Interview by Mathias Mader – IRON PAGES
1 – “Will to survive” was first released as a CD on Cult Metal Classics in
2006. How did the CD do?
Buzz – Well, put it this way, we still have our day jobs, obviously, as a cult band from nearly 30 years ago we are probably talking of sales in hundreds, rather than thousands, but we are still very happy that due to the events of the last couple of years, there are quite a few people around the World that are now aware that we had more than just one or two tunes to our name, and hopefully now that the material is out there it will gradually spread to a wider audience.
Cult Metal Classics made 1000 official CDs of our ‘Will to Survive’ album and we were given 75 copies as part of our deal with them, these 75 are now all sold, I have never actually asked ‘Sonic Age Records’ (who run the ‘Cult Metal Classics’ label), how many they have sold in total since they released it, I know that they would have had to give quite few away to their contacts in various countries to promote it.
The contract that I originally signed with them was a ‘recurring contract’, meaning that if another batch were to be produced, then we would receive another 75 CDs as part of the deal, this has not happened yet, so presumably Sonic must still have some of the original batch left.
Over the last 2 years I have also sold a couple of hundred of the original low budget version locally, and on the internet, so I would estimate that the total amount of people that now own an official copy of our ‘Will to Survive’ CD would be in the region of 500 – 1000, maybe more but its hard to say exactly.
I’m sure that it will also have been copied and passed around by people who maybe wanted to let others hear it, I am not against this type of copying as it is just friends sharing their interest in music, there is not much you can do to stop this kind of activity anyway.
One puzzling thing that suggests that we may have been bootlegged on a slightly larger scale is the fact that according to the statistics on our website there are around 200 people in Japan regularly checking our site, and yet I have only sold around 3 or 4 CDs there?
2 – Talking about the cover of the CD. Did you choose that one? I think it
is quite cool but does not fit the style of the band. It is very
futuristic, Mad Max-like. Is that bridge supposed to be Tower Bridge?
Buzz – I agree with your comments here, it is quite a good design, but maybe not the right style for Hammerhead, it reminds me of Marvel Comics style of drawing.
‘Sonic Age’ had their own artist come up with the design, I think it was loosely based around the lyrics of the title track; ‘Will to Survive’, the song has a few lines within it referring to the chaos surrounding the aftermath of a nuclear war, hence the warrior emerging from a post apocalyptic scene, as you said, very Mad-Max!
I don’t know if the artist intended the bridge to look like Tower Bridge, but personally, I think it looks more like the Golden Gate Bridge in America???
During the arrangements for the release of the CD, Sonic Age were supposed to let me see the design before it was produced, but probably in their haste, and eagerness to get the project off the ground I didn’t get to see it until it was too late to make any changes, I did request a couple of minor changes to be made, but it was too late, the sleeves had already been printed, so I thought; what the hell, at least were finally getting some kind of recognition for our work, so I gave Sonic permission to go ahead with the sleeve design without any changes.
3 – The vinyl version is going to have a different cover, right?
Buzz – Yes, the vinyl version of the album is to have a new design which I think is being done by the same artist that has produced quite a few other sleeve designs for High Roller Records in Germany, including our ‘Headonizm’ album which I think looks awesome!
For this project we were not quite sure what theme to use, so we asked High Roller Records if a new sleeve could be done.
Rather than come up with something totally different, I asked them to look at the original Sonic Age ‘Warrior’ sleeve for inspiration, but try and make the imagery look darker, and bleaker if possible, as I write this I have still not seen the new design, but it is due to be finished later this month (April 2007), the artists name is Birgit Hahn.
4 – Apart from the 9 songs from the CD, there will be two bonus live Tracks, which ones?
Buzz – We have never really had any good professional live recordings of Hammerhead done, so we don’t have many live tapes to choose from that are anywhere near good enough sound quality to use for this purpose.
I released a Live CD of a gig that we played in our home town in 2005, it wasn’t perfect, and the sound on it was actually taken from a video recording that was made that night that happened to sound better than the sound desk recording, generally it sounds better than many of the old tapes from years ago, so I am planning on using two songs from it if there is enough space.
I have just listened back to the whole of the live recording a couple of times, and I think that Mushrooms & Beer sounds about the best of the bunch, so it will probably be this one, and possibly one other if there is enough space left on the vinyl.
5 – The CD does feature a bonus video with very rough quality. Did you
film the whole gig or only “Lochinvar”? Are there any more Hammerhead
Buzz – That whole of that particular gig in 1984 was recorded, but I didn’t think that the sound & the playing were consistent enough to release everything.
There are probably around two or three other videos from the early days that still exist, but again the quality is limited on most of the recordings, I did make a collection of snippets available on DVD for a while, but I stopped selling them after a few people complained about the quality, in all fairness what did they expect, we are an underground band from 25-30 years ago, video cameras had more or less just been invented, it is obvious that the quality is going to be limited.
