Leader Of Down is the brainchild of former Motörhead guitarist Würzel and bass player Tim Atkinson. They released their first album, Cascade Into Chaos, in 2018 and this today, the utterly fantastic The Screwtape Letters hits the shelves.
Leader Of Down – The Screwtape Letters (Cleopatra Records)
Release Date: 8 April 2022
Words: Steve Ritchie
Leader Of Down got their name after Würzel, for years, famously sang the misheard lyric to Status Quo’s Down Down. “He thought the lyrics to the song were ‘down, down, leader of down,” Tim Atkinsons said, smiling. “He had been confidently singing that in the car for years until some of his friends picked him up on that. We thought that was hilarious. We said we should call the band Leader Of Down, as we didn’t have anything better. It was a nice little link with him.”
Tim and Würzel had been working on songs from late 2008 until Würzel passed away in 2011. “I had been a Motörhead fan since I was nine years old,” Tim says, “so to actually work and become really, really close friends with one of my heroes was a big thing. But we were such good mates in the end. It was so lovely.”
The pair worked for months, meeting once a week in a rehearsal studio in London, with Paradise Turned Into Dust the first completed song. “When we were writing that,” Tim says, “we were having a little bit of trouble coming up with the chorus section.”
Würzel needed a toilet break. “I carried on fiddling about and coming up with things for about 10 minutes,” Tim says. “I was thinking to myself, he’s taking a long time. I was working on something that I had practised a few times, and it sounded okay. The double doors of the studio flung open, and Würzel said, ‘by Jove, you’ve got it.’ He had been standing outside the door, desperate for the loo, but because he felt I was getting there, he waited. It was loads of fun and hilarious, and Würzel was such a lovely man. I miss him all the time.”
The new album, The Screwtape Letters, is an excellent set of songs that blew me away on first listen. “All the feedback so far from everyone, and thank you for yours, has been really, really positive,” Tim says. “Really good reviews, so I’m very proud of it. It probably sounds a little bit more consistent than the first record because we recorded it all in the same place over the same time. The first album was recorded in many different studios around the world.”
The album contains some of Würzel’s riffs. “He’s not playing on it,” Tim says, “but we probably did the basis or parts of 50 or 60 tracks. Bits of them are on this one which I like because it helps keep what we started the whole band for, or what the point was in the first place, and keep him here for a little bit.”
The album, for me, provided some fantastic escapism from the stresses of modern life on the first couple of listens. It is immense and intense, spurred on by very short space between songs.
Holloway Motel is a fantastic track. The song is about a time when Tim was often travelling between England and Los Angeles and working with Lemmy. Matt Bakers’ vocals are great on this monster of a track, almost like an edgy Graham Bonnet might sound. Baker, who appeared on an episode of The Voice, is in great form. His performance here blows that in front of Tom Jones and others out of the water.
Hitman, released as a single, is a cracking good song, too, with that classic riff and a Dennis Stratton solo. “Dennis is a long term friend of mine,” Tim says, “and when we were recording that, I just had Dennis in mind because I thought it might be right up his street. He’s played on stage with us a couple of times. So I asked him, and he thankfully said yes, and it was great.”
The video for the single, which reached number two in the iTunes Heavy metal chart, looked great fun to film. “We had Dennis as a prisoner, and he broke free from the sack we put on his head,” Tim says. “We didn’t tell him actually until he arrived. He spent most of it under a sack. But Dennis is a great guy, a good laugh and is a good sport, and it turned out really well, actually. We’re really thrilled and just glad that people seem to be enjoying it.”
Dennis will join the band for their album launch show tonight. “I’ll tell you exclusively, he’s coming up for three songs,” Tim says.
The Screwtape Letters, the title track, has a theme “completely ripped off” the C S Lewis book, a present from Tim’s father, a vicar when Tim was 14. The song is a ripper with the galloping bass through the verses and guitar solo bound to make the track a live favourite. “Friday will be the first time we’ve played it live,” Tim says. “I’ll have to let you know how that sounds. But, we’ve been rehearsing this week, and last week or so, it’s all going great. It’s nice with these new songs, even though we’ve sat with them for a while obviously because we recorded the album, but this is the first time we’re going to play most of them live, and they seem to lend themselves a bit as live tracks.”
Dodging The Landlord is another standout, with Matt really going for it in another fine vocal performance. With a great solo section, there is an epic feel to the song, which runs at under four minutes. “Some songs have a lot going on,” Tim says. “Maybe we should play a bit slower, a bit longer, but we wanted to make the record punchy.”
Let Them Know Your Name is a superb example of how a straightforward riff can kick arse. Whiskey Preacher is another great song. The lyrics are not about any individual. “I think everybody will know someone like that,” Tim says. “I liked the title, and we spun it out from there. I sometimes think my favourite songs are ones you can take your own meaning from.”
Midnight In London is an emotional closer to the album. The song was one of the B-sides to a small solo project Würzel had in the late ’80s when he was still with Motörhead. “I had always liked the song, and Würzel always said if we ever redid it, he wanted to beef it up, which we have done.”
There is one lyric in the song that no one could work out from the original tapes. “I spoke with Würzel’s partner, looked online and through all the notes, so we had to make an approximation.”
With Leader Of Down, there will always be the Würzel connection, though it does not define the band now. The band embraces it, especially positioning that track at the end, but it was always a band, not a solo project. “As time goes on,” Tim says, “we’re developing into our own thing, and I like to feel that if Würzel were still here, he’d be moving along with us. I always try and stay true to what we, me and Würzel, discussed right at the very beginning when we started.”
Tim and Würzel had been part of rock school clinics and other projects. “We were doing all sorts of things together, and it was going great,” Tim says. “We’re having a whale of a time. I said we should form a band, and he said, ‘I’ve been waiting two months to ask you that. It was something that was very special to me, and I always want to try and make it how we wanted it to sound in the first place.”
The Screwtape Letters is an album that Leader of Down have dedicated to Würzel. “I don’t think you meet many people in your life that you just click with,” Tim says. “Würzel would call me at three in the morning to tell me something absolutely ridiculous. Something I really didn’t need to know. I miss him immensely, especially late at night.
“One time, he was going to go on stage with Motörhead as a guest, years after he left, and he wanted to do the moonwalk onto the stage. I can do it a tiny bit. We were at the back of a pub in North London at half past 11 at night in the rain, trying to teach Würzel to moonwalk. It’s things like that, not the norm for people. It was such fun, and I miss him every day.”
If Cascade Into Chaos was a tribute to the fallen Motörhead heroes, then could The Screwtape Letters be seen as a tribute to fans and Metal music in general as we all try to dig ourselves out of the Covid-19 mess?
“That’s probably a good way of looking at it,” Tim says. “We’re playing our first show on Friday [8 April], and we’re really looking forward to it.”
It has to be said that Tim is a really nice guy, genuine and passionate about the band. Leader Of Down have certainly benefited from a more solid recording process for this second album. The Screwtape Letters is a great piece of Classic Metal. Presented in this way, it is an infectious listen guaranteed to get your hips moving and certainly deserves a wider listen. Enjoy.
Leader Of Down plays No Sleep ’til Blackpool, the Motörhead weekend, in May, and they are working on dates for later this year.