PIECE OF CAKE…
With a name drawn from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1978 fantasy novel the Welsh five-piece Stormqueen were one of the many bands of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal who had everything except that tiny bit of luck which separated those who made it from those who didn’t. Original vocalist Chris Glynn-Jones and founder member and guitarist Dave Morse share their recollections of the band, their highly-prized single, and the Famous Five…
“I’ve been thinking about how the band came together over the past few days,” Chris Glynn-Jones begins, in response to the obvious opening question. “I was in school with Boof, the drummer, and guitarist Neil Baker; we were in the same year in secondary school. There was a lot of music going on in Barry, everybody seemed to be in a band, so people were jamming all the time. But it was thanks to Boof and Neil that I hooked up with the band.” Boofy, for those not too well acquainted with Stormqueen, is drummer Neil Clemo. He and Chris had pretty much grown up together, being friends at primary school and then secondary school. There are two versions as to how he came by his nickname. “Well,” says Chris, “the first comes from the fact that he was a lovely, lovely looking little rosy-cheeked, blond-haired boy who all the girls loved, and his mum would say ‘what a boo’ful boy he is’. He was a lovely kid and he was good at football and that leads to the other story; he and I used to play football together in the yard in Barry Island Junior School, kicking the ball as hard as we could down the length of the yard to each other, and hence the ‘boof!’ when he kicked the ball. He had one hell of a hard shot! And as that’s probably the more rock ‘n’ roll of the two stories, we’ll go with that!”
Despite the band’s Welsh origins, Stormqueen Mk.I – Chris, guitarists Dave Morse and Neil Baker, bassist Bryn Merrick and Boofy – coalesced at the end of the Seventies around three Barry guys as well as an American and a Canadian. “Yeah, it sounds a lot more rock ‘n’ roll now you put it like that!” laughs Chris. “I think Neil had lived in this country for some time and he always had that kind of slightly cool Canadian accent going on. I’m not sure how old Dave was when he came over from the States, but I’ve never noticed a North American accent from him at all; he’s always had a very typically Barry accent, really. We didn’t meet until probably I was eighteen and Dave would have been maybe a year older, I think; it was in that period when Stormqueen was first formed that we really got to know each other.”
“It was late ’79, early ’80 when we got together,” clarifies Dave Morse. “I think when Neil and I got together it was the end of ’79 and when the nucleus of the band came together it was early ’80. I’d been monkeying around with a friend of mine, doing this and that, just learning to play guitar for a few years, probably from age about 12 or 13, and although we weren’t doing anything too serious his family moved to Southampton so that got nixed. But I knew Neil Baker, well, I knew all the guys from the first line-up, from school, because there’s only one comprehensive school in Barry, and that’s Barry Boys’ Comprehensive, and all the boys went there.
“By about 18 I was really chomping at the bit to do something properly and I bumped into Neil in the pub we all used to hang out at and he was saying pretty much the same thing, y’know, that he wanted to get something serious together. So he came over to my house and we started jamming on some riffs and things, and it was quite apparent immediately that we had a chemistry, the way we were feeding off each other. He knew Boofy quite well because they went to the same primary school, so we got him involved. I knew Bryn, he was the bass player in a punk band then, and I asked if he wanted to jam with us a bit and he said ‘yeah, yeah, sure’ – but there was no plan for him to join the band as such. And Boofy knew Chris – I mean, Barry’s not a big town anyway – and we knew he was a good singer, and so we asked him down to come and jam with us. And that really was how it all fell together. Very quickly the songwriting side of things started to get pretty serious. Neil and I were spending a lot of time together just writing and writing and writing and writing and then we just started doing gigs in Barry, and it kind of grew from there, really.”
As for the trans-Atlantic connection, “yes,” laughs Dave, “that was kind of a weird co-incidence. Neil’s family were in Toronto, and we were in Detroit, and we both moved back in the same year – ’69. His family were from Barry, and my father was Welsh.”
