The Birdmen of Hastings
Words: TK Smith

Named after a 17th century British naval commander, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell celebrate their sixth year together with the release of their second long-player Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em. A powerful gale force of epic proportions, the three-piece featuring guitarist Johnny Gorilla, bassist Louis Comfort-Wiggett and drummer Bill Darlington graduate to a deeper level of psychedelic acid rock than they’ve ever tripped to before. Within the grooves can be heard their collective experience of road years rubbing shoulders with Orange Goblin, Uncle Acid and The Dead Beats, Incredible Hog, Gentleman’s Pistols, Graveyard and Gonga. Jamming with blues icon Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs on their last eelpee was just the shot they needed to elevate their playing while taking a few calculated risks. Rise Above records is the perfect label to unleash the band’s sophomore outing with it’s stable of home-runs including Electric Wizard, Firebird, Ghost, Witchcraft, Grand Magus and Cathedral. The trusted label recently signed a US distribution deal with RED, which will see Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em readily available in America now!

Our first encounter with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell as a live band was at the Rise Above Records 25th anniversary party in London last Christmas. The band pulverized the audience with a tight 50-minute set that included the freshly written “Bullet Proof” and “Do It Now”. “They were primed and ready to go,” guitarist Johnny Gorilla told us over the phone about the songs. “We wanted to see how they’d go over and it was nice to see the reaction so positive.” With a new distribution deal in the States it’s possible the Yanks might get a visit from the Admiral. “It’s all down to finances and stuff like that,” says Gorilla. “We’re playing a few festivals this summer like The Freak Valley Festival in Germany the end of May. We’re looking forward to playing with the Blues Pills and Blood Ceremony, both bands that we’ve wanted to checkout for some time.”

The band hails from the coastal town of Hastings (UK), just across the channel from France. As avid vinyl hounds, they merge much of their collection into their own musical presentation. A shining sample is “Captain Merryweather” an ode to Canadian guitarist Neil Merryweather (The Flying Circus, Heavy Cruiser, Mama Lion). “I contribute occasionally to Shindig! Magazine,” says Gorilla. “They were putting together a special on space rock. Instead of writing a review, I wrote the song ‘Captain Merryweather’. It came out so well we decided to use it for the record. The guy (Merryweather) could play anything but he never seemed to be able to break out of the underground. He pre-dates Kiss and reminds me of Edger Winter with heavy elements, a bit glam, psychedelic and rock.” The song is also the longest on the new record pushing 8-minutes. “I’m a big fan of spaghetti westerns,” continues Gorilla. “I wanted to combine my love for Ennio Morricone with a heavy rock edge. Nobody’s really done that before and I thought it was long overdue.”

Our conversation turns to the second longest running track on the record, the seven-minute “Late Night Mornings”. “Ah, that’s a wired one and came out a bit disjointed,” admits Gorilla. “But that’s what I like about it. The rest of the songs on the album are straightforward and then along comes this one. We wanted to have fun, throw some psych stuff in there and have parts mesh into one another in wired ways.” In a relevant way Led Zeppelin, The Who and Humble Pie did the same thing with the blues. “Yeah, the whole record’s got more of a bluesy edge than the last one,” says the guitarist. “The song, ‘Shaker Your Head’ was me playing around with the guitar and my girlfriend made to connection with Zeppelin, so I carried on writing it. It was nothing too far out, catchy, like The Who mixed with Grand Funk.” And where did the growling dog at the beginning of the song come from? “That’s my dog Tank,” says Gorilla. “He’s on the cover as well. He was around when we were recording and we caught him growling when we were playing around with a chew toy. He was trying to get his teeth into it.”

Similar sound bytes add texture and flavor to the album. “I always like records that catch the band chatting before they kick into song,” says Gorilla. “It gives the whole thing more of an earthy, down home feel. There’s that bit on Grand Funk’s Survival (1971) where they’re trying to work the song out (ed-I want Freedom). It reminds me of one of our rehearsals - disjoint but with good humor. That was the idea behind ‘Running From Home’. We were rolling tape before we started playing, just mucking about so we thought we’d just leave it in. It ended up being one of my favorite songs. I actually wrote it some time ago and never did anything with it. I was going through some old cassettes and I pulled it out because I like the lyrics and the melodies. We chopped it up and put it together in a different way. The main riff is Jimmy Page-inspired. It reminds me of something from the first Zeppelin album - quirky riffs like Atomic Rooster. We turned it into a much better song than the demo. And Louis did a great job on the harmony vocals.”

The band prides themselves on a vintage sound, steeped in the warmth of a musty garage. “The sound is a matter of happy accidents,” admits Gorilla. “We’re not rich enough to afford vintage gear, we just play the way we do and it comes out that way. I’ve got a sound in my head, which is basically the sort of music I listen to, so when I go to record, I work it out until it sounds right. We recorded this album with an excellent engineer. He locked in on what we are really about. He had some good old microphone lying around but the most important thing was getting the production right and on our unique ‘default’ setting. For ASCS that setting is Sabbath, Budgie, MC5, AC/DC and Motörhead. “That’s the sound we were trying to recreate,” says Gorilla. “We’ve always been into that older seventies sound. It’s in our head and not really a part of any specific gear.”

When asked about the odd name of the record, the guitarist credits his partner in crime. “Louis always comes up with these ‘different’ expressions. It always makes us laugh, like the band name.” Borrowing from their first album, “Don’t Hear It…Fear It” the band circle back around and named a song after the title. “To be honest, we couldn’t think of a title for that one,” says Gorilla. “I always liked it when band’s would reflect back to their past records.” Punky speed rock is another element that rings loud and clear on Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em. “Listening to Sir Lord Baltimore or Dust, they had this pre-punk speed rock stuff,” says Gorilla. “It was high energy, aggressive madness. We try to add that. When I was a kid, I had a to search for hard-to-find records. There’s something nice about that, discovering something rather than getting it at the push of a button. Were hoping to be more like that, something you seek out and discover.”

Accompanying their eclectic brand of music is Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em’s unique cover art. “We wanted to keep the theme of the birdman on the first album,” says Gorilla. “I’ve always been a fan of Budgie and Iron Maiden using a central theme on every cover. It’s very seventies inspired, like the stuff from Hipgnosis. They would use these slightly puzzling pictures, not too surreal but something funky, maybe psychedelic. The band name and title aren’t on the cover either, it’s just the picture.” The guitarist describes the photo session. “We spent two hours freezing down this cold alleyway. Out of all the pictures during the whole session, one picture was just right. That’s the one we used. The birdman headpiece came about when we were looking for ideas for the first single. The artist sent us a couple ideas and one was this crazy bird head. We were drawn to that. We had a friend of ours make a creation of the actual head – a Wickerman type thing. It came out just weird and strange enough to work."

Website: Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Rise Above Records