|It was 1990 when the story of the originators of 'Folk Metal' began, the setting a local pub in Newcastle upon Tyne where Steve [Ramsey] suggested to Martin [Walkyier] that they should get together and write a few songs with a one off project album in mind, and so Skyclad was born. With a strong musical background already established through Midland's thrash act Sabbat [Walkyier] and north east based Satan/Pariah [Ramsey] the quality of the musical and lyrical input was always going to be of the best and it was from Steve's former band that other original member Graeme [English] was brought on board.
It was with a 'riff' in hand [a pint in the other] and a lyric in mind that the team set about writing and recording demos of songs for the first album, 'The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth', a traditionally thrash based album but with a twist due to the bands love of such fiddle orientated rock bands as 'New Model Army' and the 'Levellers'. They brought to this album not only some highly original songs but the inclusion of the violin on tracks such as 'The Widdershins Jig' and 'The Sky Beneath My Feet' played by session guy Mike Evans, not to mention some subtle keyboard textures. Due to Martin's previous contractual ties with 'Noise Records' it was pre-destined that this album would be released through that label as would be the band's first five albums. Contrary to the boss of 'Noise' insisting that the band should use the drummer on their four track demo [this was in fact a drum machine] the lads decided to recruit Keith Baxter into this position and work commenced in December 1990 on recording and mixing the songs for TWSOME. Released in 1991, Skyclad's debut was received extremely well by fans and press alike which spurred the 'Clads' on to make this outfit less of a project and more of a full time band with the goal of introducing to the then fairly conservative metal fans their new brand of what would become known as 'Folk Metal'.
With an up-coming headline tour in Holland and some support shows with British band Xentrix in the UK, it had been decided after the recording of TWSOME that they should add to their line up a session guitarist [Danny Porter] and a full time fiddle player, Fritha Jenkins. A student at the time, Frith [as she was known] brought even more folk influence to the band with her style of fiddle playing. During the year 1992 the band commence work on their second recording entitled 'A Burnt Offering for the bone Idle', and this album saw a slight move away from the thrash based style of the first album with the writing of such live classics as 'Spinning Jenny', 'Men of Straw' and 'The Declaration of Indifference'. The 'Bone Idle' album featured the more prominent inclusion of the fiddle playing lead lines and melodies normally associated with the lead guitar parts of most other rock bands. The prominence of the fiddle in there music, and the now legendary folky jig style of a lot of their songs, very much set the standard for the next ten years of the band. In support of the new album the band embarked on several high profile support slots around Europe with such bands as 'Gamma Ray' and 'Manowar', playing to sell out audiences of five thousand, and raising the bands popularity still further. This year also saw the introduction of Dave Pugh on second guitar, a good friend and former colleague of Mr Baxters' who also lived in his hometown of Lancaster.
Next came 'Jonahs Ark', the bands third album released in 1993, and involved the band experimenting still further with their musical direction and also a new image, casting aside the old leathers and 'pagan' influenced stage wear for a more 'gypsy/traveller' look. The Clads had now established what was fast becoming a very tight and formidable live act, with further headline shows around Europe and Britain where the band were now very popular, filling the legendary 'Marquee Club' on several occasions and achieving some amazing live reviews in the press.
Sadly, in late '93 Fritha, due to the birth of her daughter Megan and the energy and time any new baby takes up, found it ever harder to commit to the bands' touring plans and so announced her departure from Skyclad to become a full time mother.
On to 1994 and what some fans class as their superlative album, 'Prince of the Poverty Line', took the band back to a harder-edged guitar sound and was a well rounded album including several enduring live favourites such as 'Cardboard City', 'Land of the Rising Slum' and 'The One Piece Puzzle'.
Due to the departure of Frith from the band a replacement had to be found and another local music student was again to step into the folk mayhem in the form of Cath Howell, who took over the job of fiddle and keyboard player.That summer the Clads set out on another full European support tour with legendary guitar twiddler Yngwie Malmsteen. In the midst of this tour they had planned to play their first ever show in Greece which proved to be a bit of an eye opener for the band as they had become second best only to Metallica in popularity in the Greek metal charts, and were totally amazed by the reception they received and by the show in Athens which has left a lasting memory for them all, not to mention the fact that when they rejoined the Malmsteen tour they arrived in Milan for the show just five minutes before they were supposed to go on stage.
'The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea' was the title of the fifth album from the band in 1995 and their final one for Noise Records. Part recorded and mixed in Providence, USA, this album had a slightly slicker sound not only to the songs but also to the production and the recording, and saw another change in the fiddle department with the arrival of 'Mrs Skyclad' herself, Georgina Biddle, and the departure of Cath who after a year with the band decided to carry on with the studies she had left behind when she had joined.
