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Harv Harbinson (Stormzone)

Interview with Harv Harbinson from Stormzone
by YngwieViking at 14 August 2013, 11:18 PM

Irish Heavy Metal royalty STORMZONE has an edge over many bands in the form of their phenomenal singer, Harv Harbinson. Through sheer good fortune, Metal Temple’s YngwieViking got to ask the living legend his vocal secrets and inspirations – answers to which Harbinson generously provided. With a network that covers DEEP PURPLE, SAXON, and TYGERS OF PAN TANG, STORMZONE seems well in their way into making a permanent mark in the Metal scene, and Harbinson doesn’t shy from wearing his heart on his sleeve by professing an undying loyalty to true, raw, and quality Metal. 

​​​Hi Harv, how have you been? Great to have you for this interview, a true pleasure.​​​

Hi, and absolutely no problem at all. Metal Temple has always supported STORMZONE through the years and been there for us from the very beginning!

​​​First I believe that Three Kings is a solid album and a great return in fine shape for STORMZONE. What will be your words to describe it?​​​

Well I guess you described it perfectly there: a solid return to form. Not that I think our last two albums were weak, quite the contrary, but after listening to reviews and going through some changes in the guitar ranks we knew we had the opportunity this time to really bring out the best in the band, to expose more of what we thought originally brought the band to people's attention and then give the songs that special production that we've been developing and improving over the years. This is our fourth album and hopefully it shows just how hard we work at trying to improve with sound and songwriting. It's a 'coming-of'age' album, because after four albums, and being told in most reviews that this is the best STORMZONE album so far, we now know we've grown up to a stage where we can work like this from now on, store the production settings because they are obviously working, and definitely not change our writing procedure because we're creating songs that most people are really happy hearing!

​​​Can you first tell us about yourself, your background as a singer, and your past or actual involvement in other bands or projects?​​​

I've always been primarily interested in singing rock music and emulating the vocals of singers I was influenced by such as David Coverdale, Dio, Bruce Dickinson and Geoff Tate. I wasn't born with the obvious or natural ability to sing, so I had to decide that singing was the road I would travel down in order to be in a band and then have to teach myself how to do it. I would spend hours each night in my bedroom at my parent's with a towel covering my nose and mouth like a kind of volume protector and sing along to IRON MAIDEN and WHITESNAKE songs with headphones on. Even with the towel dampening the singing, which back then wasn't particularly good, it must have sounded just awful! Leaving school I had the chance to be in several bands and left the bedroom and towel behind for the luxury of rehearsals and singing through a PA system. Some of them were awful, and the towel in the bedroom seemed a better option! But gradually I met some great musicians and as I improved as a singer so did the quality of musicians I was able to associate with. I quickly got a decent reputation on the local scene as someone who could sing all these songs that rock musicians wanted to have a go at, and this was the early '80's so NWOBHM was still in full swing and metal was really exciting. Listening to bands such as SAXON, DIAMOND HEAD, IRON MAIDEN, TYGERS OF PAN TANG, and PRAYING MANTISS etc… I mean, wow, there had been nothing like it before and you thought if you could master that style then you were sure to get into a successful band. Being from Northern Ireland though meant it was really hard to get the attention of the bands and record companies who were progressing over in England and further afield such as Germany. One band from Northern Ireland that we all looked up to was SWEET SAVAGE. They were at the top of their game while I was still learning to sing, and going to see them purely as a Metal fan when they were supporting MOTORHEAD and THIN LIZZY, I never dreamed that one day I would be singing alongside most of the members of that band. When Vivian Campbell left SWEET SAVAGEto join DIO they reinvented themselves with a frontman instead of bass/vocals. I was still a fan and would go see them with this line-up and I slipped in and out of various local acts. I lived quite close to drummer Davy Bates and having chatted to him at several gigs he visited me and said that something had happened to have made him quit SWEET SAVAGE. We stayed in touch and when guitarist Speedo Wilson also left the band we formed a band called SEVENTH DAWN. Soon afterwards SWEET SAVAGE called it a day and we teamed up with bassist Raymie Haller. I was now singing with all the members of SWEET SAVAGE that I had watched as a fan. We changed our name to EMERALD and developed as a band for quite a few years supporting WASP and Rory Gallagher among others along the way. In the meantime Vivian Campbell, who was by now with WHITESNAKE, had joined us onstage at different gigs, so you can imagine what a thrill that was and how I looked around and said to myself that at last, I'd arrived! In the meantime I had worked with other great musicians such as the band NO SWEAT and an excellent guitarist called Misha Calvin. Through my association with him word spread to the DEEP PURPLE management that a new singer was doing the rounds back when Ian Gillan had just left the band and they were looking for a replacement. I never actually got to audition for them, I think they went for Joe Lynn Turner right away at the time, but it was great to know that such a legendary act had taken the time to listen to my demos!

