Frank, congrats on the new Necromandus album! I love it! It’s been a long time coming. How rewarding is it for you to finally get the name out there and have a band to go with it?
Its very rewarding to finally have a real showcase for the Necromandus project that was originally put together 44 years ago. The original band worked so hard in 1973, putting the first album together, getting gigs and performing the length and breadth of the country.. Now we have a new line up of exceptionally talented musicians, its a brilliant feeling and I’m very proud!
The original lineup was really on the verge of making it. What happened and how tough was it for you?
As you can imagine with all the hard work the original members put in, on the brink of being a signed, successful band only to be dropped was devastating. With Tony Iommi in the States with Sabbath on tour, when Baz Dunnery seemed to lose all faith, wouldn’t fly and decided enough was enough, that was the end of it.
How did you go about finding the new lineup? I know John Branch is the son of original vocalist Bill Branch so that must be quite interesting for you to say the least.
I always wanted to put Necromandus back together and spent years trying to find the right people/musicians. To find a guitarist capable of playing the way Baz Dunnery did takes some skill, I had listened to a lot over the years but no one seemed to hit the mark and have the unique quality that I was looking for. One day I heard about a very special young guitarist who was playing at a Battle of the Bands contest in Cumbria, so I decided to check him out – I wasn’t disappointed! After hearing him I new he was the obvious choice, I was so impressed by his unique style and the advanced way he played for his age, his name was Dean Newton, that was in 2011, he’s only got better since and he sings as well! The keyboard player, is John Marcangelo and Ive known him since Junior School. He is an incredible musician and composer, he has a great personality and sense of humour, a natural choice for the band. I found the new albums bass player Banjo Cunanan when I heard him play with another band that I dep for occasionally. Banjo is an incredibly kind person and a damn fine bass player, sadly his part with our band was short lived as he had to return to to the Philippines with his family. His successor is Paul Spedding, who I met over 14 years ago when we played together in the Gerry Gillard band. Paul is one of the finest bassists Ive ever heard, we had lost touch but as fate would have it, our paths crossed again and my friend is now a key part of the band. Now the lead vocalist, Billy Branch’s son, John Branch… Who else?, it couldn’t be anyone else really. I bumped into John in the street one day and asked him straight out – would you like to be Necromandus lead singer? He laughed, but when he realized I was being serious, he decided to give it a try. I knew he had sung his fathers Necromandus parts for years and his first moments in the studio sent shivers up our spines. John has that timbre in his voice that Billy had, no need to look any further, I was honoured that he said yes. I have known John since he was a toddler and he has grown into a fine, talented gentleman with a hell of a voice.
What are your influences musically and have they changed since the old days?
My musical influences have changed vastly over the years, people like the one and only Bill Ward had a huge impact on my drumming, great respect for that man. Back in the day I suppose that YES and MARHAVISHNU were real the favourites for me. Nowadays I’m listening to people like Dave Weckle, Scott Henderson and Jazz Fusion.
Is it true that you were asked to be Genesis’ touring drummer?
The Genesis thing came about when I was trying to put together the first Blizzard of Ozz band, together with (again) Baz Dunnery and Dennis McCarten from the original Necromandus line up. We were always very close to John (Ozzy), and the ‘Sabbath guys. Jeff Banks ( Phil Collins personal assistant) told me that Phil was looking for a drummer and that I would fit the bill. At that time (1976/7) Phil was wanting to sing up front and a combination of musical preferences and loyalty to Ozzy and the guys made me turn it down. On reflection, I wish I’d taken it.
Many people stated that Necromandus was like Sabbath meets Yes which I think is true. Were you guys prog metal in your opinion? Not that that label existed back then.
I would describe that sound as Prog,Jazz/Metal ( if there is such a thing , ha ha!). Yes plays ‘Sabbath was Rolling Stone’s description I think.
How would you describe the sound of the current Necromandus?
The current Necromandus is progressive but will keep faith with the original the core musical style of the 1973 band. This newly released album is a blend of Prog, Rock and a little jazz fusion, I’m immensely proud of this piece of work and the efforts that band members and our great producer, Tom Tyson, have made in creating it.
Much of the album references our Cumbrian roots, Borderlands, Alauna, Warriors and Hardknott relate to a troubled history and the nostalgic Hymn to Her is a local story too.
What does the future hold for Necromandus? I’m sure that’s a question you probably didn’t think you’d have to answer! Do you guys have plans to hit the road?
We’ve concentrated on making our “Necromandus” album as good as it could possibly be and we are already 5 tracks into a second album, which includes some “guests”. We are very interested in live performances, but the right ones at the right time. The enthusiasm generated by the album in Germany, Sweden, France, Australia and the USA has been encouraging and has created opportunities. Our manager, a long time friend of Billy Branch, Tim Knowles, who also runs the Mandusmusic Label, is looking at a combination of gigs and festivals – watch this space!