Stormqueen’s first gig was at the musicians’ previous school. “God, yes, it was; Barry Boys’ Comprehensive,” recalls Chris, when it’s mentioned. “I can remember it very clearly actually. All originals: Stormqueen never played a cover, not to my knowledge, and Dave was really proud about that. So it was all original material and that’s not easy to do; you normally back it up with a bit of Lizzy or Purple or Zeppelin or something like that, but it was all originals, and strong stuff too. Quite brave. Three guitarists at that time at that first gig as well, as we had another guy in the band doing rhythm guitar, so there was a very big sound coming from the band with three guitars all with stacks – Hiwatts and Marshalls and what-have-you – all vying with each other. What else?” he thinks for a moment or two and then laughs. “A wide selection of spandex trousers! I was wearing a very nice blouson jacket, and a poodle hair affair which was all natural, no perm; and I think we used some pyrotechnics as well. We were always very big on pyrotechnics, even on small gigs. This was Dave’s sort of attention to detail – be it backdrops, logos, pyrotechnics, whatever. We did actually play a gig in the youth club that was attached to the school and I’m not sure if it was that one or the main school gig, but Dave had actually cut out letters and covered them in tin foil, must have been about 4ft high, spelling out STORMQUEEN and hung them from the back of the stage. The ‘S’ and the ‘Q’ fell off halfway through the gig, and I remember leaving the stage for a slash and someone in the toilets pointing out that it now said ‘TORMUEEN’, and some people knew us as Tormueen after that! True story,” he laughs again.
Having amassed a sizeable number of originals the band decided it was time to record a demo. “The studio situation was pretty difficult, basically very expensive, but somebody told me about BBC Stacey Road Studios,” says Dave, “which although part of the BBC was a basic studio which they used to rent out for recordings. So we booked ourselves in there for a day and did the first demo. And I know you’re going to ask me the date and I’ve asked pretty much everybody close to the band at the time and we’re all, uh, vague, to say the least! Some of us say it was towards the end of 1980; one or two people seem to think it might have been early ’81; but I’m inclined to say late 1980, to be honest, ” although research undertaken by Dave afterwards came up with a definitive (and much later) date of 20 December 1981.
“That was the ‘highly acclaimed’ first demo,” continues Dave, “featuring ‘Battle Of Britain’, ‘Captives Of the Moon’, ‘Lady Night’, and ‘Raising The Roof’. I’ve always been big on the technology side of things, so I was like a dog with two tails in the studio! I do remember the engineer was this kind of dour, older gentleman in an argyle sweater with a pipe and beard, and he had his ways of doing things, quite clearly, and wasn’t into anything progressive or ground-breaking; so when we started making suggestions his eyebrow would go up and it was like ‘that’s not how we do it at the BBC, you know.’ Dave laughs at the memory. ‘Well, maybe we could have a siren on the beginning of this?’ we suggested, hopefully. Now luckily, he had a BBC sound effects album lying around, which is where that siren came from. So, on it went! And after a while we had the gun-battle bit in the middle from that same album (which I now have a vinyl copy of, actually!).
“It was a great session. We were well-rehearsed, which we had to be because we had just eight hours to record and mix four songs, on an eight track, so we didn’t really have time to do much, if anything, in the way of overdubs. All the backing tracks went down live, and pretty much first take. I think we did a bit of over-dubbing here and there, but, y’know, with those old tape machines you can’t just drop in very easily, you have to be pretty accurate… People these days don’t understand how difficult it was to work with tape. You couldn’t just make it up; you had to know what you were going to do, well, to a certain extent… I mean, you could ad lib a little bit, but when the tapes were rolling you either delivered the goods or,” he thinks of the right words, “you were crap! Simple as that! And you haven’t got all day: you haven’t even got an hour to do that solo. You’ve got fifteen minutes, tops, if you’re lucky. But it didn’t feel like pressure, weirdly; we were so focused, we knew what we wanted so we just went in there and got it down.”
