Medieval music and heavy metal go hand in hand. Every genre, including black metal, folk metal, power metal and heavy metal itself have been inspired by the past. Serpentyne are on the rise with medieval-influenced music. Before they are due to support Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, I spoke to the band about their origins, medieval influences, the Rainbow gigs and Game of Thrones.
Jack: Good evening, thanks for answering my questions. How are you doing?
Maggiebeth Sand and Mark Powell: Well, thanks.
Jack: Serpentyne was started in London in 2010 by founding members Maggiebeth Sand and Mark Powell, inspired by a combination of early music, folk, Celtic, world and rock. How did the line-up come together?
Mark (Hurdy-gurdy/Guitar): Maggie and I were working together on another project when we found that we both shared a love of medieval, folk and world music. We began to talk about possibly putting a band together and, eventually, Serpentyne was born.
Maggiebeth (Vocals): I then started to look for medieval-themed festivals for the band, and we were invited to play that year at Wellingborough Medieval Festival, Les Medievales de Province in France, Elfia in The Netherlands, amongst others. It was a new and exciting experience to take part in these events as performers, it was like entering another world!
Jack: What made you want to start playing Celtic-influenced rock music? Where does the Celtic influence come from?
Mark: It’s a musical style that I’ve always enjoyed, and I’ve worked with other folk artists in the past. For me, the marriage between folk, rock and medieval styles is a natural one. After all, secular medieval music was the rock ‘n’ roll of its day, so the themes from that era lend easily themselves to a modern rock treatment.
Maggiebeth: Mark is as good on Medieval hurdy-gurdy as he is on Celtic and Folk guitar, I think he can sound in the style of Bert Jansch or John Renbourne (although he doesn’t admit it!) I personally enjoy playing my Celtic harp, and my medieval Sweedish Nyckelharpa. As a singer, I also love singing in other languages, from Celtic Gaelic, to Medieval Latin, passing through Old English and Occitain.
Jack: What artists are the major influences on Serpentyne?
Mark: Many and varied. As a kid, I became fascinated by the different musical styles that are out there; everything from folk to rock to jazz to classical. There is a little bit of all of those in our songs and arrangements.
Maggiebeth: There are so many singers that I admire, ranging from classical; Maria Callas, to Folk; Maddy Prior, to pop; Kate Bush to Symphonic Metal; Tarja Turunen and Sharon Del Adel amongst many other talented singers.
Jack: Your third album The Serpent’s Kiss came out last year, are you happy with the response?
Mark: Very much. Our previous two albums were more inclined towards the folk-world music listener, so we did wonder how our followers would react to this change of direction, and how the music would go down within the rock fraternity. It turned out that we’ve kept our old followers and gained many new ones since the album’s release.
Maggiebeth: As Mark said, I too, was surprised to see how much support we had from our fans after we changed direction, and how much acceptance and support we’ve found in the metal & rock media and audiences.
Jack: What inspired the more symphonic rock direction?
Maggiebeth: Apart from the Mediaeval, and Celtic influences, I’ve also been influenced by symphonic and classical music, having been trained as a singer, in Opera. And so, when I was invited to see for the first time the band Within Temptation some years ago in London, I remember being so fascinated by this mixture of operatic singing and powerful rock, and I immediately thought that this is what I wanted to do with my band Serpentyne, but at that time we were so far away from sounding like this, that I thought it was never going to happen for us. But luckily Mark agreed with my idea, and little by little we started evolving and transforming the sound of the band all through out our three CD’s.
The change could not happen overnight, and so the plan was to make the first step towards this change on our 2nd CD Myths and Muses, and then further more on our 3rd CD The Serpent’s Kiss, in which, we decided to change the lineup of the band, replacing the didgeridoo with an electric bass, replacing the flute with an electric metal guitar, and writing songs into the style of Symphonic metal!…(Although, having said so, half of the album has still kept some of the previous Mediaeval Folk style). But we haven’t finished evolving and we are now preparing our 4th CD for later this year which is still going to go a bit further in that direction!
Jack: What themes do you cover on the album?
Mark: Some songs are based upon real people, like “Joan of Arc.” Others are based on legends, such as “Helen of Troy.” The title track, “The Serpent’s Kiss,” is derived from the story of Anthony and Cleopatra, and “Brigantia” was inspired by the legend of the North Country goddess of that name.
