John Allen / Fin Finlay – Baleful Creed Interview
by Beth Jones
About a month ago (I’m slow, I know – hey I’ve been busy!) I had the great pleasure of interviewing John and Fin, the guitarist and front man and founding members of Northern Ireland heavy rockers Baleful Creed. We had a very jolly 40 minutes on Skype, covering everything from Buckfast to Jaffa Cakes. So here it is:
Ever Metal: For those who haven’t heard of you, can you give us a brief history of the band. Where you came from, what you do and where you are now?
John Allen: Well it started back in 2009. Previously Fin and me had just been dabbling about with a covers band, nothing too serious, it was just a way to get out of the house, crank up the volume on the amps and the guitars and just sort of have a night out! We only did a few gigs as the cover band – probably because we weren’t very good!!
Fin Finlay: No, I think it was probably because we picked songs that we enjoyed playing, not what the public wanted!
John: Yeah, we didn’t do songs like ‘Summer Of 69’ or anything like that!
Fin: We didn’t do the stuff that people wanted to hear – so the covers band was like playing an original set – people going ‘we’ve never heard of any of this!’
John: Yeah, then just at some point, Fin came to me with this disc of four or five demo songs that he had put together. I was fairly reticent of actually listening to it because I didn’t want to! When did he write a song? You know! But he totally surprised me and that ‘first material’ morphed into what became the debut EP. That hooked straight away on his style of writing. I think I had the guitar tone he wanted so we put that together. Plus, I had the band name as well!
Fin: Yeah you had that from a long time ago!
John: He had to get me on board I think! From that, that pushed me into starting to write stuff so it then developed into what we are and who we are now.
Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Fin: I can answer his – Black Sabbath!! I have a really wide range of music I like – from heavy metal to… When I was about 8 or 9 my cousin gave me some LPs – Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Judas Priest – stuff like that, and ever since then I’ve just always liked rock. It wasn’t like ‘Oh I was in to rock last summer and I’m into hip hop this summer’, once you go into rock, it’s in your blood. It’s not a phase. It’s a love.
John: Queen was the first band that got me in to listening to rock. I was watching Top Of The Pops going ‘this is absolute rubbish this stuff’, I had no interest in music at all, but I always sort of knew about Queen, and then when I got my first pay packet, I was thinking about buying an album and it was Queen and it started me down that road.
Fin: Yeah, it was the 80s – people always go on about the 80s and 80s music, and it was horrible! And the style was terrible as well!! I was just jeans, leather jacket and cut offs. I didn’t mind that look, but I didn’t like that whole new romantic thing.
John: Yeah that style of music is probably best just left in the past!!
You have recently released your second album “Seismic Shifter” how is that being received so far?
John: Yeah it went down really well – it’s been a real pleasant surprise for us! We were so shocked to get a first album out! Then to carry on and move in to a second album – at the end of the day this was all started as just a hobby and a bit of fun – but it’s just escalated – like a small snowball rolling down a hill and growing in size and volume as the years go on. So, it was great to get another album out – it was something we probably both thought we would never do again. It was great that we weren’t the one album only and that was it done. It’s great that we have achieved another batch of songs that we could go out and record. And the reception for it has been phenomenal. It’s been out since June and the reviews have all been pretty incredible so we’re exceedingly chuffed with that. It’s been good putting it all together for the last three years or so.
Fin: We had to do that with the new guys coming on board – the two Daves – we had to give them time – they wanted to get out and gig, so they had to learn the first album, then they wanted to gig it, so it took a while before we could actually get writing again. John had a lot of riffs from ages ago anyway, so when we did decide to write another album it was good because the Daves’ influences helped as well.
John: Absolutely, and a lot of people have said there is a definite change – it’s still the Baleful Creed core sound to it, but definitely the grooves have changed and that’s got to be down to the new engine room that’s in place! People are noticing that live and certainly on the record that there’s a wee different set of influences in there, that have just changed the way the final product is and luckily, it’s all been really positive and favourable, so we’re exceedingly chuffed with that.
We have actually commented on that – it definitely does sound different – your live sound appears heavier to your album sound – do you prefer the measured experience of studio recording for an album, or do you prefer the rough and ready of live performance – the heavier, the chunkier, the ‘we can whack it up as much as we want here’?