However, Stormqueen Mk.I’s days were numbered. “I was probably not as committed as I should have been,” says Chris, “so… Well, I had an interesting life, work, girlfriends, and was trying to find a career as well. I can’t remember the details now but I think we had a general falling-out. When you’re working with someone like Dave you’ve got to be 100% committed to it and looking back now I can see that I wasn’t so I drifted out of it. I’ve always stayed great friends with Boof, still am, but that was that, and I think I moved out of Barry around a year or so after. I went through the usual thing of ‘shit, I wish I’d pulled my weight a bit more! These guys are still really good,’ and Paul’s voice was something else, something really different, and I’ve always admired his creativity. But there were no massive fallings-out. I was slightly jealous probably at the time because you always miss a band when you’re not in it any more, but I kept an eye on them and their great promotional drives…”
“Back then, Chris’s lyric-writing skills weren’t too honed,” recalls Dave. “In fact, all the lyrics on the early stuff I wrote. And he also wasn’t really as dedicated as the rest of us, he was into having fun, and being a lad of his age he wasn’t that focused on the task in hand. We wanted someone more serious so we told him ‘look, you have to get more serious or we have to find somebody else.’ And he kind of went ‘ahh’, ‘err’, ‘umm’… But we couldn’t carry any passengers. It wasn’t acrimonious, I know he was upset because he was kind of forced out, to be fair,” admits Dave, sounding genuinely remorseful. “But if he’d committed it might have been different. To be honest, we were pretty ruthless.
“So after the departure of Chris we put some ads out around Cardiff music shops and a singer named Mac auditioned who was living in the same house as Paul Burnett. Mac was good, but he wasn’t who we were looking for. But he left the tape lying around and Paul picked it up and put it on and was like ‘whoa, what’s this; these guys are pretty happening’ and Mac told him it was the band he’d just auditioned for. Paul was in Ashmata at that time and Mac came back to tell us that ‘my mate in Ashmata is really into what you’re doing.’ We went along to check out Ashmata who were playing some gigs in Cardiff, and really liked Paul. We had a chat after the gig, invited him down to audition and he got the job. Bryn had left too, so we needed a bass player and Nick McCormack was a friend of Paul’s, so Nick came down as well; I can’t remember if Nick was also in Ashmata or not. He was quite a contrast to Bryn; Bryn is a fantastically gifted natural bass player, he could really run around the guitar a lot, where Nick’s more of a pretty rock solid, Cliff Williams-ish, nail-down-the-backbeat kind of player. But he fitted quite well so Stormqueen Mk.II was born at that point.
“Paul was a good lyricist, and his vocal melodies were excellent, so the songwriting took a real leap and we started coming out with things like ‘Come Silent the World’ and ‘No Peace For the Wicked’ and we thought, ‘yeah, time to record’ so we went in to do three songs: ‘Come Silent the World’, ‘No Peace For the Wicked’ and another version of ‘Raising The Roof’ as Paul sang it so differently. Somewhere along the line it was decided that we needed to get a 45 out and Paul’s brother loaned us the £500 to get it pressed up.”
The three-song session took place at Loco Studios in Usk – “recorded 13/3/82 in 8 hours dead” is scrawled on the tape box – with the choice of songs for the single being a “no-brainer” according to Dave. “‘Come Silent the World’ is such a catchy, powerful song, and ‘Raising The Roof’ does what it says on the tin. It just seemed once we’d chosen ‘Come Silent the World’ – well, actually it chose itself, it was definitely the strongest song that we had at that time – ‘Raising The Roof was so ‘balls-out, let’s go!’ it made the perfect B-side.”
