Medieval rock music is said to have emerged during the early 1970s, evolving from a mix of early rock songs and the progressive movement of the 1960’s gaining popularity in England and Germany. Today, the medieval rock scene which includes Celtic, Scottish and Folk rock, is huge with bands performing throughout Europe. It’s typical for fans to create their own wardrobe to suit, epic films like Braveheart and Waterworld spring to mind.
For British band The Dolmen, it’s not just about dressing in authentic period costumes for the occasion, they take their songwriting and performance extremely seriously, spreading the ethos and the spiritual awareness of their music with tribal rhythms and spiritual renditions.
I talk to the band’s keyboard, flute, pipe player and vocalist Anja Novotny and lead guitarist/vocalist Josh Elliott...
“We have worked hard over the years to create an authentic atmosphere, and for The Dolmen it is not all about looking the part”, says Josh. “We have a serious connection with our audiences, there’s a sort of spiritual awareness within our music that allows us to embrace with spectators who love our visual approach and our live stage show. They love to dress up, it’s a way of escapism and it’s a way of transporting themselves back to a simpler magical time, drinking mead, ale and listening to great music.”
Based in the Weymouth area of Dorset, The Dolmen was founded by songwriter and lead singer/guitarist Taloch Jameson and has had the current line up since 2010, also featuring Kayleigh Marchant on bass and vocals and Chris Harris on drums. Now with a number of albums under their belt, The Dolmen have a huge catalogue of original material inspired by myths, legends and indeed true historic events. Josh explains,
"All The Dolmen have a passion with a history which is reflected within our writing and has created a theme within most of our albums. My first album with the band was called ‘Crabchurch Conspiracy’ launched in 2009 and was inspired by the Battle Of Weymouth, a Civil War encounter in 1645 when Oliver Cromwell was the leader of the Roundheads.
"It was also written to support and promote our local Dorset history. The whole concept was very successful and we have an annual live event in Weymouth with a theatrical environment and actors reenacting the story, while The Dolmen provide the music. The event is organised by Mark Vine who also writes lyrics for The Dolmen."
"We have a really good and ever-expanding following in the UK," continues Anja, "But The Dolmen are well seasoned further into Europe where all kinds of Scottish, Irish, Celtic and Medieval rock is very popular. It’s all on a much bigger scale, especially in The Netherlands and Germany where I live. Travelling medieval markets with jugglers and musicians are everywhere with people following along the route dressed up in their costumes. If you go back 20 years there were just a few, now it’s every weekend. It’s certainly very vibrant with people wearing clothes from the period, buying oils and leather goods. These events are great for us, the organised festivals attract tens of thousands of fans."
Hailing from the deepest depths of The Black Forest in Southern Germany means Anja cannot attend every UK based gig, and the band often meet at the next show to perform new material…unrehearsed. Anja explains,
"I’m close to the borders, so I can meet the band when we tour in Europe without too much fuss. It’s some of the UK shows that I have to miss sometimes. The internet has been a whole game changer for bands with members scattered around the globe, they just send me an MP3 with material to learn and we can more or less perform it at the show without any rehearsal."
"We’ll vary the set and break it down now again and play a few acoustic numbers, but initially we are a loud band," says Josh. "There’s nothing subtle about my guitar sound, it’s ‘balls to the wall’ as they say, the amps are cranked way up with a lot of delay for a big guitar sound. Whilst our songs have a structure, and usually based on Medieval or Celtic rock, I have the freedom and room as a lead guitarist to play what I like, but in a style that suits the band. I listen for hours to the phrasing of whistles and fiddles or stringed instruments in jigs and reels, for example, then I apply those same rules and ideas to my electric guitar parts.
"I tour with a pair of GW Guitars, an Aesir 005 which I’ve been using for a while and one I designed with Leigh Green and Darren Williams from GW. I wanted it to not only sound and play great, but to also fit in with the band visually with an earthy look. They built and produced a stunning guitar using zebrawood for the body which just looks so good on stage. It’s loaded with a piezo acoustic pickup system, so I can swap from full-on overdriven rock to the most delicate acoustic fingerpicking at the flick of a switch. I love this guitar and proud that it’s in the GW catalogue as a production model called the Kvasir.
