There are very few certainties in life. The first eight series of the Simpsons will always be funny; that council tax is a fuckfest of broken promises; and that there will always be Orange (fucking) Goblin, baby! Celebrating their 25th birthday this year should have seen Orange Goblin running rampant on a run of shows across all the best summer festivals. But even the OG-25 juggernaut has had to put the brakes on in the face of COVID-19 pandemic, and in the ensuing lockdown the precious sight of Ben, Joe, Martyn and Chris rampaging across stages with their good time rock 'n' roll is one that's been put on hold. But it's not something that seems to faze them. Joining Dark Matter on a Skype meeting, singer Ben Ward making the most of a hot day with a cold beer, and ready to reflect on the last 25 years.
So, having released nine studio albums which are never anything less than 101% riff-laced and foot-stompingly good, and have played more fist-pumpingly good live shows across the world than can reasonably be counted, how have they managed it? “The fact we still enjoy it and it's not like a chore,” is the reply. “As you say we get to travel all over the world and been to Australia, we've been to Japan, we've been to America and Canada, we been all over Europe, and Russia. It's a dream come true really. Personally, we started OG 25 years ago because we were friends sitting around bored, and we all had a shared passion for the same sort of music, Black Sabbath being the obvious kind of starting point, and it snowballed from there really.”
It was an exciting time for music of the doomier and stonier bent. Around the time there was Electric Wizard (OG did a split EP with the Devon deviants), Cathedral (toured with the Coventry coven) and Kyuss (golden-throated John Garcia has guested on a couple of OG tunes) to name just an illustrious few. No Spotify, no Facebook, no online anything in those days either. It was all word of mouth and putting yourself about. “It used to be a tape trading scene when we first started, to trade demos and get your name out there you used to have to turn up at gigs and hand out fliers to people in queues,” Ben remembers nostalgically. “But I'm thankful we came out at a time when you had to that kind of groundwork, because it not only gave you the satisfaction you'd worked hard for it but it also helped establish a network of friends that are still there to this day.” Borne on a colourful mix of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Deep Purple and just about every other cool rock 'n' roll band out there, every OG album feels like an event and every live show unstoppable, be it main stage at Bloodstock or the tiniest sweatbox that could barely pass the Geneva Convention, let alone any other conventions about comfort and hygiene.
And there was a further run of glorious shows planned for the summer season: Desertfest, Bloodstock, Headbanger's Ball Festival in Belgium, all brought to a crashing halt. But what to do in the meantime? Although we might not be seeing OG in full flight again until their Christmas time tour, 'Rough & Ready, Live & Loud' is the next best thing you can get: a rough-hewn, boisterous mix of OG shows, and one born from simply reaching into the band's archive and a simple desire to connect with those fans who would be every bit as disappointed as the London foursome at the prospect of unrung ear drums. “It wasn't on the cards at all; when we realised we had no possibility of doing shows, we wanted to do something for the fans and this was like the logical solution,” Ben reveals. “Our soundman Jez had uncovered a load of recordings he had done from the sound desk of shows over the last few years. There was Sylak Open Air Festival in France 2016, there was the KOKO show in Camden from 2016 as well, and a show we did in Athens, Greece last year. The material across those three recordings was a good reflection of the 25 years of the band, so it fell together really conveniently.”
Also a welcome distraction from the isolation of quarantine living was a live OG webcast, joint-hosted by Ben and his compatriots guitarist Joe Hoare, bassist Martyn Millard and drummer Chris Turner. The foursome joined forces for a chat, a piss-up and a quiz giveaway and quotes from some of the finest British sitcoms. It was a hilarious and touching use of technology and cocktails, and if you haven't seen seen it go and check it out on Facebook now. “We've been doing those quite a bit recently, I think we done about three or four, and again it was just a kind of thing of connecting with the fans while everyone was in lockdown. The fans seemed to enjoy doing it, we enjoyed doing it, it's a good life reminiscing about old times and it's the only opportunity we get to see each other these days. It's kind of gone from strength to strength, [it] was the cumulation of the past few weeks of promoting a live album, and we decided to do a quiz we all sorted through our personal stash of the old bits of memorabilia that we'd collected over the last 25 years, and there was hand-written lyrics and posters and CDs that we had signed and stuff like that. We had that quiz, tested people's general knowledge on OG, and gave a lot of it away,” Ben reveals of an event that crammed in Bottom references and fond tales of road debauchery, and the general feeling of goodness that comes when four great mates get together to shoot the shit about the past.