Due to a technical hitch, there are two versions of the single, the ultra-rare one carrying the wrong title. “Yeah, what happened was, we pressed 500 and they originally, for whatever reason, came pressed with black and red labels and the title ‘Come Silent The Night’. So they were sent back to be destroyed, or so we thought, but somehow some copies leaked out. I don’t to this day know how, because I never had one,” says Dave. “Neil kept one, he told me that later, and I know he gave a couple away as promos to Red Dragon Radio so maybe they gave one away. But yes, the red label ones are very rare, and I was pretty astonished when one went for £600 on eBay. Subsequently, some of the second pressing with the black labels have sold for £300 – £350.”
With the singles (finally) pressed up, the band decided they needed a manager as it was getting far too much work to try and do everything in-house. Enter Joey Parratt. “He was a bit of a schemer,” recalls Dave. “He had this band called The Flying Brix that he managed to get a lot of publicity for in NME, stuff like that, and he had all these great ideas – what he called ‘scams’ – to get details in the music press. And he certainly had his eyes on the task. He wanted to be like a Malcolm McLaren type figure, I would say. So, we said, ‘manage us, then,’ and he did.
“Joe was managing us for probably a couple of years, and he cooked up this amazing ‘great rock ‘n’ roll swindle’ kind of thing. He was using the South Wales Echo, the local paper, as a stepping stone to get publicity rolling and said that we should change our name to the Famous Five – but only temporarily: it wouldn’t actually be our name – and use the Famous Five in all these different things he had on the go. I can’t even remember all the details now. But we were all, ‘wow, this is pretty clever,’ so we went along with it and called ourselves the Famous Five for a while, and then once that had worked with the local press we announced we were dropping that name and becoming Stormqueen. Oh, yes, I forgot; as we were the Famous Five we decided that we needed our own type of music, so it was called ‘fantasy rock’.
“And,” he continues, “it was Joey who was involved in getting us all dressed up in the animal prints. ‘You’ve got to have a look; you’ve got to have some kind of image!’ he said. So we all went up to London one day and went to Carnaby Street where we found all these animal print things, so we all decided to ‘adopt’ an animal as our motif.” Another long laugh! “So I was a leopard, Neil was a snake, Boofy refused, Paul got the zebra and Nick, well, Nick wasn’t there so he got whatever we bought for him! It sounds – and was – quite funny but it did work. People did notice. Yes, they took the piss quite a lot, to be honest, but people remembered it, and that as the whole point.
Meanwhile, ‘Come Silent The World’ gained some interest from Heavy Metal Records in Wolverhampton. “They asked us up to meet with them but what they offered wasn’t a particularly attractive package. It was like,” he looks for the right word, “scraps, really, and we had our eyes set on bigger things. When we were in London with Joe we went around a few record companies, dropped in and gave them press cuttings, things like that, but I think the problem was, to be honest, when they found out we were from Wales they just weren’t interested. The music business is very London-centric and I think if we’d have moved to London early on we might have done so much better. But that’s the wonders of hindsight. I mean, Persian Risk did OK, but they had pro managers so they were getting lots of London gigs, and, well, they certainly didn’t advertise they were from Wales.
“But anyway, we played all the gigs we could in and around Wales, but found it really difficult to get gigs in London. The whole Welsh thing again: you leave a telephone number and as soon as someone saw it was a Welsh number they never called back; it wasn’t that easy to hide that we were from Wales. Meanwhile, Neil was branching out a lot musically: Rush, a bit of jazz, all kinds of technical stuff, and Nick wasn’t really up to it. We went on for a while, and Nick started making noises about wanting to go. In the end he left, but by that time Bryn was back around, so he came back to the fold. We’d started writing in a different way though; the third demo is certainly not straight-forward heavy metal. We had a lot more we wanted to say, and we were exploring songwriting a lot more. So this was Stormqueen Mk.III, and the dates for that demo, again recorded at Loco, were 22 January 1983 and 1 February 1983. There was another half-day somewhere, I’m sure of it, but the date’s not marked on the box. But now we had more time, and we could experiment a bit more. I think we had a sixteen- and an eighteen-hour session, which is gruelling, but when you’re doing what you love, it’s fantastic.