I have recorded all our gigs since we got back together apart from the British Steel Festival last year, I didn’t bother to take my camera to that one as it was supposed to be getting filmed professionally, but for some reason, that never happened, we didn’t get a sound desk recording of that night either, but the good thing about all this is that we will always remember it as a fantastic gig to have been involved with!
6 – Did you do any interviews after “Will to survive”, did the demand for
the band rise?
Buzz - Initially there was a surge of interest in the band, and it took quite a lot of my time to deal with all the activity, I had CDs to produce and sell, I had to try and promote the band to festival organisers etc. to try and get us the right kind of gigs, I have also done around four or five quite lengthy on-line interviews, I like to give full detailed answers if possible, so it can be time consuming, but I don’t mind really, I treat it like a hobby.
There was also quite a lot of groundwork to do to get the website up and running, this was done by my self, and our lighting operators son, Andy, who has been an invaluable with his knowledge of web design.
The other original members of the band are a bit older than me, and not really interested in PCs, or the Internet, Hammerheads other guitarist and founder member Brian, would rather have a pint of Guinness than a free laptop! In fact I think given the choice Brian would rather have a pint of Guinness than air to breath!!!
7 – Did you have any offers to play live in continental Europe?
Buzz – This is something that we would still love to do,In 2005 we did have the chance to play at a Festival near Hamburg in Germany, but as I have explained in earlier interviews, there were a few problems and it never materialised, since then I have contacted various festival organisers in a few European countries, without much luck so far.
My good friend Phil Denton from London based band Elixir who we played with at the British Steel Festival, has given our contact details to the organisers of a gig that they played at in Athens, Greece, this is where Sonic Age Records are based, so I am hoping that something may come out of that, if something can be arranged we would love to go there to play.
I have been led to believe that we would be an ideal band for the Headbangers open air festival in Germany, but I have had no response from the email that I sent to the organisers as yet.
8 – You also released “It’s unheard of” as a CD-R including Plateau
material, any chance of an official re-release of this compilation
album, who has got the rights to the album?
Buzz – I do not know who actually owns the rights to the album, if anyone? But after all these years I think it would be very difficult trying to get in touch with the original organisers, I don’t really know if there would be much of a market for it now?
The main reason that I transferred the ‘Its Unheard Of?’ LP on to CD was just for my own collection initially, I was going to sell my only copy of the album to help raise funds to put Hammerhead back into the studio, and I wanted to retain a version for myself, I also included the two Plateau songs because the only copy of those two studio songs that still existed to my knowledge were on an old tape that Brian Hodgson gave to me.
For some reason, I was always being asked about this material, so I thought that as it didn’t seem to be available anywhere else, I would get a few made, I didn’t think that it would do any harm to do this, and a handful of people who were curious about it could finally get to hear this stuff.
I only had a very small quantity made and most of them have gone now, I don’t know of any plans to have it released officially and I have no plans to make any more myself.
9 – Will a whole Plateau album see the light of day someday?
Buzz – I am afraid that this will probably never happen, the band only existed for a very short period of time (around 1986), and there were only two songs that were ever recorded in a proper studio; ‘Death Lesson’ & ‘Five miles Wide’.
I still see some members of the band fairly regularly, and they told me that there might still be some live material, and also a few rehearsals on tape, if they can be found, but nothing solid has turned up yet.
Having talked to the guys, I don’t think any one has the time, or the inclination, to put the band back into the studio, the drummer, Frank Hall now lives at the other end of the county and we only see him occasionally, the guitarist, bassist and keyboard player now all play in a rock & blues covers band called; ‘OFF THE HOOK’.
There is a small amount of information about PLATEAU on their website, the address is:- www.offthehook-band.com
10 – Are you satisfied with the way “Headonizm” turned out on vinyl?
Buzz – We are very happy with everything that High Roller Records did for us, the vinyl is quite heavy and well made, the sound quality has not suffered during the transfer into the vinyl format, in fact I think it may have even enhanced the sound quality a little compared to the original CD.
Artist Birgit Hahn did an amazing job with the sleeve illustration – we love it!
I think that it’s probably one of the best designs out of all the albums that High Roller Records have released.
The layout of the artwork was done by Andre Turoff, and considering the fact that we didn’t ever get any really professional pictures taken, all we had was a bunch of old photos, I think that he did the best he could with what we gave him, his work looks really professional.
As always, Guy Forrester at Linden Sounds where we recorded the album, made our time in the studio a pleasure, we told him briefly that we wanted to sound live in the studio, and all play together in the same room at once if possible, just as we did back in 1980, we just left him to decide what the recording should sound like, obviously we had opinions, and whenever we told him what we wanted, he would listen to our comments, tweak a few faders & buttons etc. and pretty much anything that we asked for; echoes, reverb, splicing and editing etc. would happen in a matter of seconds, he is very good at his job!
Regarding the playing and singing by the band, the one thing that I can honestly say is that if we had more time and money, I believe that we could have done it ten times better, there a few moments where the singing is not as strong as it could have been, and some guitar parts were left in despite not being as good as we can do them, but we just didn’t have the time to put everything right.
