💿 Hi, it’s a pleasure for us to have on Hardrockheavymetal DAVE WILKINSON, founding member of iconic NWOBHM band SPARTAN WARRIOR ! Welcome! DW: Hi, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you guys. 💿 Can you tell us something about the early days of the band? When is this all began? DW: Sure. I joined a band called Deceiver in the late summer of 1979. I was 17. Deceiver played some or their own songs which were quite blues based with a lot of Black Sabbath influence. We also played versions of songs by bands like Sabbath, Free and Wishbone Ash. Spartan Warrior’s original drummer and bass player were also members of Deceiver. Deceiver played club and bar shows. There was a sense of our wanting to move into a different musical sphere, particularly since we were listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon. My personal influences were also more classic rock based than the bluesier side that Deceiver’s guitarists were more comfortable with. We recruited my brother Neil on guitar and he in turn recruited his friend John Stormont also on guitar and that really was the first incarnation of Spartan Warrior. Our whole musical perspective opened up with those two playing guitar. They were very versatile. John Stormont later played with Jess Cox on his solo album and with Battleaxe. We decided to change the bands name in line with our new direction, although I was actually very fond of the Deceiver moniker. A variety of suggestions were made but we couldn’t agree between ourselves. Our original drummer was at the time reading a lot of Greek History and Mythology and he was absolutely enthralled by the Ancient Greek culture, especially that of Sparta, so he proposed the name ‘Spartan Warrior’. I think our drummer wrote all of the proposed names down, put them in a beer glass and we agreed to use whatever name was drawn out. Of course he drew out Spartan Warrior. I suspect that he wrote Spartan Warrior on all of the pieces of paper so he was guaranteed to have his way. But that’s what came out and that’s what we then agreed to use. We set about rehearsing in a basement in Sunderland’s city centre and writing our own songs whilst rehearsing covers of songs by the likes of UFO, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and Saxon. Using that originals/covers format we again set out playing clubs and bars. The more we played, the more of our original material we put into our set until we ended up playing all of our own songs except for UFO’s ‘Lights Out’ which people had by that time expected us to play as if it was one of our own. A friend of Neil’s had heard that Guardian Records were looking for local bands to record a compilation album. We recorded a rehearsal and sent it to Guardian and they liked what they heard and invited us to record two songs for what became the ‘Pure Overkill’ compilation album. We recorded ‘Easy Prey’ (which the label credited as being called Comes As No Surprise) and ‘Steel n’ Chains’. I think that John Stormont played on those sessions with Neil. ‘Pure Overkill’ was released by Guardian who decided that they wanted to do a full album with us. John Stormont was lured away from us and joined Jess Cox’s solo project. I guess that was understandable given Jess’s success with the Tygers of Pan Tang and the ‘Wildcat’ album. As a result we recruited Paul Swaddle who was also a very versatile and clever guitar play. We recorded ten tracks for what was to become the ‘Steel n’ Chains’ album at Guardian by recording and mixing the tracks two per session and often working all day and through the night. We paid for those sessions ourselves and Guardian then did the rest releasing ‘Steel n’ Chains’ at some point in 1983. Obviously, we continued to play the club and bar circuit too. Roadrunner Records had expressed an interest in us I think at around about the time we were doing the ‘Steel n’ Chains’ album but that was very much Guardian’s project so guided by Guardian ‘Steel n’ Chains’ was released by them and we signed to Roadrunner for the follow up album. That then meant getting back into the studio almost immediately and we probably weren’t really ready for that. We still had songs which were ready to record and whilst some were new such as ‘Assassin’ and ‘I’m on Heat’, others were older songs that hadn’t been our first choices for ‘Steel n’ Chains’. Looking back that wasn’t a very good starting point. The recording of the second album started pretty well but as time progressed I don’t think the band were particularly happy with the way things were sounding. We were all very young and it was hard, if not impossible at times, to speak up and say ‘we’re not happy with this, this is what we want…’ The recording process generated a very tense and unhappy atmosphere at times. We completed recording and left it to Guardian to mix and master the album for Roadrunner. We had no input at all and when we heard the final product we were absolutely devastated. It just didn’t sound like us and some of the tracks had been extended in the studio by looping what we had actually recorded. The second album was supposed to be called ‘Assassin’ and we had given Roadrunner an idea of what we wanted as the artwork’s theme. It was pretty much the final straw when the album was released untitled with artwork that we’d not commissioned, approved or even seen before. We were all very unhappy. I had recently married too and I was faced with the choice of taking a leap of faith by staying with the band and hoping that the people around us would drive us forward successfully or taking a more certain path to success by pursuing a promising career in law. I left the band in 1985. I think that was the start of the end of things for the band and I felt terrible about that and I always will. We reunited in 2009 without Paul Swaddle. There was a feeling that because Paul’s family had suffered a tragedy that had impacted upon their lives beyond anything that I can imagine that we couldn’t really impose ourselves upon him to commit to what we wanted to do. The four of us recorded our third album ‘Behind Closed Eyes’ which was released in 2010. Our principal aim with ‘Behind Close Eyes’ was to set the record straight. We hadn’t been happy with that second album and we wanted to take control of our songs and music and record an album that we could be truly proud of. I think we really did the business with ‘Behind Closed Eyes’ and I’m very happy with it. During 2010 and 2011 we played a number of shows and festivals but during the late summer of 2011 our bass player quit quite unexpectedly followed by our drummer too. Neil and I could see that the band were generating a significant amount of interest and we decided to carry on. We were fortunate enough to recruit Dan Rochester (guitar), James Charlton (drums) and Tim Morton (bass) and that line up has been together almost seven years now, longer than the original band! I think that pretty much gives you a history of the band to date. It’s been a long road hasn’t it?
