Words / Picture : Rachel Mann
Manchester is clearly the greatest musical cities on the planet. But its greatest contributions have not been in the most resilient and often maligned genres - Metal. Beecher – formed in 2001 – did more than any other band in recent times to put Manchester on the national and international Metal map. Working their northern cahunas off, their gigging, touring and sheer talent led to two impressive progressive metal albums. Exhausted from touring, they spilt in 2006 after the release of their fearsome second record, This Elegy, His Autopsy (Earache 2005). Five years on, they’ve decided to reform for a 10th Anniversary Tour. Manchester Music’s resident Metal Mistress, Rachel ‘metalvicar’ Mann caught up with bassingist, Dave Hopkinson and riff master, Mark Lyons in drizzly Hulme to talk about Manchester, just how unmetal eating sushi is, and why 10CC are apparently the greatest band ever.
Rachel: It’s been five years since Beecher split, and music moves on quickly. Sadly lots of metalheads never get beyond Lamb of God. So, for anybody out there who hasn’t got a clue who the hell Beecher are, how would you sum up what you’re about?
Mark – As I’m responsible for 99% of the fucking riffs, I might as well do it. What do we sound like? It’s really hard to describe. We just do what we do. We grew up with thrash and death metal and heavy metal in the late 80s and early 90s, so we just churn out our version of what we heard. It’s not like a forced thing: Like ‘Oh we’ve got to do this because it‘ll sound original’. We want to write something that we think is catchy. We’ll have a riff and piece of a song that’s catchy. That you could almost describe as throwaway.
R: Who are the influences? Who are the people you give a shit about?
Dave – Dave Mustaine, Rush, Sepultura, early Genesis, and not just rocky things. There was a period where the nu-metal thing happened where we both started listening to bands like The Bluetones and Blur. I think there’s a lot of that, especially in the song writing: the pop sensibilities are in there. We started off in a fucking doom metal band, then a jazzy, technical death metal band, then we did a fucking joke grindcore improvised band (smiles; everyone laughs) then that translated into the first Beecher demo. So, there’s lots of different things. And there’s the electronic stuff that goes on. We’re both fans of Jean Michel-Jarre and Vangelis. So there’s a wealth of influences.
R: I’ve heard you called a progressive metal band. I’ve even heard you called Mathcore. Do these labels mean jack shit to you?
Mark: Hehe. Yeah. Pretty much. I guess the music we make is just a reflection of the music we listen to. We’ve grown up with a lot of different music. Instrumental synth stuff was my thing from the age of about eight. I remember hearing the Blade Runner soundtrack and stuff from Jan Hammer and Harold Faltermeyer...soundtracks from ‘80s action films. As a teenager I got into Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera and that goes into heavier and heavier things.
Dave: Pantera were last big heavy metal band that I really, really liked and they were proper fucking fancy. They had absolutely everything. Then when you had Sepultura inventing nu-metal with ‘Chaos A.D’ and watering it down, you’d still listened to underground doom and stuff. Anathema and My Dying Bride were still pretty decent then. Death did ‘Symbolic’ in 1995, so they were still doing decent stuff. So there was still that undercurrent. It was just duff stuff floating on the popular market.
Mark: You’d just hear basically three notes the entire night tuned down to G sharp.
Dave: Fucking dickheads in baseball shirts like 400 sizes fucking too big for ‘em.
Mark: Fucking Korn (laughs)
Dave: Just absolute rubbish.
Rachel: Why come back now? Why do this now? What are you hoping to achieve now you’re back?
Mark: I dunno... it’s weird ‘cos when we split up, it was a pretty quick decision. We were probably burnt out, but we should have just (laughs) had a break or something. Over the previous few years we kind of ground our lives into the ground. We didn’t have jobs; our home lives weren’t great. So it all fell apart. So I guess that over the last five years as it’s simmered down, we’ve realized how much fun we actually had. There was never any animosity between any of us. Basically when we split up we needed to sort our shit out.
Dave: The last six months of the band when we were touring, none of us had any money. You can only sacrifice so much. The personnel –the five of us – were more important than the whole band. When we first started, all we wanted was to take it as far as we possibly could. And up to that point we did. We lost members who weren’t as committed as us. We went through some shit. Like three fucking drummers and having to find fucking replacement people all the time. We would have loved to tour, but you’ve just got to sort your shit out at the end of the day. It’s only a band.
