Who are Barnsley's most famous sons? The answer can only be Saxon - that is for sure! But serious N.W.O.B.H.M. fans will know that at the time Biff and company stormed the British Rock charts, there was another fine outfit blasting out songs like "Metal to the Moon" or "Sound and Fury". We are talking about Seventh Son, put together by brothers Kev and Bri Shaughnessy in early 1980.
Throughout the glorious '80's and the early '90's, the band released a number of 7" singles on their own Rising Son Records label: "Man in the Street" (1982), "Metal to the Moon" (1984), "Northern Boots" (1987), the 12" EP "What more do you want?" (1990) and finally "Factory Girls" (1991). After supporting Nazareth in 1992, Seventh Son temporarily disbanded. However, German label Iron Pages Records resurrected the band's career by releasing two highly-acclaimed compilation CD's, namely "Dangerous Kiss" in 1999, followed by "Immortal Hours" in 2002.
Now, seven long years later (with the band appearing live in their hometown sporadically in the meantime), Seventh Son have released a brand-new studio album called "Spirit World" on High Roller Records. And what a comeback it turned out to be! "Spirit World" features some of the strongest material the band has ever written. Take the title track "Spirit World" for example, a bona fide Heavy Metal classic with a dark edge. Bri Shaugnessy has a tale to tell regarding this superb number: "Yes, we are very pleased with the 'Spirit World' track and I should think it already is a Seventh Son classic as it is already getting a great response when we play it live. 'Haunted by the Past' was the first song written for the album - 'Spirit World' came quite a while later. The album was originally at one point going to be called "Electronic Voice Phenomena"! Which is to do with voices from beyond the grave which are recorded by investigators of this type of thing - but we thought it might be a bit too long or obscure but it did have that connection with the album's final title of "Spirit World". 'Unfinished Business' was also considered at one point but it isn't very evocative - so "Spirit World" won it. I have had the title "Spirit World" in my head for a long time. We did actually have a song of that title back in 1988 - we rehearsed the song but never got it to a point that we were happy with - so we never finished or performed it live. I can't even remember how it went but it was nothing like the song we have now. So when that line up of the band fell apart, it was forgotten. But I always liked the title and thought it would come in handy in the future and as it turned out it did! The other influence behind the song came about through some unfortunate circumstances. A son of one of my friends - who played guitar - committed suicide while studying at college in Cambridge - I met him a couple of times - a very quiet sensitive guy, so a great shame. Anyway, after this happened, my friend - the guy's father, who lives in Barnsley, asked me, if I would go along with him to the spiritualist church in Barnsley on a Wednesday night as he just wanted to see what went on there and hopefully receive a message from the 'other side'. Anyway, when we came out he said that it was all a load of crap and wouldn't be going again. I had become intrigued by the place and kept going for a few weeks after that but then stopped going myself - but it gave me the inspiration for the song's lyrics and some of the locations in the song. The cover shows a seance taking place with the ouija board in place to contact 'the other side'. It's all a bit Victorian or Dickensian, with the London skyline in the background a reference also to 'Kiss the Dead': the lanterns or lamps represent a portal or entrance into the spirit world - the lamps crop up in other places on the cover also. The female figure also seen on our previous two covers is here again (also seen from the outside on the back cover) but her appearance has changed again and is seen more as an occult type priestess in charge of the proceedings. Its all connected with the afterlife, ouija boards etc., talking to the dead. I know a lot of people who have messed about and dabbled in this, so the cover shows this taking place in a terraced street that could be in London or more Northern - who knows? If you look closely, there is also a bit of the first album cover "Dangerous Kiss" in there!
