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Interviews Pagan Altar

Interview with Terry Jones (vocals) and Alan Jones (guitar)

Interview conducted by Cluedo

Date online: February 26, 2006

If there ever was a word to describe PAGAN ALTAR, it would have to be 'enigmatic'. Lost in the swamp of bands of the glorious metal/heavy rock scene of early Eighties Britain, PAGAN ALTAR has since made a reappearance after two decades of inactivity. Their astral aura emanating from the speakers of stereo systems and computers captured the imagination of a new generation of metal and rock fans, and made older fans realize the folly of their ways for passing over them all those years ago. With a new found popularity, Al, Terry, Trevor and Mark have resurrected the Sorcerer to cast His spell of occult doom on the music world. The Brothers Jones took some time out of their schedule to answer a few questions…the enigma has truly ended.

Hey guys, thanks for agreeing to the interview. I'm not one to start off an interview asking for a band to give their history, so let me instead start by asking what have you been up to since the band broke up? In my correspondence with Al, I discovered that a couple members of the band aren't feeling all too well.

(AL) I played in and started a few bands after the demise of Pagan altar, the main one probably being Malac's Cross which I set up with my sister on vocals. Pretty much the same thing happened with Malac's Cross-. With not many decent venues to play and no record company interest in rock bands at that time it is very hard to keep any sort of real momentum going. It's easier to just become a tribute band and mindlessly play pap in front of a drunken audience than write and play your own music.

(TERRY). I'd just had enough, you can only bang your head against the wall for so long, I figured I'd given it my best shot and no one seemed interested enough to give us a go so I thought fuck 'em I'll do something else and started up my own business's! I suppose you could describe having open-heart surgery as being considered not feeling too well although to be honest I didn't feel I had any symptoms until they wouldn't let me out of the hospital. I went in like Peter Pan and came out like the crocodile, ticking! Mind you, I'm getting over it but I have noticed sometimes the Mics in the studio pick it up and I have to stay clear of fridge magnets!

I have seen many older bands deride their early work, citing reasons such as an immature worldview and poor production amongst many things. Are you proud of your early work? Do the ideas and concepts expressed then still appeal to you now?

(TERRY). I personally am extremely proud of everything we have ever done, there are very few songs written by Al and I that we haven't used in some way shape or form. I can still listen to early-recorded tracks and think "I really love that bit" or "That has come out exactly how I had envisaged it at the time and it still stands up"!

It's usually a case that many artists in different fields secretly feel that their work is never quite finished and just needs a few more slight alterations. I have never felt that with ours, I wouldn't change anything so that has got to say something about how I feel about it.

(AL} Yes, I have always been proud of our early songs as well. When we first started recording the only effects a guitarist really had was a wah pedal and a phaser if you had a bit of money. We always tried to write good songs and hoped people would take into account the limited equipment we were using.

Would you care to comment on Nunhead Cemetery and how it and other elements contributed to your songwriting? What was the overall songwriting process like? I assume liberal amounts of drugs and alcohol were consumed…

(TERRY) Nunhead was a great source of inspiration and material as anyone who has ever visited the place would testify and you can certainly feed off the vibes quite easily as nothing much as changed over the last 100 years. Early morning or dusk was always a good time especially when it was misty, the only ones who probably wouldn't be spooked by it were the dead themselves!

(AL) I hated having photo shoots in Nunhead because every time we did someone would leave and we would have to go though all the songs again from the start. As for drugs and alcohol, the band never had a lot of time for that I'm afraid but a quite a few people around the band did!

The theatrical aspect of your live performances is still etched in the memories of those who have seen you play. Would you care to describe these live performances for the benefit of our readers who have yet to seen you play? What were your reasons for having this theatrical element? Did you enjoy playing live?

(AL) I have always enjoyed playing live. That is the whole reason you do it, to get that buzz. There is nothing like it when everything goes right and you have an audience really behind you. Mind you getting back to reality can be a real come down after a good night.

(TERRY) I always believed that any kind of stage presentation should augment and enhance certain aspects of the music otherwise what's the point! You can have a million and one pyros going off and the audience thinks that's pretty and totally forgets what the music's about. So the whole production has to be thoroughly thought out and put together to make it work and scan properly, I would like to think that we achieved this to some degree.

