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This interview is part of the italian article entitled "New Wave Of British Heavy Metal: Una Retrospettiva".
Firstly, I wish to thank Mr. Meckiffe of the former Demon Pact for his time and his kindness in helping me finishing this little article about the NWOBHM that should give our readers an idea how it was back than in that golden era for metal in the UK.
Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Phil Collins… what about metal musicians? So far I know none was honoured with the title yet. Is it a social issue? Where most families of NWOBHM musicians were socially situated?
Donald Meckiffe: Well, in my opinion for Demon Pact, we were pretty much middle class/lower middle class of the time. The school (Hayes) that we went to was comprehensive (all ability), but was kind of a show-piece and was pretty well funded. It wasn't the sink school, but it was mixed ability with streaming (better prepared kids in separate classes). The school and area are more desirable now than in our day. But this part of Bromley is solidly middle-class. See the details about Iain's Mom lending him the car and the fact that we all still lived with our parents at the time. Sally Jones (Richard's girlfriend and organiser of band logistics) was the daughter of a senior policeman.
How is the feeling in 2012 when a label (High Roller Records) spends time and money for your records ("Released From Hell"), so that the public can enjoy them?
I am a bit bemused by the whole thing. I am always surprised that anybody is interested in it at all, as we broke up in September 1981 and we were never particularly big or important in the scene. My guess is that younger people maybe think that a music scene like this was all more "authentic" back then, without the same pressures and knowledge of commercialism… kids just doing their stuff without reading "how to" articles on the internet?
How was it back then? Where did the bands mostly play concerts? In pubs, clubs or even at festivals?
For Demon Pact it was pubs, clubs, youth facilities etc. Nationally touring bands like Def Leppard, Saxon or Girlschool would support someone like Motorhead AC/DC or Judas Priest at bigger venues. For most of us locally based bands it was the pubs and clubs which had been opened up by punk. These smaller venues also allowed new wave bands from other genres to play as well. The whole thing was pretty close-in. Bands would come round often, fans could follow them around and see them repeatedly. I saw Angel Witch dozens of times all over the London area. Fans of other bands would do the same. In this environment bands developed loyal local followings etc., much like the punk scene a couple of years earlier.
Was the whole limited on the region you lived or you also had chances to travel a little bit?
I don't remember travelling more than 40 miles for a gig (this is London so that's still quite a lot). Richard wanted to tour nationally, but like the story in the liner notes details, I was not going to go.
Why are there people comparing to or even saying that Demon Pact was a copy of Venom?
I would guess it's because the whole NWOBHM thing is now looked at in retrospect. With the computer cataloguing and organization of all the bands that has gone on, it seems to contemporary people that the bands are all close together. We did not have the detail that is available on computers now. We had no idea of Venom at that time. We were South London and they were from the North and had no profile at that time. At the broadest level, both bands have the whole "demon" thing going on and a singer who can't really sing. Not singing is important to the people who care about this sort of thing because of the influence on various later metal genres (Death Metal etc.). We couldn't see what was going on in the same detail as you can now. We were happening at the same time as very early Venom, but they were certainly not on our radar. NWOBHM bands were all pulling from the same context/zeitgeist (Sabbath, Zeppelin, Purple, AC/DC, Motorhead and crucially the whole ethic of DIY from punk). Although I couldn't sing, because I had punk friends who were in bands, then I felt it didn't matter if I couldn't sing properly. My friends were in bands, but I liked the heavy stuff, so I combined some of the punk attitude hooked up with other friends like Alan and Richard who were more interested in the musicianship. They put up with the fact I couldn't sing because I had stage presence/attitude and look. This sort of thing happened with many bands. I didn't become aware of Venom (well… Cronos) until 1984, when I wrote a comic skit (featuring Cronos vs Thor) for Kerrang! (May '84) with Geoff Barton and Pete Cronin (photographer). If we look/sound similar to early Venom, then it's because both bands were swimming in the same broad context of punk rock, no good jobs and cutting and pasting from the same materials, (the bigger bands combined with punk attitude and speed) like everybody else. Venom pushed forward and got noticed, but it wasn't some kind of genius innovation… someone was going to do something like that at that time.
How would you feel to be a superstar like the members of Iron Maiden, with such a long career?
Never thought of myself as a superstar. My ambitions were just to play at the time, with and in front of buddies/contemporaries. I never thought of it as having staying power. Again, this was like the hundreds of punk bands that would form and then disappear.
