Prince of the Poverty Line is the fourth full-length studio album by British folk metal band Skyclad. It was released on 22th of March 1994 and I believe its 25th anniversary is an excellent excuse to remember why it is the most brilliant record of its genre and one of the finest that 90’s offered us.
Trapped In A World I No Longer Feel Part Of
Words By Giorgos Tsekas: In 1994, I was a teenager and for about 3-4 years I had begun to understand that music is indeed one, but we also label it too. And not in a dipole “Greek and foreign” as older people than me, in a totally bland Greek fashion, did. But I also saw everything that belonged to the extreme sound, as heavy metal, an ignorance I know call romanticism. That year I was waiting for the release of Youthanasia and Divine Intervention, which would be released after the summer -as I had read in Hammer-, but mainly Black Hand Inn, which would come out at the end of March, so that I could expand my -then- poor collection. I had saved my pocket money from four hour kiosk shifts in the weekends, when the store’s old owner wanted to rest. A hundred drachmas at a time, slowly would build up to 20000 (plus whatever my father would give me), so that I could take the train for Athens to buy Black Hand Inn, and one more that was in an offer than week at the record store. The previous summer, I had gotten a cassette with weird choices, where Master of the Wind by Manowar and Love is Like Oxygen by Sweet, fit a great cover of Thin Lizzy in between. I still owe a “thanks” to the 29 old guy -working at a parking lot in Kalypso Street and still lived with his mother, walked around with a drum stick and a Maiden shirt with holes everyday- who saw me with a Motorhead t-shirt and felt like educating me. I didn’t remember the name of the band but I couldn’t forget the lyrics and the sweet melody of the violin that caressed the composition. A few months passed, I gathered the money so the next weekend, I wouldn’t go for work but in Athens, I also had birthday these days, so I would see my old classmates and friends. When at the city centre, the others bought Hall of the Mountain King and Heaven and Hell (Kyriakos), and Saxon and Ozzy only (Kostas, naturally). After looking at all of the CDs and vinyl records of the store, we went to the cashier. And there was the new Skyclad advertised. Yes, Skyclad it was! The previous night, among the advice was not to be carried away and that we should buy exactly what we went for (it never worked), I was talking about Emerald without remembering the name of the band or no info other than it was a cover of Thin Lizzy, a more attacking voice and a magic violin… Skyclad it was. Then I didn’t know what poetic speech is or a flaming tongue, or the rebellious but also high quality lyrics. I didn’t know the glorious past of the members of the British and phlegmatic act which I would be a fan of for the next 25 years when I would follow the leftist metal path. The impressive artwork won me right away, and since we got to the house of Kyriakos, no one of the other kids seemed to share my excitement. Which was excessive, since then I couldn’t understand the magnificence of the album and band. The vocals of Walkyier, combined with the dark violins, the sad keyboards and the angry cutting guitars combined perfectly folk and metal while touching everyday personal issues, but also social-politic ones about dividing of classes, greed, homelessness, some that people face every day in the western world and the depression that eats the modern man from inside. When time passed, this album was a landmark in my musical evolution. The moment I bought this was the moment I changed my mindset from a consumer to a communicant of culture, and how I perceive a music album as a piece of art and not as a product, but as a creation. On the same day began the deepening of the culture of Skyclad and paganism, which gave me generously, as it did to other fanatics who gave themselves to its magic, the edge of Ariadne’s mime which would move me to the music labyrinths of the wretched music industry and utter consumerism. 25 years later, it still is one of my favorite albums, for the simple reason that it retains its freshness, it is dangerous and direct without losing its quality with time, and it blends good musicianship with aggressive music, folk wisdom and the grace of pagan rituals with the ethics of a simple man, as well as class consciousness. What Skyclad managed with Prince of the Poverty Line, is harder to do it than how complicated you’ve just read it, and this makes it an even greater album.
Liner Notes: Track by Track
Words by Steve Ramsey: We chose the first song on the album, music written by Graeme, to be Civil War Dance because of its great intro. It builds up starting with the drums then adding the rest of the instruments one by one and the voice. On the tour for the album we played this instead of using a recorded intro and entered the stage one by one starting with Keith on drums. I remember this being particularly effective at a sold out show we did in London at the famous Marquee Club that year.
The second song, Cardboard City, Martin wrote about the plight of the growing homelessness in London at the time which is still a problem in our country to this day. One of the more keyboard prominent songs on the album using sounds that I was now able to create specifically for songs using the midi workstation we now had. This was the only album Cath recorded on with us and her first instrument was piano with the violin her second. It features one of the great keyboard solos she played. We used the chimes of Big Ben to identify with our capital city.
