Stone Cold are a UK progressive metal band that have played for over 20 years. They are popular near London, England, particularly in the Sussex / Surrey / Hampshire area of the United Kingdom. They have produced 14 LPs and CDs and recently met up with NHM to discuss remastering and re-issuing their back catalogue. Nigel Rippon, Stone Cold's founder, once played bass guitar for Protos (this is the personal connection). At a reunion meeting on 20th December 2006, discussion turned to Stone Cold's history and future plans. In this interview, Nigel talks about past memories and future plans.
1. Please tell us briefly about yourself. Where are you from? What is the background of the current band members?
Stone Cold formed in 1986. Stone Cold now has five band members. Phil Bedford (bass/percussion) joined in 2003. Alistair Goodwin (vocals/percussion) joined in 2001 and also plays guitar in the Alistair Goodwin Band. David Morris (hammond organ/percussion) has had two spells in Stone Cold between 1994-96, and again from 2001 onwards. He plays with other bands called Diesel Jesus and Space Baby. I, Nigel, am the last surviving founder member (guitar, vocals, percussion, trombone) and also plays electric cello in the Alisdair Goodwin Band. Lastly, James Wheeler (drums/percussion) joined in 2004. They are a versatile lot.
I previously played bass with Protos and Sly (a Sky tribute band) with Rory Ridley-Duff and Iain Carnegie. I wanted to play guitar and I figured that the only way to do that was by starting up my own band. We'd been going for about a year under several other names, playing mostly covers, but when our original bassist left, we couldn't gig, so we started writing original material. We did our first gig in November 1986 at the Fernleigh Youth Centre in Chichester. It was the 1980s and everything was about commercial plastic pop, sprayed hair and make-up, with digital synths, tiny amps and pointy guitars. We were into old valve gear, scruffy jeans and 20-minute guitar solos. We pretty much accepted that we weren't going to get our stuff played on the radio. We decided to play the stuff we were into. Stone Cold's music has always been a platform for the talents of whoever happened to be in the band at the time. There's been 21 guys in the band in about as many years. I'm the only constant factor.
2. When did you start to play music? Were you self-taught or did you learn music formally when you were young?
My nan was a church organist and taught me the piano from about age 5. My dad was a drummer in a marching band, so I started learning rudiments pretty early on. My mum knew about 4 chords on the guitar - I learned those, then I bought a Beatles book and taught myself the rest. Cello lessons started from age 7 and continued through all the classical grades until I joined in local youth orchestras. The cello was my main instrumental study at college. I took up trombone when I was 11 and joined a brass band. That led to me learning to play the cornet and tuba. I had a varied listening base from a very young age. By college, I was hooked on heavy rock - Deep Purple in particular.
3. Who were early influences?
Our early material was very influenced by bands like Whitesnake, the Scorpions and Alice Cooper. By the early 90's we'd got really into jamming stuff out - we were listening to a lot of Pink Floyd and Santana - grooving over two chords. The Zappa influence has always been really strong - contrasting the extended improvisations with more complex, structured sections. More recently the odd time-signature thing has taken over. I think it comes from a growing interest in African and Indian music as well as listening to bands that have been influenced by that polyrhythmic stuff - like King Crimson and Gong. As new people have joined the band, they've brought new sets of influences.
4. You have produced 14 albums. Where can fans obtain the albums?
We're currently remastering all of our back catalogue to CD, which I'm hoping to re-release through NHM. I've had to redesign all of the artwork because all the old album covers were prepared using incompatible software. We've still got a few old copies lying around, which we're selling at gigs, but the best way to keep up with any new releases is through our MySpace site www.myspace.com/stonecolduk. Those currently available through the website and at gigs are: HARSH PARSNIP (1986); THE COLD GREY WHISTLE TEST (1995); ORGANARCHY (1998); REPERCUSSIONS (2000) and RECOLLECTION OVERLOAD (2002).
5. If you could recommend one album which one would it be and why?
I really like Recollection Overload. It's got the best material and the best studio production. I like it because Alistair does the lead vocals. Of the earlier stuff, Organarchy is probably the most representative: it's live, recorded on a minidisc player at a pub in Godalming (Surrey, England). The production and vocals are awful but there's some brilliant improvisations and some stunning playing from former keyboard player Mike Ruinet, who sadly died in 2001.