Rachel: The point where you split up - January 2006 – you’d had, as far as I could see, quite a lot of critical acclaim, you were turning out some pretty fierce licks and had an album with Earache. Any regrets about not saying ‘Let’s just take six months out’?
Dave: Hindsight is a wonderful thing, innit? Maybe five years ago, I was the forceful one who said, ‘Right that’s it. Fuck it boys. It’s over’.
Mark: I think the time we’ve had off, feels like a good amount of time. For a year after our last gig I didn’t touch my guitar at all. Maybe even longer. Obviously Dave and Ed (Godby, vocalist) went on to do The Freezing Fog and I’ve not even played a gig since February 2006. So this first one in April is going to be pretty fucking...(everyone laughs) traumatic...(big laughs). It’s gonna be exciting.
Rachel: That last ever gig at the Star and Garter in February 2006 was enough to tear the whole fucking place down. You had a lot of people who couldn’t get in. This Manchester gig coming up – it was going to be at the Star and Garter. It sold out. How do you feel about that? Was there part of you that would have liked it to be back at the Star and Garter instead of Moho Live?
Dave: Obviously I’m happy it’s fucking sold out. I’m really, really chuffed. Also it’s doubly good that people are still as interested. ‘Cos I’m sure that I wouldn’t be (everyone laughs). I still think it’s absolutely fucking great. The bigger venue, more people. The final tour we did we had a full light show and everything, but everything just went wrong on that final night. My amp blew up about five minutes before we went on, so I had to use someone else’s. We had a fucking camera crew there filming it all and we couldn’t get the lights working. So it was pretty much like a bare show. So our plan now is: bigger venue, get more people in and have it like the last tour. The full on light show...really, really good set and everything. The last show – we played 24/25 songs or summat. It was kind of too nice. Too much like this big family get together and celebration. These shows coming up: they’re going to be more like what we were and also less emotional.
Mark: I think it’s going to be a mix of the two. I think the capacity of the venue is something like five hundred and we’ve nearly sold all the tickets already and there’s still a couple of months to go. So it’s pretty much going to sell out.
Dave: (aside) Should have booked the Apollo (laughs)
Mark: Think though about two hundred of them are going to be friends and family, so I think it’s going to be like a big party. And I think we’re going to be having some after-show thing after wards. But at the same time hopefully it’s going to be like how we were when we were at our best.
We’re going to have the full on light show, everything’s going to work this time. Hopefully!
R: Have you been working on any new stuff? Are you looking at doing anything new, not necessarily for the gig, but coming up?
Mark: Well, at the moment we’re just concentrating on these gigs coming up. We’ve had five years off and I’ve had to show all these lot how to play the songs again (laughter)
Dave: I could only remember three riffs out of it must have been two million. I was like ‘For God’s sake, you prick’.
Mark: Luckily, for some reason I remembered them. So, we’ve been practising for two or three months. So it’s going good. I think we’re getting there. So as far as new stuff goes, there’s ideas for new songs. Before we split up we had pretty much twenty minutes of stuff. There’s stuff lying around all the time. Once we get this initial bunch of gigs out of the way we’re going to have to see what happens during the summer. But maybe we’ll be writing new stuff, maybe we won’t. We’ll see how everyone feels. Ed lives in Belgium now so that’s a little hurdle there, but in this day and age there are bands in the States - some of ‘em live in NY some of them live in LA; they do it.
Dave: I’m pretty certain that once the set is up to scratch...it’s the nature of the beast to want to try. At the end of the day, it’s not feeling as strange as it was. We’re musicians. We’re not a covers band. As musicians it’s only natural to do summat else.
R: Manchester is a big music city – you can see something of quality every night of the week. It’s had a huge impact on world music, but why is it, apart from yourselves, I’m struggling to think of real quality metal bands who’ve broken through? Tell me if I’m full of shit, but what is it about Manchester that’s meant it’s had more of an indie rep than a metal rep?
Dave: I suppose when you’ve got bands like Joy Division and fucking The Fall and Oasis and The Stone Roses and the whole Madchester thing. Even when you trace it back to the 60s...you got bands like the Hollies. 10CC – The best band from Manchester ever. The best band in the world...but I’m as surprised as anybody that for the world’s greatest city hasn’t had a massive metal /rock thing. You wonder why Birmingham...you know...It’s pretty depressing really to say we’re the heaviest and most successful heavy band from Manchester (said with big self-deprecating smile; everyone laughs).