But while we're stuck in the never-ending Groundhog Days of an ever-samey present, there's the question of what the future holds for Orange Goblin. For a start, are there plans for a follow up for 2018's 'Wolf Bites Back'? Well of course there is, but in the laidback way you'd expect from a band who don't rush such things. “There was no plans for it, and obviously given the circumstances now, now's as good a time as any,” says Ben. “I think Joe and Chris and Martyn are all sort of trying to record stuff at home, putting ideas together, and in this day and age it's to share ideas with the technology that's available. I need to start pulling my finger out and thinking of some lyrics!” Going on, he says: “We're out of a record deal at the moment; the last album ‘Wolf Bites Back’ was the last one we were contracted to do with Candlelight and we're talking to a few different labels, but there's no real rush for us to dive into anything too soon. We wanna make sure we make the right decision, pick the right label and, you know, we want that belief that they're gonna do a great job for us when do we have the material available.” As for what shape the material will take, he's giving nothing away yet – only that it sounds like business as usual for OG.
“There's never been any preconceived ideas when we go into the studio when we record the new album, everything's always a natural development of the previous album,” Ben tells. “We write what we're into, not try and make anything sound like anything in particular. We have four very different musicians with very different influences. We all bring those influences to the table, so you’ve got Chris who’s into his hardcore and punk, Joe's into his ’70s rock and blues, and then you’ve got Martyn and myself who grew up more on traditional metal and thrash and death metal and the more extreme end of the spectrum. So you put it all together and that's how we create the Orange Goblin sound.”
Of course even then, given the quality of records OG have put out on a consistent basis, in the live arena where OG have become equally legendary, is an inevitable side-effect of our times. “These days you record an album to give yourself something to tour because there's no money to be made in your recorded output any more; the likes of [streaming] have seen to that. The bands rarely see a penny from that, so the main bulk of your finances is made from going on the road, selling tickets and selling merchandise,” he rues. Obviously with the current situation, every band has seen their gig schedules decimated, a fact not lost on booking agent Ben.“I work as a booking agent with all the festival cancellations, tours being pulled, shows being cancelled. It's kept me really busy with rebooking and rescheduling everything that I had lined up for this summer in 2021 and 2022 as well, it's a bad time for the music industry in general.”
When he's asked about how his lockdown is going, Ben wryly observes, “I'm grateful that I actually have a job that keeps me busy, because I'd be climbing the walls by now.” Offering his thoughts on the future of live music, he calls on us to all do our bit to get out there – not that we should need encouraging. “I think that's going to be essential, when these venues do re-open, that people take that gamble and go out regardless of who it is that's playing, pay their money and support bands that are performing because at the moment it's gonna be hard for a lot of bands to survive this situation. If they're not touring, they're not earning from show fees or merch sales, then they're gonna cease to exist. I think it's gonna take people's compassion to go out and keep the scene alive, with the smaller bands. I mean, everyone is still gonna go to the O2 Arena and see the likes of Bruce Springsteen and those sort of artists. It's the grass roots bands that people are going to have to really dig in to support.”
But then if there's any band who can get through these uncertain times, it's OG, who have weathered the storms of the music business more than most, and it's no surprise Ben is reassuringly relaxed about the whole effect Corona will have for the band he’s been fronting for the last quarter of a century. “It's frustrating at the moment, we have something to promote, we’ve got an anniversary to celebrate. I mean, we'll ride it out, we've been through things in the past, we've had labels bail out on us a few weeks after album release, we've had a lot of things thrown at us and we always seem to ride it out, and continue.” Indeed they will, with aspirations to play in South America and South Africa as well as many more shows. And with 25 years to look back on, picking out a highlight is difficult: “There's so many; we feel very fortunate we've had the career that we've had, […] we started out as a band with no pre-conceived ideas of what we wanted to achieve – we would have have been quite happy to have quite recorded a couple of demos and played some shows locally, but we've done far more than that. We now have a fanbase across the world that's really supportive and I think that's one of the world's most rewarding things, just hearing the kind words that you get from fans saying what the music means to them and how it's helped them get through some pretty dark times, that's satisfying in itself.”
'Rough & Ready, Live & Loud' is out now via Bandcamp
Orange Goblin will be playing the following dates and venues this December:
Fri 11 – Dublin, Grand Social
Sat 12 – Belfast, Limelight 2
Mon 14 – Glasgow, King Tuts
Tue 15 – Manchester, Gorilla
Wed 16 – Birmingham, Asylum
Thu 17 – Cardiff, The Globe
Fri 18 – London, The Underworld
Sat 19 – London, The Underworld