(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
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
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.
(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
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
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
Winston Churchill - the Jazz/funk years maybe. Who knows??