|BY DAVID GRAY
I first started playing Thrash metal with, a couple of chaps, that I had contacted through an ad in Guitarist magazine. I grew up playing the drums with my brothers band, who were heavily into their jazz - funk era in 1987, and although I found the playing very stimulating, I craved much more from music. So they let on that they knew this odd character at their school (did I mention that we were both still at school?) who was capable of playing Slayer and G-B-H covers, and I suggested that we audition him as second guitarist.
They were a bit scared of him and took some persuading to eventually get him to our dingy rehearsal space, and I found this Jason fellow more stimulating company than these other blokes, with their aspirations of Metallica tedium. We had quite a few things in common, Father Shandor, for instance and he introduced me to Possesssed, still my favourite Death metal band and for this I am eternally grateful. We were fledgling Satanists on a mission, to create infernal music that sounded like Riot of violence and Angel of Death in homage to the Goat of Mendes. But first we had to get some proper equipment, and then learn how to play it.
Together we started to write rather primitive Bathory style material utilizing a four track recording device, as we had no other like minded fellows with which to play, although we attempted numerous liaisons with several musicians (Chris Alan from Shadowkeep for instance) for several years.
I don't actually remember meeting Dan Temple for the first time. I have no idea how I was introduced to this man or why and when specifically we became musically involved. But he was a bass player of great natural feel and great technical ability, terrible dress sense and a penchant for Iron Maiden. But he became the Cliff Burton of our band, Salem Orchid.
Similarly, I don't remember meeting Jeff Godwin for the first time either. But he could play faster than any guitarist I had ever seen and was already a bona fide practicing Satanist, they were more than adequate credentials to play the lead in Salem Orchid.
The band was born in 1990, Godwin had suggested the name, and even went as far as trying to sue the record companies interested in the band if we used his name without paying him, when he left the band after only several months. I heard his next project only once, the interestingly named Salem Jade and they were rubbish. A talented man though. His replacement, ironically his guitar student, was Stephen Wood who introduced a more brutal and original direction for the Orchid. He was very much into Geordie from Killing Joke and primitive Kreator style riffs (and owned a Possessed t-shirt, I was so envious) and we wrote and recorded four new songs in that summer.
Due to the low production values of home recording we didn't think the tape suitable for circulation, it contained the songs, "Gehenna Topethe", "Unholy Trinity", "Carnival of Souls" and "The Litanys of Darkness". Salem Orchid played a succession of low key gigs in London, and we soon earned enough capital to afford to go to a proper studio to record our newer, more epic material.
In 1991 we distributed the demo tape containing the songs, "Sempiternal Suffering" and "The Nirvana of Agony", recorded at Perfect balance studios in Cowley or Uxbridge or somewhere, with photos of the band taken in Brompton cemetery, near to where Jason was living at the time. We thought it far more interesting to dress like Martin Eric Ain, in shirts and trousers with subtle Gothic make-up than to wear the same old jeans and T-shirt nonsense championed by others at the time. But people made rather an issue of it at the time, more so than the fact that we were a Satanic band.
One must remember that these were the days before the Black metal wave of '93/'94, when there was only Death metal or Gothic metal (whatever that is…..I seem to remember My Dying Brides first 7", "God is Alone" being labeled that) and we were (and are) non - conformists. Black metal was just the name of one of Venoms old records, not a musical movement, and the nearest thing to corpsepaint were those berks in Kiss or that curious fellow, King Diamond.
In the winter of 1991 the band played a handful of London gigs, although tension was twisting the internal politics of the band at this point. Mendonca and I were spending too much time being Satanic visionaries and not enough time practicing our instruments and we wrote only one more song together, which remains unrecorded to this day. "The Many Quixotic Passages to Faith" was to be our epitaph and 1992 saw nothing but dissention and Satanic hostility directed at each other. In retrospect I believe that we were too young to truly relate to our newly formed Infernal ethics and had unrealistic ideas about our Satanic powers. I would rather forget those days.
Salem Orchid was no longer a band, but Satanic dogma and to coin a metaphor, we had too many chiefs. Curiously enough, it was at this time that I introduced Peter Theobalds to Jason, and we encouraged him to learn the bass and we improvised together. One could call it a portent of things to come. But it was at least a year before I spoke to Jason on the telephone again.
A lot of darkness ensued, for both of us. I had retreated to Surrey after a hellish sojourn in Earls court and Jason had escaped to North London, where he remains to this day and he developed an interest in purely electronic music. We remained desperate until 1996, the year that finds me in Kensington west earning a few bob as a session drummer (nobody that you would have heard of) and both of us involved with small covens.
