acumen about it, there’s nothing apart from the fact that I sat down and went, well, that’s a cool riff. I wrote ‘Black Metal’ while I was sitting on the toilet having a dump. I took my guitar into the toilet with me. And to think that songs that you write, that you think sound cool, get recorded, put on a vinyl, or a CD or whatever, and then 20 or 30 years later you’re in Beijing playing a concert and you have a Chinese audience singing ‘Countess Bathory’, THAT is incredible. It’s inexplicable, how do you explain that to anybody, to think that you wrote something and it’s had so much effect on an individual that you’ve never met before. And there’s people that I get messages from that I will never meet. And it still surprises me today that this is happening. This interview is happening. Because I think to myself, how many times have people read the early history of VENOM? I did an interview two weeks ago, three hours on Skype. All about the history of VENOM. Yet again, it was to do with the NWOBHM, and the guy is writing a book about it. It was old, old VENOM. And there are a lot of misconceptions about VENOM, a lot of urban myth about what the band did or not. One of the fucking weird things… I can remember the first time we went to America. METALLICA supporting us, Staten Island, Paramount Theater. We come back from there, Cronos had hooked up with some girl, and then I walk into Neat Records one day, the girl’s sitting there. She’d travelled from America to come and visit Cronos. Anyway, in America, because the promoter’s house was a total party, and I’m not the party guy, me and my roadie had fucked off to a motel. So we were going out for food, playing bowls and just having a chilled-out time. They were doing their thing, we were doing ours, that was great. But, no-one had ever seen Mantas. Where’s Mantas, what’s he doing? So when I spoke to this girl, she went (imitates American accent) “Hey man, everybody thinks you’re the Antichrist.” What, me? “Yeah, because nobody’s ever seen you and they thought you were so strange, and you just appear on stage and then nobody could meet you” and all this and I was like, I was up the road playing bowls. You know, I was in a bowling alley, I wasn’t sacrificing chickens, or fucking drinking virgins’ blood or anything like that. It’s all these misconceptions that people have about you. And it was the same as when I’ve seen JUDAS PRIEST that first night in 1979. When KK Downing ran on stage, that wasn’t a human being, that was a god! He didn’t get up in the morning and had a coffee and a dump. He didn’t go to the supermarket to buy his shopping. He didn’t drive a normal car. He was special, he was a god. Back then, your heroes were gods. And why? Because there was no social media. There was no access to them whatsoever. The only access you had to these people was through the mainstream magazines, when you read their interviews, or if you were lucky enough to stand in the pissing rain and wait for them coming out of a backstage one night, when you could briefly get a signature, and then they were on the bus and gone. And even that was mystical for us as fans, as kids back then. That first night I saw JUDAS PRIEST on stage, and then they were gone, the house lights came up and I was thinking, what are they doing now? What do people like that do? Now me, I go into the dressing room, I take a shower, I sit down, have a drink of water or whatever.”
And your description of them is what you are for a lot of people.
“Exactly. And that’s what I can’t get my head around. That’s why I say to other people, I’ve got shoes on, I’ve got socks on. I’m going to go to the toilet in a minute, take a piss. Everybody does it. We’re all humans. Everybody here has got the capability to do something really special. They probably just don’t know it, or they’ve never tried or haven’t been given the opportunity. But everybody walking around here now could do something that would surprise or impress everyone else.”
Still concerning your biographical book, back around 2001 and the “Resurrection” days, you and Cronos were planning on making a video history of the band, going back to places and interviewing people etc. This, sadly, never came to be. Did you start collecting any material back then specifically for this project?
“We didn’t actually start filming anything, but we had collected a lot of stuff. My ex-wife had filmed a lot of those shows from side stage, so there was a lot of stuff that people hadn’t seen. There was a full concert from Athens, there was the With Full Force festival, Wacken Festival, all of those, and all that footage is still there. Whether it will ever get released I don’t know. I’m not sure. But we never sort of physically went out to go here or there. What happened with the book is I have been out and took photos of certain old places. I mean, Neat Records, now, the building doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s apartments. There were a lot of plans for stuff like that. Like I said, it doesn’t matter which two of VENOM are together, the problems always reoccur. So even that fell apart, the “Resurrection” thing and all that. Even though it was a good album, I thought.”
It was. And “Cast In Stone” as well.
“I wasn’t as happy with “Cast In Stone”, I must admit. Of the two, I think “Resurrection” should have been the comeback album. That’s just my personal opinion. It’s the same as the opinion I’ve got… you know, “Possessed” and “At War With Satan”, I’ve always said they’re not my favourite albums at all. They’re not albums that I was happy with…”
Also back in the “Cast In Stone” days, the last time the original trio was gathered, you did a video for ‘Flight Of The Hydra’ that was banned. Is it possible to see it? Does it even still exist?
“It does exist, I have a copy of it, it’s probably in storage somewhere, I know a couple of fans have copies of it, but it’s never been seen. Even though it’s a pretty good video… it’s been so long since I’ve even seen it, I’ve still got all the original parts… we filmed it all separately, and then I think it was intercut with little bits of live stuff that hadn’t been seen before. It was a good video, I mean, that ‘Nightmare’ video was fucking terrible! (laughs) The ‘Flight Of The Hydra’ was a good video, but yeah, it was just banned for certain content, which we were surprised about, but, you know, it’s the way it goes.”
How are things going with VENOM INC these days? What’s coming up?
