August 1997. Before Arena lock themselves up into the studio for five months to record their new album The Visitor, the European audience gets one last chance to enjoy Songs From The Lion's Cage and Pride live. During the soundcheck of one of these gigs (Bremen) John Mitchell was willing to speak to 'the press' on condition that he is given the opportunity to tell something about one of his favourite bands, namely It Bites. We make things easy for him: he can bring up any topic of conversation he likes as long as it's about music. Since at the time of this interview Arena's guitar hero is mixing both the official live album Welcome To The Stage and the special fanclub-album Welcome Back To the Stage, it is only natural to start from here...

JOHN: The material for the albums is coming from the gigs we did in Canada and America; we recorded two nights in Quebec and the Progfest in Los Angeles. I'm really looking forward to mixing it because all the raw material sounds very good indeed. Of course we have made some horrendous cock-ups in some of the songs but that doesn't matter because there is enough material, we've got as much as three gigs to choose from.

How do you decide which songs are going to be on which album?

JOHN: Well, you don't have to be afraid that we are going to put any bad ones on the fanclub album. However it is very important to think about which songs are suitable for which album. You're probably looking at the slightly longer songs, such as Empire Of A Thousands Days or Fool's Gold, ending up on the fanclub one because they're less accessible than Medusa and The Healer which will be on the official album. Of course Solomon will on the official one as well because it's one of Arena's best songs. By the way, don't expect it to be absolutely perfect, you know, it's a live recording.

That's the charm of it...

JOHN: Yeah, that's exactly it, it's the odd flat note here and the odd guitar lick there.

But there are also real differences between Arena in the studio and Arena live. The studio version of Crying For Help IV for example is entirely different from the way it is played live: the solo is more 'solid' and personally I think more beautiful

JOHN: That's very kind of you to say so. Yes, it's got a lot more dynamics I think that's what you're trying to say. Rothery did a good solo but it's a bit on a level and I think what we tried to do was to make the song a bit more epic. Paul also did a lot with his voice, especially around the keyboards, it's not so black and white anymore.

Are both albums going to be released in November or is the fanclub-CD going to be released later?

JOHN: The fanclub-CD will be slightly later. This live album is a good thing to do because Arena seems to be about concluding things at the moment, like we've concluded the Crying For Help-thing with The Cry, which is nice because the next album won't have these sorts of interludes. And now we are going to conclude our current set with this live album. Basically I think it's good way to put that to rest because effectively you won't see us for about a year and the next time you see us it will be different because we'll be playing all the new stuff, (jokingly): well not all the new stuff we wouldn't want to piss off anybody that much [laughs].

Is this the first time that you have mixed an album?

JOHN: Certainly not. I work at three different studios around Reading, one of them is Running Frog where Arena also have rehearsed. I've been recording basically for ten years now really, so I know what I'm doing. If anybody thinks: 'Oh they're letting the guitarist have a go mixing the live album', it's not really like that, you know.

Interview for DPRP by


Arena Official Website


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