Now that you are back in the scene, will there be/have there been any more live shows?

(AL) We are planning to play our first gig in 20 odd years in Athens in front of the fan club that has been set up out there by our good friend Themis pamfilos. Once we have done that and if things have gone OK we will have to see if anybody else would like us to play anywhere!

I understand you had a few problems filming your shows back in the eighties. Are you planning on releasing a DVD of old footage, if there is any left?

(AL) I don't know where this myth started about us making loads of videos. We attempted to make two videos both of which were a disaster sound wise and to watch. It was when video cams had just come out on sale and no one really knew how to use them in a live band situation and these guys were no exception. The first one we had arranged privately in a hired Church hall and because of all the smoke you could see bugger all! The acoustics of the place were horrid from a recording point of view with frequencies bouncing all over the place. A porno film crew filmed the other one and it looked like it, they were everywhere! The cameraman pulled the lead out of the camera at the beginning of on the first number and totally missed the whole stage beginning with the cloaks and everything. He kicked out some of the flash bombs and pyros while he was walking and crawling around on stage and generally moved all over the place constantly changing the sound and the volume making it sound like an incoherent mess. Mind you we did capture a hell of a lot of frames off it that we have since used in the bio.

Do you feel indebted to bootlegging and mp3s for keeping the name of PAGAN ALTAR alive in this age?

(AL) Yes and no! If they had charged people a fair price for a sub standard article due to the poor sound quality we would have been quite happy with that! To charge ridiculous amounts for something we know was taken from a standard TDK D was taking the piss and we couldn't let this continue so we brought out the CD. We do all agree however that he actually kept us alive when we would possibly have sunk without trace!

I have an old recording of some of your songs (bootlegged – I'm sorry) and I notice that Terry's 'slurred' (for want of a better word) style is lacking on newer recordings. Was this a conscious effort on Terry's part to make his style more coherent? I find the older style more charming…

(AL) (Laughs) Probably, this original style as you call it was the result of us both having the flu at the time we did the recording with a pile of tissues in the room. If you listen to my backing vocals they are the same.

(TERRY) We have always tried our best to get the vocals at least audible but you can only do what your equipment will allow and a TEAC bounced down onto a Revox was not exactly state of the art even for then! It also depends very much on what you are singing about as to how you handle each song and having a somewhat limited range such as I have you have to think very carefully about how you wish to put it over. Sometimes lyrics need to be heard clearly otherwise they can be misconstrued or misinterpreted. I think it is now a universal trait that listeners are extremely interested in what a song has to say far more than they were and with the advantage of far more up to date equipment hopefully we can now achieve this!

You had some interesting promotional tactics (the wallpapering of Bow church springs to mind). Would you care to enlighten our readers about this episode? Do you have any similar strategies planned now that you have reformed?

(AL) I don't think we will be jumping out the back of any more vans with buckets of paste and posters at midnight anymore, for one I don't think we'd be able to get back in the van. The Internet now does all the advertising for you without getting out of your chair.

(TERRY) We are getting a bit long in the tooth for those antics now but if push comes to shove I'm sure I can find some willing bodies to do a bit of PR work for us! Mind you thinking about it with the Pagan Altar Templars fan club now up and running I'm sure they will do all that is necessary to advertise the fact that we are playing anywhere! The trouble with the Internet is it can make you lazy as it is so easy to pass on information, people don't even consider pasting a poster on a moving bus anymore, can't think why not!

You seem to have a great interest in Stonehenge and Avebury. Would you like to say something about this passion? Also, I understand that a Stone Circle was constructed in Brockley a few years ago. I don't suppose you had anything to do with this?

(TERRY) With regard to the stone sites you mention I think a lot of the mystery that surrounds them is mainly due to the fact that there are so many different concepts as to why they were built, how they were built and what they were used for! This leaves the subject open to personal interpretation and conjecture so when it comes to writing about it no one can say for certain "No that's wrong!" I must say though, and anyone who has visited the sites will possibly agree they do have a special aura and feel to them, slightly dark but not particularly menacing and very Pagan!