I have only fond memories of Akercocke's birth, a time of re-discovery and great enthusiasm. If memory serves me correct, and I think it does, we actually came up with the name Akercocke before we played a note or had the other members of the band. We were discussing how things may have been if the Orchid had remained together and we seriously considered some kind of reformation. But Steve was immersed in the world of Jazz, and had no interest in metal anymore, I recall him being at an early Akercocke gig and admitting that he wished he was onstage with us for a few moments though. Last time I saw him he was playing jazz in a bar in Islington, reading sheet music, perched on a stool, with short hair. A very different figure from the wild animal that once roamed the stage with us, grimacing and headbanging for Satan. He helped to define the sound of Akercoke through his time with us in Salem Orchid, his spiky, deranged, illogical music and solos created the catalyst for our future.
Dan temple was last heard of re-locating to Denmark I believe. Jason, Dan and I had dinner together in early '96, and I enjoyed his company greatly. I doubt I shall see him again.
We didn't waste much time deciding on their replacements and we talked Scanlan into playing with us fairly easily. We forced him to listen to "Infecting the crypts" by Suffocation and "Evil prayers" by Necromantia and we have never looked back. We first met Paul back in 1990 when his band used to support Salem Orchid, they were rubbish but he was and is an excellent performer and his shock of curious curls makes him shockingly recognizable.
His prolific writing ability is an incredible asset and his warped mind a terrific fuel for the fire. His dedication was absolute from the beginning, another of his virtues, as he was tired of playing the London pub circuit and tired of bedroom musicians.
Theobalds, however was not so sure. He was our first choice as bass player, as he possesses an unusual artistry in his rather unique playing. He had spent years playing the guitar in any tuning except the traditional and is totally self-taught, as we all are in Akercocke, thus he boasts an eccentric musical ability. But Peter is a text book Satanist and rarely gives loyalty (or consideration) to others and it took him at least a year of flirtation to commit totally to the band.
The first song that we wrote was called "Devil". Jason and I had decided to pursue the Faust theme reflected in our name (Akercocke being a capuchin monkey from Robert Nyes version of the Faust mythos) further and we intended to write a song for each of the words that Akercocke the monkey had inexplicably learnt to speak. Recited like a mantra, he breathed a guttural monotone, "Hell, God, Devil, Amen, Hey…" Frankly speaking, "Devil" wasn't very good. It was never recorded properly, and never will be, but it did have a couple of pretty necro moments.
"Hell" was written next, and with the addition of my lyrics became the first official Akercocke song. We wrote songs then as we do now, very erratically, the only difference being that now when we write music we know that others are going to hear it as well. Back in the beginning we made music purely for our own enjoyment, not knowing that there would be an audience for our unholy works. We still make the music that we want to hear and have never and will never compromise our work.
We then embarked on our succubae series of songs, one for each of the girls that Faust gives to his servant, Wagner. One for each of the six different languages that he speaks, "Zulieka", "Nadja", "Justine", "Marguerite and Gretchen" and "Salome" were all completed - although I didn't finish the lyrics for "Salome" as it lacked the cohesive strength of the other songs. "Jane" was the last girl in the list and we recorded several takes of this guitar only track but neither Jason or Paul was satisfied with it and the idea was abandoned.
Way back in '92, a new band called Cradle of Filth had written to me suggesting that we share gigs in London and Suffolk, to support the underground and that we would be impressed by their live set (Im paraphrasing Jon Pritchard) and probably sent a tape. My first impression was that they would never get anywhere with such a shit name! I told Paul Ryan as much several years later, and how wrong I was. So, Akercocke tore themselves away from their isolation in late '97 (I think) when the Filth played at the LA2 and we wandered backstage to meet these fellows. We bumped into Dani and introduced ourselves as being in Salem Orchid years back and were now playing in a new band.
He was polite enough to feign interest and pretend to remember and gave a decent handshake. Didn't offer me a drink though.
We decided to take our set to a live audience in 1998 in the small London pub called the Red Eye which was host to the Devils Church club, which was as far as we knew, the only metal club in town. We didn't know anybody in the building but, Mike, the promoter, was a fan of Salem Orchid and was an instant fan of Akercocke after our brief sound check. We decided rather early on that although we were playing metal music, we shouldn't pretend to be some sort of metal purists and adopt jeans and t-shirts just to perform, as that would be acting. Pretending to be something that we are clearly not. So, we elected for black suits, perfect dress for the gentleman attending a ritual chamber or perhaps a funeral. This gave us rather a lot of attention in the claustrophobic metal t-shirt environment of the Red Eye and it wasn't until we took to the stage that anybody realized that were even in a band. But we blasted, without fucking mercy. For Satan and the kids loved it.
