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Kevin Ridley (Skyclad)

Interview with Kevin Ridley from Skyclad
by Orpheus Spiliotopoulos at 01 September 2004, 11:44 PM

Skyclad's probably the most well known Folk Metal band in the book of Metal history. The band's course started in 1991 and together with x-singer Martin Walkyier they managed to create a distinguishing sound by using pipes, fiddles and all sorts of traditional instruments, combined with a Folk breathing core. Things though started to get tense within the band's borderlines and after Another Fine Mess (2001) Walkyier left the band. A new singer was found shortly after Martin had left and his name's Kevin Ridley. Together with Kevin, they released No Daylights Nor Heeltaps (2002) and now they are about to release their second album with Kevin as their singer, A Semblance Of Normality. We contacted Kevin via e-mail and here's what he had to say about a lot of issues concerning Skyclad's past, present and future…and of course a few questions about himself as a person.

As we are an online Magazine, I’d like to ask you what your relationship with the Internet is. Do you read online Magazines?

I’m a big fan of the Internet (got broadband and everything) in fact I used to lecture on E-Business. So, yes, I do read online stuff and I particularly enjoy Internet radio – it’s a great way to hear new music and get lots of stuff for free (lyrics etc).

Well, it’s no big secret, Skyclad has changed since its beginning with one of its biggest changes being the departure of singer Martin Walkyier after Another Fine Mess (2001). Since we’ve never interviewed you before, I have to ask you this; how did it feel to be in Skyclad after Walkyier had left? Was it a tough quest?

To be honest after Martin left things were very calm and we all kind of enjoyed the challenge of doing something new. I think there was a lot of tension between band members before, but at this point I wasn’t in the actual band partnership so I wasn’t involved with the money side of things or the running of the band, which is, I think, were the problems came from. But it was after ten years and things change, so it was time to move on. Things are more laid back definitely, maybe too much (LOL) as we tend to do things at a more leisurely pace these days being ‘veterans’ and all. One good thing is that now everyone lives and works in Newcastle, so it’s easier to meet up for rehearsals and social events.

How would you feel if Martin Walkyier ever decided to return to Skyclad?

It’s not going to happen, simple as that.

No Daylights…Nor Heeltaps (2002) was your first full-length album as the singer of Skyclad. Looking back at it, two years later, are you satisfied with its results, I mean as an album, overall?

No Daylights was something that we had planned for ages (with Martin actually) and we wanted to get it done for people who wanted the unplugged versions and, of course (given the timing) to let everyone know that the band would continue. So the material sort of picked itself, as we had been playing most of the songs for a few years and I had been doing a lot of singing live. Overall I am pleased with the album and it threw up a few surprises (for example, Widdershins Jig and Cry of the Land), which gave us some help when it came to write the new album. I also like the artwork/concept (not to mention the beer we had). Obviously I think the album could have benefited from a bigger budget and more studio time etc but you can’t have everything.

A Semblance Of Normality, your new album due to be released in September 2004, had a slight postponement concerning its release date (back in May if I recall well). What exactly was the problem with Dreamcatcher Records and Demolition Records? What is the exact date of the album’s release?

The official release date is now September 6th. The delay was simply due to record company politics – that’s all I can say. It’s to do with budgets, scheduling and so on. Also, it was getting to near the summer for good promotion etc as everyone goes on holiday, so we thought it was better to wait rather than just put it out.

How long did the whole recording process for the new album take and were there any significant difficulties you had to face? How did the cooperation with the Royal Philharmonic occur and how difficult was it to blend an orchestra in with your music?

The whole writing and recording process took about two years (which, again, is why we did ‘No Daylights’ etc). We were determined that it was going to be as good as we could make it, which meant using the right session players and so on. So there were obvious problems of getting hold of these people, the orchestra being a prime example. You can’t just get these people at a minutes notice and everything has to be scored and demoed etc

As to using the orchestra; well it was actually quite easy because Steve had always heard an orchestra on these songs. They were written that way (we didn’t just add strings) and George has a classical background, so we kind of knew what we were doing. It was a very successful experiment I think but I don’t know if we’ll do it on the next album.

Who did the song writing for A Semblance Of Normality and what were the main inspirations behind the songs?

Steve and myself did the song writing for the new album. I felt it was important that the music was written as it always had been (though I did write a couple of songs for it myself, lol). My main input, of course, was the lyrics and vocal parts, which (as most singers) I wanted to be in control of as I have my own way of working etc. The main ‘themes’ on the album concern roots (i.e. were we come from – Northumbria) and what ‘Englishness’ is all about. Though, I must say it’s not a concept album as such.

I wrote a bit about each track previously so, if I may, I’ll include it here:

PIPES INTRO: Well the idea for this intro was to introduce Clad fans to the Northumbrian small pipes – yes we do have our own pipes. They are similar to Irish pipes but are ‘chromatic’ over two octaves. Anyway, I just asked Andy May (the session pipes and whistle player) to improvise on the theme from ’Lightening the Load’ and bend a few of the notes etc and we were all knocked out by the results.

DO THEY MEAN US: A stomping track that looks at the notion that the English are an eccentric lot. There was a T.V. programme called this and I was intrigued by such event as flying bird men, rolling cheeses and nettle eating competitions. It’s about trying to be English in multi-cultural Britain in the 21st century.

A GOOD DAY TO BURY BAD NEWS: Obvious references here to 9/11 but I was more interested in the idea that everyday is a good day to bury bad news. It’s about the way the media prioritize stories, especially here in the UK, with it’s cult of celebrity.

ANOTHERDRINKINGSONG: A great song to do live. It kind of tries to capture the feel of the ‘Irish Pub’ tours we did. Again there is a lot of reference to the idea of the English Pub as an institution, fascinating stuff to research (Queens Head, Kings Arms etc).

A SURVIVAL CAMPAIGN: This was actually an old lyric I had that Steve really liked and wrote music for. It’s based on a board game from the 70’s; well sort of. I had to update it, of course, to include computer games – very Matrix. It’s about the struggle to succeed – ‘in the City’ – hence the reference to ‘Mr Polly’

THE SONG OF NO-INVOLVEMENT: Again, this is an old idea, though I never got round to finishing it until I started writing for this album. It’s funny how things can lie around for years and then just seem right. Basically, it’s saying that I’m a lazy sod and can easily spend hours achieving nothing much.

THE PARLIAMENT OF FOOLS: A very ‘Skyclad’ song this. I always liked the idea of Chaucer’s ‘Parliament of Fowls – with the wordplay on Fowls, Foul and Fools, of course. It’s also a potted history of my political life (i.e. from Thatcher to Blair). I studied Politics at college briefly and learned something about the philosophies of each of the major UK parties, then gave it up as a bad job. It kind of pokes fun at it all.

TEN LITTLE KINGDOMS: Obviously then, this song follows on from the ‘Parliament’ (which is why it’s on the album at the expense of other ‘bonus’ tracks). I have to state here (and this is a very political statement from me – not the rest of the band) that as well as being pro- European; I am also strongly in favour of a regional assembly for the North East of England (and have been since the shake up of 1974). This is now a hot political issue – well fairly hot (tepid really) and about time too. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.  I mention this because, of course, it completely contradicts the sentiments expressed in the song, which is, if you like, ‘the other side of the coin’. I am, obviously, lampooning this argument (how many of you spotted it?) by the way in which the song is delivered (i.e. it’s not serious).

LIKE… A BALLAD FOR THE DISENCHANTED: A big nod of respect goes to Alex Harvey here for his version of Next (I know it’s not his song). It also builds on the idea that Geordies (people from the North-East) say ‘like’ at the end of sentences etc for no apparent reason, like. It’s quite a personal song this and so difficult to discuss. But I’ll bet you can guess that there’s a woman (at least one anyway) behind all this.

NTRWB: This is the second part of ‘The Roman Wall Blues’ the first part of which – in true Skyclad fashion – will appear after the second part (on a single???). Anyway, it’s sort of my answer to Auden’s ‘Roman Wall Blues’ (incidentally, also covered by Alex Harvey), which doesn’t present a very good picture of the North-East (at least in terms of the weather – but I’ll give him that). While it might not have been the best posting in the Empire, recent evidence suggests that (for the Romans at least) it wasn’t all bad.

LIGHTENING THE LOAD: another song with a bit of politics in it. I read about the English love of moaning or complaining. Apparently it is worse for middle-aged people who have been let down by the State (pension etc) and have lost all the benefits of youth (i.e. ‘cool Britannia’). It is my attempt to put such ideas across in a folk style and while it may be an odd song I really like it.

HYBRID BLUES: Well now, another personal song (bloody women again). Though really I should say that this is my attempt at a ‘white man singing the Blues’. Steve (Ramsey) reckons Skyclad have always had Blues influences (he’s clearly mad, of course) but I did firstly to humor him but then sort of got carried away with the sheer emotion of it all. Very much in the style of ‘woke up this morning and my woman had left me’ (again); but such is life. Oh, and I forgot to mention the references to 1930’s art in Europe (Marcel Duchamp etc) as by way of contrast.

OUTRO – THE DISSOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT: All I can say about the Outro (apart from the fact that I love it) is that it is based (obviously) on ‘Parliament of Fools’ but this version brings out the original 7/8 – 8/8 feel to the music Steve wrote much better. I am also proud of Arron for doing the percussion (triple tracked Bodhran indeed) and Georgie for some lovely fiddle work (off the top of her head, of course).

Whose idea was the artwork? It’s a Celtic rune on the album’s cover, right? What does it mean?

