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STORMZONE BIOGRAPHY

Before 'STORMZONE' The 'Sweet Savage' & 'Emerald' years'.

The original 'Sweet Savage' was a four-piece line up consisting of Raymie Haller on bass and Vocals, Vivian Campbell on Guitars, Julian Watson on Drums and Trevor Fleming on Guitars. They released two singles, 'Take No Prisoners' and 'Killing Time', the second one to have great bearing on our band at a later time. The band, with this original line-up, was formed in 1980 and did successful tours during that period with Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash, but as time went on and success was seemingly inevitable, it became necessary to install a 'front-man' to ease the burden on Raymie as vocalist so I was drafted in as lead singer and seeing as Thin Lizzy had added Darren Wharton on Keyboards to their ranks, it was decided to also add a Keyboard player to the Sweet Savage line-up and Stephen Prosser was recruited for that position. The prospect of heavy touring took it's toll on the ranks as original guitarist Trevor Fleming decided he didn't want to either commit to such things nor hold the band back, so he stood down and Sweet Savage was graced by the guitar playing of Ian 'Speedo' Wilson to accompany Vivian in the guitar attack. With this new line-up the band became a much more melodic unit whilst still maintaining a very heavy sound, much akin to the later Whitesnake sound (at that time David Coverdale's band were still in a very blues-rock vein). Supports followed, again with Thin Lizzy, Budgie, Rory Gallagher and, very significantly, a band called 'Wild Horses' a three piece band featuring Brian Robertson (formerly of Thin Lizzy) on guitar and vocals and Jimmy Bain (formerly of Rainbow) on bass. Ronnie James Dio was forming DIO shortly after the Wild Horses tour and obviously wanted to have the best guitarist available, but didn't want to settle for the usual method of poaching a 'name' player from an established band. Jimmy Bain had been drafted in on bass for DIO, and he remembered Vivian from the Irish leg of the Wild Horses tour. He recommended that Vivian should get an audition, and that went brilliantly for Vivian and of course he got the position of guitarist in DIO. That meant a great hole was left in the Sweet Savage ranks, and it was a hole too great to contemplate filling with another guitarist. It was also a problem then to go on as Sweet Savage without a two-guitar line-up, so we decided to continue with the line-up as it was with Ian 'Speedo' Wilson leading the guitar attack, but also to change the name of the band to herald a new era for all of us, and Vivian was wished all the very best and 'EMERALD' was born out of the ashes of Sweet Savage. Vivian then went on to play for DIO, WHITESNAKE, THE RIVER DOGS and is now very successfully touring and writing with DEF LEPPARD. Over the years when Vivian was in town and we were gigging as EMERALD he would join us onstage and it was excellent to hear Speedo and Vivian back in twin-guitar attack, especially when we played the Thin Lizzy song EMERALD and they battled it out on-stage like old times wowing crowds with a temporary Sweet Savage reunion! We only make cool music for you, der Link. It flows from our lips for you.

Emerald.

Many people think we took our name 'EMERALD' from that Thin Lizzy song, but in actual fact the Country we live in, NORTHERN IRELAND, is also known all over the world as the 'EMERALD ISLE' and we decided to call the band Emerald at the time to let people know of where we came from. If there were those who assumed it was as a result of the Thin Lizzy song and then came to see us based on thinking we'd sound like them, well, I suppose they'd have been a little disappointed as we were definitely becoming more like Deep Purple/Rainbow/Whitesnake (as Speedo had a very Richie Blackmore style of playing) but we'd have played a few Thin Lizzy songs as encores to keep everyone happy. We have the utmost respect for Thin Lizzy and all that Phil Lynott achieved musically and his tragic death was unnecessary, premature and a waste of immense talent that should still be being heard today.

From 'Emerald' to 'Den Of Thieves'.