M: It’s quite strange. In ‘94/’95, all the metal bands that were in Manchester – they were basically the same five or ten people in different bands. We were in death metal bands in say ‘95 and we’d play gigs with the same bands every few months. I remember Pantera coming and Megadeth and stuff – they’d sell out the Apollo . There’d be thousands of people into metal, but when you came to form a band, it was always the same ten people that you knew (laughter). No one seemed to play instruments and about five of them were shit (laughter). So you’d end up with Ewok, Necropsy and Dr Dick- it was the same group of people basically.
D: All practising in the same place as well.
M: There are bands like Kill To This and Dearly Beheaded – weren’t they from Stockport? They got in a few mags and did a few tours and stuff. But not sure how big they were. Not really sure how big we were. I wouldn’t say we we’re big at all.
R: I’m not saying you were big in the sense of Megadeth. But what I am saying is that you were known by the right people and respected by the right people. And Earache Records have always been prepared to do interesting bands.
D: One factor is that well-known metal labels aren’t based in Manchester. You’ve got Earache in the Midlands...obviously London is full of ‘em.
M: When we first started there wasn’t a lot of metal labels in England. You had Candlelight, Earache , Roadrunner...it wasn’t like now : there’s record labels coming out of Leeds...Manchester . Everyone is starting a record label. People are releasing their own records left right and centre; whereas back then what we did was just work our arses off. I think a lot of people in Manchester are too lazy (laughter). I know there are a lot of talented musicians in Manchester who don’t get out of their bedrooms. They’re great on their instruments, but they just don’t what they have to do to go out there and get gigs. You see bands and they play Manchester every week; when we started off we were like ‘Fuck this, we’re out of here’. We sent our demo off to London and luckily people liked it and they invited us down to play a gig. We went to London and played for fuck all however many times. It’s what you’ve got to do to get noticed and a lot of people in Manchester just play Manchester, Salford, and that’s it. That’s why they don’t get any recognition.
D: ...If you play in Manchester four times a month people are just gonna get fucking bored of ya’. You know what I mean? ‘Cos if you go round the country – the reception from different areas ...Manchester is pretty stand- backish; you go to Glasgow it’s utterly different. And London is.
If you could tour with any one band from metal /rock history who would it be and why?
Dave: Megadeth in 90- Rust in Peace...fucking ridiculous...the pinnacle of their career...um...Carcass in ‘92...Death....Rush would be a nice one...Metallica in ‘85...I’d like to play with Cardiacs...that would be nice...Level 42 (laughter) ...
Rachel: Why Level 42, Dave?
Dave: They’re my favourite band...untold genius....absolute ...always liked them since the age of 10.
Rachel: Is it a bass player thing?
Dave: It’s songs and everything. Best voice. Best keyboard player.
Rachel: Might keep this quiet...this bit...hehe
Mark: There’s a lot of love in this house for ‘80s music.
If you ended up on a desert island with cannibals and a band member had to be sacrificed to save the rest of you, who would end up in the pot?
Dave: (laughter)....It can’t be him (Mark) ‘cos otherwise we’ll forget all the riffs...can’t be Ed ‘cos he sings ...and all the girls like him...he’s the ‘Smash Hits’ member of the band...can’t be me ‘cos I’m a bass player and...WHO would drive?? And it can’t obviously be the drummer...
Mark: What about (Andrew) Maughan? He’s our official light man...the sixth member...
Dave: And Dan Shaw is needed to throw bikes into canals.
Rachel: Sounds like your light guy is fucked...he’s going down...
Mark: Lights aren’t that essential...if someone’s going to get it, it’s him...
Dave: And there’s quite a lot of him as well (laughter)...if it’s female cannibals then I’m for the taking any day...
Having read on Twitter that earlier Dave ate some sushi and washed it down with some pellagrino, what is the least metal thing you’ve done recently?
Mark: When did you do that?
Dave: Today. And it was fucking gorgeous. I found two quid in a car at work so it paid for the sushi....I’m a pretty good Marti Pellow impersonator and I listen to Smooth FM – it’s my favourite radio station (smile)- so when ‘Angel Eyes’ comes on, that’s it , I’m gone. So that’s probably the least metal thing I’ve done recently (laughter).
Mark: I don’t think I do anything metal. (Huge laughter). Apart from when I touch a guitar and summat happens.
Beecher play MohoLive on Friday April 29th 2011
this interview MARCH 2011 / www.rachelmann.co.uk / Twitter: @metalvicar / (c) manchestermusic.co.uk 2011