The next song on the album, also a very strong number, is called "Unfinished Business" and features a guest appearance by no other than the only true Saxon guitarist Graham Oliver. Brian Shaugnessey is a close friend of Graham, who still lives around Barnsley in South Yorkshire (and is rumored to be writing his own book). Bri comments on the second number of the new album: "This one is a nod to Saxon - very much in that mould, straight down the line. It's a 'good un', as they say in Yorkshire - and it features a solo by Graham Oliver! Perfect ! Yeah, this an enjoyable one: bang bang bang! It's about the position I thought the band was in - we have 'unfinished business', we've still got something left to say, so let's do it."
Which brings us to the next song, "The last Witch in England", probably my favourite on the album, and without the shadow of a doubt the darkest number Seventh Son have ever written, with an almost eerie atmosphere about it. As I almost begin to shiver, Bri takes over: " 'The last Witch in England' is a true story about a woman called Helen Duncan - a medium - who was the last woman in England to be convicted of witchcraft. It happened in 1944 - one of her seances exposed the fact that the government had covered up the deaths of over 400 sailors - they sent Christmas cards to the wives of the sailors to make out they were still alive, when in fact they were already dead. Her last seance exposed this - one of the wives was at the seance. Anyway, the government hounded her, strip searched her etc., the humiliation of all this causing her death.There is a campaign ongoing at the moment to clear her name - but you don't hear much about it. It's not given much media attention. I came across an article about her in some obscure psychic magazine which inspired me. The mood of the music fits it perfectly - Dave came up with it - then when I read the story, I got the lyrics together to fit to the music, knowing that the theme of the song and the music would go together superbly. Yeah, the music is doom-type Sabbath stuff and it works. If you see the title, you might think it's just another token witchcraft-type song - but it does have a story behind it. Also, at the time I was looking after the house for a couple I know while they were away abroad for a few weeks and it just so happens that she is a white witch! So the house was full of books on witchcraft, fortune telling, tarot, books by Crowley etc. So all this stuff which has always interested me was influencing me in a subconcious way and created some strange cross references in the title of the song and its story. The spoken word intro incidentally was done by a guy called Geoffrey Howse, who I went to art school with way back then. He's an actor and writer and is currently writing a book about murders in the East End of London ... all interesting stuff, eh?" It is indeed!
I have already stressed the fact that "Spirit World" does have a very dark aura about it. One look at song titles lile "Kiss the Dead", "House in Darkness" or "Haunted by the Past" is enough to support this theory. Brian is quick to acknowledge this fact: "Well, to look at the titles of the songs, I suppose it does seem dark and there is that feel about it - it's just how it turned out. We've always had a darker edge going on, it's just more to the fore this time around. One of the very first songs we wrote was called 'Dark they were' - I remember some of our first gigs - we'd have candles burning on stage, pentagrams on our backdrop - all a bit 'Sabbathy'.
'Immortal Hours' is another early song that has a dark edge to it - and one that we still perform now - so it's always something that we have acknowledged - it's not new to me. I suppose other stuff pushes its way through and maybe overshadows these songs, you know, more of the 'Gung - Ho' type of stuff. When I was doing the lyrics for this album, the songs are nearly all related to personal experiences and where I was at - at the time, if you know what I mean. There's a lot in there - stuff that we all go through at various points that effects you and how you deal with it, and the crutches that help you deal with it when everything is upside down. There's also stories such as 'House in Darkness' which is about a story of when my dad was a child in Ireland, he would be told to deliver a bottle of milk to an aunt who lived a couple of miles away. So in the middle of winter and in the pitch blackness - no luxury of lights - he would have to trail over open fields some with cattle in them to deliver this bloody milk! Just to make it more interesting before he left, he was told he would have to pass a deserted house where murders used to take place (ghost stories are big in Ireland) and the walls were splattered with blood! Now if that doesn't scare the shit out of a 7 year old kid! Oh, and when you passed the house, you could hear the screams of the dead victims! Needless to say my dad's father was something of a tyrant from the Victorian era - it was a hard upbringing. So that's the story of that one but it will no doubt mean something different to someone else. I just churned out the lyrics and sometimes the themes were similar, not intentional - just how it happened. 'One Strange Summer' is a song about an alcohol-fuelled few months in the summer of 2001 in Barnsley when a gang of blokes including myself formed a sort of 'Social Society of Friends' or 'Drinking Club' to be more honest! Our mission was to get wrecked! We succeeded on many occasions. It all seemed to happen by chance, the group of us got bigger -we all were friends or old friends. We blazed a trail through the pubs and nightclubs of Barnsley music festivals barbecues etc. Anyway, there was also a storming gig by Seventh Son at the a Arches in Barnsley that August, which was like a grand finale! There was also some downer moments when our mate Mick lost his son (as I mentioned previously), so all this stuff was an influence for the lyrics. Anyway, time moved on and eventually the album evolved. I suppose to have this sort of dark theme -like I said just how it happened - not intentional. 'Haunted by the Past' is another one - I've given enough away for now - the listener will have to do some work."