“The songs had definitely evolved a lot more by this time, and were more complicated. ‘Cake’ was something that never really formed into song which is how it sort of became the intro of ‘These Walls Have Eyes’. Some of the songs were certainly heavy metal: ‘These Walls Have Eyes’ is, definitely. But Neil was using jazzier chords and different modes and things and it brought a different feel to it. After doing the demo it was back to more gigging and trying to get more publicity. Joey had stopped being our manager by that time, I think, although I know he arranged a gig in Bristol for us. But it was mostly around Barry, Cardiff and South Wales that we played – we just couldn’t get gigs further afield.
“By this time though Neil and I were having some differences. Whereas previously we were seeing eye-to-eye now we were starting to clash. At the recording of that third demo fisticuffs ensued at one point which I’m not proud of, but it all got very heated. I guess by then I think we knew that what we might have seen as the golden age of Stormqueen was in tatters. Paul got an offer from a band called Carrera so he took off to London to join them. That was a crushing blow, to be honest, because finding singers of that kind of calibre is not easy. And the whole thing with Neil dented my morale so it kind of just fizzled out. Obviously without a vocalist it was all very difficult. We would jam from time to time but it wasn’t going anywhere and I’d lost my creative urge so… I remember I did do some stuff with Joe, our former manager, we ended up on Welsh TV which was kind of fun, in a band called No One, but Stormqueen was over.” It didn’t help that Bryn Merrick, who’d originally been in a punk band called Victimize, landed what was probably his perfect job when he replaced Paul Gray (who’d jumped ship to join UFO) in The Damned; he went from Barry to the BBC when in May 1985 he appeared on TV when The Damned featured in the ‘The Young Ones’ episode ‘Nasty’.
But you can’t keep a good band down. “I ran into Boofy one day,” says Dave, “and mentioned that I had some riffs and asked if he’d be interested in coming round for a jam. He came up and we realised that we were on to something. Word trickled back that Paul had left Carrera; as I understand it he didn’t feel very comfortable up in London where he didn’t know anyone, so he quit and came back to Cardiff, and once I heard that I was straight back on the phone to him. He came down, heard what we’d done (which was about four songs by then) and loved it. So he was in. We put out ads for a bass player and a guitarist; this guy Andy Carney came to audition, lovely guy, really loved the stuff and was up for it, and joined as second guitarist. He knew a bass player whose name I can’t remember but who just wasn’t up for the task but then miraculously out of the blue, Nick McCormack got hold of my number – I don’t know how, because I’d moved – and rang me up and said he was up for it if we were, so I said ‘well, come down for a jam’ and, hey presto, the fourth incarnation of Stormqueen was born!
“There was now quite a marked change of direction musically from the earlier Stormqueen stuff really, it was more, well, it was dominated by the Eighties’ sound that was happening then. Def Leppard had a big part of it and a lot of bands were influenced by them, and you can tell from that final demo that we’d changed direction and were perhaps a bit more aimed at the American market. We recorded the final demo on 15 and 24 October 1983. We gigged a lot and changed the set around (although kept ‘Raising The Roof’ and ‘Come Silent The World’) and played to pretty full houses at Cardiff’s Bogiez, so things definitely seemed like they were on the up and up. Things were going well, we were hopeful to get out to London – the same prize really! – and by this time I was sending demos to California and places like that. We got played on KNAC Radio, I know that, but Paul had some personal problems and just couldn’t commit. We waited for him as long as we could, but there was no sign of him getting back to his former glories so by 1985 I started jamming with some other Barry guys and formed a band called Warlords. And then I took off to America. The band came over and we played a string of shows through Southern California and it went very well indeed: we eventually got signed to a label and Stormqueen pretty much ended there.”
