Or­ange Goblin

They might not be rich, but they’ve had way more fun than many bands who are. Or­ange Goblin front­man Ben Ward looks back on the band’s two-decade ca­reer fu­elled by booze, bongs, boobs and Big Black.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Dave Ever­ley

Front­man Ben Ward looks back on the band’s two-decade ca­reer fu­elled by booze, bongs, boobs and Big Black.

Ben Ward has learned many things in his 23 years as the singer with Or­ange Goblin. Such as don’t go mini-mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing on the eve of a ma­jor tour, es­pe­cially if there’s a risk of your drum­mer break­ing his fin­ger and the tour be­ing can­celled (this hap­pened). Or never go on stage pissed at a pres­ti­gious club gig in Los An­ge­les, es­pe­cially if it means your la­bel back home will give you the bol­lock­ing of your life for blow­ing your big chance to im­press an important au­di­ence (this hap­pened too).

But, as important as the above are, they are not the most valu­able things Ward has learned. The most valu­able thing he has picked up in his band’s two decades plus, is that no mat­ter how tough things get, no mat­ter how much your job or life in gen­eral grinds you down, never, ever sell your souls.

“The thing I’m proud­est about of be­ing in Or­ange Goblin for twenty-three years is that we’ve al­ways re­tained our dig­nity and in­tegrity,” says Ward, six-foot six-inches of hair and denim, cur­rently loung­ing in the wood-pan­elled back room of a North Lon­don boozer. “We’ve never been fash­ion­able, we’ve never been a hip­ster band. We’ve never sold out. We’re out­siders. And I love that about us.”

He drains the last of the pint that’s been sit­ting in front of him for… oh, about two min­utes. He’s got a Lon­don gar­gle that’s rougher than a badger’s cludge. “Look, there’s a re­ally sim­ple way of look­ing at it. If you’re try­ing to de­cide on some­thing, you just think: ‘Would fuck­ing

Lemmy do it?’”

Fol­low­ing the Tao Of Lemmy has served

Or­ange Goblin well over the past quar­ter­century. They rose from the febrile mid-90s British metal un­der­ground to be­come the stan­dard­bear­ers for modern-day British heavy metal.

While their for­mer peers have ei­ther split up (Cathe­dral, Ac­ri­mony) or mu­tated into new forms (Cra­dle Of Filth, Anath­ema), Or­ange Goblin have re­mained true to their core val­ues: booze, bongs, bikes and heavy metal.

It hasn’t al­ways been easy. Wheels have wob­bled and the jug­ger­naut has threat­ened to come off the road more than once. Per­sonal cir­cum­stances have changed, re­la­tion­ships have crum­bled, real-life ob­sta­cles have landed in their path. And if you’re mea­sur­ing suc­cess purely in fis­cal terms, then, well, Or­ange Goblin aren’t ex­actly trou­bling The Sun­day Times Rich List.

But suc­cess for Or­ange Goblin is mea­sured on a dif­fer­ent level. The fact is that they’re bat­tling through the Force 12 shit­storm that is the modern mu­sic industry, and not just sur­viv­ing but pros­per­ing in their own medium-sized cor­ner of the world. Their lat­est al­bum, The Wolf Bites Back, is both a celebration of their con­tin­ued ex­is­tence and a re­minder that one of the finest British heavy metal bands of the past 20 years still has teeth.

And that’s some­thing Lemmy would def­i­nitely be proud of.

The band that be­came Or­ange Goblin played their first gig at a jam night at the Ris­ing Sun pub in Sud­bury Hill, West Lon­don, some time in 1995. They were called

Our Haunted King­dom back then, and they couldn’t make up their mind whether they were a clas­sic rock cov­ers band, a grunge band or cal­low death metal grun­ters. So they split the dif­fer­ence, to the baf­fle­ment of the pun­ters who’d turned up to see a pro­ces­sion of semi-pro mid­dleaged blues mu­si­cians.

