A NEW Interview With Dark Punk Pioneers Screaming Dead!
Screaming Dead are one of the original gothic punk/horror punk/deathrock bands. Like The Damned, the band’s oeuvre includes purist three chord punk alongside more nuanced gothic rock pieces. And similar to kindred souls in bands like The Dark and Siekiera, Screaming Dead’s early aggressive approach gave way, later in their career, to a more measured and atmospheric gothic sound. In newer dark punk groups like Lost Tribe and Deathcharge the influence of Screaming Dead is palpable. Recently, the reunited band announced they will be playing at least one North American date in June, and I was able to ask bassist Mal Page, below, about the band’s upcoming shows as well as the their storied past.
Formed in 1979 in Cheltenham, UK, Screaming Dead are often credited with coining the term “horror punk” in early ads for their label, Skull Records (see below). “Screaming Dead were a punk rock band, there’s no doubt about that!” singer Sam Bignall told Ian Glasper in the excellent Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980–1984. “But we had a bit of an interest in the horror theme, and that was how we decided to present ourselves.” In fact, this isn’t dissimilar to Dinah Cancer’s statement about 45 Grave that “We played punk rock but we loved Halloween and we looked like vampires,” when speaking about parallel developments in early LA deathrock. Screaming Dead and other UK bands like Blood and Roses, who were part of the so-called “positive punk” proto-gothic rock scene, were part of an overall movement in Europe, Japan, and North America that saw part of the punk scene branching off and exploring darker themes via postpunk, coldwave, and multiple other regional developments (Siniestro in Spain, depro-punk in Germany, Zimna Fala in Poland, etc.) across the globe.
For his part, however, Screaming Dead singer Sam told Glasper, “Gothic rock hadn’t even started when we were playing out looking the way we did. [Our approach] had nothing to do with any desire to be gothic… whenever I hear that term, I think of bands like Bauhaus… and we were nothing to do with all that… or Sex Gang Children.” Still, the band’s 1983 cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” along with tracks like “Night Creatures” and “Twentieth Century Vampire” attracted a strong following from the early gothic rock scene.
Whatever the case, founding member and guitarist Tony McKormack left Screaming Dead by the late 1980s and formed the pagan-goth band Inkubus Sukkubus. The sound of Inkubus Sukkubus progressed along more classically goth lines. (“The original aim of Inkubus Sukkubus was (as it still is today) to be the vehicle in which the celebration of the Pagan experience could be conveyed,” the band’s webpage says). McKormack reunited a different lineup of Screaming Dead in the late 1990s, but that band was short lived. The current Screaming Dead lineup set to play Vancouver, British Columbia in June 2016 features all the original members, save for McKormack. In fact, the reunited Screaming Dead has already started playing some dates around England.
It may come as a surprise to some that Screaming Dead started off on an Oi! label, No Future. Their first releases were cassette only, and received a lot of underground support in punk fanzines like Rising Free. Below, Mal states that fans would send blank tapes to the band; the band would tape their songs on to them, and mail them back. “This was quite time consuming, actually,” Mal states. The always-excellent resource that is the Kill Your Pet Puppy website has much more information on the early years of the band. (“Cheltenham’s answer to the Misfits,” says KYPP).
Mal of Screaming Dead was interviewed by Oliver in March, 2016.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. A friend pointed out to me that you guys were playing in Canada this June. What prompted you all to get back together and tour? Did you all ever really break up?
Mal: Our original drummer Hugh and Sam, our singer, got chatting about the old days and Hugh expressed regrets that he’d gone off to live in Australia and missed out on the records we did. They decided to go into a rehearsal studio and play along to the CD and they ended up really enjoying themselves.
A friend who puts on gigs in Cheltenham asked Sam if he was interested in doing a few of the old songs at one of the nights he was putting on, so Sam asked me (Mal) if I was up for it, which I was, but Tony (original guitarist) didn’t fancy it, so we asked Mazzy, guitarist with the Crack, and somebody we had all been friends with for years, if he wanted to do it. He said yes immediately, so we had a couple of rehearsals and did 6 songs at the event, and it went really well. We enjoyed ourselves and the reaction was great, so we decided to get a full set together and start gigging properly again.
