Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview with Salem (UK)

As many of you regular readers know by now I am a huge NWOBHM fan. With that said it is always a thrill for me to talk with various bands from the scene. Salem were a band that were considered to be part of the movement even if their sound had as much to do with rock as it did with heavy metal. Of course that was the great thing about the movement as some of the best bands were all different in style and sound. Despite never getting a proper release the first time around (Salem released several demos and a single in the early eighties) that has been rectified thanks to High Roller / Pure Steel Records. Could you possibly ask for a better compilation that Salem's "In The Beginning"? It collects the band's previous recordings and tacks on a bonus cut for good measure. Prior to it's release if you wanted to add Salem to your collection the only realistic thing to do would be to search for MP3s from the band. You'll understand why after reading the interview below. Let's just say that single alone was a bit of a rare one. With a nice booklet and 2 discs full of material "In The Beginning..." is a great addition to any serious NWOBHM collection or just those looking for some great rock/metal! By the way the band had to add the "(UK)" to the back of their name to avoid confusion with and to reduce conflict with the Israeli band of the same name. So, with all of that said recently I was able to talk with Salem's Paul Macnamara (guitars), Ade Jenkinson (bass) and Mark Allison (guitars). I want to thank the band for taking the time to sit down with Heavy Metal Time Machine and chat.

Andy: Let me start off by saying that Salem's latest material sounds killer. You were away from the scene for over 25 years. How does it feel seeing Salem back together after all that time?

Paul: It feels great to be playing together again. When I was approached to release our 1980s recordings - on what became the "In The Beginning..." album - we all got together (for the first time in over 25 years) for a chat and few beers [Mark: I think it was several!!] - ha, it was just like the old days. With the release of the album, the next thing was to play a gig. Starting our first rehearsal, we were a bit rusty but very soon we just "clicked" like we'd always been together. And, now with our first recordings in 28 years - and with more gigs in the pipeline - we really feel we're Salem again.

Mark: Yeah. Being back with the boys is great.

Ade: For me, it felt very strange and awkward at first - but not for long ! After a couple of days it felt like we had never been apart, all the old, old jokes and banter started coming out, but more importantly, the music was just as good as ever.

Andy: Salem was formed out of the ashes of NWOBHM cult act Ethel The Frog. What was it like to be featured on two of the most important NWOBHM compilations of all time? The "Metal for Muthas" compilations played such an important role in the development of the genre.

Ade: To be fair, none of the current members of Salem actually appeared on Metal for Muthas (although the current lineup is certainly the 'classic' lineup from the 80's). The two original founding members of Salem were ex-ETF, but they both left the band after a short time.

Paul: Yes, that’s true. However, when we were starting out, the fact that we had that heritage to build on, really gave us a certain gravitas - and is probably still important today.

Andy: You released your first demo in 1981 followed by the "Cold As Steel/Reach For Eternity" single in 1982. The current market value for that single is $120! That has to blow your mind eh?

Paul: I couldn't’t believe it at first! But since, we’ve seen one single sell for nearly $1000 on Popspike – and it’s also in the “Rare Record Price Guide”, which is really cool.

Ade: And I’ve seen another sell for $500 recently. It's amazing to think some people still care about the music we made back then.

Mark:  We only had 500 singles pressed, so I suppose it’s rare from that point of view. But what has got people really interested is the 25-or-so with a (so-called) "special sleeve."

What happened was: we’d had some posters printed with the 'demonic' image and Salem logo so that the lower section was blank for us to write - by hand - and advertise the upcoming gig(s). Now I was “in charge” of sending the singles out around the world, and after our last gig I still had a few of these 'blank' posters left over, so I sent out a few of the singles wrapped in the spare posters. I would never have guessed that these would be so sought-after!!

Andy: Even though you guys are considered to be a part of the NWOBHM scene you don't fit in with the Saxons/Iron Maidens of the genre. Your sound was more classic rock in nature. While it was hard and heavy it featured quite a bit of guitar rock and progressive moments. What were some of the influences that Salem drew from?