Fin: Yeah, playing live is really good. That’s what we want to do all the time, but you do have to do new material for the fans and the people listening. You go into the studio and it’s all excitement you know, but it does get a bit tedious after a while! You’re just sitting there waiting and either John or Dave’s laying down bass lines or riffs or something, and its only more fun when you’re doing it yourself!
John: Ey, the studio’s a strange place to be in! For me it’s exceedingly nerve wracking – when you’re playing and everybody’s looking at you and you’re on ‘take 55 of this wee bit’!! Like OCD to get that solo right. Whereas live, you’ve got to get out there, you play it, there’s no room for error. You make wee blips here and there and whatnot, but its raw – you’re feeding off what’s happening in the audience, you’re feeding off the other players in the band, you’re basically feeding off the volume cos you can get out there and get that amp cranked up.
Fin: I would actually love to be out in the crowd to hear that sound because on the stage you don’t hear that sound – you get the monitors, and you hear a bit of volume from your amps, but you don’t hear the overall sound. Some people say, ‘WOW that was really, really loud, I loved it!!’ I’d love to be out there just to hear it!
John: Yeah you can still hear a bit of what is actually going on. Obviously, the studio captures that, but the studio is always going to be quite restrained in a way, where every note needs to be just caught and put down on tape. You’re working to click tracks or whatever, so it’s all quite precise and polished. Going out live, you get that……. You know we’re just a live band at the end of the day, so it does flip over a bit. Certainly nothing changes tuning wise, it’s maybe just the volume that we operate at!
John: Mr Jeffers is a loud drummer so yes, our amps go to eleven in good old Spinal Tap world!
What is the rock and metal scene like in Ireland?
Fin: It’s ok…….!! It’s very good actually. There’s so much talent over here. The only thing is, it’s a small country so everyone’s fighting for a place. We do want to break over and get on to the mainland more because, if you just want to stay in the one wee country, you just do nothing! You can’t get out to a wider audience.
John: It’s very easy to over saturate yourself here. You’re playing to a limited audience. There is a very good hardcore of folk who will come out and support the local music and the local scene here. When you go to a big gig – and our biggest would be the SSE Odyssey which holds 8-10,000, those mainstream rock bands, metal bands crowds don’t filter down into the local scene really, and there are a lot of really good bands and really good albums that are just floating about here in Northern Ireland, because people just don’t seem to want to go out and see what’s on their doorstep. I was like that in my early twenties – all I went to see was cover bands and the big bands that came through – my night out was going out to see what band was playing AC/DC and things like that. Then I discovered a couple of local bands I sort of went ‘Hang on – there is stuff happening on my doorstep that is really good’! I think you just need to be introduced to that, then you actually just start delving in. A lot of people – us included only ever went to big gigs, and then Darren heard Citizens. I think they were supporting Blaze Bayley or someone like that and they just totally blew him away and he was like ‘What the hell’s going on here – they’re from here!!’ And he then started delving in. He set up a local festival, because his son had been really ill in childhood and it was a way of saying thank you to the hospital that had treated him. He put on all the best local talent. It was probably the most successful festival round here and that was from him just seeing one local band and thinking ‘Bloody hell there’s something good going on here on my doorstep!’
Fin: Yeah, his festival would be one of the biggest gigs over here – everyone wants to be part of it – it’s always a really good, big crowd and it’s very successful.
John: Yeah – apart from that though, nothing like Rockwich, that you were both at, happens over here and for me it’s a big gap in the market. You get your evening gig where there’ll be three or four rock and metal bands on, but we really only have Sunflower Fest here.
Fin: But that’s more main stream isn’t it.
John: It’s a bit more eclectic – its indie, its world music and stuff like that – you only get a wee bit of rock and metal coming through. So, there’s a market here for a one dayer, maybe two – day Rock and Metal festival. There’s a wealth of bands here. And there a quite a few Northern Ireland bands punching through onto the mainland, so I think for a wee small country we’re doing alright!
Is it difficult attracting exposure in England, Scotland and Wales? How easy is it for you getting over here to the mainland to play?
John: Well we have been over about three or four times, but it was all Scotland based gigs before. Our first English gig was Rockwich a few months ago. This fella here (Fin) doesn’t fly, so it’s big money heading over with him cos we’ve got to take a ferry and a car!! But we’ve reached the point now where we know we need to get over now and we’ll invest that money just to get over and get reaching the audience. Online you can do so much as well now, you know, you can reach out to people and let them hear the band.