​​​Please share more information and memories about your days with EMERALD, SWEET SAVAGE and DEN OF THIEVES (Conspiracy is still a favorite of mine). I want to know everything!​​​

EMERALD was a great band and the musicians fantastic friends, but there was always the threat to me there that at some point someone would step in and offer them the chance to put SWEET SAVAGE back together again, and this happened around 1994. I of course understood and wished them all the best. Bassist Raymie phoned me and explained everything and at that time it was up to me whether or not I wanted to hang around to see if the SWEET SAVAGE thing would work out and, if not, put EMERALD back together again. I didn't do much for a few months other than diversify into singing for some bands on the cover circuit. I wasn't even singing rock necessarily, maybe doing a night's singing involving songs by Tom Jones or Elvis, but it kept my voice in shape and I was able to earn some money and maintain my status as a singer. So when I was approached by a great bunch of guys who had been in different bands to see if I would be interested in singing with them while I was waiting on the SWEET SAVAGE situation to develop I really had no hesitation in saying yes. This band became DEN OF THIEVES and what was only supposed to be an interim band became one which lasted until 2000 and released two albums, Honour Amongst Thieves and Conspiracy. We were signed to Zero Corporation in Japan but towards the end of the '90's rock and metal was put on the back burner by most companies in favour of grunge bands and NIRVANA and PEARL JAM were really what most bands and labels were interested in around that time. Zero Corporation went bust and DEN OF THIEVES didn't seem a viable option to put a lot of time and effort into as no matter how hard we tried back then we just couldn't get any label to take our brand of Classic Rock and Metal seriously any more. So we decided to amicably disband and for the next five years until I formed STORMZONE in 2005 I played in a WHITESNAKE tribute band and another band dedicated to covering songs from the '80's called ROCK OF AGES. Both bands had basically the same members and STORMZONE would spring from the members of both!

​​​What about your short collaboration with “Fast” Eddie Clarke and John McManus under the FASTWAY moniker - can you tell us a little more?​​​

I had released the first STORMZONE album and it had found it's way into the hands of Eddie Clarke through my good friend and agent Steve Strange. Eddie wanted to put FASTWAY back together for a series of European and Japanese festivals, Steve was drumming and John McManus was on bass. Originally the bassist was supposed to be SWEET SAVAGE bassist Raymie Haller, and the decision to go with John instead of him probably impacted greatly on my own stay with the band. Steve had been talking to me for months about the potential FASTWAY had to elevate my profile as we were going to play on huge stages such as Graspop and Sweden Rock etc, much bigger than anything I'd ever experienced before. I went to London and met Eddie, we got along really well, and Steve rang to tell me this and said he was really impressed with my singing on 'Caught in the Act'. Eddie posted some CDs of FASTWAY songs he wanted me to sing and it was arranged that rehearsals would begin in London five or six weeks before the festivals began. I rehearsed on my own in Belfast coming to terms with the vocal style required to try to emulate Dave King, the previous FASTWAY singer. He's a fantastic singer, very much in the style of Robert Plant, and while this wasn't exactly a range I was totally comfortable with, I was confident enough that I could deliever the songs well. Eddie, Steve and John rehearsed the music together for a few weeks and then I was invited to London to put everything together with vocals. We had a few rehearsals, all day affairs and very intense, knowing the festivals were beginning just weeks later. I had memorized all the lyrics and thought I'd come to terms with what was needed to sing them to the satisfaction of their creator, Eddie Clarke. I returned one weekend from London though and the lines of communication seemed to disappear. I was beginning to panic as I thought I'd said something to the legend that had pissed him off or offended him. A few more days and nothing, and then I finally got a call from Steve saying that they'd agreed they wanted to try someone else. I was really devastated as I saw the opportunities to play at all the festivals I'd dreamed about disappearing in a single conversation. I couldn't believe it. I accepted it quickly though and thanked God that I hadn't given everything up to rely on FASTWAY. I knew that even at best the band would only be doing festival shows and sporadic dates and not enough to leave STORMZONE to concentrate on solely. So it turned out that the new FASTWAY singer was announced a few days later - Toby Jepson, who was managed by John Mcmanus!