The album "Spirit World" also does feature the old favourite "Dangerous Kiss" (in a revisited version). This is Seventh Son's most well-known number, almost their personal "Strong Arm of the Law" or "Denim and Leather". Brian explains: "Well, it's become a bit of a tradition to have that song on our albums! No, but seriously, when we recorded the first 'fast' version of the song named 'Dangerous Kiss 2000', it was to give Dave who had just got into producing something to work on. Anyway, we liked that version of the song, so we put it as a bonus track on the "Immortal Hours" CD. When it came to recording this new album, Dave said he wasn't 100% satisfied with the 2000 version and could do an even better version! So we went ahead and did it and called it 'Dangerous Kiss ... revisited'. I think this really is a cracking version, the chugging guitars seem to bring it right up to date and I love the strings on it. These were done by the girlfriend of an an old friend of mine called Sarah who studied at Leeds College of Music - it was also good to get my brother Kev on the track again, as he of course co-wrote and played on the original version - playing acoustic guitar at the start of the track (his son Ryan also plays a bit of acoustic with Kev at the beginning also) which was recorded in Adelaide, South Australia, where Kev now lives. All in all a really blinding version - if you listen towards the end of the track, there are some different lyrics also."
I would like to round up this very long interview with Bri Shaugnessy by asking him once again about the Saxon connection. Seventh Son have often been compared to Saxon. A fact Brian accepts. Whereas mainman Biff Byford tends to ignore Seventh Son completely. Not so Paul Quinn, still an active member of Saxon in 2009: "A few years ago I met Paul Quinn in Barnsley and he was asking me how things were and vice versa. Anyway, he said he would give me a copy of the band's then latest album "Lionheart". Sure enough he turned up at my house later that evening along with his daughter - and gave me a copy of the said album, which was very good of him. So in return I gave him a copy of our album "Immortal Hours" and an old Saxon 'sew on' patch to his daughter who had seen the patch lying on shelf in my house! So that's how I got hold of "Lionheart". Interesting, eh? It's a banging album, the title track is a classic Saxon track with atmospheric intro - good one - I also like "Beyond the Grave" and the chorus on "Man and Machine". And the acoustic track "Jack Tars" works well. Some nice atmospheric touches here and there and I can hear bits of the 'old' Saxon creeping in. A lot of the fast riffing is a bit like Metallica or Priest maybe? As for "The inner Sanctum", the only track I have heard is 'Attilla the Hun' which is on a free CD, I got with Metal Hammer - they seem to have gone for a more Black Metal riffing European type band workout on this one - fast riffing, slow riffing, atmospheric bit - a bit baffling - but it seems to fit in with the other stuff on this freebie which is '15 tracks to lose your head over' but you wouldn't guess it was Saxon really - as for the rest of "The inner Sanctum", album - I don't know - I haven't heard it. I saw them live a couple of years ago at Manchester Academy when they were playing all the old stuff . Even stuff from the first album and that went down great, as for the newer stuff, I don't know it as well."
Matthias Mader (Iron Pages)