Lace, chocolate, canals and beer-brewing-monks; Bruges has never been known as a hive of heavy metal activity, yet some 35 years ago a band came crashing through its medieval walls. Rubbing shoulders with Motörhead, Maiden and Manowar along the way, the quintet lived what some might consider to be the ultimate early ’80s hard rock fantasy, yet real success proved elusive and just five short years later, the group disbanded and added themselves to the endless list of metal’s might-have-beens. Now, three decades since their departure, all of ACIDs recorded output is being reissued again, proving that interest in the band is arguably stronger than ever. TOBY WRIGHT was fortunate enough to talk with singer KATE DE LOMBAERT and drummer GEERT ‘ANVILL’ RICQUIER about the pleasures and pitfalls of being in the wrong place at the right time.
“I think it was something magic,” says Kate thoughtfully, as we begin to discuss what gave Acid such cult status. “I don’t know what it was,” she continues, hesitating a little. “When we played together it was like a wall of sound. It was very, very special.” Geert, seemingly jovial at this evening’s trip down memory lane, is quick to confirm the vocalist’s sentiments; “We were making music that we loved to play and that’s all. Acid was a bunch of guys. Well, four guys and a girl, of course,” he chuckles. “We played for fun and we never looked back!”
It would appear that they still find the continued praise directed towards them a little overwhelming and their humility makes for a refreshingly open exchange. “We were an ordinary heavy metal band just fooling around, playing some music,” Kate states frankly. “We never thought that it would have such an influence on other people. It’s amazing after all these years.” Fooling around they may have been, but Acid were very much a part of the heavy metal boom that rapidly spread across the globe at the beginning of the 1980s. As female-fronted bands go, they pre-date most better-known groups such as Bitch, Warlock and Hellion and in that sense, Acid were somewhat ahead of their time, not that they would have ever realised.
The roots of the band go back into the late-’70s and the aptly named Previous Page, as Geert explains; “Donald [AKA Demon, guitars] and Kate were in Previous Page. It was more hard rock, not metal. T-Bone joined them to be a roadie, but he didn’t play bass at that time. We had mutual friends and they brought us together, so when I became part of the group, T-Bone was beginning to play bass.” It was at this point that things began to gel for the fledgling quartet. “First of all, we jammed a lot and we played some songs from Previous Page,” the drummer continues, “but soon we wrote our own music. It went on and on and we became better in making music and Acid started. After a while, I think we played our first gig in ’82, as a quartet. We asked Dizzy Lizzy [rhythm guitars] a few months later to join us, so we became Acid as five members.”
As time went by, the newly-expanded group continued to strengthen their songwriting craft and it wasn’t long before things started to fall firmly into place. “We had a certain chemistry between us,” says Geert happily. “One came up with a certain riff and all of a sudden we had a song. The music came pretty fast.”
“We just played and changed [things] until everybody was satisfied,” Kate adds quickly. “In our band, we had different kinds of people that listened to different kinds of music and I don’t know, maybe that was why we sounded different?”
Musically, influences were worn loudly and proudly upon Acid’s sleeves and whilst they may have had a varied background, the sum of all parts pointed clearly towards an interest in the heavier racks of the record store. “I listened to Deep Purple, Ike and Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin,” the vocalist confirms. “Motörhead, to Black Sabbath, to Iron Maiden, all kinds of music. Saxon was always one of my favourite bands, but I don’t know why!” Geert, beaming in agreement, is quick to expand; “We listened a lot to hard rock, because heavy metal and speed metal didn’t exist at that time. But Demon and I, we were obsessed by speed! We wanted to play fast and we wanted to play loud!”
Clearly a powerful singer, Kate’s no-nonsense input was the perfect match for the fast ‘n’ loud approach favoured by the rest of the band. Her talent was very much a natural thing however and not a product of strict musical education, as she cheerfully recalls. “I once went to a school to learn some music, to train the vocals and so on. I came in with a leather jacket and it was a classical school and they didn’t want me like that! They said ‘come back next year!’ I had one lesson and that was it. I wanted to have some education, but it didn’t stop me!” she laughs. “I think I had a style of my own, but I didn’t know it then.”
