My history of Raven Wolf - Are those symphonies forgotten?


- Music had assimilated me
- Diccon has to move on
- Missing the thunder
- Mr Vega
- The Fuzzmeister!
- Another bassist?

Music had assimilated me .
Ever since that first gig music has taken on a meaning in my life that far transcends the levels I had previously thought possible. I had always known that music was more a part of who I am than most people. I'd felt that ever since Metallica's Master of Puppets revealed to me that music, though it's genius, can touch your soul. Little did I know that the act of "making music" is the ultimate act of reveling in this sensation. Listening can only take you so far, and creating can take you the rest of the way, to the summit if you will. Performing your music to friends and fans is so deeply rewarding that I struggle to find words to accurately describe the feeling. It's better than ANY sensation that I have ever experienced (and I have experienced some pretty enjoyable sensations in my day). Nothing, and I really do mean NOTHING makes me feel more ALIVE than playing music live. When you reach that point in a performance when music takes control, and you no longer play the music, it play's you. Drenched in sweat, your ears receiving very little more than static through the surrounding cacophony and the music FLOWS out of you. All those hours in the practice rooms take over and you are not thinking about "what do I play here?", or "are we in the first or second chorus?" your body knows the music and your soul slips out and watches enjoys the show from the sideline's. People who've played music live (I mean REAL music, not top 40 shit) will know what I'm talking about. The rest of you will probably be thinking "wtf's he on about?"...

Diccon has to move on
Diccon Harper

Diccon Harper, who was primarily responsible for starting me off down this road, was also a founding member of the band V.O.D. (Voice Of Destruction). One of the most accomplished bands to come out of the SA Metal scene. They were much "heavier" than we were, catering more to the Death-Metal crowd, and although it was a chore to juggle at times, Diccon was able to fully meet his commitments to both bands. (And having briefly been in two bands at the same time, I can attest that this is not easy.) Gigs and practices would be made around Diccons practice and gig schedule with V.O.D., but this was never a big deal as I recall. A plan was always formulated. It was around this point in time that V.O.D. were starting to actually get somewhere. And they migrated to UK to record "Bloedrivier" after being signed by German record label Morbid Records. We were all very happy for Diccon for "making the big time". In the stifled SA metal market, ANY interest in your material was a big deal, and to obtain international interest was an amazing achievement.
Although we were happy that Diccon's career as a musician was going somewhere, we were also disappointed that this meant he would have to bid us farewell in order to pursue his future with V.O.D. The local label (Inhouse Records) who had signed VOD in SA were getting a little iffy about the fact that Diccon was in two bands. Diccon left the country in September of 1995 and played a fantastic "farewell gig" with us at The Playground. He may admit it, or perhaps he'd deny it, but I personally feel that Raven Wolf did (and always will) have a very special place in his heart. I know he was just a little sad to be leaving too.

Our last gig with Diccon at The Playground I recall it being pretty well packed and we played a rocking set! I remember looking over at Diccon during the encore and all I could see was this huge mass of red hair flailing around in circles. I thought maybe Cliff Burton had stopped in for a guest slot! It was an awesome sight to behold, and there's no way anyone could convince me that he wasn't having a good time. We were living the music and it was great!

I recall hanging out after the gig feeling a bit melancholy and trying to make light of the situation in an attempt to feel better about it. At this stage of the game, we never really had a replacement lined up. A few suggestions had been thrown around, but no concrete plans had actually been made. I guess we were just going to take the situation as it unfolded, or perhaps the reality of Diccon actually leaving hadn't quite settled in yet, but either way, that was the end of that. At least our last gig with Diccon went down well, and remains quite fresh in my mind as one of my favorite and most memorable gigs in that smoke filled dungeon called "The Playground".