(AL) In Brockley they put the stones on the putting green at hilly fields, which is just up the road from me. It reminds me a bit of spinal tap because the biggest stone is about 4 ft high. You would have to be a dwarf to appreciate the magnitude of them! Not very astral I'm afraid…. unless you're a Hobbit!

I have read that during the peak of your early songwriting, you were fairly oblivious to your contemporaries of the NWOBHM scene. What made you ignore the musical trend that was going on around you at the time?

(AL) A lot of the bands round us at the time were going down the Judas Priest road of speed riffs, which is fine but didn't suit our writing especially with the amount of words Terry puts into a song. We did write a couple that you could call NWOBHM, or as near to it as we were going to get.

(TERRY) I'm afraid, to my eternal shame, I never really listened to very much of what was going on musically around me at time with the exception perhaps of Jethro Tull whom I still admire, I could never find the time. I just appreciate Ian Anderson's timing and phrasing that gets him by even without having the greatest vocal range in the world! Apparently someone called us a fluteless Jethro Tull recently, I don't know if he meant it in derogatory terms but to me he couldn't have paid us a higher compliment!

On that note, do you think that you will be incorporating some of the facets of current rock and metal in your new recordings?

(AL) No, I think we have got set in our ways writing and probably wouldn't be able to change. I think there is enough bands out there playing that way anyway so there wouldn't be any point.

(TERRY) I have a tendency to write quite a lot of lyrics to songs and have found that if in rehearsals the song is played slightly faster than it was written I have great difficulty in getting the words in and it sounds like gibberish! I like to incorporate a lot of descriptive lyrics into a song and as I cant hold a note very well and tend to use a lot of words to cover that fact. With really fast songs you don't need so many words but have to hold more notes at some point! As for the guttural, growling vocals I probably would only last a couple of minutes before it tore my throat out, so, no I think we'll stay as we are, I don't think some of the new mode of Metal would suit us particularly anyway!

You didn't garner much appreciation from the national music press at the time. How did that make you feel then and do you care much about it now?

(AL) At the time it was pretty frustrating because we were young and felt our music was as good as anybody else's and nobody would give us a chance, but now with the Internet and good friends around the world we can do albums for people that really want to hear us and it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks anymore!

(TERRY) 'Bout says it all!

Do you ever think of 'what might have been' had you been able to afford to tour with METALLICA, and if you had released your single through Abbey Road Studio?

(AL) Not really, I think anybody that has ever been in a band has got a near miss story to tell where if only we had done this or done that we could have made it. We did have a bit of bad luck along the way the same as everyone else but we also made a few bad choices as well. In the end we just did it solely because we loved it and had a really good time in doing so and sod what anyone else thought!

How did you get to know that whilst PAGAN ALTAR was inactive, you had a growing fan base? How did it feel to know that you had a fan base you were totally unaware of?

(TERRY) Originally a friend told us that inferior quality bootlegs were being sold at ridiculous prices on the Internet and we just felt we couldn't allow that to continue unabated so we dug out the old master tapes and produced the first CD to be sold at the standard rate to usurp the bootlegs! Neither Alan or I possessed a computer at the time so getting the ball rolling was quite difficult at first as we had to rely on others to set up the website and the info on it etc and we are still having some problems resulting from that, but I wont go into that now! Believe me when I say no one was more taken aback than us when people started mailing us, we just couldn't get our heads around the fact that there were so many out there, nice though! After years of nobody really giving a shit to receive the reaction we did gave us a tremendous boost and certainly inspired us to carry on and start to produce the rest of the material. Without them I don't think we would have bothered, well I know for a fact we wouldn't have because without them we are nothing!

I wonder if you would be keen to share any interesting anecdotes regarding the PAGANMOBILE.

(TERRY) I think we have gone to some length in the bio to cover this subject and I would only be reiterating what is on there but I will say from a promotional viewpoint as well as the source of many laughs it was one of the best adverts we ever had as it was notorious locally!

I understand you now are unable to use The Pagan Studio. Has this been a great loss? Do you feel the studio greatly contributed to the ambience of Pagan Altar's music?