Ade: Sabbath, Rainbow, Led Zep, Hagar for me (at the time).

Paul: Yes, I’d totally agree with those. I was (and still am) keen to get the most out of using the two guitars – so for me, other great influences were Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash. And the more progressive hints, may well have been inspired by Rush, Kansas or Barclay James Harvest – but could well come from Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Borodin!

Mark: I was particularly influenced (and I suppose, I still am) by the likes of Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne (or more’s the point, Randy Rhodes), Extreme and Def Leppard (esp the Pyromania album)

Paul: I must say that we are very pleased to be considered part of the NWOBHM movement. I was a very important period in the development of hard/heavy rock/metal -whether it was the more thrash-style that echoed the energy of punk like the early Maiden, or the much more melodic rock of guys like Praying Mantis [did you know that Simon (Saxby) is good mates with them ?]. It was about being heavy AND creating music, at a time when the alternative was the New Romantics!

Andy: Does it bother you that you've had to take on the "UK" bit these days? You were the original Salem after all!

Ade: It's an annoyance - as you say, WE are Salem, but I guess it's a bit unreasonable to request the whole music fraternity to stay away from our name while we hibernate for 27 years.

Andy: The "In The Beginning" compilation does a great job of introducing people to Salem. My question is what took everyone so long to catch on to your sound?

Ade: We couldn't get a deal! How ironic that 27 years after the fact we now have what we always dreamed of back in the 80s!

Mark: It was great to have our 1980s music released on the “In The Beginning” album –I always dreamed of having double, gate fold album. You’ve got to remember that all that music was recorded and mixed-down in only four days! Now, we did play plenty of gigs and always rehearsed hard so we were able to record much of this music on the first take – it was basically recording the band live, and adding vocals and extra guitar lines afterwards – up to five songs in a day! Some of the recordings are stronger than others – but I suppose all albums are like that. It is interesting to see how Salem developed as a band, and in terms of musical ability and songwriting maturity, over a very short period. … and it’s awesome to see how well it has sold, too.

Andy: How did the compilation come together?

Paul: I have always played guitar and composed music. A few years ago, I started dabbling with some recording at home. At the suggestion of my brother Phil, I uploaded some of my music to MySpace - then also at his suggestion I also uploaded some of our Salem recordings. I was surprised that very soon people were listening to this music and subsequently I was contacted by a number of these, including High Roller Records who were keen to release all of the Salem recordings. So I worked with High Roller to put out the vinyl edition – and we linked up with Pure Steel Records for the CD version. I really enjoyed working on the album arrangement, the sleeve notes, and cover design – the record companies were very happy with these ideas. And you’ve got the final product in your hands!

Andy: Where you guys ever close to signing a contract with a label?

Ade: Sadly no.

Paul: Well, we visited a number of record companies – but only got the answer, “Yeah. It’s really good – but not quite what we’re looking for.”

Mark: I remember that we had some fun though - going down to London, having a few beers and sleeping on friends’ floors at night, and bothering these record companies in the day – but we got no contract.

Andy: With Salem re-formed now after all these years what are your new plans?

Paul: Well, after our first gig we all wanted to do more, so we decided that we would first record some new Salem music and arrange some select gigs. We’ve been delighted with the great reception to the new recordings – and we’ve started securing appearances at festivals in Europe, such as “Up The Hammers” in Greece, and the “Metal Forces Festival” in Germany. We’re now working on more new pieces, and looking for the next opportunities to play suitable gigs and festivals. Perhaps following bands like our friends Jaguar are doing. [Hey - I know that they're keen to play in the US too!]

Andy: I've already mentioned how solid the new material is. It is modern enough to appeal to today's young rock and heavy metal fans while still retaining that classic edge. Was it hard to just pick up and start again or did you find the magic was still there?

Ade: Frankly it was easy. Four of us are prolific songwriters and to be honest I will be surprised if the speed of recording ever catches up with the speed of the writing!