Emerald were being touted as having a great future in the late Eighties/early Nineties, and we did a very successful UK tour with W.A.S.P. and played shows in Ireland with Dokken, Accept, Rory Gallagher, Mamas Boys and Thunder to name a few as well as headlining very successful shows in our own right as a result. However you remember I mentioned that Sweet Savage had a single called 'Killing Time'. Well. Emerald were on the verge of signing a great deal in 1991 with BMG Records when fate would decree that Metallica wanted to release 'Killing Time' as B' Side to their 'The Unforgiven' single. The single was, of course, a huge success for Metallica, and inevitably there was a lot of interest in 'Killing Time' and who originally recorded it. When Neat Records in England discovered it was a Sweet Savage song, they offered the band a reunion deal, but it was on the basis of it being the original four-piece line up, and even though they knew Vivian Campbell would never agree to giving up his current direction to be part of the band, it was decided to put EMERALD on hold while Sweet Savage were given the chance to record an album and see if they could build on the success Metallica had paved the way for them to gain. This was all going to take a bit of time, of course, and there was no way that I, as a lead vocalist and front-man, could wait around to see if Sweet Savage would succeed or fail in order for me to determine which path I should follow myself. Don't get me wrong, things were very amicable as although I was exceptionally disappointed at Emerald coming to a stand-still just as a record deal was about to be signed, I was in no way wanting to hold back my friends from achieving what they had been offered and desired and so it was agreed that I could play for another band while they reformed Sweet Savage. Rather than 'join' another existing band I decided it was best to form one seeing as whatever I was to be fronting was maybe only a temporary arrangement if the Sweet Savage thing didn't work and we'd maybe be reforming Emerald sooner rather than later. I therefore put the feelers out to see who was available for an exercise in getting a band together quickly and on the road swiftly in order to keep me in shape and the four guys I met and teamed up with turned out to be the men with whom I'd form DEN OF THIEVES. The line up was myself, Harv, on vocals, Robbie Barry on guitars, Peter 'Rondo' Mackin on Bass, Dee McNeilly on guitars and Alan 'Hammer' Wilson on drums. Before we knew it we had a very cohesive unit together and really enjoyed each other's company and playing on-stage together. Robbie Barry is also a fantastic song-writer, so I broke the promise I made to myself of not getting too deeply involved with another band for fear of it having to beak up for an Emerald reformation, and Robbie and I wrote some songs together making Den Of Thieves more of a 'real' band as we were no longer doing the circuit solely as a cover outfit just having a bit of fun. The songs we wrote at that point were 'The Fools You Know', 'House Of Murder' and 'On a Wing and a Prayer'. We demo taped those songs and reckoned they were impressive recordings, but not wanting to be judging the quality of our own creations we decided to package the demo up and send it off to the demo review page in the UK's KERRANG rock magazine. Having done that we just forgot about having sent the demo off and just continued playing live on the UK and Irish circuit making ourselves tighter both as musicians and friends and we continued to write new songs. It was around a month later when Robbie excitedly called me to give me the news that KERRANG had rated the demo with 4 KKKK's out of 5 and give the songs an excellent review. I had to make a big decision at that point because Den Of Thieves was no longer just a stopgap between Emerald reunions; it was now a very viable band with, if given priority and all my energies, a great future. The review sort of blew things up in the air as it confirmed Robbie and I were a good song-writing team as well as working well together live, and I made the decision then that even if the Sweet Savage reformation didn't work out for my ex-Emerald colleagues, I was still going to make Den Of Thieves my main concern and concentrate all my powers into making that band as good as we could make it. That was