AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MITCHELL OF
Truly a band like no other, It Bites looked like they might forge a decent pop career in 1986 when their second single “Calling All The Heroes” cracked the UK top ten, but the success was never repeated. Although they only released three studio albums before losing the charismatic and talented lead vocalist/guitarist Francis Dunnery, It Bites have remained a positive memory for many fans, most notably for their stunning fusion of pop and progressive rock, “Once Around The World”. It was only when keyboard player and songwriter John Beck popped up with John Mitchell in the prog “supergroup’ Kino, that people began to imagine that It Bites might return, so reminiscent of the band were Mitchell and Beck’s compositions.
With Mitchell already a fan of the band from his teenage years as well as being a top notch vocalist and guitar player, it was a match made in heaven. 2006 saw the band officially return, with drummer Bob Dalton (also in Kino for a while) returning to the fold, although bassist Dick Nolan was let go to be replaced by Lee Pomeroy. Mitchell and Beck what seemed to be an intentional homage to the band’s greatest album, with ‘The Tall Ships’ containing similar compositions to “Once Around The World…”, even as far as ending on a brilliant prog piece, ‘This Is England’, that rivalled the original’s title track. There was no doubt in any fans mind that It Bites were not only back, but they were as good as they had ever been.
In a couple of weeks It Bites will release their 5 th studio album, and it has already received rave notices. Moving quite blatantly in a more prog direction than the last one, it nonetheless keeps plenty of It Bites trademarks, and offers fast guitar based tracks as well as introspective meandering and light melodic pieces. We got in contact with a man who seemingly can’t put a foot wrong, the genial John ‘Chainsaw Of Prog’ Mitchell.
“Map Of The Past” has been branded as a "Concept" album. It Bites have never done one before, so is it your influence that has brought this about?
‘Yes I guess so. An It Bites without me probably wouldn't attempt something so preposterously public school.’
What can you tell us about the concept?
‘It's all to do with the past - trying to fix the mistakes made.’
Were you at all worried that the ‘concept’ label might scare away potential customers?
‘No I'm not. Ultimately If I made any money from being in It Bites and it wasn't a total labour of love, that might be a concern...but that's not the case here.’
Is the photograph on the cover the one that inspired the album?
‘No, that image came after the event. The photo on the inside with the horse-drawn carriage is the one that inspired the album. That photograph is of my grandfather in Cornwall in 1913, and has been in my psyche for as long as I can recall.’
You get a few stabs at playing your arse off with some nice, aggressive s olos: is it always good to let rip now and then?
‘As long as the solo suits the song and is well constructed then why not, it's a bit of fun to show off now and again. There's nothing I hate more however, than mindless scribbling.’
Who was behind the songwriting?
‘Myself and John Beck. I'd like to pretend that all four of us sit in a room jamming, but that's really not how it works these days.’
The album has a great production, was it done at your own studios, and who handled the technical side?
‘Yes, it was all done at my studio. It was largely recorded by me apart from the bass which Poms recorded at his house. Later on my assistant James Billinge got involved recording drums and John Beck's many overdubs and James went on to mix it assisted by myself and John Beck. He's done a great job, but then he did learn from the best!’
I can't get the chorus to Meadow & The Stream out of my head, what is the song about?
‘It's about wishing someone who died a long time ago back alive only to find out that said person is not how you remember them and it was a terrible idea. It's a recurring nightmare I have. I've lost count how many times it's popped into my head at night time.’
The Tall Ships was quite recognizable as an It Bites album, quite comparable to "Once Around The World". Is the new album also a new direction, or will existing fans still be able to relate to it?
‘The new album definitely has more of my stamp on it, but anything with John Beck on it will always sound like It Bites.’
Some fans get angry that Japanese editions include an exclusive track - why do you do this, and will it happen with this album?
‘You should probably ask the Japanese record company, it's part of their contract and we have to fulfil that contract. I'd be happy if we didn't have to. It's not our doing, believe me.’
How many bands are you connected with at the moment?
‘Too many! Arena, Frost*, It Bites... More than 4 but less than 6.’
Is It Bites your main focus?
‘Yes, apart from my bill-paying day job’
You have shared a stage with ex It Bites man Francis Dunnery - is everything ok between him and the band now?
‘Things seem amiable as far as I know.’
How successful was the re release of "Calling All The Heroes" in aid of Cumbrian flood relief?
‘It was released far too late due to red tape which hindered its impact, but it was great to be involved in it.’
I know you were a fan of It Bites back in the day. What was your favourite track, and how did it feel to play it live (if you have) with the original band behind you?
‘Once Around The World. Great fun to play, massive challenge, and it feels almost surreal when I recall my 16-year old self sitting in his bedroom trying to learn it.’
There's only six dates on your tour - can fans expect more?
‘Yes, later in the year.’
Is there a future planned for It Bites, or are you taking it as it comes?
‘One step at a time. It's too unpredictable a beast to look too far into the future.’
Finally, when are we going to get a "John Mitchell - Chainsaw Of prog" t-shirt?
‘I'm all out of t-shirts.’
DO you have a message you would like to share with your fans as the release date beckons?
‘Enjoy our album. It might not sound like It Bites sounded in 1986 but then why should it? It's a great album and should be judged entirely on its own merits.’
Interview by Alan Holloway