CLOVEN HOOF - The BBC Sessions LP
Mastered for vinyl from the original BBC mastertapes by Patrick W. Engel at TEMPLE OF DIS HAR MONY in November 2017
Midlands outfit Cloven Hoof must rate as one of the most legendary bands of the entire New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement. The origins of the group go back to the year 1979, when they first formed under the name of Nightstalker. In 1981, however, the band switched to their new moniker: Cloven Hoof. Original vocalist David Potter, guitarist Steve Rounds, drummer Kevin Poutney and main man Lee Payne on bass adopted the stage characters of ‘Earth’, ‘Fire’, ‘Water’ and ‘Air’. A very interesting concept which was far ahead of its time. After recording demos of songs such as “Return Of The Passover” and “Nightstalker” Cloven Hoof issued their debut vinyl 12” EP »The Opening Ritual« on Elemental Music in 1982 (today a precious collector’s item). In 1984, the self-titled Cloven Hoof album was released, followed by »Fighting Back« (1986), »Dominator« (1988) and »A Sultan’s Ransom« (1989). After splitting up in the 1990s, Cloven Hoof returned with a brand new line up in the 2000s, issuing new studio albums »Eye Of The Sun« (2006), »Resist Or Serve« (2014) and the latest »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?« (2017).
For a long time fans have been asking for Cloven Hoof’s BBC sessions to be made officially available. Finally, the wait is over. But why has it taken such a long time to get the tapes released? “Because the BBC offered the session, the BBC have the rights to the recording,” explains Lee Payne. “Permission had to be obtained from the BBC of course, but it is no secret that I have bought back most of the publishing rights from Universal. This has taken some time to do and Cloven Hoof are now free from contractual difficulties, so the time was right to release those much sought-after BBC sessions that we did. High Roller Records are a fantastic label and it is a pleasure to release these sessions for the first time on vinyl and CD.”
The first of the two BBC sessions was recorded for the “Friday Rock Show” and broadcast on the 10th of June 1983. And this is how it happened in the first place: “We were contacted by Producer Tony Wilson who was the main man behind the Tommy Vance ‘Friday Rock Show’. Tony was an amazing producer, as good as they come. He liked our session so much that he helped get us a support slot at the famous old Marquee Club in Wardour Street. It was a big honour to play there because all the greats had performed at the club. It was quite funny really because Rob Halford from Judas Priest and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin had both taken in our demo to the BBC to get us on the show. Tony Wilson said: ‘After being recommended by giants like that, I just had to give you a session for the show.’"
The songs recorded were “Laying Down The Law”, “Crack The Whip”, “Return Of The Passover” and “Road Of Eagles”, all four were not on the band’s debut EP »The Opening Ritual«. “We had quite a big catalogue of songs that I had written and it was difficult to narrow it down to four,” explains Lee Payne the selection process for their first BBC session. "’Laying Down The Law’, ‘Return Of The Passover’ and ‘Road Of Eagles’ were all stage favourites at the time, so they had to be on it. David Hemmings was our manager, he had managed bands like Judas Priest and Pat Travers.
Hemmings suggested I write a straight forward new song that was short, snappy and to the point, dare I say it, commercial even. But we all agreed it would sit nicely between the 6 and 9 minute epics. The only trouble I could forsee was that I only had two days before the session to write it. David Hemmings said: ‘So? You're a song writer, aren't you? Just do it.’ That was how ‘Crack The Whip’ was born, one day to write it and one day to rehearse it with the boys. Hey, presto! A stage favourite that we have to play even today. It has been featured on various compilation albums and it just goes to show sometimes even if a song is basic, if it is good, then it can work! David also told me to make the lyrics highly controversial to try and get it banned, he was always coming up with the publicity angle. I am sorry to say I failed him and although Tony's engineer did raise his eyebrows when he read the words, in the end they decided that ‘its only rock ’n‘ roll, what the hell! Sex sells even on air."
Especially “Laying Down The Law” was super catchy, probably the closest Cloven Hoof ever got to having a “hit song”. "’Laying Down The Law’ was always a favourite with the fans and it works fantastic live because everyone sings along to every word,” confirms Lee Payne. “All the songs are special in their own way because that's what gives our music dynamics, long epic tracks and short, snappy numbers work well together and make our albums interesting to listen to. We like to have a large bandwidth to our style of music, there should be something for everybody but it is always contained in a heavy metal framework. ’Laying Down The Law’ is just one of those songs that people love and it is certainly one of our most popular numbers. ‘Reach For The Sky’ is another one, they have immediate choruses that make people want to join in and punch the air.”
