The discovery of WITCHFYNDE’s Lost Tapes illuminates a fascinating missing link in the history of British heavy metal. In the lull between the Purple/Zeppelin/Sabbath revolution and the angry charge of punk rock and NWOBHM, in the East Midlands county town of Derby, four lads came together to create a tentatively progressive and intriguing new sound, and get heads banging in boozers all over the Peak District. Recording a 40-minute demo of original material in 1975, WITCHFYNDE were the unwitting spearhead of the movement that was still a long way off being dubbed the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and from the plaintive, spacey opening of Grimoire, this earliest of artefacts is rather more nuanced and versatile than the hallowed acronym NWOBHM traditionally suggests.
Even though they raised many tavern roofs in the mid-late 70s, this isn’t your standard thick-eared pub metal. On this recording you can hear these young musicians enjoying playing their first songs together, sharing varied influences andbuilding mystical atmospheres out of extended jams with quirky interplay and a relaxed delivery. Behind the odd forgivable bum note, missed beat or overstretched solo you sense the exploratory zeal of four music-obsessed friends casting their net wide: from the sprightly power-pop groove of Madam Noname to the creepy proto-doom of Halfway, with Pastiche somehow English gothic country rock and Slow Down having the feel of an epic melancholy folk ballad.
This range and breadth isn’t surprising; the four men in WITCHFYNDE were children in the 1950s and 60s, and got into music just as it was exploding in so many exciting new directions. “Hmm this will age me!” laughs Andro Coulton, bassist in WITCHFYNDE from 1975 to 1980. “I can remember seeing Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino on the Six Five Special show on the BBC, I was about 6! Obviously the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were a big influence. Then The Kinks released You Really Got Me, the raw sound blew me away. Then later I was listening to early Zappa, Cream, Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad, they were the major influences on me becoming a musician.”
After dabbling with “folky-type songs” in the Holmes Street Jug Band circa 1973, Andro, singer Steve Bridges and drummer Gra Scoresby joined guitarist Montalo in WITCHFYNDE, a vehicle for darker, heavier, more progressive material. “Musical influences were diverse,” says Andro. “Black Sabbath, Budgie, Rush, Wishbone Ash, Frank Zappa. Gra and I listened to a lot of jazz rock such as Weather Report and Stanley Clarke and there were many more.” There also existed from the beginning a relish for macabre themes: “Montalo and I were into the occult and were influenced by the Black Sabbath-style imagery and Gra was a great artist and could always come up with some dark imagery on our posters. The dark side was always an important facet of the band. Also there were such people as Aleister Crowley who were an influence along with authors such as HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Michael Moorcock.”
Recorded one foggy day in December 1975 (the same month Steve Harris formed Iron Maiden), WITCHFYNDE took their five-song demo to the big city and shopped it around for a deal. Before the heyday of the late-70s DIY/independent scene there weren’t many options open to a developing band of enthusiastic amateurs from the Derbyshire pub circuit, so the ambitious quartet took their tape straight to the top: “We had a day down in London and took cassette copies to Virgin Records, A&M and Chrysalis,” recalls the bassist. “We got a rejection from each of these at least! A copy went to Radio Nottingham’s Rock Show and I believe apart from family no one else heard the material.” Dispirited by lack of interest in their earliest songs, WITCHFYNDE scrapped them all and set about writing a whole new set. Two songs, the heavier Valkyrian Ride and Tetelestai, were recorded in Coventry in 1977 – also written around this time was the memorable Unto The Ages Of The Ages, eventually ending up on WITCHFYNDE’s seminal 1980 debut Give ‘Em Hell.
Throughout this period they were pounding the local pubs and clubs into submission, garnering an enthusiastic live following throughout the Midlands and beyond. The roll-call of WITCHFYNDE’s late-70s stomping grounds resonate down the ages: the Derbyshire Yeoman, the Nottingham Albany Mint Bar, the Bluebell Inn, Bolsover (whose landlord warned the band that if they were shit they’d have to dodge bottles and glasses; “Needless to say they loved us!”), Chesterfield’s Brimmington Tavern, Monsal Head Hotel near Bakewell (“your feet stuck to the floor on spilt rancid beer!”), the Lampglass Cellar Club, Ashington and the Black Rocks Club, Cromford (near Matlock, just off the A5) – these lowly alehouses where dues were paid and chops frantically honed, where the young WITCHFYNDE violated with voltage and volume – are the very lifeblood of the NWOBHM, their punters the earliest grass roots of an enduring homegrown working-class musical phenomenon.
“I was on the dole when I was first in WITCHFYNDE,” remembers Andro when asked about his life in 1975. “I had to borrow the money to buy a decent bass and amplification. Then I ended up working at a chain manufacturers as Stores Chargehand until we went pro. Life was easier then, you could leave one job and usually walk straight into another one. There was a good nightlife and plenty of parties to gatecrash! What were my interests? Well, mainly WITCHFYNDE. I thought of nothing much else apart from reading occult, esoteric and ghost books but music was my total life, work was just there to finance me to live and play music.” Such is the spirit in which The Lost Tapes were forged.
The reel-to-reel master tapes were quietly packed away at the bottom of a box and stored in a succession of lofts, garages and cupboards where they lay forgotten for nearly 40 years – until Andro finally unearthed them again during a particularly thorough spring clean.
WITCHFYNDE released four albums from 1980-84, but split up due to line-up and label instability. Reactivated for the millennium, they continue to record and gig sporadically. Andro formed ZXY in 2010, and has announced that he’ll be back on the road in 2014 on the Andro Coulton Gives ‘Em Hell: Witchfynde Revisited 1975-1980… And Beyond! Tour.