Strangely enough, I can't seem to remember meeting Bonsoir for the first time either. But he was there at our first gig, behind the mixing desk, although he was a complete stranger to our songs, Jason knew him and had absolute faith in his ability. Gradually he began to have more and more input into the creative process of the band as well as the production and recording until he very naturally proved himself an invaluable member of Akercocke. He took it upon himself to record our set using our rehearsal space to capture a basic live performance and to embellish with vocals and electronics in his North London studio.
Those songs eventually became the album, "Rape of the Bastard Nazarene" which we created to circulate in London to the anxious punters who attended our gigs. We did print a few demo tape style cassettes with two songs as a sort of advanced listening opportunity which I am told are rather collectable now.
Somewhere along the line, we sent out a few CDR's to a few record companies and magazines and heard no particular response of note and carried on playing in London and worked on new material, starting with "The Horde of Qlippoth". Then from out of the blue came a request from Terrorizer magazine to go along to their then East end office and do an interview because they were really into the album. We were surprised and pleased as we read the magazine regularly, and considered it a great compliment to be worthy of coverage so early in the bands' existence.
Greg Whalen spoke to Jason and I one very clement evening, with Nick Terry lurking around and observing, this conversation ended up as the 'Upfront' piece on the band in the next edition of the magazine. But Nick Terry had also decided to make our debut, self-released CDR the album of the month. As soon as this appeared, we were inundated with advance orders and we hastily took guidance and financial assistance from fellow Satanist Simon Magus in order to satisfy the demand for albums and T-shirts.
In December of 1999 we played our biggest gig so far supporting Morbid Angel and Hecate Enthroned at the LA2 in central London, which exposed the profile of the band even further. This was the first of many gigs shared with Hecate Enthroned as we went on to play in Manchester, Bradford and London with them numerous times. I was unaware of how they sounded in '99 and only discovered their superb writing skills later upon listening to their albums repeatedly and they rapidly became one of my favorite bands.
Unfortunately they appear to lack credibility or something in some circles' which I find baffling, I don't understand why they are not the biggest Black metal band in the country.
The year 2000 saw us going on the road with Dismember and Infestation in England and Scotland and London enjoyed a lively underground metal scene with various local bands supporting each other, culminating in the Chuck Schuldiner tribute festival in the Red Eye. This involved eight or so Death metal bands all learning a Death cover each to close their sets and sending all of the proceeds of the sold-out show to the Schuldiner family as a gesture of respect. The Florida Death frontman had just undergone expensive surgery at the time. We opened our set with "Leprosy" and ended with "Evil dead".
July of the same year was the start of the recording process for our second release, as we had invested all of the bands earnings into creating a proper recording facility in our West London rehearsal studio. Martin and I commenced the recording of our second album and spent a week alone capturing the drums. With the patience of a (dark) saint and an incredible creative stamina I can honestly say that being under Bonsoirs guidance in the studio is a dream, and he always achieves the desired result.
Akercocke only appeared live for a few performances in the next six months, as we concentrated on making the best record that we could, and Martin and Jason set about the painstaking mixing process.
Throughout the year we had enjoyed the company of Mr.Paul Ryan, founding member of Cradle of Filth and Blood Divine now acting as a London gig promoter, who had arranged numerous opportunities for us to play. So when Peaceville records approached us to enquire as to what we would be looking for in a recording contract, he acted as a negotiator on our behalf as he already knew both parties and sits geographically between us in London and them in the North. Not that there was much to discuss, as Peaceville's deal concerned complete creative control remaining with Akercocke for a duration of three albums with an increase in subsequent advances.
2001 saw Akercocke undertake a new medium in which to communicate the word of Satan….video. Embarking on territory usually reserved for pop music bands we commenced working on making videos for two songs from our "Goat of Mendes" album. Along with Suzana Sjoqvist, the young lady responsible for our web-site, we filmed "Infernal Rites" to be included on the album as a video enhanced track. For the song "Horns of Baphomet" Paul Ryan suggested that we film a live performance at the Colchester Art center, a converted church, complete with enormous stained-glass windows intact. This video was to be used by Terrorizer magazine for their free CD edition, and was the location for their photo shoot.
As the publicity machine grinds into action to promote our second album, our first for Peaceville, we already feel the benefit of a large record company's support. The movers and shakers at Snapper music and Hammy and Lisa have created a plethora of interest with tremendous support from the metal press.
Lets hope that this is just the start of a beautiful relationship.
David Gray, June 2001