It wasn't till many years later that I learned more about Diccon's adventures in Europe, and I'd be lying if I said I'm not just a little envious too. I wish I could have enjoyed that experience alongside him, but it was not to be. The level of "notoriety" that V.O.D. achieved at their prime is nothing short of spectacular given the burden of being a South African metal band dragging you down, but I can't personally think of anyone more deserving of ANY level of fame achieved as a musician. Diccon's ability to play the bass guitar is in that league of musicians who can be described as nothing other than gifted. I am well aware that he does not enjoy being showered with accolades about his playing ability, but then again, this is my web page. Sorry Diccon! You've been an inspiration to me as a musician for years and your ability as a musician way supercede's my own and to a large degree ALL those who've been fortunate enough to be in a band with you. People may not want to hear that, but it's the truth and I have nothing to loose or gain by stating the facts.
For year's now I've used you as an example amongst people who know me when referring to a musician who is in a class above all others. I have yet to find someone who disagree's. It's an absolute sacrilege that a musician like yourself is not a millionaire as a result, and half-wit pop stars are. It's just not right. Skill and ability at your level DESERVES to be rewarded on many levels.

Anyway, I think I've made my point, so I'll stop now. Just for the record, Diccon's not paying me to write any of this.

Missing the thunder
Band practices just weren't quite the same after that. The thunder that once was Diccon Harper was not absent, and although he was there in the spirit of the songs, (after all, they were his songs too) I certainly noticed that my eardrums weren't being suitably stimulated by that wonderful sound of the Rickenbacker (Dickenbacker?) sweetly amplified through the hot valves of the Marshall. Still, as a 3-piece we still managed to generate a fairly reasonable noise.
In hindsight, the many bass-less practices turned out to be pretty helpful in the end because it made me get used to not being too dependent on hearing what the bass guitar is doing for cuing purposes. Since it's rare that drummers actually get a decent mix in their monitor (if they even get a monitor at all), so you have to get used to knowing your songs pretty well. If you have to hear others to figure out where you are in a song, it's going to get messy fast.
Since bass and drums are the rhythm section, the two tend to "feed" of each other as the songs progress. Learning to keep it together if the bass drops in and out of the mix, or is simply not there at all can be pretty helpful. (Not all bands have the great setups you see in music video's you know. In fact awesome setup's like that are more of an exception to the norm than anything else.

During these bass-less days, we got a few people around to try fill in the position. Cliff seemed to have a knack for finding candidates to try out for the position (if you could call it that).
One of the people who played bass with us was Jenny. Jenny and Cliff were staying together at one point, and the idea of having a female bass player always appealed to us. Jenny was not just your usual typical "bass-playing-chick". As far as I know, she wasn't even really interested in being a musician, but she knew some/most of our songs and could hold her own on the bass guitar. And she was hot, which didn't hurt either!
A long time friend of the band, we all got on with her just fine. Many were the occasions she would bring her daughter along to practices. Nicole I believe was her name. I remember how bored she looked with all these adults churning out this racket and sometimes insane volumes. Can't be very interesting for any little girl.
I do recall one gig we played at The Stage and Jenny played with us. I got nothing but positive feedback from everyone who was there. People just loved the idea of a female bassist in the band, and it was clear to all that she wasn't just a 3rd wheel standing there. She was actually part of the group and that made a difference. I think if Jenny had any aspirations of being in a metal band on a more permanent basis that this would have been a great opportunity for her to fulfill that goal. Sadly though, Jenny was only able to help us out briefly while the hunt continued for someone a little more "permanent".
Mr Vega

Enter Mr Sean Vega. - The story goes like this: Cliff apparenly saw Sean walking down the road and he just "looked" the part. He approached him and asked if he happened to play bass. To which Sean said "Yes", and so Cliff managed to convince him to come around to an audition. Of course he did look the part, (and had great long hair which helped too), but aside from all that, he was a great bassist too and he really "got" the music.
Sean told me in later years that he was quite sceptical just rocking up at an "audition for a metal bassist", but that he got into it really quickly. He enjoyed playing the songs and was therefore suitably motivated to stick with it. Diccon tought him some stuff and he just picked up the rest as we went along. I immediatly "clicked" with him in the rhythm section, and we got along offstage just as well. Sean, like most people didn't come without his drama's however, but even over and above all the nonsence that plagued his life, I always felt he was a really good musician and an overall good person. We got along famously (even after Raven Wolf officially disbanded, I think I was in contact with Sean more than anyone else.)