For readers that may first be finding out about you all, can you give some basic facts about the band – I know you’re originally from Cheltenham. Can you say when you all started, and who was in the lineup then versus who is in the lineup now?
Mal: We started in 1979. There were various line up changes in the beginning, but the settled line up was Sam, Tony, Mal and Hugh. When Hugh left for Australia we recruited Mark and that became the line up for the next few years and that’s also who are on all the records. Now it’s Mazzy on guitar instead of Tony.
I think for most the best go-to source on Screaming Dead is Ian Glasper’s Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980–1984, where he devotes a very in-depth chapter to you all. Early on, you all had a lot of support from zines and even had your own zine, Warcry, along with your own label, Skull Records. Do you still have any issues of that? How were things like zines or trading tapes or using the postal service as a way to network different from how things work now? Were you ever seeking to be famous or land a Top 40 hit?
Mal: Yes, things were very different back then. Fanzines were popular and you would always see them available at gigs. People used to mail us cassettes which we would record our demo songs on and mail them back. This was quite time consuming, actually.
I don’t personally have a copy of Warcry but I think there may be 1 or 2 still in existence. There is a book being written about the band as we speak, so it will probably be reprinted in there… As for being famous, I think most young kids in bands have that dream, but it pays off for very few.
Mal: Tony came up with the name. I remember once him saying in an interview, “It’s about the youth of today! They are dead because nothing is going on for them, but they are screaming with anger for something to happen.” A good soundbite but not sure it was the real reason. I think it just sounded good!
Screaming Dead get a lot of credit for perhaps coining the term “horror punk” (like the Cramps coining “psychobilly,” it seems like), and are considered one of the founding bands of that sub-genre. How did the horror imagery and fascination start with you all? It seems like later, as Screaming Dead went into the mid-1980s, that that part of the band’s aesthetic come to the fore. How and why did this happen and what do you think of the attention the band have gotten from the goth and deathrock scene?
Mal: We are very flattered to be regarded as forerunners of the deathrock scene. It basically came about because of interest in old Hammer horror films.
When you play in North America, will the band be covering more the “gothic” side of your canon or will you be concentrating on the early, faster punk stuff – or maybe both? Where do you think the band is at right now as far as the style of music it prefers?
Mal: We like to mix it up a bit, there are the faster songs like ‘ Valley of the Dead ‘ and more melodic stuff such as ‘ Night Creatures .’ We enjoy playing both to be honest…
Another question naturally is – will Screaming Dead be making any new songs, recording or debuting any new material? I guess you’ve seen that some bands, like Amebix, have done this and have been fairly successful with it, and a few others have tried to come back out of the shadows to much more mixed results. Will you all strictly be sticking to the older material?
Mal: We have rerecorded some of the old stuff recently and it sounds great, and yes we have new material but working on it is tricky, as I live a long way from the rest of the band. We’ll find a solution, though.
When you came up with the “horror punk” designation, what it did mean to you all? Have you seen how that genre has now become a haven mainly for bands that are clones of the Misfits or are psychobilly type bands like the Nekromantix or Horror Pops…. Dod you all feel a kinship with that stuff in any way, these days, or in the past?
Mal: When we were first going, I think we were more or less the only ones doing it. We never felt a kinship with those type of bands you mentioned but had nothing against them either. The Misfits liked us and asked us to play with them in New York but we couldn’t afford the flights back then.
What did punk mean to you all, and having been through it in its early days do you feel there are values in it that the band still holds? What values or ideas do you think you still go by that you found through your initial experience with the punk scene?
Speaking personally, I loved the Punk scene. I was the right age at the time. I had just left school so I could go to loads of gigs, and saw most of the bands that were about in 1977 and 1978. I think back then that a lot of the bands didn’t take themselves too seriously; it was more about fun, which is what we are aiming to have this time around – a gang of 4 mates having a good time. We are really looked forward to playing in the US – we get loads of hits from the US on our Facebook page.
Screaming Dead’s official Facebook page is here.
Information on Screaming Dead’s June 9th show in Vancouver, British Columbia is here.