Having collected an arsenal of worthy material and a growing fanbase as a result of some high-powered live shows, Acid were primed and ready to hit the studio in1982. Following an initial toe in the water via the ‘Hooked On Metal’ 7”m which sold an impressive 2000 copies, work began on their first long player. Getting a solid deal proved tricky however and they eventually took matters into their own hands. “We had deals with (the now legendary Belgian label) Mausoleum,” says Geert, “but we had to sell the rights on our music and that wasn’t right. We wanted to keep the music and so we started our own label, Giant. We did it all by ourselves.”
Assisted by their record store-owning manager, the group’s self-released, self-titled debut reached the shelves in late 1982, giving their steadily increasing profile a healthy boost. Responses were positive and their name grew in stature, predominantly via word of mouth. “If we had the internet it would have been a lot different then,” sighs Kate, “but we did have a lot of fans from the early days and it went very fast.”
“It was very good,” adds the sticksman, of the overall reaction. “It’s not stunning in production and we were not so good musicians,” he admits freely, “but ‘Maniac’ was a real hammer.”
He is, of course, referring to their follow up effort that appeared less than 12 months later. ‘Maniac’ did remarkably good business, selling around 19,000 copies in total; no mean feat for a band that chose to shun the greasy wheels of the music industry. Tracks like ‘Max Overload’ and ‘Lucifera’ became live staples, whilst ‘Black Car’ even spawned their one and only promotional video.
Interestingly enough, whilst the group were endearing themselves to the nation’s record buying public, it’s an unexpected twist to learn that their contemporaries were not so fond of their existence. “There was a bit of jealousy from the other bands,” Kate reveals. “They were not very friendly and it was everybody for themselves. We were different and they were busy for a long time!”
“All of a sudden Acid was there,” Geert interjects. “We had lots of success compared to the other bands in Belgium. They had already worked for two to three years on a hard rock/heavy metal career, so there was a rival thing between some of the bands. It was sometimes difficult.”
It was on stage that Acid really delivered the goods and it’s unsurprising that their explosive live performances unnerved many of their peers. Yet contrary to popular assumption, the band weren’t particularly prolific on the touring front, with a relatively modest number of concerts throughout their lifespan. “The main thing was not to do many shows,” states Geert. “If we did a gig, we wanted to give it all and to have all the people enjoy our music.”
“We went a few times to the Netherlands and I think once to France,” confirms the frontwoman. “We didn’t have a lot of gigs, but where we had one the room was full. We did maybe altogether 40 or 50.” Quality over quantity was definitely the sentiment where Acid’s gigging was concerned and the stages they did appear on were often shared with the heroes of the day. In fact, their gig history is so impressive it’s a wonder they were able to keep their feet on the ground at all.
“We played with Motörhead,” the singer drops into the conversation casually. “That was a very nice gig. We went to the dressing rooms and drank together. I don’t know if they knew us, but we knew them!”
Geert is quick to add to the story; “The most fun time we had was with Motörhead, that’s for sure. They were very nice guys. They even let their roadies block the doors because we wanted to have a soundcheck. Back in the ’80s it was sometimes difficult to get Kate’s voice over the guitars and drums so we always wanted a soundcheck to be sure that her voice was okay. Motörhead came in very late, soundchecked and afterwards they said to the roadies; ‘block the doors until Acid have done their soundcheck’. That was a very nice thing. We made use of 70 percent of the PA and 50 percent of the lights; we never played so loud in our lives!” Cue infectious fits of laughter from the amiable raconteur. “While we were playing our gig, Lemmy was standing at the side of the stage and when we came off he tapped us on the shoulder and said ‘job well done’.”
And it wasn’t just Motörhead that Acid crossed paths with; shows with Venom and Loudness followed, as did an unlikely encounter which confused the late Scott Columbus of loincloth-loving power metal masters Manowar. “With Manowar, the drummer came to me and said ‘Who the fuck is the drummer here? Where did you get that kit?!’ He was a huge man and had a lot of muscles! ‘How come you have the same kit as me?!’ At that time we played a Tama Superstar and there were only two of that kind that came over from Japan. The first one was for Manowar and the second one was for me. We stood there with the same kit, the same colour,” he laughs. “They were much more professional than us, but they were friendly and they liked what we played, so that was nice.”