Although heavy on the album the third song Sins of Emission would become a firm favourite after it was rewritten for the acoustic set we would put together and tour later on.
The music for Land of the Rising Slum was actually a kind of sequenced dance track that Graeme had been messing about with while we were learning how to use sequencers etc. wit the keyboard. Martin heard it and instantly had an idea for lyrics in a kind of rap, then it was my job to add guitar to heavy it up arrange it for a song. Another great keys solo from Cath.
The One Piece Puzzle is the big folk metal ballad on the album. I remember due to work commitments etc. only Keith and I were in the studio jamming together when we put down the arrangement for this one. He was a great musician to work with and it was a fun way to lay down the foundations.
Tracks on the B side of the album were again a mixture of keyboard led and violin led tracks. On Dog in a Manger there is a little cameo from Tony (Abaddon) from Venom doing a spoken word bit in the middle section.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is Womb of The Worm with its big guitars and big keyboard sounds. We also manage to include some female vocals in the chorus from Cath.
Liner Notes: The Producer or else the hidden band’s member
Words by Kevin Ridley: ‘Prince Of The Poverty Line’ Line was the fourth full studio album I was involved with as an engineer/producer and the second one that we mixed at Rockfield studios in Monmouth Wales. The pre-production, track laying and mixing for this album followed the same pattern as the three previous albums, in that the band would write and rehearse the songs the best they could before entering the studio. The bulk of the recording was done in Lynx Studio in Newcastle – which was owned by their management company at the time. A more ‘professional’, residential studio was then booked for any additional recording (there was always some) and mixing. Due to the fact that the band were constantly touring at this point, there was never enough time for any of this and therefore the mixing had to be done over the quiet Christmas period, when (co-incidentally) studio time at the big studios was cheaper. Indeed, I remember that at Rockfield we were able to use the studio because another band was having a break for the holidays and they had been there from the previous year! The main reason for using these studios for mixing was the automation they offered along with the plethora of outboard gear and, in Rockfield’s case, some real reverb rooms. It seems that each Skyclad album was rather different to the previous one, largely due to the changing personnel (no more than two albums were recorded by the same line up and this was to be the last album that Cath (Howell) played on) but also because of changing studios and the introduction of new technology. The latter point is particularly true of the ‘Prince Of The Poverty Line’ album, which I refer to as ‘the keyboard album’. This album was also different because, where ‘Jonas Ark’ had focused on the environment, this was to be a heavier and more aggressive album dealing with politics and social issues, such as homelessness. During the writing process for this album the band had acquired a ‘midi’ keyboard to write the demos on – where previously they had used an eight-track cassette system. This meant they could keep the programmed tracks and sounds for the finished recordings. For example, we keep the programmed kick drum for ‘Cardboard City’, not because it couldn’t be played, but because we wanted it to sound like a machine. This was fine of course, providing everything stayed in synch. This meant having to stripe one of the tracks on the multitrack with SMPTE code and hoping that the midi keyboard picked it up correctly. Believe me it didn’t always run smoothly and on top of that the step writing and editing process back then was torturous. And these keyboard tracks – with their composite sounds – still haunt us to the present day. It would seem that Skyclad and technology are not happy bedfellows. Other things worth mentioning about the recording sessions are the sampling and sound effects and the mixing process. From the first Skyclad album we had always had to look for sounds to add (for example, the chimes of ‘Big Ben’ and the ‘riot’ in ‘Civil War Dance’) or, indeed, to invent small recorded scenes, and this album probably has the most and the most complex ones to date. We wanted to give the impression of someone walking through a London Underground station, complete with our own busker (who was a young lad working in the studio in Newcastle) getting a few pennies for his efforts. Best to listen with headphones for the details. As for the overall sound of this album. Well Steve (Ramsey) thought that the previous album (Jonah’s Ark) was a bit too ‘polite’ and polished (that means more drums and vocals and not enough guitars). So for this album I had to do more of the recording and mixing myself (thanks) which meant very long hours and tired ears – especially as we wanted to guitars to cut through everything; and it is, I think, quite an abrasive sounding album as a result. Finally, I mentioned that the albums were completed over the Christmas and New Year period which meant it was a bit of a holiday for the band and this meant parties. So everyone invited their wives, children, girlfriends, friends and even some of the locals along for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. So it wasn’t ‘all work and no play’ even though we were always on a small budget and strict schedule.