💿 We’re in waiting for your return with a new album called “HELL TO PAY”, out from February 23rd. Can you tell us something about this platter and its composition process? We have the privilege to listening to this album in preview and we’re very satisfied!
DW: Thank you very much. When we put the current line up together back in 2011 our focus was very much on re- establishing ourselves as a very good live band. It was a natural thing for us to want to write new songs too and we all wanted to do a fourth album. When Dan, James and Tim came on board they really breathed new life into us. It would have been very easy for Neil and I to call it a day after the 2011 split but in all honesty the new boys were on fire and it was a fantastic vibe within the band and the live shows were receiving an excellent reaction. The ‘Hell To Pay’ album features ten songs. We tend to write all our songs the same way. The format for the ‘Hell to Pay’ album was that we rehearsed our live set regularly and at those rehearsals Neil or Dan would present the band with a riff or series of riffs. The riffs were then structured and arranged during rehearsal without vocals and once the arrangement was complete I was given a demo to take away to write the lyrics. Once the lyrics were written we would simply start rehearsing the song and occasionally play it live. Working in that way really meant that when we hit the studio we were well rehearsed and ready to go. In fact we started incorporating some of the new songs into our live set as far back as 2013, Bad Attitude for example. Other songs were written or developed over the period 2012 right through to late 2016. We started recording the album in 2013. However, Neil who produced the album experienced some technical problems which he tried to rectify but it just wasn’t working out so we scrapped everything and started again. Things became even harder for us as there were some quite serious health issues that people in the band had to deal with and that slowed the recording of the album even further. Pure Steel had expressed their interest in signing us long before we had made any real progress with recording and we worked extremely hard to make sure that we got the album done to the best of our ability. We finished recording and mixing ‘Hell To Pay’ in summer of 2017 and we signed to Pure Steel shortly after that.
💿 The real “news” in music industry is the return of vinyl; What’s your feeling about this classic format and the current music business?
DW: I remember as a kid in the 1970’s going to the local record stores and buying vinyl records from bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, UFO, Thin Lizzy and all of the classic rock bands and feeling such a sense of excitement! Putting the record onto the turntable, watching the arm swing across to the first cut, hearing that little ‘bump’ sound when the needle made contact with the vinyl and hearing the opening track burst from the speakers was magical. To be able to sit and listen to the music whilst marveling at the cover art and reading the lyrics, liner notes and credits, learning about the band and the people involved in recording the album was essential for me. I still buy vinyl whenever I can now… new or second hand doesn’t matter to me. I’m an addict! I’ve never understood the appeal of a digital download. I really don’t know why anyone would want a download instead of having a physical copy of a CD or Vinyl pressing with everything that comes with it. I think the ability of people to download for free is crippling the music industry. Lars Ulrich saw that with Napster and he was heavily criticized for his views. I think he was absolutely right! The internet and the availability of ‘free’ downloads or ‘illegal’ downloads has a very adverse effect upon the industry, both the labels and the bands. I’m sure that bands at both ends of the success spectrum suffer to one degree or another. The ‘free’ download culture can really damage the financial viability of a band at the lower end of the success spectrum to the extent that those bands just cannot afford to continue playing and funding their art from their own pockets and so they die! That’s a terrible state of affairs isn’t it? If something isn’t financially viable it cannot be sustained. Music is no different. In my opinion, and that counts for little or nothing I guess, the problem is because of the ‘free’ download culture. Maybe that’s what people need to be educated about? It’s about making the investment I think because if we don’t invest then we will lose it all.
💿 The new album will be out via PURE STEEL RECORDS, involved with many Classic/Traditional HM bands. Can you tell us something about the relationships with them?