The band did indeed get a lot of positive feedback for this first BBC session: “Yes absolutely! ‘The Friday Rock Show’ was a national institution and Radio One the most important radio station to be on if you were a young heavy metal band. The exposure it gave you alone made it a sought-after prize. We were inundated with fan mail from all over the world, and independent record labels were queuing up to sign us.”
So the following record deal with Neat Records was a direct result of this first BBC session? “Yes, absolutely!” exclaims Lee Payne. “Dave Woods heard us on ‘The Friday Rock Show’ and he phoned me immediately to offer us a record deal. We were very impressed at the good job he had done with bands such as Venom and Raven. He convinced us that we belonged on Neat because he understood our music and genre. It seemed like a good idea to us because our much lamented record deal had fallen through with CBS leaving us with legal hassles. Dave Woods was willing to take a chance on us despite this, so bravo to him. We signed and the rest is history, as they say.”
Out of the four songs only “Road Of Eagles” did not make it onto the first album on Neat, why did this number not make the cut? “It was purely the record company's decision to cut the song because they wanted to keep the time down on vinyl,” explains Lee Payne. “If a record runs over 20 minutes, then the grooves are not so deep and you lose power. We therefore decided to release ‘Road Of Eagles’ on a later album. Looking back, I'm glad this happened because the song sounds great as a concluding part of the »Dominator« album. We continued to play the song live of course and it usually closed the set before the encore of ‘Laying Down The Law’."
In 1983, Cloven Hoof were a really busy live act: “We were playing here, there and everywhere, countless gigs across the UK. Back in the early 1980s, bands could go out and do that in those days. There was a very buoyant heavy metal rock club scene. Denim and leather armies would follow you everywhere and the music papers were right behind emerging new talent, not like today, sadly. They really were golden days and New Wave of British Heavy Metal was king.”
The band’s second BBC session was broadcast on October 21st 1989 and contained the songs “Mistress Of The Forest”, “Astral Rider”, “Mad Mad World” and “Fox On The Run”. Now this was a good six years after the first session. How would Cloven Hoof in 1983 compare to Cloven Hoof in 1989? For a start, the line-up had changed quite drastically … “It is quite difficult to compare line-ups,” states Lee Payne. “Everyone is good in their own way. At the time, everyone was dedicated and enthusiastic and it was a privilege to make music around those guys. That said, Steve Rounds was the stand-out musician for me because as a guitar player he was incredible and his technique was flawless. Even to this day I have never seen a guitarist quite that good. Raymond Froggatt helped manage us for a time and Black Sabbath used to support his band when they were called Earth. He was good friends with Ozzy Osbourne and he used to hang out with him when he had Randy Rhoads playing guitar. Froggy (Raymond Froggatt) said ‘Steve Rounds was the closest thing to Randy Rhoads he had ever seen’ and Steve was only 19 at the time. Quite a compliment because that guy knew his stuff. If Steve was still with us now, who knows how great he would have been? He was simply a phenomenal talent!”
For this session a cover version of the Sweet song “Fox On The Run” was recorded: “We wanted to do something a bit off the wall. Cloven Hoof had never done a cover version before, so we thought it would be fun to record a song that everybody liked. Everybody came up with a list of songs, then we put it to a vote. As a boy I had always loved Sweet, Slade, and T. Rex, so I suggested ‘Fox On The Run’ because I thought it would suit our singer Russ's vocal range. The high stacked harmonies would suit him down to a tee. When I told our record label at the time what we were going to do, they were elated. Someone at Heavy Metal Records knew Sweet's Guitarist Andy Scott personally. They gave me his telephone number and told me to have a chat with him, this I promptly did. Andy was a lovely down to earth guy and I knew Sweet used to rehearse next to Deep Purple, so we chatted for a while about Ritchie Blackmore (my idol). We got on like a house on fire, so in the end I asked Andy, if he would like to do a solo for us at BBC Maida Vale studio? He agreed but ill fortune scuppered us at the last minute. On the way, Andy had a car accident, so he never made the session. I'll never forget the phone call he made with police sirens in the background saying he was terribly sorry he couldn't make it. I made light of it by saying: ‘The background noise sounded like the start of a blockbuster.’"