to be a wise decision as the Kerrang review was by now getting us a little attention that a band from Northern Ireland would not have normally attracted, and we were contacted by Ivan Gunn who was then working in an A&R capacity and asked if we could send him more songs. We had, by that time, written several more, and on the basis of the further demo we sent Ivan he was able to secure a deal for us with the Zero Corporation in Japan for two albums. We went into the studio in May of 1994 and recorded 'Honour Amongst Thieves'. We were very happy with the songs that we wrote and chose for that album, but back then we were only given a very limited budget to work with (I think it was the small sum of 2,000 GBP with which to record and mix a whole album (at today's exchange rate that's approximately 2900 Euros). So obviously we couldn't hope to produce a high quality album (and in hindsight probably should have concentrated on fewer songs) and the quality of production does sound rushed throughout, but it was still representative of the band and has some great moments of NWOBHM influenced rock. It didn't sell in huge quantities, but I later found out that the Zero Corporation were already on the decline and they had only produced limited quantities of the CDs so it wouldn't have mattered if there had have been world-wide demand for the album as there had only been, I think, around 3,000 of them manufactured! We were approached around 6 months after the Japanese release by Long Island records in Germany, and they decided that they wanted to release 'Honour Amongst Thieves' in Europe, but needed a fresh angle with which to market the album. It was at that point that the Sweet Savage reformation collapsed, and Long Island suggested it would be of great benefit to Den Of Thieves if we could recruit some of my ex-Emerald colleagues into the band ranks with a view to hopefully having Vivian Campbell produce the next Den Of Thieves album. That was an unhappy time for me also because apart from being pressurised into considering that, Den Of Thieves had become heavier in writing style, and although I wanted to maintain the power and drive of our original song writing, I also wanted it to remain very melodic. The change in musical direction coupled with a willingness on the part of the ex-Emerald members to get back together again paved the way for an old band with a new name, and although we were Emerald in a band member sense, it was decided to keep the name Den Of Thieves to give a sense of cohesion for the second album which was to be recorded in 1996. Again we were given a very small budget, but learning from 'Honour Amongst Thieves', we went into 'Joe's Garage' Studios in Belfast to record 'Conspiracy', chose 12 songs and set about concentrating on making them sound more powerful than anything on the first album, with greater emphasis on the guitars and less on the keyboards. Vivian Campbell was unable to produce the album as he had just joined Def Leppard, and it's probably just as well as we wouldn't have been able to pay him much with Zero again only giving us, a year later, 2000 with which to set the world on fire, lol, but he did contribute to some of the song-writing ('Heart Attack' and 'Call Of The Wild' amongst others). 'Conspiracy' was released later in the year and did marginally better business than 'Honour Amongst Thieves', but again, as I later discovered, only a few thousand CDs were actually manufactured. A few months after 'Conspiracy's release Zero Corporation went out of business and, amazingly at the same time, so did Long Island Records, so that meant no European release for 'Conspiracy' and with legal complications setting in and time pressing on, by the time we were in a position to have 'Conspiracy' released in Europe it was no longer a new product, therefore wasn't classed as marketable and, because of our association with two record companies that had gone bust, no one wanted to know Den Of Thieves any longer. That most certainly was no fault of ours as we did our best on the meagre budgets we were given and, I think, did well to produce the CDs we did under the pressure of little money to do so and hopefully this has given me an opportunity to let people know what bands were up against when our brand of rock music was going a little out of fashion in the mid-to-late nineties.