6. You’ve been gigging for 20 years. Do you have any interesting stories you would like to share?
I could write a book! We ran out of petrol at 4am in Yeovil in 1991. We've been pulled over by the police 6 times in one night after hiring a van with Irish number plates. That gig was in London on the anniversary of IRA bombings! We played the The Marquee in Charing Cross Road around 1992. While unloading the van a traffic warden came up and started putting a clamp on it. We pleaded with him to stop, explaining that we were just loading and there was no other way of doing it. We even offered to pay the fine there and then, but he just ignored us. It was about 5pm. That van just sat there completely blocking the road until 2am when after the gig had finished we loaded it back up again. One of us had to walk to the car pound at Marble Arch to pay the fine and get them to take the clamp off.
On another occasion, we were supporting The Sweet. Rob Abbott, our bass player at the time, was picking up his girlfriend but the promoter was really hassling us to go on stage. Eventually, he threatened to pull us off the bill if we didn't go on immediately so we played the first song with me on bass. When it came to the guitar solo, I played a bass solo instead. We were playing the intro to the second song as I noticed Rob arrive. There were about 4 bars of groove between playing the opening riff and the first line of the verse during which I took off the bass, passed it to Rob, picked up my guitar then walked up to the mike to sing the first line. It was incredibly hectic but the audience went crazy - they thought it was the slickest thing in the world.
Another story. We were booked to play a gig in Staines but when we got there the place was boarded up! We went to a pub across the road and told them our situation. The offered us a gig there and then. It was totally the wrong audience - a real geezer's pub and they thought we were weird. We thought about trying to do some covers but decided instead to be REALLY weird: we played all of our most far-out stuff and pulled the strangest faces while talking complete bollocks over the microphone. They loved it and the landlord booked us back regularly for a couple of years.
We had other problems at gigs. The drummer once put his foot pedal through the skin of his bass drum half way through a song. Our roadie jumped up on stage, whipped the bass drum out of the way, gaffer-taped the pedal to the floor tom and we carried on as though nothing had happened. When you're gigging all the time, you get so familiar with the music and the set up that you don't think about it. It's a bit different when you're first starting. I've seen bands walk off stage because they broke a string!
7. How do you go about composing? How do/did you write music?
We have developed a bit of a formula. It's not rocket science. We generally get a riff and a groove and we jam on that for ages until we're comfortable with it. The structure is generally RIFF/INTRO - VERSE - VERSE - LONG IMPROVISED SOLO SECTION - BRIDGE - VERSE - OUTRO. Sometimes there's a chorus and the bridge sections can get quite complex. Since Alistair has been in the band, we do things differently. He often comes in with a song that is just vocals and acoustic guitar then we work on replacing the guitar part (which is generally quite busy) with a more integrated groove. Each instrument takes a different role until we've got something that works. The riff then tends to come out of the new groove and we add the long instrumental workout somewhere in the middle.
8. You describe your music as a cross between King Crimson/Frank Zappa. What is the market for this music in your area? Do you still see a market for progressive music?
I honestly don't care. We've been playing unfashionable music for 20-odd years. We love it and everyone who sees the band seems to love it. It's only pretentious arseholes in the music press who don't go for it. As long as people are still buying Zappa and Crimson stuff there will always be a market for it. I saw King Crimson a couple of years ago and all the old hippies were there with their kids. There's a whole new generation of youngsters who are growing up listening to their parents' albums and loving it. I write the type of music that I like to listen to. If other people like it and want to buy it, that's a bonus.
9. From your viewpoint, what does the progressive rock mean?
Music that is doing something different from the mainstream. Music that is not limited by the commercial 3-minute format. Music that is written to be listened to. Music with substance. Is that pretentious enough?
10. Can you tell us about the music you are working on now? What are your future plans?
We've done a lot of recording lately. The emphasis of the band has changed a lot in the last few years. We're really showcasing our drummer James Wheeler - he's incredible. You can ask him to play anything and he's up for it. He makes us fall about at gigs with his ridiculous fills. We've been doing a lot of stuff in odd time signatures. It's really interesting trying to do something in 5 or 7 and still make it sound bluesy. James has recently introduced us to a vibraphone player (I shouldn't have lent him that Gong album), who we're going to do some stuff with. We've already got a shedload of percussion stuff, so we'll probably have to buy a bigger van.
Many thanks to Nigel from NHM!