'The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea' was the title of the fifth album from the band in 1995 and their final one for Noise Records. Part recorded and mixed in Providence, USA, this album had a slightly slicker sound not only to the songs but also to the production and the recording, and saw another change in the fiddle department with the arrival of 'Mrs Skyclad' herself, Georgina Biddle, and the departure of Cath who after a year with the band decided to carry on with the studies she had left behind when she had joined. As 'the luck of the Clad' would have it, while the band were over in the States mixing the new CD their recording studio was broken into and all their equipment was stolen. As if this was not bad enough, a couple months later drummer Keith Baxter announced his departure from the band, just before a major London show, to join British rock band 'Three Colours Red', then within a few weeks of this a further announcement was made by guitarist Dave Pugh that he was also leaving to form a band called 'Loadstone' with his brother. This left the band in a quandary about whether to replace the departed members or to carry on with the solid core of the band as a four piece and use session players to fill the vacant positions. It was decided by the band to bring in session players for live performances in the form of guitarist Dave Ray and drummer Jed Dawkins both members of progressive metal act 'Inner Sanctum' at the time. Dave Ray
Though the duo never made it through to perform on any of the Clads full studio albums they did perform on the limited edition release, 'Outrageous Four Tunes', which became a bit of a collectors item as it was first received only as a promotional give away with 'The Answer Machine'. They also put in a sterling performance on what was one of their very first shows with the band at the Dynamo Festival 1995 which was recorded for posterity at the time but later released as the 'Another Fine Mess' album in mid 2001, tagged together with the aforementioned 'Outrageous Four Tunes' tracks as a bonus. This line up also saw the Clads on the British support slot of a band which was not only a massive influence on their own style but are classed in the highest of order of 'Rock Legends', the one and only 'Black Sabbath'.
After a year of great upheaval they started work on their sixth album, 'Irrational Anthems', which was also the first album for new label Massacre Records, and a renowned session player from the North East of England, drummer Paul Smith, took over duties in the studio with Steve handling all the guitar parts again, as on the first album. Now a full time member of the Clads', George began to add further dimension to the fiddle playing on such tracks as 'Inequality Street', 'No Deposit, No Return' and 'Penny Dreadful', and harmony vocal parts were introduced which involved Kevin Ridley doing his first singing for Skyclad! With new vigour and enthusiasm fuelled by the new label signing, this CD of classic 'Cladness' proved to be there best seller up to this point and saw them enter the German album charts.
'Oui Avant Garde A Chance', started life in 1996 as a five track single and acoustic EP and then later developed into a full length album after the boss of Massacre Records insisted that the tracks already recorded were too good to put out as an EP. It ended up confusing fans a little as it was neither an acoustic album nor the band's next full electric album, but was still very well received by the press. The more mellow folkier style was developed at first, but as the album progressed the harder edged guitar tracks came into play.
Due to the album being recorded in two halves several of the drums tracks were played by Paul Smith with the drums on the other half of the album being supplied by new drummer Paul A.T. Kinson, who initially came in as their live drummer for the headline tour which followed the release of 'Anthems', and was made a full member in mid '96. It was also around about this time that session guitarist Dave Moore was brought in for the Clads increasingly busy live schedule. Paul AT & Dave
The following album 'The Answer Machine' was what the band felt was a great culmination of the mix of guitar based metal with their now well-established folk feel. It saw Skyclad experiment even further with the introduction of instruments such as accordion, pipes, penny whistle, flute, banjo and viola, and a far more prominent use of acoustic guitars and layered harmony vocals. Recorded and mixed at 'Moles Studios' and 'Park Gates', two of Britain's more prestigious studios, the band put a lot of their own money into achieving a very polished and full sounding album, also by drafting in Pete 'Pee Wee' Coleman to do the mix engineering it was to show a far more commercial and varied side to what the band were capable of writing and performing. With the new and far more layered music produced on 'The Answer Machine' it was recognised that some changes would be needed in the band's line up to perform these tracks live, and so three new 'Claddites' were found to form a seven piece outfit.
Mitch Oldham was drafted in on drums and percussion with John Leonard backing up the work he had done on the album with pipes, accordion, whistle's, banjo and acoustic guitar, and a third guitarist and fiddle player, Nick Acons, was also brought in to play added electric guitar and a second fiddle to George on several tracks. Although the band perceived this album as one of their very best and saw it as a progression into a new more folky style, the press saw it as a definite move away from metal and it was given a very mixed reception, but this did not affect the album sales to the now hard core following of Skyclad fans who were willing to follow the band through whatever musical adventures they were to take their listeners on.
