I was lucky to see HOLOCAUST twice last year and also had the chance to meet John Mortimer, the legendary frontman of this spectacular band. After the show in Greece, John kindly accepted my interview request and after some delays, we are able to publish this in-depth interview.

HS – As most will agree “Heavy Metal Mania” is one of the best heavy metal anthems ever, may be the best. What were you thinking when you created this song, it is very naïve with lyrics but also shows your great passion for metal? What were the circumstances back then?

JM – Back then the term “Heavy Metal” was almost never used. The term used was “Heavy Rock”. Every now and then you would see the expression “Heavy Metal” used by journalists to designate something that was considered extreme in terms of heaviness. The concept of Heavy Metal inspired me because I took it to mean something pure. like having extracted gold or iron from rock ore. In other words, for me Metal was about getting the excitement of the heaviness on its own, away from the rock and roll or blues roots. A song like Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” for example, has that excitement but it is like it is a rock and roll song that becomes “Heavy” because it is played with a certain attitude. What I wanted to do was just isolate that attitude and create music based on that attitude, not based on rock and roll or blues. The precious metal had to be extracted from the rock. So to get back to the song, “Heavy Metal Mania”. I felt like I was living for this music. I felt like nobody else really understood what Heavy Metal was and so I felt very alone. But I wasn’t going to try to fool myself into thinking that I would fit in with the Punks or the Mods or the Pop fan teenie-boppers, or even the Rock fans. “Heavy Metal Mania” is a statement like, “This is who I am and I don’t care if you don’t understand”.

HS – I believe that the best songs of metal bands are mostly in the debut releases, what about you?

JM – I don’t actually see it that way myself. I think some of the best songs were indeed from the NWOBHM era but the current band plays them more like they were intended to be. I love much of the second era, (1989 – 2002), material every bit as much. As for the material we are planning to release in the near future. I love that best of all. I reckon the NWOBHM songs are more popular simply because more people have been exposed to them. I know there are many fans who prefer the second era albums though. If I am to take your question strictly within the context of the first three albums then I would say that the second album, (the Live album), only had a few new songs on it and by that time there was already a split appearing in the band. Gary, Robin and Ed wanted to steer away from Heavy Metal and go in a stadium rock direction whereas I wanted to experiment with extremes of Metal and also incorporate a progressive element. As for “No Man’s Land” – I had only been writing with the drummer Steve Cowan for six months or so and he had only been playing drums for less than a year, so the songs were necessarily simple and punky. It was a total surprise when Phoenix Records asked if I could do another Holocaust album immediately. The album was recorded on a low budget with very little time. Considering these circumstances it’s no surprise it wasn’t a classic.

HS – Despite the historical importance, NWOBHM was a short lived genre and most of the bands disappeared in a few years. What happened in the late 1980s to NWOBHM scene, what started the decline?

JM – Short answer – the big media in the UK. The BBC, the major labels and established music press decided what was “cool” and what was not. In those pre-internet days the big media genuinely ruled. When those media forces decided NWOBHM was over it did indeed die a death. The major labels had put serious resources behind their chosen acts, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Saxon and now they were looking for the “next thing”.

HS – …and related to this, what made you continue, what kept you in this?

JM – I cannot stop writing music. I have Heavy Metal music in my blood. I was born to do this. That is the honest answer.

HS – Was Metallica’s covering “The Small Hours” effective in your recognition level?

JM – Only outside of the UK. Again, because it was the pre-internet days I had very little idea of what was going on outside the UK. We got the chance to play Wacken in 1993, third on the bill – and that was because of the increased recognition due to Metallica. We were amazed at that and it was a great show for us. Unfortunately we couldn’t make any other significant contacts whilst over in Germany. The attitude of the UK big media to “The Small Hours” cover was like, “Big deal! So what?”.

HS – You are the only original member and worked with several musicians during this period, is it hard to continue all alone, getting new members, adapting them to your style…

JM – Yes. But Steve Cowan was like a rock to me throughout those years. He understood what I was doing and he continually developed his talent until he became a truly remarkable drummer. None of the second era material apart from “Primal” could have happened without him.