​​In my review for the superb Three Kings I stated that the album is pretty much dominated by the NWOBHM style and as a big fan of the first album, it’s for me the real heritage of that particularly successful mix of AOR and British Metal with strong vocals that hit home. What is your feelings about this quotation?​​​

Well for me there was no better period than NWOBHM for brilliant Metal and atmosphere at concerts and pubs just talking about all the great bands that were emerging back then. It is, of course, important for people to look at us as a band for the future, but also a band proud to be able to take what we were influenced by in the past and make modern audiences aware of where the excitement and power all came from. It's great for us to be able to get reviews and interviews and for young people to be reading about NWOBHM and then discovering it for themselves as a result of our reference. Then they can hear the first maiden albums with Paul DiAnno, hear Bruce Dickinson with SAMSON, DEF LEPPARD before they became so commercial and then hear a band such as DIAMOND HEAD and go, wow, I thought that was a METALLICA song when they hear 'Am I Evil' and suddenly get a little education as to the origins of the music we love so much!

​​In the same review, I also pointed that the production is much better than “Death Dealer” or “Zero to Rage”. Does it mean that financial help provided by your new label was more comfortable or it’s just because of a new way of work while crafting STORMZONE’s sound?​​​

Our new label, Metal Nation, has been absolutely supportive of everything STORMZONE needs to make advances with Three Kings. Our label boss is Jess Cox, who was the original singer in TYGERS OF PAN TANG, so he knows everything there is about the demands and realism in the world of music, especially Metal music, at the moment. To that end he didn't promise us the world but he did say that nothing would be spared with regards to the promotion of the new album, and he's really standing by that. The production on Three Kings was handled by our guitarist Steve Moore, who also handled production on our last album Zero To Rage. So we didn't need a fortune to create the huge production that Three Kings seems to have, we just needed the skills and ears of Steve and, most importantly, his own development as a producer because, as you say, Three Kings is definitely our best sounding album to date and this is down to Steve being at the helm with the knowledge, experience and ability he has managed to accumulate since Zero To Rage.

​​Speaking of your new label, how did you get in touch with the legendary Jess Cox (ex-TYGERS OF PAN TANG), boss of Metal Nation?​​​