Fin: Yeah years ago it used to be flyers – you used to have to put flyers up or pass them around and just hope that they got to the people who wanted to come and see you! But there wasn’t a big original band scene here in the early nineties – there was a lot of cover bands and stuff.
John: Maybe then it was just we hadn’t discovered that there was all these original bands ourselves – we might have been off radar!! Whereas now we’re more clued in to what’s happening. Certainly, our focus is to listen to our contemporary bands round here.
Who is the song writer, or do you all have a hand in it?
John: It’s a mixture of all of us really.
Fin: We like to write music that we want to listen too.
John: Mostly the second album came about because of somebody bringing riffs into the room – whether that was stuff that Fin had, or myself, you sort of jam it out in the room a bit, then the Daves bring in their influence – they sort of pull and push it whatever way it needs to go, then the vocals will come in on top. This time round everybody was putting their eggs into the mix, whereas before it would have mostly been Fin. We’re all quite open. He will get an idea and tweak it to his own sort of style cos he knows how many syllables he needs to sing in a particular line, so where we might have written a novel, he’ll tone it down to a singable level but keep the gist of what the song is about. So it just goes into a big mixing pot really and gets shoved around until we get an end product that we are all pretty happy with.
What’s next for Baleful Creed? Are you writing still or are you just concentrating on the live stuff?
John: Well, we are heading into a quiet period gig wise, so this will open up the chance for us to get back in writing again. We do only get to meet once a week anyway on an evening because of work commitments and family commitments, so we do only get a couple of hours a week to get into the room and start mixing stuff up. But a goal has been set to try and get a third album out within a couple of years.
Fin: But hopefully make it a wee bit different again.
Thinking forward to that album, and the future; If you could work with one producer in the future, who would that be, or would you self-produce?
Fin: We like producing it ourselves!
John: We’re fairly fortunate that Neil up at Manor Park (Neil Calderwood – Manor Park Studios) knows our sound, and knows the sound that we like, and captures it really well for us. I think that comes through in the reviews that we have got off the album. For me it would be Martin Birch, if he’s still alive, because he is Rainbow, he is Heaven and Hell, he’s all those classic Iron Maiden albums. I’d like to work with Martin Birch.
Fin: I’ll go with what he says!!
John: You can’t do that – you’re more Bob Rock!(Laughing)
If you could do a world tour, what countries would you like to gig in?
John: Errrrr….. All the countries that are connected by land so he doesn’t have to fly!!! I don’t think there are any restrictions really. I would really love to play America – we’ve a lot of good friends and supporters over there – it would be great to just get over and do a gig for them at some point.
Fin: It’s just about financing ourselves, that’s all.
John: Yeah, we run this as an independent thing ourselves, so everything we make is just churned back into the band funds again.
Fin: Yeah nothing goes into our own pockets – it all goes back in for recording, merchandise, it’s like a big wheel that just goes round and round.
John: Yeah and it’s been good fun, and everything we do we can look back on and go, ‘that’s our own achievements’. We’ve never tried to be signed in any way shape or form.
Fin: In this day and age, I don’t think that’s even necessary – I’ve read articles where bands are actually encouraged to market themselves, to do those things themselves and cut out the middle man so to speak. We don’t want to be signed though.
John: Yeah, we have had a couple of approaches in the past and you look at it and think ‘What’s in it for us?’. There’s not a lot of money generated in this industry now, so what we are doing, we want to keep on doing. You invest back into the band and that maybe funds a trip over to the UK or hopefully further afield, hopefully from this new album and getting the merch items out there, but there’s nobody looking over our shoulders going ‘you need to get a record out by such and such a date’, so we can do everything at our own pace with no pressure. At the end of the day this started out as a hobby and it’s maybe not just a hobby any more, but there’s no pressure on us. We’re not going to get into financial difficulties, we’re not going to owe our label money or anything, so we can just do this under our own steam.
Fin: Unless we get a million pound record deal!! That would make us do a record quickly!!
What is your favourite song to play live, and why?
Fin: I Love ‘God’s Fear’, I just love that..
John: Yeah I was just about to say that. ‘Devil’s Side’ for me has a really good feel to it. That, ‘The Wolf’ and ‘Levy’ were the last three to get put together for that new album.
