It’s early evening in May and Druidess are gearing up for on the biggest gigs in their fledgling career. The Cluny, nestled next to a farm in Newcastle’s Ouseburn valley, will play host to prog minstrel Rosalie Cunningham, and the heavy psych outfit have bagged the support slot in their hometown. The revered venue is already starting to fill up with prog veterans, stoner metallers and folk rock wanderers, chatting excitedly over pints of IPA ahead of their heroine’s return.

It’s another chance for Druidess to expand their circle, to draw more acolytes into their folklore-inspired doomscapes, and to bring Hermits & Mandrakes, their debut EP, into life –  sax, keys, riffs and all.

The band’s origins lie in the Covid-19 lockdown, when guitarist/saxophonist Danny Downing – who cut his teeth in UK folk metallers Ravenage – began writing what would become Hermits & Mandrakes. On the look out for members, he met ex-Juniper Grave vocalist/bassist Shonagh Brown at a stoner rock show, and Druidess was born.

Hermits & Mandrakes finally emerged in March this year, and the band – now featuring drummer Sam Armstrong and Kylver keyboardist James Hill – have truly awoken.

And as their name suggests, Druidess are weaving tales from Britain’s past into their music, embroidering their riffs with dark myths and near-forgotten legends. “We’re trying to tell the stories of the folklore, but we’re putting a creative spin on it,” says Danny.

The Hermit of Druid’s Temple, Shonagh explains, is inspired by the 200-year-old Druid’s Temple near Masham in Yorkshire, a folly based on Stonehenge. The hermit? “A poor man who lived there for four years, as an outdoor pet, essentially, to the people who owned the grounds, which is horrendous.”

And Knightingales? “There’s all this folklore about how, at the beginning of spring you hear the nightingale song, and they sing for a solid 15 days and through the night as well,” says Shonagh. “The folklore was that they were battling each other – and battling to the death – because sometimes their little lungs would just give out. I was like, ‘God, that’s so doomy’.”

What the folk?

Londoners Green Lung have been one of UK metal’s breakthrough acts in recent years, thanks to records like Black Harvest and This Heathen Land, both steeped in ancient Albion and the occult. And they’ve achieved their success with a distinctly retro, Iommian sound.

What does Green Lung’s rise mean for bands like Druidess?

“Green Lung are a huge influence on us,” says Danny. “And it’s inspiring to see a band who are doing something similar to what we’re doing start off small and get to that size.”

Shonagh chips in: “It was almost like an overnight sensation. When that first album (Woodland Rites) came out, everyone had it on, wherever you went.

“There’s obviously something about British folklore that people just can’t get enough of. We went to see Tabernacle last year an American band who play ‘ye olde’ British songs: they were coming over here to play ‘our’ songs, which was so cool!”

Doom with a view

There aren’t many doom acts who can pull out a saxophone, mid-song. But not many doom bands have a Danny Downing in their ranks.

Druidess certainly have no desire to be yet another slovenly Electric Wizard clone. They are striving for more.

And already, the addition of James to the line-up post Hermits & Mandrakes is paying dividends. He’s the final piece in the puzzle, according to Danny.

“Some of my biggest influences are King Crimson and Pink Floyd,” says Druidess’s founder. “So we’re bringing in that side of things. The songs have evolved and now we’re adding the keys, we can expand on that.

Black Sabbath already wrote the best albums in the doom style, and bands like Electric Wizard and Sleep perfected it. We’re trying to do something a little bit different to that, while still having those influences, and we’re looking to bring in a lot more prog elements into the future records.”

A sign of things to come

Fast forward a couple of hours and Druidess have left stage to a rapturous reception. There are plenty of new fans making their way to the merch stall… and only a few of them look like they spend their weekends listening to Yob or Conan. Russ Tippins, of Satan and Tanith fame, hails the band’s songcraft in a bar-side chat with Rushonrock. Eyes and ears have been opened.

A few weeks later, the band have returned from a UK mini jaunt with acclaimed Canadian/Finnish trad metallers Smoulder. They’re back at The Cluny to check out their touring partners, who are supporting Lancastrian NWOTHM heroes Wytch Hazel. Smoulder’s bassist is wearing a Druidess shirt and singer Sarah Ann gives Danny, Shonagh and crew a big shout out. It’s met with a hearty cheer and is testimony to the impact made by the band in just a few months.

Word is spreading… and Druidess are taking root.