HS – There are not too many 3 piece bands, is this your choice and are you more comfortable on stage with 3 people or 4-5 is better?

JM – Well, at the same time there is M:Pire of Evil, Motorhead, Budgie and Rush! I am greatly inspired by all of those bands. As to which number is better, 3 or 4 or 5, I would say it all depends on who the people are. We played Wacken as a 3-piece and it was awesome.

HS – How do you evaluate NWOBHM as a genre composed of very different bands with no common styles? Venom, Pagan Altar, Praying Mantis, Vardis,Witchfinder General, and so, belonging to the same genre, isn’t it weird?

JM – I think diversity is very important. Metal IS a diverse style and there are no rules about what you can and can’t do. The artists create the style. If the style creates the artists then the “artists” are not real artists.

HS – How is British metal scene, fans, rock media? Do you share the view that metal is stuck in Europe, mostly central Europe…Greece is an exception!

JM – Metal in the UK is very much a minority thing. It is actually a very similar situation to Metal in France. The Metal fans are very loyal and enthusiastic and of all ages but they are a tiny percentage of the popular music consumers. The traditional heart lands for Metal – Holland, Germany, Belgium – are stronger than ever. But I don’t think it can be denied that the Scandanavian countries are very big for all kinds of Metal now. Metal is also strong in Italy, Greece and Spain.

HS – Was it hard to be a Scottish metal band. I can see that, may be Canadian bands are always overlooked, how is it with Ireland or Scotland compared to England?

JM – Being Scottish was a disadvantage back in the NWOBHM era. That was because in the pre-internet days you were less likely to be successful the farther away you were from London. These days, being Scottish is a positive advantage! People in most countries have a very positive view of Scotland.

HS -I know that you have a great relationship with Spartan Warrior,what are your thoughts on them and may be other active NWOBHM bands?

JM – There are three things I would say about Spartan Warrior. First, they were a great band in the early 1980s who never got the recognition they deserved. Second, they are an even better band now. Third, they are great people as well as great musicians. All the other active bands that I’ve seen have been impressive and I can easily understand why NWOBHM is undergoing a revival because the fans who go to these shows always have a really good time. We had a fantastic gig in Edinburgh with Spartan Warrior last summer and we will be playing a Newcastle show with them in September. We specifically organised the Edinburgh show for them and they have specifically organised the Newcastle show for us. It’s a good example of the co-operation and mutual support that exists between many of the NWOBHM bands in this age.

HS -The Nightcomers had a couple of re-issues, do you plan a new reissue both for it and other albums? What do you think of re-issues?

JM – I do not control what happens with any of the old catalogue, including The Nightcomers. These songs are very difficult for people to access even on YouTube.

HS – What do you think of new metal trends, thrash metal seems to rise again with NWOTM bands, which I don’t like much. They play a very straightforward music with almost no melodies in it, what do you think?

JM – To be honest, the only NWOTM band I know is Municipal Waste. I like them, I think they are a great band although it is very much derived from Nuclear Assault and DRI. or at least, that’s how I hear it. I do love thrash metal so I’m glad it’s undergoing a surge of revival. But like I say, I don’t know much about it these days.

HS – You released an EP-Expander and there were plans for a new album, when can we expect to see a new release?

JM – Soon, I hope. We have loads of new material recorded. In fact we have so much that it is a problem now. There is label interest in the new material but the whole thing is very confused at the moment because no-one knows which songs to choose for the next album and then the one after that. you know, which order it should be released in and all that. I’m pissed off with the situation. I wish they would just release some stuff and then we could get on with it.

HS – You went through several different syles in years, how your music and lyrics evolved in time. Expander song is closer to NWOBHM style; will we be expecting a new NWOBHM release?

JM – Strange as it may seem for me to say this – it’s not for me to say what the style is. I never write songs from the point of view of choosing a style or mode. I just write from what inspires me at the time.