Sean and I, many years later were on the verge of starting a 2-man project, using some material of his that he had thankfully recorded for possible use someday. The material, being nothing like Raven Wolf would have been a very interesting project that I hope to someday complete with him. The raw recordings, although very raw clearly demonstrate that there are some great songs there just waiting to be born. Sadly, events in my life resulted in me leaving South Africa before this project could come to fruition. Of course that doesn't mean that a return to it someday will not happen. In fact it's something I almost certainly plan to do when I'm financially able and time allows.

So, Sean was in. Many afternoon practices at The Stage later, we were ready to gig, and without loosing a moment, we got right into it. Gigging with Sean presented no problems, he quickly learned "the drill" of the pre and post gig missioning and it didn't seem to present a problem for him. I do recall that sometimes he would be very self-critical. Sometimes a little too much for his own good. If we played a less than spectacular set, he'd be pretty down about it afterwards. The sign of someone who actually cares about their performance on stage.

Sean Vega
I have no idea how many gigs we played with this lineup, but it must have been many. Sean and Cliff often had some "heated debates", but we all got along fine, and I recall one evening when Sean had invited us all over to his home to enjoy some homemade curry! (yum) We all rocked up and it was a really cool vibe having all of us there outside of "band mode". No songs to practice, we had a respite from that regiment we were all used to when we were together and could just hang out and enjoy eachother's company, some good food, and some Yngwie Malmsteen concert that I brought along to watch on VHS (remember those?!). I remember that evening very fondly, and in hindsight we actually socialized as a band way too little. When we were togehter as a four-some, it was always for a band practice, or a gig. Rarely, way too rarely did we ever get together as a four-some away from the band thing, which is a shame really, but then again coordinating everyone's schedules just to make gigs and practices was hard enough. Or maybe after blasting eachother's eardrums for 5 hours at a time twice a week was just about as much as we could take of eachother. -lol-

Sean, who had already had a string of bad luck in his life that had brought him to Cape Town in the first place, did not get any luckier. After things in his life got somewhat better, he was plagued with bad luck again and it made his life very difficult. Finding the time and motivation to fit band practices into your schedule when you're living hand to mouth and struggling for your survival is not easy and eventually it just became too much and it was decided that everyone would be better served if Sean detached himself from his Raven Wolf responsibilities and focused on things of higher priority to him, which he did, and thankfully things did get better for him. He also went on to play in the band "The Bantam Cocks" who I never actually got to see live, but did hear good things about. Why he eventually left them and has not seriously pursued music since is primarily due to life circumstances, although like me, he knows in his heart that a day will someday come when music will once again get it's riteful place in the priority queue.

Last I heard Sean is a self-employed web-developer and graphic designer. A very talented one at that too. He has a very strong creative and atristic ability and it really would be a loss if he were not able to use these skills to his benefit. I expect that it's only a matter of time until his skills afford him the recognition in this field that he deserves, and that the fame and fortune that goes with it will soon follow. Rock on Sean!

The Fuzzmeister!
FUZZY Simon Ratcliffe or "Fuzzy" as he's better known was the final piece of the magic puzzle that we needed. Dave Shapiro was primarily responsible for getting him to join us as a member after inviting him over to his home to jam flute with guitar fx pedals. He was then invited to come along to a band practice to jam with us, and the rest I guess they might say "is history". So, thanks Dave, for hooking us up!

Simon could not only play the flute, he could play it WELL, and he seemed to have a natural ability to find the perfect piece of music and more importanly the perfect PLACE to insert it. Just being able to play the instrument was not enough and "fitting" a flute to what was essentially "heavy metal music" couldn't have been the easist of tasks although he made it seem like it was.

I remember not having quite the same level of vision regarding how we could integrate a flute into the songs, but after hearing how it sounded I was amazed. It just "worked". We'd had other people audition to fulfill this task, but with Fuzzy, it was a no-brainer. Other's could play, were enthusiastic about the idea (some perhaps a little too enthusiastic, ahem) but just didn't "fit". That is much more a reflection upon us and the music than it is on them. Most people simply don't understand the genre at all, but Simon got it instantly and clicked right in.

Minstral of Time is one of my favorite Raven Wolf songs, and a large part of this is the brilliant flute parts as well as the flute "solo" near the end. Hearing the flute played with the same intensity and power as an electric guitar is just awsome. At times I will admit to even remembering that it's actually a flute being played. The sound just fits so well into it's allotted place that you don't find yourself mentally isolating instruments and analyzing their performance and contribution to the overall sound. Instead, the sound is guaged "on the whole" and in that context it absolutely rocks.