Well, almost; because this album features a 2006 recording of the band’s title song. “When Malc MacMillan’s ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal Encyclopedia’ came out, he wrote very nicely about us in that book. I was quite chuffed to honest. He said a lot of nice things about us, which was good; it was gratifying after the fact that we hadn’t had any press back in the day that had been very helpful. Following on from that there suddenly seemed to be lots of interest in Stormqueen. Later, we were contacted by OPM Records who wanted to do a limited edition vinyl anthology, and as they wanted to make it ‘special’ we suggested doing a new single featuring ‘Stormqueen’, which was never recorded, and a new song as a part of the package. So we convened in my studio and we did ‘Stormqueen’. Well, actually, Boofy was really, really busy, so in the end we had to record a backing track in the studio and he recorded the drums in a mobile studio in Barry and sent me the files, so it was just me, Neil and Paul in the studio, with me doing the bass as well. However, it all took time because people are busy and we were still working on the second song (which we called ‘Can You Hear Me Thinking’) when the deadline came and, to be honest, it wasn’t as strong as we’d hoped. Anyway, OPM couldn’t hold on any longer so that was that. But when I was talking to Thorsten at High Roller I mentioned ‘Stormqueen’ and he said ‘yeah, we’d love to have that,’ so that’s how it came to be included on this album. Although it was recorded much later it’s very much of the era; the sound is classic Stormqueen. I think soon after we got the name, that song itself was written.”
And the name itself? “Oh, I don’t remember the origins of the name,” admits Chris. “We had quite a few and I can’t remember them all, but I know Cake featured at some point. I do remember wandering down the street with Boof trying to come up with names, but how we came to be Stormqueen is one of those things that’s drifted into the dim and distant past. I just remember it as being THE name – it sounded pretty good and the logo came with it, and, yes, it was a good identity really.”
“The name came from me,” confesses Dave. “We were indeed calling the band Cake at one point, which was why that track was called ‘Cake’ as an in-joke. Cliff Rescue and the Helicopters or something equally as stupid was bandied around. But I was in W.H. Smith’s one day, going to buy a copy of Sounds, probably, and I walked past a Marion Zimmer Bradley book on the shelf called ‘Stormqueen!’. ‘Hmmm; I like that…’ So I went back to the rest of the band and said, ‘I think I’ve got a name for the band’ and everyone was like, ‘yeah, that’s the one.’ The interesting thing is there’s an artist or collective now called Storm Queen – two words – who went to No.1 in the UK last year [with ‘Look Right Through’”> and somebody from there – they’re American, but they’re doing very well in the UK – contacted us and said ‘why’ve you got our .co.uk domain name?’ and I said ‘I think you’ll find it’s ours, mate. We’ve had it for about ten years.’ They came back and said they wanted it; apparently Stormqueen.com is cyber-squatted and they want $10,000 for it or something, so, being as they’re doing so well in the UK, the .co.uk site was their next best choice. But sorry, guys, it’s not available!”
Both Chris and Dave have fond memories of the band. “We had originality,” says Chris, “a real passion (both driven by Dave, really) and I liked the fact that Dave and Neil, the two lead guitarists, had really quite different styles and two totally different tones; too often you find in bands that you’ve got a couple of guitarists and they both end up sounding the same; there’s no colour to it, you can’t differentiate between the sounds… But those two had different playing styles and a very different sound, and that helped to make the band unique. And Boof’s drumming was outstanding.”
“And we did some great gigs,” recalls Dave. “The camaraderie was fantastic, and everyone was really up for it; we were rehearsing all the time and it was just like a real buzz. Writing songs with Paul was also a real pleasure, because he’s a really creative person and he brought out a lot of things in the writing and I really enjoyed that. And in more recent times a constant delight for me has been getting emails from people from all over the world telling me how much they love the band. It’s really nice having people acknowledge what we did back then. The single had ‘something’, it was exciting. And, y’know, we weren’t trying to be part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, to be honest. That came later. At the time, we knew we were metal, obviously, but that moniker didn’t, well, it just didn’t seem to apply. We were just doing our thing. Our primary aim was to write good songs. Well, no, our primary aim was to get rich and famous,” he laughs long and loud; “but after that it was to write good songs!”