“I see the light shining” sung TUDOR SHELDON on Virtue’s 1987 demo ‘FOOLS GOLD’, but it’s us that sees the light now, shining bright from that most sought-after yellow cover. Seek (and destroy) no more, No Remorse from Germany have made VIRTUE readily available and DAVE SHERWOOD tracked down the band to ask if we’ll ever get to see them live… and to give the only mention of Skindred that will ever appear in our pages.
At Iron Fist we are fascinated with the weird and wonderful; from knowing about Phil Lynott’s guest appearance on Heavy Load’s ‘Free’, to discovering Slayer’s first ultra-rare release: ‘Satan Laughing As You Eternally Rot’ which simplifies to SLAYER. So we were ecstatic when we discovered an official re-issue of Oxford’s unsung heavy metal heroes: Virtue.
They were active towards the back end of the NWOBHM prime time but were pushed into never ending pit of trend-influenced bands. It has only been in the last four years that their 1985 ‘We Stand to Fight’ single has gone viral in the metal community; and so with its original release (costly and pressed to a minimal number) it was only a matter of time until a label were wanting to re-issue these dusty gems. We were straight on the blower to find out where we could hunt the men behind the music down. We finally got hold of vocalist and co-founding member Tudor Sheldon, who managed to give us ten minutes out of his successful independently managed business.
Hi Tudor, please introduce yourself and your role in Virtue in the 80s.
“I was the lead singer with Virtue and formed the band with my brother who was lead guitarist.”
Who is older between you and your brother? Do you come from a musical family?
“I am older by three years and most of the recordings we did when I was 18 or 19 and Matt was just 15 or 16. Our parents were from a theatrical background; my father was a ballet dancer and our mother was an opera singer and worked on the West End in musical comedy.”
So how did the band start?
“Matt was the one that really started it at home. We lived in an old farm house with our mother, that used to be lived in by the ’60s group The Traffic [Stevie Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason etc], so we think the musical vibe was in the house. Many of their album covers featured pictures of the house and Matt and I arrived there at the ages of nine and six. The walls had been painted purple by The Traffic and we remember our parents re-painting them white, which meant they were a funny colour of dirty pink.
“We were influenced originally by our two older brothers’ musical tastes. They constantly played Black Sabbath, Free, Bad Company and Mountain in the house (somehow Abba also got played a lot too). Eventually Matt got an old beat up acoustic guitar with a few strings on and started playing it at 13-years-old. He is self-taught. In 1982 he bought ‘Killers’ by Iron Maiden and soon I was into it too, so I bought the first album and the EP ‘Maiden Japan’. Then we bought loads of other music that influenced us, such as ‘Heaven & Hell’ by Black Sabbath, Saxon, Judas Priest and more unknown music from bands like Stampede and Heavy Pettin’. We also were into the first Def Leopard album. Matt was more into the Scorpions than I was.
“Matt formed a band with friends at school and they rehearsed at my father’s home with Boz Beast, who later was our rhythm guitarist. When I was 17, I approached Matt to form Virtue and we formed the original line up with three friends from school, that’s how we started.”
Why the name Virtue?
“Well, we were originally going to call the band Hidden Virtues, but we ended up shortening this to Virtue. I don’t remember how we came to name ourselves Virtue, but it was my idea.”
According to Metal Archives, Virtue started in 1981 although it wasn’t until 1985 when the ‘We Stand to Fight’ single was released. Why is this?
“I was just 16 in 1981 and Matt 13, so we did not really exist until 1983. We were at the end of the initial NWOBHM and were heavily influenced by the bands of that time.”
Generally Virtue are considered a NWOBHM band. However NWOBHM nerds would say that the movement ended in 1982/3. Would you say you were caught up in the scene or were you not really aware of it?
“We were more influenced by it than caught up in it. We were in Oxford and saw a lot of bands come and go, but we were not really aware of anything or had a feeling of being caught up in it until we were old enough to realise we were there when we looked back at that time.”
Were the any other heavy metal bands in the Oxford area at the time?
“There were a few local bands around at that time, but we slotted in as some disbanded and were able to get a following quite easy as there was a gap to fill. But we were mostly competing with bands touring that visited Oxford.”
Were there any other bands you were closely related to or friends with?
“No really, we were too young to be in pubs so we would play and leave, rather than hang out with the bands of the day.”
How was the first Virtue show?