I have not heard anyone integrate the flute into "metal" in quite the way did to this day. It also became a bit of a trademark as well. When talking to people about being in a band, I'd heard "oh, are you those guys with the flute player?". - "Yep, that's us!" I'd proudly answer.

I think quite a few people may have been a little sceptical seeing a guy on stage with a metal band holding a flute in his hand, but I'm pretty sure that (like me) once the music was playing, they'd be won over. Getting the flute miked up and correctly balanced in the mix was also a bit of a challenge at times. When it was just right, it was awesome, and eventually we had it down to an art. Partially due to having the same sound engineer. We often rused a rented PA from Ari who mixed the sound and did an amazing job.
It was very rare that sound wasn't great when we used Ari's services. Of course playing bigger venues with in-house PA's was a different story. Dealing with people who didn't "get it" was a little challenging at times, but somehow we made a plan.

Eventually when we added violin to the mix, that was an added headache for sound engineers to have to deal with, but the gorgeous sweet sounds of the violin really complimented our music, and I doubt too many people were even familiar with the instrument until they heard it on stage with us. I mean how many people in the "metal crowd" have any interest in violin music? I could certainly understand any apprehension from audience members seeing a violin being pulled from it's case in the middle of a "metal band's" set.

Simon stuck with us right through to the last gig's of 1999 and later went on to a successful career as a sound engineer first working at the London Connection studio. (After Raven Wolf, I joined SUDA who ironically were located in the same building, one floor below the London Connection! Bumping into Simon as our path's crossed when I was en-route to a band practice there was quite common.) Simon even mastered the SUDA album some years later.

These days he runs his own recording studio and is able to express his musical flare through the group "Lark" that he's in at the moment. Be sure to check them out if you can. Rock on Fuzzy!

Another bassist?

So, it was time to find yet another bassist? Starting to feel like Metallica with the only member change being the bassist, we pressed on. Where were we going to find yet ANOTHER bass player? One who now had a rather large catalog of songs to learn? A tall order indeed.

I have no idea who originally suggested it, but the answer was almost obvious. Adam Shapiro, Dave Shapiro's brother had been a fan of the band and around the band a lot. He was usually at gigs, he was into the music and above all he was a very talented musician. He could play a variety of instruments and made it look like he'd been playing them all his life. He could play drums, having studied them. He could play bass guitar, violin, guitar and just about anything else you could throw at him. It was the PERFECT choice. It would be easy for him to come to band practices as he could just join his brother Dave in whatever method of transport he was using. Dave had a motorcycle at one point and a little Mini Cooper that did many many a practice and gig run. (Dave used to deliver pizza's in that thing too.)
What a pefect solution. It was almost a case of "why didn't we think of this before?"

Adam, being a fan of the band for years already was always "around". That's why integrating them into the band as a member seemed like such a natual thing and pretty much went without saying. There were also lots of practical reasons that helped to make it work. (5 band members, 2 cars... do the math) Adam had no trouble jumping right into it and there was none of the strangeness that comes with bringing a new band member in as "the new guy". Adam had pretty much been part of the Raven Wolf story up till that point and therefore didn't need anything explained to him. We all got along great and things just kinda fell into place.
An additional bonus for me was that Adam, being a pretty accomplished drummer himself, was able to offer opinions on beats and relate these concepts to me "as only drummers can". This of course worked out nicely as a rhythmn section because we were very much on the same page in this regard. I think a bassist who can play drums has a different "feel" for the way he integrates his bass with the beats and this just leads to a nice groove that exists between us. Whether it's apparent to the listener - I don't know, but it certainly felt good to me.

Adam had some other weapons in his arsenal too - he was an excellent violin player and that was an instrument that we had always wanted to integrate into several songs but although some had tried their hand at it, we were never quite able to scratch that itch properly. That is until Adam arrived. With Simon's flute and Adam's "fiddle" we managed to give songs like A Serpents Tale the missing piece of the puzzle that had kept these songs from reaching their full potential. It just worked!


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