Fin: Yeah and that was nearly dropped!! It’s a wee bluesy feeling, ‘it’s just too simple, it’s maybe not our sort of thing, but we just put it out and it’s become one of people’s favourites…. But for me it would be ‘God’s Fear’.
John: And for me it would be ‘Devil’s Side’ I think.
Fin: I still get a kick out of playing ‘Autumn Leaves’ though. It is the reaction that you get back from the audience – everyone loves it. It’s dark – and I like that.
Give us your best rock’n’roll story – what’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you on stage etc?
Fin: For me it would probably be getting completely wasted playing Dublin and making an absolute arse of myself!!
John: Yeah and then you went and re-enacted it again the next time we were in Dublin. You didn’t learn your lesson!!
Fin: Yeah you could get away with that sort of stuff back in the 70s, but not now. I didn’t really think it through.
John: Yeah, the first gig in Dublin wasn’t a good start. I brought my own amp head down, but one of the guys in the other band said, ‘to save yourself bother, just use my rig’, and I blew it in the second song! All the sound just went ffftt. They were playing on, blissfully unaware that I was there, sweat rolling down my face, going ‘WHAT’S GONE ON’!! Trying to find out what the hell had happened! So that was my sheer moment of panic and terror, which I hope to never experience again. Meanwhile, these guys are all stoned and pished out of their heads, because they had taken a road trip to Dublin and I think they had forgotten that they had to play at the end of it! It was a steep learning curve!!
(Note: The band did elaborate further on this, but it may have been incriminating to print it, so we have edited it a little!! Needless to say, after consuming much Buckfast and other concoctions, they were a little worse for wear!)
John: I think that is probably why we have only played Dublin three times and never been invited back!!
Fin: Yeah, I don’t do the whole drinking before a gig thing any more. It’s not enjoyable……. For everyone else there. Maybe for me it is – I thought we were brilliant!!!
John: But it’s a different mindset now. In those early days we were just doing it for fun, but now you know you have got to get up on stage and perform.
Fin: Yeah people want to hear you playing it like the album, they don’t want you to just make stuff up as you’re going along – like Aerosmith – Houston ‘77 – which was woeful!! But the fans didn’t care because they were probably all off their heads as well!!
What would your best advice be for young kids wanting to start a band?
John: Don’t drink before you go on stage!!!!!! Er.. Just enjoy it. Try and get a bit of good equipment because I think that is half the battle – having a good sound before you get up on stage.
Fin: And if you are writing stuff, write stuff that you want to write, not what you think the crowd wants.
John: And don’t mind taking a few hits along the way – you’re not going to please everybody. Some people are going to think you are crap. Don’t take it personally, just get up and try and write another song and see what happens. Just enjoy it for what it is – at the end of the day, you are getting up and you’re playing and if you’re enjoying it, it’s a fantastic hobby / profession to have.
Fin: I would love nothing more than to get up every morning and all I have to do is come up with riffs and lyrics, that would be great. Unfortunately, we have to work!
And finally…Jaffa cake – cake or biscuit?!
Fin: It’s a biscuit.
John: It’s a cake. It’s sponge with chocolate on the top!
Fin: Yeah, but if you go into the supermarket, they are in the biscuit isle!!
John: Yeah, but do you know what the really big clue is? It’s on the box – it says Jaffa CAKE – it doesn’t say Jaffa biscuit!
Fin: What do you guys think?
Beth: Well I’m on the biscuit side!!
Rick: I’m on the cake side!!
Beth: Yeah, we argue about it quite a lot, so we thought we would ask everyone we interview and then collate it!!
Fin: Nah I’m with Beth, it’s a biscuit all the way. Definitely a biscuit.
And that was that. The band did also tell us that they are working on a website, as not everyone uses social media, and that they are looking to book some gigs here on the mainland very soon. Thank you once again chaps for taking time out of packing merch to talk to us here at Ever Metal! We had great fun. If anyone wants to book the guys, which I would highly recommend, or if you just want to check them out, here are all the links you will need!
BALEFUL CREED ARE:
Fin Finlay – Vocals & Guitar
John Allen – Guitar
Davy Greer – Bass & Vocals
Dave Jeffers – Drums
Disclaimer: This interview is solely the property of Beth Jones and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this interview, unless you have the permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.