Which LPs did you listen to mostly at that time and how is you musical taste today, so far you still have time for music?
At the time I was all metal all the time (except for early U2 via one of my punk friends). AC/DC were my favourites (esp. Bon Scott and his lyrics). Judas Priest, Saxon, Motorhead, early Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Purple, Sabbath a bit, Zeppelin, Angel Witch, I even liked 1970's Kiss, Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult. These days I listen to all kinds of stuff, new and old. I like the old folk singers like James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carol King. I came to appreciate 1980's acts like Hall and Oates and even some of Duran Duran. I quite like the modern bands that draw from the old styles, eg. Muse, Arctic Monkeys. Mumford and Sons, Amy Winehouse, Adele etc. I have a much wider palette now.
How do you consider your experiences with Demon Pact focusing on your personal development during the years that followed? Did those experiences mark your character in a particular way?
That's a good question. For my personality, then it was probably the DIY aspect of the whole thing that was influential. If you want to do it then go and do it and don't worry about what people think. I took up production motorcycle racing in 1982… friends followed me into that. The atmosphere was similar to the band in some ways, very amateur, run and gun, just getting on with it. When I went to university in 1987, it wasn't for a job or career, it was to study what I was interested in at the time (the USA). Just dropped my job and did something else. When I had the chance to study TV, then I came to the States. So yes… the DIY get on with it, do it until it runs its course, does seem to characterize me a bit.
People thinking of Great Britain think also often of soccer, skinheads and violence. I think that metal fan also found their place in the stadium on Sundays. Can you please tell us if there were frictions between the different subcultures during the matches (and/or outside of the Arena)?
I didn't really follow football. There was a kind of tribal aspect to which subculture (mod, rocker, punk, soulboy, skinheads etc) that you were from in general. For the most part I didn't get too bothered. The main antagonism I remember was the disco/soulboy element because of the differences in clothing and smartness. The skinheads were a bit worrying (got beaten up for having long hair by a gang when I was about 17), but they hated everybody.
I personally appreciate the fact that the NWOBHM was a temporary limited movement that is not suitable for revivals, just for influence. On the other hand it is a shame that most of the bands didn’t leave a fundamental mark on the music played today and it is limited to few groups appreciating the music born during those years full of innovation and is, sometimes, just a “secret pleasure” for some musician. What is your opinion about such a lack of interest?
I'm surprised that anybody (even if only a few musicians/afficianados) is interested at all. I can see that if you are into the history of heavy metal music and all its forms then knowing about the NWOBHM is key. For me, NWOBHM is not significant because it was particularly sonically interesting, but because it was the link to punk and all of that attitude; DIY, speed, energy, recombination etc. The reason NWOBHM came out of the UK, was because of punk, which generated all kinds of innovations/reactions across the board (New Romantics, New Wave, Electronic etc., etc.). Context was also important. There were very few good jobs and not many people did higher education. You had lots of fairly intelligent kids (baby boom in UK was from 1955 -1966) with nothing to do. All of this musical innovation somewhat came out of that boredom and pointlessness that had helped to generate punk. NWOBHM was a kind of a secondary ripple, but then that rippled out into all the other sub-genres of metal.
If you look at the life in the street today and you compare it with the years when you were the "bad boys", which do you think are the greatest differences in the way the young people live and have fun?
Well… what I notice now is the sheer media difference that young people have with cell phones and computers and video games. These are some heavy distractions and they are infinitely variable and challenging. In my day if you were having trouble with a girl, you would have to fantasize/worry about what she was doing or thinking. Now kids can just stalk each other on Facebook. Instead of writing a song about frustration, maybe guys can send a troll note. We had so much less to go on. Album covers, the albums themselves, half-known and remembered information that would be circulated. I remember lots of time trawling to find records. Now, those kinds of things are much easier / less exciting in some ways. In terms of media / music / video it's the sheer availability that strikes me. Cell-phones allow for constant connection to buddies in a way not possible back in the 1970's. I lived a lot more in my own mind back in those days. There’s a lot more distraction these days… you've got to work at being bored in 2012… boredom was big back in the 1970’s.
Where there other bands in your region you played with or had contact and was there a spirit of concurrence among them?
With my close friend's bands (who weren’t metal in many cases) I felt a kinship (esp. Matthew Newman and Case), but for Richard I think it was more competitive… he would mention Dervish and where they were playing etc., but I wasn’t bothered… just doing my own thing.
I don't know if you can talk also for other bands… was the music of Demon Pact in your conscience at that time more rock ('n'roll) or definitively metal?