“We did a Jimi Hen­drix song, an Alice In Chains cover and one of our songs called My Black Widow,” says Ward. “I was do­ing all this death-metal growl­ing, cos I didn’t have the con­fi­dence to sing back then. Ev­ery­body was go­ing: ‘What the fuck is this?’ We didn’t even have long hair back then, just those ridicu­lous cur­tains you have when you’re grow­ing it out.”

Ward had met fu­ture OG bas­sist Mar­tyn Mil­lard when they were both ap­pren­tices at Queens Park Rangers foot­ball club. “We did the whole YTS [Youth Train­ing Scheme] thing,” he says. “We had the po­ten­tial to be pro­fes­sion­als, but the sec­ond year was when we both dis­cov­ered a love of heavy metal and beer. Foot­ball went out the win­dow.”

By 1997 Our Haunted King­dom – Ward and Mil­lard plus drum­mer Chris Turner and gui­tarists Joe Hoare and Pete O’Mal­ley (who left in 2004) – had changed their name and re­leased their de­but al­bum Fre­quen­cies From Planet Ten on Rise Above Records, the in­flu­en­tial la­bel founded by Cathe­dral singer Lee Dor­rian.

In that pre-so­cial me­dia age, a band like Or­ange Goblin had to work hard to get a foothold. Ward re­mem­bers sell­ing demos in the lines at other bands’ gigs and hand­ing out fly­ers for his own shows. “A lot of bands these days have it far too easy,” he says. “They can record stuff on their iPhones, stick it up on Band­camp, say they’ve got an al­bum out and go off on tour. They don’t have to work for it the same as bands back then did.”

He lets out a gur­gling, growl­ing chuckle. “Fuck­ing hell, lis­ten to me. Old gran­dad.”

“We’ve never been fash­ion­able, we’ve never sold out. We’re out­siders. And I love that about us.”

Ben Ward

Or­ange Goblin’s Sab­bath-with-builders’-crack­son-show spliff-boo­gie plugged into a mid-90s British un­der­ground metal scene that was as vi­brant as at any time since the early 80s, and more ex­cit­ing than it’s been since. It was a ri­otous as­sem­blage of freaks, geeks, ston­ers, moan­ers, jok­ers, vam­pires and fuck-ups. Ward reels off the names: Cathe­dral, Elec­tric Wiz­ard, Cra­dle Of Filth, Iron Mon­key and many more dis­tant mem­o­ries. And right in the thick of it were Or­ange Goblin.

“It was a crazy scene,” says Ward. “Drink and drugs were ram­pant. We’d do our­selves more harm than good turn­ing up for gigs pissed as farts. We went on stage in just our un­der­pants once – the Oval Rock House in Nor­wich. There was only one per­son there. We thought, ‘fuck it’. Just thought it was a mas­sive party.”

It was. Their mis­sion state­ment was summed up on a T-shirt they put out around the time of their 2000 al­bum The Big Black. It read: ‘Booze. Bongs. Birds. Bikes. Boobs. Big Black.’ “That summed us up,” says Ward.

In be­tween the booz­ing and carous­ing, the band mem­bers held down me­nial, short-term jobs – de­liv­ery driv­ers, ware­house­men, go­phers. Noth­ing per­ma­nent, in case the of­fer of a tour or a gig in a far-flung coun­try came their way and they had to drop ev­ery­thing at a mo­ment’s no­tice. At one point in the band’s ear­ly­ish years, Ward and Joe Hoare were work­ing in the kitchens at Wem­b­ley Arena. Within a cou­ple of days they’d had a gut­ful and went to tell their fore­man they were leav­ing.

“He said: ‘You’ll never amount to any­thing.’ We just said: ‘Fuck off. We’ll be play­ing here one day.’”

Twenty four hours later, Or­ange Goblin were of­fered the open­ing slot on a tour by two of their big he­roes, Dio and Alice Cooper, in­clud­ing a date at – you’ve got it in one – Wem­b­ley Arena.

“It was bril­liant,” says Ward. “The money was shit but the ex­pe­ri­ence was sec­ond to none.”