DW: I can’t remember exactly when it was but it was quite a few years ago, maybe even before we started recording, that I was contacted by Paul McNamara from Salem who at that time were also working with Pure Steel. Paul told me that Pure Steel wanted to speak to us and had asked him to make an approach as they were aware that our bands had gigged together and we knew each other. That was the catalyst for the introduction. I corresponded with Pure Steel’s, Andreas, and told him that we would be interested in working with Pure Steel but we were a long way from having the album ready. He was very supportive and understood that it wasn’t something that could be rushed. I kept Pure Steel updated with what we were doing, and it wasn’t going very fast, and I was impressed by the label’s patience. They really seemed to want us to take our time and get it right and they were prepared to wait for as long as it took. That’s quite impressive I think. We did have expressions of interest from other labels and some of the offers being made were very attractive from labels who themselves had a good pedigree with a roster of very good bands. Pure Steel remained among those interested and had been patiently waiting for us to be ready. We decided that not only did they deserve our commitment in return for their patience and desire to work with us but we were and remain convinced that the platform and network that they have at their disposal will make our partnership a mutually beneficial and successful one. In fact, Pure Steel announced the date for the albums release only a matter of days ago and revealed the cover artwork whilst also distributing promo copies of the album to the media. Even at this early stage the response has been absolutely fantastic and the label really do appear to have made sure that the right things have been done at the right time to raise the bands profile and that of the forthcoming release. Our relationship with Pure Steel has been very good so far and long may that continue.
💿 What do you think about the renewed interest for NWOBHM and Traditional HM? Love for “vintage” or a new golden era? Anyway I believe that is magic this remade interest for this kind of music!
DW: I see lots of people debating about what qualifies a band to be a NWOBHM band. The consensus of opinion appears to be that the band have to have been around in the period 1978 - 1985, be British and have had a ‘commercial release’ as opposed to a demo tape. If that’s the criteria then Spartan Warrior are a NWOBHM band. Certainly, Spartan Warrior have always seen themselves as being a rock band plain and simple and we still do. I wouldn’t be surprised if every band that is tagged as a NWOBHM band have that same philosophy. I think there’s always been a need to categorise bands and their music. Whilst I don’t really see the need for it I’m perfectly content to be put into the NWOBHM category. There are some great NWOBHM bands active today and I’m a fan of some of them and lucky enough to have many of them among my personal friends. It seems to be quite a prestigious club! I do have a sense of the renewed interest in NWOBHM bands. What I mean by that is I know that the old audience is still there and I know that a younger audience has joined those ranks too. I’ve seen that at our shows. I also think that the old school are still making great music. The live shows can be breath taking. Bands like Raven, Praying Mantis, Holocaust, Avenger, Tysondog, Diamond Head and many others are still putting out quality releases and playing stunning shows showing that they don’t just have to play their back catalogue, which just so happens to be brilliant anyway! Neil and I saw the growing interest in the NWOBHM movement back in 2011. I would say that the growing interest has been largely due to the accessibility of the music through the internet. That platform has been the catalyst for a growth in interest from fans the world over and that growing fan base now spans different generations. Speaking of the new generation that extends of course to a number of young bands who have emerged and who have clearly been influenced by bands from the NWOBHM era. Toledo Steel are one such great young band. As far as ‘Vintage’ or ‘a new golden era’ is concerned I don’t think I would like to distinguish between the two. Certainly it was a golden era between 1978 and 1985 but the last 7 years have been equally golden in my opinion and in that time there have been some first rate new releases and live performances from bands that are associated with the NWOBHM movement.
💿 Can you tell us something about your next live projects to promote the new album?
DW: It’s early days really.
All of our focus has been on finishing the album, presenting it to Pure Steel and dealing with all of the things that need to be done in order for the album to be released on 23rd February. We headline Funeral Fest in the UK on March 3rd so we are in rehearsals for that and approaches have been made to a number promoters with a view to getting the band out on the road during 2018. We have plans to put together a number of UK dates during the course of the year too.
💿 Lastly, Do you think in the future will be possible reissues for albums as STEEL N’ CHAINS and SPARTAN WARRIOR, today not easy to find?
DW: Steel n’ Chains is a difficult proposition in terms of a re-release. I know that there’s been a lot of interest from a variety of labels about reissuing that album and I know lots of fans want it. I understand that Pure Steel have it in mind to re-issue Steel n’Chains. All that I can say about that is that Neil, Paul Swaddle and myself as original members of the band who recorded that album have said that we personally have no objection to a re-release. I understand that the other two original members have been written to by the label to seek their views too. Effectively, three of us have said that we do not object to a re-issue but over and above that we haven’t entered into any contract, formal agreement or negotiated any terms for ourselves or anyone. We would like to see Steel n’ Chains reissued because fans of the band really want that. Neither Neil, nor Paul nor I are standing in the way of that. It’s really a matter for Pure Steel now as to how they proceed. I can’t really comment on the position with regard to the second album. That remains with Roadrunner although I believe it was released on licence with Metal Mind Records a few years ago. I think it’s still available. If it’s not widely available then it might be something that Pure Steel will consider putting out on licence from Roadrunner. It’s out of our hands really.
💿 Thank you so much for your time! See you soon on Hardrockheavymetal!
Thank you, it was a pleasure to answer your questions. Thank you to everyone who has supported us, particularly over the last 7 years or so. The new album will be released on February 23rd. Its been a long time coming but we hope that you all think that it will have been worth waiting for.