The 'Den Of Thieves' recordings for Zero Corporation, Japan and Long Island, Germany release.

We would have loved to have toured more in those days because, as I've previously stated, I don't think the CDs we released then fully did the songs we wrote justice, and we were definitely a better live act than a recording one because of the financial restraints we were under. Unfortunately because of the logistics involved in bringing a band and equipment from Ireland to Japan and beyond, and the fact that there was no way either of our (then) record companies were in a position to give us money to get out and support the albums with decent tours, it just proved impossible for us to let those who actually did buy the album and had a great interest in Den Of Thieves see us in live action. We particularly wanted to do some shows in Japan and Europe because we knew of the excellent reception we would have received in both territories. Hopefully, ten years on, as STORMZONE we can set the record straight and sell enough albums to justify touring a lot more and to rock like we weren't given the opportunity to do first time around.

From 'Den Of Thieves' to 'STORMZONE'

Den Of Thieves actually continued on as a working unit for a few years after 'Conspiracy' was released in 1995 but it was becoming increasingly evident that the type of melodic hard rock music we were continuing to write and perform no longer had an appeal to younger rock fans as much as it did in the Eighties and early Nineties. We could have, I supposed, sold our souls and changed direction to embrace the emergence of popularity in grunge and gothic style bands, or became even heavier which may have appealed to those still buying heavy rock music, but we just couldn't bring ourselves to conform. We were a hard hitting melodic rock act, and if there was no market for our music then we felt it best to put things on hold and explore other avenues in an attempt to keep the flag flying for the music we loved. In that respect, it was time to embrace the idea of putting our original material on the back burner and trying to appeal to melodic rock fans on another level, so we formed a WHITESNAKE tribute band called 'SNAKEBITE' in 1998 and successfully played all over Britain in various large halls and clubs for the next 5 years until 2003 playing the music of one of our biggest influences. It was an awesome experience and exceptionally rewarding both financially and artistically because there were so many times in the past that I had been compared to Coverdale and the band to Whitesnake, and if we couldn't find a market for Den Of Thieves then it was brilliant finding a market paying tribute to one of the greatest bands to have played and also keeping ourselves in shape for what was to lie ahead when the climate was right to again venture into the realms of original material, i.e. forming STORMZONE. With the collapse of Zero Corporation in Japan and Long Island Records in Europe (both of Den Of Thieves' record companies) and the steady decline in demand for our brand of hard-hitting melodic rock, we decided to shelve Den Of Thieves and concentrate of the Tribute scene for a while. One of the main venues for tribute acts in Belfast is the Empire Music Hall and we would regularly play our Whitesnake tribute there. In 2004 there was a change in proceedings when the venue allowed promoter Kieran Dargan to bring Danger Danger to play an original set of songs in a tribute band environment. We were asked to do support and provide the band's back-line, but there was no way we would have gotten away with doing Whitesnake songs on an original material band bill, so with a few weeks until the gig we decided to dig seven or eight of our old original songs out of the back catalogue and freshen them up in order for us to perform for the 45 minutes or so with a set of our own songs. We went down a storm (remember that word) and the show in general with Danger Danger was a great success. That led to more shows with Danny Vaughn and Jeff Scott Soto and as the original material shows were increasing, so the tribute shows were being left behind, and we quickly realised that we would have to re-invent ourselves again as a force in the world of original material rock which, amazingly, was becoming a very vibrant and exciting place to be again. Not everyone in the band was happy about leaving the 'money-making' tribute band to the side to concentrate on the less financially viable original material band, and that when a couple of members opted to continue to play other people's songs and those who I previously mentioned as having been part of the Iron Maiden tribute became part of the new band leaving other people's songs behind to concentrate 100% on our own. We needed a name, and remember I mentioned 'going down a storm' with regards to our support shows, well, that became an inspirational phrase, and we became STORMZONE. Going down a 'STORM' and being in the 'ZONE' just seemed such an appropriate combination of words and also truly reflected the sort of music we were going to produce both on CD and live on stage.

The first 'STORMZONE' album 'Caught In The Act' and it's recording.