"I can honestly say that I’ve grown up in this band, I was just 17 when I joined, a youngster who wanted to grow a beard," he laughs, "Of all the things I’ve learnt is that you have to look after your instruments and I was a bit worried about touring with these guitars. Our gear gets knocked about quite a bit, especially on stage, but I found out about the Urban Series guitar gig bags made by Fusion. It’s so good to know I can literally knock the bag over and feel assured the guitar is safe inside, great design, great bag.
"I‘m currently running amplifiers made by Engle and Hamstead which are both cranked. Not only are we a loud band, we’re also pretty active on stage and the microphones that mic up my guitar and Kayleigh’s bass cab were getting knocked about, but this also gave the sound crew a big dilemma, so we’ve rigged our cabs with the Integral mic system which solves all the problems."
So how does a musician like Anja performing with such delicate instruments like flutes and penny whistles monitor one’s self on stage?
"Playing keyboards is fine," says Anja, "I can hear my Roland X7 through an amp on stage no problem, but a flute or penny whistle can’t compete with a rocking band, so I’m using a clip-on microphone system and in-ear monitoring so I can hear myself perfectly. I have several flutes and penny whistles, but for touring with The Dolmen, I’m using flutes tuned to Low D most of the time and penny whistles tuned to C,G,D. You can hear the low D flute to full effect on the track ‘Godless’ from our 2016 album called Nuada. This album also has a spiritual feel, leaning towards a more rocky approach with a mix of Cajun, and spaghetti western undertones. We’re working on new tracks for our new album titled ‘Wytches And Cunning Folk’ set for release around the Spring of 2019.
"If we write a song in A or F it’s not a problem as I have more than 20 flutes in all the keys. I’ve also been playing the bagpipes for over 20 years now, and if we write songs featuring the pipes, we have to keep the same key as there’s hardly any tolerance for tuning. I have strict rules for pipe maintenance on the road, basically it comes down to keeping them clean especially the valves and the chanter and keeping the bag dry. I used to find them clumsy to tour with but since I’ve had my Fusion bagpipe gig bag, which is specifically designed for pipes it’s so easy now. Everything fits snugly and there’s a lot of room for cleaning materials and accessories.
"Bagpipes are really popular in metal bands in Europe. I come from a hardcore of thrash and death metal which I still love, whilst also developing a strong interest in Scottish folk, Celtic and Medieval music that we play in The Dolmen. My favourite Scottish flute and bagpipe player is Mike Katz in ‘Battlefield Band.’ He puts so much feeling into his playing, I love his style which I think is unlike anyone else."
How long have you been playing reed instruments like the flute?
"That goes back to my school days when I had the choice to learn the flute, I then went later to a music school and learnt how to read music and joined a South German Big Band which was also an introduction to playing live. I read music, but I personally find it easier to learn by ear. My favourite flute is made by Susato which has a really warm sound, and as they are constructed from plastic, the tuning is really stable which is a great help when we play outdoor festivals."
The Dolmen’s live set is indeed energetic to say the least, with soaring solos, powerful rhythms and more recently, 5-piece harmonies as Josh explains,
"Powerful vocals are of course important, while close harmonies add a whole new dimension to any song, so we’ve added harmonies to new and older tracks where all five of us are now singing including Chris Harris at the back on drums. The track ‘Dead Cats Don’t Meow’ that Kayleigh sings lead vocal on is from the band’s 2012 album called ‘Storm’, is a fine example. It’s about a notorious pirate called Eric Cobham who was never caught. This was his saying apparently."
"We get many ideas for writing from those stories, books and films on historical subjects", continues Anja, "Taloch writes sometimes about American Indian history and I get goosebumps every time he announces ‘Fire And The Heart’ from the Nuada album. The lyrics are about not being free until you have the freedom of choice, there’s also a message in that song saying love each other, don’t fight each other."
For more information on The Dolmen visit: