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 I n t r o ,   M a r / A p r   1 9 9 4

(A German free music magazine. Published during a Red Sky Coven Tour in Germany shortly after the release of The Bishop of Buffalo. Translation back into English by me, I'm afraid.)

The Bishop of Buffalo is a strange title.
I came across it by pure chance. When I went to a fair in England with some friends we met somebody who for a few pounds dealt with genealogy. He discovered that during the American Civil War a namesake of mine was the Bishop of the small town Buffalo in the USA. This also goes really well with my pseudonym Rev Hammer.

So it's a blessed album?
I've asked the present Bishop of Buffalo to bless the album but haven't got an answer yet. Maybe if he answers my record label might pay for the flight to America.

You recorded your previous album in a cow shed. This time you worked in a studio. What was that like? And was the "cow shed session" more fun?
This time I had more money at my disposal. So we had more time and consequently the album sounds of course far more developed and technically better than Industrial Sound and Magic. Still, I also had a lot of fun in the studio!

Your previous album features The Levellers, The Bishop of Buffalo features Stephan Pasicznyk of The Ukrainians as well as Justin Sullivan and Dave Blomberg of New Model Army. Do you think that the albums were influenced by the guest musicians?
Yes. As soon as a musician plays something he has not written, the song is influenced and marked by him and is the further developed the more people contribute to it. Justin Sullivan also produced the album, because with New Model Army he has had a lot of experience in the studio. Through Red Sky Coven he knows my songs and doesn't try to turn them into commercial successes. Besides they are my friends and take less money than session musicians...ha ha!

Are there any plans of going on tour again with your support band The Declaration?
Oh yes. I will be in Germany in April/May, but not with The Declaration. We're going to call it Rev Hammer and Friends, and if we meet some acquaintances that happen to be in town, they can play with us as well. Very spontaneous, you know.

Back to Red Sky Coven. Have you ever thought of releasing an album or live-video?
We have recorded every gig of the tour. When we're back in England we'll release the concert that we like best. It will probably be an English on, because they are a bit more fluent.

Do you think the Germans understand you well?
Would there else have been so many people tonight? I think the audience understand us well, and if there is a less familiar word in one of Joolz' stories, she can express quite a lot with her body language and gestures, so that most of the people get the punch line anyway.

 C o o k i n g   V i n y l   C o m m u n i q u e   2 ,   4   ( F e b / M a r   1 9 9 8 )

(The newsletter of Rev Hammer's label. Published shortly after the release of Freeborn John.)

How does the process of making a concept album differ from that of making an 'ordinary' album?
It takes much longer! This one has been recorded and refined over a three year period. Six months of that time were spent in libraries up and down the country doing historical research, which is certainly not how most albums start. It would probably benefit many if they did. I had plenty of time to experiment with sounds and mixes, which is also a luxury not normally afforded. In many ways a number of the songs on Freeborn John were recorded more than once as I originally did all the vocals myself before approaching potential cast members. Certain songs were definitely written with particular vocalists in mind and the commitment to using other vocalists is not a normal consideration for me.

What were the main problems you came across when making Freeborn John?
Recording over a three year period presents all sorts of problems; floods, epidemics, deaths, financial ruin, heartbreak, gluttony, sleep deprivation, a small and limited social life, bad breath, breathing problems, drinking problems and a fear of letting go of your baby Frankenstein once you have finished it, to name but a few!

Tell me about casting for the album, and how you chose the most appropriate artist for each character.
Well, modestly I pencilled myself in for the lead role of Freeborn John, the Levellers of the 17th century were best played by the Levellers of the 20th. Simon Friend as the drunken cavalier, well, who else? Perfect! The Folk singing narrator was always written with Rory McLeod in mind. Maddy Prior plays Elizabeth Lilburne because she probably felt sorry for me driving three hours through freezing fog in North Devon, before the car broke down and I missed her performance in Barnstaple completely. She was the only choice really, I needed the Queen of British Folk Music and she didn't make me beg. I would have! Eddi Reader is the most wonderful interpreter of a song I have ever heard, make no mistake angels on high sound like this. She is backed by a female choir of about twenty-five women, but it should be one thousand and thirty.five. Justin Sullivan from New Model Army has some very special gifts but not least a warm, resonant speaking voice. Parliament soldiers sounded just like this. Once I found out that Howling Wolf had died thirty years ago, only my long suffering producer Phil Johnstone had suffered enough to take his place as The Executioner. Harry S. Fulcher, the saxophonist, became Oliver Cromwell because Oliver Cromwell would have played the saxophone, had it been invented. Also, because Richard Harris never got back to me!

How did you go about condensing several years of history onto an album lasting just over an hour?
Well, the theory is difficult, but the practise is easier. I decided to have sixteen different periods, purely arbitrary at that stage. Each period would be a song or small spoken piece and tell the story of John Lilburne's life through witnesses both real and imagined.I started not from birth but from the moment of political awakening, the pillory scene, and went up to his death at the age of 42. It just fell into place after three years!

What inspired you to create an album about this particular topic?
As a songwriter, I considered it a huge challenge to cover a life on one album. The story of Freeborn John is colourful, exciting and dramatic and bears many references to many of today's most important questions. A Bill of Rights was first discussed by the Levellers 350 years ago, as was the future of the monarchy. We now have one but we need the other. The Civil War was a huge revolution in this country but we are taught so little of it. Freeborn John was forgotten to all but a few academics. I had a great opportunity to re-popularise a man who was once one of the most influential and popular figures in British History, a man whose story was suppressed.

Do you feel you can identify personally with any of the characters featured on Freeborn John?
Not really, I know them well but they lived in God-fearing times. It was a world apart. I do know that if alive today many of our corrupt and lazy political careerists would feel the wrath of his tongue. Integrity was his watchword - it is an old word we don't use much now.

Are there any more similarly ambitious projects lined up for the future? (Perhaps an album based on another historical character)
Winston Churchill - the Jazz/funk years maybe. Who knows??

1998-2004 Stefanie Fröhlke
Last update 20 Sep 1998