Maggiebeth: I particularly like to write about female characters that have inspired me through books and films, for example, several film versions of Joan of Arc, a young girl that decided to fight the English invasion in France and she dressed as a man in armour, (when it was forbidden for a woman to dress as a man in medieval times) and riding her horse guided the French Troops to fight at the siege of Orleans. Another wonderful film that has inspired me, is the film about Boudicca, the queen of the Celts and how she defended her people from the Roman invasion, riding her chariot with sword in hand at the front of the army that she gathered.
Jack: Do you ever do research into these subjects?
Mark: Yes, quite extensively. For example, the track “Alexandria” on our second album, involved research into Homer’s Iliad, as the song takes that as its reference. Google is a useful tool when it comes to writing songs based on ancient legends!
Maggiebeth: We have done lots of research not only into the themes themselves which have influenced our music, but I also enjoy learning about the costumes that they used to wear, and try to incorporate them into our stage performances.
Jack: Morrighan’s Jig is really good fun, what’s the secret to writing a good jig?
Mark: “Morrighan’s Jig” is actually derived from two tunes, a medieval jig tune that I found somewhere or other, and an edited version of a traditional Irish tune called “Sparran Airgid Na Cailli-” “The Old Woman’s Bag Of Money.” I’ve taken a few liberties with both, but kept the essence of each tune. A jig is a bit like a riff in metal music- it doesn’t have to be melodic; its strength comes from that combination of notes and rhythm that captivates the listener- you can’t really analyse it more than that. If it makes you want to get up and dance, it’s a good tune!
Jack: I love Game of Thrones too, what made you want to rework the theme song?
Mark: We often get song suggestions from our followers who come to chat with us after each gig: “Why don’t you write a song about…” and we take them all on board. A number of people said; “You could do a great cover of ‘Game of Thrones’” so we thought, “Why not?” It’s a great tune, and it lends itself really well to our treatment of it.
Maggiebeth: Yes, and adding to what Mark said, I have been addicted to the series, I love the characters, the costumes and although it’s fiction, it has the power to take us to another time and another place!
Jack: Are you excited for Camden Rocks?
Mark: Yes; it will be our debut performance there, and it’s good to be invited to play at one of London’s foremost music events.
Maggiebeth: We are very excited and looking forward to it, it’s going to be a blast, playing with another 200 bands on the same day!
Jack: You’re supporting Rainbow next month in Manchester, how does it feel to be supporting Rainbow?
Mark: Quite overwhelming! We had a nice message of encouragement from Ritchie Blackmore soon after we started and he came across us on YouTube, so to get this invitation to support him is very gratifying.
Maggiebeth: Apart from loving Rainbow and Deep Purple, I feel that there has always been a very nice connection between Serpentyne and Ritchie’s and Candice’s other project Blackmore’s Night, which is our mutual love for medieval and mystical themes.
Jack: Are Rainbow one of your big influences?
Mark: Ritchie was actually one of the first rock guitarists that I ever heard, back in my teenage years, so yes, you could say that. My journey as a musician started off with piano lessons at the age of eleven, and after being tutored on how to play from a musical score, I remember being so impressed that someone could actually improvise a guitar solo in the way that he did!
Maggiebeth: I must admit that I am a new fan of Rainbow, and for what I’ve seen on YouTube, these guys rock! I feel so honoured to be opening for them in Manchester, I can’t wait to hear them live!
Jack: Today is the seventh anniversary of Dio’s death, what’s your favourite song he gave his voice to?
Mark: He had a unique, genre-defining voice and talent, so it’s impossible to narrow the answer down to just one song.
Jack: What else do you have coming up?
Maggiebeth: We have various other festivals and club gigs throughout the rest of the year- some where we’re making a return visit, and some new ones, such as the Conwy Festival in Wales and the Asgardian in the English Midlands.
Jack: Finally, which House is going to win in Game of Thrones?
Mark: I have to admit that, much as I like the theme music, I never watch the program, so I’ll pass that on to Maggie!
Maggiebeth: I guess it’s going to be Stark of Winterfell!
Jack: Thanks for your time!
Both: …and thank you and your readers!