Overall we are just happy that we now have some fairly good studio versions of our old songs to listen to, for me this was the main objective, if anyone else likes it then that is a bonus, if some one doesn’t like it – we don’t care!
11 – Any reactions from the UK media regarding “Headonizm”?
Buzz – We have had favourable coverage in the local newspapers, who have always supported us in our quest to make it bigger, there are so few bands from our county that have ever made it, that obviously it is quite big news for a local band to release a couple of albums and achieve a certain amount of international interest, all be it on a fairly small scale.
I have not seen any mention of ‘Headonizm’ in any of the well known National magazines, I sent copies of both our albums to Classic Rock magazine, and they gave our ‘Will to Survive’ CD quite a good review (8/10), which we were really pleased about, they described us as being “Honest British Rock”.
Headonizm has not been reviewed yet, but maybe it will feature in a future edition? I know that it is not perfect, due to the way we had to rush everything, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if it got criticised, but personally I am pleased with it considering the limited time and money we had available to us, I think that there are a few magical moments that far out weigh the negative aspects of the album.
We did get a very positive review in the ‘Terrorizer’ magazine, but this was for our appearance at the British Steel festival at Milton Keynes 2005, and not either of our Albums.
12 – Talking about Linden Studios, is that really your own home recording studio or a proper studio where other bands also record?
Buzz – I do have a small recording facility at my house as it is something that I have always been interested in, but when I want to record something more professionally I usually go to Linden Sounds, it is a professional recording studio that began life during the late 70s and it is now based near Penrith in Cumbria, which is about 50 miles inland from where we live.
The studio engineer is called Guy Forrester, you will probably have heard me talking about Guy in most of my interviews as I have a lot of respect for his work, as well as doing sound work for the BBC he has also worked with some well known bands such as OMD and Echo & the Bunnymen, some of the work he has done for them has been successful in the UK British charts.
13 – With so much activity in the Hammerhead camp nowadays, have you
started to follow the current developments in heavy music? Any new bands you think are worth listening to?
Buzz – I do listen to many up to date bands, but I don’t collect much modern stuff, I am still listening to and collecting the same things that I liked in the early 70s; Heep, Purple, Zep, Budgie etc., regarding more up to date bands, I tend to go for bands that play in the modern prog’ style such as Porcupine Tree and Spocks Beard, rather than any of the new metal bands, I am not really a fan of de-tuning and all that stuff, and I still think that you need a good melody to complete a song, I suppose that In that respect I am still stuck in the 70s really.
In recent months I have been to see the re-formed It Bites with John Mitchell on guitar, that guy deserves a medal, there aren’t too many people around that could have stepped into the shoes of Frankie Dunnery, he pulled it of, and the crowd really warmed to him.
I have also recently been to see Mostly Autumn who sound much better live than they do on CD, I have read rave reviews of their latest album, but I have not heard it yet, due to a problem with one of their guitars going missing, I loaned them two of my acoustics for of the show, I suppose I should have asked them for a free copy of their new album in return.
Lastly, I have just been to see the Australian Pink Floyd show, this is no ordinary tribute show, these guys have took the show that they were doing a few years ago to another level, they are now using some of Pink Floyds own lighting rig with Dave Gilmours blessing.
To anyone reading this, if you have not seen their show, do yourself a favour and catch them live, their 2007 show is probably one of the best gigs I have ever witnessed!
Buzz Elliott on behalf of 70s UK heavy rockers HAMMERHEAD
Interview by Matthias Mader (Iron Pages) 29/04/07
Heavy Metal Pages magazine in Poland
Interview with HAMMERHEAD Guitarist/Vocalist: – Buzz Elliott
Questions by Darek Konicki…..
1. Recently, thanks to Greek label Cult Metal Classics, the HAMMERHEAD CD “Will to Survive” was released. How did it all happen with your co-operation? And who chose the track list on CD?
The original version of ‘Will to Survive’ was just a low budget cd-r which I had put onto eBay out of curiosity really, I certainly didn’t think that I would sell any of them in another country as I had no idea that we had become known elsewhere, but a few hundred people around the World who had somehow become aware of us began buying copies of it from me, I’m not really sure how any of these people had first heard anything about Hammerhead, possibly through underground fanzines, or bootlegs containing our songs, or maybe through the NWOBHM encyclopaedia.
One fan in particular who has a great interest in the whole NWOBHM scene, got back in touch with me after buying one of my cds, and he sent a list of contacts to me of a few places that he thought might be interested in selling our CD in larger quantities, this list included Sonic Age Records who run the Cult Metal Classics label, and after I sent a copy of ‘Will to Survive’ to them, they got back in touch with me to make us an offer to sign us to their label and release ‘Will to Survive’ officially.
A few of the tracks on my original version of the album had been taken directly from vinyl, and so the quality was very limited, this was because we did not keep the master tapes all those years ago.
Luckily, at around about the same time, another fan in Italy got in touch with me to let me know that he had some digitalized versions of our songs that sounded much better than the ones that I had used myself, he sent a copy of this CD to me, and it was used to enhance the sound quality on some of the tracks for the official release by ‘Sonic Age’.
Hammerhead hadn’t played together for many, many years, but we were asked to re-form for one night at a friends party in 2005, surprisingly everyone agreed to play, so I set about putting the CD together and initially had 100 made, I thought that if we sold enough of these at the gig, then it would be a good way to raise enough money to put the band back into the studio to record again, which was an ambition that I had been harbouring for over two decades, in actual fact we only sold 16 CDs on the night, which is one of the reasons why I came to put it onto eBay in the first place.
I had to make all the decisions by myself regarding the track listing and which versions to use, without any input from the rest of the band, because at that point in time we hadn’t actually got back together, it was just a possibility.
I think if the others had been involved with the arrangements for the CD from the start, then it may have been slightly different, but generally everyone is happy with the end result.
Prior to making the original version of ‘Will to Survive’, I had tapes, records, and CDs lying about everywhere, it was an awkward task if ever I wanted to find a particular track, so another reason why I decided to do all this in the first place was just to get more organised, and compile all our old recorded material onto one CD, it’s as simple as that!
2. Is all material on ‘Will to Survive’ from one period of time, or were some taken from different periods?
Apart from Heavy Handed, Time will Tell, and Mushrooms and Beer, all the rest of the songs were actually written in the 1970’s, but recorded at various moments throughout the bands history.
Our single ‘Time will Tell’ with ‘Lonely Man’ on the B-side was recorded at Linden Sounds studio in 1981, and it was intended to be an EP, a third song was recorded for this purpose but it was never used on the advice of the studio technician, we wanted our record to sound as loud as possible when it was played, and he told us that if we tried to squash too much onto one side of the single, that it would reduce the volume and affect the overall sound quality of the record, so we decided that it would be best to leave it off, the song in question was ‘Ton of Bricks’
‘Don’t Look Down’ and ‘Lochinvar’ were both written in the early to mid 70’s, but recorded in 1984 in the same studio, former ‘Necromandus’ drummer Frank Hall had now joined the band, and Billy Branch who was the singer from ‘Necromandus’ was asked to help out with the studio session, Billys voice sounds very powerful and professional to me, far superior to what Brian and myself are capable of, but strangely, some of our fans prefer me and Brian sharing the vocals, this is something that I really do not understand!
‘Crying as I Fall’ was also written in the mid 70’s and the song ‘Will to Survive’ is a mixture of 70’s and 80’s ideas spliced together, they were originally recorded around 1996 long after the band had split, we got back together for one night in a different studio just for fun, I didn’t think the sound on these was as good as our earlier recordings, so in early 2005 I set about trying to salvage them by making several overdubs in my home studio, a few extra guitar parts, vocals and keyboards were added until I thought that they sounded OK, really speaking, we should have gone back to Linden Sounds in the first place, the studio engineer there is called Guy Forrester, and his style of mixing really seems to suit Hammerhead, you can always trust him to do a great job,
Because I had only a handful of decent studio recordings to pick from, I decided to put in one live song, plus one of my own solo compositions to make the albums duration up to about 40 minutes, I know that by modern standards this seems quite short, but most of the albums I collected back in the 70’s were around 30 – 40 minutes long, so this seemed appropriate to me.
Choosing a live track wasn’t easy, I had so many tapes to go through, and many of them were not up to a high enough standard not to use, mainly due to being recorded poorly, or the playing simply wasn’t good enough, but eventually I settled on BJ Special, which originally appeared on our 1978 studio demo as ‘Second Best’, the playing was reasonable, and considering how it was recorded on an old tape deck, the balance between the drums, instruments and vocals isn’t too bad.
The track ‘Heavy Handed’ was recorded in 2004, and it is essentially just me messing around in my home studio, this track along with 7 others started off life about a year earlier when I made an album of instrumentals purely for fun called; ‘Monsters from the Id’.
There are a few different styles on this CD, mainly blues, funk and rock, some people have commented to me that there is a hint of Jeff Becks style of playing on some of the tracks, and to be honest this was intentional, sometimes I will experiment on how far I can bend a string, or try something on the spur of the moment that I haven’t tried before, at times I am trying to push the boundaries a little further than expected!
Most of my playing on ‘Monsters from the Id’ was done spontaneously in one take, I could probably never do it exactly the same again, and so I wondered how can it sometimes be possible to play something, only to find that you can not then replay back to yourself at a later date?
This is my reasoning behind the title – the subconscious can be full of surprises!
3. Do you have other compositions that have never been released before? If so, is there a chance another Hammerhead’s CD in the future?
The good news is; that the sale of ‘Will to Survive’ raised enough money to put us back into the studio last year, and we have recorded another batch of our old songs, this was done in October 2005 and these songs are now available on our new CD which is entitled; ‘Headonizm’, I think there may have been some very rough live versions of a few of these songs, such as ‘I’ll be Back’ and ‘Feel I’m Fallin’ making their way around the World on bootlegs for many years, but this is how the songs were meant to be heard, well recorded in a studio that we can trust to do a great job!
I understand that some people may feel a touch apprehensive about these type of recordings, and that this is not as good as hearing genuine old versions of a bands songs, I myself have been disappointed on occasion when I have heard modern recordings of a band that I used to love, so with that in mind, we have done absolutely everything possible to ensure that these new recordings sound as if they were brought here in a time machine from the mid 70’s, I’m sure that we could have told lies and passed them off as very old rare recordings, that is exactly what we wanted them to sound like, and the initial feedback that I have received so far supports this.
We had at least six songs that I thought were worthy enough to warrant being recorded properly, and I was eager to see that this was done before it was too late!, there were a handful of other Hammerhead songs back in the late 70’s and early 80’s that we used to play live, but we didn’t think that some of them were really worth recording, we wanted to keep the quality of anything that we did now, up to the same standard and style that our existing fans would expect from us, and so I drew up a list of what I thought we should be doing, and after consulting the rest of the band, we all agreed upon which six songs should be done.
The other exiting news for us, and fans of the band, is that High Roller Records in Germany made us an offer to release Headonizm officially, their artist came up with an awesome sleeve design partly inspired by the words from our song ‘Mushrooms & Beer’, it looks really professional, and it is now available from their website on vinyl, or from my eBay site on CD.
The track listing on Headonizm is as follows;
I’ll be Back – 7.37
Devils Soldier – 4.41
Mushrooms & Beer – 6.34
Death Lesson – 5.10
Victim – 5.47
Feel I’m Fallin’ – 10.20
4. “Lochinvar” was added to the ‘Will to Survive’ album as a bonus track. Is this the only video clip shot during your music history, or are there some unpublished clips waiting for your fans in the future?
Sonic Age Records asked us if there was any old video footage of the band playing live, so that it could be included as part of the package they were putting together.
There have been quite a few things filmed over the years, and the clip of ‘Lochinvar’ that can be seen on ‘Will to Survive’ was taken from a gig In 1984 at a gig in the Carnegie Theatre in Workington, we only played a fairly short set that night, but it was all recorded and at some point in the future the rest of the concert could be made available.
I know of at least three other old concerts that were recorded, but tracing decent copies of them isn’t that easy after all these years.
I do have a video of one night in the late 80’s when Steve couldn’t make it to the gig and I had to switch onto bass for the night!
I watched this recently for the first time since it was filmed, and whoever was on the camera was obviously new-fangled with its special effects facilities, there is quite a lot going on, but this is not a bad thing, and of course it is still interesting to see it after all these years.
I also arranged for the three gigs that we did last year to be filmed as well, we played at our best when we supported Diamond Head, but unfortunately a fault on the microphone caused some distortion to the sound, rendering the videotape un-useable, which was disappointing.
When I find the time, I may put some of the better moments of the bands video clips (old and new) together as a DVD, and if it turns out to look ok there is a possibility that something could be made available to the public.
5. Shall we treat “Will to Survive” as an occasional album? Did/will you play any gigs on the occasion of releasing the album?
We will consider any offers to play live that we get, but we are not really in a position at the moment to actively go out trying to promote either of our albums, we did just three gigs last year, and we have another three lined up in the near future, these gigs have all been done more for enjoyment, rather than to push sales of the CDs.
When I first compiled all our studio recordings together to make ‘Will to Survive’, I had no idea that it would lead on to any of the current activity, all the things that have happened since its release have been unexpected, and very surprising to us, we were not really trying to make a comeback, so I’m sure that you will understand that we weren’t really prepared to deal with it, I am having to use a bit of initiative and make decisions as I go along as to what is best for the band.
Oh, I nearly forgot, you can listen to Will to Survive ‘occasionally’ if you wish to.
6. I’d like you to tell us a brief history of the band. What were your feelings at the very beginning? What bands had the greatest influence on your music?
When I first joined the band in 1979, I had only been used to playing in a typical school band playing predominantly cover versions of other peoples material, using small PA systems, inadequate amplifiers, and guitars of limited quality, so when I first met up with everyone in the Hammerhead camp, I was informed immediately that I would have to upgrade everything!
Somehow I got the money together and bought some new gear, for the first time in my life I had a decent guitar that stayed in tune!, this was closely followed by 100w Marshall Stack; for most of our gigs at the time I would use one stack, and Brian would use two, I was always battling to keep up with his volume, with Hammerhead everything was done much louder and much more professionally than what I was used to, especially the beer drinking!
Regarding our influences, Steve and Brian are older than me, and I’m sure that their influences would have stretched further back into the 60’s, bands such as The Yardbirds, Love Sculpture, and Hendrix etc., but generally speaking, we have all been more influenced by the heavier end of the musical spectrum.
The first two albums that I heard in the very early 70’s that had a massive impact on me were Black Sabbaths first album, and ‘Death Walks Behind You’ by Atomic Rooster, I was only 10 years of age when I first listened to these albums and I thought that they both sounded terrifying! My older brother had borrowed them off one of his friends, and the covers intrigued me, so when he wasn’t about I would go into his room and play them, I became obsessed with them and I must have listened to them hundreds of times, this is probably what had the biggest influence on my playing initially.
I also began listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Budgie, Rory Gallagher, Wishbone Ash and Pink Floyd; all these bands and artists were pioneers, and also at the height of their creativity during the early 70’s, most of their output from that era is still awesome classic stuff, and a benchmark for anyone in a band, even today!
I think that if you listen to Hammerheads own compositions, there is an element of all these bands styles within our music.
Of course, these bands are all mainstream artists, and as my interest in music grew, I became really curious about the lesser known underground bands, one of my favourite bands from that time would have to be Nektar, they were very melodic, and at times their early stuff reminded me slightly of Hawkwind.
7. Which of Hammerheads gigs were your favourite ones? Which well known bands has HAMMERHEAD played with in the past? How many concerts did you play?
I don’t have a record of all the gigs that we ever played, but even taking in all the line up changes from the beginning to the present day, I don’t think that the total would exceed much more than a couple of hundred gigs, and I would estimate that only around 30 percent of these would have been away from home.
The most enjoyable and memorable gigs for me with Hammerhead would have to be when we supported Budgie a few times in the early 80’s, there are a few reasons for this; Firstly, at that time I had never played through a very large PA system such as the one that they took on tour with them, and there is nothing that can prepare you for the exhilarating feeling you get playing through a PA system of that calibre!
It was a whole different ball game to what I had been used to, everything was so incredibly loud that the audience could feel the bass hitting them in the chest, but volume isn’t everything, and the guys on the mixing desk made sure that every note was crystal clear, for both bands.
Secondly, Budgie are one of my own favourite bands, so just getting the gig was a dream come true for me, I was too shy at the time to go and talk with the Budgie lads, but I played my heart out on stage, and I still can’t recall playing through a better sound rig to this day!
We also supported Ken Hensley out of Uriah Heep when he did a tour with his band Shotgun, they were an amazing group with a great sound, I have nothing but respect for Ken Hensley as a songwriter, and when it comes to playing live; it’s always from the heart.
We didn’t get to support many other big names though; The Edgar Broughton band, plus an all girl band called Ice Age were two other known bands that spring to mind, but to be honest I didn’t think that either of them were very good, according to the local paper reports we blew them both away!
More interestingly, Brian supported Black Sabbath in 1970 when his band ‘Judas’ played with them at the ‘Palace Ballroom’ in Maryport, which is 6 miles up the coast from where we live, this was shortly followed by a gig at another local venue when they supported ‘Iron Maiden’! – don’t get too exited though, this was 1970 remember, and this Iron Maiden were from Bolton, I don’t think they had anything at all to do with ‘Eddy’ and the boys, but I have it on good authority that they were a very good band all the same!
Lots of bands at the time were beginning to play heavier and louder than ever before, and many of them found that the Cumbrian crowds were much more appreciative of their brand of music in the late 60’s and early 70’s than in many other parts of the country, some of them would travel long distances to come here because of this, Tony Iommi played regularly in this county with the Carlisle based band Mythology long before his Earth/Black Sabbath days, and if you are interested to know more on this subject, I can recommend a great book called ‘How Black was our Sabbath’ written by Dave Tangye and Graham Wright, they were two of Sabbaths roadies from the early days, and the book is very well written, informative, and full of hilarious anecdotes about the earliest days of the band that laid down the foundations for every other Heavy Metal band that has ever walked the planet!
8. What do you remember about the “Time Will Tell” recording sessions? Have you still got this single in your collection? It seems to be a very sought-after release by collectors these days doesn’t it?
When I realised how much our old single was selling for these days, I decided to sell the last few that I had on eBay, and the money was put towards the making of the Headonizm album, they all sold for around £50 each, which is nearly half what Vinyl Tap ask for it, I have no copies of it left now, but I still look out for them, I don’t know why it’s become so sought after, In my opinion I think that it’s just OK and nothing outstanding, when I first joined Hammerhead they had already written quite a few songs that I really liked, but much of the material plodded along fairly slowly in typical early 70’s style, which is great, but I suggested that we needed an up tempo Head-Banging tune to round off the night at our gigs, that was my motive behind writing the song, and also deciding to build it predominantly around quite a lengthy guitar solo, the song is quite simple, but it did the job, and usually by the time we got to play it, the mosh-pit would be a sea of hair and bodies! – When we began playing again last year, some of the same bodies turned up to see us, but due to the passing of time, there wasn’t much hair left, even I’m on borrowed time now! – DOH!
When Time will Tell, Lonely Man and Ton of Bricks were all recorded, we had very little studio experience, so we allowed Guy to do his own thing with our sound, we all played together in one room and Guy placed two large tables on their sides on either side of the drum kit to help stop the sound from our amps spilling over into the drum mikes, we played through the songs fairly quickly and Guy recorded everything at once to start with, but the guitars were then re-recorded individually to give them more clarity and definition, finally the vocals were added, and on Time will Tell I double tracked my vocals to give them a fuller sound, I hadn’t had much experience singing at the time, and also, I don’t have a naturally powerful voice, so Guy suggested that this would help, I quite liked the slight chorus effect that this created.