HS – I found the setlist in Greece/Rock You To Hell a little too short, what was the reason? You played for less than an hour…

JM – We did not know that Wotan would be playing for 15 minutes or whatever it was. this was the promoter’s idea of a “surprise”. That took up some of our set time. We were pissed off about that but we were not the headlining band, (Medieval Steel were), so we did NOT want to take up THEIR time. Sure, we had come from Scotland but they had come all the way from the USA!

HS – I really have a curiosity for your interest in Lady Gaga?

JM – I know it’s difficult to understand from the outside. For those that truly connect with Lady Gaga the whole thing is more like a religion or a spiritual movement than an art-pop performer and her fans. Gaga herself describes it as a “pop cultural religion”. Beneath the surface the “Little Monster” community genuinely is like a spiritual movement and Lady Gaga is the heart of it. Many lives have been saved from suicide by that woman. she is a phenomenal talent and a great light in the world for those that have connected with her. You mentioned the “Expander” EP earlier. there is a line in the song, “Shine Out” that goes, “For me, the Christ is a woman. ” and that is Gaga I’m refering to.

Thanks in advance John, if you don’t mind, I also have a short Q&A part which is a little bit out of fashion. But, personally I love to read these, so I added …

HS – Who was your idol in metal, have you met him?

JM – I guess my idol in Metal, (rather than Rock), is Tony Iommi. In Rock it would be Jimmy Page. I have not met either of them. I’ve seen them Live and that’s all.

HS – Can you remember the first metal song you heard, first record you bought or seeing a live concert?

JM – First Metal song I heard was “Symptom Of The Universe” by Black Sabbath. First record I ever bought was “Masters Of Reality” by Black Sabbath. The first gig I ever went to was 10cc on the “How Dare You?!” tour. First Metal concert. well, it depends how you define Metal. I saw Uriah Heep on the “High And Mighty” tour, then AC/DC on the “Highway To Hell” tour and Motorhead on the “Bomber” tour. And, she noted, the physical conditions of the city, where large swaths of neighborhoods remain abandoned or largely untouched since the storm, make it even harder for children to focus on school and learning. If none of them count as Metal then it would be Saxon on the Strong Arm Of The Law tour. but that show was really second-rate, whereas the 3 previous shows I mentioned were awesome.

HS – Was there a certain person-family, friend-who took you in metal?

JM – No! I was completely alone when I heard “Symptom Of The Universe” on the radio one Saturday and I instantly knew I NEEDED to be involved in that type of music. not just a fan, but someone creatively involved.

HS – The weirdest fan you ever met?

JM – A German guy who wanted to show us his knife collection, especially what he called his “Killing Knife”??!!

HS – The worst thing happened on a show/tour?

JM – We had this gig in a small Scottish town called Bathgate and the venue owner had done no promotion at all because it was right after the Metallica cover and he just assumed there would be word of mouth promotion. Well, it got to 15 minutes before we were due to play and there was NO-ONE. I mean, not one single person, in the venue, just us and the sound guy and the venue owner. Then this girl walked in and looked about and we all went, “HI!!!” and she ran away! So we packed up and went back to Edinburgh. Hilarious to look back on.

HS – How do you rate the fans of different generations, what was your favorite days, 80s-90s-20s…

JM – Honestly, the fans of each generation are equally awesome. It’s really hard to say which era is my favourite musically because there is so much I love from each era.

HS – Do you play any covers on stage, if you did what would it be?

Not now. Holocaust has done Live covers of “She’s Lost Control” by Joy Division and “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols.

HS – What are your hobbies or work in daily life besides music…

JM – Right now I work in a supermarket. I love Hindu spirituality and I love chess.

HS – Your favorite movie?

JM – The Matrix, (the first one). HS – What have you listened recently?
JM – Dominique Young Unique, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, Led Zeppelin. but most of all the new Holocaust material that is being developed.


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