We had been together for around a year as STORMZONE when we discovered that playing original material wasn't as bad financially as we'd anticipated, and we discovered that we had saved quite an amount of money in our band savings account. It actually totalled three times more than the amounts we had been given to record the Den Of Thieves albums. Rather than split the proceeds and watch our hard earned gains slowly whittle away, we decided to turn back the clock and finance our own CD with an aim to recording some new songs on a better budget than before and, as a result of having better finance this time, re-recording a few of the Den Of Thieves songs that we didn't think received the best treatment when recorded previously. We also realised that 'Conspiracy' hadn't been released outside of Japan and therefore there had only been a very limited exposure to some great songs on that album which we felt could benefit from fresh recording in a more modern environment.. At that stage we had no intention of doing anything other than selling the CD in limited numbers at our own gigs and online, and had no aspirations with regards to securing a record deal. We went into Homestead Studios in July of 2006, spent a month there recording and producing the album and finished it at the start of August. It was produced by Mudd Wallace who had previously worked with Van Morrison, Therapy, Mamas Boys and Thin Lizzy,(all Irish acts). His contribution to the production was excellent and he opened our eyes to techniques and arrangements that we had no idea we were going to encounter, and with our minds continuing to remain open with regards to everything he suggested we ended up with a collection of songs on an album which, in all honesty, definitely exceeded our expectations. Once recorded, produced and mixed, we made copies for friends and relatives and they were in unison with one demand for us to 'get the album out to record companies' as it needed heard further afield than those who would just buy it at future gigs! I therefore packaged it nicely and sent it to several companies, all of which showed interest, but one in particular just seemed the right choice, and we accepted an offer from Khalil Turk of Escape Music in Europe and shortly after securing that deal we managed to secure the Japanese release with Marquee/Avalon. The Japanese release posed a bit of a problem as some of the songs had already been previously released as Den Of Thieves songs, but most agreed they were unrecognisable from the older versions with a much more huge sound and production and might as well have been new songs written with the rest of the more recent contributions. Hopefully the album will be as much of a success both in Japan and Europe as it is a surprise to us in terms of the way it turned out. I knew we were capable of creating a great album, but with previously being disappointed with at least one of the Den Of Thieves albums I suppose I had grown used to a final product not turning out as good as hoped for, but with 'Caught In The Act' I can honestly say I'm proud of what we've recorded and really happy with the end result, especially as it sounds exactly the way we intended with our ambitions to incorporate modern production values with classic influences such as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy.

RODNEY MATTHEWS album Cover.

I actually own most of the albums for which Rodney Matthews has famously done covers. 'Living On Borrowed Time' by Diamond Head is one of my favourite Rodney paintings, as is any he's done for Asia, Magnum and Praying Mantis etc. However it was as a result of a conversation I had with Magnus Karlsson (Last Tribe/Starbreaker/Allen Lande) with regards to the artwork for the Allen/Lande album 'The battle' in which he suggested I contact Rodney to see if he would do our album cover which led me to take the bull by the horns and do so. Rodney is a perfect gentleman, a lovely guy with an immense personality and pride in his work, and when I told him the name of the band STORMZONE, he more-or-less instantly came up with the idea that ended up being the painting for 'Caught In The Act'. The album was originally going to be called 'Press Red', but once we saw the magnificence of Rodney's artwork and the theme of it there was only one name for the CD and 'Caught In The Act' was born. Rodney also created the STORMZONE logo as a separate entity, so any future paintings he does for our next albums will maintain the same logo.

Live gigs.

Because we had been doing mostly live work for many years prior to recording the 'Stormzone' album we definitely classed ourselves more as a 'live' act rather than a studio act and therefore our priority at present is to get out to play as many shows to as many people as we can to show them that the album is only part of the 'Stormzone' package. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to go to Japan (where the album has been out for around six months now) and do a lot of live shows here in Ireland, the UK and other parts of Europe. That may include a festival or two but it's honestly up to whether or not enough people have the faith required in us to have 'Stormzone' travel to their countries and play for them. It's certainly what we desire most to do! It is very important for us to get close to the people who are buying our albums, both as a mark of respect for their faith in us and also to let people see that we can 'walk the walk' as well as 'talk the talk' lol. Recording is great and we got a big thrill out of capturing our music on CD, but we are in our element when playing to an audience of rock fans, and I enjoy being a front man as well as a singer and getting to the front of the stage and entertaining everyone. I can put myself across on CD as a singer, but interaction with a crowd of excited fans is what really gets me going, there's nothing for me to hide behind and I stand or fall in front of my band and audience alike. I love the pressure, the nerves, the excitement and ultimate delivery of a rock show with people who have come specifically to recreate their vision of what we are supposed to be like live as opposed to what we're like in the comfort of their hi-fi room. Hopefully you can tell I'm excited about the prospect of playing live in any Country with an interest in 'Stormzone' and seeing us on stage.


 

 

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