9. Do you remember any funny or amusing situations concerning the band?
There are way too many to list, but some of the highlights would have to include; the gig where all of our guitar straps were either lost, (or more likely stolen by a prankster), the other band on the bill wouldn’t lend us theirs, making them the prime suspects, and with only a few minutes to go before we were due on stage, we had no choice but to make new ones out of black stage tape, mine kept slipping off throughout the entire gig, not that it mattered, I was that stoned I don’t think I really knew where I was!
On another occasion we travelled over to a gig on the east side of Newcastle which is about a hundred miles away, because we had a very faithful local following, I had organised a coach for any fans that wanted to come and support us.
We got to the gig a couple of hours before the coach load of Hammerhead fans were due to arrive, only to find that because of some confusion with the arrangements, the venue hadn’t actually realised the gig was on and they hadn’t advertised it at all, the building was completely empty!
Obviously we still had to play to the fans that had travelled over a hundred miles to see us, but we might as well have played in our own local pub and saved ourselves all the hassle! – As if that wasn’t bad enough, the snow was about a foot deep that night, and everyone had to get out and push the coach when it was stuck in a drift, anyone who needed to answer the call of nature was asked to pee on the ground around the coach tyres to help melt the snow so that the wheels get a grip on the road!
As you can imagine, there were many more incidents with Hammerhead, and I could write a book about my experiences with my other band ‘The Bullfrogs’ such as the night when we played at a very large posh hotel in the middle of the countryside, and our keyboard player decided to sneak off into the dining room that had already been prepared for breakfast, he must have spent half an hour going around all the tables putting the salt into the sugar bowls, and the sugar back into the salt pots, we left the venue at about 2am to travel home, so we never did get to see all the breakfast fun!
The icing on the cake as far as Hammerhead is concerned, has to be the fact that one of our roadies has had a Sex-Change, obviously when we got back together recently, I didn’t bother to contact him/her, we haven’t fell out or anything, but I just didn’t think that she would want to carry gear around the country with a bunch of hairy arsed blokes anymore!
At the end of the day, we still love her…. But not in that way!
10. Your track ‘Lochinvar’ appears on the “It’s Unheard of” compilation, I haven’t actually heard this record, so tell us something about the material on it. How did Hammerhead come to be amongst the other bands on this CD? Can you list the other groups on the compilation?
This compilation album came out around 1984/5, and after seeing an advertisement for bands to send in a demo for possible inclusion on a rock compilation album comprised of unknown, and underground outfits, Brian Hodgson sent in a copy of ‘Lochinvar’ to ‘Baz’ in North Wales, (Sorry, I don’t know his full name), Baz was the brains behind the whole project and I don’t know whether his motivation was to try and make some money, or for the love of the music, probably both, but it was a great idea, and quite an interesting collection of bands sent in their demos and waited patiently.
Luckily, Lochinvar was chosen to go onto the record, and appeared as the last track on side one, one thing that disappointed me when I first listened to the rest of the album was how lame the production was on some of the other demos, I think that is one of the main reasons why the Hammerhead track may have stood out above some of the other stuff on the album was due to the clarity of the production.
The track listing on this album is as follows:-
Lost Soul – Incubus
The Games you Play – Runestaff
Time forgets a Hero – Pyramid
Night Creeper – Avalanche
Renegade – Ded Engine
Mrs. Poe – Research Department
Lochinvar – Hammerhead
Seventh Sister – Cry Wolf
Egypt – Shylock
The power of Trident – Trident
Cry – Nu-Trick
Encounter – Sapphire
Rat Race – Kraken
Way of the World – Incubus
I no longer posses a copy of ‘It’s Unheard of’ on vinyl as I sold the only one that I had on eBay for £50 to help fund the making of HEADONIZM.
11. There are some bootlegs containing Hammerhead material, and some of your songs are also accessible on the Internet. What do you think of it? Is it good or bad piece of information for you? Is it a kind of promotion for Hammerhead? Obviously, I am avoiding all financial loss.
On the subject of bootlegs, when I was about 13 I started collecting live bootlegs of bands such as Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, some of these I still prefer to their studio stuff, so I have no objection to this type of live bootleg, it gives the real fans what they want, I could never understand why the record companies didn’t release some of these live recordings officially, there has always been a market for it, but I suppose that they are sometimes a bit paranoid about the limited sound quality on some bootlegs, although it has to be said, many bootlegs are far superior to the live albums that are often put out officially, I was a massive Deep Purple fan during 1970’s and this is certainly true of them in my opinion.
It was only a few years ago that we discovered that our songs; Time will Tell Lonely Man, and Lochinvar had all featured on a series of NWOBHM bootlegs that I think were made in Japan, if we hadn’t appeared on those bootlegs, then we wouldn’t have got to be as well known, and we probably wouldn’t be able to sell the current CD’s in as many other countries around the world, It’s a tricky subject really, but if you are a cult band such as Hammerhead, then bootlegging has it’s good points as well as it’s bad points.