Jess came to see us play in Newcastle, England  when we supported TESLA there in the O2 Academy. He had been head of Neat Records, the label that encouraged SWEET SAVAGE to reunite and our drummer Davy Bates, who was in SWEET SAVAGE back then, remained friends with Jess when the partnership split after two albums. Jess stayed after the TESLA show, we had a drink together and he expressed an interest in helping the band out. Shortly afterwards we had recorded our second album, 'Death Dealer' and quickly realized that the more straight metal approach to this album would not have suited a release on Escape Music, the company who released our first more melodic album. SPV had expressed an interest in signing us after one of their representatives had seen us at Sweden Rock, but we had contractual obligations to Escape Music and couldn't sign to SPV right away. We were out of our depth and desperate to sign to the German label and Jess took the bull by the horns and negotiated a settlement between the labels which allowed us to be free to leave Escape Music and release Death Dealer through SPV. We just could not have done that on our own, and grateful to Jess for sorting everything out for us at the time we quickly decided that we needed a manager who could deal with these kinds of situations, and Jess seemed the obvious choice. We signed a management contract with him and we went on to do some great shows as a result, including Wacken, and Jess also negotiated the release of our third album, 'Zero To Rage' through SPV. Our management contracts co-incided with our SPV contracts and both 3 year terms cam to an end at the beginning of 2013. We knew we were going to have 'Three Kings' recorded and ready for release this year but with SPV going through another insolvency situation it wasn't clear that they would be ideal to keep waiting for in order to release 'Three Kings'. We met up with Jess at the Metal Assault festival in Germany in February, he spent the weekend with us and we realized that we didn't need to wait on anyone at all. Jess was head of Metal Nation records, had contacts all over the world and knew everything there was to know about heavy metal, so we decided that there was only one label going to release Three Kings and that was Metal Nation. Here we are some months later and he's lived up to all his promises and our new album is now released.

​​​The track “Bang Your Head” sounds like a profession of faith, and could possibly be your future live anthem track. Besides this particular song, what is your favorite(s) from Three Kings?​​​

Absolutely correct, "BANG YOUR HEAD" - the simple yet effective instructions at top of the list in the heavy metal manual. The verses are about our feelings as a band just before we are about to launch ourselves into a concert performance - the anticipation, adrenalin, fear even of knowing that once the lights go up the music has to have the desired effect of getting heads banging and fists in the air. The chorus deals with sticking to our guns and playing the music we love to the most loyal and dedicated music fans in existence, and not bowing down to fashions and bandwagons knowing that we may not become hugely successful, but we'll die trying, and playing the music we love! My favourite song though is 'Out Of Eden', and not because I think it's any better a song than any of it's brothers and sisters, but because it took the longest for me to love, the last to decide should be on there, and listening to it now fully produced and on the album I am so glad now that the choice was made to have it on there! It's just about a theory that we're being observed from the skies and that over the centuries we've been part of an experiment to see how power and knowledge can be given to advance a nation or culture and then see that civilization disappear! It's incredible that empires such as the Egyptians and Mayans can be seen as having fallen due to other powers such as the Romans or Spanish conquering them, but then these powers were given a chance to dominate, they had their time and, OK, didn't disappear, but definitely came down with a bang. It's as if a game is being played up there and you just wonder who's next to get their turn, and will the same fate befall them?

​​​What is the meaning of the title “Three Kings"? Does it contains a hidden meaning?​​​

No, but it does contain a continuation of a theme that runs through all STORMZONE albums. I love the artist Frank Frazetta, and the song Death Dealer was influenced by one of his powerful paintings. I then developed further stories in which he would have these other great adventures and imagined how Frank Frazetta would capture these scenes on canvas. The Death Dealer character wore a helmet that gave him his strength and power, and it was never certain whether the helmet was actually in charge or the character wearing it. On this album the helmet has been discovered and, before it could capture the soul of the warrior who found it, this time it was covered before it's power could be unleashed, melted down and turned into three crowns. Each crown was given to three princes who were then given three kingdoms to rule all of earth when the existing king died. Once separated in each kingdom they would never meet, but the power of the helmet forces a war during which the three brothers will eventually come together on the battlefield, the three crowns can finally combine again as one, but which of the "three kings" will come out of it victorious with the one crown!

​​​Tell us what we have to expect from your end in the future to come? A European  tour perhaps?​​​

That is being worked on right now. We had always said that this year wouldn't feature so many shows as we wanted to spend most of the time writing and recording the new album. However we managed to do that way ahead of schedule and found ourselves then wanting to get on the road and to play the new songs live in support of Three Kings. Before we knew it we were playing a German festival and touring with the mighty SAXON. Now we're ready to embark on an Irish tour, then Spanish dates in September, a UK tour in October, we play the Hard Rock Hell festival in the UK in December and then hopefully go back out on the road with SAXON at the end of the year to continue into 2014. So yes, absolutely, a European tour is possible and probable and we can't wait!