(AL) Although we have lost the old studio I don't think it will make a great deal of difference to the sound overall. The new studio has just been completed and will make life a lot easier for us this time around. I will miss the atmosphere of the old one though as you remember the laughs, hopes and dreams we had there and that still haunt the place! But I certainly wont miss the smell of feet and armpits from people especially drummers sweating their nuts off in eight-hour sessions with no real ventilation or air conditioning!

Will you still be using production equipment from the late 70s and 80s in an effort to replicate that 'authentic' PAGAN ALTAR sound? Will you be taking advantage of modern production techniques?

(AL) We are using reasonably new equipment now, but it still just keeps coming out sounding like something out of 1974 as you can tell by the Lords of Hypocrisy album! I think the next one will be very much the same but we can achieve a much cleaner basic sound to work with now especially in the drum department and bottom end and that in turn should have a knock on effect with the other instruments and vocals etc!

Whilst the band was inactive, did you keep in touch with the ghost in the studio? Also, could you tell us about how you "were in the process of doing a rough mix to see how it sounded when (you) noticed a female voice singing along in harmony"? I don't suppose this recording will ever see the light of day…

(AL) That tape got lost along with a lot of other stuff including the master for our Abbey rd single but may eventually turn up again in a clear out, who knows! Don't forget you are talking over twenty years ago and think how many of your own personal effects have disappeared seemingly without trace in that time!

In 'Behind the Cloak' I realized that drummers have faced a revolving door. Ivor Harper puts this down to the inability of most of your drummers to dictate the subtlety of the tempo changes. What do you feel are the contributing factors to this situation?

(AL) All drummers are mental, they will never do what you want, they smash their way through rehearsals even when everybody else has stopped, and if you ask them to do something different they get all defensive and sulk and that's just the good ones, Ha Ha!<|p>

(TERRY) It may possibly be due to the fact that a lot of Pagan Altar material is quite varied and requires so many different interpretations as will be self-evident once we release the remaining albums. I think Israeli John was the only one that could really encompass all facets of Pagan Altars music and when he disappeared we found it very hard to replace him!

IRON MAIDEN has Eddie. MEGADETH has Vic. PAGAN ALTAR has the Sorcerer. Tell us a bit about the history of the Sorcerer. Do you think that in a decade (three decades too late, mind), the everyday metalhead/rock fan will point to the Sorcerer and say 'PAGAN ALTAR, hell yeah!'?

(AL) The inspiration for the Sorcerer came from the song of the same name that will be featured on the next album, ' Mythical and Magical'. We wanted something very dark and Pagan but not necessary evil for our logo and one that was memorable without looking corny and I think in that we succeeded.

(TERRY) I think the sorcerer's head has now become synonymous with Pagan Altar and people see it as such, which was very much as we intended! A local artist, who, I would think is totally unaware of the extent her work has now become recognized, undertook the original artwork, which I believe cost us a couple of rounds of drinks!

So, when can we expect the "Mythical and Magical" album to be released? Do you see PAGAN ALTAR carrying on recording for some time to come?

(AL) This album will be ready when it's ready this time, I would like to do it in our own time and not try and cram everything at the last minute like on Lords of Hypocrisy. A few hold ups including Terry illness have set us back quite a bit but at the time of writing things are at last beginning to get back to some sort of order!

(TERRY) I would very much like to think that we would carry on recording for as long as people are prepared to listen, but I think at least another two or three albums are more than possible!

23. On a light note, Arsenal, Chelsea, Charlton, Spurs or West Ham?

(AL) Millwall.

(Terry) Cowdenbeath FC. (Scottish 3rd Div) (Mark) West Ham United (Trev) Newcastle United.

I could go on all day asking you questions but I'm sure you have more pressing matters at hand. On behalf of everyone at THE METAL CRYPT, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to share your thoughts with us. If you have anymore to add, now is your chance…

(AL) We both would like to thank everyone out there for the support and encouragement they have shown us and we hope to see as many of you as we can next year.

(TERRY) Thank you for your personal interest in Pagan Altar and the time and effort you put into preparing this interview, as it is usually a totally forgotten labour!

Other information about Pagan Altar on this site
Review: Lords of Hypocrisy
Review: Mythical & Magical
Review: Mythical & Magical
Review: The Time Lord
Review: The Room of Shadows

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