In September of '97 the band were out on a shop promotion tour in Germany for 'The Answer Machine' album playing some acoustic songs in-store with there then long standing producer Kevin Ridley filling in on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, and it was at this point that a whole new concept came to the Clads. After the success of an impromptu session at the 'Red River' pub in Heilbronn, Germany, they thought, "Why not go out and play all the old Skyclad classics in a whole new style?"
And so the Irish Pub Tour was born with the Clads enlisting new drummer Jay Graham and embarking on their first short but very successful tour of pubs in Germany in early '98. I think this is where the saying, "Brits on the piss", came from! Not only did the Clads find this a good excuse to drink copious amounts of Guinness it also added another string to the bands' 'bow' as it were.Over the course of the next few tours Skyclad managed to re-work a lot of the old favourites into new fresher versions more suited to the Irish pub scene, but more about that later.
'Brits on ThePiss'
Not only did the Clads find this a good excuse to drink copious amounts of Guinness it also added another string to the bands' 'bow' as it were. Over the course of the next few tours Skyclad managed to re-work a lot of the old favourites into new fresher versions more suited to the Irish pub scene, but more about that later.
Autumn '98 had the band back in the studio recording their last album for Massacre Records entitled 'Vintage Whine', which again was a slight departure from the previous offering with a heavier sound to it, brought about by the general feedback gained whilst out playing live from fans and press that Skyclad were well overdue another one of their classic metal albums. With a feeling within the band also that it would be good to get back to their roots, classic metal anthems such as 'A Well Beside The River', 'Cancer Of The Heart' and title track 'Vintage Whine' were penned. As with a lot of 'last albums' for record labels the band felt that this 'Vintage' never quite received the full promotional push that it deserved.
Once again the band were without a record deal but this did not stop them from playing yet another headline tour in autumn of '99 with support band 'Lacuna Coil' from Italy and a number of Festival shows in the same summer, the highlight of which was their show at the 'Gods Of Metal' in Milan.
Not wanting to rush into another 'wrong deal' with a record company the Clads took their time sifting through offers which were on the table from the many European labels, but finally, in early 2000 with the New Millennium upon them, they signed up with 'Nuclear Blast Records' to record their tenth full studio album 'Folkemon', which was once again in a heavier vein and a brilliant follow up to 'Vintage Whine'. The band were subject to great critical acclaim for this release and were beginning to be fully appreciated for their input into the music genre known as 'Folk Metal' and all the bands that this had influenced! In autumn 2000 the band went on a short promotional tour in support of the new album with a further and longer tour planned for the spring 2001, but sadly this was not to be!
In January 2001 Martin announced that due to continuing personal financial difficulties he would have to leave the band. Although shocked by the departure of this long time member, Skyclad could see only good reasons to carry on and bad reasons to give up. Long time friend and producer of the band Kevin Ridley was drafted in on vocals for a charity show in Newcastle that the band were already committed to, [Kev was in fact no stranger to the Skyclad camp as he had been playing guitar and singing backing vocals for almost four years up until this point] and was afterwards requested to perform these duties full time.
So with Kevin newly promoted to front man the band embark on a bright new future, already with support shows in England and Europe with Fish [ex Marillion] not to mention several festival shows in the summer of 2001 and two short headline tours in October 2001 and January 2002, with new boy Arron Walton on drums, under their belts. The band have not let the grass grow beneath their feet and have also recorded and released a re-worked single of the 1981 classic 'Sword of A Thousand Men' with the original singer Ed Tudor Pole performing a duet with Kev.
As I said earlier in this [not so] short biography of the Skyclad story so far, more would be mentioned about the bands re-works of Skyclad classics in the Irish Pub style and so we come to the present day! As the band see it, a bright new future awaits, but sometimes to move forward you have to look to your past, which leads me on nicely to their forthcoming album 'No Daylight...Nor Heeltaps...' which in a way is a tribute to those heady drunken evenings in Europe swilling many a free Guinness and playing to the sweaty throngs of Clad fans in many a steamy [far too] small Irish Bar. This album is due for release early 2002 and offers the Skyclad die-hards a chance to hear a lot of Skyclad favourites re-worked with new man Kevin on vocals and also those who are new to the band a taste of the future sound of the men [and woman] that put the 'F**k' back into 'folk', it's Skyclad, 'The Same But Different!!!!!'
Written by Alex Boylin
[Deciphered from the inane babble of Steve Ramsey and Graeme English.]