​​​What do you think of the state of the Metal market in 2013? What is your opinion concerning digital downloading both legal and illegal?​​​

I think that it's a problem that if it could have been addressed by now would have already been eliminated, and can't be! It's a fact of life that your hard work is going to end up on a torrent site for free and it's just up to whether or not people want the thrill of owning an actual cd with the highest quality wav sound or happy enough to illegally download an mp3 version of the music which is highly inferior to the real thing. For a band like us I guess torrent sites are an illegal method of our music being available, but on the bright side, at least we might be listened to for free by someone who wouldn't be familiar with the band enough to buy the album, and then that person might either buy the real CD or, maybe, go to see the band when we're in their town because they've heard our music, illegally or otherwise. It seems that bands are selling less and less in the way of albums now anyway and concentrating much more on constant touring and a way to make money on ticket fees and merchandising. You can't digitally download yourself free into a concert so while we're still able to get out on the road and play our music then at least the pirates can't touch that side of our music!

​​​What is the last CD you purchased?​​​

I was in a second hand CD store at the weekend and bought a copy of the 1982 Glenn Hughes/Pat Thrall album. The singing on that one-off creation is just mesmerizing, Glenn Hughes is an absolute master with a vocal range to die for!!

Please let us know your NWOBHM top five? Just five???

Tough to narrow it down to just five, but albums that had a huge influence on a young me: DIAMOND HEAD - Borrowed Time IRON MAIDEN - Killers SAXON - Wheels Of Steel SAXON - Strong Arm Of The Law GRIM REAPER - See You In Hell

Please let us know your all-time top ten?

Wow, again a tough choice, I'm just going to write down the first ten that I can think of because they're obviously the ones at the forefront of my mind and must be my top ten! IRON MAIDEN - The Number Of The Beast DOKKEN - Under Lock And Key SAXON - Strong Arm Of The Law HELLOWEEN - Keeper of the 7 Keys Pt. I HELLOWEEN - Master Of The Rings MANOWAR - Kings of Metal MOTORHEAD - Ace of Spades RATT - Out of the Cellar HAMMERFALL - Glory To The Brave W.A.S.P. - The Crimson Idol

​​​Now it's time for the Chinese portrait aka Le questionnaire de Bernard Pivot, which is inspired by Marcel Proust but probably more familiar to English audiences as the one that journalist James Lipton asks at the end of  the TV show "Inside the Actors Studio." ​​​

​​​What is your favorite word?​​​

Yes

​​​What is your least favorite word?​​

Empty

​​​What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?​​​

Piano

​​What turns you off?​​​

Jealousy

​​What is your favorite curse word?​​​

Joder (Spanish for "fuck". They say it on daytime TV programmes)

​​​What sound or noise do you love?​​​

Heavy rain against a window when you're warm in bed!

​​​What sound or noise do you hate?​​​

People eating noisily!

​​​If not yourself, who would like to be?​​​

A better and more reliable version of myself.

​​​What profession would you not like to do?​​​

Policeman!

​​Who would you like to see on a new bank note?​​​

The Death Dealer

​​​If you reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be?​​​

A shark!

​​​If God exists, what you like to hear him say at the gates of Heaven?​​​

"Good to see you, your brother is waiting for you in there!"

​​​Harv, thank you for the interview and I wish you guys the best of luck with the new album. Any last words for the fans out there?​​​

Thank you, it has been a pleasure talking to you, especially as I know you have been on the STORMZONE journey since it began. I hope that you continue to support us and I would especially like to thank you for giving us the opportunity through your excellent website to spread our music and news to the world as well as meet new people who I hope will enjoy what they hear if they buy 'Three Kings'. See you all soon, all the very best, Harv.



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Edited 06 April 2020
 

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