Some time ago, I was told that Phoenix Records in Brazil re-released Time will Tell as a limited edition of 250 copies on blue vinyl, if these people are doing this because they genuinely love the music, and want to spread it further afield to a ‘like-minded’ audience, and maybe make a little money on the side, then it’s not the end of the world is it, but if possible, it is always nice to be asked for permission, for example; I have just agreed to allow our song ‘I’ll be Back’ to be included on a rock compilation called ‘The Winds of Time’ that is being released by the Dragonight Agency in Poland, it is available from them as a download.
Genuine fans of underground music who like to organise this kind of activity may be surprised to find how co-operative some bands will be if they are approached in the correct way, but it goes without saying that if some unscrupulous dodgy characters deliberately made a million out of us, and we got nothing out of it, then I suppose we’d have no choice but to kill them, sue them, and then kill them again, just to make sure!
Obviously I’m only joking, but how do you stop bootlegging? – The answer to that question is simple; You Can’t!
There will always be someone who realises the potential to make some easy money on the back of someone else, it happens in all walks of life!
12. Many old bands from the eighties are deciding to come back on stage. They are successfully playing gigs and recording albums. What do you think causes a renewed interest on such music? Why do people still want to listen to bands such as Hammerhead, Elixir, Cloven Hoof, and Blitzkrieg?
I think there could be several different reasons for this, I have already explained that in our case we didn’t plan to do any of this, but once I realised there were people out there that were still curious about us, it made me think that we should be doing something about it, I’m sure that nostalgia is also a key factor as well, I think most people look back with fondness to when they were younger and having a great time, and so despite getting older, bands from the past still want to go out and play, as much as the old fans want to go out and see it, Keith Richards looks like he is about to fall apart, but like the ‘Terminator’ he will not stop! – And the fans probably wouldn’t care if they had to wheel him on with a drip attached, as long as he Keeps Rockin’!
British rock bands that may have been pretty successful years ago, can find that although their popularity has dwindled in the UK, they can still be very popular in countries such as Germany, Holland, and Belgium, where their type of music is still greatly appreciated, throughout the 1970’s, many UK bands were finding that they were more successful in other countries such as these, than they were in the UK.
In more recent times, British bands and artists are finding new audiences further East, in countries such as Russia and Poland, and I think that this is probably the result of gradual political changes throughout the last 30 years which has allowed more western influence to filter through into their culture, luckily for these places, some British music from the past that may be out of fashion with the media here in the UK, is of a very high standard, and can still be amazingly popular in countries such as yours, I have heard that bands such as Uriah Heep and Budgie have a massive following in some Eastern European countries.
Burke Shelley out of Budgie was talking to a good friend of mine recently, and he told him that they had gone to play at a gig in one such place expecting to play to about 1000 people, the gig turned out to be more like a festival with a crowd of around 10,000, I don’t know how much they had agreed to be paid for doing this gig, but I imagine that somebody somewhere must have made a fortune out of them!
Now Budgie thrive on playing live, and I’m sure they would have delivered a really great gig under any circumstances, but just to rub salt into the wounds, loads of fans kept approaching them for their autographs; on bootleg copies of Budgie albums, some of these albums had cover designs that Burke had never even seen before himself!
I’m sure that there are lots of other reasons why bands from a particular era can find some kind of success second time around, but another major factor for the latest wave of interest in ‘Old School’ rock/metal has to be the way in which the internet can be used as a tool for bringing bands and fans from literally anywhere in the world together as one, someone once said to me;
The Internet was invented for Rockers !!!!!!!!!
13. Are you interested in a current rock scene? If so, what bands have made a good impression on you?
I am still very much into music, but I don’t actually collect any up to date ‘Rock/Metal’ stuff at all, I still go to see bands live regularly, and I do get to see quite a lot of modern metal bands through the various satellite music channels, so I am still aware of what’s going on to some extent, but there isn’t many modern rock bands that have grabbed my attention for a while, I liked The Widhearts during the 90’s, and more recently I’ve enjoyed listening to Queens of the Stoneage, I also love listening to Primus, they are insane!
I’ve always been a big fan of Zappa, and I love it when superb musicians introduce humour into their music, this is what attracted me to Primus in the first place.
If I’m in the mood for listening to something rocky, I tend to go back into the 70’s which for me was the decade that produced the most diverse, creative and memorable music, thanks to Hammerheads new drummer Tony Steel, I’m now a born again Led Zeppelin fanatic!!!
14. Well, that’s all from my side. Finally, I would like to ask you for some words towards your Polish fans and all the listeners of “Old School” music in my homeland.
I’m not sure how many people in Poland will have actually heard anything about Hammerhead (past or present), but to anyone out there who somehow discovered our music, thank you all for your support and interest in the band.
Interview with UK Heavy Rock outfit Hammerhead.
by Darek Konicki 07/04/2006