In his book »The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia« expert Malc Macmillan characterized “Mistress Of The Forest”, “Astral Rider” and “Mad Mad World” as “three unremarkable numbers from Cloven Hoof’s [then"> most recent album”. Too harsh a statement maybe …? “Oh well, everyone has their own take on things,” smiles Lee Payne. “Personally I think ‘Mistress Of the Forest’ and ‘Astral Rider’ are two of our best songs ever. A fantastic band called Claymorean have just done a fantastic cover version of ‘Astral Rider’, so that proves how good the song is. I write for myself first, the fans second and the critics not at all! No disrespect to Malc of course, in this business taste is subjective, so you can't let opinions bother you.”
Was it easier for Cloven Hoof to record this second BBC session because
they already knew by then how everything worked? This seemed to have been the case: “The first session was easier to do because the musicianship was superior, we all got it down in one or two takes. On the second session we ran over time, so in the end we had to get the songs finished at the famous Abbey Road studios. Singer Russ was the main problem, he couldn't nail the vocals at the Maida Vale studio. The funniest moment though was Andy Wood playing one fingered keyboards on the ‘Fox On The Run’ intro. I can still see him now frantically trying to get the arpeggio down, his index finger a veritable blur. Tony Wilson was the man in charge for both sessions and he produced all our work personally. The BBC equipment was far superior to what we had used for our first three studio albums! It was a shame that we couldn't have had Tony Wilson producing those albums. He did a better job in two days than the other producers did in two weeks. Abbey Road basement studio was incredible, I wish we recorded our albums there.”
Somehow this second BBC session sort of marked the end of the first phase in the career of Cloven Hoof. Sad but true. Lee Payne explains: “As I said previously, our early career was dogged by legal problems but for that we probably would have been as big as Iron Maiden by now. After »The Opening Ritual« EP got into the Heavy Metal Charts at number 18, CBS, one of the biggest record companies in the world, wanted to sign the band. The budget was incredible! We would have videos done at Shepperton Studios and with full major label backing surrounding albums and tours. Sadly, David Hemmings died whilst negotiating the deal so it fell apart, leaving different people convinced they owned a piece of the band. Every time our star was in the ascendancy, people would come out the woodwork, threatening to sue. In the end, it was decided that we should ride out the so called contracts. For a time, we disbanded till the alleged deals expired.”
By 1989, a lot of members from Tredegar (post-Budgie) had joined Cloven Hoof, was the band turning into a merger of Tredegar and Cloven Hoof? “Hey, interesting point,” smirks Lee Payne. “I never really thought about it like that. I auditioned guitarist Andy Wood who was ex-Tredegar and invited him to join the band. During pre-production of the »Dominator« album, we noticed the singer that we had at the time was not cutting it. Andy told me the singer they had in Tredegar was a fan of Cloven Hoof, he had bought the debut album and had the Tommy Vance session on tape, too. He said: ‘Why don't we audition him?’ It turned out to be Russ North and he sang great at the audition, so was asked to join. Because I write all of Cloven Hoof songs, there was no danger of Cloven Hoof sounding anything like Tredegar. Russ only sang on one Tredegar album track anyway. The video to the song ‘Duma’ was Russ miming to Carl Sentance's voice, so Russ is far more well known as a Cloven Hoof singer than a Tredegar vocalist in any case.”
When Cloven Hoof originally split up in the early 1990s, did Lee Payne have the feeling that this would be the end of Cloven Hoof once and for all? “No, never for one single second,” is his straight answer. “As soon as all contractual things were sorted out, we were going to return. I never stop writing and when we got news that we were free from all ties, I got the »Eye Of The Sun« album ready to go. Unfortunately, the other band members had lost their enthusiasm and drive for music; most had settled down in 9 to 5 jobs and Russ had left England to live in Spain which made things even more difficult. I tried to get them all back together again but agendas change and people change. Cloven Hoof released »Eye Of The Sun« with a new and improved line-up and it was a brilliant album. However, seeing everything was going well, the old »Sultan's Ransom« line-up pleaded with me to give it another go. Against my better judgement, my heart ruled my head and nostalgia won the day. In the end, that line-up once again fell by the wayside, giving proof to that old adage you should never go back. Today, I have found the perfect singer in George Call who matches everything that I envisioned when I first started the band. In a way, I have been on a quest to match the sound I have in my head. It may have taken 40 years to get the right line-up but it is worth it. The new album »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?« represents all that I have been searching for. So now it is with great fondness that I remember those radio sessions and recollect the journey in music that we all made together. They really were some of the happiest days of my life and it was such an honour to record the songs for the BBC archive. Now the metal world will have a chance to have those tracks at last. Enjoy, you metal maniacs … Cloven Hoof salutes you!”