Paul: And I'm pleased that you feel our new music is appealing to today's rock fans too. Well, we all have kids and they are keen to keep us up-to-date, you know "Hey Dad, have you heard the album by So-And-So" or "You must go to see So-And-So - they're awesome." Whether it's Avenged Sevenfold or (I don't know ...), My Chemical Romance or Paramore. It's all cool!

Andy: Fill us in a little on what you were up to post-Salem.

Ade: Where do I start? Married, 4 kids, 9-5 job for many years, made redundant 3 years ago, went self employed, never looked back. In terms of music: Formed Kashmir with Simon, gigged and recorded in much the same way as Salem used to. After that, formed Mayfair with Simon, the music was a bit lighter, more melodic, managed to get a deal with Link Company based in France, recorded an album at the famous Marquee studios in Soho, regrettably it was never finished, due to the old chestnut of 'musical differences’. I continued Mayfair with another singer, John Lynas, and we self-released a vinyl EP. A couple of the Marquee tracks made it to the EP. I continued to keep my hand in, in terms of engineering and recording, working occasionally at various studios. Built my own studio last year, just in time to record Salem's new album!

Paul: Yeah. Got married, had two kids, gathered a bunch of professional and academic qualifications and tried to work up the corporate ladder until I too was repaid for my hard work and loyalty by being made redundant and like Ade, I set up my own consultancy. As I said, I’ve always played and composed music. I played in a function band (ha!) in the 1990s, and since then slowly got into my own recording. I currently teach some guitar, and play with a couple of local bands – great guys, good fun.

Mark: After Salem, I got qualified in Karate and opened a Martial Arts Academy. Then a few years later, I opened along side it, a weight's/fitness gym. I started bodybuilding and went on to compete and win a number of competitions, including Mr. Britain (light-heavy weight class)! Out side of the band, I am currently enjoying my work as a personal self-defense instructor/coach. I know that Simon and Paul (Mendham) have always carried on playing music. Paul has played in many bands (incl. supporting Michael Schenker and WASP) is now in Innersylum. Similarly with Simon, who now also plays in Deep Fix, and he also teaches guitar.

Andy: Does it feel as if the scene has changed much?

Ade: In some respects the scene has changed, there is not so much emphasis by the fans on the musicianship now, and the obligatory studded leather jackets are not so prevalent. On the other hand I haven't heard anything in terms of music that is giving rise to doubts about our ability and contemporary relevance - as you have already witnessed yourself after hearing our new material.

Paul: Yes. There are a lot of changes. Obviously, computers and the Internet have made a huge difference to how music is recorded, distributed, promoted, watched and listened to. This opens up so many more opportunities for us, and for all bands – although this brings greater competition too. But on that point though, I feel that this competition is now much more positive and helpful – we share links to our music on Facebook, MySpace, ReverbNation, etc, and then comment and “like” other people’s music too. Another point for me, is that people are generally much more receptive to a wider range of music styles – for example, when I was a kid you couldn't  like pop AND punk, and even within genres you couldn't  like Black Sabbath AND Deep Purple, or Yes AND Genesis (I hope that makes sense!). I feel that nowadays this more open and tolerant approach helps to promote a more mature and healthy attitude.

Andy: Is a new full-length album in the works for Salem?

Ade: Definitely! Watch this space!

Andy: And finally the stage is yours now. Last thoughts?

Ade: Salem is giving 5 old blokes a chance to add an extra angle to their lives once again. Whether we actually achieve any kind of success the second time around remains to be seen, but the main point is that we are all enjoying what we are doing, and I think you can hear that in the new material. While we are all enjoying it, I see no reason to stop, so keep looking out for us, you never know what may happen!

Mark: We’ve all matured (?) as people and musicians, and that really makes a difference!

Paul: We’ve been really pleased with the new music - the way the band is working together – and the massive interest in Salem all around the globe. I’d like to thank all our supporters joining us and playing our music – new and old –on our website ( as well as Facebook, MySpace, ReverbNation, etc. We are now recording more new music – as Ade said, we are working on a full album – and looking for the opportunities to play at the right events.Thanks again for the opportunity to talk with you. Looking forward to playing for you in the States!! \m/


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