“Our first show was in a pub in Didcot in Oxfordshire. It was packed with friends and not really very memorable. We went through various line-up changes and started to play regularly at The Pernnyfarthing and The Dolly in Oxford prior to touring. We started at The Pennyfarthing as a support act to bigger bands that could fill the venue, which was more like a big cellar than a venue. We supported a London band called Wildfire [their vocalist was Paul Day who was previously in Iron Maiden] a few times before the promoter let us have our own gigs there.”
It seems Virtue were around for some years but not much to offer. Why did the band come to an end?
“We were just kids, we didn’t know really what we were doing. We were influenced by many bands of the day and produced music we thought we liked. We were looked at by EMI but we didn’t have a manager and this coincided with EMI losing money on the band Tubruk and I think it was at the end of the boom with NWOBHM. I think they got cold feet for signing new bands. After that we sort of went our separate ways, I had a career in finance, which was not very rock and roll and also Matt and the drummer were writing new music, which I wasn’t into so the band ended. Matt went on to form his own band The Shock and they recorded an album called ‘Pinultimate’, but that was some years later.”
Did you sell much of the ‘We Stand to Fight’ single when it was released? Do you remember how much you were selling them for?
“The single was released by a small Oxford label, Other Records. I cant remember the price it went for at the time, but Matt sends me a link to eBay occasionally where the original single sells for about €80, which I find pretty funny.”
How did you find out about the hype of the single and its value?
“After we released the single from about 1985, we started to get some interest. I remember Judge Dredd in Kerrang reviewed the single when it came out and marked us as “could do better” in their review. But the single, according to the record company, was played over 40 times on the radio. The single was pressed once in the UK and sold out. We always think if we had a manager or had been in the right place at the right time, maybe things would have progressed.
“Elsewhere we started getting fan mail from places like Brazil and Italy. We found out later someone had released the single on a yellow vinyl format and released it in many countries, but to this day we don’t know how far this release went as we were not involved in it and were not even asked if it was okay to release it. We didn’t sanction these releases but didn’t mind one bit, it was just funny seeing so many people interested in us.
“We became more aware of the hype long after we split up. We were featured in various publications about NWOBHM and always under the “best unsigned bands” sections. We were a little shocked to see we were featured in the Encyclopaedia of NWOBHM.”
No Remorse Records have just released a compilation of the single and the ‘Fools Gold’ demo that was released in 1987. How did this come about?
“We were contacted by Chris Papadatos of No Remorse Records who had the idea of releasing it and very kindly asked permission which of course we gave.”
Do you keep up with the heavy metal scene? If yes, what do you think about this sudden interest in the NWOBHM era?
“I guess once you get into rock/metal music you never really stop being into it. Matt and I are still heavily into the bands of the era. We launched an internet business together called Virtualnet Marketing, which we still run today. One of our previous employees is Mike Fry and he is now the lead guitarist of Skindred and has been for ten years. We keep in touch with him a lot and get to go to all the festivals they play; they’re a great bunch of guys, probably the most friendly rock musicians you will ever meet and they’re a great act to watch live too.
“In terms of music, I like more modern rock sound personally but Matt is still really into the ’80s sounding stuff and if you get to listen to The Shocks album, he is still heavily influenced by the sound of NWOBHM.”
Do you still keep in touch with the other members?
“Matt works with me at Virtualnet Marketing, our main software product is for businesses and is called IPFingerprint. As for the rest of the members, Boz [rhythm guitars] has moved to New Zealand and we have lost touch. We had several bass players, Matt keeps in touch with them. Simon Walters, our drummer, is still a friend and plays in a couple of bands in Oxford. Matt and Simon were in the band Roundhouse for a while in the late ’90s, which I helped manage. Simon was the singer, but it was short lived. We are all still good friends and tend to hang out with each other a lot from time to time.”
A lot of small bands from the NWOBHM period are now reforming. Have you been asked to play many shows? Is it something that will ever happen? If no, why not?
“We get asked quite a lot to reform. Recently we have been asked to reform and play a couple of festivals in Europe. To be honest, the other band members, who we are all still friends with, really want to do this, but it’s me who normally stops it. I’ve not sang a word for 25 years – probably a good thing – and know it would take a lot to get match-fit to present any material to a paying audience. But never say never.”
Get ‘We Stand To Fight’ at www.NoRemorse.gr
Originally printed in Iron Fist #5
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