Speaking for myself, I considered us metal. Like I said, I had pretty narrow tastes back in those days. I think the difference between rock and metal is the narrowness. I consider Zep or Purple to be rock bands because they were quite wide ranging. Priest or Motorhead I consider metal because they were narrower… we were kind of narrow, so I would say metal.
If you could travel back in time, would you do something on a different way for the future of Demon Pact?
No, I think it was what it was… just one of those little flashes of activity that left a small trace. Really, during the 1980’s and 1990’s it was something that I barely remembered. I went out with girls and never even told them I was in a band. Not because I was ashamed or anything… it just didn’t come up. It was only when the internet ballooned (1999 or so), that it all started popping up again on the back of another generation finding the old single etc.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: "Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don't bite everybody". Great Britain seems to have many "good" fleas but, in a heavy metal contest, the country lives mostly of few monsters. Why do you think Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Bolt Thrower did it, while other were condemned to play at home and often for a short time only?
Like I keep saying, punk was the key innovation and that was the same… as NWOBHM in that bands would come and go. Nowadays middle-class college kids look at rock / pop music as a career option… it was simply not like that back in the late 1970's. We didn't know anything and were just doing a lot of blundering around (see the bad gig stories on the sleeve). Now bands can see success stories, learn how to "present" themselves "promote" themselves etc. Also for national / international recognition you need a full record contract. There were only a few big record companies and they will choose only a couple of artists for each genre. Really, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were the two bands that have international recognition that came out of NWOBHM (Judas Priest also morphed after punk). Like you said… the genre is influential, but most of the bands will never be famous.
Can you please tell us something about the provocation in your music? So far I know the words in your songs were quit direct…
Personally, I always thought the devil/demon stuff was a bit chintzy. I was much more interested in the sexual side as the "motor" for the whole thing (hence the liking for Bon Scott / Rob Halford). Obviously Eaten Alive is all about sex and Tight Fit was in the same mode. Alan and Richard were much more into the whole demons stuff. I was impressed by the play with the sexual stuff, the stage personae / act would include elements of masturbation mimicry and orgasm faces as a kind of fun/punky thing. You know… "Jailbait", "Strutter", "Christine Sixteeen", "Whole Lotta Rosie", "Pour Some Sugar On Me", "Soulstripper", "Dirty Deeds", "Hell Bent For Leather". I was coming from that angle.
Which was your best experience during your time with Demon Pact and which was the worst?
Best experience was playing a gig with Case (Matthew Newman's "Oi" band). We had all been friends at school, the lines between genres didn't matter. They sang our songs, we sang theirs and I ended up air guitaring with an inflatable dolphin… bunch of kids having fun in front of their fans / mates… a good time. Worst experience was the whole Erith thing that we detail in the sleeve notes. Pointless. Richard talking the band up to the proprietors of the place… neither having a clue. Complete disaster… although I guess it's a good story now though.
I never saw a live video of Demon Pact; would you please try to describe us how the performance was?
Well, I suppose the notable thing about our performance live was my act (although I couldn't have done it without the musicianship of Alan, Roy, Richard and especially Iain). As I mentioned, I was putting on a kind of crazed sexually impelled act. There was a lot of physicality, face pulling and full on headbanging from myself. There was a lot of goading of the audience, a lot of puncturing of the image of the traditional front man (my punk leanings). It was my act that got Roy involved. Didn't always go down with everybody though. I remember at the Dutchhouse in Sidcup, that the audience was kind of split. Those that liked the piss-take and sheer energy / aggressiveness vs. those that probably didn't like the tone of "ripping" the genre and a singer who couldn't sing. I kind of made myself a spectacle. I will say that Iain, in particular, provided our band with a lot of power. He was really young and "up for it". The drum kit was huge and he would knock the shit out of it very skilfully… really I thought he was great. Richard appeared as a more menacing silent character slashing away at the guitar and Alan and Roy really teamed up well with Iain for base rhythm. Whether people really liked the band really depended upon how they responded to my physical shtick and overlooking the fact that I could not sing.
Well, that's all (honestly, I would like to ask much, much more…). Thank you very much for your patience, time, kindness and I wish you everything well for you private and professional future.
I didn't sing like Di Anno, but if you look at the film of this fairly early Iron Maiden, then this is what the audiences were like. Close in, thrashing away, knowing the songs, seeing the bands repeatedly in short periods of time. As I look at it now, the closeness to punk is what really strikes me… despite the musicianship and song topics.