Actually I don’t think it is Celtic. It might seem that I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this, but every band with a fiddle isn’t Irish or Celtic (not that I’ve got anything against either). As I said the album is about ’roots’ and this artwork is based on 7/8th century sites in Northumbria (and so could be Anglo-Saxon). It’s a way of combining the past (our ‘Golden Age’) with the present. It’s what appealed to me about it. It doesn’t necessarily have a ‘meaning’. It’s a burial site or a settlement or something but done in abstract (on material, it’s not a painting). People can visit Marie Wright’s site ( to see more. It’s fascinating stuff.

Skyclad have been confirmed for the 34.000 Ton Metal Cruise which will take place on September 24-25. This (for those who are wondering what we’re talking about) is actually going to be a Metal Festival on board a huge ferryboat. How do you feel about it? Don’t you feel it’s going to be one hell of an extraordinary experience?

It does indeed have the potential to be an extraordinary gig, it’s a great idea. We have a ‘captive audience’ so to speak (lol). I’ve got to say that I’m really looking forward to it because we’ve never been to Sweden or Finland before and I know that we have some fans there (because some wrote to me) and that it will be great to meet up with them, have a (very expensive) beer and so on.  

What’s your point of view on Folk Metal nowadays? Are there any Folk Metal bands you’d consider making a crossover project with? For example, would you ever do a Skyclad/Chruachan album?

I must say that I’m still very excited about the whole scene. We were just remarking (when in Germany recently) on how it has managed to stay around. I like a lot of the German and Scandinavian bands. I only hope it doesn’t become too clichéd for it’s own good. But it’s interesting to see bands like Letze Instanz using technology (i.e. drum loops etc) to try something fresh. Of course I would be interested in working with other artists, we do use a lot of session people etc. It’s interesting to see what happens with different influences – such as Afro-Celts (though I think Steve would like to work with a samba band or something –lol).

What in your opinion are Skyclad’s strongest points in terms of music?

Well speaking of working with other musicians, I think one of the best things about the band is that they aren’t to precious about things and are prepared to try all kinds of ideas out (letting our bass player loose with a keyboard, for example). They also pick things up very fast and can get through a lot of work (most of the time).

What are Skyclad’s future plans after the new album has been released?

The immediate plans are to really promote this album. At some point this will involve more live shows (though I’m not sure when or where yet) as well as some videos (singles?) or DVDs. We are hoping that now it’s out people can judge for themselves whether or not they like it and from there we can progress. Then, obviously, we will have to start work on another album.

a)What does the world look like through your eyes nowadays? b)If you could change something on this planet, what would it be?

Same fucked up place that it’s always been basically. But I’m not overly cynical or pessimistic; you can’t carry the worries of the world around with you. As an atheist (and a humanist) I would have to say that it would be nice to get rid of all the organised religion in the world. Not for one moment do I think that this would end all the problems (people would still kill over the colour of skin, land etc etc etc), but it would be nice to see people as people and not Jew, Muslim etc. Also, you can’t simply ban this stuff (like the communist tried) it has to be done through evolution or education. For example, I heard today that one churchman wants to give away ‘goody bags’ (i.e. chocolates) to people who come to church. They think that in a generation The Church of England will disappear (bloody good riddance, I say). Speaking of the Internet, perhaps this is one way that people will be brought closer together (though we don’t have a global language yet) and it’s by this communication that things might change (very slowly though). But it’s all ‘pie in the sky’ stuff this.

Now for something completely different, I somewhere read that you like football and that you’re a Newcastle fan in particular. What are your odds for this year’s Premiership?

Unfortunately yes, I follow Newcastle United (though not so much at the minute) and it doesn’t look to good for this year. And after Alan Shearer leaves well… I think we will be lucky to finish in the top six again. Another season of underachievement I fear (but that’s NUFC for you).

What are your ambitions as a human being, in life and what are your ambitions as a musician together with Skyclad?

I never really think of myself as being an ‘ambitious’ person. Perhaps this is because I have always worked in a field I enjoy (i.e. music). I don’t really want to do anything else and I have enjoyed most of what I’ve done (touring Europe etc). I haven’t made lots of money (lol) but that’s not what drives me. I would, obviously, like to see the band progress in terms of playing in the States and other territories that we haven’t been yet. A ‘real’ world tour I suppose would be one ambition.

 That’s all. I’d like to thank you for this interview with Metal-Temple.Com Magazine and we hope to see you in Greece sometime or even somewhere abroad. The lasts words belong to you. Send out a worldwide message to all our readers and of course all the Skyclad fans!

The main thing to say here is that we (Skyclad) know that this album has taken a long time to produce and we have to thank everyone for their patience and continued interest. But now that it’s done we hope people will listen to it without too much prejudice and get into the new songs so that the band can continue and get to see more people out there on the road. ‘Cheers and Beers’ as they say.

\[Special Thanks To: Matze]


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