DESTINY CALLING – in conversation with John Roach guitarist with North East metal band Mythra

On February 13th 2017 an interview with North East heavy metal band Mythra saw the first post on the Alikivi blog. Over 75,000 views later and for the 250th post is appropriately an interview with John Roach…Last year our vocalist Vince High left the band for personal reasons, but we’re still mates. I met Vince when I was 16 in the training school at Swan Hunters shipyard in Fisher Street, Wallsend. We liked the same music and hung around together at work. I was in a band called Zarathustra with Maurice Bates, who was originally the singer now current bass player with Mythra. Vince was in a band called Freeway and eventually he joined us. Pete Melsom was on bass.

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Where did the name come from ? We needed a shorter name really, one that was easier to remember so after a few idea’s were thrown in the hat I came up with the name Mythra. We went with that one and around the same time Barry Hopper joined. Our original drummer Kenny Anderson wasn’t really 100% into the band so Barry stepped in. When Barry first came to audition his brother dropped him off in his car. We took one look at his beatuful silver Tama drumkit and said ‘He’s in’ (laughs).

As the original 4 piece Mythra, we all went to gig’s together. Not just Purple or Sabbath at Newcastle City Hall but local bands Warbeck and Axe with Keith Satchfield, Southbound and Circus. There were some truly great rock bands around at that time. Watching them saying ‘this is what we want to do, this is just like Top of the Pops… but real’ (laughs). Axe were probably the most influential band for us they had a huge p.a. and lights and they wrote their own songs, that’s what we wanted.

We were all learning from each other really because we knew the lads in other local bands Saracen, Hollow Ground, Hellanbach. It was like ‘Dawsa (Steve Dawson, guitarist Saracen) has got a Marshall stack…What, really…let’s go an’ see it. Or ‘Metty (Martin Metcalf,  guitarist Hollow Ground) has got a Les Paul. What, a real one ? (laughs).

The band were all around 18 year old, we had bought a Bedford van, our own pa and started earning money from workingmen’s club’s in the North East. Getting our own van was a milestone really instead of our dad’s dropping us off in their cars.

We gigged from Hartlepool, Teeside right up into Northumberland. Maurice got us tied up with Ivor Burchill the main agent in Newcastle. We were getting loads of gigs right through ’76-‘80. We played Sabbath, Wishbone Ash, Humble Pie rock stuff like that. I was earning more money from playing than I was for being an apprentice fitter in the shipyard. You can’t do that anymore (laughs)!

We had a couple of roadies helping out with the gear plus Lou Taylor came along with his home made lamps, lights, flares all sorts (laughs). He was always singing in the back of the van. He used to do these Rob Halford screams and they were spot on. I think Vince thought he was auditioning for Mythra (laughs). Lou ended up singing in various bands like Saracen, Satan and down London with Blind Fury.

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In 1979 Def Leppard released ‘Getcha Rocks Off’, Iron Maiden the ‘Soundhouse Tapes’ and Mythra recorded the Death & Destiny ep at Guardian Studio in Durham making them one of the original NWOBHM bands. Yes, we never said we were the best, just one of the first. The single was recorded around September or October and we released it in the November. Actually we just wanted to record a demo at first, put it on cassette, send it around record company’s and hopefully get a deal. The producer and owner of Guardian Records, Terry Gavaghan, said for the same money you can get it on record and it will look more professional than tape. So we bought 200 records at first. We sold them and went back a fortnight later to order more! We sold most of them at Second Time Around Record Shop in South Shields.

Gavaghan got us a distribution deal with Pinnacle Records so it was sold all over the country. Rod MacSween at International Talent Booking agency heard Death and Destiny on the Friday Rock Show hosted by Tommy Vance. That opened a lot of doors and got us bigger gig’s nationwide.

By the time 1980 came around we had done a lot of gig’s and recorded the ep but I couldn’t see the band going any further. After 5 years, I felt as if I had enough so I left in the February. The rest of the band got a guy in called Micky Rundle to replace me and he played on the Headbangers Ball in July ’80 at Stafford Bingley Hall with Motorhead, Saxon and a few others.

Looking back on the ep, we are really proud of it because we were the first of the bands like Fist, Hellanbach, Hollow Ground and Saracen to release a record. We were at the front of all that.

Did you work with any other musicians ? I had a break for a few months then started rehearsing with Saracen. Lou Taylor, Les Wilson, Dave Johnson – and Steve Dawson was the other guitarist. But Steve and I had different playing styles and it didn’t work out. I don’t think Saracen was destined to be a two guitar band. Around 6 month after that Harry Hill (Fist drummer) got in touch and I joined them. We played the Gateshead Festival with Diamond Head, Lindisfarne, Ginger Baker and headliner Rory Gallagher.

Did you have a manager in Fist ? Our management team were based in Manchester and were called Rhino Promotions. I think they had a clothing company making jeans – which were like Geordie Jeans.

I remember a gig in Manchester when the back window of our hired car got smashed and they pinched everything from the boot including my leather trousers, cowboy boots and skimpy black t-shirt that I wore for the gig. They also took a pair of red shorts and an orange bag belonging to Harry Hill. He was livid! And I’d only wore the leather pants once. We drove back to Tyneside with Glenn Coates, Norman Appleby and me in the back, freezing our arses off sitting on tiny bits of glass from the back window (laughs).

How long were you in Fist ? I was in Fist for about a year and a half, originally with a singer called Colin Johnson before Glenn Coates joined. We recorded the album Back with a Vengeance and played a few gigs. The rest of the guys decided they wanted to be a four piece so after a rehearsal in Felling – Glenn and Norman came to my house and told me I was out. It was a bit of a shock!

We had a side band going called Centrefold (Harry, Glenn, me and a great guy called Peter Scott – who sadly died very young of a brain tumour). This continued for quite a while after Fist so there were no real hard feelings. After Peter died we were going to start Centrefold up again with another bass player but my heart wasn’t in it – I think Steve Dawson took it on – small town Shields !

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Bringing your story up to date, what have Mythra planned next ? Well we are all just enjoying it. Earlier this year we were at the Grimm Up North festival and Negasonic in Belgium, where we showcased some new material. We’re currently finishing pre-production on 12 new songs and we are going to record a new album for High Roller Records with our new singer Kev McGuire later this year. Kev is a great guy with a lot of live experience on stages in the North East and he has a great rock voice. Our next gig is in France at the South Troopers Festival in Marseille on 21st September.

Contact Mythra on the official website http://www.mythra.co.uk/

or through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mythranwobhm/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.