“Everything’s going really well, we took a break after last August, because in the space of time that VENOM INC has been together, we must have done around 500 shows. And we were touring and touring… Tony had to have a hip replacement, he was in agony on some of the shows. And then obviously with what happened to me as well… we had come back… It was Japan, Singapore, Thailand, then Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, back to Australia. Came back, had a day off, went into rehearsal, then went straight into a 30-day European tour, I came back, and then had a heart attack and died (laughs). I had a double bypass in Lisbon and then ten weeks after heart surgery I was back on stage again, which in reality was a little bit silly, to be perfectly honest, because I was still very much in recovery period then. Then we continued doing shows, went to South America, back to America, festival dates… Hellfest, Wacken was the last one… Now next week we were supposed to be in Italy. Start all the work again… I think it was 3 or 4 shows in Italy, then we were going to go to England to do Hammerfest, but because of the virus situation it’s all been cancelled, so we are concentrated in doing the album at the minute.”
So M-PIRE OF EVIL is not really active anymore?
“It’s not active at the moment. I would like it to be active again. I really would. There’s an album sitting there virtually in the can. It’s been finished, the album “Unleashed”. But at the minute, I’ve just completed, last night, song number 18, guitarwise – I’ve been recording all the guitar parts for the new album – and that’s all getting done in my studio, over here. The drums will be done in America, and this time they’ll be live, because we’ll have the capability to have a live drummer on the next album. I don’t know if you are aware, but “Avé” has the original programmed drums for the demos. We had to leave them because the performance that we received from the studio was absolutely terrible. We couldn’t use it. It was such an important album as well to come back with. And for a label like Nuclear Blast as well. So now we just signed with them for the second album. When we get the all clear for flights and things, Tony will come over here and record bass and vocals, just like he did the last time. 18 finished, but at the moment we’re sitting around, I think it is, 22 completed songs.”
Finally, how’s your health these days? How lucky do you have to be to have a heart attack right outside a pharmacy?
“Fucking hell. That day, April 30th 2018, I’ll never forget, I remember being on Skype, I was having a conference call with Tony and a potential new manager, and I said to Tony that I had to go to the pharmacy, so we drove down to the next village, and that’s where it all happened. And basically I died in the ambulance outside the pharmacy. I was clinically dead for just over five minutes. Then I was rushed to Leiria, where they tried to introduce a stent. It was unsuccessful, so I was held in intensive care. It was decided that I would have a double bypass but I had to go to Lisbon for that. So after a few days I was transferred to Abrantes Cardiac. In the morning I was being transferred I started to have a second heart attack, which they got under control. I was then transferred to Abrantes where I was for about a week… so all in all I think I was kept alive for about two and a half weeks on machines and medication and then transferred to Lisbon for the big one. They basically opened me up, did the double bypass. And physically I’m ok, I’m back training, I’m in the gym every day. Not doing as much as I used to, but you know, I’m just getting worked on. Psychologically, more than anything else, there isn’t a day that goes by – I can be recording, I can be out in the shops, I can be sitting to have a coffee, whatever, but bang!, then I’m back in that ambulance and the subconscious kicks in. And the bizarre thing is, when I described my experience to my girlfriend, who was there and witnessed everything – she’s seen me die –, when I describe my version of events, it’s completely different to what actually happened. And what was for me minutes and seconds was nearly a full day. I believe there are certain things that didn’t come back with me. Tolerance being one of them. I’ve definitely changed. I have a hard time dealing with people now. I was never a people person in the first place. What did come back with me is an absolute, complete and utter disbelief in anything religious whatsoever. When you are dead, you are dead, It was black, somebody turned the lights out and that was it. Gone! No conversations with God, Devil, fucking whatever. All bullshit.”
I’m glad you haven’t become a born-again christian, like Dave Mustaine or Blackie Lawless… or Tom Araya…
“Because it just doesn’t fucking exist. You give me the fucking proof that there’s somebody on a cloud… and even before this, what I always said was, look at the evidence of what’s going on in the world today. Yes, there’s a lot of good people, and the human race is capable of so many amazing things. But we are also the most malicious fucked-up motherfuckers on this planet. And we will be the ones who destroy it. Not the fucking animals that are out there getting tortured by us. Not the fucking rainforests that are getting destroyed by us. We will be the ones that fuck this planet up completely. And at the end of the day, when some fucking lunatic does press the button, and a nuclear war occurs again, when everything’s dead and gone, and then thousands of years later, when the first amoeba start crawling out of the swamp, gains a consciousness, grows legs and becomes human again, one day when there’s intelligent life back on this planet, some archaeologists somewhere will be discovering what used to be. Oh, we found a city. This is what they must have lived like. And then one day, someone will find a text. And they’ll go, we’ve just found God. We’ve just found our religion. And they found a copy of fucking Harry Potter. Because that’s what’s it all about, it’s just bullshit! It’s fucking fantasy land. I was driving through America on tour and there was a billboard that said “When you die, you will meet God. Fact. Phone this number for confirmation.” And I thought, I am so tempted! You fucking idiots! Giving people false hope like that. Bullshit. I like to think there’s something. I believe in universal creation, law of attraction and destiny. I believe in fate, and I believe that life is cyclic. I don’t believe in somebody up there governing what we do and somebody down there governing what we do. Because who’s to say that the one that goes into that building over there (points at the church) and sits there with their hands held high to the sky and prays, who’s to say there isn’t a big motherfucker out there with horns and a tail going, haha, you suckers! You fucking idiots. Who’s going to prove it? Simple as that. Fucking prove it. Any religion.”
Photos: unknown (all vintage pics), Tina Ehmke (last 3)
Interview & Mantas logo: Ricardo Campos
Releated VENOM interviews: Cronos (1), Cronos (2), Abaddon