The money was shit but the ex­pe­ri­ence was sec­ond to none’ could be the story of Or­ange Goblin’s life. Through­out the 00s they re­leased a string of ac­claimed al­bums and mus­cled their way to the top of the un­der­ground. Their gigs were – and still are – packed and crazily joy­ous things, one part biker rally, one part heavy metal com­mu­nion. Like the old lager ads (al­most) said, Or­ange Goblin reached the parts other heavy metal bands couldn’t reach. Rid­ing high on their own buzz, they dared to dream.

“We knew we were never go­ing to be as big as Iron Maiden or Me­tal­lica,” says Ward. “But part of you still ex­pects the record la­bel to phone and say: ‘Quit your day jobs, guys, you can af­ford to live off the band.’”

The call never came. As a band, Or­ange Goblin were never broke – Ward says proudly that they’ve never been in debt – but nor were they ready to cash in their chips and move to Bev­erly Hills. He reck­ons the big­gest roy­alty cheque he’s ever re­ceived was for around £3,000. Which was only a few years ago and took into ac­count reis­sues as well as cur­rent al­bums.

“It’s never been easy,” he says. “You go on these tours and ev­ery­body thinks that’s what you do for a liv­ing. They’re sur­prised you have a day job. Well, that’s be­cause we’ve got to eat.”

There have been a few hairy mo­ments. The hairi­est came at the start of this decade, af­ter their then-la­bel, Sanc­tu­ary, went bust. The band put out a de­flated-sound­ing state­ment say­ing they would make an­other al­bum at some point, but they didn’t know when. It sounded like Or­ange Goblin had run its course.

“It’s the clos­est we’ve come to split­ting up,” says Ward. We were feel­ing jaded by ev­ery­thing. It hadn’t re­ally kicked off for us at any point in the pre­ced­ing ten years, our la­bel had gone ka­put and we were, like, ‘You know what? Ev­ery­thing’s against us.’”

Iron­i­cally, it was go­ing pub­lic with their de­spon­dency that gal­vanised them back into ac­tion. “That made a lot of peo­ple think that would be the end of it,” he says. “And that’s what made us want to keep go­ing.”

Whether it’s the fear of near-ex­tinc­tion or just a bone-headed re­fusal to quit, the last decade has found Or­ange Goblin punchier than ever be­fore. Even though a bold at­tempt to fi­nally quit their day jobs and fo­cus solely on the band fol­low­ing 2012’s Eu­logy For The Damned ul­ti­mately failed, it didn’t knock the wind out of their sails.

“Un­for­tu­nately, with the mu­sic we play we just didn’t make enough money,” says Ward. “We had a shot at it, it was a great ad­ven­ture, we don’t have any re­grets.”

The oc­ca­sional downs of the past 23 years haven’t had any no­tice­able neg­a­tive im­pact on Or­ange Goblin’s just-re­leased ninth al­bum, The Wolf Bites Back. As the ti­tle sug­gests, it sounds at least as hun­gry as any­thing they’ve made be­fore. Ward cites Cap­tain Beef­heart, Frank Zappa and Can as in­flu­ences this time around. While the Goblin haven’t quite swapped booze, bongs and the rest for art-jazz or avant-garde jams, there is a de­vi­a­tion from the stoner rock blue­print in the likes of gothic coun­try mur­der bal­lad The Stranger.

“It was just hav­ing the free­dom to do what we wanted to do,” says Ward. “I think maybe we’ve felt trapped by be­ing Or­ange Goblin in the past. We wanted to say: ‘Here we are, this is what we’re all about right now.’ It’s a state­ment: ‘Af­ter ev­ery­thing we’ve been through, we’re still here and fuck ev­ery­thing else.’”

Free­dom to do what they want to do af­ter 23 years, with­out fear of fail­ure or what the fu­ture might hold? Lemmy would be proud of that.

“Peo­ple are sur­prised you have a day job. Well, that’s be­cause

we’ve got to eat.”

Ben Ward

The Wolf Bites Back is out now via Uni­ver­sal/ Can­dle­light.

Or­ange Goblin: (l-r) Joe Hoare, Mar­tyn Mil­lard,Ben Ward, Chris Turner.

Ben Ward gives it some oomph.Inset: young Goblins in the mid-90s, dream­ing of things to come.

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