If that wasn’t enough, Geert is keen to save his finest anecdote until last. “Best of all was playing in Brussels with Diamond Head and Black Sabbath,” he says with a real sense of pride. “That was of course top of the bill. With Diamond Head we were not so close, because they locked themselves up in the dressing room. Almost the same thing with Black Sabbath, but Ian Gillan was friendly and winked at us!”
By the time the band had reached 1985 and their third full-length ‘Engine Beast’, the curtain was beginning to draw down on an all-too-short career. Whilst interest still existed in the group, there were tensions and differences of opinion beginning to surface within the quintet, which would eventually cause their demise. “People liked Engine Beast,” says Geert, “but they were a bit cooler compared with ‘Maniac’. I think it sold a bit more than 15,000. It’s a pity because ‘Engine Beast’ was a very interesting album. I wanted to continue but I wanted to broaden my musical horizons. There were two band members that had the same ideas, Demon and I, but the rest of the band wanted to play old school. We broke up for differences in music; in the thoughts of what the music must be in Acid.”
“It went all a bit too fast, I think,” adds Kate. “At the end, everybody was getting older, more mature and some people had changed a bit. Everybody changes when you’re getting older, but some people changed a bit too fast. They wanted to do something else.”
It’s an all-too-familiar story and one that has caused many a group to disband, however their situation may have been hindered further given their location. “It was difficult because we were a Belgian band,” states the drummer. “If we were Englishmen or Americans we maybe could have been bigger. I think we were one of the first groups that played speed metal. I think we were even before the likes of Metallica’s ‘Kill Em All’.” He’s correct of course, it being several months before the Californians unleashed their genre-shaping debut. Unfortunately we’ll never know how different things could have been for them had they been based in the USA or even Britain. On the other hand, the sound and overall charm that has endeared them to so many in the following years would have almost certainly disappeared had they been born elsewhere.
After going their separate ways in late 1985, the band have stayed in contact with each other to some extent, yet the closest they’ve come to a proper reunion was at Germany’s Keep It True Festival in 2010. Aside from a hugely successful signing session, Kate found herself on stage again for a rendition of ‘Max Overload’. “It was a very nice thing to do and I enjoyed every minute of it,” she recalls. “Everybody there was dressing like we were dressed at that time. Time stood still!”
Standing in the audience was a rather impressed Geert; “I was, for the first time, a spectator and not sitting at the drums behind her. It did something to me!”
It also gave him a real taste of how sweet a reunion could be, were it to come into fruition. “I’ve always said after 2010, if I want to play one more time, it has to be at Keep It True. But only one gig. The main thing is the same five members is never going to happen.” It’s unsurprising to hear that the festival’s promoter, Oliver Weinsheimer, wholeheartedly shares these feelings. “He asks me over and over!” Kate exclaims. “Maybe, maybe, maybe,” she continues. “But there’s no planning yet and I don’t know if it will ever be. If we do something we’ll do it just for fun and the guys who are there at the moment will be the lucky ones. It’s difficult to say. You have to do it with your heart and at that moment, I don’t know yet.”
The reality is that the moment may never come for Acid. The music that they’ve left behind will continue to excite and inspire, regardless of whether the songs are ever performed live again and in some cases, the past is best left untampered. As our conversation comes to a natural close, Kate has time for one last anecdote regarding a young Paul Di’Anno; “We had an interview for a radio station and the singer of Iron Maiden was also there. At that moment he was handsome, but I don’t know how he’s looking these days!” After politely urging her to google Di’Anno anno 2015, she laughs and quickly admits that “Biff is still looking okay! For me it’s a dream if I could do a duet with Biff. He has always been special for me!” Now, given that the ‘Fist has some previous with Mr Byford, this is probably a phone call we should be making and if it would get Kate back on stage, it might just be worth a shot, don’t you think? Who knows, Biff might even be an Acid fan…
Interview by Toby Wright, originally in Iron Fist #16
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